Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Recipe: Simple Summer Supper (part one) - Chargrilled veg with feta and mint

This hot weather is glorious. But what to eat when it's sweltering outside? I crave simple meals, full of flavour without leaving me with that too-full feeling. Summer flavours I love are mint, lemon, chilli, garlic, and those charred, scars left by a hot grill.

Last weekend we ate the same meal three times, it was so good. I'll be posting recipes for all elements of our Summer supper over the next few days. Here's part one.
{Part two (Tortilla Espanola) here, and part three (Rose and Lemon Sponge) here.}

Chargrilled Courgettes and Asparagus with Feta and Mint (Serves 4)

Two medium courgettes, washed and cut lengthways into even strips no wider than 5mm
A bundle of asparagus (preferably English - Evesham is the finest), washed
1 pack feta cheese, crumbled
125ml olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
Generous handful of fresh mint, torn

1. Preheat your grill - a barbecue, a grill plate, or a griddle pan will all do.
2. First, make your marinade. Put the olive oil, garlic and lemon juice into a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the courgettes and asparagus, tumbling the vegetables around until evenly coated.
4. Place on the grill at right angles to the lines, to make sure you get those lovely burnt stripes. You may need to do this in batches depending on the size of your grill.
5. Keep an eye on the veg, turning as soon as you begin to smell the sugars caramelising. The courgettes need turning once, the asparagus several times to ensure an even browning.
6. Once the courgettes are nicely cooked, transfer to a serving bowl. The asparagus may need a stab with a knife to make sure it's cooked - then sling these into your serving bowl as well.
7. Scatter the feta over your vegetables, as well as the mint, straight before serving. You can keep the salad in the fridge for a day or two but I'd add the cheese and mint at the last minute.

More ideas
:: While your grill is hot, you could toast some sliced ciabatta and rub the surface with a clove of garlic for a rustic garlic bread.
:: Or use the marinade to flavour chicken breasts or pieces destined for kebabs - immerse the chicken for a couple of hours to maximise its flavour potential.
:: Use the leftover marinade (not if you've used it for chicken) as a dressing for a simple baby spinach salad.
:: It's easy to scale this recipe up - double for 8, etc - and it can accompany other summer salads as part of a more elaborate supper.
:: Peas also go well with the mint/feta/lemon family, so cook a cup or two of garden peas or petit pois and add to the salad along with the final ingredients before serving.
:: If you've got mint left over, don't waste it. Add it to a pan of new potatoes as they cook, or use it to garnish a fragrant cocktail. I love a large glass of Pimm's on a warm summer evening, and it's just not Pimm's without a chunk of cucumber and a nose-tickling sprig of mint.

Incidentally, a few years back I planted a pot of mint straight into the flowerbed, disregarding the advice to keep it contained. It spread far and wide, virtually overtaking part of the garden. But I didn't mind - I love mint and can find hundreds of ways to use it. This year, though, it didn't come back. Perhaps it was the hard winter, or maybe that rain in early Spring...

Whatever it was, I miss my mint and plan to plant it again, straight into the garden. And once it's established, expect many more minty recipes to come.


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Snapshot: First weekend of summer

A weekend full of firsts:

:: I picked the first roses of the year. Buds are everywhere, and in a week or two I'll be in a heady haze of tea roses which makes the tragic browning of the lilacs more bearable
:: Bought door furniture to (finally) finish off our new yellow front door. painted Farrow & Ball 'Babouche'
:: Hung out at Arthur's school fayre - bouncy castles, hot dogs, street dancing, and splat-the-rat
:: Spent a bit too much time drinking in the sun - iced coffee, beer, spritzers and buckets of Pimm's
:: Ate two lots of chargrilled asparagus - I can't get enough of British asparagus at this time of year
:: Partook of our first Jubilee-themed products in the form of Great British Fancies
:: Saturday night we finished watching The Bridge - the Swedish/Danish thriller that's had us gripped for the past week (not quite The Killing, but what is?)
:: ... before driving over Severn Bridge the following day. Spooky
:: Spent the day on the beach at Ogmore by Sea, and the boys were in their element digging and paddling and scurrying about on the rocks.

And I'm still reeling from being mentioned by Jane Brocket on her blog, Yarnstorm. Jane's blog is such an inspiration so to have her link to me and mention my Instagram pics is quite wonderful. Thanks Jane.

Friday, 25 May 2012

It will be sunny one day

I have always loved Stephen Fry, never more than when I read this beautifully composed letter on the very wonderful site, Letters of Note. He kindly replied to a fan who was suffering from depression, and his response could not have been more wonderful. Go and have a look to see what I mean.

It's Mental Health Awareness Week this week. I've been toying with writing this post for a while now, and the Week has given me the nudge to finally put fingers to keyboard. Ted is nearly two now, but back when he was small - around six months or so - I did not feel good. I think there comes a point for all mums of small babies, where the initial euphoria has worn off, said baby is no longer a novelty for you or those around you, and the reality of the day-to-day drudgery hits home hard. Looking after small people is hard work, and around 4, 5, 6 months in, the routine of feed, change, dress, laundry, nap etc, on repeat drives everyone slightly mad.

After two kids (neither of whom slept for 9 months) I have come the conclusion that I do not fare well without sleep. A bit of very ad hoc research among my friends and family seems to suggest lack of sleep affects us all in different ways. My mum claims fatigue just slows her down physically, that everything is more laboured, takes longer, requires more effort when she is sleep deprived. In a way, I wish this were the case for me. Instead, lack of sleep puts me on a fast-track to the brink. I find myself on the precipice of a very dark cliff, not able to see things for what they really are. The clearest way to describe how I felt was, in the words of Sarah Silverman, I felt homesick but I was home. 

When I was mulling the idea of writing this, I doubted myself - doubted that my experience was valid or real or bad enough to make for a post about mental health. I suspect I occupied a murky no-mans-land between extreme fatigue and post-natal depression. Friends have suffered a great deal more than I have, and I'd sympathised without (I realise now) ever having empathised. But the way I felt was enough to result in a visit to my GP. My GP was good: she listened, talked through options, helped me see a little more clearly that the way I felt was not a product of bad parenting, being a bad person, or indeed anything for which I was responsible. And gradually I felt better. Partly as a result of acknowledging how I felt, and also with a lot of love and support from my family, who allowed me pockets of time just to rest, recover.

I think there's a tendency to assume any foray into the realms of mental health issues involves crossing a line from which it's hard to return. Having had my experience, I no longer think that's true. Stephen is right: there are shades of grey, many, many shades of grey, that vary from day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute. Much like the British weather. And, like the weather, I am in a sunnier state of mind these days. That's not to say it won't return, but I'll be ready for it this time - brolly and boots at the ready, safe in the knowledge that the forecast says it will be sunny one day.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

How I always thought it would be

Before I had children I used to imagine what life would be like as a parent. We’d spend happy days together – talking, laughing, singing, playing – doing wholesome activities and discovering the world, hand in hand. Clearly, I read a lot of Enid Blyton books as a child which appear to have shaped my view of an idyllic childhood, replacing even my own, far more realistic, experiences.

Much of early parenthood is taken up with far less wonderful activities, however. My time is spent clearing up, refereeing rows, watching mind-numbing episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, supplying drinks and snacks on demand, and generally providing a roadie service to my darling offspring. I didn’t know it would be like that. I’m not sure I’d have jumped into it so readily had I known.

But some days are different. Yesterday was one. I drank rosé under the fig tree in the sunshine at lunchtime while Ted napped, and then after school we came home to ice creams, paddling pools, a hot dog picnic tea, and barely any argy-bargy. So much so, I managed to read a couple of pages of a magazine while the boys played. The stars aligned, and it was exactly how I imagined it would be all the time. 

Going to keep that memory in the bank for a rainy day.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Snapshot: Birthday food extravaganza

Wow, a week can feel like a really long time! Have been up to my eyeballs in art stuff, which I'll write about soon.

Meanwhile, here's a day of foodie birthday celebrations. Last Thursday was Ben's birthday, and we both had the day off work and the kids were at school/nursery. Some much-needed adult time, marred only by the night from hell we had with Ted and the resulting eye bags and tetchiness that comes with being totally tired.

So we hopped in the car and drove away, into the countryside and to our favourite restaurant, The Ethicurean, housed in the most beautiful walled garden with spectacular views of the Somerset hills.

I ate beetroot carpaccio with honeyed walnuts, which was simple but utterly delicious. Dressed with just oil and salt, the two varieties of thinly sliced beetroot were clean and crunchy and surprisingly filling. Ben's Welsh rarebit (with gurt salad) was just as tasty but somewhat heartier where mine was dainty. Both were washed down with a Fentiman's cola.

We then shared a St George mushroom pearl barley dish, similar to a risotto, topped with essence of mushroom (not pictured). And dessert was a warm apple cake with cinnamon cream. Glorious. If that wasn't enough, I finished off my meal with a Spanish hot chocolate, the thick kind that you eat rather than drink - spoon essential.

The school run beckoned, and we hastily harvested some cow parsley from a nearby field for dressing the art trail cafe, before heading back to the city.

Arthur had been planning his dad's birthday tea for some days, and we dutifully purchased the items on his list. The food was traditional party grub - pizza, crisps, biscuits, cake - and we played balloon games and danced in the kitchen like idiots. From the sublime to the ridiculous, alright...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Before the storm...

Most of the time this is true. The end product, no question. But right now I am in the eye of an arty storm and it's not a very happy place. Talk to me about it next week and I may feel better about it all, once it's a memory.

Until then, some words of wisdom from Inked Fingers on Instagram:



Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Snapshot: Bank holiday weekend

Bank holiday weekend. Clearly it tipped it down - that's a given, surely. But we managed to have some fun. Here's what we got up to...

:: Bought a print from the opening night at the Spike Island Open. It's for Ted, reminded me of him (we sometimes call him Bear)
:: Made balloon animals. They are trickier than they look.
:: Ted tried edamame for the first time at Wagamama - he loved them. Wagamama is one of my favourite places to go with the kids as they're so friendly, the food is fast and it's just so easy. I think it's the best of the chain options. What's your favourite?
::Arthur insisted on buying a fresh coconut, which we cracked with a hammer and screwdriver. A's twirly straw came in handy, but the verdict was a resounding thumbs down for coconut water.
:: Spotted a real DeLorean! It was not travelling at 88mph.
:: Baked two cakes - a yoghurt and berry loaf, which the boys baked on Monday, and Nigella's malteser cake which we made as a birthday cake for my brother.
:: Played hide and seek in the park, and came across some very old hearts cut into a tree trunk.
:: And watched our Maurice Sendak DVD.

So very sad to hear about his death today. I love how dark his work is, how he wasn't afraid to challenge kids. His books mean such a lot - he changed everything.
Who else could've inspired a family to ride the subway dressed like this?

Found via BuzzFeed

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Crafternoons: Homemade playdough

Our first crafternoon was a hit. Hooray! I can't believe I've never made play dough before - it's so easy and the dough is just lovely to play with. The boys were happy to play for ages together, rolling their dough, cutting shapes, and making pretend ice creams. I added glitter to the mix and what with the sparkles and the uncontrollable desire to knead the dough, I ended up quite hypnotised by it myself.

Here's a basic recipe that should keep for up to six months in an airtight container (originally found here).

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 cup salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cream of tartar
Optional food colouring/glitter/essential oils (if you want to make dough that tickles another sense)

Put everything into a saucepan and mix it all up with a wooden spoon until it's lump-free.
Set over a medium heat and stir like crazy until the mixture starts to combine together into a dough.
Take it off the heat, and knead until smooth.

That's it. Couldn't be easier. Try it - you'll never go back.

Friday, 4 May 2012


Second children. So much is written about differences between first and subsequent children, and various studies show the biggest single factor to determine personality is birth order: where you are in the family.

When A was born we were typically anxious new parents - the wind was too windy, young people too noisy, no blanket was soft enough for our precious baby, no food pure enough - we were a nightmare. A's first birthday cake was an organic, sugar-free banana cake, packed full of grated vegetables. No sugar had passed his pure lips at that age.

In stark contrast, T has been left to his own devices for much of the time as the house is so much busier now. When he was a baby we often forgot he was there. T had his first taste of sugar before he was even six months old in the form of an ice cream. Bit of a different experience.

Perhaps this explains why they are totally different children. Chalk and cheese. They even look completely opposite - one has brown, straight hair and brown eyes, the other blonde, curly hair and blue eyes. A was always obsessed with books, loved quiet games, bit of an introvert. T is a bulldozer - very physical, loves trains and animals and racing about.

Recently we've been a bit concerned about T's language development. He just doesn't seem to want to talk much, so much so that the nursery have referred him to a therapist and we're starting to teach him some Makaton baby signing.

In an effort to improve things like concentration span, fine motor skills, and one-to-one (or one-to-two) contact, I'm embarking on a project of craft afternoons (or crafternoons, if you'll forgive the portmanteau). I've started a Pinterest board where I'm collecting ideas for us to work on together after school, and will be on the lookout for any kind of easy activity that works for a nearly-2-year-old to do with his nearly-5-year-old brother.

Wish me luck. And if you have any suggestions, please point me in the right direction.

Oh, and I've added a tab at the top so all the Crafternoon activities from now on can be found with one click.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012


A quick glance at my Flickr page and it's obvious I've been drawn to all things yellow - perhaps a subconscious attempt to brighten up a gloomy, rain-riddled April?

Clockwise from top left:
Yellow irises
A bright yellow Lush bath bomb
Beautiful yellow ribbon tops off a birthday present
A superhero stares danger in the face by standing on his yellow Tripp Trapp
Sunday's crumble and custard
Yellow violas and ivy in the window box, flourishing in this wet weather
Flaunting my 'no toys in the kitchen' rule, a Bee Wheely Bug
A custard-lovin' toddler - don't drop it!

This one's for my friend Lou of Littlegreenshed, a girl after my own heart who loves yellow as much as I do. Get well soon Lou x

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