Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Perfect Shepherd's Pie (of the vegetarian variety).

I am not usually in the habit of creating cooking I do, but I prefer to let someone else do the hard work and create fabulous flavours by creating a recipe and then take all the credit by following it!

However, I have cooked a huge number of vegetarian shepherd's pies (gonna drop the word vegetarian from now on - you know I mean 'shepherd's pie with no meat in it, right?')... and I have made them with all kinds of veggie mince (Quorn, Realeat, TSP and supermarket own brands...) and meat substitutes, I have also made them with just vegetables in, I have made them with a lentil base, I have made them spicy, or just mildly seasoned. You get the idea.

Last week though, I perfected my shepherd's pie recipe... I can honestly say it is the very tastiest shepherd's pie I have ever eaten, including those that were meat based in my pre-veggie years. Including homemade ones made by others and including those made in restaurants.....

Best of all, the whole family like it, so it's a winner. Going down as recipe that I created....

Jo's Shepherd's Pie, suitable for vegetarians and meat eaters alike (though not vegan's as it does include Quorn...)

All ingredient amounts are approximate..

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic (crushed)
  • 5 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 300g packet of Quorn mince
  • teaspoon of Marigold vegetable stock powder (or tsp of Marmite works well)
  • 1 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • a big splash of red wine
  • handful of torn basil leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

  • Mashed potato (I used whatever old potato is available, and mash it with butter, big handful of grated cheddar and a bit splash of milk, beaten together too make 'cheesy mash'!)

  1. Cook the carrots and then either mash them or use a hand blender to make them smooth. Put to one side.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add the tinned tomatoes and Quorn. Add about 200mls of water and cook for 5 minutes. Add the wine, stock and carrot puree. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Season to taste and add the basil.
  3. Pour into a dish (saving any extra - could be used as a bolognaise sauce.. or base of chilli - dependent of what you later add to it....) and top with mashed potato. Cook in the oven for 10 minutes. Longer if either the sauce or potato was cold.

The secret I believe is the pureed carrots and the wine. The carrots seem to make it a lovely consistency (yeah I tried it with chopped carrots, it's NOT the same!) and the wine gives it a fuller flavour.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

(Hoping she will be) Like Mother, Like Daughter

My eldest (age 5 and half) spent all afternoon sat on the work top in the kitchen when I made and cooked various foods for the week ahead. She is 5 and half and seemed really interested. I do hope all my children leave home with a good interest in food and a healthy knowledge of cooking from scratch. Enthusiasm should hopefully spiral from there....

We made a lentil loaf, some popcorn-covered chicken and the Christmas cake....

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Half Term Holidays

I haven't updated for a while as we have been away for the half term holidays to Anglesey, North Wales.

I broke my wheat amnesty while there and enjoyed pasta, bread, cakes, biscuits and a fair bit of processed crap during the week...... but my weight hasn't suffered as a result... hoorah! I had lost 3lb within 10 days before we went from following a wheat-free diet with no exercise and little effort at calorie counting.

Now we are back, I am gradually cutting it back out of my diet (gradually because I have a few things in the cupboard which needs eating first!) over the next few days. I intend to remain wheat-free while increasing physical activity and watching the calories until Christmas. Goal is to be at or just under 9 stone by the 25th December. Have to be realistic about gaining a few lbs over the festive period, so after that the plan is to go back to the diet to get back to goal - hopefully this won't take too long and then I can get back to maintaining AT GOAL WEIGHT!

You remember our one, green, precious pumpkin? I made it into a really rather delicious pumpkin cake, which we ate on holiday. I also made some parkin which was delicious.

We ate out on Anglesey at The White Eagle Inn in Rhoscolyn, which is most definitely worth a mention. All about flavour and home-cooking, we had a couple of delicious meals there and a very memorable cheeseboard, which has now got me seeking out a recipe for home-made digestive biscuits to go with my festive cheeseboard......

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Butterscotch & Banana Loaf

Contains a (large) bar and a half of Green & Blacks Butterscotch Chocolate.....took all the willpower in the world to not nibble at.. but has now been frozen and saved, ready for when the wheat amnesty ends....

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Things I made this week

This week concluded my preserving marathon when I made (for the first time) some pickled onions, Christmas mincemeat and onion marmalade.

The pickled onions were really easy and I know they will taste amazing. The vinegar in which they are being pickled was flavoured by some lovely stuff, including ginger, allspice berries, mace blades and mustard seeds. They look really authentic too... I am thinking of doing some more this week as Christmas presents (they can't be eaten yet for 6-8 weeks... so I have no idea how good/bad they are...)

The mincemeat was a pleasure to make.. I used Delia's recipe and the house smelled of Christmas for a couple of days! The mincemeat is now in jars, allowing the flavours to seep, ready for mince pie making in couple of months!

The onion marmalade was a challenge to say the least. 2kg of onions which needed peeling and slicing. I used a slicer on the food processor but still the house was filled with onions smells and my eyes were watering 24 hours later! But the end result was so so worth it.. it is gorgeously tasty and a worthy effort!

I have also made parkin this week, which I have frozen, ready to take with us on holiday during the October half term (and my wheat-free diet will temporarily end!) and a number of loaves, including brioche and 100% spelt. I show my dedication to the wheat-free cause by making brioche yet not tasting it. My children and husband contest to the fact that the brioche tasted authentically brioche-esk and it smelled divine!

I bought the Good House-Keeping Christmas Cook Book this week and I have so many things planned.. what a great buy!

Wheat-free = weight loss?

I decided to cut wheat out my diet this week as I have a few online friends who have successfully cut wheat out of their diets for the purpose of losing weight. There are a few theories why this might work.

  • That you might have an underlying intolerance to wheat/gluten, even a mild one, so removing it from your diet will enable you body to work better and maximise performance, so if you are eating sensibly and exercising, you may notice a difference..
  • That cutting out wheat means you remove a large group of high carb foods, eg pasta and bread to name two, so you naturally cut the number of calories you are consuming. Many wheat based products have a higher GI index, and therefore allow you to feel sugar highs and lows.....the lows meaning you are more likely to feel hunger and the need to snack.
  • That wheat plays such a large part in a typical Western diet now, that removing it means you are forced to really take a long hard look at what you are eating and what goes into your food.

I would say for me, if I am successful in losing weight in this way then it will be because of a mixture of the last two points as I have no reason to think I have any kind of food intolerance or allergy.

I am not cutting out gluten, just wheat. So I am still allowing myself oats, and other similar grains, such as rye, spelt, quinoa, buckwheat, corn.. to name a few. I am trying to not replace old habits of bread or pasta eating with a similar grain, but by allowing myself to eat other grains, I am not finding it too restrictive. I have also found I can eat more foods with a higher fat content (eg cheese) and not be pushing the number of calories I consume (I aim for 1400-1600 per day) and I naturally eat more protein rich foods as a result.... many of which are lower in fat as I am vegetarian.

Most of the tried and tested family meals are based around pasta, and i do want to continue eating the same as the rest of my family where possible. So this week I bought some 'Free from' spaghetti pasta (made from various wheat-free ingredients and quite highly processed). Although this tasted ok, the consistancy was not nice, very gloopy and I have no desire to eat it again!

I have since been advised, by that know more than me, that buying a pasta made from alternative flours might be better if I went for non-alternatives to wheat pasta - ie foods NOT trying to be a wheat substitute. Suggestions include rice noodles and buckwheat pasta. I also love quinoa and have found a pasta made from quinoa... so have ordered some with my groceries - should arrive at the end of next week... looking forward to trying it!

I have been eating more oatcakes and found some crackers made with spelt. I have also made 100% spelt loaves this week. I haven't eaten them in the same way as I would normal bread as they are very dense and filling, but I haven't really missed eating bread because of the gap these flours seem to fill......

So.... I had a sneak peep on the scales this morning (normal weigh-in day is Monday) and I have lost 2lbs. I am quite happy as I don't feel I have been trying too hard and I have only exercised once, which was Friday when I went to aerobics....And it's the first time I have lost weight since July when I returned from my honeymoon.

So initial thoughts are that (for whatever reason...) IT WORKS!

I intend to be realistic about what I eat and what I want to eat by doing 2 weeks cutting out wheat and 1 week eating as usual. In 2 weeks time we are going on holiday and I have already started baking cakes to take with us (parkin and pumpkin cake!).. so I intend to continue my wheat amnesty until then (24th October) and then indulge. I will resume on my return, hoping to get to target weight (8 stone 8lb) by Christmas.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


I am excited to be hosting Christmas this year, for the very first time. There will be 8 of us (D, Is, T, Io, L, Ma & Pa and myself) and I will be cooking everything from scratch. Out of the love of cooking!

I am planning the menu at the minute which is a difficult task as we have 2 vegetarians (D & I), 1 very fussy adult eater (you know who you are!) and 4 littlies who can be fussy and difficult to cater for... especially if you consider the rich tastes that Christmas often brings. And it's these rich tastes that I want to create.....

Ideas so far:

  • Turkey..... I am guessing a crown will be the best idea. We have a local farm where turkeys are free range and organic, so we plan to visit the farm shop soon to discuss requirements.
  • A veggie main. No idea what yet.
  • Potted cheese and home-made oatcakes.
  • Red cabbage with braised apples.
  • Sprouts cooked in an inventive way ( I have seen a recipe for cooking them in an orange and butter sauce which I am tempted with).
  • Carrots. Plain. So children will be happy to eat them.
  • Cranberry sauce of some description. I am tempted to do a cranberry salsa which I spotted on a foodie site not so long ago.....
  • Chipolatas. Again sourced from above mentioned organic farm.
  • A cheeseboard with artisan cheeses, figs and grapes.
  • Mince pies. I plan to make the mincemeat soon.
  • Christmas cake. This is something I have never attempted before. A friend has linked me to a recipe made with vanilla flavoured vodka, which is apppealing to me more and more.
  • An alternative sweet/pudding that will appeal to the children. Unsure what yet.
  • Chutneys and pickles. Home-made of course!

So, much to do, and less than 3 months to go. I plan to make the mincemeat and pickle the onions this week. I also hope to finalise which cake recipe I will use. I took delivery of a second hand copy of Delia's Christmas Book this week and I am waiting for a copy of Nigella's book too......

Birthdays and Pumpkins

I turned 33 this week. As a birthday treat, D and I went out for a meal at Hansa's vegetarian restaurant in Leeds, which was truly amazing. Truly amazing because it was the first time in about 5 years that D and I have been out for a meal alone and truly amazing because the food was truly amazing. We had about 4 or 5 courses. I had worried that everything might simply be too hot for me (being a curry/Indian-food novice), but the flavours were amazing, very few things were overly hot, just aromatic and tingling. I cannot wait to go again!

I am also the lucky owner of a brand new iPod Nano, 16Gb in orange. Ooooh how lovely it is to look at and hold... and I am sure it will change the way we both store and buy our music. Io was very taken with it, sitting for a good half our with the earphones in place, Muse playing!

And we decided to harvest the pumpkin this week as the plant was well and truly dead. Final measurements haven't yet been done, but here is a picture of it sat next to an average-sized apple to put it into perspective! As originally suspected, it didn't go orange and I don't think it is going to last another 4 weeks to be carved for Halloween, so I am currently searching out a worthy recipe of our sole-surviving pumpkin, green or otherwise!


I made my first real chutney today! After the practise run last week with the rhubarb relish, which went down well, and passed the taste test, I went to the Farmer's Market in Leeds this morning and bought a bag full of organic veg and got cooking.

I used the recipe from River Cottage Handbook No 2: Preserves, called Hearty Ale Chutney, which is FULL of very delicious things, including swede, carrots, cauliflower, apples, onions, dates, beer (organic dandelion ale!)and various spices. I found a fantastic stall at the market which sold produce from a local organic farm and 80% of the ingredients were organic..... prompting me to label the end product as 'Jo's Organic Ale Chutney'! I made about 6 jars but I won't be opening any until mid-November, by which time the flavours should have infused properly and it should be tasting fantastic.

I have to particularly mention the bunch of organic carrots we bought which were 'Rainbow Carrots', which I have never seen before. They were orange, yellow and pink and were amazing... very tasty too!

I have plans to make Onion Marmalade, Christmas Mincemeat, and Pickled Onions in the next 2-3 weeks. I think this preserving business might be a little addictive?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Rear Facing

Quick picture of L's new rear facing car seat, as mentioned a couple of weeks ago... this is a Britax Multifix (fitted in our Multipla, hehe!) and he is currently positioned in the rear, next to big sister Is in her booster, where he can now see out the windows and has a very good view out the rear window (it's a huge back window in our car!) This seat should fit him until he is at least four.

One thing leads to another...

Since starting bread-making in earnest, I have a strange urge to make chutney. After the recommendation of a bread making book by a good friend (River Cottage handbook: Bread), I ordered it from Amazon, along with River Cottage Handbook: Preserves. Both are fascinating reads and have taught me a great deal about the basic processes of bread making and preserving all kinds of foods. There are some very tempting jam recipes.. but we don't actually eat much jam... although maybe I will progress to this in time....

So I ordered some jam jars, and a maslin pan, some muslin, a huge long wooden spoon and a funnel. L thought the maslin pan was the best thing ever and spent a good hour banging out a rhythm with the huge wooden spoon on the aluminium pan! I have to recommend this lovely little company for all things to do with preserve making: Jam Jar Shop , I have had an excellent service from them, they are reasonably priced and have a very informative blog!

One of the first chutney recipes in the book, was for rhubarb relish, and we have a fair amount of rhubarb left in the garden which is only surviving because of this lovely warm, late September sunshine.

Rhubarb Relish:
In a 20cm square of muslin, place 50g of bruised root ginger, 2 snapped cinammon sticks and 6 cloves. Put 500g sugar in the pan, with 100ml cider vinegar, 100 mls water and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Leave on the side for 20 minutes to allow the spices to infuse.
Chop a kilo of rhubarb into 2cm chunks and add, along with 125g of raisins to the syrup. Cook gently for 20-25 minutes until the rhubarb is soft but still holds it's shape. Pour into sterilised jars. And Voila! My first attempt at preserving!

Tonight for tea, we had Quorn steaks, topped with the relish, along with roast potatoes, sweet potato, babycorn, Savoy cabbage and Yorkshire puddings. It was delicious and the relish went really well.

So I am now planning a proper chutney. We are going to Leeds Farmer's Market next Sunday and I hope to buy some of the ingredients there. I have also ordered some more jars! I plan to make an onion marmalade and some mincemeat ready for Christmas.

On the bread front, I have made two loaves worthy of a mention this week. Courgette and Country Grain Loaf and Ciabatta-Style Garlic Loaf. We had the garlic loaf with spaghetti bolognaise and it made a nice alternative to the usual shop-bought garlic bread.

Dylan has just measured the pumpkin and it is now 23cm, so it has had a growth spurt this week.. despite the plant seemingly dying!

I didn't make it to the gym again this week. I cancelled both the Spinning class and an aerobics class after coming down with a head cold, but hopefully I will be back on track this week (although I have to be excused from healthy eating on the 2nd as I will be celebrating getting another year older).

And today we went 'camping' window shopping. We have a few vouchers which were received as wedding gifts and we want to start buying bits and pieces to allow us to go camping as a family. So we went to Go Outdoors in Wakefield and we left truly overwhelmed by the choices we have.

We are struggling to decide what to sleep on. Traditional blow up air beds? If so, how many? Two doubles? Three? One double and two singles ... surely might be fine for our family while the children are so small..... Or alternatively we are looking at the self-inflating mats, such as Therm-a-rest. I have to say, if I was camping on hard ground for weeks at a time, as we intend to, I don't expect they are hugely comfortable, although Dylan disagrees. And again we have the dilemma of how many... a double for Dylan and I... or two singles? And what about the children? We also puzzled over sleeping bags.... double sleeping bags seem easy to come by now, so this seems a good option as no doubt L will still be sleeping with us, so this seems to mean there will be more room for 3/4 etc in a bed!

We also looked at tables and chairs, fridges/cool boxes, tents, trailers and cookers. We bought nothing today but agreed we needed to do a little more research before parting with cash/vouchers.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cook-a-thon Sunday!

Today I have been cooking all day! First thing I made some salmon fishcakes, made with 300g salmon fillets, 300g mashed potato, mixed together with lemon juice, parsly and black pepper. Add a dessert spoonful of flour and a medium beaten egg, then shape into fishcakes. I made them quite small, as they were for the children. Fry for a few minutes per side. These can be frozen and reheated in the oven.

Then I made a very simple spicy chickpea recipe for lunchtimes this week. I liked this recipe because it is low calorie, low GI, veggie, vegan, wheat/gluten and dairy-free. So, fry 1 onion with 2 red chillis and a teaspoon each of tumeric and cumin. Add 2 400g tins of chickpeas and 2 400g tins of chopped tomatoes and cook for 10-15 minutes. Add some lemon juice and black pepper. Nice served with quinoa.

Next on the list it was tuna pasta for the children's lunch boxes tomorrow. Simply wholewheat pasta, with tuna mayonaise, sweetcorn and cucumber. I made enough for today's lunch too - it went down well.....

Then it was time to make some garlic and coriander naan bread to go with tonight's tea. Haven't successfully made naan before, but with the help of my bread-maker for the kneading/proving these worked out a treat! Made with white flour, natural yoghurt, water, yeast, honey, salt, black onion seeds, garlic and coriander.. then baked and then grilled and brushed with melted butter. I had a slight mishap when the first one puffed up more than I expected and touched the grill element and set on fire! But it added to the rustic flavour somewhat! We all loved these, even the children who ate them with their fishcakes!

Then I made some vegetable soup for lunches later in the week. It was a very basic recipe... carrots, potatoes, onion, green pepper, lentils, bayleaf cooked in water. Then a small amount of flour gradually mixed with about 5 times volume of milk, and then added to the pan, and stirred until thickened. When cooked, I threw in some grated cheese and seasoned.

Lastly today, I made a vegetable jalfrezi curry. This was based around butternut squash, cauliflower and chickpeas. Recipe from Jamie Oliver's Minestry of Food cookbook.

Also worth a mention is a veggie shepherds pie I made on Thursday. (Mentioned in previous post - here is a picture) This was a different version of the one I usually make, and was based on a tomato sauce with garlic, sweet potato, carrot, bulghar wheat and red lentils. The next day I had some of this sauce left over, so I added a can of chopped tomatoes, some Discovery Fajita Seasoning mix and some chilli sauce. I added a packet of mangetout peas and stuffed the sauce into taco shells and served with creme fraiche and salad.

I also measured my pumpkin today! Still very green and now 21.5cm across! I believe this is a whole half a centimetre since last Sunday... whoooot!

So that was Sunday. Very little time for anything else, other than washing pots and putting clothes away. Luckily I had a doting hubby and father at home to entertain the children!!

Saturday, 19 September 2009


I made it to the gym! I made it to the gym!! On Wednesday, I went to a Spinning class! It hurt :-( It was very hard... any disillusion I had that I was starting to re-gain some kind of fitness, was smashed and it hurt.

But it must have done me good?

I was 11 stone 8lb on 5th January 2009. I wasn't pregnant. On 21st July.. just before we married, I was 9 stone exactly, that's more like it! My goal was 8 stone 8lb. When we got back from France, I was 9 stone 8lb, which is where I still am currently.

I am now, once more, aiming for 8st 8lb.

So, Spinning and this week I am starting an Aerobics class too. I am trying to get back on top of my eating again, but I find this increasingly hard. I am hoping my exercise will allow me to lose again.... we are currently cooking 98% of our meals from scratch.. so virtually no processed foods. However - would I be more successful in weight-loss if I ate more Quorn????

I have made a number of things worth a mention this week. Two loaves.. one was Rustic French - A loaf made from white, brown and rye flour.... beetoot loaf - a loaf made from beetroot, scallions and white flour - makes an attractive pink loaf with a savoury flavour.

I also made a new version of my veggie shepherds pie..... one of those recipes that evolves as you are cooking. It ended up being a sauce based around sweet potato, carrot, red lentils and bulgar wheat, flavoured with chilli sauce and chopped tomatoes... topped with cheesy mash.

Tonight I adjusted the leftover sauce from that, by adding another tin of tomatoes and adding some Mexican spices (courtesy of Discovery), and stuffing it into Taco shells, and topping with cheese and low fat creme fraiche. Yum.

And happy wedding anniversary to my mum and dad!!

I have also downloaded the most recent Muse album.. I am really going digital hardcopy-cd!!

T has completed his first week of full days at school and survived and L has 6 more new teeth (that's doubled the amount he had previously...)

All is well.

Monday, 14 September 2009

One of those change-of plans days

I had been looking forward to today for a while.... it is a school training day, meaning the school is closed, so I booked the day off work so I could look after Is and T. Io and L were at nursery as it was my working day, so I was looking forward to spending the day with the eldest two without the nappies, tantrums, buggies, carrying and breastfeeding that younger children bring along with them. I planned to take them to either Harewood House, Tropical World or Eureka.

T gets up and vomits all over the bathroom... and then continues to vomit every 30 minutes until 1pm. Gah. So day-out-plans slip away as by 1pm although he is better, he is weak and wobbly and only interested in drinking and eating (which he does continuously until tea time!)

So Is and I do some toy sorting, reading and cooking, which were all quite pleasant all the same. We were limited to what we made - Is wanted to make a cake for T for him to eat when he felt better. I had no eggs in the house and limited other ingredients, so I searched my bookmarked recipes for inspiration. I have a few vegan recipe sites bookmarked, and I found an easy recipe for vegan carrot cake... recipe as follows:

225g SR Flour
1tsp baking powder
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
110g golden caster sugar
75g grated carrot
75ml vegetable oil
200 ml soya milk (I used cow's milk as I am not vegan and cow's milk is cheaper!)

Bung all the ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Pour into a greased and lined 2 lb loaf tin and cook for half an hour at 200c.

What could be easier?!

We also decided to make a pizza for tea, and I decided to have a go making it using the pizza dough setting on my bread maker.

It wasn't particularly any quicker, but the dough seemed easier to spread out over the pizza disc, and it was probably the first round pizza I have made! We topped it with home-made red pizza topper (onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, tsp of sugar, splash of balsamic vinegar, seasoning and herbs... cook for 20 mins then whizz until smooth in a hand-held blender) then added mushroom, red pepper, sweetcorn, cheese and green pesto.

T was well enough to eat both pizza and carrot cake so all in all a good days work! I am now wondering what flavour bread to bung in to bake tonight for our sandwiches tomorrow...?

Cloth Nappies

I always had an idle curiosity about cloth nappies with my first two children. But having been to a cloth nappy demo, I thought they were pretty unappealing and I didn't fancy the extra washing.

Finding myself with four children, 3 in night nappies and 2 in full time nappies, made me have a rethink.. mostly as the cost is adding up of buying disposables and I also can't help thinking about the impact we have on the environment as a family of 6. This would be one of the changes I was to make to improve our green-ability as a family!

I have a friend who was a nappy rep, and she very kindly send me a load of different nappies to try.

Then I started to buy.. and by August 2008, I had both my littlies in full time cloth. It stopped being a green and practical thing to and started being a bit of a hobby (borderline obsession!), and I have bought/sold a fair few nappies, both second-hand and new over the last year.

Earlier this year Io started to have problems with her nappies leaking... I believe she was starting to get bladder control and she was flooding the nappy. She hates being bulked out with extra boosting (probably as she was used to disposables until we made the change) so we reluctantly went back to (eco) disposables for her, although she still wears cloth at night.

So now I have one in cloth nappies, I have streamlined my collection a little and have got rid of the fancier but less reliable ones. I now mostly use Bumgenius and Fuzzi Buns pocket nappies and Tots Bamboozles (bamboo) nappies plus WeeNotions wraps for L.

I still look for nice designs and occasionally will sneak another new nappy into the collection! I recently bought a Realeasy all-in-one cow print bamboo nappy which fit both Io and L really nicely!

We are currently experiencing a bin collection strike, so I have tentatively put Io back into cloth to try and cut down our waste as much as we can. So far, so good... although it's unlikely she will be wearing them for much longer.... as soon as T is settled into school and his new routine, Io will be wearing pants and using the potty - hopefully she will pick it up over a few days and having two in nappies will be a long distant memory.....

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Stuff from the garden and DIY

Here are a few photos of things we have grown this summer. (We haven't grown a huge amount due to the obvious time constraints of having a very demanding/non-sleeping tot , plus his siblings and planning a wedding, our first trip abroad as a family of 6 etc.....)






So - the first picture of the pumpkin, with my hand.... this is perhaps the only pumpkin we will harvest after the culled lots of them as we had out of control pumpkins... lots and lots of tiny ones which weren't growing. This one is, as of today (13th Sept) 21cm across. It has occurred to me that it looks more like a round courgette rather than a pumpkin at this point, and as I got the seeds from a friend, I wonder if this is the case.. time will tell!

We go on holiday over Halloween, so we hope to have at least one carving pumpkin/courgette for then!

Today i gained a bit of vital cooking space in the kitchen because Dylan mounted the microwave on the wall, above the breadmaker. All is now well in Rickerby country kitchen... here is his handy work

Finally, today's tea, which was lentil loaf with tomato sauce and cauliflower (rye bread on the side), recipe courtesy of Delia's veggie book!

Oh and the hedgehog is back! That's the third day in a row - I guess the cat might start to get skinny!


I started cycling in the Spring to aid weight loss and improve my fitness. I really enjoy it and on a good week, I go out 4-5 evenings for about an hour at a time. I have a very basic mountain bike and we are lucky enough to live in/near some lovely countryside. I tend to cycle over a mixture of tarmac and cross-country/off-road.

I usually go out at the end of the day when Dylan is bathing (all four!) children... it's a nice time of day to escape by myself in the evening sun, and it's become more than just a way to keep fit; it's very much me-time and I find it quite therapeutic. I often see a great deal of wildlife, including wildfowl, rabbits, hares, deer and foxes. I have also watched the fields go through their farmed cycle, and I am currently watching many crops being harvested by the great big combine harvesters. I have also been watching the fields being stripped back by controlled fires and great big stinking piles of horse manure being dumped, ready for spreading (which hasn't occurred yet). There have often been occasions where I want to go and pull up a bit of the crop because I am curious about what vegetable is growing, but have so far resisted the urge!

I have also cycled past some kind of sub-station, where lots of electrical pylon trails start. If you stand at a particular point, you can see the start of a long line of pylons spread out across the countryside... and then if you turn slightly you can see another one start, and turn a bit more, another one etc. Perhaps a slightly odd thing to marvel at, but marvel at it I did, and wished I had a camera.

I have actually been inspired to take photos many times while out on my bike and I do aspire to own a digital SLR, so I can take decent photos and teach myself to capture what I see. I do own a camera at present but it's a 'point and click', intended to capture memories of family life. I hope by next summer, I will go out cycling with a camera slung around my neck... and I can then put photos into my cycling musings.....decent ones too.

I am wondering what to do when the nights draw in as I don't intend to cycle in the dark. I need a replacement form of exercise as I am still losing weight. I have never enjoyed going to the gym, although I am considering looking into classes such as Spinning. I do have my trusty exercise DVD's, but they are hardly the same as cycling..... it has become so much more than 'getting fit'. But I will be retiring the bike over winter.. I reckon I have about 6 weeks left before it's too dark.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


Second day in a row now we have been visited by a hedgehog. We feed Mia, the cat, in a greenhouse/lean-to with a cat flap to the outside. So today, the kids are in bed and I have peace and quiet..... I hear a bizarre munching sound. We have a stable door and the top part is open. I look over and there is the hedgehog. Bold as brass eating and drinking Mia's food and water. Oddly, there is Mia, a few metres away, miaowing for food, as if the hedgehog isn't even there.. not even a sniff. As if he is invisible.

Some say he will be good for slug-eating, I say, unlikely... there is cat food on offer.....

Wedding - 25th July 09

Photo credits (*cough*) to the two Gray men in my life, brother, Michael and dad, Tony.