Wednesday, 20 September 2017

One-pot Cooking - Shakshuka


Thank you all so much for your kind words and good wishes with regard to Lily's first week at school. It means so much and it's lovely knowing there are so many caring people around.
She looks forward to going each day and appears to have settled in well, returning most days with muddy trousers, which can only be a good sign where Lily is concerned. I'm gradually getting into the swing of the school run, rushed mornings and the daily checking of the book bag for the seemingly never ending stream of letters (which get sent by email anyway so I don't understand why they do this.) It's all good so far.
So, for a while now I have been promising the lovely Sheila I would post this recipe for her and finally, here it is!
Anyone who knows me knows I am not  natural in the kitchen and quite honestly I become all fingers and thumbs when it comes to attempting to juggle various pots and pans, get timings right or serve up in an attractive manner (me or the food!) ending up a bit frazzled and unable to properly enjoy my meal.
To this end I am a huge fan of one-pot cooking. I find this way of cooking far more relaxing and enjoyable. Being able to produce a delicious meal with a glass of wine in one hand and at the same time holding down a conversation can only be a good thing, right? Add to that a lot less washing up and I'm on a winner.
One of these dishes which has recently become a firm favourite is Shakshuka, a delicious Middle Eastern dish with flavours which can be adjusted to suit your own taste. There are various recipes online with suggestions for alternative ingredients but this is my favourite as it is so simple, fresh and tasty.


  
You will need,

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 courgette
2 peppers
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
4 medium eggs
50g Feta cheese
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
A little oil for frying
Fresh mint

Slice the onion, garlic, courgette and peppers and fry using a little oil for around 5 minutes. Add the tin of tomatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Make 4 wells in the mixture and crack an egg into each one. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 8 minutes by which time the eggs will be cooked through but still soft in the middle. Sprinkle over the crumbled Feta and chopped mint and serve with some pitta or crusty bread.

 

I hope you enjoy this recipe, please do let me know if you try it.
J. X

Friday, 8 September 2017

Last days of Summer

As I write this it is a damp, grey day outdoors and it is time to finally accept that, for me at least, Summer is now over. I know we can still expect some warm sunny days ahead but the nights are getting longer now and there is a distinct coolness in the morning air.
I have so much enjoyed these late Summer days and really wanted to make the most of this precious time spent with Lily before she begins school next week.
Naturally one of our days was spent at the beach. I think it will be a while now before we will once again be wearing our shorts and running into the sea.
We've been walking and collecting  more blackberries and some elderberries. There have been so many this year. Some of the blackberries are currently being transformed into blackberry vodka while the rest are still in the freezer waiting to be become jam at some point during the coming week. The elderberries will be turned into syrup. It is delicious on porridge during the colder months and apparently it also has antiviral properties.
While we were in Settle, a couple of weeks ago, we called in at a lovely little toy shop where I picked up a colourful  pocket kite for Lily and when we were out walking last weekend it was breezy enough to try it out. Initially a little unsure of how it worked she soon got the hang of it and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Luckily there is no shortage of wide open spaces around here so I will keep the kite folded up in the rucksack in anticipation of the next flying opportunity.
Also, last weekend I made a brief foray into the world of cycling in order to try out our recent purchase of a trail-gator. I found I enjoyed it much more than I expected. It's been a few years since I was last on a bike, let alone one with another attached  to it and being told 'faster, faster!' We're hoping to get out again very soon, suffice to say I will be getting hold of some padded shorts before I do.
Yesterday I spent an hour sewing name labels into school uniform and this time next week Lily will have spent her very first week at school! I can't think where the time has gone. She seems excited but no doubt it will take her a while to settle in. She's certainly reached a stage where she is ready for new challenges and once she find her feet I'm sure she'll thrive. It doesn't stop me worrying though.
The changing of the seasons sees us finding a new routine to our days which, although very different from the freedom of the Summer months, is reassuring to return to at this time of year.
J. X

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

August

I'm sure you will understand the reason for my lack of posts this month. I have been the sole source of entertainment for a (very) lively four year old which, although tough going at times, has also been a enormous amount of fun.
This month has flown by.
When I initially booked our holiday for the end of July I naively thought the rest of the Summer would stretch on forever and yet now, here we are, almost at its end.
I've really enjoyed the time off and it seems that, once again, we've spent most of the month outdoors. I've made up endless picnics, cleaned muddy boots and swept up A LOT of sand.
We've visited the picturesque towns of Kirkby Lonsdale, Settle and Skipton, walked up Wansfell Pike, overlooking Ambleside and, of course, spent a lot of time at the beach.
In the middle of the month I spent my birthday by the lake at Grasmere. It was a gloriously sunny day and Lily and I had a wonderful time paddling at the soft shingle shoreline. Her confidence has grown in leaps and bounds over the Summer, mastering the zip wire and fireman's pole at the local park and learning to read. We have spent so much time together it is going to be such a wrench when she starts at school in a couple of weeks time.
We've collected plenty of blackberries. Or rather I collected blackberries while Lily stood and kept me company. They are in abundance around here this year and I have a freezer drawer full of them just waiting to be made into jam and possibly some blackberry vodka.
Over the last week the weather has hinted at Autumn, but with the temperatures set to rise again towards the weekend I will be making the most of Summer while it lasts.
J. X

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Week on Arran

Looking back now I can't remember what made us decide on Arran for our Summer holiday this year, but I'm so glad we did.
Far away from the hustle and bustle, some breathtaking scenery, quaint little villages, quiet sandy beaches and an abundance of wildlife. Arran is a beautiful island and offered everything we could have wanted from our holiday and is so easily accessible we were left wondering why we had never visited before.
Our week began with a short ferry crossing from Ardrossan to Brodick. This takes just under an hour, but plenty of time to relax, enjoy a coffee and catch our first glimpse of the island as we approached.
Our cottage was lovely with views to the sea and Kintyre peninsula and we had been left a welcome gift of fresh bread from the village bakery, locally produced cheese and chutney and some free range eggs from a nearby farm. Delicious, and they didn't last long!
On our first evening we took a short drive up the coast and were thrilled with our first sighting of a seal. We stood watching it for a while in the warm evening air. It was so quiet, there was no breeze and even the sea was incredibly still.
Most mornings after enjoying a leisurely breakfast we went out walking before it became too hot. There were so many walks to choose from on the island. Over the week we walked some of the coastal way, through woodland and up onto hillsides. We enjoyed a visit to the King's caves, the rugged and imposing cliffs at Drumadoon point and to the stunning Glenashdale Falls and Giant's Graves at Whiting Bay, taking in some amazing views over towards Holy Isle. Lunch was always a picnic usually followed by time on the beach.
Our favourite was the beach at Kildonan on the South of the island. Kildonan is a small village which overlooks the tiny island of Pladda with Ailsa Craig beyond. The golden sandy beach stretches around the bay to rocky shores which attract seals and otters. Lily was so happy to run in and out of the crystal clear sea, clamber on rocks - 'I'm on my own island!' and make sandcastles. Simple childhood pleasures which, I think, make a holiday.
We indulged in just a tiny bit of retail therapy when we visited Arran: Sense of Scotland (formerly Arran Aromatics) where I purchased some gorgeous scented candles and soap and, of course, a trip to the Distillery at Lochranza resulted in a bottle of Whisky.
In the evenings we would return to the cottage, enjoy a drink in the garden followed by a simple but tasty dinner, talk, read, and later spend some time in the Jacuzzi, gazing out to sea enjoying the stunning sunsets with an accompanying glass of wine.
The pace of life on the island was wonderfully slow and easy. Nowhere was busy or crowded. There was space, peace (when Lily was quiet), so much sky, and I can honestly say it had been a while since I had felt so relaxed.
Arran, we will return.
J. X

Monday, 31 July 2017

Holiday

There's nothing quite like a Summer holiday. A chance to get away from it all and unwind.
The excitement for me begins when I start browsing the internet for places to stay and visit, closely followed by confirming the bookings and making travel arrangements.
Nearer the time this is accelerated as I then decide what to pack in my suitcase. A book to read, sun cream, how many pairs of shorts? and for holidays in this country a handy waterproof and a sweater!
Last week was our Summer holiday and, although still exciting, in reality the build up to going away as a family can be quite a frantic time of organising, lists and getting those last minute errands done on time.
Thankfully we enjoyed a wonderful and relaxing week away from the moment we drove onto the ferry. We had some glorious weather; blue skies, sunshine and warm breezes. I read my book, enjoyed some internet free time (no Wi-Fi) and on one of our beach days my legs turned a little bit pink! Proper holiday stuff.
Mornings were easy. We took time over breakfast and didn't rush anywhere. We filled our days with walking, hanging out at the beach and enjoying each others company without distractions.
The sea air did an amazing job of knocking us out and after a glass of wine in an evening we would sit in the Jacuzzi and watch the sunset, it was blissful. As is often the case we were very reluctant to return home.
We now have six weeks until school starts and I'm sure there is much more fun to be had in the meanwhile, but for this year our holiday is over. I have a funny feeling that one evening this week I will be found looking at ideas for next Summer. Maybe once I've vacuumed all the sand out of the car.
J. X

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Strawberry Jam


This year, much to my disappointment, our strawberry plants did not provide us with a bountiful harvest. We only managed to pick five!
Thankfully, our local greengrocer has had a plentiful supply of tasty Scottish strawberries at a very reasonable price which have provided us with some fruity deliciousness over the Summer months.
Is it just me or have this year's strawberries been particularly flavoursome? Tasting like strawberries should taste. Maybe it's been down to the extra sunshine we've been having. I'd like to think so.
The strawberry season is now coming to an end, so in order for us to be able to enjoy them for just a little while longer I decided to turn some into jam.
I used to think jam making was some kind of magical art, created in farmhouse kitchens and involving lots of specialist equipment, but I've recently discovered it is far more straight forward than I first thought. In fact it really isn't complicated at all. Just as long as you don't spill it over the kitchen work surface - that's when things can get very sticky!
To make this jam you need 950g strawberries, 800g granulated sugar and the juice of one lemon. This makes approximately three jars.
Hull and slice the strawberries and then crush them in the bottom of a large stockpot or heavy based saucepan using a potato masher.
Add the lemon juice and sugar then transfer to the stove top gradually increasing the temperature and stirring regularly until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a rolling boil.
Allow to boil for around ten minutes then transfer (carefully) into sterilised jars.
Just delicious served with freshly baked buttered scones and even better outdoors in the sunshine.
J. X

Friday, 14 July 2017

Time Out

The general chaos of the last week of term is fast approaching, so in an attempt to create some sense of equilibrium before the forthcoming onslaught of the year end party, sports day, pyjama day and graduation (yes, really!) we have been spending time doing what we love most - getting outdoors.
We've grasped at every opportunity to get out and about and enjoy the sunny days and have been rewarded with some beautiful places and gorgeous views.
Some days were planned for and others were on the spur of the moment ideas. Work and some other mundane aspects of daily life have been taking their toll lately so a change of scenery was just the tonic we needed.
We juggled work, finishing off some outside chores and pre-school, scrabbled picnics together at short notice and off we went.
I am trying really hard not to think about the state the house is in due to a lack of cleaning and tidying. I've been doing the bare minimum to see us through and it shows. Never mind, unless the housework fairies have been to call it will still be there waiting for me. I'm letting the dust settle, literally, because for now the sky is blue and the sea is warm and we're busy having fun.
J. X

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sunny Saturday

Last Saturday I was all set for a relaxing morning. No rushing about, just a few chores needed completing to be followed by a quick trip into the local town in order to buy a new swimsuit for Lily, when out of the blue came a request for a trip into Liverpool.  Within the hour I had a picnic lunch made up and we were on our way.
Of course, being a weekend it was bustling with activity. It was a beautiful day and it seemed like the whole city was out enjoying the sunshine just as we were.
Errands quickly out of the way, we ate our lunch and wandered up to the cathedral. At first glance, from our approach, it wasn't overly impressive to look at but inside it is such an amazing building with the most stunning stained glass windows. I was so glad we had taken the opportunity to have a look around for once.
Next stop was Keel Wharf and the Albert Dock. It was the busiest I have ever seen it. Lots of tourists  and a continuous stream of open top bus tours. 
We decided it would be a great opportunity to take a ride on the Wheel of Liverpool. I'm not a fan of heights but it was such a clear day and we were able to see some really lovely views of the city that I was soon able to relax and enjoy it.
A quick turn on the Victorian carousel by the Pump House followed by coffee and the obligatory  browse around John Lewis and we were on our way home again, barely having stopped for breath. It had been a very enjoyable, albeit impromptu, day out.
Oh! And if you're wondering if, after all that, we managed to get a new swimsuit, Lily was given a choice between a rather tasteful blue and white striped number and a lurid pink one depicting two flamingos wearing sunglasses! Guess which one came home with us? 
 J. X

Friday, 30 June 2017

This and That


It's been an ordinary old week here. I've been keeping busy with this and that but I don't appear to have an awful lot to show for it. Summer has made a swift retreat for the time being, which means I am, once again, reaching for my jeans and sweaters.                             
Thankfully, unless the weather has been far too wet, we've still managed to get out and about.
The start of the week was lovely and bright, so to make the most of it we went to the beach. I hadn't counted on it being so windy though, which made it feel quite chilly at times. The cold did not stop Lily going for a paddle, however. I'm now finding sand in all sorts of places and seashells in random pockets of various jackets and bags.
I've been out running along the country lanes. A familiar route which I love. With just the cows, sheep, horses and wildlife for company it felt so invigorating. A large Heron took off from the stream as I ran past. Not a bad way to spend a morning, I just wish I had the opportunity to enjoy it more regularly.
I made some very tasty flapjack using my favourite recipe which was well received and is now all gone! I still haven't got back into baking as often as I should. In fact I've become a bit lazy in that department. I do get that way from time to time, then before I know it I'm back at it, struggling to find enough storage tins for all the cakes and biscuits I've made - not that they ever last long in this house.
Midweek, I went out for tapas with my closest friend. It was the quirkiest little restaurant I have ever been to. I would like to say it was authentic but authentic to what? I'm not quite sure. The d├ęcor was nothing I have ever previously experienced and included plastic grapes, coloured lights and artificial Christmas tree branches! The food, however, was absolutely delicious and conversation flowed as only it can with such good friends. We don't get to meet up as often as we would like so really appreciate it when we do.
I finished the cushion cover which I was part way through making in my previous post. It was so simple but I really like it. I think it's the colour. I do love a dusky pink. I might even make a couple more.
To round off the week, and the month I suppose, we went for a short walk. The Meadowsweet are now in flower here and line the pathway alongside the stream. The elderberries are starting to grow, any flowers left being past their best and to Lily's delight the raspberries are beginning to ripen.
So that's it. That's been my week. Now it's all written down I guess there has been more going on than I first thought.
J. X