Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Sowing the seeds of ......................

Today I have dusted off the tin that I keep all of my vegetable seeds in, and attempted to work out what we will be growing this year. This is always such a great time for me, I am filled with excitement and hope for the forth coming growing season   I always want  to try and grow as much as possible, so that we have amazing fresh food and save money at the same time.  I love the summer days when everything for dinner comes from the garden, these are normally omelettes and salad or ratatouille.

Hubby and I went a little crazy at the end of last summer at our local garden centres sale, and bought lots of packets of seeds for 50p each. Last year I also started saving our own vegetable seeds, (we had lots of success the year before saving flower seeds) I saved seeds from runner beans, broad beans and sugar snap peas. Its a really simple process of leaving the pods to dry out,  then removing the seeds, and storing them in paper envelops in a dry place.  Today I managed to sort out the seeds that we will not use, as we now do not have our allotment and I have donated some to my girls primary school for use in their allotment.  The school have the most amazing allotment, it is situated on an island just a stones throw from the school.  They have a shed, raised beds, mature fruit trees and a big grassy area that they use for forest school.   I am hoping to go and help the children with their planting, I always find helping them to be extremely rewarding and so much fun.

Next month I will sew my tomato plant seeds indoors, and try to get an early start on the plants.  As last year we were really late in starting to  pick tomatoes, but they did carried on through until October.  I will also start the peas off early, as my kids can never get enough of them.  Last year I managed two plantings of peas, but the third and fourth failed thanks to help from my chickens and some dodgy germination.  Peas rarely make it into the house here, the kids pick them for snacks whilst playing.  This is also true for the strawberries, sugar snaps and my middle child has a thing about red currants. 

A while ago now I was asked what sort of gardener I am, I answered that I am a survivalist gardener.  Its a miracle if any of my plants survive the" help" that I receive from my cats, chickens and children :-).

Friday, 17 January 2014

Cheese and Onion soup

A friend of mine was talking about an amazing soup that she has recently made, it had become a firm favourite with her family.  Once I found out that it was really cheap to make, I asked her for the recipe. I am always interested in frugal recipe, that help me to keep to the food shopping budget. I made this Cheese and Onion soup and WOW, I love it!!!


  • 2 chopped Onions (you can use red or white, I have even used Welsh Onions from my garden)
  • 3 pints of chicken stock
  • A handful of Grated cheese
  • Seasoning

  1. Chop the onions, and fry them gently in the butter.
  2. Once the onions are soft, add the chicken stock. 
  3. Add the grated cheese, stir until melted.
  4. Blitz with your stick blender.
  5. Season to taste.
All amounts are approximant, as I keep tasting as I go when I make it.
A slight variation that another friend came up with, was to make the soup without the cheese. Then make cheese on toast, once the soup is in the bowl float the cheese and toast on top.  I have to admit that I love this version too, and it makes my lunch a bit more filling.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Breakfast ideas.

We very rarely buy or eat any processed food, and choosing instead make most things from scratch. But breakfast gave me lots of cause for thought, as my children love cereal.  As most other Mums I am in a rush in the mornings,as my girls go to a school eleven miles from our home. So cereals on a school morning were fast and convenient.
I tried to choose healthy option cereals, but my kids always wanted the type that are marketed at them.  Either those or the very expensive diet version of cereals that contain  the freeze dried fruit, if I bought that type I could easily spend £8.00 a week just on cereal. It wasn't just the cost that I was concerned about I was also the amount of sugar, preservatives and general junk that they were consuming.  After eating cereals the children were never full for very long, and would want snacks before lunch.
So in August of last year I stopped buying cereals, with the hope that by the time that the kids went back to school in September I would be up to speed.  We have experimented with lots of different recipes and ideas. I made breakfast muffins that contained different seeds and dried fruit, I thought these were yummy but my middle child acted like I was trying to poison her. The fantastic thing was that these frozen and de-frosted beautifully, making them a brilliant back up.  The standard mid week breakfasts are now yoghurt, fresh fruit, wholemeal toast with homemade jam and porridge. When I have more time we made crumpets, American style pancakes, and cinnamon buns.  When Mr Sunflower Gal is home he likes a bacon sandwich, poached eggs, or the occasional full English for brunch. 
As I said at the start of this post we made most things from scratch,  however I do like bargain. When I see English Muffins, broche, croissants or pain au chocolate reduced  I do buy them for a treat, who could resist a Broche loaf for 19p?? Yummy toasted with some homemade jam. Below are homemade Cinnamon buns, shout if anyone would like the recipe.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Black Banana Cake

I really dislike food waste, and between trying to be careful not to over cook, using up leftovers and our chickens we waste very little. 
However I am not sad if I find that we have overlooked some bananas, as it gives me a great excuse to make this fantastic cake.  Its one of those cakes that everyone wants the recipe for.  It was originally a Nigel Slater recipe, but I have changed it a bit.  His recipe calls for Hazelnuts, but we are not big not big nut eaters.  My kids adore this cake, so we more often than not make it in muffin cases so its easier for lunch boxes.  If you make it in muffin cases just remember to reduce the length of time that you cook them for.

  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3. Line the base and sides of loaf tin with baking parchment.
  2. Beat the butter and sugars until light and coffee-coloured. Slowly add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture and self-raising flour.
  3. Peel the bananas and chop them the small pieces. Gently fold the vanilla extract, the bananas and the chocolate chips into the cake mixture, turning gently and taking care not to overmix.
  4. Scoop the cake batter into the loaf tin. Dust with a little demerara sugar. Bake for between 1 hour and 1 hour 10 minutes, covering the cake with foil if the top starts to darken too quickly.
This cake is well worth a try, and I hope that you will love it as much as we do.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Growing Pains

I have been looking for more land for our family for quite a while now.  At the moment we grow as much organic fruit, vegetables and herbs that we can possible fit in our garden.  We also have a chicken house with three chickens, a greenhouse, plus a trampoline and jungle gym for the children. Visitors are always impressed with the amount of things that we have managed to fit into the small space, their comments always make me smile.
Our three children love to help in the garden, and love eating the fresh produce. In many ways I am spurred on by them, they now eat a far wider range of vegetables and have learnt so much.  My youngest two are pea crazy, and I struggle to grow enough to keep them happy.  Peas never make it into the house here.
Last year I managed to get my hands on a local allotment after being on the Parish Councils waiting list for four years, its a five minute walk from here with water, a shed and regular deliveries of manure.  Sadly for me this allotment could not have come at a worse time, as it was three weeks before I went into hospital for knee surgery. I tried hard to clear the plot, but it was in a terrible state some of the weeds were taller than me. Unfortunately this was not good enough for the council, and I had to give the plot up.
Another idea was to rent this property from the Church of England.

What do you think? Most people that I showed this to were totally horrified lol.  We came across this place when a friendly beekeeper showed us his hives. The house itself is in a terrible state after being stood empty for years, the kitchen has been used to house sheep, its got terrible woodworm, no mains electric or gas.  The access is pretty tricky and after September was not passable by anything less than a 4x4. But you know I just loved it, it is in the middle of an organic mixed farm, with no neighbours for a mile and our children's school is about two miles away. The house is in the middle of an acre, and that would have given us lots of room for all the things that we love. Sadly that was not to be either.
I am excited to see what opportunities are in store for us in 2014.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Happiness Jar.

I heard a friend of a friend talking about her family tradition of making a Happiness Jar. I had no idea what this was, and needed an explanation. It went a little like this; during the course of the year all members of your family write things that makes them happy, on little bits of paper then they fold them up tight. Then on New Years Eve you read them out to each other.  This fits perfectly with one of my new years resolutions, 2014 the year of trying to focus on the positive!!  Isn't it easy to fixate on the negative, and get carried away by it?  So I made this jar, which is currently sitting on my kitchen windowsill. My kids are really taken with the idea, and the two little ones keep coming up to me and asking me to write notes for them.  I also intend to add a few addition things, such as the funny comments that my kids come out with, amusing incidents that happen and anything that really makes me laugh out loud.

I made the label with a beautiful kit that I bought from a friends Stampin' Up party last year.  Goodness me I have never such beautiful craft bits, I was all of a dither and did not know what to buy with my very small budget.  I could have spent £100s.  My Mother attends classes in her local area that are organised by one of Stampin' Ups consultants, she has made some wonderful things including paper wreaths, cards and gift boxes.  I am always hoping that she will make some of these things for me.