Pottering in the Garden

image1

Over the last few weeks the weather in our corner of the world has been warm and sunny, and we’ve been spending lots of happy hours working and relaxing in our little garden.

Since my husband and I moved here five months ago, it has been a pleasant surprise whenever flowers planted by the previous occupants have emerged, like snowdrops in January and most recently a cluster of bluebells, but in many ways the back garden was a blank canvas and we’ve been steadily transforming it into our own.

On a blustery day back in February, my husband and dad built three raised beds for us to grow some of our own herbs and vegetables, and another for flowers. While they prepared the ground and built the frames, I rescued earth-worms and relocated topsoil (which is currently sitting at the bottom of the garden in an unsightly mound, but will hopefully mulch down). We had four tonnes of topsoil delivered in March to fill up the raised beds, and we finally started sowing seeds in April, when the risks of late frosts had reduced in our part of the country. It’s so rewarding to see the first shoots and seedlings already peeking up out of the soil.

(Before and after photos of the garden from above)

Both my parents are avid gardeners and when I was growing up they always encouraged me to help in their garden, and I’m so grateful for their help and advice as we cultivate our own little garden. As a child I planted a bed of strawberries in my parents’ garden, that still produces fruit well over a decade later, and I’ve taken runners from those same strawberries to plant in our garden now.

Our garden is too small for us to ever be self-sufficient but my husband and I have longed for a little kitchen garden for years, and it’s lovely to see our ideas becoming reality. We’re both novice gardeners but we’re eager to learn and excited to see what – if anything – grows this year.

image4

The previous owners of our house planted an ornamental cherry tree that we’ve relocated, we were worried that the roots might have been damaged when we dug it up but we were relieved when delicate white blossoms started to appear. We’ve finally planted our spindly, little Acer, which was surviving in a half-barrel planter until now, and it seems much happier being able to stretch its roots into the soil. I look forward to watching both of these trees change through the seasons and grow over the years.

We treated ourselves to a companion set, and we’re looking forward to spending lots of time in the garden over the next few months, and on days when it’s too cold or wet to sit outside, we can still enjoy the view of our back garden from our living room window. Have a lovely week.

Vegetarian Chickpea Paella

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 onion finely diced

1 courgette diced

1 red or orange pepper deseeded and diced

1 cup of frozen peas

400g tin of chickpeas

1 cup of long grain or basmati rice

1 clove of garlic crushed or finely diced

1 tsp of vegetable stock powder

2 tablespoons of smoked paprika

1 lemon

IMG_5431
A tasty, vegetarian alternative to the classic Spanish dish, inspired by a similar version I tried while visiting Barcelona a few years ago.

Method:

Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into a large frying pan or shallow casserole dish and place on a medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the garlic and onion.

Cook the onion until translucent, then add the peppers and courgette, cook for 3-5 minutes or until slightly softened.

Mix in the paprika and stock powder, stirring constantly until it becomes paste-like.

Add the juice of half a lemon and stir in. Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, mixing thoroughly to prevent it from sticking to the pan or burning.

Pour in the rice, stir thoroughly. Add three cups of boiling water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes until the rice is cooked, stirring occasionally.

When the rice is almost cooked and the liquid has reduced to a thick sauce-like consistency, add the peas and chickpeas, and cook for a further five minutes.

Serve with lemon quarters and add juice to taste.

Review of ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris

FullSizeRender (1)

Chocolat had been sitting unread on my bookshelves for more years than I can count, but last weekend on a whim I settled down to read it while nibbling pieces of chocolate Easter eggs, which seemed wholly appropriate as the story takes places between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Sunday.

Chocolat follows Vianne Rocher and her daughter who sweep in on the winds of a carnival bringing flavour and colour to the drab and parochial French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes.

The novel is written in the first person, but switches between Vianne and Francis Reynaud, the village priest who takes umbrage when Vianne opens a Chocolaterie on the first day of Lent. The pace of Chocolat is meandering, yet the antagonism between Vianne and Reynaud builds suspense and drives the story on to its inevitable conclusion.

FullSizeRender (5)

The village of Lansquenet itself is rife with secrets, gossip and simmering tensions but Vianne finds friends among the other village outcasts and rebels, their kindness and camaraderie in stark contrast with Reynaud and his cronies’ hypocrisy and meddling.

Chocolat is a story that doesn’t reveal its secrets too quickly and kept me wondering right up to the end. I really enjoyed the supernatural elements of the story, there is magic in Chocolat, yet it is always understated and never becomes too fantastical.

The descriptions of Vianne’s chocolate creations are unsurprisingly mouth-watering and Chocolat was a delightful story that left me hungry for more. Have a lovely week.

April Showers and Spring Sunshine

IMG_6522

This weekend we found ourselves with an unexpected free Saturday as the tradesmen renovating our sitting room completed their work a day early, so my husband and I decided to make a spontaneous journey with no particular destination in mind. We found ourselves at St Fillans where we stopped to admire the statue ‘Still’ on the edge of Loch Earn. Designed by Robert Mulholland, ‘Still’ is a mirrored sculpture reflecting the weather and water in which it’s submerged.

Just as we arrived the clouds darkened, hiding the sun, and the wind picked up making the calm waters suddenly choppy, while the rain clouds in the distance obscured the mountains on the Western banks of Loch Earn. I love the way the weather can dramatically alter the landscape on days like this.

Driving through the rain, we found blue skies on the other side and stopped to take a rambling walk along a viaduct we spotted from the road, which turned out to be part of the Glen Ogle Trail. We left the path and scrambled down into the valley to admire the viaduct from below, it felt wonderful to literally stretch our legs after a long, lazy winter. Standing at the foot of the viaduct, with the valley channelling the wind through it, I felt as if the worries that have been clouding my thoughts over the last few weeks were swept away.

IMG_6541

There was no phone signal on our walk and yet neither of us missed it, instead enjoying the dramatic scenery, the changing weather and each other’s company. We returned home from our impromptu adventure with muddy boots and tired legs but feeling refreshed.

A drizzly start on Sunday gave us the perfect excuse to spend a lazy day at home, though we ventured into the garden between rain showers to sprinkle a mix of wild flower seeds and neat rows of vegetable seeds in our raised beds.

Today, we visited my parents and between cups of coffee and tea, helped them in their gardens as my dad has had backache over the last few weeks and mum is not as able as she used to be. It was a lovely, leisurely time together, laughing and chatting, watching the bees bumble around the garden and the clouds drift overhead.

Back in our own home now and with a busy week ahead, I’m grateful for the unhurried time spent outside enjoying the warmth of the sunshine, the refreshing winds and good company. Happy Easter and have a lovely week.

Review of ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking

FullSizeRender (2)

We are in the midst of fairly significant renovations in our house at the moment, and with tradesmen unblocking the fireplace in the living room and scrambling over the roof to fit a chimney, I’ve retreated upstairs and out of the way with my cat and The Little Book of Hygge for company.

Over the last couple of years, the Danish concept of hygge has taken the world by storm. Yet there has also been something of a backlash against it, with some criticizing it as xenophobic and the latest marketing ploy to sell mugs, rugs, all manner of knitwear and books on the subject.

While hygge is often synonymous with cosiness, especially during the colder and darker months of the year, Meik Wiking defines hygge as a feeling of safety, relaxation and contentment that can be found in any weather or season. For many of us who lead busy lives, part of the appeal of hygge is the chance to slow down, set aside our worries for a while and indulge in simple pleasures.

FullSizeRender (3)

The Little Book of Hygge is packed with a mix of research and personal anecdotes, which makes this book better suited to dipping into every now and again than binge-reading. There are whole chapters devoted to candles and lighting, Christmas (the most hygge time of the year), a dictionary to help you work out your hygge from your hyggeligt, a few Danish recipes (though I was a little disappointed there were more recipes for meat than cake), and various other aspects of a hygge lifestyle. The presentation of the book is lovely with beautiful photos and illustrations generously scattered throughout.

With tradesmen thudding and thumping around above and below, it’s been hard to concentrate on reading, but The Little Book of Hygge left me imagining – and looking forward to – lots of hyggeligt moments once the renovations are complete, like sitting in the garden in the sunshine over the summer, huddling around board games with friends on rainy days, and reading in front of the fire on cold, winter nights. Have a lovely week.

Springing back to Health

Every year, winter seems to stretch on for longer than it should, and I’m always relieved when I notice the first budding leaves appear on the trees. Despite this, spring is probably my least favourite season; it seems shorter and less well-defined than the others – at least in our part of the country; just a few weeks characterised by daffodils braced against the rain and cherry blossoms swirling like pink snowflakes in the breeze to separate winter from summer.

This weekend my husband and I took a wander through a local park to admire the spring blossom on the trees. There have been times over the past while when I have felt like one of those little petals tumbling out of control in the currents of life. Between moving house, nursing our cat Mara back to health, my husband being injured in a cycling accident and various other happenings, the first quarter of 2017 has left me feeling somewhat weary.

I’ve also been struggling with writer’s block; I’ve always found writing therapeutic, but it can be hard to organise my thoughts when life is turbulent. In blogs and social networks, we have the power to rewrite events and portray our lives from the most flattering and rose-tinted angles, yet writing also gives us the chance to reflect on our experiences and find meaningful lessons in our most mundane and lowest moments. Over the last few years, I’ve learned that whenever I feel weary or overwhelmed, it’s time to slow down.

FullSizeRender (1)

I’ve lost count of how many vet appointments I’ve taken my cat to in the last few months, but I’ve been neglecting my own health and a recent illness reminded me to stop taking it for granted.

My husband and I have always enjoyed cooking and eating together, but cooking from scratch takes planning, time and effort, and it fell by the wayside when we were rushing around or under pressure, we survived on takeaways and reheating frozen food for a while instead. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I became ill after neglecting my nutrition so we’re making more effort to cook from scratch using fresh ingredients and adding a few new recipes to our repertoire, and we’re already feeling better for it.

After a sporadic attendance over the winter, I’ve returned to my weekly yoga class. It requires a little more effort now I live further away, but I usually feel physically and emotionally calm and refreshed after yoga. We’ve found a local swimming pool, and once my husband has healed up, we’ll resume swimming on Saturday mornings. Due to my laziness, my husband has to bribe and cajole me to go almost every week, but once I’m in the pool swimming has a meditative effect on me and I get a little sense of achievement as the number of lengths I can swim gradually increases each week. We’ve also been taking advantage of the better weather to work in our garden, chatting to our neighbours over the hedge while sparrows, blackbirds and blue tits flutter and chirrup nearby.

IMG_5401

Taking better care of myself means I’m better prepared to weather all the setbacks and storms of life. Spring might not be my favourite season, but I can still appreciate the gentle reminder of the cherry blossoms to slow down and enjoy the lighter evenings, the warmth of the sun and new life springing up all around. Have a lovely week.

Lentil Bolognese Recipe

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 Onion finely diced

1 large Carrot grated

1 stalk of Celery grated

1 Clove of Garlic crushed

1 Courgette quartered lengthwise and finely chopped

1 Red or Orange pepper finely chopped

1/2 cup of Red Lentils

400g of Tomato Passata

1 tsp of vegetable stock powder

IMG_5414
One of the first vegetarian meals I learned to cook, this is a nourishing and adaptable meal.

Method:

Pour a splash of olive oil in a medium sized pan, put on a medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the onions and garlic. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until onions are translucent.

Add the grated carrot and celery, mix well and cook for 2-5 minutes or until softened.

Add the courgette and cook for 2 minutes, then add the pepper and cook for a further minute. Add 1 tsp of vegetable stock powder and mix well.

Pour in 1/2 cup of red lentils. Mix thoroughly to ensure the lentils are spread throughout and cook for one minute.

Add the tomato passata and up to 2 tablespoons of water. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until sauce thickens and lentils start to break apart, stirring frequently.

Once cooked serve with pasta.