The not so humble cabbage

Today, I feel inspired to write about the cabbage! Many people think of the cabbage as a bit of a poor relation in the veg world, a dull old veg and one that many of us were presented with at school in a disgustingly overcooked state. This is very unfair as cabbages are versatile, great to grow in your veg plot and good for you.

Cabbages come in many different shapes, sizes and colours and every variety has its own character, texture and flavour. With a little planning it’s possible to pick them fresh nearly every day of the year in your garden. They can be used raw in salad or coleslaw, and as ingredients in soup, boiled, steamed or braised.

The savoy cabbage, a wonderful dark green and heavily textured individual, is wonderful when slowly braised with onion and finished off with a dash of cream. You can also give it a quick plunge in boiling salted water and then toss it with butter and black pepper, simple but so delicious.

Other thick-leaved cabbages, such as January kings, are excellent for using as wrapping and making parcels for meat stuffings.

The pale green pointed spring cabbages have sweet, delicate leaves that are tender enough to stir fry or even char on a griddle.

In contrast, red cabbage is sturdy and tightly packed and traditionally used for pickling. Braised red cabbage has become immensely popular as a Christmas vegetable when cooked slowly with red wine, cinnamon, apples or cranberry. It is also superb for adding some colour to a boring winter salad when shredded finely.

Last, but not least… the classic white cabbage! A tightly packed, football-sized bundle of excellence it is the mainstay of coleslaw, a popular healthy salad at any time of the year and certainly one of my favourites.

Cabbage is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and is a good source of fibre, so it’s a good way to fill yourself up for very little calories. What’s more, it is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K. We all know how important vitamin C is in our diet, while vitamin K makes bones stronger, healthier and delays osteoporosis. Like other green vegetables, cabbage helps provide many essential vitamins such as riboflavin, pantothenic acid and thiamine that we need for a balanced diet.

So if you tend to think cabbage is a bit of a dullard, please think again and, if you can, try growing some yourself – they taste even better!

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The perfection of poppies

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Poppies are always such a popular choice. Obviously, there’s the Remembrance Day connotation but as a field and garden flower, they are definitely in the nation’s top ten!

I love the huge oriental poppies that wave majestically in the summer breeze with their huge frilly heads, I have some lovely pink ones in my garden. Size isn’t everything, and there are gorgeous small and dainty poppies too – like the Californian poppy that adds sparks of yellow and orange in the flowerbed. But for many people, a poppy just has to be red – whether a garden poppy or the glorious sight of wild poppies in the fields and preferably near cornflowers and wheat – a fabulous combination!

This card uses the poppy image from the One Summer’s Day CDrom which features artwork by Barbara Mock. There are so many brilliant ideas on there, whether main images for toppers or gorgeous backing papers like the pale lace backing paper used on this card, it’s a CD I would definitely take to my desert island! The dies here are from my Signature die range and I love the way they are cut in plain dark card and then again using the papers from the poppy image on the CD. The cut petals then slip inside the main outline and make a super match giving a great effect!

 

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Unusual twist on lasagne

lasagnemontageWith the thought that many of us may have had more than enough turkey… I felt it might be timely to do a quick note to mention the new lasagne sheets I have discovered in Sainsbury’s. I am always on the hunt for new ideas and products when I am out shopping, or chatting to other keen cooks, and this is the newest vegetable offering from Mr Sainsbury.

I did not use it to make a vegetarian lasagne (Richard would shudder at the thought) it’s a normal beef lasagne but instead of using pasta sheets for the dividers, you can now get butternut squash sheets or courgette sheets. If you imagine a peeled butternut squash going through a thin bread slicer – that’s what you get, firm but slim slices that are almost the size of a normal lasagne sheet. Likewise with the courgette version although they were a little smaller.

I layered mince cooked in a tomato sauce, you can make your own or cheat as I did and use a Dolmio version (sorry but I was in a hurry that day), anyway a layer of that then a layer of your veggie sheet, then white sauce or cheese sauce depending on your choice, another layer of the vegetable sheets and then more tomatoey mince. Obviously, easy peasy to create a purely veggie lasagne – just leave the mince out of the tomato sauce.

I continued with this until the dish was pretty full (as you can see from the photo) and then topped it off with some grated mozzarella and a grind or six of pepper. Forty minutes in the oven and hey presto! Even veggie-averse Richard was very complementary – that’s one way to get veg down them!

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Making a Christmas Wreath

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What a lovely day out! From the tutor, to the lunch to the finished article!

Alright, I admit it was a bit of a busman’s holiday, but my goodness I did enjoy myself on Wednesday! I went to a lunchtime course on making a Christmas wreath, held by Karen of 2020 Flowers who lives in Stokeinteignhead, near me. The course itself was held in a dear little café in Shaldon on the seafront, which was fun to go to in itself, and the food they served for lunch was amazing! Honey pumpkin soup and home made bread… it was just perfect.

Anyway, back to the wreath making! I know it all through and through, but it’s sometimes lovely to have a few hours to yourself where the phone won’t ring and the emails can’t get you! Karen is a serene, calm teacher and had all her ingredients so beautifully organised it was such fun to just play.

Using an Oasis ring, which you can get at some garden centres and obviously florist wholesalers, it is so, so simple to make a wreath yourself. A great tip from Karen was to not only soak the oasis in water (knew that) but to add flower food to the water (didn’t know that!) and I can see what a great idea it is.

I’d brought a whole selection of greenery from home as I felt the wreath would mean more to me if it was created using my own greenery and in the end, as I was a touch speedy, (sorry Karen!) I ended up making two wreaths – so my daughter Pippa is thrilled to bits to have a wreath Mummy made!

Another useful tip is that you can use unwanted pieces of Christmas tree – sometimes you trim some away from the base – or maybe you have a Leylandii hedge in the garden that could be carefully snipped at. I used ivy, Leylandii, rosemary and anything else that looked quite tough and long lasting.

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…and this was the second wreath I managed to squeeze in!

To decorate your wreath once the greenery is all pushed in (small lengths only, all the way round) you can use Christmas tree baubles, shells, berries, artificial or real flowers and, obviously, ribbons. As the Oasis is easy to push things in it’s fairly plain sailing until you get to baubles and shells, those are best hot glued onto pieces of bamboo skewer or just hot glued straight on the wreath.

It does make you feel good to have a decoration that you made yourself – I hope my family enjoy mine as much as I enjoyed the course!

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A winter wonderland…

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kjestenbasket2I love Christmas – I love the preparation, the decoration and the celebration! It is a wonderful opportunity for us crafters to create all sorts of fabulous things and I am always keen to see what new ideas or trends will appear each year alongside traditional decorations.

Everything Scandinavian is very ‘in’ at the moment, but it is such a magical winter wonderland, it is no surprise that they are the masters of cosy (yes, hygge again!) and of creating fabulous decorations from the plants and trees that thrive in such a cold landscape.

I follow a Facebook page that’s linked to Gardener’s World and someone whose posts regularly catch my eye is a lady called Kjerstin who lives in Norway. Her wooden house, built in 1919, looks like something out of a fairytale, and her garden is equally lovely, full of shape and colour even when the temperature has plummeted well below freezing.

kjerstincolourKjerstin has recently posted some great photos of the Christmas decorations and arrangements that she has created outside and she has very kindly said I can share them with you. The arrangements in urns and baskets are, Kjerstin said, simply stuck into soil, with branches the pushed well down.

I thought Kjerstin’s ideas might inspire us to come up with similar designs and, if you swap soil for oasis, many of her ideas would work well inside as well as out. I’d love to hear about your own Christmas decorating ideas, so please share!

Smiles, Joanna.

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