A glutton for punishment

While growing your own veg is a wonderful and rewarding thing you can find yourself becoming a glutton for punishment. If you get too good at it, there can be one big problem – a glut! After weeks and months of nurturing, everything seems to ripen at the same time, so you have tonnes of tomatoes, more lettuces than Sainsbury’s and, possibly the worst of all,­ a mountain of courgettes! I don’t know what it is about courgettes, but they creep up on you. One minute you have one, the next 10 and at least two of those will have turned into marrows overnight.

The only thing to do with any glut is to ensure you have freezer space and some great recipe ideas to ring the changes and stop you getting completely bored with whichever veg is in glut.

I am currently wrestling with the annual courgette glut. Not only is my neighbour kindly giving me their excess, but I have quite a few of my own to contend with too. It is clearly a very well catalogued problem – there is even a book called ‘What Will I Do With All Those Courgettes?’ obviously written by someone who has endured many a courgette excess.

If you haven’t got time to rustle up a delicious courgette soup or veggie bake, don’t despair – some genius has invented the spiralizer! If you haven’t tried courgetti yet, you’re in for a treat. Courgette spaghetti can be made and served in less time than it takes to make conventional pasta. All you need is a spiralizer or even just a vegetable peeler. You can turn the humble courgette into the perfect healthy meal in minutes with a couple of minutes (no more) in boiling water.

If you pick your courgettes before they get too big – about the length of your hand from palm base to finger tips – you don’t even need to cook them as they are delicious eaten raw if sliced, shaved or grated.

They are very versatile and can even put on a show on the BBQ – slice thickly and brush with oil and you can griddle them. Alternatively, braise slowly in butter with crushed garlic and thyme leaves and you get a delicious pasta sauce.

But if you really feel you are sinking beneath the weight of courgettes then why not knock up a batch of soup and freeze in portions, then you can remind yourself of summer when you tuck into a warming bowl in the depths of winter. Enjoy!

This Simple Courgette Soup really is very easy to make, it freezes well and is delicious with homemade bread. It is great eaten hot or cold!

Simple Courgette Soup:

Ingredients

  • 450g courgettes thickly sliced
  • 700ml chicken stock, or vegetable stock if you want to keep it completely vegetarian
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon oregano (fresh is best!)
  • ¼ teaspoon rosemary (fresh is best!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Place all ingredients into a large saucepan and bring to boil
  2. Reduce heat and cover and simmer for 15-20 mins
  3. Blend in blender/processor till smooth, reheat when ready to serve, or chill and serve cold.
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Think of summer… and think of sunflowers!

Think of summer… and think of sunflowers! Surely the sunniest flower there is, their huge golden faces cannot help but bring cheer.

I think most of us will have grown a sunflower at some time in our lives. Well, this year, we have had the pleasure of watching our granddaughter Grace plant and nurture her own sunflower. She planted the seed herself and waters it every time she comes to visit – and it has now grown to about 7 feet high! Pretty good for a first effort Grace!

The sunflower is actually an important plant in many areas. Grown as a crop for its edible oil and edible fruits – those delicious sunflower seeds – sunflower seeds were brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, where, along with sunflower oil, they became a widespread cooking ingredient.

The tallest sunflower on record achieved an extraordinary 30ft, or over 9 metres! Goodness knows how they kept the thing upright, perhaps it was draped over something?

Sunflower seeds are sold as a snack food, raw or after roasting in ovens, with or without salt and seasonings added. Sunflower seeds can also be processed into a peanut butter alternative, sunflower butter, which sounds pretty yummy to me.

Sunflower oil, extracted from the seeds, is used for cooking, as a carrier oil and to produce margarine and biodiesel, as it is cheaper than olive oil. Sunflowers also produce latex and are the subject of experiments to see if they can be used as an alternative crop for producing non-allergenic rubber.

A common misconception (and one that I thought was true) is that the glorious golden sunflower heads track the sun across the sky. Actually, it’s only the immature flower buds that do this, the mature flowering heads point in a fixed, usually easterly, direction. Ah well, that’s another lovely image shattered!

But these gorgeous plants are useful across so many areas of life – have a look at the list of facts below, I think you’ll be surprised…

Here are a few sunflower facts for you:

  • There are two basic types of sunflower seeds: black and stripe.
  • Young sunflower plants orient their heads toward the sun – a phenomenon known as heliotropism.
  • The sunflower is the national flower of Russia and the state flower of Kansas.
  • Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamins of the B group and vitamin E, and minerals such as copper, phosphorus, selenium and magnesium.
  • Black sunflower seeds are a rich source of oil that is used for cooking.
  • Striped seeds are popular as snacks.
  • Seeds of sunflower are an important food source for birds, squirrels and insects.
  • Sunflower seeds are used for the production of biodiesel, an eco-friendly type of diesel, designed to reduce pollution of the atmosphere.
  • The sunflower is able to absorb heavy metals and toxins from the ground and it is often planted in the heavily polluted areas. These plants were used to reduce nuclear pollution after Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. How amazing is that?
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‘Pop’ goes Prosecco!

It’s fun, it’s fizzy and just about everyone seems to be drinking it – Prosecco has taken the country by storm! This Italian sparkler has made celebrating a whole lot more affordable, so much so that now, you don’t even need an excuse to raise a glass a glass of fizz! People head off for ‘Fizz on Fridays’ in their local wine bars and pubs and, opening a bottle at your BBQ is no longer seen as decadent.

I’m not entirely sure why Champagne was always seen as the ultimate celebratory drink, perhaps it is nothing more than a kind of snob value – as the top brands are expensive it must, therefore, be ‘good’. A wine merchant friend told me years ago that a good bottle of Cava (the Spanish equivalent of Prosecco), was really just as good as Champagne – and how right she was!

For some reason, Prosecco has become the most popular fizz out there (perhaps the name sounds more fun than Cava?) and now, we can’t get enough of it. It’s relatively cheap and, served chilled, it slips down very easily.

In the 1960s, Asti Spumante was the popular Italian sparkling wine but that was sweet, a bit like the dreaded Babycham, the blight of many a teenage party! Since then, production techniques have improved, leading to the high-quality dry Prosecco we enjoy today.

The most exciting development I have come across is the arrival of – wait for it – Skinny Prosecco! Yes, seriously folks! I recently came across this description on a pub’s wine list:

“A low calorie, vegan, organic, delicious wine that captures all the taste of normal Prosecco but with around half the sugar content. At about 65 calories per glass – less than a normal sized apple – this could be a cheeky alternative to one of your five a day!”

I confess I do love Prosecco as a very cold summer drink, the bubbles are somehow uplifting! It also works well in a Bellini cocktail and, of course, mixed with orange juice can make a very acceptable Bucks Fizz. Oh hang on, if you add orange juice, does that make it TWO of your five a day? It’s getting better all the time – cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Peas, please!

Peas – those round, sweet, green things – even people who don’t much like veggies seem to approve of peas. It’s the perfect instant veg, to be whipped out of the freezer and cooked at a moment’s notice, but let me assure you they are even better when picked and eaten fresh.

Lots of people think growing peas is a bit of a waste of time and space… but they have probably never picked them and eaten them straight from the pod. They are so sweet and so delicious! I pick a few at a time, as they mature on the plant, and steam them for a couple of minutes, then run them under cold water and add to my salad alongside my home-grown leaves and broad beans creating a garden salad ­– delicious.

Peas are one of those things that we think of as essentially ‘British’. Fish, chips and mushy peas, pie and peas, pea soup… but as is so often the case when you look into it, they are a relatively recent arrival on our shores and originate from north-west Asia!

But our climate suits them perfectly and they thrive here. As a nation we certainly love them – we eat far more than any other country in Europe, chomping around 9,000 each per year. That’s a lot of peas! Fortunately, they are good for us combining fibre and protein with vitamins and minerals and must be the most popular of the ‘5-a-day’… or is it ‘10-a-day’ now? I can’t keep up!

They are relatively easy to grow either from seed, or you can buy them as small plants. The only real problem is with pigeons… they love them! Having lost an entire crop in one day a few years ago, I now cover them with netting. Even then, they still get a bit nibbled. But to me, the sweetness, the vivid colour and that pleasing ‘pop’ of the pod makes them all worthwhile

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Happy Birthday Chickens from Marjolein Bastin

This lovely image of chickens is painted by Marjolein Bastin, an artist whose works I really admire. So many of her designs that we have licensed are just brilliant. This particular image comes from her ‘Spring’ collection pad. Excuse me if I have a slight snigger at the rather weak joke of a ‘Spring Chicken’ card for a friend who possibly isn’t one anymore!

You can use so many different embossing folders with this style of card and although the ‘Best Wishes’ words are using the All Occasion (147) die – you could use any you have handy. The useful thing about our paper pad collections is that pretty much everything you need is on the page and, in this case, the fun spotty border with the hen is from the same page as the main image.

 

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