Looking good in winter…

Animals have got it right when it comes to winter – curl up and hibernate for a few months (having gorged yourself first!) or keep nice and warm in your snug-fitting fur coat. Sadly for us poor old humans, we just have to brave the elements. So we end up with chapped lips, dry skin, dull hair and numerous other problems. But don’t despair, with a little bit of ingenuity we can perk ourselves up no end.

Making a rich moisturiser out of natural ingredients is a great way to give your skin a treat.

Devon Cider Apple Cream

  • 500g (1lb) white vegetable fat
  • 500g (1lb) apples (weight after being peeled and cored)
  • 120ml rose water
  • A few drops of alcoholic tincture of benzoin (preservative)

This is not a particularly sophisticated cream but, believe me, it works excellently. It also makes a good hand cream.

Melt the vegetable fat in a pan over a low heat. Put the prepared apples in a food processor or blender and purée totally Add the apple juice and pulp to the fat and stir together well. Remove from the heat and add the rose water and benzoin. Strain immediately, put into screw-top jars and keep in the fridge. Massage the cream into face and neck – and give you hands a treat at the same time!

Sunflower & Sea Salt Body Rub

  • Small amount of sunflower oil
  • Sea salt

This is ideal for tired winter skin. It also works well if you substitute granulated sugar for the sea salt.

Treat your body in sections. First, apply a little sunflower oil to soften and dampen the skin, then take a handful of sea salt and rub well into the area you have prepared. This will slough off any dead skin cells and leave your skin glowing and awake. Wash off the oil and salt mix with warm water – the easiest way is in the shower.

 

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A warming winter soup

Whatever did we do before the butternut squash? This rich, creamy vegetable is so versatile I can’t remember life before it arrived on the scene and yet it is a relatively recent addition to our shopping lists in this country. Roasted, toasted, puréed or mashed its lovely golden colour and rich taste make it a very valuable veg.

Butternut squash soup is an absolute winner for me as it tastes rich and creamy – yet contains no cream or milk and can be a very healthy meal.

To make the soup:

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 tbl spoon of olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 pint of vegetable stock
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • Season to taste
  1. Peel the butternut squash. Discard the pulp in the centre and chop the remaining flesh into chunks.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, butternut squash and potato and the butter and cook until brown and caramelised.
  3. As the mixture starts to caramelise, add the garlic, taking care not to let it catch and burn, and the cumin.
  4. Pour in the stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool slightly and then blend using a food processor or one of those really useful hand blenders.

This makes a thick soup that you may want to dilute more with some water. If I’m going to freeze it (and it freezes very well) I leave it like this to save space and dilute it when I defrost it.

Variations on a theme…

I’ve also developed some variations on the above recipe. Adding a leek or two is a nice change, but a current favourite is adding a sweet potato instead of the ordinary potato. This makes for an even more wonderful colour and lovely flavour.

Another option that I am currently mad about is adding 2 tsp of smoked paprika and just one of cumin. This adds a wonderful smoky warmth and quite transforms the soup.

If you serve this as a starter then a swirl of cream or dollop of crème fraîche looks nice, or some artistically ‘dribbled’ pesto is good too!

 

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Wildlife in winter

Winter wildlife in this country, in the town or country can be just as interesting as in the warmer seasons.

While winter is a time of hibernation for many species, it’s also the mating season for others. Vocal communication is vital for many species trying to attract a mate.

A sound typical of the season – and one that sends shivers up the spine – is that of foxes ‘screaming’ in the night. These calls let foxes know each others whereabouts, helping them to find a mate or deter intruding competition. Urban foxes can be seen and heard in most towns and cities and their screams can be haunting and quite frightening if you don’t know what they are!

Tawny owls pair up in winter and the classic “Twit – twoo” sound is actually a combination of calls from the courting male and female.

Barn owls suffer particularly badly in the winter as it can be especially hard for them when it snows and the small mammals they feed on become even harder to find.

They don’t have waterproofing in their feathers and so don’t fly in the rain. Prolonged rainfall can be deadly to a hungry barn owl. My Hen Pal, Julia, found a bedraggled young barn owl in her garden a few years ago and managed to get it to an owl sanctuary as you can see from the photos.

One of the most amazing wildlife sights I’ve ever seen is a group of starlings swooping and swirling in the air as if they are choreographed – interestingly the name for a large group of these birds is a ‘murmuration’! You are more likely to see them this time of year as the birds flock together through winter for warmth, protection and increased foraging success. Keep your eyes peeled – I saw a murmuration just before dusk over some farmland on the edge of Dartmoor, but it’s just as likely over a city – a truly magical sight.

And what of our dear little garden birds? Supplementary feeding is a tricky issue as many people worry about animals becoming dependent on handouts. However, the RSPB (who surely know what they are talking about!) advises feeding your garden birds through the winter months as they will be struggling to find food.

Be sure to provide water too as this is almost as important as food through winter. Birds and mammals will appreciate your efforts as their usual sources freeze over. 

Happy winter wildlife watching!

 

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