What do you take for granted?

Last Wednesday morning I had a bit of an eye-opener, and I think it’s going to be the same again tomorrow morning. I realised that for more than 10 years I have completely taken something I use every day, three times a day (at least!) completely for granted.

That is my ability to cook a basic meal from scratch. It doesn’t matter if it is porridge, soup, cake, pasta sauce or a roast dinner, I realised how incredibly lucky I am to know the basics of cooking.

Last Wednesday morning I spent three hours volunteering with a small project (through Oxford Brookes university), bringing basic cooking skills to ladies living in a deprived area of Oxford called Rose Hill. I was a bit nervous when I turned up at the community centre, particularly as no-one else was there when I arrived… Luckily Monika (the mature student who set the project up) soon bustled in and had me heaving boxes of cutlery and condiments into the kitchen ready for our students. By 9.45am there were five women chopping vegetables around a table, and by 11.30am they had cooked four different dishes including minestrone soup, apple crumble, brown soda bread and chicken and mushroom risotto:

The food was delicious and the ladies went away with some new skills which we’ll hopefully hear about how well their new recipes went down when I see them again tomorrow morning.




Four recipes to see you through the week!

I’ve just finished seeing a client and on my back door step is my lovely organic fruit and veg box delivery from Abel and Cole:

Not only is their lovely food organic and delivered to the door (the fab delivery man even brings it to my back door step so that no passersby take a fancy to my boxes whilst I’m seeing clients!), but it’s all traceable too – pretty important these days with the spectre of horse and other meat finding its way into all sorts of supermarket foods. I love getting my veg box delivery – it’s like opening presents as you never know what will be inside! One of the challenges though is thinking of recipes for all the lovely veggies inside, so this week we’ll be having:

Tuesday: it’s pancake day today but instead of using up flour, butter and eggs, I’ll be using up our leftover parsnips and apples for a seasonal soup. Roast equal numbers of parsnips and apples with an onion and couple of cloves of garlic. Blend with water and perhaps a little cumin if you like the spice. Ta-dah, it’s ready! If there is any leftover, I’ll freeze it for a future lunch.

Wednesday: perhaps some celery, stilton and broccoli soup! I literally stir fry the celery until soft, lightly boil the broccoli and then blend the two together with a little olive oil, water and some stilton to taste – yum and super quick! You could also add some spinach or cabbage for a super boost of iron and folic acid!

Thursday: Valentines day… to show my love for British sustainable fish, we’ll be having gurnard (white fish) fillets poached in milk, a little butter and bay leaves, served with brocolli, cabbage and potatoes. Did you know gurnard fish are found in shallow British coastal waters and use their specially adapted pectoral fins to cling onto the rocks and ‘walk’ on the seabed allowing them not to get pulled into deeper waters by the waves?! (Ah – I knew my marine biology degree would come in useful!)

Friday: roasted tomatoes with onion, garlic and sweet potato wedges (rolled in paprika and rosemary).

That’s dinners for the rest of the week sorted then!


Veg patch aspirations…

So I have finally got around to planning our new veg patch…

Until a few months ago this was a patch of concrete in our back garden. We hired a pneumatic drill and spent an entire day digging it up with my husband in charge of drilling and me practising my weight-lifting with chunks of concrete… we both needed a massage after that as you can imagine!

Unfortunately, since then, we haven’t got any further. So as soon as the weather warms up a bit, I will be out there, turning the scraggly weeds,  gravel and rock strewn area into a beautiful veggie patch… Having previously shared an allotment, I have no illusions of how hard this will be to begin with! I first took on half an allotment with a friend back in 2008 when I lived over in Jericho. It was a labour of love, and we eventually had to give it up due to our work and relationship commitments. However, we succeeded in turning a grassy strip into a very productive area of land within about 10 months. The produce in the first summer was unbelievable – we were giving it away in the end we had so many beans and giant courgettes! The only problem was that we were only really able to get down there once a week, so we often had to fight our way through the weeds to get to the veg…

I’m hoping our garden veg patch will be a little more manageable as I will be able to do battle with the weeds daily. My other challenge will be the slugs. I’m an organic gardener so I don’t use slug pellets or fertiliser. My sketch below shows my basic plan, but is based around companion gardening – basically planting things that like each other nearby (e.g. carrots and beans, strawberries and spinach, squash and sweetcorn), and also plants that will ward off the slugs and bugs with their smell (e.g. leeks, marigolds and nasturgiums). I love flowers to so I’ll be interlacing my climbing beans with sweet peas, and the flowers of borage, marigolds and nasturgiums make a pretty addition to summer salads too.



Watch this space for veg patch updates! Oh – and if you’re a keen gardener and have any tips for me, do let me know!


Flip-flops for orphans

Some of you know that my family and I were caught up in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami when we were on holiday in Phuket, Thailand. We had an incredibly lucky escape – we were out on a boat trip far away from land when the tsunami actually happened, and although we spent some hours up a mountain, we were together and safe. When we eventually got back to our hotel, my parent’s beach front room was devastated. Had they been there, it is unlikely they would have survived. We were incredibly lucky.

Others were not. I’ve just been listening to two brothers on Radio 4 this morning who were orphaned by the same tsunami, whilst holidaying with their family in Sri Lanka. They were very young at the time, but have gone on to start their own super-successful business selling flip-flops and using the proceeds to support other orphans.

My family still feel very strongly about the tsunami and how lucky we were to survive. My sister went to Sri Lanka in 2005 to help support the orphans there who were much in need of love and cuddles. Whenever we hear on the news that an earthquake may precipitate a tsunami, a cold shiver goes through us.

That’s why I was so thrilled to hear about these boys who have made such a success after such a traumatic experience. Please check out their website www.gandysflipflops.com and support them, to help others like them.

Powder, yoga, massage and carrot cake!

We’ve just returned from a wonderful week away skiing in France with my family and it feels almost spring-like today, despite the snow of last week. My daffodils have flower buds and my winter cabbage is finally looking like we’ll be able to enjoy it in the next few weeks.We missed the snowy, cold weather here and luckily our flight managed to leave Gatwick before the airports were shut.  Almost a foot of snow fell on our third day, so we had lots of fun skiing in the powder, even if it did mean early starts to catch the first lift!

Dave (my husband) and I also did a skill swap. I’m a committed skier and he is a committed snow-boarder… so we spent some time teaching each other our favourite sport. A lot of fun but also a lot of bumps for me as I fell over many, many, many times – luckily the ridiculously slow speed I was going meant no injuries! Needless to say I won’t be giving up my skis anytime soon! It was a great experience to remember how it feels to be at the very beginning of learning a slightly scary new sport, and gave me a good insight as to how my Mum feels on skis. As a very nervous skier, Mum spent her week practising her snowplough turns and made huge progress by getting down some blues by the end of the week. Dave proved excellent on skis and despite a running injury, might now be a convert…! The family holiday was in aid of my Dad’s 60th birthday, and we took out a home made carrot cake to celebrate – a nod towards my keenness in slipping in fruit and veg to most meals! Dad was thrilled to be serenaded by an elderly, French, retired ski-instructor playing happy birthday on an antique accordion at our mid-morning coffee stop en route across the three valleys.

As you can imagine, massages were much in demand last week! And we also had a giggle with family yoga sessions to help stretch out the muscles at the end of the day – followed by a well deserved, celebratory vin chaud!

If you’re heading out for a ski holiday anytime soon, do ask me to show you a few simple massage strokes when you next come for a treatment to help ease the legs after a day out on the mountain! And remember to stretch!