FitFriday, FatFriday X. Carbs it is.

Baby.

Went to see the consultant and the look on his face basically said “why have they sent her here if she’s managing it herself?” So now I’m back with my midwife full time. 😀

Starting to see a bit of a poke that isn’t just fat now, so it seems the bump is hardening. Still have hardly gained weight although I’m at 14.5 weeks, though, so I need to keep an eye on that and if I don’t gain after another week or two I’ll see what the midwife recommends.

Also had an awful blood sugar crash. Fortunately from working with people who have diabetes I worked out what it was, and now I can recognize one coming on and have some fruit or juice or a sweet, but the first one was a shock. If you start feeling a little numb in the legs and then sick: go sit down and if you get dizzy have some sugar. When they run through it feels like you just stepped out of an ice bath: cold sweat everywhere, sick, cramped and shaky for ages.

On a final good note, no other symptoms that have hurt or bothered me. So my tally is: motion sickness on long car trips, a torn ab muscle, aversion to mussels and a single blood sugar crash. Doing pretty good on my goal to having a peasant-girl style pregnancy and just keeping going until baby arrives.

Diet.

Diet has changed a bit. Higher carbs split down through the day, especially in the morning and night, to prevent crashes. Which naturally means my fat intake has to go down and my protein has to go up to balance calories, insulin and appetite. Not that I’m minding, right in the middle of stone fruit season and with almost infinite jam and pie fillings to use up!

Weights.

Missed for a couple of days due to the crash, but before that I was still making steady progress. First session post-sugar-crash should be about… now.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

10 Things That Grow In Clay And Frost.

If you’re anything like me, you love to DIY as much as possible.

Which means that growing food in difficult soil winds us up continually.

Here are 10 things that survived clay soil and frosty winters year after year here, making garden food easy to grow and maintain.

1: Potatoes.

Adored worldwide as a staple, potatoes survive almost anything. Normally by early Spring the leftovers of my Winter harvest has begun chitting (technical term here, no laughing!] and I can plant them out. But even when I didn’t my potatoes reseeded themselves from the tiny spuds left behind last year.

Literally any time a potato grows shoots, plant it out and see what happens.

Just don’t plant out chitting potatoes straight into frost. Plant out clean ones early, green ones later. The shoots can be devoured by frost and you will waste good potatoes.

2: Woody berries.

Woody berry bushes like blackberries, raspberries, currants and gooseberries all do great in our soil and even through frosts. They thrive in hedge areas.

3: Parsnips.

Our parsnips reseed themselves every year, although I will often let a single ‘snip become fully mature and harvest all the seeds to keep over Winter, to minimize crop loss. They do great and are actually tastier once the first Winter frost has nibbled them.

4: Brassicas.

Not great at reseeding themselves in our soil, but they are persistent. Still got three broccoli bushes from two years ago. They have never floured, so I never picked them, but I gather the leaves in Winter and they dutifully regrow in Spring.

5: Marjoram.

Cut back and dry out your marjoram over Winter, leave it alone over Spring and Summer to regrow. It’s a beautiful, fragrant herb that does well pretty much anywhere.

6: Strawberries.

I always thought strawberries were fickle plants that keeled over and died at nothing at all. Apparently only the leaves are. I planted our strawbs out where they can be guarded by weeds and parsnips and they are thriving. They just need a bit of foliage around them to help retain enough water, a wall against late frosts and a little sunshine and they produce berries even in the harshest soil.

7: Mint.

Mint grows everywhere and will dominate your whole garden.

8: Rhubarb.

Rhubarb is not at all hard to grow. Just make sure the roots don’t get choked by grass or weeds as they get established, pull the stems out instead of cutting them and clear up after Autumn is over. They will grow back.

9: Chives.

A little like mint, established chives will regrow year after year without a problem and slowly creep across your garden.

10: Raddishes.

Never had bad luck with raddishes anywhere. Sometimes not had particularly good luck and this soil is awful for them compared to milder, softer soils. But they still grow here. Sow them out, wait, and they will rise up for you to eat all through Summer and Autumn. They don’t really reseed, though, as we eat them before they flower.

And those are 10 plants that survive our garden. What troubles does your garden have? Got any gardening staples?

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

 

For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.

How To… make any jam.

This post is part of the Nutritional Health Series, check the tag for the other posts!

Jam is a great way to make use of large amounts of fruit or slightly damaged or defrosted fruit. Many people don’t think they have the time for jam, but really, it’s fast, simple and will save you a lot of money on wasted fruit and buying jams!

1: The basics.

Jams come in three distinct forms. A jelly, made from only the juice. A jam, made from crushed fruit and juice. And a compote, a jelly with whole fruit preserved in it. They are all made largely from fruit and sugar, but sometimes use gelling agents like pectin or gelatine to help them along.

2: Fruit.

You need fruit for a jam or jelly. At least 500g or 1lb of fruit is needed to make a large portion of jam, but with the microwave method you can make smaller batches! Fruit juice is also an option.

In some jams, like marmalade, you use the rinds of the fruit as well as the flesh and juice.

3: Sugar.

The most efficient sugars for jam are crystal sugars, like white sugar, demarera sugar or brown cane sugar. But soft sugars like honey, palm sugar or maple syrup can work too, with a bit more patience.

The perfect ratio for jam is between 50/50 and 1/3 sugar to 2/3 fruit.

4: Gelling.

If you’re really not sure your jam will set, consider using a gelling agent.

  • Pectin is a natural fruit gelling agent you can use to firm up a jam.
  • Gelatine comes from animal bones and collagen, but may make your jam too solid.
  • Packaged jelly is easier to use for a bit of flavoured firmness.
  • Agar is a seaweed product that is used instead of gelatine in veg*n dishes.

5: In a pot.

The traditional way. You put your fruit in a pot and simmer until it begins to break down and release fluids. Then you add the sugar slowly, stirring the whole time. Reduce the jam and let it cool.

6: Microwave.

Small batches of jam can be made in the microwave. Just crush the fruit and sugar together in a microwave-safe bowl, cook for a minute at a time and stir in between until it becomes viscous.

7: Raw.

If you combine gelatinous fruit, like bananas, persimmons or lychee, with your sweet fruit and sugar of choice, you can make a tasty raw jam. Just blend 1/3 gelatinous fruit with 1/3 fruit pulp (mash the sweet fruit and squeeze the juice out) and 1/3 your sugar of choice. A viscous sugar like palm sugar, maple syrup or honey works best.

8: Jars.

Traditional jams can be preserved in a jar. Be sure to soak the jar in boiling water first and fill and seal it while it’s still hot. If you have a canning station, this may be the best option, but otherwise hot jam into a hot jar and seal works fine. My jams last a whole year like this without going off.

9: Fridge.

Microwave and raw jams are best kept more aerated in a bowl with a lid in the fridge. They keep 5-10 days, less if less sugar is involved.

And that’s how to make any jam you fancy. Almost all fruits can be jammed, but gelatinous fruits, apples, pears and berries will jam easier due to their high pectin content!

What’s your favourite jam or preserve?

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

How To… get your garden started!

As I mentioned in Welcome Spring, a part of Spring I love is gardening. I love planting everything out as the weather warms, watching the baby rabbits try and invade my lettuce and cabbage patches, harvesting the fresh fruit and vegetables.

And April is the time when most of my gardening happens.

Now, the first few steps I have actually already done! I prefer to turn the soil in late Winter, when it is frozen hard enough to turn in huge lumps, but soft enough to get a shovel into. I like starting my seedlings early in case the first lot don’t take. And I would rather have the garden ready by the time I’m planting out. But you can do all of this now and get your garden started a little later and you won’t miss out on much.

Step 1: Decide what you’re doing.

No point lifting a finger until you know what will be happening. Go into your garden and draw a sketch of it. It can be as detailed or as simple as you want. Just make sure you draw out your current beds, your grass and any areas you can’t dig or plant on (for whatever reason).

Next, take a standard soil sample from your garden. Take note of whether there are very different soils in any areas of the garden and make sure you get samples of them too. You can go back inside now.

First test the soil samples and make sure they aren’t too salty, clay, sandy or full of bits and stones. What soil you have is very important to what you can grow.

Free test:

Pro test:

Once you know what soils you have, make a list of the different plants you want to grow and where they can grow.

Use your map to decide where you will plant everything and what you will plant on its own or together.

Step 2: Prepare the beds.

Now that you know what you will be planting and where, start turning the soil everywhere it needs it. Make sure soil is enriched where it needs to be. Add woodchips where needed, supports where needed. Basically get everything ready.

Step 3: Plant the seeds.

Plant your seeds following the directions. Be warned that most seeds do better in pots or planters indoors to start out with, even if this isn’t recommended.

For plants that you want to be abundant or for leafy greens, just sow the seeds out and see what happens. For plants that will bear fruit or delicate flowers, plant indoors at first to guarantee a greater number.

Make sure indoors plants are by a window, away from drafts and heaters, where they get plenty of light, some shade and not extreme temperature changes.

Step 4: Weed, plant out, protect.

Once your seedlings are ready to plant out, first harden them to insects, wind and weather by placing the pots outside during the day. If there are still frosts, bring them in every night until the frosts subside. Then, leave them out at night. If you spot insect damage, keep moving them to different areas and check on them throughout the day. Encourage natural insectivores to visit and use natural insect deterrents.  After a few weeks of this they should be robust enough to survive if planted out.

Weed the surrounding area well to ensure no roots remain that would choke your plant. Dig a pit big enough for the entire pot or around a fist if you’re planting out smaller plants from shared pots. If it’s a single plant in a pot, ensure the soil is dry and turn it over with your hand supporting the soil and the stem of the plant between your fingers. This way you ensure minimal root damage. Turn the plant the right way around and place it, soil and all, into the hole. If it’s in a shared planter, use a trowel to dig deeply all around it, making sure not to damage the roots. Use the trowel to lever out the plant and place it in the hole.

Use clear plastic tubs, bean nets or whatever necessary to shield the plants from the elements and wildlife for a few days as the roots take hold.

Step 5: Keep an eye on.Watch your plants closely without disturbing them. If one succumbs to disease or parasites, remove it before the others are affected. Make sure they don’t get too dry or soaked. Keep larger pests away from them. If they are taking, new buds will appear within a week or two. If there are no new buds or leaves after a month, the plant may be struggling. Add extra nutrients to the soil to encourage solid root growth. After a month of no growth the plant will often die. Don’t worry about this unless all of them are dying. Some plants will always suffer root damage or not take to new soil. As long as most of them made it, you did well.And that’s how to get a garden going!What is your garden like? Are you an avid gardener with advice to offer? Or a novice with questions? Either way, feel free to start some discussion in the comments!TTFN and Happy Hunting!

WWW. Cheap to Glorious Burgers and Frozen Cakes.

Seeing as Jon’s work is now very different, the Wok will be a little different. Rather than making the nicest, most elaborate or most interesting meal on Wednesday, I will make them as and when he needs them and choose the best food of the week for the Wonderful Wednesday Wok instead.

This week, the main’s some burgers that I made turning cheap, value brand, reduced price beef mince into something with the bite and texture of steak mince and the flavour of a BBQ patty. And the pudding’s an ice-cream cake in a cup I made for Valentine’s day. There were five flavours: pear, blackberry, pear and currant, strawberry and peach. I had the pear and currant one as a carby treat on Valentine’s, but the rest were Jon’s for the week.

The rest of the Valentine's meal.

The rest of the Valentine’s meal.

Cheap to Glorious Burgers.

Ingredients:

-500g cheap mince; ground beef is not suitable, but cheap, unfrozen pork mince or turkey mince would work too

-1 egg

-2tsp herbs

-2tsp onion granules

-2tsp paprika

-2tsp salt

-1tsp pepper

-1tsp soy sauce

-butter or tallow for frying

Utensils:

-mixing bowl and fork

-frying pan

Recipe:

1: With high quality beef you’re told not to overwork the mince or the burger will lose its consistency. With cheap mince you want to do the opposite. Mash it together before adding the spices and the egg. Mash thoroughly until everything is mixed in.

2: Form patties by making a ball, flattening it in the palms of your hands and pinching the middle so it’s got a little “bowl” at either side. This ensures good browning and even cooking.

3: Heat the fat in the pan at medium temperature until all melted. Add the burgers.

4: Cook for 5 minutes either side.

5: Serve with sides of choice. I went for salad, Jon went for beans and cheese.

The burger’s texture is firm and meaty, the taste is subtle, salty and very beefy, the grease levels are minimal and the crust on the outside tastes of soy sauce BBQ.

burgj

burga

Fruity Ice-Cream Cake in a Cup.

Ingredients:

-1 conference pear

-1 peach

-15 blackberries

-8 strawberries

-40g mixed currants

-150ml double cream

-50g 85% chocolate

-80g 55% chocolate

Utensils:

-microwaveable bowl and a fork (not to be put in microwave, obviously)

-chopping board and knife

-mixing bowl and blender / food processor

-jelly molds or other freezable cups/pots

Recipe:

1: Crush the 85% chocolate and share between the bases of the containers.

2: Cut up whatever mix of fruit you like and share between the bases of the containers, leaving room for the chocolate ice cream to drip through.

3: Microwave the cream and 55% chocolate together on medium until they form a smooth chocolate paste.

4: Share the paste between the containers, making sure to get it down into the chocolate later and to cover the fruit. Freeze.

5: Blend the remaining fruit into a smoothie-like paste.

6: Once the chocolate ice cream is frozen, add the fruit paste on top and refreeze.

7: To serve, gently warm the container’s sides only, turn it upside down and squeeze or tap until the cake is released. Leave a little to soften for easy eating.

Pear and currant version.

Pear and currant version.

So those were, in my opinion, the best meals we had this week. What was the best meal you had this week? Recipes, anyone? 🙂

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

How To… cook with cheap vegetables.

I am a big advocate of doing everything as cheaply as possible. On the other hand, anyone who ever bought 40 avocados or 5kg of broccoli because it was cheap can confirm that sometimes we buy cheap food and make a dog’s dinner instead of a meal.

Too many avocados!

Too many avocados!

Here is some step-by-step advice to help you buy and use cheap vegetables.

1: Learn the warning signs. There is nothing worse than buying a load of cheap mangoes, only for them to be fibrous and inedible. Learn how to sniff the produce and smell the freshness, how to press the skin or tap the shell to gauge the ripeness, how to check the colour and texture for assessing quality. A few bruises, a soft patch or even a dot of mold can be cut off. Stone-deep rot, dryness and hollowness aren’t usually fixable. Have a good search for the favourite or most expensive produce in your home and how to tell when it’s perfect to eat.

2: Look out for reduced sections. Supermarkets will mark down produce long before it’s overripe or going off, so buy that. Vegetable stalls and grocers aren’t quite so kind, so have a good look at anything you buy. Usually it will just be a little “ugly”: soft apples and dry cabbage being good examples. But sometimes you won’t be able to work with it.

All reduced price.

All reduced price.

3: Only buy what you can realistically use. A family of 5 may be able to eat 10kg of tomatoes in various forms over a week, but don’t push it to 20.

4: Plan ahead with whatever you’ve got. When I come home with tomato, aubergine and courgette, I want to know I can prepare more than one or two variants on meals with it. Ratatouille, mince and rice, salad, vegetable bake and curry, in this case. If you’re not sure, sit down and write out a list of recipes until everything would be used up.

20140219_071852 DCIM100MEDIA

5: Once you’re confident checking quality, finding cheap produce, buying to suit your family and meal planning, try only using cheap plant foods. It saves so much money and even saves time to have an amount of perfectly ripe fruit and veg around the house.

6: Learn to store the produce. Slice and freeze fruit and vegetables. Make vegetable base for stews and freeze or can them. Make jam and chutney and pickles. Make a load of pasta sauce and leave it in the fridge. Dry fruit. Anything, just learn to store it so that when you find an amazingly good deal you can buy it all. We have salad leaves we freeze and use in stir-fries, jams in jars and sliced fruit in the freezer. Be creative.

Pie with home-made jam.

Pie with home-made jam.

So that’s how we find, buy and use cheap produce. I hope it’s reasonably enlightening. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

TTFN and Happy Hunting.

Persimmon jam is ridiculously easy.

So, recipe corner!

Now, what’s more seasonal than to gather a pile of lovely fruit and veggies from the harvest and preserve them to last through the Winter? And, of course, everyone’s favourite is jam. Jam as pie-filling, jam tarts, jam on rolls, jam alongside a nice slice of meat. Pretty much everyone loves a good jam. Even I (a passionate avoider of sugars, common wheat, conventional cakes and pre-made sauces), love a nice jam once in a while.

So why not make our own?

Now, there are plenty of seasonal jam and preserve recipes. Blackberry, apple, orange, cranberry, pear… But something I hadn’t previously considered was persimmon jam. You see, Kaki Persimmons are seasonal in Winter too. And, as seasonal fruit tends to do, you find them very expensive at the start and end of the season and being sold dirt-cheap in markets and Asian stores the rest of the season.

So, upon going to my local market and finding a tray of persimmons for £2, I had to have them.

Half my hoard. About 20 persimmons total, each the size of a large apple.

Half my hoard. About 20 persimmons total, each the size of a large apple.

But I found, when I got home, that some of the more robust fruits had been bullying the slightly overripe persimmons. Whatever to do with four bruised and soft persimmons?

As the title suggests, my idea was to jam them.

Considering how gelatinous persimmon flesh is, it somewhat amazes me that I’d never tried to preserve them. But, now I had thought of it, I decided to go ahead.

Recipe.

Ingredients:

-4 overripe/bruised persimmons

-5-8 spoonfuls of honey or sugar

-1 spoonful lemon juice

Equipment:

-small knife

-sauce-pot/small pot

-stirring spoon

-bowl

-fork

-blender

Instructions:

1: Peel and core your persimmons. Make sure any seeds are fished out.

2: Mash them in a bowl with a fork until they lose all form.

3: Stir-in the honey/sugar and lemon.

4: Pour the mix into your pot and put it on a low heat, stirring all the time. (This is to remove excess juice via evaporation. Being gelatinous, a drier or a pressed persimmon may jam on its own, so a raw alternative is perfectly possible.)

5: Set jam to one side to cool. Once cool, if making it with honey, stir some more in.

6: Blend out any unevenly large pieces.

 

The advantages of using honey or sugar are both obvious.

Sugar:

-cheaper

-aids jamming

-preservative

-adds sweetness without having a distinctive flavour

-vegan (if unfiltered)

Honey:

-antiseptic qualities (if raw and added AFTER boiling)

-adds a new dimension of flavour

-good if avoiding plain sugar

-you can use less of it

It’s up to you to decide which suits your needs/tastes best.

Finally, the end result looks like this:

Persimmon jam, honey edition.

Persimmon jam, honey edition.

So, if you want something a little brighter, you can add a natural colouring or a few drops of beetroot juice.

Hope it turns out well!

So, what jams and preserves do YOU like making over Winter? Any ideas on what to do with 250-400ml of persimmon jam? :p