Christmas has started

Hopefully just about time for a quick blog post whilst my blueberry, coconut and sultana baked oats are baking. There are six oaty muffins baking and I have two at a time for breakfast so that’s enough for my whole working week. Yep, I break up for Christmas on Wednesday! Woohoo for three day weeks.

So why, you ask, is this post entitled Christmas has started if I haven’t broken up yet? Well it’s because I’ve been in Surrey this weekend for the annual Christmas pressie swap with my Granny and my Mum. I don’t get to see them very often because there’s nearly a hundred and fifty miles between us so when I do get down there it’s always special. I listen to Christmas songs on the radio all the way there and back and it always makes me smile if Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas comes on because, whichever direction I’m going in, it feels like I am driving home for Christmas.

Granny’s had a rough couple of years! I’m sure she won’t mind me telling you that she’s eighty eight but almost exactly two years ago she had a heart bypass and recovered from it quicker and with more aplomb than someone half her age would’ve done, and this year she’s had various medical issues and a couple of stays in hospital, the latest being just a couple of weeks ago when she lost a pint of blood after knocking a scab off which happened to be on an artery (her bedroom and hallway currently look like a scene out of a horror film!) Anyway, she’s bounced back from it all but it makes it all the more important to spend time with her. My hubby calls her Super Gran. She really is amazing!

Despite all of this, she’d still taken the trouble to get all my favourite things in to feed me! You wouldn’t believe how excited I was to see these sitting on top of the fridge when I arrived!

I LOVE crumpets! Especially Warburtons and I hadn’t had them since May when I started Slimming World! Of course, I could’ve rung her before I went and said I’d bring baked oats instead, but somehow, it completely slipped my mind to do so!

Ooooooh! What a treat! Hot toasted crumpets with Flora Buttery and, you either love it or hate it, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE it! Marmite!

I devoured my crumpets whilst Granny popped to the shop to get her paper (a kind gentleman paid for it for her – Granny has an admirer (in my head at least!)) and while we were waiting for my Mum to arrive. Much excitement – hadn’t seen her since last Christmas!

Mum brought with her Christmas presents, a knitting stitch holder because I’d forgotten mine and news of my Great Aunt who’s unfortunately suffering from fairly advanced dementia. Mum initially moved away from Birmingham to help my Great Aunt when she was in the early stages of the disease but she’s now ably cared for in a home.

A home which apparently also caters for donkeys! She doesn’t look overly impressed, does she!

We had a lovely day together just chatting and catching up. Granny’s still catching up on sleep after losing all that blood and didn’t feel up to Scrabble so Mum and I had a game. My Mum is the Gyles Brandreth of Scrabble (or Suzy Dent for the younger amongst you) but somehow I managed to be winning, right up, that is, until she went and got ninety something points for one word! Honestly, I ask you! How does she do it? Anyway, she ended on something like three hundred and twenty nine and I managed two hundred and ninetyish so I don’t feel too beaten up.

I headed back up the M40 after the tea of kings! Granny’s Shepherd’s Pie! It deserves to be capitalised because it’s soooooo good! She makes it the day before and reheats it when needed. It’s some concoction of lamb mince, celery, carrot, onion salt and vegetable stock topped with potato, but believe me, even with the correct ingredients it is impossible to make it as well without the Granny magic!

It tastes a-ma-zing! Sets you right up for the rest of the day.

Today I’ve had a relatively lazy day chilling out with hubby and the gorgeous twosome …

… but, and I think I deserve a round of applause for this, I did go out in the garden, in the bucketing down rain, to harvest the remainder of my produce.

Now, if we can all just imagine that I intended to grow baby potatoes and baby leeks, then it will have all been worth it!

These are Musselburgh leeks which, according to the internet, should be ‘whoopers’ and reliable and easy to grow. Hmmmm! I sowed them in about April and this is what I got! They look like spring onions. I assure you they’re not! Oh well, they’ll be fine chopped up in a stir fry.

The potatoes are Charlottes and I planted them in bags about the end of September time. They were advertised as ready for Christmas, which I suppose they are, but I was rather hoping they’d be big enough for our roasties. They’re not!

They sprouted masses of leaves to start off with. This is how they looked halfway through November …

… but I noticed last week that all the foliage had died down so I thought I’d best check if any potatoes had actually grown.

Anyway, my baked oats are cooked and cooling …

… so I’m off to get some beauty sleep ready for my last three working days of 2019. Nighty night.

A week of food

I’m actually halfway through a draft of a post I’ve been pondering for a few weeks, but it’s taking me a little while to get it right, so in the meantime I’ve come to tell you about my week of scrummy food. Honestly it’s no wonder I struggle to lose weight!

We had another Gousto box this week and, oh my, it was full of deliciousness!

We started the week with a veggie offering. Neither of us is vegetarian, but we are both animal lovers so we do try to reduce the amount of meat we eat. Hubby tries to only eat it once a day, and I will often choose a veggie option over meat. I’m not a massive meat lover anyway, I don’t really like the texture and I can’t bear fatty or gristly cuts. I find that I get very tired after prolonged periods without meat, so I don’t cut it out altogether. I’m obviously not getting everything I need from my veggie choices.

Anyway, feast your eyes on this.

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This is a spinach and feta tart with crispy potatoes and rocket salad. It was really quick and easy to make and so so tasty. It reminded us both of relaxed and restful Greek holidays, probably just because of the feta. Y-um!

Next up I took a bit of a risk. Tandoori fish! I don’t mind fish (as long as it doesn’t still have its eye looking at me *shudder*) but I wasn’t sure if the delicate fishy flavours would work with the strong tasting tandoori marinade, but it absolutely did. I should have known really because good old Gousto has rarely let us down. I forgot to take a photo of this one, so desperate was I to try it but here’s the Gousto pic.

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Next up was another veggie dish. I love love loved this one, and again it was super easy to make and took less than fifteen minutes. Hubby says he liked it, but I didn’t get the vibe that he loved it quite as much as I did. I love picky food – crisps and dips, crudités, a finger buffet – so Gousto’s halloumi shawarma with hummus couldn’t have been further up my alley.

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We grilled the pittas and pumpkin seeds, fried the halloumi in a tiny bit of olive oil and blitzed together chickpeas, garlic, tahini, olive oil and lemon to make the hummus …… and then the dipping commenced. The nommiest of noms!

Finally we had a meat option, chicken schnitzel with apple and potato salad. I have absolutely no doubt that this will become a regular dish in the Green Girl Gardener household. Really simple and easy to make, oh so tasty, and common ingredients that we generally have in the kitchen already.

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We had a lovely, and delicious, surprise at our front door on Monday this week. Our neighbours held their baby son’s christening at the weekend, and it seems they’d over-catered (always safer than under-catering) and they brought us round cake! How amazing! Cake on the doorstep on a Monday evening. How very kind of them to think of us.

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It was a rocky road style cake topped with teeny tiny marshmallows and hundreds and thousands all drizzled with white chocolate. Sooooooo good! Mindful of having to get into swimwear in the near future, I shared the joy and took the last four pieces to work for my lovely colleagues to enjoy.

The working week ended with another delicious meal, this time out with my Dad and our very good friend in town. Yep, that’s right, I went out! Not just out, but out out. In town! Not the local town, but proper city centre, second city, Birmingham town. Whoop! Don’t do this very often so it feels like such a luxury, and oh my goodness, this restaurant didn’t disappoint.

It’s an Indian restaurant called Varanasi, but this is not just your local sit down, bring your own, have a great time Indian restaurant. This one did Indian food and fancy dining with so much aplomb that my head practically exploded with gleeful wonderment!

First of all I have to show you a few snaps of the interior which dazzled and amazed before we’d even got as far as opening the wine list (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, obviously!) or perusing the menu.

Just look!

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You really feel like you’re entering somewhere special as you’re escorted down that corridor of Buddha-Esque statues. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know who they represented. Krishna maybe?

The restaurant on the other side is laid out over three floors with balconies overlooking the lower levels and low lighting to accentuate the ambience created by the burning incense. I don’t normally like incense, but this was by no means overpowering and made me feel completely immersed in the Hindu inspired environment.

Once we had finished marvelling at our surrounding, and we were seated, we commenced the almost impossible task of deciding what to choose from the menu. Not easy! We had some poppadoms and chutneys whilst we decided.

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Even this was done well with each of us having our own chutney pots to save reaching over each other. This is always awkward I find when you’re out in a larger group and you don’t have the chutney right in front of you and have to either keep leaning over your neighbour or cover your plate in raita which you then can’t quite scoop on to your poppadom!

The waiters were incredibly attentive without being intrusive and were around to give us advice on which dishes to choose. I decided on the Varanasi special chicken curry with steamed rice and I opted to have it cooked with medium spice.

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It was amazing. It had a definite kick (glad I opted for medium) but with a hint of ginger. The dish was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked. It was a veritable delectation for the taste buds! We shared a naan bread which again appeals to my love of picky, dippy food. We were three very satisfied diners.

Goodness knows how, but between us we managed to get through four bottles of the fruity Sauvignon Blanc so a trip to the little girls’ room was required, and luckily I took my phone with me because there were more photo opportunities.

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What a beautiful bathroom.  The hand wash smelt divine! I didn’t use the moisturiser because when our hand towels were brought after dinner which were expanded in little bowls of water in front of us, we were also given a little bottle of moisturiser, so I used that.

All in all, a thoroughly excellent evening of laughs and scrumptious food. I would highly recommend Varanasi to anyone who finds themselves in the vacinity of this great city of mine.

Must dash, we’re off to the matinee performance of War Horse today (in town again, twice within twenty four hours!) so I need to get a wiggle on. I’m super excited about seeing this show. I loved the book and I know several people who have seen the stage show and have raved about it. I’ll let you all know if it lives up to expectations. I have no doubt it will.

Possibly the faffiest thing I have ever done!

We decided to do something outdoorsy today to make the most of the good weather before it slips away for another year, and we needed something free as funds are a little on the low side at the moment. We decided on a walk in Sutton Park. Last time I was in there the blackberries were almost ready for picking so I took some tupperware so I could take advantage.

Every time I go in the park I seem to discover something I’ve never seen before. This time it was a lovely little lake, not much more than a pond really.

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We rambled along in search of good blackberries, and before we knew it we had no idea where we were, and there was no signal so google maps couldn’t come to our rescue! It actually felt quite liberating to be technology free and we just pootled along safe in the knowledge that there were several hours of daylight left and we were bound to emerge somewhere familiar soon.

We did, but unfortunately we still hadn’t come across any decent blackberries! We came out near a mahoosive hill which is part of the annual Great Midlands Fun Run, locally known as the Sutton Fun Run which I’ve done for the past four years. The hill is known as Cardiac Hill, for very good reason and bizarrely along the side of the hill we found the blackberries. They were very small which made me wonder if they weren’t yet ripe, but they came off the bramble very easily so I took the risk. It was a good excuse to take a pause on our way up Cardiac Hill!

The hill leads out of the park, but we soon nipped back in to avoid the boring walk on the road back to the car, and I’m soooooo glad we did. In this post I told you of the ponies in the park but said that I’d never seen one. Well today, we came across loads! What excitement! They’re Exmoor Ponies and they’re gorgeous. They have the most soulful eyes. I was really tempted to stroke one because they look so tame, they weren’t concerned by us being close to them at all, but there are signs telling you to respect their wildness, so I settled for taking loooottttttts of photos of them. I won’t spam you with all of them, but here’s a selection.

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I didn’t come home with the biggest haul of blackberries (do you think the ponies have been feasting on them?) but there were enough to make blackberry cupcakes, and so starts the tale of possibly the faffiest thing I have ever done!

I gathered my ingredients ……

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…. washed the blackberries ….

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….. and got baking.

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So far, so good.

The cupcakes came out of the oven looking and smelling delicious, and then I remembered my animal cutter from Lakeland that I told you about here last weekend. I decided to give it a go.

Oh. My. Goodness! I normally have pretty much unlimited patience with crafty, creative pursuits. Not so with this one. I only did one design and then decided for the sake of my sanity to just make buttercream icing for the rest.

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You can at least tell what it’s supposed to be, although the colours and stripes kind of make it obvious, but it’s not very good. It’s so fiddly to cut those stripes out and then get them to stay in the right place without making them misshapen. Good job the cutter wasn’t expensive because I can’t see it getting much use! You never know, I might get inspired in the future if someone needs a cupcake zoo.

Hope everyone’s had a lovely weekend. Have a great week, and if anyone’s children are starting school, good luck to them.