Saturday, 9 January 2016

Gluten free Apple and Berry Crumble recipe

This recipe is one of those 'what have we got in the cupboards?' dishes. Last night I remembered that there was some stewed apple in the freezer made from the windfall apples from my daughter's garden. Last year I collected a huge bag of them and had a day of washing, chopping and cooking them. After washing, I cut them into quarters and removed the core then sliced them leaving the skin on them as I prefer the texture and taste. I added a little lemon juice, some unbleached sugar and some cinnamon before cooking over a medium heat (with the lid on the pan) until they were soft, but not completely mushy. Then once the apples had cooled completely, I froze them in individual meal size bags (approximately 1lb cooked weight). It took just a few minutes in the microwave to defrost the apple ready to make into a crumble.

Gluten free Apple and Berry Crumble

1lb stewed cooking apples
4oz frozen mixed summer fruit berries
5oz finely ground cornmeal
2 1/2oz unsalted butter
2oz caster sugar
pinch of salt
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Pre-heat oven to moderately hot, 190C, gas mark 65 170fan, 375F.

Put cornmeal and salt and nutmeg into a bowl, rub in butter to form medium to fine crumbs and mix in sugar.
Cover the base of a flan dish with stewed apple, add frozen berries. Sprinkle the crumb mixture over the top and spread to the edges.

Bake in middle of the oven for 20 -25 minutes or until golden brown.
Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Can be served hot or cold. Perfect accompaniments include fresh cream, ice cream or custard.

Friday, 8 January 2016

10 changes that make life better (since I became ill)

We no longer run two cars. There are two sides to this, I no longer have the independence that I did as I can’t just jump into the car and go out without taking Mr J into consideration, but I also don’t make unnecessary journeys. The downside for Mr J is that is has to do all the driving. I am still not safe to drive his car yet, while I still fall asleep almost without notice being behind a steering wheel is not safe for me or for others on the road. Travel is now more considered and we combine tasks into one journey. This is better for our wallet and the environment.

We eat differently. I now eat gluten free and Mr J certainly eats less gluten but still gets to enjoy homemade bread. I cook from fresh whenever possible and am conscious of what is in each ingredient. There are foods that I give a wide berth because they make me feel rotten and foods that I have a reaction to, so I avoid them altogether. I cook more food than we need at any one meal and freeze the extra portions. This means that on the days that I do not feel up to cooking Mr J can quickly find something for us in the freezer. We rarely eat out. Going out to eat used to be a regular activity for us, but often I am too tired to sit in a restaurant and finding food that is gluten free and also avoids all the other things that I react to is very difficult, so it’s simpler, safer and definitely cheaper to eat at home.
We have slowed down. Not in a ‘come to a grinding halt’ way although this does happen to me on a regular basis, but we have stopped rushing everywhere. We are taking time to appreciate what we are doing, where we are and how lucky we are to be where we are. If we have to be somewhere at a certain time we give ourselves more time to get there, so there is less pressure and less stress to the journey. By taking time to appreciate more, I’ve found that I get great pleasure in so many things that I used to take for granted.
I rest more. This was forced on me rather than being an active choice and to begin with I really struggled with having to sit or lie still for long periods. Feeling desperately ill for 5 months took its toll and I was exhausted by the very nature of the illness, but as I’ve learnt to slow down I have also learnt to take proper rests. This doesn’t mean a quick sit down with a cuppa, it means lying down completely. It doesn’t just mean resting my body, but also my mind. I guess it’s like meditating, I’ve learnt to rest my mind from the busy racing thoughts and to just enjoy the moment of calm and quiet. This rest is often more refreshing than sleeping.

I value my friends more. Since I don’t go out as much as I used to I don’t socialise as much as I did, but I’ve also come to value my friends in a way that I didn’t before. When I saw lots of people on a regular basis I ‘knew’ lots of folks without really knowing many of them. My circle of friends and acquaintances has diminished but the quality of the friendships that I do have has grown exponentially. I’ve certainly been surprised that some people who I thought were friends were obviously only acquaintances or friends by circumstance, whereas some who I didn’t know very well have become good friends.

I consider the impact of my actions. Because I am more aware of how everything impacts on my health, I am also more aware of how my actions impact on others and the world around me. On a physical level I am more conscious of the waste of energy, the type of chemicals and type and source of the food that we are using, and I am more aware of how my behaviour may impact on others, on their physical health or emotional wellbeing.
I celebrate more. As a result of slowing down, valuing friendships, my circumstances and times when my health is good enough to take part in activities, by being more considered and considerate I have found pleasure in so many more things and found more reasons to be grateful and to celebrate. I don’t mean a ‘let’s throw a party’ kind of celebration, sometimes it’s a very quiet, personal acknowledgement and sometimes it’s a share it with Mr J or my family and friends moment. The more I celebrate, the more I find to be thankful for and that’s a very pleasing circle of thought.

I plan more. This isn’t a plan to do more, but an action plan for the things that I want to do. I am organised in my daily routine. As a result of having very little energy to achieve the things I’d like to, I have to be careful about not taking on too much at any one time. So Mr J and I have lists and plans of how we are going to tackle tasks. I have had to learn how much (or little) that I can do in a day and adjust my expectations accordingly. So for example, if I want to spend a chunk of the morning outside creating our fruit and vegetable garden, I know that our main meal for the day will need to be at lunch time as I will have run out of energy by early afternoon and won’t be able to cook an evening meal (that’s when the home-cooked frozen meals are so useful). I know that if we want to go shopping for food or anything else that I need to do it as early as possible in the day and walk very slowly. It’s much harder to just stop what I am doing and stand absolutely still or sit on the floor until the pain subsides when I’m in the middle of a supermarket or crossing a road. So I plan early morning activities knowing that the pain increases throughout the day and the tiredness is frequently overwhelming by early afternoon. I have been pleasantly surprised at just how much I can achieve in a short space of time if I plan it carefully.
I listen more. As a result of slowing down, planning more and considering my actions more I take more time to listen to others and to myself and actually hear what is being said. The positive result is that I am gaining better understanding all the time and this in turn is making me more patient. Patient with others and with myself and this, I think, can only be a good thing.
I appreciate more. I seem to say thank you more than I used to and more fully appreciate the help, care and love that I am being offered and given. Hand in hand with this better appreciation and all the other changes that are taking place, I feel better able to respond appropriately and to give more to those around me. And that in itself is a real pleasure.

So from the negativity of being ill I have found some changes that will, I hope, continue to have a positive effect.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Recycle, reuse, relax

We've had a productive day. After a great night's sleep and a cup of tea in bed (what a treat!) I cooked a breakfast omelette filled with mushrooms, broccoli and a sprinkling of cheese. Mid-morning Mr J and I headed out to our local town to do a few essential chores.

Then it was back home to wait for some deliveries that were due today and typically one delivery had arrived while we were out.  Surprisingly the delivery driver had just left it on the doorstep. I wasn't best pleased at the 'dump it and run' approach to deliveries but was jolly pleased to have the bits and pieces that I'd ordered. I now have enough weed supressing membrane to complete the fruit and vegetable garden layout (I hope) and extra strong metal pegs to hold it down with. They look like giant staples and do a very good job at holding the membrane flat on the ground, even on our very exposed site.

Whilst was drinking my cuppa first thing this morning, I'd spotted an advert on Gumtree for reclaimed wood and contacted the seller to see if it was still available and whether he could deliver. My luck was in, the wood was not only still available but he could deliver it today.

The activity of the morning left me worn out, it really doesn't take very much to tire me at the moment so I had an afternoon of snoozing on the sofa. When we went outside to put the chickens inside for the night and await the wood delivery, Mr J took some great photographs of the clouds with the sun behind them, like the one above that clearly demonstrates that some clouds really do have silver linings.

At 4.30 this afternoon, exactly as promised the seller of the wood arrived. Mr J and the seller unloaded the wood and I helpfully got in the way.
I've found that there are lots of ways to get hold of reclaimed wood. Some towns have wood recycling projects like Bristol Wood Recycling Project and Reseiclo Wood Recycling in Newport and there are lots of architectural salvage yards to be found tucked away in all sorts of places. There are online auction sites, free recycling sites (like freecycle) and Gumtree.
These fabulous lengths of chunky 2" by 4" wood are all going to be recycled, the screws and nails will be removed from them and then we will build some raised beds for the fruit and vegetable garden. Actually we should be able to build quite a lot of raised beds!

But not yet, the weather is due to turn cold (and probably wet) again in the next week or two and there is no point in damaging the soil structure in the paddock just to get them built sooner. So until the soil dries enough to build the beds in situ, we can start to remove the screws and nails and get the wood prepared for reuse at a leisurely pace.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Gardening birthday and gluten free Sticky Ginger Oaty Cake

It's my birthday and I've had a relaxed and gentle day. This morning I made a Sticky Ginger Oaty Cake (gluten free of course) to have with a cuppa later in the day and pottered in the kitchen until the sun came up. And when it did, it shone, not just a bit, but full on shiny, happy sunshine, what a great treat after the wet, windy and miserable weather we have had for the last month or so.

As so often happens, I lost quite a while watching the chickens, it was a pleasure to see them enjoying the sunshine. They didn't lay any eggs today, so I am hoping that they feel okay. They all look well and healthy and their behaviour didn't indicate anything wrong with them, so we'll see how they are tomorrow.

Then Mr J and I tackled a few tasks in the garden. We emptied a large rectangular, shallow container of rain water, fallen leaves and mud and moved it to the area that we have designated as 'duck corner' as this will become a paddling pool for them. I then relocated some lovely lavender plants to beside a new path that will go from the yard into the paddock that is becoming the vegetable and fruit garden. These should form a form a hedge that will smell heavenly as we brush past it.
We ate a late lunch and then I had a much needed afternoon snooze. Actually I zonked out completely for a couple of hours and woke up feeling refreshed and relaxed. This evening I have spoken to my family, watched a little television and caught up with some reading online.

All in all, it's been a delightful day, once again I am feeling blessed.

Gluten Free Sticky Ginger Oaty Cake

2 oz gluten free self-raising flour
2oz finely ground cornmeal
4oz jumbo rolled oats
Good pinch salt
1/2 tspn gluten free baking powder
1 heaped tspn ground ginger
4 oz molasses or soft dark brown sugar
1/4 pint olive oil or corn oil
4 oz golden syrup or treacle
1 egg
4 tblspn milk
Crystallised ginger to taste
Zest of one lemon and orange

Pre-heat oven to 170C, 150Fan, gas mark 3, 325F.
Grease and line a 7 inch square tin or 8 inch round tin.
Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl (flour, cornmeal, oats, salt, baking powder, ground ginger).
Gently heat the oil, molasses (sugar) and oil in a pan until the sugar has dissolved.
Beat together the egg and milk.
 Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix and stir.

Chop crystallised ginger into small pieces, grate a little lemon and orange zest and stir into the mixture.
Pour into the baking tin (I used my trusty old fluted pie dish)
and cook for 40 - 60 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
Allow cake to rest until almost cool and then cover in cling film or store in an airtight container for a couple of days before eating.

Note - Cooking time will vary with your oven, my oven seems to cook everything quickly (it was done in 40 - 45 minutes), but my last oven was much slower, so it's worth keeping an eye on your cake to ensure that it doesn't 'catch' at the edges.

I didn't wait for a couple of days before eating but it does get stickier and the flavours become richer with storage.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Growing success for the garden

During lunch today we enjoyed the view through the window as the sun shone on our rain soaked garden and I imagined how lovely it will be in the summer when it's warm enough for us to open the doors from the kitchen to the patio. And then I glanced down at the trays of garlic cloves.
Quick flashback to January 2nd (just three days ago) when I planted the garlic cloves into modules in the kitchen. We balanced a wide board between two chairs and put the trays of garlic cloves next to the window. Luckily we have a large enough kitchen to dedicate the space to the plants.
Back to today, I couldn't quite believe what I was looking at. I am amazed and delighted to have seen how the garlic is settled into its soil. On closer inspection, the garlic hasn't just settled in, but it's started growing!
And it's not just one clove, there are signs of life in most of them, time to do a happy dance!
All these green shoots will swiftly turn into little plants and will need to be moved to the greenhouse to make space for more seeds to be sown inside the house. This reminds me that we need to complete the installation of the greenhouse glass.
There are so many jobs that need doing in both the house and garden, some small and simple, others will take longer or need materials or tools that we have yet to source. I've been making a list of the smaller tasks so that I can tick them off as we get them completed, it's a great way to help me feel like we are making some progress.
This afternoon's task is to find out where our local building supplies, glazing supplies and timber merchant are located and to work out how much wood I will need to build some raised beds. My garden plan will need 20 beds this year, but I think we will make them into raised beds bit by bit as time, energy and funds allow. But before I do that bit of research, I think it's time for a cuppa.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Busy pyjama day

It's been a busy pyjama day, not that my pyjamas were busy, that would be silly (and impossible), no it was a busy day given that I haven't felt up to getting dressed.

Yesterday afternoon we decided to put up a plastic panel as a temporary measure on the stable that will be the chicken condo as the rain has been pouring in and soaking everything in the stable. The driving rain had even managed to get inside the nesting box and I didn't like the idea of the girls being soaked as they tried to lay their eggs.
A few screws and a couple of nails later there's an ugly second-hand twin wall plastic panel as a makeshift rain protector in place. It looks unattractive but seems to be doing the job. 
Eventually the open sections of the stable walls will be filled with chicken wire on the three sides and clear acrylic sheeting along the section where our makeshift shelter panel is now as that's where the rain comes in the most.

When I went to let the girls out this morning (coat thrown over my PJs) there were no eggs for us, but by mid-morning they had laid three large eggs. Two of them weighed 71g and one 60g, how clever of them to lay two that were exactly the same weight.

Mr J and I looked at what tasks we could do in the house. So we tackled the task of taking down the curtain pole that was left in the lounge when we moved in and we put up a batten and curtain track and then Mr J popped a 'ding meal' in the microwave for our lunch. This afternoon I have been adjusting the curtains in the lounge. I originally made them about 12 years ago for my bedroom in an Edwardian house with a tall, large bay window. Since then they have moved with me to three rented homes before coming here. Now we are in our permanent home, I will take them up properly to fit their new space.
It has rained heavily today, there's been almost no let up in the rain which has put a dampener on my enthusiasm for any outdoor activity. Roads in Monmouthshire have been flooded and closed, I am so glad that I haven't had to travel anywhere today. Hopefully tomorrow there will be an improvement in the weather and in my energy level.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Things that go bang in the night

Good grief, what a dull evening it was on the television yesterday. Perhaps it was because I wasn't feeling very well or perhaps the selection of viewing really was as awful as I thought. In the end, we spent much of the evening settled on the sofa browsing online and having conversations with folks on Twitter. For us this isn't the solitary activity it could be, we share with each other who or what we are reading about and suddenly find ourselves in animated conversation about things we haven't talked about before. It has become a tool for real conversation rather than something that sends us into separate silent spheres. And that very act of conversation, discussion and debate deepens our friendship and understanding of each other daily.
Last night's conversations included the best time of year to plant garlic, the merits of an afternoon snooze, gluten free food, hypothyroidism and the process and value of forgiving.
In the middle of the evening we were interrupted by some incredibly loud banging from just outside the window. For a few seconds we were like a cartoon scene, wide-eyed, mouths open in a perfect O shape and frozen still as we tried to take in what we were hearing. There must certainly be a herd of cows trying to kick their way through the fence from next door or worse still, someone trying to break in or worst of all, the boiler blowing up in the boiler house (which is conveniently also just outside the living room). Then, as quickly as we had frozen, we leapt into action. Mr J shot off the sofa like a bullet from a gun and ran outside to tackle the cows or burglar or boiler. I think he'd reached the back door by the time I had managed to heave myself off the sofa. We really must find a way of raising the sofa, having my hips lower than my knees leaves me stranded like a beached whale and a quick exit is all but impossible.
Anyway, Mr J had inspected the outside of the building, the farm gate and the outbuildings as I met him by the back door. Nothing, no sign of anything, no cows, no burglar and no blown-up boiler. It remains a mystery and we can only guess that the family next door were trying to close up a building with a very stuck door. My nerves were feeling somewhat frayed so there was only one thing to do and the kettle was duly switched on.
Yesterday felt like a wasted day, having got six bulbs of organic garlic neatly planted in modules ready to go into the greenhouse (once all the glass panels are in) and a trip to the local supermarket done, I was frazzled and in a lot of pain, so spent the afternoon on the sofa watching 'how to' videos on YouTube. Although Mr J had kindly bought me the latest John Grisham novel, Rogue Lawyer, I didn't feel up to reading, so I have that pleasure for later today.
This morning I've let the chickens out of their cosy, safe house which is now sited in the stables and they clucked away nicely until they went out into the yard on their way to the area by the piggeries that we glamorously call the 'wild flower garden' (it has no wild flowers in it and is less of a garden than a grassy area amongst the tall sycamore trees). Once they reached the open air and realised it was raining, their friendly little noises changed and I am sure that they were swearing at me. The chickens were named by my daughter and grandson, and although I have no intention of naming any other chickens that come to live with us, these three definitely have pet status and will continue to be called Bluebell, Jack and Diesel. Diesel seems none the worse for her close encounter with the henhouse during Storm Frank and has continued to produce a rich, golden yolk egg each day. Bluebell on the other hand hasn't really been earning her keep this week, she's only laid two eggs, absolute whoppers, but still only two and Jack seems to be laying every other day.
Between the rain and still feeling fragile I think it will be another day indoors. I am itching to get back outside and continue to plant up the shrubbery. We could definitely do with some more of the windbreak fabric being put up on the fences and the hedge being planted, but all of that will have to wait until the weather is less soggy and I am more steady on my feet. So I am going to spend a gentle couple of hours watching Countryfile and gardening programmes before lunch and then do a bit more research this afternoon. Despite feeling distinctly ropey, I am feeling really rather blessed.