February 29th

Daffodils

I am very old school when it comes to the seasons.  For me, the various equinoxes dictate when the following season begins, so although tomorrow is the beginning of March, and meteorologically is the start of Spring, I am not even entertaining the idea that Spring is upon us until at least March 20th.

That said, nothing trumpets that Spring is round the corner quite like the daffodil.

It’s glorious variable yellows and oranges sing out amidst the uniformity of grey that we have all been dredging ourselves through for the last couple of months, barring the odd day filled with winter sun.

And today has an even more special appeal because it only happens once every four years, something I’ve never stopped feeling ever so slightly giddy about.  I’m not completely sure why to be honest.  I can only conclude that it’s the uniqueness of it’s month and number that makes me feel all twinkly.

Whatever the reason, I have managed to have the most enjoyable of leap days in what is turning out to be the most extraordinary year.  I hope you have too.

Happy February 29th

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Pork Apple and Stilton Salad

Pork, Apple and Stilton salad

One of the many things that is wonderful about Spring is it’s never ending ability to take you by surprise and create an almost perfect few days when you least expect it. Unless you’re a meteorologist.

And so it has been for us over these last few days, which happily, has coincided with the Easter weekend.

However, unlike many who immediately whip out the barbeque, my immediate thought is salad.  Why?  Because it is one of the most versatile, light foodstuffs you can rustle up in the blink of an eye and, in my limited experience, almost anything goes with greenery.

This little number was particularly successful.  Probably because the union of pork and apple, or apple and stilton, is tried and tested and therefore not such a great leap of faith to imagine it’s glory together, chucked over a spinach and watercress combo, then sprinkled with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Of course my palette is also refreshed by something I haven’t rustled up in a while. That opinion may waiver slightly come September.

Meanwhile, I am insisting that we all spend time in the sunshine to top up our vitamin D levels, much to the chagrin of some.  However, I am unfaltering in my conviction that a small amount of time in the sunshine produces much happier people than sunshine enjoyed through a window.

And anyway, as always, the weather can turn on it’s head within the blink of an eye, so best enjoy it whilst we can.

Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Soup

Sweet Potato & Butternut squash soup#2

It has been the most glorious spring day, which the wee boy and I have spent with people we love.  Moreover, I have had the chance to potter around shops I haven’t been to in a long time, which is always a delight.  If you like that kind of thing. Although, isn’t it bizarre, the less you do, the more tired you seem to be?  So although it has been a gentle day, we have arrived home quite exhausted.  But very happy.

Despite the sunshine, there is still a chill in the air, which means that a good soup doesn’t ever seem out of place.  And this one is a wonderful orange, especially if you whizz it up with a blender.

So, I melt some oil and butter, and add sliced leeks, carrots, salt and pepper, allowing them to gently simmer for a while whilst I prepare the sweet potato and squash.  Once peeled and cubed add to the pan, stir around a little and add water and a vegetable stock cube.  Bring it all to the boil and then allow to simmer until the cubed potato and squash are soft.  Put a lid on, turn the heat off, and let it cool.  Whizz it up with your trusty steed (hand blender).

Sunshine in a bowl.

Wheatgrass

wheat grass

I know, I know, I know.  It may seem, to the outside eye, as though we have ventured down Gwyneth Paltrow Avenue, but I assure you, we are nowhere near.

Having given up sugar for two weeks and four days now, it seemed logical that we explore a few other healthy options to see how they might change our daily lives. So, we have also started having a shot of wheatgrass, home grown obviously, in the hope that we will both end up feeling full of the joys of Spring.

Now here’s the thing.  I have been doing a little light reading and whilst some changes to diet, such as the Atkins, is a whole load of balderdash, health wise, it seems that sugar has become the devil incarnate, and wheatgrass one of the sacred sites. To be honest, that’s not totally true, but it does seem to carry some healthy benefits.  If you cut it, juice it and drink it within a decent timeframe.

This is all well and good, but I can’t help thinking there is a little bit of a placebo effect taking place, and our timely choice to pump less ‘naughty food’ into our bodies, has more than a nod to the fact that Spring is round the corner.  But, you know what, I don’t mind if it is a little bit of a placebo effect.  In fact, I positively encourage it.  Because it’s not necessarily what you eat or drink on it’s own, that can give you the spring you’re looking for, but who you’re doing it with.

And I cannot think of anyone I’d rather be doing this with, than himself.

Slow Roast Lamb

Slow Roast Lamb

Hurrah, it’s March!   Although I am a little concerned at the speed of where the months are going and have a sneaking suspicion that someone is playing with time itself, I am still delighted that we are here.

But what is it with all this ‘Meteorological Spring’ stuff, eh?  Trying, all of a sudden, to convince us that Spring starts on 1 March.  Balderdash.  Spring starts on the Spring Equinox and I will hear no more about it.

Meanwhile, I am embracing the Spring-like weather and have hung out my washing for the first time this year.

Did you know that 80% of people in the UK no longer hang out their washing, but tumble dry it?

We don’t have a tumble dryer, so during the cold months we make use of our central heating and a clothes dryer.  You know the one, where you hang everything on it, it takes up a huge amount of space, and everything takes an eon to dry?  Yes, we have one of those. So March is when I breathe a huge sigh of relief, as it is warm enough to start hanging out, and therefore I spend less time tripping over the clothes dryer.  And anyway, I love the feel and smell of washing dried outside. Although I may not be quite as keen if I lived next door to a motorway.

All that aside, March also reminds me of lamb so have plumped for slow roasting a leg of it for our dinner.

Cut up a few fresh carrots, a chunk of swede, a couple of onions and place them all with the lamb in a casserole dish that has a lid.  Add freshly ground pepper, salt, and a good dollop of mint sauce. Then cover almost all of it in just boiled water and pop into the oven, gas mark 3.  Leave for a few hours.

When you can stand it no longer, drain the juices from the pot, place in a pan and taste.  If you’d like a stronger taste either add a stock cube or more mint sauce.  It’s a personal thing.

Thicken up the gravy and pour over the resting lamb.  Put the lid back on and leave for 10 minutes.  If you can resist.  The smell of it is divine.

I serve with new potatoes and something like sugar snap peas, green beans or mange tout.

Gorgeous.

Sugar

sugar

Did you know that Lent is an old pagan word for Spring?  Me neither.  I learnt that little gem of information from the radio this morning.  And it is today, the first day of Lent that I have decided to give up sugar.

The thing is, I have given up cakes and biscuits before and managed, with very little anxiety, to get through to Easter Sunday, but giving up sugar, I have found, is a lot more than that.

Having read up about the effects of giving up sugar, it has been recommended that I cut out everything for 4 – 6 weeks.  That means I can’t eat any bananas, cake, grapes, melon, tomato ketchup, cake, biscuits, prawn crisps, cake, Thai food (unless I cook it without the brown sugar), cake, Chinese take away (we don’t really eat Chinese take away, so that won’t really affect me), anything with dried fruit in it, cake… and the list goes on and on.

On the plus side…

*pauses to think*

… Oh, why not check it out for yourselves.  Someone suggested I start with www.iquitsugar.com which is what I did, and took it from there.

So goodbye stuff with sugar in.  I’m sure I will miss you more than I should.

Meanwhile, I will continue to use it for the gratification of others, and keep you informed of how I’m getting on.

Cherry Crumble and Custard

cherry crumble and custard

Sundays always bring with them a sense of calm in our household.  We do sometimes have things to do, appointments to keep, but whatever there is going on within the day, I always try to make something a little indulgent.

Today it was cherry crumble.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking, but hang on, it’s not cherry season yet…  Well this is the thing.  I did a huge cheat and opened one of those tins of morello cherries in a not too sweet sauce, and just popped a crumble on top.

Today’s crumble topping was the usual plain flour, sugar and butter combo, but I also added a tablespoonful of semolina to give it a slight biscuit feel.  I know, totally pushing the boat out.

To compliment the very lazy cherries, I made a very lazy custard using my favourite Bird’s custard powder, sugar and milk.  I have to say it is one of the most satisfying things to make as you watch it turn, very slowly, from a liquid to a solid mass. Obviously the solidity of custard depends on how much milk you use, but as the wee one is a fan of cold custard, I always make it quite thick so that when it cools you can cut through it without it falling apart.

And it is with this indulgence that we have greeted February.  The month where everything starts to notch up a gear as we all begin to feel a slight sense of spring being just around the corner.  Which is all well and good, but secretly, I’m still hoping for a snow day…