Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Swapshop - the new freecycle but with bells on!

My local town has some kindly people who run the Swapshop email service. It's a weekly email sent round free to subscribers listing items offered and wanted, as well as local events. The idea is that items are offered or requested for a swap, though some are listed as free to a good home.

I love it! I am signed up to a few local freecycle groups but haven't yet dived in to them and the emails clutter up my inbox annoyingly. Plus in our area, all the good stuff goes on Swapshop.

This week I have swapped two jars of my mum's chutney (of which I have a bit of a surfeit) for a cupboard and changing table for the baby's room. It's in great condition and the perfect size.

In a couple of days I will be picking up a bike that is all ready to ride, for just a packet of biscuits and some veg for the owner's lovely donkeys.

I am also using Swapshop to rid us of some of our unwanted items. So far I have swapped two radiator dryers for some baking goodies, and an old SLR camera for toddler toys and books.

It's a great idea, well organised, that makes this hard up mother feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins - dairy free

Of late I have been fancying a really good treat and buoyed up by last week's fantastic Chocolate Avocado Pudding success I decided this weekend was the time to do some baking.

I also wanted to use up some roasted beetroot that I had tucked away in the fridge. Finding a memory lurking in the back of my mind that beetroot and chocolate were a good combination I went on the hunt for recipes.

Seems I was not wrong: I found bucketloads of chocolate and beetroot cake recipes online. I would have been spoilt for choice if I didn't have such particular conditions to meet.

Firstly the recipe needed to be vegan or easy to make vegan. Secondly, it had be sweet enough without having refined sugar in it (or having very little), as I am trying to cut that out of our diet, and no artificial sweeteners.

Too much of a challenge? Fear not. Not only did I find a lovely recipe, but I also found a lovely new blog which I am now happily exploring. So here is the recipe from The Savvy Sister stateside. Next time I will try it with chocolate chips as that is the only way I can think of making it better!

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins

Set oven to 180 C
  • about 1 1/2 cups cooked beetroot (roasted or steamed)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup melted dairy free spread
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk (or almond or rice milk)
1.  If steaming the beetroot, scrub them then lightly peel any rough skin. Cut off top and bottom.  Cut into cubes and set  in steamer or placed in a metal colander on top of pot filled with about 4-5 inches of water covered on med high heat.  Beetroot should not touch the water.  Steam for about 30-45 minutes.  Pieces should be soft when pierced with a fork.  Set aside to cool completely.  This step can be done the day before.
1a. If roasting the beetroot, scrub them then lightly peel any rough skin. Cut off top and bottom and quarter. Toss in oil (I use rapeseed or olive oil) and put into a roasting pan, cover with foil and roast for about 40 minutes at about 180C until soft when pierced with a fork. Set aside to cool completely.
2.  Place cooked beetroot, syrup and vanilla in food processor and pulse to mix,  then process on high for a couple of minutes until very smooth. 
3.  Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a bowl.  Add beetroot and coconut milk to mixture and stir to combine.
4.  Add in melted spread and stir well with a spoon.
5.  Line cupcake tin with paper cups or grease with oil spray and fill 3/4 of the way full with batter.
Bake at 180 C for 16-18  minutes. (11 minutes for mini cupcakes) Top should be firm to light touch.  Let cool for 15 minutes.

There is a frosting recipe to go with this on the Savvy Sister website, which I haven't tried yet. 
Try not to eat them all at once... 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Meal Planning Monday (24th September 2012)

This week I have made a lovely new food friend: roasted broccoli. Oh my word, how good is roasted broccoli? I made a batch of it with cauliflower and me and the babe scoffed the lot as a snack. Divine even when stone cold.

I have also rediscovered pearl barley. I used to chuck it in with a lamb stew I made pre-vegan days but that only worked if you were eating the whole stew in one go. I found that the barley just kept expanding and sucked up all the sauce so leftovers where gloopy rather than saucy which made me sad. This time, I cooked it on its own and served it with lentil stew and it was lovely. Great texture and good flavour in its own right.

Finally, and most importantly, yesterday I made the most scrumptious vegan chocolate muffins. My life is now complete. I will post the recipe this week so you can all share in my excitement! Oh, and no refined sugars beyond maple syrup which makes me an even happier bunny.
Lunch: Crumpets & grapes (had big brekkie and having big dinner)
Dinner: Curry!!! homemade mushroom kadai, saag aloo and dhal with a little takeaway boost for husband's birthday feast :)

Lunch: Soup and sandwiches
Dinner:  Mixed bean chilli with buckwheat and quinoa

Lunch: Curry (leftovers from Monday which will taste even better now) 
Dinner: Garlicky greens in black bean sauce and rice noodles

Lunch: Curried lentil, potato and cauliflower soup (trying a new recipe in the slow cooker!) 
Dinner: Roast veg and potatoes, red cabbage, greens, quinoa

Lunch: Hot white bean and aubergine open toasted sandwiches
Dinner: Red lentil and mushroom spaghetti bolognese 

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Lentil stew, bulgar wheat, potatoes and greens

Lunch:  Hash

Dinner: Something experimental but stew-like in the slow cooker!

Snacks & puddings
Tinned, fresh and dried fruit, smoothie, crackers or rice cakes & nut butter or hummus or marmite, whole nuts, yoghurt, muffins (full meal muffins for the baby and chocolate for me - yes! vegan!).

For more on Meal Planning Monday, visit At Home with Mrs B and hello to Stateside meal planners at Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Notes from a Womble Garden - 1

You can read the introduction to my Womble Garden Challenge here.

As I watched the rain wash over our village today, as if someone was pouring a never emptying bucket out, I decided I needed a plan of action for the garden that didn't entail going outside. As it is, that's fine for now. The plot that will become my garden has a lot of nesting birds on it and I want to be sure they are completely finished before I start to hack it about.

I have already been getting into the Womble mindset as we clear out five years of clutter and debris from the unrenovated part of our flat. From the stuff we no longer need, I have squirreled away the following, potentially useful, items:

  • two very large flat metal gastronorm kitchen trays (bit like baking trays) from the kitchen for use in a potting shed (will be great for watering small seedling pots in).
  • one wire grill rack (could be useful for raising plant pots up or as a climbing plant support).
  • one metal ladle, also for use in the potting shed (spooning soil and so on).
  • two waiter's aprons (short ones with two deep pockets) for organising gardening apparatus about my person!
  • various wooden window frames that might be turnable into cold frames.

I am also doing an inventory of gardening items I already possess to ensure I don't double up on anything. Here it is so far:
  • several packets of vegetable and complementary flower seeds that are still in date.
  • plenty of small and medium sized plastic plant pots
  • smaller number of large plant pots
  • trowel, fork and hoe
  • two compost bins (one in use)
  • one worm compost bin (not in use)
  • one bokashi compost system (not used, might try swapping for something more useful)
  • small amount of horticultural fleece
  • various packets of plant food
  • lots of gardening books, including one very good one about the allotment year and my beloved permaculture book
  • one watering can (on it's way out but still useable)
  • one wheel barrow
  • one tub of Diatomaceous Earth (why? Why?!)
  • plastic plant ties
  • pea netting
  • bamboo canes (20+)
  • one miniature greenhouse which has lost its plastic cover
  • lots of plant pot feet 
  • one water butt (in use on our roof terrace)

Not a bad haul for starters, is it? I haven't finished excavating the flat yet so there will be more to come, and I will then turn my attention to our crumbling outhouses. I have started tracking how the sun reaches the plot, but I didn't finish before the weather broke so am now waiting for a fine day... 

Next up will be my autumn plan of action.

Good plant iron sources

Here are some great plant iron sources.

Beans & lentils
lentils, soy, chickpeas, pinto, kidney, black (turtle), baked beans

Cashew nuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts

Sesame seeds & tahini, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed

Mushrooms, potatoes (baked)

Fortified non-dairy milks & yoghurt

Fortified cereals


Apricots, Figs (dried), prunes, raisins

Blackstrap molasses

Rye flour

About Iron:

+ Iron is essential for a healthy blood supply as it helps form haemoglobin in red blood cells, which in turn transports and releases oxygen around the body, and  disposes of build ups of carbon dioxide.
+ Vegan and vegetarian diets generally contain more iron than omnivore (meat and dairy) diets because of the higher amount of fruit and vegetables, but it is important to eat Vitamin C at the same time to improve uptake.
+  Absorption of iron from certain vegetables and fruit can be reduced by phytate (a compound in plant cells that interferes with nutrient uptake) and oxalic acid (present particularly in spinach, Swiss Chard, cabbage and rhubarb).
+ It is best to avoid taking zinc (i.e. supplements) or drinking tea,cocoa or coffee while eating iron-rich foods, to further improve your uptake.

Sources of Vitamin C
Fruits: citrus fruits, strawberries, papaya, mango
Vegetables: potatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, tomatoes

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Chocolate Avocado Pudding - dairy free!

This divine dairy free recipe is an adapted version of this one at an edible mosaic and comes highly recommended! In a mood of high excitement at how good it tasted, the pudding was scoffed before I remembered to take any photos, but I don't doubt I shall make it again...

Chocolate Avocado Pudding

Serves 4

1 1/2 ripe avocado
3/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup nut butter (I used almond but choose your favourite, or if you don't do nuts just leave it out)
4 tbsps maple syrup
3 tbsps unsweetened cocoa powder
40g dark dairy free chocolate
3 tsps vanilla extract
a pinch of sea salt

Break the chocolate into pieces and process in a food processor until finely chopped. Add all other ingredients and process until smooth and creamy (there'll still be a few bits of chocolate but that's fine). I used Green & Black's dark chocolate and cocoa powder.

If you want it more chocolatey, taste and then add more cocoa powder. Likewise, if you want it sweeter, adjust the amount of maple syrup. You can also make it less sweet if you prefer, or use other sweeteners. It's a very adaptable recipe!

Serve and enjoy! I served it in wine glasses with raspberries. Gorgeous.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Meal Planning Monday (17 September 2012)

I have fallen off the wagon big time with meal planning recently and have sorely missed the grip on food organisation it gives me. To complicate matters, last week we spent most of our time with friends holidaying nearby which was lovely, but as one of them has a severe nut, soya, bean and lentil allergy our plant based diet was necessarily altered. It was lovely seeing them but I did miss my regular food and am happy to be once again embracing my lentils, as it were.

My current challenge is to eat more, particularly protein and grains so it's extra portions for me and when the baby has a high calorie snack, so do I. I am happy with the weight I have lost since we turned to the plant side, but I don't want to lose any more. I think clever baking is a good way forward, if I can just find the time!

Anyway, enjoy the menu (I certainly will!).

Lunch: Mushroom soup (baby's new fave) & sandwiches
Roast Dinner with quinoa & black bean croquettes

Lunch: Hash
Dinner:  Mushroom & lentil Spaghetti Bolognese

Lunch: Curry (trying a Mushroom Karahi recipe, prob with a chick pea curry, rice and flatbread) 
Dinner: Bean Fajitas

Lunch: Vegetable soup & sandwiches 
Dinner: Bulgar wheat leek & mushroom risotto, with greens

Lunch: Curry (hopefully leftovers from Wednesday)
Dinner: Roast veg, greens and quinoa

Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Lentil stew, bulgar wheat, potatoes and greens

Lunch:  Pizza 
with salad
Dinner: Lots of veg (depends on what's left)

Snacks & puddings
Tinned, fresh and dried fruit, smoothie, crackers or rice cakes & nut butter or hummus or marmite, whole nuts, yoghurt, muffins.

For more on Meal Planning Monday, visit At Home with Mrs B and hello to Stateside meal planners at Menu Plan Monday at I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Road Trip Photos!

Okay, so it wasn't exactly a road trip, more like a 45 minute drive to meet my parents in a cafe near Bala, but you have to make the most out of life, don't you?

On the way back, Husband Kev thought it would be good to take some photos on my phone. To record the journey. Or collect art reference material. Or just pass the time. I'm not entirely sure.

Neither am I entirely sure about the results. I have picked out three of my favourites. I feel they really capture the spirit of the journey.


A bit of a shaky start, but anyone can fire off a random picture before they actually aim, can't they?

I presume he was recording where we were on the road trip with this one. At least I hope so.

Right. Well. It's vaguely arty? Not at all sure how he managed to capture this one since I was driving at the time.

So much for the beautiful Welsh landscape...

A catch-up

I'm sat here on a Saturday night listening to Kylie Minogue singing at the BBC Proms in the Park concert (didn't mean to but actually it's really good) and wondering where the last three weeks have gone. I have pondered hard and still cannot quite pin down my time.

It's a little disconcerting.

I know we have spent quite a bit of time sorting out our flat, now that the renovations are largely finished and we can live in the whole flat again instead of one small section (oh the luxury of space!). The wood burner is in and we spent one lovely evening sweating on the sofa in our pants because we were determined to have a fire even though it was far too warm!

We have now moved on to unpacking our belongings that have been in storage for anything from 2 to 5 years. Today I am surrounded by books and trying to decide which ones I really need to keep and which can go. Sniff sniff. I hate getting rid of books. I'm stubbornly not getting rid of old novels unless they are really rubbish. I developed my reading habits browsing along my parents bookshelves and I want my boy to grow up surrounded by all kinds of books.

Unpacking boxes we packed up before we moved to Wales in 2007 has brought on a healthy dose of nostalgia and of course each box takes far longer to sort out than it should as we revel in 'do you remember that' and 'is this yours? it's not mine' and 'I can't believe I used to look like that!'.

Most of my evenings after the baby is in bed have been taken up with getting my husband's art presence online sorted out. Essential work but I must admit I have been going a bit cross eyed staring at a computer screen too long, hence the blog being temporarily on a back burner. It didn't help that I mysteriously lost an entire camera card of photos: high resolution art photos, enough photos for at least four blog posts, baby photos (boo hoo), the lot went. I suspect little fingers playing with the PS3 remote which is newly linked to our PC with bluetooth as I cannot come up with any other scenario. It is amazing where those little fingers take the PS3 these days, to screens I have never seen before and can never find again!

Otherwise life has been a bit of a fog. I know there's been some time trying to sort out our damp pit of a kitchen which is slowly resolving itself. Who'd have thought condensation could be so destructive? And in one of the most humid years I can ever remember, a damp absorbing kitchen is not good.

Oh I do have some good news! Rocket Dog are having a great sale on Amazon so I treated myself to a lovely pair of bright turquoise pumps for £6! They are very jaunty and I love them.

I'm off now to sing along to Kylie who is doing a fab job!