Thursday, 31 March 2016

Spring time musings - and a fine frittata recipe too!

Well, the clocks have sprung forwards and so have I.  The last few months have flown by, and now I'm looking forwards to the April school holidays, spending time in the garden and watching as everything green up and burst into life again.  I love this time of year!

Following on from my New Year post, I'm now not following Slimming World or any other diet for that matter.  I have to say that starting the year with SW (Slimming World) was a great boost for me in that the basics are healthy eating, lots of fruit and veg and restricting fat intake and alcohol.  It certainly works and I lost half a stone within a month, but have now stayed at a sensible weight and  have maintained that weight for about a month, without trying.  So I actually I don't mind that I haven't reached my 'target', I have got fitter, had a brilliant skiing holiday where I managed to ski every day and I've reminded myself of good eating habits.  So it's all good.
Feels like the top of the world. Valmorel, France.

Now that I am 50, I am determined that life should be about balance.  Exercise, sleep, yoga and eating healthy food but also being able to enjoy a glass of wine and some treats every now and then too.  So I have not become "Slimmer of the Year' but I'm quite happy with that.  The fact that I could get my 50 year old, middle aged body to ski as hard as it has ever done is something that I am very proud of :).  Even my kids said I was skiing well (and that's a big compliment as they have all skied since about age 3, whereas I started when I was 25!).  So now back to getting back in the saddle for the summer and enjoying my horse riding too.

Anyway, enough of the middle aged musing, and on with my latest yummy recipe.  I have made mini crustless quiches, breakfast frittatas before but this time wanted to try something light and spring like.

Last night I hosted our monthly book club get together and as my chickens are all laying lots of eggs at the moment, I decided to give these a go;

Pea, Mint & Feta Mini Frittatas - makes about a dozen

Ingredients;  One packet of greek feta cheese, a cup of frozen peas (defrosted), a handful of fresh mint, 10 eggs, black pepper, olive oil or olive oil cooking spray to grease a 12 hole yorkshire pudding or muffin tin.

Lovely Yellow Yolks! 

Method;  Grease the muffin tin.  Divide the peas, mint and feta equally into each of the pans.  Crack eggs into a large batter bowl/jug and beat until well mixed, season with pepper (I don't use salt as the feta cheese can be salty enough).  Then pour enough batter to fill the cover your pea mix, filling each pan about 3/4 full.  Finally bake in a hot oven for around 12 minutes (I checked mine after 10), probably about 180/200oC, but I put in the middle of the top oven in my Aga.

Once the frittatas have cooled for a few minutes, remove them from the tin to cool on a wire rack

These can then be served warm now, or reheated later.   Or even better cooled down and popped in the fridge to eat cold the next day.

The taste of the mint and peas is lovely and light, perfect with a glass of cold white wine and literary discussion!  Well, we always talk about the book before we get down to the serious business of catching up with everybody's news.

You can experiment with these with lots of different fillings and flavours.  My breakfast ones have bacon or ham and mushrooms in them.  Or for a more sophisticated drinks party maybe made with smoked salmon and broccoli.  They are so easy and very, delicious and a lovely way to use up a glut of eggs.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Hello 2016, Hello New Healthy Me!

Happy New Year to all (if it's not too late to say that?).   Here in Aberdeenshire we have just survived the wettest December on record and the wettest January on record, and we are only half way through the month.  Thankfully our friends and neighbours have survived unscathed, although watching the reports from nearby Ballater and Braemar have been very scary indeed.   It seems very unusual to have had such wet and dull weather up here, having lived in Aberdeenshire since 1992 I have become used to cold but bright and sunny days.  Really hoping we get some soon, even our chickens are wondering about whether they should be ducks or not.
A soggy chicken garden
Anyway, weather aside the new year has prompted a swift kick up the backside to me, to get my act in gear and start getting fit and losing a bit of weight.  I had a nasty chest infection in November and since then have stopped exercising and quite honestly with a house full of food and drink over Christmas I have indulged heartily in eating cheese and cake (yum!).  However, now is the time to make some healthy changes.  Last week I amused myself by creating some healthy snacks, low fat yogurt and fruit combinations and also instead of eating crisps on a movie night I made some healthy popcorn, no butter but lots of spices in the form of a Dukkah mix (I did however partake of a couple of glasses of white wine too, not so healthy!).

But yesterday I took an even bigger step and joined Slimming World online.

Firstly here are the reasons, my best pal Audrey is a member has lost tons of weight but she (like me) is a huge foodie and loves being able to eat tasty meals, no funny meal replacements, counting systems or drinking lemon and maple syrup water for a week.  Secondly, I need to lose about a stone, my BMI is 27 which means I am at risk from over weight health issues.  Thirdly, this year is a BIG birthday year for me as I will turn 50 soon, time to get a bit of middle age spread under control or forever wear elastic waisted clothes!  Fourthly, we have a family skiing holiday in March, I have about 60 days to start exercising and get my legs as strong as possible as last year I only managed to ski for half the week (after my knee operation that year).  So there you go, there are some of my reasons for diving in.

My Moroccan Veggie SF soup
So what to expect with SW (Slimming World), well it seems to be quite straightforward and not really like a diet.  You get to eat unlimited amounts of 'Free' foods, a couple of healthy choices as well and then add in treats and extras (known as Syns) too.  Having a look at the recipes online and on Pinterest I have to say they look good, look delicious and don't involve having to buy any special 'diet' food or cooking products.  Well, so far so good I say and today I made a massive pot of Moroccan Veggie soup to eat as lunch over the week with enough to freeze for another time.  Here is the recipe.

Moroccan Veggie soup

1 onion chopped
2 celery sticks chopped
Fry light spray oil (6 sprays)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
pinch of dried chillies
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small chunks
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tin of chickpeas
1 green or red pepper chopped (or both or a chopped courgette!)
a handful chopped parsley or coriander
1 dollop (about a large teaspoon) of 0% Total greek yogurt to serve.

In a large soup pan, spray the Fry light and quickly fry off the onion and celery, once it has started to brown add a couple of tablespoonfuls of water to let it 'steam' until soft.  Now add the spices and garlic and stir around until everything is mixed in.  Now add the tinned tomatoes, squash, potatoes and chickpeas.  Season with some salt and pepper and then bring everything up to a boil and add enough water to cover the veg (I swill out the tomato can and chuck that in).

Let this all simmer away with the lid on for about 30 minutes, at which time add your extra veg, peppers or a courgette (I did this today as I didn't have any peppers).  Simmer for another 10 minutes, you want the root veg to be soft but the 'extra' veg to still have a bit of crunch.  Check your seasoning before you serve and add the chopped herbs.  Serve in bowls with a dollop of yogurt on top.  

This makes enough for at least 6 people to eat for a hearty lunch or for me to eat some now, and freeze the rest for later.

One final sad note before I go, yesterday the world lost an amazing human being, the enigmatic and wonderful David Bowie.  As a child in the 70s and a teenager in the 80s his music was the soundtrack to my life and it still is as we have shared his music with our children as they have grown.  I joined the rest of his fans around the world spending the day in tears for his loss.  Rest in Peace, David Bowie.  The stars look very different today. 

Monday, 7 December 2015

Winter is here, Barley Broth to comfort and sustain!

The start of December and snow lies all around, not deep and crisp and even but sparse and slushy and slippy!  We have had two snow falls in the last fortnight here in west Aberdeenshire but so far the temperature has still been warm and to my delight the garden and polytunnel are still yielding produce for us.  I spent a few minutes rooting around the other day and picked enough to make a big pot of broth, one of our family favourites at this time of year.

I used everything apart from the cavalo nero, which I saved for the next evening's supper.

Ali's Winter Barley Broth

1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 onions 
a Handful of carrots (probably around 3 medium sized ones)
2 sticks of celery
3 leeks
Big handful of parsley
1 cup of barley, soaked overnight in plenty of water
Approximately 1.5 lt/3 pints of chicken or veggie stock (I use homemade)
Some leftover chicken (from the bird used to make the stock, I buy local free range chickens so always use every bit of them)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop the onions, and start by gently softening them in the oil in a large soup pan or casserole.

2. Once the onions have started to become translucent, add the chopped carrots, celery and leeks.  Give this all a good stir and cook away until the pot starts to sizzle.

3.  Add your stock and barley at this stage, followed by as much chopped parsley as you fancy.  Bring everything to a gentle boil.

4.  At this point I pop a lid on the pot and put it in the bottom oven of my Aga for a good hour to gently simmer away.  I don't season at this stage as I always wait until the barley has become soft and toothsome before I do.  On a regular cooker just reduce the heat until you have a low simmer and cook for about the same time, stirring regularly.

5.  The broth is cooked when the Barley has plumped up but still has a bit of bite to it.  This is when I season and then add the pre-cooked left over chicken and bring it all back up to a rolling simmer for about 10 minutes before serving.  We eat this with oatcakes, it will stick to your ribs as my Mum used to say!

I make many variations of this soup, sometimes with lentils, split peas too and depending on what we have in the garden, but I have to say that this version with barley in is my favourite.  Just the thing for the dark and short days we have at this time of year.

I got this lovely shot of Brooke our Shetland pony coming in for some hay last weekend.  I am trying to keep the horses out this year, as we now only have one 'big' horse, Brea, and two little ones, Brooke (above) and the even smaller MissyBell who is an American Miniature Horse.  As the herd are all getting on a bit I'd rather they keep moving, eating ad lib hay whenever they want than stay in stables at night, however, the condition of our fields and quantity of mud is always the deciding factor.  I much prefer cold, sunny and frosty weather and I think the horses do too!

Wondering if this will be my last post for 2015?  Perhaps it is, but I hope to return more regularly in the New Year.

Wishing you and yours all the very best for the festive season and a happy and healthy 2016 to us all!


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

November musings and giving thanks

View across the road

A few days after Halloween and we are still enjoying the stunning weather we have had this Autumn. Sadly a cold and wet summer meant the garden suffered in terms of peas and beans, and I had one small bunch of sweetpeas to cut for indoors.  However, the dry conditions over the last month have meant that the autumn tree colours are stunning.   

Not really sure what to blog about nowadays, I have to admit it is easier these days just to Instagram (@ali4horses!)  I think I'll go easy on myself and start gently.  Family life has changed as we now only have one of our children at home, still at school, with the other two away at University now.  And sadly last week we said goodbye to our darling old labrador Rosie, who at 13 years old had grown up with our children and seen all the work we have done at the cottage.

Traditionally this time of year is a time to give thanks for the harvest and to store and prepare for the dark winter nights ahead, for me this year it feels as if I may need to do that for myself too.  Life is changing (in good ways) but with transition also comes a sense of loss and also that feeling of what is next.  

But as I said I need to take things easy.  Perhaps this blog will evolve, take on new ideas and challenges and take me along with it.  I have no end of ideas for things and projects to do, just not the energy or motivation right now!

There is a loaf of bread baking in my bread machine as I type, and the shelves of my larder are stacked with jars of jams, chutneys and jellies all made from the wonderful produce we did grow this year.  There is a great deal of comfort in knowing that these small things go on however life changes and for that and for a great many other things, I count my blessing and give thanks.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Spring almost springing

It's the time of year for hunkering down and getting through the last of the winter weather, all the time waiting for signs of new growth and lighter evenings.

January and February 2014 were one of the wettest on record, Aberdeenshire didn't suffer as much as some parts of the country but I think I can say that the start of drier weather in March has come as a welcome relief.  I got my last 100 square bales of hay delivered, just in time as I was down to my last half dozen.  The 'girls' (my new name for the horses are we have all mares now) have all settled into our mini herd well, Brooke, our new addition starting to really relax with the others and me now, in fact a new, wee cheeky side to her appearing which is lovely.

One of my friends drew a pencil sketch of Brooke for my birthday at the end of January and it captures her beautifully.  Thank you Mel, I adore this wee portrait of her :)

In the garden we are awaiting warm earth and the first of the narcissi and daffodils.  Broad beans and sweet peas grown from seed in our conservatory are now hardening off in the greenhouse, still protected by fleece at night.  The new seeds that are now gracing our windowsills inside are beetroot, we are trying 2 new varieties Golden Detroit and Detroit White, along with salad leaves.  (I have a lovely recipe for a beetroot tarte tatin, next time I make it I'll take some photos and post it on here.)

Although it feels as if spring is almost here, the trees are still bare and winter is still keeping a bit of a hold on us!

Paul and I headed off to Leith Hall a few weeks ago, I wanted to take some photos of the carpets of snowdrops they have there.  Unfortunately I hadn't checked the battery on my camera before we got there and I didn't manage to take any photos.  Never mind, the snowdrops in the garden are lovely too.

Some very exciting news for me is that our daughter has started blogging too, I feel I may be doing more reading of her blog and less posting of this one as she is an aspiring writer!  Have a look at her blog and see what you think, here is the link;

Can't wait for spring now, something very hopeful about this time of year and that makes an eternal optimist like me very happy!

Friday, 24 January 2014

January 2014, Happy New Year of the Horse and happy new pony!

Now I think it's probably too far into January to say Happy New Year, but it certainly still feels like a time of transition, of taking store and planning ahead.  The days are starting to stretch slightly but on a grey day in Aberdeenshire it can still feel as if they are too short, once we get to the end of the month I really notice the difference in daylight.
Our mild winter weather and no snow (so far!) has meant we have turned our thoughts to spring and our yearly tradition of ordering seeds is under well way.  Paul has cleared most of the well rotted muck heap and top dressed the rhododendrons and other shrubs in the front garden.
This year I am planning a cut flower bed inside our polytunnel, so far I've got freesias, anemones, gladioli and dahlias.  As this is a 'experiment' I'm just going to plant the flowers that I love and then see what our success rate is, fingers crossed I'll have beautiful bright vases of flowers for the whole summer.
2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse and my Chinese horoscope sign is the Horse, so I am feeling that this year will be full of love, joyfulness and galloping forwards.

I believe that people and animals come into my life for a reason and last week we had a new member of our equine family join us.  A series of coincidences led us to offer a home to the lovely Brooke, she had sadly lost her elderly equine companion before Christmas and my friend who is her hoof trimmer had taken her to her yard so that Brooke wouldn't be left alone and the family that owned her could start to find a new home for her.  We had lost our darling old horse Zac last year and I had always thought of rehoming or rescuing a pony to come and join Brea and Poppy our other horses.  We brought Brooke home on Saturday and after a few days of either ignoring each other or chasing each other, the 'girls' have now settled happily into their routine and my tiny 'herd' is complete.  Of course Brooke, won't ever replace Zac but she is filling our stables and my heart with her own personality.
Quite fitting that we have a new pony almost at the start of a new year of the Horse!  I hope to find the time to blog more this year, my only excuse for lack of posts last year was the fabulous weather and being outside too much to think about it :)

Friday, 21 June 2013

Midsummer (what summer?) ramblings

Alliums, the cheerleaders in my border! 
Summer solstice tonight, that means the days will start getting shorter as from tomorrow.  Hmmm, wondering if we actually will catch up in the garden ever!

The big success we've had this year is our perinneal borders, finally things have established and right now the garden is a big, blowsy, colourful show.  These long evenings are perfect for pottering outside.


my potager with ransomes, lemon balm, chives, thyme 

Last of the purple sprouting broccoli (Spooky helping himself)

Today it is raining, we need the rain as it has been a very dry June (after a very cold May) which has made things bloom later but now we need some moisture to get everything growing.  The big bonus about things being later is getting to have bluebells still blooming in the garden, I love them.

bluebells under my kitchen window

Here's hoping we get some fair weather in July to extend whats left of what seems to be a very short summer so far.