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Thinking of becoming vegetarian? It’s easier than you might think

May 1, 2016

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might think

Thinking of becoming vegetarian? Legend is a pig with a message to protect his kind

All work and no play

It’s been a while since I sat down to update the blog, there’s been so much going on. After several years of coordinating the Community Gardens Ireland the new year seemed the right time to start afresh and help it to become an organisation worthy of it’s name. As a result some serious amount of work has been going on behind the scenes and we’ve applied for three funding streams to help us move forward. While we wait to hear if we’ve been successful, I’ve made a few subtle life changes at home too, namely looking after myself and switching to a vegetarian diet.

When we have families and/or animals to look after, mortgages, rent or loans, minding ourselves and our stress levels can be the last thing we think about but if we’re not fit and healthy how can we find the energy to help others and save the planet too? The following describes a few of the simple lifestyle changes we’ve made and if you’re thinking of making some subtle changes yourself, there’s a delicious vegan lasagna recipe at the end of this post that has to be tasted to be believed.

Thinking of becoming vegetarian? It's easier than you might think.Cycling

The fresh resolve began by pulling the mountain bike out of hibernation and cycling around our hilly lanes with my neighbour. Not only is this helping with general fitness, my head is in a better space as it enjoys the exhilaration of zooming down the hills and over the tracks as we pedal through the forests. The reward of having made it back up to the top of the hill without getting off the bike is worth all the effort, despite the exhaustion.

Carlow is often overlooked as a destination in Ireland, yet it’s landscape is beautiful with it’s hills and mountains, gorse and streams. It’s difficult not to smile broadly as we cycle past the small fields full of grazing ewes and their cute little lambs, travelling at various speeds as we avoid the various dogs that run out snapping at our ankles as we ride past them on the circular routes that are framed by magnificent views.

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might think

Becoming Vegetarian

Around the same time that the bike shed door opened, so too came the shift in diet and the decision to stop eating meat. Following a winter of flu type viruses, I’ve been struggling with motivation to lose the weight that too many healthy but oversized dinners has contributed towards. However, along with the exercise, came a renewed desire to rediscover the slimmer me that’s hiding within but more importantly, a desire to bring my body back to full health.

The reasons I stopped eating meat are many and not easy to condense into a few words but it’s been over five weeks since I did so and surprisingly it’s been one of the easiest lifestyle changes I’ve ever made. I haven’t missed the flavour of meat at all, far from it.

If you’ve read any of my stories about our lives with the pigs the decision might not come as a massive surprise. For years I’ve been a conscious meat-eater, feeling that if we eat meat we should be prepared to get close to it and appreciate it in its live form running around a field and not simply encased in plastic ready for the oven.

Becoming vegetarian, easier than you might thinkRearing our own pigs really brought home that the animals we were consuming almost daily are living breathing creatures of the planet too and not just a commodity to be torn out of a pack and emptied into a pan because we’re too busy or can’t be bothered to look for alternatives.

In an age when so many other options are available, why are we eating more meat than ever? Inhumane factory farming is escalating, our health is suffering and respect for ourselves and our planet diminish as we tighten the blinkers and keep shoving the meat into our mouths because it’s easy.

Plant based meals are generally quick to prepare, there’s no danger of not eating our 5-a-day as plates are piled with all manner of vegetables, pulses and nuts, but the best feeling of all is that I no longer carry around the guilt that another being has had to die to feed me. As a conscious meat-eater I hadn’t realised I was carrying this burden around until it disappeared.

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might thinkOur teenagers are still eating meat but have mostly been willing to taste our vegetable based alternatives. Mr G has embraced the vegetarian diet too but occasionally indulges in meat, maybe just a once a week if he particularly fancies something. At the back of my mind I wonder how I’ll fare with barbeques and Christmas, but hopefully by then I’ll be well and truly in the swing of things and it won’t be a problem.

When I stopped eating meat I began to jot down a few observations:

  • Dead meat is everywhere! You can’t walk into a supermarket or look at a deli bar without seeing hundreds of versions of it. My favourite recipe books are packed with meaty recipes, disappointingly only reserving a few pages for vegetarian alternatives.
  • My digestive system is working better. For as long as I can remember it’s always been a bit sluggish but now, everything works exactly as it should and I feel better as a result.
  • I gained a few pounds to begin with. Not the result I was anticipating as I switched to a very healthy diet, but in doing so I inadvertently found myself eating too many nuts and cheese. Have you ever looked at the calories on a snack size packet of cashew nuts? It’s a shocker.
  • Menu planning to fit in around meat-eating kids has been easier than expected. I try and keep the adult menus close to the teen versions so we might all have stir fry but I cook chicken separately for them and add it at the end.
  • Vegetarian dinners don’t take as long to cook, a huge bonus for reluctant or busy cooks.
  • No more worrying about eat by dates or food going off. It’s easy to see if a vegetable is getting beyond its best and quickly use it up.
  • No more worrying about the amount of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), glyphosate and other chemicals inadvertently entering our bodies. Almost all farm animals in Ireland are given feed with GMO’s in them unless they’re certified organic.
  • See above. We can buy more organic vegetables now we’re spending less on meat, something we’ve been working towards for a long time.
  • Uncooked meat smells, and not in a good way. Opening a packet of chicken or ham for the kids lunches can make me feel like retching and as for the butcher counter… bleugh.
  • I have huge motivation to grow more vegetables in the garden than ever and save us some serious money!
  • Vegans are given a bad rap. I’ve a few vegan friends and family now and something I realised early on was that the thought of eating an animal for a vegan is no different to us thinking of eating another human being. It’s abhorrent. People complain that vegans can be a bit too radical. Since I’ve stopped eating meat I’ve become aware of just how arrogant some meat eaters can be.
  • Meat out-flavours everything else. Not much to add to that but when we stop eating it, we quickly become aware of how delicious other food stuffs are that we might not have appreciated before.
  • Quorn is a meat alternative that you can find in freezer departments in supermarkets. We’ve used it in bolognaise and chilli and nobody recognised the difference.

Becoming vegetarian, easier than you might think

I promised you a recipe at the beginning if you’d like to try a vegetarian (vegan) alternative to meat one evening, this is currently one of our favourites. It’s a tofu and spinach lasagna recipe that my vegan sister shared with me last year. Tofu is made from soya milk and organic versions can be found in health food stores.

Tofu and Spinach Lasagna Recipe

Thinking of becoming vegetarian, it's easier than you might think

Tofu & spinach lasagna

Ingredients

2 bags frozen spinach (defrosted) or fresh equivalent
450g pack of organic tofu
¼ cup of non dairy milk
2 peeled & chopped garlic cloves
2 tblsp lemon juice
2 tblsp chopped fresh basil leaves (about 20)
Dried lasagna sheets
Salt and pepper

For the tomato sauce:

Carton of passata
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
Courgette, chopped to bite sizes
6 mushrooms, thinly sliced
Teaspoon dried basil

Method

Heat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4/350ºF. Make the tomato sauce. Fry the onion and garlic gently until soft then add the courgette, mushrooms and finally the passata and basil. Mix the ingredients together and season to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes or so.

If using fresh spinach, blanch it for 1 minute in boiling water, drain and immediately plunge in cold water until cool. Squeeze out any excess water from the defrosted or blanched spinach.

Prepare the tofu mixture by placing the tofu, milk, chopped garlic, lemon juice, basil and salt in a food processor and blending until it’s creamy but still has some body. It will resemble a ricotta cheese. Empty into a bowl and stir in the spinach using a fork. Season to taste.

Layer the ingredients into a dish starting with the tomato sauce, then lasagna sheets followed by the tofu and spinach mix. Repeat until all the ingredients are layered in the dish.

Bake for 40 minutes or so, or until the top is golden and bubbling.

Are you vegetarian or vegan or tempted to make the switch? What are your thoughts or worries about the amount of meat being consumed?  If you’ve been thinking about reducing your meat intake I’d recommend just doing it. It’s a lot easier than you might think and your body and mind will love you for it.

Food & Drink

National Carrot Cake Day

February 3, 2016

Best Carrot Cake Recipe

Best Carrot Cake Recipe

Did you know that every day is a National Day for something? From World Ukulele day to International Dot Day (which happens to fall on my birthday and explains a lot) there’s a special day to cover most “weird, wonderful and silly goings on” around the planet according to the team at daysoftheyear.com. I’m not sure who thought up National Carrot Cake day or how the 3rd February became its special day, but I’d like to heartily thank that person. Added to that, the 4th April is International Carrot Day, as if we needed two more excuses to bake a cake, look no further. To celebrate a day dedicated to vegetable cakes, I’m sharing my favourite carrot cake recipe with you below.

Great British Bake Off

I adapted the recipe slightly from the original Spiced and Iced Carrot Cake found in the Great British Bake Up Everyday cookbook. I treated myself to this particular baking book having become a fan during the Christmas re-runs of the entire series and tentatively dipped my fingertips into it this week. This carrot cake recipe is the tastiest version I’ve come across and mine only differs from the original in the frosting. Although I was following the recipe carefully, I managed to burn the juice of the only three oranges I had when I was attempting to make the orange curd so instead, I added some orange zest to the cream cheese topping which worked very well in terms of orangy flavouring.

If you’re a fan of carrot cake or are just looking for an excuse to bake, perhaps today is the day. Don’t be put off by the long ingredients list, it’s worth adding them all if you can as it’s the difference between an okay carrot cake and a really sumptuous one.

Carrot Cake Recipe

Ingredients

Carrot Cake Recipe4 large free range eggs, room temperature
175ml olive oil
115g light muscavado sugar
115g dark muscovado sugar
225g plain flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
6-7 medium organic carrots, grated (375g)
75g chopped walnuts
75g desiccated coconut
100g raisins
finely grated zest of an orange

For the frosting

135g unsalted butter at room temperature
200g full-fat cream cheese at room temperature
115g icing sugar
Finely chopped zest of a large orange
Walnuts or pecans to decorate

Method

1. Heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Grease and line two 20.5cm sandwich tins.

2. Whisk the eggs, sugars and olive oil in a food mixer for about four minutes then add the sieved flour, spices and baking powder and gently fold in. Add the coconut, raisins, the grated zest, carrots and walnut and gradually fork in until combined.

3. Spoon the mixture into the cake tins and bake in the middle of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven when the cakes are baked through, tip out of the tins and allow to cool upside down on a wire rack.

4.  While the cakes are baking, make the frosting. Put the butter into a mixer and beat thoroughly then add the cream cheese and fully combine. Finally add the icing sugar and orange zest and mix until combined.

5. When the cakes have cooled, place one cake upside down on a serving plate, spread the frosting onto the top then pop the other cake on top. Add another layer of icing to the top of the new cake then decorate with the nuts.

More please

If you want to get more from your cake, I’d recommend cutting it the same way as I cut the gingerbread cake with a glass in the middle. It’s the best method I’ve come across for cutting round cakes.

Are you a fan of cakes with vegetables and spices in them? Another one of our favourites is the courgette cake with lime curd and pistachio that we make every year when there’s a courgette glut in the garden.

Carrot Cake Recipe

 

 

Community Gardens, Vegetable Garden

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Growing Before

August 28, 2015

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen GrowingFor the past few months I’ve been tutoring in the community School of Food garden in Thomastown, Co Kilkenny. With funding from Kilkenny’s Education Training Board (ETB we began with a Fetac 3 Outdoor Vegetable Crop Production course, which has since been followed by a Planting and Potting Indoors module.

Apart from the usual vegetables grown in Irish gardens such as potatoes, cabbage and runner beans, thanks to Fitzgerald Nurseries, we’ve also been able to grow a wonderful variety of unusual vegetables at the School. Pat started the Andean vegetables off as seedlings at the nursery and brought a few in for the course participants to transplant into larger containers, or plant straight into the soil in the School garden. If you read on you’ll find six of many unusual vegetable varieties currently growing in the School of Food garden.

Some of the vegetable varieties such as the Popcorn Fiesta Corn and Quinoa have been featured in this Sutton Seeds “James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution” Latino video:

Popcorn Fiesta Corn

(Zea mays ‘Fiesta’)

The gardeners have enjoyed watching the Popcorn Fiesta develop in the polytunnel. Although corn can be grown outdoors, the seedlings were ready before the outside beds so because corn doesn’t like being transplanted, we planted them directly into the polytunnel soil. Corn is wind-pollinated so in its absence inside we had to help it’s pollination by shaking the male antennae on top of the plant, encouraging it’s pollen to fall directly onto the female tassels parts growing in the middle (see here for an older post with photos). It’s recommended to mulch and water Popcorn Fiesta in dry weather, but we’ve been saved this job thanks to an excellent irrigation system that’s been installed in the polytunnel.

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Growing Before

Popping ‘Fiesta’ Corn

Growing Popcorn Fiesta

Popcorn Fiesta is available from various seed suppliers and can be sown from March to April in modules. Fibre pots or empty toilet roll holders are great for corn as they can be planted directly into the soil and will cause less root disturbance. Once germinated (around May to June), the seedlings can be planted directly outside or undercover in a polytunnel, (though be warned, they will get tall). Make sure the soil is well-drained and the corn is growing in a sunny spot. Plant them into block-like grids at least three plants deep leaving 45 cm between each plant.

Harvesting and Eating Popcorn Fiesta

The ears of corn are ready to harvest when the husks around them become dry and papery. Just twist and pull the corn off the plants. Once off, peel back the husks to reveal the wonderful cobs growing inside and leave them to dry for a few weeks, somewhere with good ventilation which will cut their water content. The cobs will store for up to a YEAR in an airtight container.

The best way to cook Fiesta Corn is to pop it. Place the cob in a paper bag, tie it closed with string and microwave it for two to three minutes or until the popping slows down to every couple of seconds. Alternatively, remove the dried kernels from the cob and place them in a saucepan with a small amount of oil. Put on the lid, turn up the heat and wait. Again, once the corn stops popping, remove the lid and you’ll find that your Fiesta corn has transformed into tasty popcorn!

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Growing Before

Tomatillos

Tomatillos

(Physalis philadelphica, formerly know as Physalis ixocarpa)

Tomatillos are delightful to look at with their lantern-like papery covering. They’re very popular in Mexican dishes with a flavour that’s been described as a cross between a lime and a beefsteak tomato. However, just like their relatives the tomatoes and potatoes, they are members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae) and have their poisonous parts. In the case of Tomatillos, all parts are poisonous except the fruit. However, unless you suffer allergies, don’t let that put you off.

We’ve found the tomatillos very easy to grow in the polytunnel. We planted the seedlings into well-drained soil and have done nothing other than water and weed around them, though a high potash feed could be given to them if necessary. Apart from looking pretty, Tomatillos are extremely productive, producing lots of lanterns (potentially up to 10 kg per plant) before the frosts arrive. As they grow you’ll notice that they begin to flop to the side,  a natural development as they’ll begin to send out lots of lateral roots as they find new soil, allowing them to produce even more fruit. Like courgettes, two Tomatillo plants should be enough for one family but don’t plant less as they need another plant nearby for pollination.

Growing Tomatillos

Seeds can be started off indoors in seed trays in March and potted on to 5cm pots. They can be transferred to their final growing positions (in a polytunnel or outdoors) once all danger of frost has past, planting them around 1m apart.

Harvesting and Cooking Tomatillos

To harvest, once the fruit has developed inside enough that it’s bursting through it’s papery lantern, remove it from the plant, take off the husk and wash in warm water to remove the coating that’s waxy and bitter.

You’ll find lots of recipes using Tomatillos online but replacing them for tomatoes in a salsa is probably one of the easiest.

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Growing

Cape Gooseberries

Cape Gooseberries

AKA Inca Berries (Physalis peruviana)

Another member of the Solanaceae family so related to both the tomatillos and tomatoes, Cape Gooseberries are native to Brazil but long ago adapted to the Andean heights and now grow wild up to 10,000 feet. They too carry cute little lanterns but these contain little orange berries that we’re more familiar with when they garnish our desserts.

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Before

photo credit: Bogota-456 via photopin (license)

Growing Cape Gooseberries

In the School of Food garden we’re growing Cape Gooseberries in the polytunnel but they’ll grow outdoors in a sunny, frost-free site that’s sheltered from strong winds (given that they’ll grow at 10,000 feet in Puru they should be a dream outside here!)

Cape Gooseberries can be grown just like tomatoes, preferably on a propagator from seed from February to April, potted on to larger pots as they develop, before planting outside when all chances of frost have passed.

Cape Gooseberries need consistent watering if they’re to set a good crop of fruit so once again, the irrigation in the School garden polytunnel has been a real bonus. The plants are pretty easy to grow as they don’t need feeding or pruning but they aren’t tolerant of frost so keep an eye out and have some horticultural fleece ready as the seasons get cooler.

Harvesting and cooking

We will know the Cape Gooseberries are ready as they will fall to the ground, though may not all do so at once as they’ll mature at different stages. Once fully mature the berries will stay fresh in the fridge for several months and out of their little Chinese lanterns, the fruit can be eaten raw, as a garnish, added to smoothies and salsa and as they have a high pectin content, made into great jams.

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Growing Before

Oca

Oca

(Oxalis tuberosa)

Oca are being increasingly grown by gardeners in the UK and Ireland as the flavour of the tubers resemble potatoes, though sweeter, but they don’t carry the blight risk we’re plagued with here. We’re growing them in high raised beds at the School and looking forward to harvesting the knobbly tubers during the winter, but we’ll have to keep ahead of the game as they don’t like frost. Again, we will have to be ready with the horticultural fleece!

Oca - 6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen

photo credit: Oca tubers via photopin (license)

Growing Oca

Oca tubers can be purchased in some garden centres or online during mid Spring and planted individually into pots of multipurpose compost. Once the chances of frost have passed, the developing tubers can be planted outside in beds that have been previously prepared with well-rotted organic matter. Alternatively the tubers can be planted directly into the soil from around May onward. Oca spacing and care is like potatoes, but plant them up to 36cm apart if you want a heavy crop of tubers and to allow them to spread out and grow.

Harvesting and Cooking Oca

Oca tubers don’t begin to develop until after the Autumn equinox and will continue to grow even when temperatures have plummeted, but it’s a good idea to cover their foliage with fleece to prevent the soil freezing and you being unable to dig them out. During December or January try lifting the tubers and take a peek, they should be ready to harvest. Oca will need to be dried fully before storing in a cool, dry shed.

For more information on harvesting Oca, Anni’s Perennial Veggies blog carries an interesting post on her experiences with this unusual vegetable. Anni also curries her Oca which sounds delicious.

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Growing BeforeYacon

(Smallanthus sonchifolius – formerly Polymnia sonchifolia)

Another tasty Andean vegetable that’s grown for it’s tubers, Yacon (also known as ground apple or pear of the earth) are a sweet vegetable, rich in indigestible sugars, just like Jerusalem artichokes, but without the calories of biscuits and cake!

Growing Yacon

Just like Oca, Yacon is another perennial vegetable and very easy to grow, though does have a long growing season with again, tubers being formed in the autumn months. Yacon can only be grown from tubers or divided plants, and hopefully they’ll become more readily available here in Ireland as Fitzgerald Nurseries continue their trials, particularly as Yacon grow well both inside and out in an Irish garden.

Harvesting and cooking Yacon

We’ve yet to harvest our Yacon at the School, but The Guardian carry a fascinating article where they suggest we:

“Nose below the surface in late autumn and you’ll see that Yacon produces two sets of roots – the large edible tubers that act as the energy storage facility for the plant, and the smaller propagation roots (resembling Jerusalem artichokes) which grow just under the soil surface and are the seeds for the following year’s growth.

When you lift your Yacon plants to harvest the tubers, cut the stems back to about 10cm long and store the crowns covered in damp compost in a cool frost-free place where they won’t dry out.

In early spring plant the crowns into large pots and wait for shoots to start growing from each small tuber. Split the crowns into individual shoots with their tubers attached and plant into smaller pots.”

As the frosts come along, we can expect the Yacon foliage to wither and that’s the time to harvest the tubers. We’ll lift them carefully just like potatoes, removing the tubers from the crown.

Yacon can be eaten straight away but will become sweeter if they get the chance to get some sun before they’re stored away in a cool shed. Unlike potatoes, the tubers can be eaten raw in salads but if you find yourself with some, take a look at  Pinterest where you’ll find everything from buns to ice cream and syrup to sorbet.

6 Unusual Vegetables You May Not Have Seen Growing BeforeQuinoa

(Chenopodium quinoa)

We have other Andean vegetables growing in the School garden but number 6 of this list of 6 unusual vegetables, is the superfood Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-WAH) which is in the same botanical family as sugar beet. Popular with vegetarians, vegans or anyone who doesn’t mind straying away from the usual meat and two veg, Quinoa grain tastes a little like couscous, and can be cooked similarly too. The best thing about Quinoa however, is that both the leaves and the grain can be eaten and it’s very high yielding, meaning you don’t need a lot of space to produce a good harvest. Ten plants will produce a pound of grain.

Sowing and Growing Quinoa

Quinoa seed can be sown directly into the soil where it’s to grow from mid-April but to get a head start, seeds can be sown in small pots and planted outside at the end of May. Quinoa seedlings should be planted around 30cm apart, watered and left to grow, which they’ll happily do without any fuss from us!

Harvesting and Cooking Quinoa

You’ll know your Quinoa is ready to harvest in the Autumn when the leaves begin to turn yellow and fall off, just leaving the grain clusters. These ‘ears’ can be snipped off with secateurs and popped into brown paper bags to dry in a cool shed.

If you’re planning to use the leaves before they yellow, steam them for a few minutes just like spinach.

To prepare the Quinoa grain, simply rub the dried seed heads gently between your hands over some paper and add to a bowl. To separate the grain from the chaff, take your bowl outside on a breezy day and pour grain from one bowl to another, allowing the wind to catch it and blow the chaff away, leaving the grain in the bowl. Once separated the grain can be stored for up to a year in an airtight container.

To cook Quinoa, rinse the measured grain thoroughly using a blender. Add the grain to the blender, fill with water, leave for five minutes and whizz for a couple. Drain and repeat. It’s now ready to cook.

Ireland’s first commercial crop was harvested this week so perhaps it’s something we’ll see more of in Irish fields in future years.

If you’re curious about these Andean vegetables they can be seen growing now in the School of Food garden in Thomastown and I’ll be posting photos on Instagram as we harvest them. Alternatively, if you’re planning to be at the 2015 Electric Picnic Festival, the school are donating several containers of vegetables to the Global Green Community Garden and Farm so you’ll be able to see them for yourself. You can find the full line-up for Global Green at the Electric Picnic here.

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Vegetable Garden

Reflecting – Top 14 Gardening Articles For 2014

December 30, 2014

Reflecting - 14 Gardening Articles for 2014

Sometimes we have to look back to help us move forward. As the year draws to a close it seems like a good time to share with you the gardening articles from the blog that most caught your (or search engines) attention. I’d also like to ask you a question or two.

Re-Designed Website

cheeky hen2014 saw a slight shift in the information I’ve posted. A major website overhaul took place during the late summer which resulted in the scaling down of the thirty or so categories I’d managed to drift into, to just six.

This has given the blog more of a magazine feel to it and allows me to alternate my writing between Food & Drink, Green, Travel, Lifestyle, Community Gardens and Vegetable Gardening. This couldn’t have happened without the expertise of Ken McGuire of Event Media, who spent a lot of out of hours time working with me on the website so that the switch over could take place as pain-free and swiftly as possible.

During the year, 82 new posts were published, bringing the total archive to 429. I’m still plodding away, adjusting styles and fonts that didn’t make the transition, so please bear with me if you open an article that shouts words at you.

Beach - Clear Lakes and Guiness Cake by greensideup.ie

A major website overhaul meant a lot of time spent indoors in front of a screen and not outside in our own garden, as did setting up the Green and Vibrant venture with my friend Susan and working with the various community garden and voluntary projects that have kept me busy during the last 12 months. This resulted in our own garden looking quite neglected, something we plan to put right over the coming months.

That brings me swiftly to the special word that “chose me” for 2015… BALANCE, something that I’ve struggled with but am hoping to remedy and focus more on over the coming months. Balancing family and home life with work, blogging and voluntary time is essential, particularly when I look at our children and see how quickly they’re growing up.

Feedback Please

At the beginning I mentioned asking you a couple of questions. Although an ‘experienced’ blogger, I still wonder at times if I’m regularly sharing the kind of information you enjoy reading. I’d be grateful therefore, if you would leave a comment at the end mentioning which style of article you like the most. In other words, am I doing it right?

Are you here for the ‘How to’ gardening tips or do you find the recipes helpful? Do you enjoy reading about our family life or the work I’m doing with community gardens, or perhaps the articles that cut straight to the facts, or the new travel section that I’ve explored over the past few months? Are you enjoying the new format where I try to alternate a bit of everything? All constructive criticism welcome, your opinion will help me write content over the coming months 🙂

That’s enough of my rambling for the time being. Here’s the promised list of the most popular gardening articles since the blog began back in 2009 – the 14 most popular posts for 2014, beginning with number 14.

No. 14 – How to Make Mini Scarecrows

A post I wrote back in 2012 but still a popular one. This is fun activity for all age groups and a handy one for wet weather.

How to make mini scarecrows - lady scarecrow

No. 13 – Harvesting Broad Fava Beans

Love them or hate them, there are several ways we can eat broad fava beans that might even make the nay sayers try them out.

Broad (Fava) beans growing

No. 12 – How to Make Comfrey & Nettle Fertiliser

Comfrey is a wonderful plant to have in your garden – bees love it, our skin enjoys it in baths, and our soil and compost heaps will thank you for it too as it nourishes the earth as a natural fertiliser. It can be a bit invasive but I’m delighted to see that so many of you are looking at ways of fertilising your soil without the use of artificial chemicals. This post will show you how.

Comfrey

No. 11 – How to Dry Herbs

Freeze, bake or air dry, here’s some tips on drying your own herbs. Herbs were the first plants I grew in containers and are ideal for newbies to get started with. There’s a post on the blog written this year that gives tips on how to grow your own herbs if you’re not already doing so.

How to dry herbs ~ air, oven & freeze

No. 10 – Gardening Under Cover – Where to Begin

This post was written for a twitter friend who asked for some advice. If you have a gardening question that you can’t find the answer to, let me know and I’ll do my best to help.

Nasturtium cookie recipe

No. 9 – Polytunnels & Organic Growing During the Winter Months

Number nine on the most read posts is a Guest Post that addresses many questions we all have about winter growing in polytunnels. The why, what, how of polytunnel growing during the colder months.

Growing vegetables in a polytunnel during the winter

No. 8 – How to Plant Garlic in the Autumn

Autumn planted garlic seems to grow so much better than spring planted, probably because the bulb is more likely to swell after a good frost. This post was picked up by a popular American blog this year and although written in 2010, after a re-vamp shot up the popularity charts, making it the eighth most read post on the website.

How to Grow Your Own Garlic - Step by Step Guide

No. 7 – Strawberry Cordial or Alien Aspartame

When trying to cut down on the additives in our children’s cordials by making our own juices, we discovered how much sugar is added to them. We also found that only one popular variety of cordial is available here in Ireland that doesn’t contain aspartame, added by soft drink companies as an alternative to sugar. Here’s a recipe for strawberry cordial as well as some information on aspartame and why we’re trying to avoid it.

strawberry cordial

No. 6 – Five Ways to Help Bees

Thankfully the plight of the bees is beginning to sink in as more and more of us become aware at how endangered they’ve become and how much we rely on them for our day-to-day food. This post gives five tips on helping the bees, as well as an inspirational video clip sharing how even the smallest steps we take, can make a difference to their survival.

Blooming Flowers at Mount Congreve during Late September

No. 5 – How to Make Blackcurrant Juice

It’s great to see that so many of you are experimenting with making your own juices and cordials from fruit you’ve grown or bought. This post gives a very simple and tasty recipe for blackcurrant juice. Well worth a go if you want to try the real thing.

Refreshing Blackcurrent Cordial

 No. 4 – Green Tomato & Chilli Chutney Recipe

I’ve received some great feedback on this recipe as many of you have a go at making your own chutney and not throwing fruit and vegetables away that are under or over ripe. It was also used by community gardeners for the last two years to make a chutney that we sold at Savour Kilkenny Food Festival.

5 Ideas for Green Tomatoes

No. 3 – Courgette Cake with Lemon & Lime Curd and Pistachio – Recipe

This recipe inspired by Nigella Lawson was written in the summer of 2010 and revamped this year. It’s been in the top 3 posts on the blog since then and I’m pleased to hear so many of you have tried courgette cake as a result.

Courgette Cake with Lemon & Lime Curd & Pistachio

No. 2 – Slugs. 15 Ways to Deal With Them Organically

This article started out as ten, then quickly grow to 11 and now 15 ways of getting rid of this annoying pest without resorting to the slug pellets. Beer traps still remain the most effective way in our garden. This post is full of more solutions that might help you.

14 posts for 2014

No. 1 – 14 Vegetables to Grow in a Small Garden

I was thrilled to find that the most popular gardening article is one that might help more of you to grow your own vegetables. The suggestions made in the post are based on tried and tested vegetables that we’ve grown in many of the community gardens I’ve been involved with, most of the plots with limited space. It’s also appropriate that the article has 14 vegetables for the 14 top posts of 2014!

Grow Your Own Kale

Grow Your Own Kale – one of 14 vegetables suggested for small gardens

 

That’s all from me for this year. Thanks so much for reading, supporting and interacting, either here in the comments, online through the various Greenside Up social media channels or by email or text. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year and here’s to a long and productive growing season in 2015.

Bhliain Nua Sásta

 

 

Community Gardens, Food & Drink

Cooking Pumpkins in the Community

October 14, 2014

Cooking Pumpkins in the Community | greensideup.ie

Not content with growing the vegetables, a couple of weeks ago  I rashly gamely offered to demonstrate a few ways of cooking pumpkin flesh at Callan community garden as there’s little point in growing food if we don’t know how to prepare and eat it. It’s the first year we’ve grown a pumpkin patch there and as the fruit have swollen nicely, it seemed a good idea to demonstrate that there’s more to pumpkins than Halloween window decorations. I’m sure many of us are, or have been guilty of discarding the flesh we scoop out and it seems such a waste of good food. In the shops and farmers markets, pumpkins are coming into season and are a vegetable/fruit that will store for months in a cool, dry environment, making them a fantastic winter staple.

Not only do pumpkins make great decorations, they are extremely good for us, containing over 200% of our recommended daily allowance of vitamin A, the vitamin that’s good for our eye sight, they’re rich in fibre, contain very few calories and are great for helping to lower cholesterol among other things.

Cookery Demonstration

Cooking Pumpkins in the Community | greensideup.ieI’m a family cook who likes a recipe in front of me (even though I stray from it quite regularly) which therefore resulted in a very informal cookery session at the family resource centre where everyone helped with the prepping and washing up, before gathering to share the food presented. I chose two safe, tried and tasted savoury pumpkin recipes using the flesh from one medium-sized pumpkin, as well as a roasted seed recipe that you can find below. I also demonstrated how to make courgette cake, a recipe I’ve talked about on several occasions but gardeners had yet to try. The courgette cake recipe can be found here and the basic soup and delicately flavoured pumpkin rice recipes here. I’m afraid there’s no photos as I was too busy cooking.

I would have loved to have baked a pumpkin dessert for the group but simply didn’t have time to find a recipe that uses fresh pumpkin flesh – no matter where I looked, they all used tinned pumpkin purée. However, I’ve since been given this recipe that shares how to make our own purée by Kristen who writes That Blooming Garden Blog, so they’ll be no stopping us.

If you’d like to try cooking pumpkins this year, as well as the recipes linked above that I cooked for the group, I’ve added a few variations of soup at the bottom of the post from some fellow garden bloggers.

Cooking Pumpkins in the Community | greensideup.ieRoasted pumpkin seeds

Ingredients

225g pumpkin seeds
450ml water
2 tbls salt
1 tblsp olive oil

Heat oven to 20oºC/Gas 6/400ºF

Remove the ‘lid’ of the pumpkin at the stalk end by cutting a disk shape around the top with a sharp knife. Scoop out the soft, seedy, fibrous flesh inside with a metal spoon and place into a colander, leaving the tougher flesh that’s around the inside of the pumpkin to tackle later for another recipe.

Pick out as many of the seeds as you can before sifting through the rest under a tap of running water. (Tip: do this holding the colander over a bowl and use the drained water for the plants or flush the toilet with it.)

Add the seeds, water and salt to a saucepan, bring to the boil then simmer for ten minutes or so to allow the seeds to soften.

Take off the heat, drain, pat the seeds dry with a clean tea towel then toss in the olive oil before placing on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast in the oven for around ten to twenty minutes, until the seeds brown.

Three Pumpkin Soup Recipes

Soup is such a versatile dish, quick to make and winter warming too. Here are some links to three variations of pumpkin soup you might like to try.

Cooking Pumpkin in the CommunityThe first is from Emma from De Tout Coeur Limousin in France where she adds sage, garlic and chilli to her pumpkin recipe .

Secondly, from Kristin in British Columbia, a step by step guide to pumpkin soup with a nutmeg flavouring, very handy if you’re new to soup making.

Lastly (and these are in no particular order) Heather from the New House New Home New Life blog makes a curried soup and although has used purée as a base, the flavouring could easily be switched to a fresh pumpkin recipe.

Pumpkin Competition

Pumpkin Decorating Contest

Pumpkin Decorating Contest from The Empress of Dirt

If you’d like to try your hand at decorating this year’s pumpkins with embellishments and not carving them, there’s a fun competition over on Melissa’s Empress of Dirt Blog where the winning entry could take on the illustrious title of Creator Of The Ultimate Pumpkin Head of 2014!

History of Pumpkin Carving

If you prefer to carve your pumpkins, here’s an archived post on the blog that explains why we do it. Did you know the tradition originated in Ireland?

What do you think… will you be cooking your pumpkin this year?

Food & Drink, Lifestyle

Sunday Snap – Four vegetable birthday cake surprise

September 15, 2013

Dee's Cake

This really is a snap given there were people waiting to eat it! Today I’m sharing a lovely birthday cake surprise made by Mr G. The Carrot Cake is a Good Housekeeping recipe and the Beetroot and Courgette Cake as well as the Green Tomato Buns can be found on the blog.

(Just to put the size of this cake into perspective, here’s the carrot cake part of of it having just been presented to me.)

Dee's Birthday Cake

Community Gardens

Chefs & Gardens ~ A Magical Combination

August 7, 2013

The gardeners of Goresbridge were delighted to welcome Alan Foley to the Community Garden this week.

Talking veg with Alan Foley, Head Chef of the Step House Hotel

Deep in menu discussions with Alan Foley, Head Chef of the Step House Hotel, Borris, Co Carlow

Alan is the award-winning Head Chef at the beautiful Step House Hotel in Borris and thanks to a Kilkenny Leader Partnership funded initiative, the community garden have started supplying the restaurant with herbs and vegetables from the small garden.

Goresbridge Community Garden - July 2013

Goresbridge Community Garden – July 2013

I’ve written many posts on Goresbridge community garden, having worked as their garden tutor since the spring of 2010 so it’s an absolute pleasure to see Continue Reading…

Lifestyle

Gardening Gossip ~ A Chat with Mona Wise

July 29, 2013

Do you like to hear how others are growing their own fruit and veg, what motivates them and what tips and tales they share?

It’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of community gardening; I’m always interested and the following chat with Mona Wise is no exception as she reveals among other things how her family choose what to grow each year, their favourite vegetables and her recommendations for books.

Mona Wise

Mona Wise

The Chef and I

For any of you who aren’t familiar with Mona, it seems appropriate that I should introduce you to her on this my 300th blog post. I first met Mona at a KLCK Bloggers network meeting and she’s an inspiration to bloggers and aspiring writers in many ways. She came away from the Blog Awards Ireland in 2012 with three awards (Best Blog by a Journalist, Best Food/Drink Blog, Best Photography Blog) as well as the overall Best Blog Award. She’s a columnist for the The Sunday Times, has just finished a four-year creative writing degree where she self published a memoir cookery book entitled The Chef & I. A nourishing narrative, which shares her story about meeting and marrying Ron (The Chef) and she’s mum to four children.

Mona, having read and indeed cooked several of the recipes from your book and newspaper column, it’s obvious that you’re passionate about cooking and eating good quality, locally sourced, seasonal food. When did you start growing your own and where do you grow it?

Ron and Mona

Ron and Mona

I have a confession to make Dee. It’s my husband Ron who has the green thumb in our house. I am an excellent ‘weeder’ and ‘grass cutter’ but he can make anything grow. We live on 3/4 acre less than 5 miles from Galway city and a half mile from my Mum, where I grew up as a child. We have been growing our own food (a lot of it) for 20 + years and it has always been chemical free.

As a chef, Ron has always been very careful about what he grows for the table and believes in making his own organic fertilisers like rain water-soaked with nettles, and plenty of manure from the chicken coops and neighbours horses and a twice annual dose of rotted seaweed from the beach.

Continue Reading…