Winter spiced tea recipe

Spiced tea was a recent discover for me, and to be honest, at first I wasn’t sure. Now however I am a full on convert. It’s another of those little comforters for the dark cold months we are about to embrace.

So where did this come form? Well for me, it was an innocuous little packet of tea we bought in Whittards. It was cold and dark and Kate and I were trampling along the high street near to christmas. I was becoming more and more annoyed at the endless christmas themed latte tasters that the coffee shops were offering as we passed. Kate was having a blast but at that time I hadn’t developed a love for coffee, so felt left out.

Luckily we passed Whittards and that mean I could treat myself to some nice tea to take home. After all the pumpkin spiced lattes, gingerbread lattes and Black Forest mochas Kate was sampling, the idea of a winter spiced tea grabbed me and I grabbed a bag of it. Off home we went.

This wasn’t the traditional Chai Masala or Chai latte, it was much more subtle and for me, much more winter (think cards with robins and snow). I loved it, subsequently so did my friend Hayley who loves tea as much as me and so we usually end up sharing new found delights.

So… to jump to the end of this rather long and meandering tale… this year I am making my own and it’s not as hard as you think. I make my own Lady Grey (and Hayley approves) so I jumped right in.

The dominant flavour (and aroma) for this tea is cloves. I know, shocker, I was absolutely assuming cinnamon given the associations with winter, but nope. It’s actually cloves. The secondary aroma and flavour is orange peel.

To make the tea

Ok we are going to make this as one mug of tea. You will need:

  • Black tea (tea bag or loose leaf but enough for one mug). Assam works great but any black tea will do the job. Avoid already flavoured or scented teas like Early Grey though)
  • An orange or satsuma to get that citrus peel. You just need a couple of bits of peel.
  • 4 cloves (whole). This sounds like a lot, but we are using them whole and not grinding them so they actually impart way more aroma than flavour.

How to

Brew your mug of tea to your liking. I drink my tea black so I don’t like it too strong. Then simply steep your cloves and orange peel in your mug of tea. Make sure you have a plan for how to get them out again. I have a little one mug tea pot with a filter basket that I use.

That’s it. Really. It’s so easy, but such a lovely, makes you smile cuppa.




A wee tipple to add a glow to your christmas festivities – EGGNOG

Now eggnog isn’t something traditional to us, although we did grow up with something similar called a “snowball” using advocat, which is made from brandy, eggs and sugar, so pretty much eggnog.

We’ve spent a bit of time researching eggnog and recipes because we were worried about getting things wrong and offending one of our lovely readers who holds this as a dear part of their Christmas traditions, but in doing that we found out that there are as many variations on this recipe and its apparent traditions, as there are friends in our life who drink it. So instead, we are sharing the recipe we think is the best, once we’ve made our tiny tweaks of course.

I should point out, we are using raw egg in this recipe, I know some people will be nervous about using raw egg in a recipe (especially if you are pregnant or maybe in a position to be susceptible to infection etc) so we just wanted to point this out. I’ll let you guys make decisions for your self on whether you think it’s safe to eat raw egg or not rather than go into the ins and outs of food safety.

What you’ll need – makes one drink cocktail style

  • 1 egg
  • 1 measure of sugar syrup (measures for us are 25ml)
  • 2 measures of double cream
  • 1 measure of bourbon (or rum choice is yours)
  • pinch of fresh, ground nutmeg
  • pinch of fresh, ground cinnamon
  • tiny pinch of fresh, ground clove
  • pinch of fresh, ground all spice
  • nutmeg to grate over the top
  • ice cubes

To start, add all your spices to your syrup and let it sit while we put things together.

Now, beat your egg, the whole egg, no need to separate the yolk and white. Beat it until it is smooth and pale in colour, then add to your cocktail shaker.

Next, add your syrup to the shaker and shake it, baby, really shake it up, you want that all mixed together and emulsified. It takes around 30 seconds of hard work. That’ll be your calorie burn so you can have your eggnog.

Next, add your double cream, bourbon (or rum) and top the shaker up with ice cubes, then …. you got it shake!

Shake this up for another 30 seconds or so to get it all mixed and the ice will chill it.

Serve in a glass mug or whisky glass, you can serve over ice if you want to keep it chilled.

Lastly, grate some fresh nutmeg over the top to add that extra christmas zing.




More sweet treats to comfort you on a cold night: honeycomb cinder toffee

Growing up, we called this honeycomb but I’ve heard it called cinder toffee, hokey pokey, puff candy and even sponge toffee. No matter what you call it, this is a bomb of sugary delight and fabulous on a cold night, in front of the fire with a cuppa. 

You know the orange, toffee-like centre of a crunchy bar that just melts in your mouth and then goes super sticky? Well, that’s what we are making.

It’s actually really simple to make and very quick, although you do have to be patient and wait on things setting oh and did I mention it’s pure sugar? This is a big pile of empty calories that will rot your teeth… but oh my god it’s so tasty!!!

First things first though, we are going to be working with CRAZY hot, burny, molten lava-like sugar. BE CAREFUL!

Ingredients

  •  5 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 250ml water
  • 650g granulated sugar
  • 340g golden syrup

The science bit

This sweet delight gets called honey comb because of the bubbly texture, you don’t actually need to add honey to the recipe. I use golden syrup cause the taste an colour work really well and honey can burn really quickly.

Talking of burning, we are basically melting the sugar and then heating it to crazy temperatures,150ºC or hard crack to be precise. The water helps to stop the sugar burning, but the amount of water in the finished toffee also dictates the texture of the finished product:

We are going for hard sweeties as we want the crunchy texture.

Another note about water, or humidity to be precise, open a window while you are cooking this as the high humidity of the kitchen will make your honeycomb sink while it’s cooling.

Ok Let’s make sweeties

Grease and line a (roughly) 23-x-33 cm baking tray with greaseproof paper (grease the paper as well, trust me).

And make sure the paper comes up higher than the sides by a few cm and have all your ingredients measured and to hand, this is gonna be fast when it kicks off.

Sieve the baking soda and cream of tartar together in bowl and have this in grabbing distance. Trust me on sieving this. In a large pot, add the water first to help the sugar to dissolve, and then add the sugar and golden syrup and bring the mixture to a boil without stirring. You can swirl occasionally (carefully) but do not stir. Stirring will cause the sugar to crystallise. This is the hardest thing, I know but you must resist!!!!

Continue boiling until your temp hits 150ºC then remove the pot from the heat and QUICKLY sieve in the baking soda and cream of tartar mixture and stir quickly to make sure it has been incorporated, but stop once it’s no longer visible.

But quickly!!!

QUICKLY pour and scrape the now frothing contents of the pot into your baking tray and let it set. Try to do this without screaming, panicking or dumping the now volcano like pot and running away.

Do not touch it, stir it, try to spread it. Don’t even try to tip the tray, just leave it where it naturally sits. Did I emphasise enough that you need to be quick? It takes seconds for this to turn into a volcano of froth as the baking soda erupts but it also takes seconds for you to knock the air out, hence quickly and do not touch.

Now you have to leave it alone and let it cool for around 2 hours until it is solid. Really, I know it’s tempting to touch it and test if it’s set, don’t do it, it’s bloody hot!!!

After 2 hours smash it into bite-sized pieces and enjoy or you know be virtuous and give it away (but nobody likes virtuous I don’t eat sweeties types). It’s extra awesome dipped in chocolate, or so I’ve been told, cause you know I don’t eat unhealthy things so I wouldn’t know.

My body is a temple.

Oh sorry no, amusing park, my body is an amusement park, I always mix those two up.




Looking back to look forward: plans for our 2018 garden adventures

Winter is one of those times where you can look out of the window into the garden and feel despondent.  The garden can look untidy, dead stuff, things which need to be pruned, leaves all over the place, wet, cold. Pretty much an unattractive garden, but also the cold and wet of the winter doesn’t exactly inspire us to get out there and fix it, and let’s be honest, a small tidy up would make the world of difference. That’s why around this time I like to have a bit of review of the previous year, look back through my garden journal and my blog posts and remind myself of all the fun we’ve had in the garden this year. It also helps me to sit down and plan the coming year, which is an important part of gardening, planning, being prepared and dreaming.

So what were all the fun things we did this year in the garden? Well, where do I start?

Composting

Last year saw us really embrace our new compost bin and get to use the compost for the first time. We discovered how different thing affect the bin temperature, like how grass seems to be the biggest component for getting the bin hot, quickly. Also, we discovered that the bin makes way more compost than we actually need, but unfortunately last year, our times were all out of sync so I have 6 sacks of compost which need to be dried and sieved but the weather had turned and I wasn’t able to get this done. To dry it, I will need a few days of warm dry weather, and let’s be honest, it will be June before I see any of that.

The greenhouse

The greenhouse was a romping success last year, we grew peppers for the first time and were so happy with the result (quality and volume) that these have been added to our list as every year plants along with courgettes and tomatoes. The cornichon weren’t as much as of a success because the plants are just too big for the greenhouse, so we couldn’t get to the fruits most of the time because they had grown behind shelves etc.  Instead of cute little pickles, we ended up with baseball bat sized gherkins.

Raised beds

The raised beds were not quite as successful in other years, mostly because we are having an issue with local wildlife, something is digging in the beds and using them as a toilet.  The solution has been to keep the beds under net all year, but this makes it really difficult to weed or maintain the beds and so they haven’t had as much love as I would normally give them.

The lawn

Oh the constant battle with the lawn.

Kate will not want me admitting this to you all, so it’s a good job she’s in bed asleep as I write this but we have a constant battle with the lawns. Mostly the back lawn gets a lot of moss, which means a lot of scarifying and treating. Here’s the bit Kate won’t want me telling you, ha ha ha you should have got up earlier then Kate,  Sometimes, when she is treating the moss, she can be a bit heavy handed with the treatment and kill a lot of the lawn off, making depressing bare patched which we have to reseed and tend to. Sigh!

The front lawn is a different problem, there is not a whole lot of soil there, so we need to feed the lawn a heck of a lot and if we are a bit slow, it goes yellow VERY quickly.  I’ve mentioned before that grass is actually the hardest thing to grow in a garden.

What did we learn last year?

We learned some pretty cool stuff actually. We learned how to dry chillies, cause we always have far too many. We learned to get rid of aphids using soap and we learned how to make pots out of paper so we don’t have to store lots of plastic ones.

So I think 2017 was a pretty good year and I’m looking forward to 2018.

What’s in store for the coming year then, what are our plans?

Oh boy, do we have an exciting year planned… firstly, the greenhouse is getting a makeover. I only have a small greenhouse and sometimes it can feel like a bit of a jungle with the tomato plants. Especially height wise as they tend to hit the roof of the greenhouse and come back down to meet me. To help with this, we are planning to raise the height of the greenhouse by adding some old railway sleepers to the base, hopefully raising the height a foot or so. Watch out for that next month.

We also have a tree to be replaced, which is quite sad, but our rowan has died and so we are planning on replacing this with a cherry this year. This is going to mean a little bit of landscaping, so will be quite exciting to do and of course, I promise we will keep you all in the loop on this one with lots of photos and most likely a video too.

Speaking of videos, remember to pop over to our youtube channel if you ever want more info on any of our garden adventures. There are some great reviews of the garden gadgets we use as well as updates on our growing adventures like the peppers.




Tomato and red pepper soup – hygge comfort returns

It’s that time of year again, it’s cold, blooming freezing and its dark most of the time. It’s really easy during the cold autumn and winter months to get a bit low or blue and pine away wishing for spring. So to combat that, over the past couple of years, Kate and I have been trying to get into the Danish mindset of hygge. Basically of trying to take joy in the things that make life good. A warm home, good food, family and friends. It’s all about the little things, personal to each and every one of us. It could be reading a book by the fire, a long soak in the tub or just having family around for dinner.

So in the spirit of sharing our hygge findings, we’ve been sharing our best comforting winter recipes.

For us, part of the joy in this amazing soup is that the ingredients came from our garden, which always makes food taste better. Knowing you put the time and energy into growing them. It also goes amazingly well with some sourdough, imagine…… 🙂

So what do you need?

  • 3 red peppers, halved & de-seeded.
  • 1 onion, unpeeled & halved.
  • 4 Cloves of garlic
  • 2 Sticks of celery, sliced & chopped.
  • 500g tomatoes.
  • 450ml Vegetable stock.
  • 2tbsp Olive oil.
  • 2tbsp Tomato puree.
  • 1tbsp Sundried tomato paste.
  • 1tsp chilli flakes.
  • 25g Butter.
  • Salt & pepper.

What to do

  1. Pre heat oven to 200C and put the pepper & onion halves (cut side down), the tomatoes & garlic onto a baking tray & drizzle with the olive oil. Bake at the top of your oven for 30 mins or until the vegetables are roasted & tender.
  2. Meanwhile melt down the butter in a large pot over a low heat and soften the chopped celery for 4-5 mins. Don’t burn the butter.
  3. Adding the tomato puree, sundried tomato paste & the chilli flakes to the stock and mix well and then add to the sauteed celery. Remove from the heat.
  4. When the baked vegetables are ready remove the peel from the onion & garlic cloves roughly chop them & add them to the pan along with the tomatoes. Place back on to a low to medium heat & using a hand blender blend until the soup is smooth.
  5. Season to taste & gently simmer until the soup is at a comfortable edible temperature. Do not allow the soup to boil. Serve with homemade sourdough bread & enjoy the moment.

 

Could it be any simpler?




Winter cycling for the newly converted.

Most folks seem to have come back to work today after the winter break and I’m wondering how many of the shiny bikes in the rack belong to new cyclists who made a new year’s resolution to get fit, get healthy or lose weight? It can’t be the most fun part of the year to commute by bike for the first time. This morning it was pelting with rain, a bit windy and dark. Did I mention dark? So that got me wondering if all these budding new cyclists really knew what to expect when they promised they’d start commuting by bike. That’s ok, though, there are loads of more experienced cyclists out there who can give some great advice based on proper experience. So, in that vein, I thought I’d do a wee blog post to offer some advice on bicycle commuting during the winter.

I have two pieces of advice I’d give any new cyclist for this time of year, get good clothes and gloves and by good I mean warm and rain proof and importantly for this time of year, reflective, secondly get decent lights, not just whatever cheap ones the bike shop had on sale.

At this time of year, it’s pretty much going to be dark when you leave in the morning and dark when you leave to come home so good lights and reflective kit is really important. You need to be able to see and to be seen.

But cycle kit is expensive

Yep, it can be, I absolutely hear you on that one but you don’t have to go out and buy yourself all the gear in one go. Start off with the essential items, like good lights and a good waterproof and highly visible jacket. You want something bright for during the day with lots of reflective areas for the night. With lights, don’t waste your money on the cheap lights in the bargain bucket at the bike shop, you really do get what you pay for. Think about the type of places you will be cycling. Will there be street lights for instance?

I regularly cycle on a path which has absolutely no lights at all, so for me, lights are as much about being able to see as well as being seen.

The same goes for cycle clothing, I mentioned having a decent amount of reflective areas but again, you don’t need to go buy a really expensive cycling jacket you get all sorts of reflective strips and arm bands etc that work really well.

So start off just making sure you are safe, then if you stick with the cycling, you can start asking friends and family for bits of kits for birthdays etc.

Easy and cheaper solutions

An easy solution is reflective stickers. They are cheap and can be applied to the bike, bags, helmets etc and are really effective.

We stuck some stickers onto our helmets which are black normally but light up when a light hits them.

You can also buy click on spoke reflectors, I got these online for 2 quid.

A bit more expensive but long lasting

Buying cycling specific reflective kit is more expensive but depending on your journey it might be recommended. I do parts of my route in pitch black, so my super reflective jacket is great.

A little bit can make a difference and maybe just help you to feel comfortable now the nights have drawn in.

Look at the difference between a cycle who wears bright, reflective kit with good lights and a cyclist who doesn’t bother. Yup there are two cyclists in this shot




Having fun with table settings

One of the things Kate and I both enjoy is having our dining table looking nice when we have a nice meal or invite friends over. Not exactly formal dinner settings but just a bit prettier than the every day. I think it goes back to when Kate and I first met and I used to look up fancy ways to fold napkins to impress her when I made dinner, we’ve kind of carried that on and we have all sorts of fun from it.

So, since we are now in the holiday season and lots of you will be entertaining friends and family, we thought we’d share some of our fun ideas for you to try out. I may even record some videos to show you how to fold napkins.

Casual and formal

I never set a formal table. Never. Reason being I want my guests to feel relaxed and have fun. I also hate all the clutter that goes with formal table settings. Take a look at this graphic I found online to give you an idea of what I mean about how fussy/cluttered a formal table can be and that’s before we talk about which fork you are meant to use. How quickly this would turn our 8 seater table into a 4 seater.

table setting guide

As I said, we always set a casual table, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring or not pretty.

Whether we are setting the table just for the two of us. Or if we are setting the table for having friends over. Our aim is always for a pretty but fun table setting. Even if we do sometimes overdo it with napkin folding.

Speaking of overdoing it with the napkins,as promised, here is a wee video to show you how you can make some seasonally appropriate napkins for  your table. Elf shoes and christmas trees.

Christmas themed napkin: the elf shoe




Greenhouse calamity – the wind has it’s way

Well winter seems to have finally passed and I couldn’t be more thankful. We didn’t exactly get battered with snow but Musselburgh saw a couple of nasty storms and the garden, mostly the greenhouse took a hit.

Greenhouse  wind damageWe’ve been lucky in the past when the strong winds have taken roof panels from the greenhouse, we usually found them the next day in a neighbour’s garden. This time however they were long gone so we had to shore things up with cardboard and gaffa tape until the storms passed and we could fit some new polycarbonate panels.

It really was looking in a sorry state and not just

the lost panels, inside took a battering too because the wind was then able to get in and pots were smashed, shelves knocked over and general mess and debris everywhere.

There was a lot of clearing up to do, not just inside the greenhouse but the panels had gotten all covered in crud thanks to the storms so we jumped at the chance for a bit of a clean up and overhaul on the first calm day we got. It was calm, with no winds which meant we could get the new panels in place, but it was blooming freezing and washing things and having your hands in water was not fun.

 

cleaning and repairing the greenhouse

It was worth it though. It only took a couple of hours to wash the greenhouse down, take the panels out of the frame and wash them (including washing any green yuk out of the corrugated insides and then put everything back together with its new panels. It also gave us the chance to empty it out and give the inside a good tidy up and a sweep and get everything spick and span again.

The best part of being that it meant we were ready to go today when we started getting things planted up for the first time this year, the greenhouse was practically palatial.

spick and span

 

 




Getting ready for spring – the greenhouse

Folk who don’t work in the garden think that everything stops in winter. Well I wish I could tell you it does but unfortunately winter is when you get everything ready for spring’s arrival.

There is so much to do from cleaning the greenhouse to feeding the soil to organising and planning for planting.

There are obviously things that you do every year and therefore you are already ahead of the game as you are organised and planned for in your head but if you throw anything new into the mix, there’s a whole new batch of organising to be done.

The coming year

We’ve decided that we are going to try something new in the coming year. We’ve already had success with our various veg growing adventures so next year we are going to add flowers to this.  Now before you say,”hang on we’ve seen pictures of your garden and it’s full of flowers.” Let me explain.

We don’t grow our flowers, we buy them all ready to plant from a local nursery. For next year we want to try growing our own plug plants from seed. We have accepted that this might not be the success we hope for but if not we still have the option to buy plants from the nursery. If it does work out, well we will have the chance to increase our range of flowers to include those our local nursery doesn’t carry and save on car trips.

All this excitement will mean the greenhouse will see more use than normal over the spring and summer months so I am going to have to get thinking about how I’m going to do this.

Pots

image

Lots more seedlings equals lots more pots required also equals lots more space to store pots and lots more money buying pots.

Solution:  newspaper pots
Kate has bought me a widget that I’m keen to try out. It is so that I can make the pots for my seedlings out of newspaper.
Cheap, biodegradable,  takes up less space and a bit of fun too.

 

 

Space

teeny tom plantMy greenhouse isn’t huge, just 8′ by 6′, and I struggle for space a bit each year as it is so I need to find a way to fit my usual tomatoes, courgettes etc in there with the new flower seedlings too.
Solution: little plants and less of them
Well this one is down to me not going mad with multiple varieties of things I’m afraid. I have a tendency to grow three or four of each variety of tomato or courgette taking up huge amounts of space. This year I am going to force myself to stick to a small number of plants and only those which we’ve already had success with.

I’m also going to grow smaller bush varieties where I can.




Winter draws in, the year comes to a close and we are already thinking about spring

carrots and beetrootIt’s getting dark about 4:30pm in the evenings now and it’s definitely chilly.

Our veggies gradually slowed down their growth and have now come to a stop.

It’s time.

As much fun as it is in spring when all the new plants first pop their heads literally “above ground”, we need to accept that to make this happen, we need to clear away the old stuff and get things ready for over wintering and eventually that spring surge. This means a bit of work to empty the beds and greenhouse and a bit of a scrub and polish to scoot away the muck and yuck of the year past.

We’ve planted up strawberries this year which means they have a permanent home in one of the beds so instead of emptying that one, we need to cover it over with a fleece to protect the plants once the frosts really start to bite. Hopefully our new frames over the beds will make this an easier job.

For the other beds, we’ve pulled all the beetroots and carrots that were there as our last harvest before topping the beds up with more soil and manure(for next years nutrients) and digging them over. We wondered if the soil was getting a bit tired this year after the two fantastic previous years so we are going to really focus on boosting it with nutrients before spring.

The greenhouse doesn’t escape either.  I’ve emptied out all the old tomato plants, cleaned the pots and gave the greenhouse a really good clear out and scrub down. I use a sanitising product called star san for this which is a contact sanitiser, meaning that once the greenhouse is cleaned I can spray this all over the frame and glass to kill any nasties leave the greenhouse sparkling ready to house the tomato plants for next year.

 

So was there anything we grew last year which we wont again?

  • Green beans – last year was our second try at growing green beans. We did have marginal success this year in that we got lots of beans, but they were small and weedy and not very tasty so we are not trying again.\
    It’s just not worth the amount of space and effort for the results.
  • Yellow courgettes – they just can’t be relied upon.
  • Orange carrots – they are the slowest growing and give the smallest yield.
  • Globe carrots – not impressed. Very small and took ages to mature.

 

Anything new for next year?

  • Not new but we are going to move the peas to their own spot. They were so successful that we feel they have earned it.
  • We are going to try the dwarf/patio versions of some of the tomato plants to try to help with space in the greenhouse.

Apart from that everything will be pretty much as usual. Purple carrots, stripy beetroot and all sorts of tomatoes.

Oh apart from one thing… this year will be the first year that we are going to attempt to grow our own flowers for the garden too, instead of buying them  as plugs from the garden centre… watch out for lots of updates about that.

 

Oh and before I go, we have to wave hello to one of our readers – Hey Katy!!!!! Hope you guys have a great thanksgiving!!!!!