Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Midweek Recipe - Superwoman Edition: Leek and Squash Pearl Barley Risotto

I know how Superwoman must feel. Tired, and in need of a cuppa, that's how. On Tuesday night, in no particular order, I hoovered, did laundry, made Daniel's lunches for the rest of the week, made my lunches for the rest of the week, prepared veggies for Thursday's tea and cooked an amazing pearl barley risotto*.

Tuesday nights are my get things done nights, as of last week. There is no time for laundry or hoovering on any other day, thanks to the fact that we're doing fun stuff, so Tuesday it is. The upside of not doing fun stuff on a Tuesday is that we get to cook and eat proper food; I have a lot to thank the freezer for, but there comes a time when I just don't want to eat leftovers, and that time was yesterday night. I also love to chop stuff, at least once in the week. Chopping gives me time to put things in order, to create angles, shapes and colour combinations that sooth my mind and leave the frustrations of the day where I found them. And then there's the stirring and the delightful smells, and then there's the eating.

So this recipe is a healthy, fun option for an evening that demands some stove therapy. It's not quick, but it doesn't need as much attention as normal risotto, so you can prepare tomorrow's lunches, do the hoovering and sort the laundry between stirring and seasoning. Of course, normal risotto is all well and good, but this is a more filling and much more virtuous version, and I love the bouncy texture of pearl barley!

Leek and Squash Pearl Barley Risotto
Serves 2

2 leeks, chopped
2 cups squash, cubed (I used harlequin, but a sweeter squash such as onion or butternut would be lovely)
3 cloves garlic
120g pearl barley, rinsed
Vegetable stock
1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp dried sage
100g feta cheese
A good glug of oil
Salt and pepper

1. In a saucepan, heat the oil on a low heat and fry the leeks with a pinch of salt and the garlic until soft. Add the squash and stir for another few minutes, stir in chilli and sage, then add the pearl barley and coat in the oil.
2. Add stock to the pan until it just covers all of the vegetables and pearl barley grains. Stir and leave until it starts simmering, then stir some more.
3. Add more stock as the water is absorbed. This is a much slower process than with arborio rice, and the pan can be left for a while between stirs, so long as the heat is low.
4. After about 45 minutes the grains should be a spongy texture and soft to chew. Allow the remaining water to be absorbed and then stir in the crumbled feta cheese. Season with pepper and serve!

*I realise that my parents used to do such things every night of the week, but I'm still getting used to real life.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

That Thursday Sort of Sunday

Today has been the Sunday that I always dream of on Thursdays. Lazy, slow, but thoroughly there.

Getting up at 10:30am isn't usually my idea of a good time. What a waste. But today I knew that I just needed it; the sort of day when you wake up after over 10 hours' sleep and feel as if your head has met a barrel at full force. That sort of tiredness can justify that sort of lie in. And I love padding around in my dressing gown - sort of lazily, sort of usefully - tidying a few things here and there, carrying a half-full (it's always half-full) mug of tea around and stopping to gaze out of the window at the neighbours busying about on their Sundays.

Sunday breakfast is becoming more and more of an institution here in our house. There is always multiple courses: fresh orange juice, lots of milky tea, warm bread, and plenty of my Mum's homemade jam. Crumbs cover the table, the new dishwasher is full by noon, but it is delicious and the company is always so good.

Full from a little too much bread (is a whole loaf between too a little too much?) we pulled on boots, wrapped ourselves in scarves and head out for an autumnal walk by the river. The air is so fresh today, the sun warm but the shade pleasantly chilly, and the colours are simply fabulous. The mist was heavy, even after midday, and winter was very much in the air. It was so fun to walk arm-in-arm with Daniel, chatting about plans for the future, ideas for the wedding, thoughts on papers that I just must read in the coming week.

The fields around us are still waterlogged from the recent floods, turned into ings and ponds where local wildlife has taken up residence. The mist hanging over the watery landscape was wonderful; white seagulls appeared stark against the grey, all flying in circular formation.

We visited one of our favourite local ruins, struggling with the gate, admiring faded gravestones and forgotten woodlands, and a man with a Guy Fawkes beard on a Sunday stroll. Then we bought coffee and hot chocolate (and a bacon sandwich for him) from a lady listening to Bon Iver in a silver camper van by the river. Red-headed children hula hooped in the mud nearby, and dogs of all shapes and sizes ran around in a frenzy. We sat and admired the boats and the dogs as we drank our frothy drinks, and the grey skies turned a lovely wintery blue above us.

Something warm has been kindling in my stomach all day long. Something wholesome and satisfied. It's easy to think wistfully upon times that were so good but now only belong in memory. It's easy to spend Sundays wishing that tomorrow wouldn't be a Monday. But on Thursdays the prospect of a Sunday is such a far-off dream, and that place where the dream comes true in the right now is something really quite awesome.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Five Things I'm Loving These Days

1. Being a student again
My own routine, lots of reading, lots of debating, new people, any excuse to introduce myself, discounts, no council tax, no dress code, extra-curricular activities, conferences, volunteering, cycling to campus.

Ohh it's awesome!

2. My new lunchbox
It has compartments for snacks and a big space at the bottom for salads or a bagel. And a little pot for salad dressing! I'm enjoying putting together exciting (and not so) meal and snack combinations for my days on campus.

3. Layering
Vest season has arrived, but so too has the opportunity to mix and match colours and patterns. I bought some gorgeous stripey summery tops right at the end of the season, but they work well underneath other things. And scarves, lots of scarves!

 4. Looser Clothes!
The skirt in the photo above didn't fit me not so long ago. And my old student jeans - hidden away in my wardrobe since I left uni and couldn't even get them past my knees - are now back in circulation. It's silly, but it's a good feeling. I haven't been dieting and I certainly hadn't made any effort to get back into these clothes but being on my feet a lot while working in a shop seems to be the latest 'drop a size in 6 months' fad. The novelty is good, but then so are my newest pair of trousers which are now a little on the baggy side...argh!

5. Body Pump
Not at all related to number 4 above, but I've started attending Body Pump classes at my local gym, and am loving it! For those who don't know what this latest fad is, it involves bar weights and lots of all-over muscle burn. I am the Queen of the Squats, and can happily go for ages to the tune of Summer of '69 on a Friday evening, but when it comes to biceps and triceps I'm the class dunce: hopefully I'll see some improvements soon enough!


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Midweek Recipe: Lemon Linguine with Courgette and Capers

This recipe was invented in our kitchen only a few weeks ago. Since then we've had it three times, and each time I've resolved to share it on my blog because it's just that good. It's super quick, and seriously tasty, and is a great way to jazz up a few courgettes using simple kitchen staples*.

You can adapt the recipe to suit whatever's in your fridge. Parmesan would be nice on top of the linguine, or toasted walnuts, and a dollop of pesto would work a treat.I used fresh broad beans in the photo below to add to the summer veggies theme!

You could use tagliatelle, too!

Lemon Linguine with Courgette and Capers
Serves 2

200g linguine
2 courgettes, cut into ribbons using a carrot peeler
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp capers
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil to serve

1. Cook the linguine according to the packet instructions. While it cooks, fry the onion and garlic with a pinch of salt in some regular oil.
2. A couple of minutes before the pasta is ready, add the courgettes to the onion and garlic and cook.
3. Drain the pasta and stir in to the vegetables. Add capers, lemon juice and oil and knit it all together.
4. Season and stir in the fresh basil and serve.

*Capers may not be a staple for everyone, but once you buy a jar they can be hard to use up - another great thing about this recipe!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Blue Skied

There is something precious about perfect blue-skied days that scares me. No matter how careful I am to hold on to the day, embracing the colours of the leaves and the fresh smell of the air, it never seems quite enough. In some ways I prefer grey drizzle, which I can enjoy liberally in boots and a cagoule, or wildly on a long rainy run, or quietly from the comfort of my living room.

These blue skies caught me unawares; I was anticipating a quiet and restful weekend at home after an exhausting first week back at university. I can't help but worry that this will be it; no more blue skies or fresh chilly breezes until March. But I am well-rested and ready for another exciting week. And we have walnut bread. And if the drizzle comes tomorrow morning I will run in it gleefully and enjoy the weather for whatever it might be.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Five Things I'm Loving These Days

1. My new study
We spent a couple of tiring and frustrating weekends painting, lugging furniture, spending too much money and scouring the internet for colour matches, but getting down to some work in my newly-decorated study is an absolute pleasure. I chose 'Moss Blanket' for the colour: a beautiful mossy-green which I think promotes thought perfectly. Then there's our bookshelves, which I hated until now, packed to the brim with books and folders full of journal articles. A comfy couch with new cushions for indulging in some couch-based reading, and a shelf solely dedicated to our extensive dictionary collection. Oh, and the theme for the room is owls, appropriately! I was delighted to find owl bookends in the Laura Ashley sale recently, which match the gorgeous owl tea light holder that Daniel got me as a birthday present!

Daniel made me a blackboard for brainstorming

 2. Laundry Weather
The perfect autumn weather sets a great backdrop for the whites on our washing line. The sky is blazing blue and the trees from the street behind ours are bursting with colour. I sort of want to climb mountains, and a sort of want to sit inside in my PJs. I choose the former today!
(Nb. It is Sunday as I write this!)

3. The Prospect of a Dishwasher
We've been on and on and on about it for aaages. We found a good deal, and we went for it. We are approaching the modern era, finally!

The current situation
4. My Electric Toothbrush!
More modern living here (gosh, this blog post is just a line of domestic bore! Is this what I've become?!), as I bought an electric toothbrush - again, an investment that I've been intending on for a while. I truly believe that I sleep better when my teeth are shiny and clean, and this is contributing to the whole effect. Fresh mouth: fresh mind!

5. Manuka Honey Hand Cream

I've been suffering pretty badly from eczema over the past few months and I was really at a loss with what to do about it. A friend suggested trying some manuka honey cream, and in my desperation I spent £10 on a small bottle. It was totally worth it! My skin is still dry, but it's starting to look more human again, and I'm much less paranoid about my hands when I'm with other people (bleeding fingers is never a good look). I'll definitely buy this one again, and would recommend it to anyone with similar skin problems. A day of using this relieved my skin more effectively than a week of horrid hydrocortisone.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Midweek Recipe: Easy Banana Energy Bars

The day after I rescued the squishy orange from the dustbin I had a banana incident. I arrived back from a shopping trip, laden with folders, box files and a new electric toothbrush, to find a banana-y mush all over my new shopping bag. Tragedy! But within 25 minutes I had a warm, banana-y treat to push me through the last hours of catch-up reading, and it turned out not to be much of a tragedy after all.

These bars rely mainly on fruit for their sweetness, and the bananas give them a lovely moist texture that makes them cakey as well as wholesome. The beauty of them is how totally virtuous they are, while also providing enough substance for an afternoon pick-me-up, a breakfast on the go, or a pre-run fuel-up snack!

Easy Banana Energy Bars

Makes 9

2 squishy bananas
1 wrinkly apple (or use good apples if you don't have a wrinkly one spare!)
1 cup muesli (I like a mixed fruit and nut muesli, but any should do!)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 tbsp oil
1 heaped tbsp honey
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
pinch of salt

1. Mash the bananas in a bowl, add the peeled, chopped apple and mix well.
2. Add the muesli and oats, then the spices and the salt and combine.
3. Add the oil and mix well, then drizzle in the honey and mix some more. If the texture is too stiff, add a little more oil until it becomes like a flapjack mix.
4. Pour into a greased baking tray and bake at 180C for 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Ready to Launch

Today is the last day before it all changes. It feels like Christmas Eve; I almost don't want today to even happen. Almost.

I've spent the past 7 months waiting for right now, unsure as to whether it would be the right thing, putting all of myself into it just in case it's exactly the right thing. The new paint on my study walls has dried, the shelves are stacked with books that I intended to already have read (not quite), my first meeting is set for tomorrow at 11am and I'm pretty much ready to go. My brain even feels like it might cope with what I'm about to do. All I know is that the 100% of myself that existed so naturally three years ago has to be rediscovered. A substantial fraction dissolved in the long hours of my last job, possibly left somewhere on a train during a busy commute, or dropped by the roadside on my walk to the station in the pre-6 o'clock part of a wintery Thursday.

I'm grateful for the last two years; the experiences I've had and the people I've met made it possible to really know where I want to be. There's nothing like being surrounded by passion and enthusiasm to make you realize that don't have any of it for yourself. Now I feel ever-so-slightly left behind, maybe in the good way that comes with the gift of hindsight and the grateful acknowledgement of how difficult this really is, but I'm doing it anyway.

I want the next three years to be tough; I want to feel as if I don't quite get it for at least 25% of the time. I want to sit and read and re-read, scribble ideas on my blackboard and keep in my mind the battle that was required to get here. Eventually, I want to understand it all. But that's going to take some serious lack of understanding to start with. I want to stand up and face the scariest of situations, the coldest of audiences, acknowledging it for what it is and charging right on anyway. I want to stand up for myself, and for my own ideas. They are forming there, already, and I'm excited to have found them at this stage.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Cinnamon and Orange Spelt Biscuits

I hate to waste food, and some of my favourite bakes have come as a result of that. There is always something that can be done with a soggy banana, a wrinkly apple, or, in today's case, a bruised orange.The orange in question had been sitting on our kitchen counter for over a week, by the fruitbowl but not in  the fruit bowl lest it get mouldy and ruin everything else in there. Time was running short - the squishy skin was getting squishier, and soon it would just have to go.

I was working very hard, of course, and my brain was totally switched on to the subject at hand - namely optimality theory (my PhD has begun!). But this orange was playing on my mind. Half an hour later and I had the most autumnal of biscuits, and Daniel's face was a picture of delight when he came home to the smell of cinnamon and orange! They are vegan, contain only good fats, and could also be free of refined sugar if you so wished. And they are ready for the oven in the time it takes to boil the kettle. Earl Grey anyone?

Cinnamon and Orange Spelt Biscuits
Adapted from a Dove Farm recipe

Makes 12ish biscuits, depending on size

200g spelt flour
100g honey
100g oil (I use olive oil for a richer taste - it does work in these)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
Juice of half a large orange
Flesh of the other half an orange, in small pieces

Orange rind and sugar to decorate

1. Combine honey and oil in a bowl, then add flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir well: the mixture should be quite thick and difficult to stir.
2. Add the orange juice to loosen off the batter, then stir in the orange pieces.
3. Blob small spoonfulls of the mixture onto a greased baking sheet - the mixture is hard to shape but you don't need a lot for each biscuit. Sprinkle on the orange rind and sugar, if using.
4. Bake at 190C for 10 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown. Leave to cool before serving as they will harden and become more biscuity - better for dunking in a cup of Earl Grey!