Thursday, 26 August 2010

Elderberry syrup

This year I was full of good intentions to make elderflower cordial. I've always wanted to try it, but unfortunately I missed my chance as the flowers were very much past their best when I eventually got organised enough to make some. I've been noticing the elderberries ripening and thought how lovely it would be to use them, but I only knew of elderberry wine and didn't fancy the whole wine making process.

When I came across this blog post for elderberry syrup by Dawn at Raising Seedlings, I was delighted. A great way to use up the berries around me, and with health benefits too! We went on a family forage this afternoon and picked what I thought was a lot of elderberries (I'll come back to that later!) plus some early sloes and damsons for flavouring gin.

I used Dawn's recipe as a guide, but also made some tweaks, as I am apparently incapable of following a recipe to the letter!

I removed the berries from the stalks with a fork and washed them in a bowl of water, removing the ones that floated (along with assorted earwigs, grubs and spiders)

Then they went into a pan with enough water to just cover the fruit. I put them over a low heat for just over half an hour until the fruit was soft. I also added some crushed ginger after the fruit had been bubbling away for 10 minutes or so.

Next, I strained the mixture through a sterilised muslin. I think it's going to be permanently purple from now on! I found I had a mere 3/4 of a pint of liquid,despite the mass of berries I started with, so I added 10 oz sugar and some honey.

I gently heated the mixture until the sugar had dissolved and added the juice of a lemon to counteract the sweetness a little. I also popped in a small handful of cloves and boiled the whole lot on a rolling boil for ten minutes

Finally I poured my finished syrup into sterilised jars. I'd have preferred to use bottles, but didn't have any to hand. Although I thought I had picked an abundance of berries, the quantity didn't quite fill two jam jars. I think I might have to make some more soon! So as not to waste a drop, I poured boiling water into the preserving pan to reward myself with a lovely hot drink and a slice of date cake. An afternoon very well spent.

Sugar free - the end of the challenge

So, it's been a whole month since I started trying to cut out refined sugar. I will freely admit that in the past couple of weeks, I haven't been completely sugar free. I've had a few lapses including Alice's first birthday cake (I wasn't going to miss that one!) and even the odd sweet or biscuit. However, my intake has been nothing compared to the amounts I was eating a couple of months ago! I think the whole experience has been worthwhile as I no longer crave sweet food like I did. I have discovered that it is completely possible to live life without Cadbury's Dairy Milk. I have also discovered that unsweetened cake and biscuits are every bit as tasty as the sugary kind. I haven't been able to kick the feeling that 'naughty' food is a 'treat' and I get a little surge of pleasure when I eat something sugary, but old habits die hard. I think I can better appreciate the small quantities I eat now. It's good to know that I am back in control of my eating and that I've made a positive step.

Mind you, this was a very tasty cake

Monday, 16 August 2010

Potty Training

I wasn't sure what to call this post as I don't think potty training is the right way to describe what Alice has been doing lately, but I can't think of another way to put it. About 2 weeks ago, she was having nappy off time, and she did a wee on the floor. She liked to look at it and enjoyed watching me wipe it up. She then went to another part of the room and tried very hard to do another one. I was amazed. I thought it would be an involuntary action, but she was very much in control.

Some time ago I read up on elimination communication. Alice was about 4 months old at the time, and I decided it wasn't for us. I read that after 6 months the window of opportunity closes as babies lose the tells that show when they need to go. Despite that, I thought I'd let Alice try the potty, and I couldn't believe it when she used it the first time she sat on it. Since then I have put her on it at every nappy change and more often than not she uses it. Her nappies are seeming dryer when I take them off too. I'm not expecting her to be out of nappies any time soon, but it's an exciting step. I don't know what I'm doing, but she's enjoying it, and I'm happy to follow her lead.

First Attempt

When it comes to sewing, I have very little experience, but the idea of making clothes really appeals to me. I guess it's best to try it now when Alice doesn't point blank refuse to wear the odd things I make for her. With that in mind, I bought a book with patterns in the back and decided to give it a try. I picked a simple dress, but the smallest pattern size was for 2-3 years, so I had a go at making it smaller. I also decided I'd like it to be a top rather than a dress as Alice still isn't using walking to get around and she gets cross when she crawls on her dresses. In retrospect, I should probably have stuck to something that I didn't have to modify as the finished result looks a little crazy. I've fiddled with it a bit and found she can wear it in two ways:

Both look a bit odd, but what can you expect from a sewing novice and a pair of old curtains?

Early Quince Jelly

Outside my parents in law's front door is a small japonica which is surprisingly fruitful. Last winter I asked if they would be used and was given permission to take them to make quince jelly. The few pots I made didn't last long! Unfortunately, they have moved out of their house this week, and I was left with a quandary. Should I pick the fruit early and have a go at preserving it or should I leave it for the next inhabitants? I decided on a compromise. I picked the largest and most yellow of the fruit and left about half on the bush.

Despite my reservations about harvesting so early, the jelly has turned out very well, even better than last year I think. I've only made a small quantity, but I'm hoping to find a source of more quinces in time for late Autumn.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Fun with Marrows

I accidentally left a courgette growing for too long recently as my two little plants are churning them out at an incredible rate. As a result, I found myself with a reasonably large marrow on my hands. I have never bought or cooked with one before, so I had a look around for recipes. The first one was stuffed marrow. I cut it into rings and scooped out the seeds, then filled it with a mince and spinach mixture and topped with slices of cheese before baking f
or half an hour. I was a little dubious, but it was delicious! Even better was the fact that I was eating it while looking out the window at the plant it grew on.

I still had over half of the marrow left, so I made an apricot and marrow chutney. It's ages since I made chutney, and I had forgotten how muc
h I enjoy preserving things. As I stirred the glistening mixture, I realised how happy it makes me to cook things, especially when I know they will be enjoyed in weeks to come. With the house full of the sharp smell of vinegar and spices, I couldn't have felt any happier. I feel so fortunate to be able to live the life I have always dreamed of.

Amazing what one marrow can do.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

High Expectations

Alice is rapidly approaching her first birthday, but she still seems so little I often underestimate her abilities. She has been showing signs lately, literally through sign language and in more subtle ways, that she understands much more than I give her credit for. I have been thinking about the subject of discipline lately. A friend of mine got me thinking when she said that she is confident with mothering, but the idea of parenting seems quite daunting. I feel much the same. In our culture, we seem to have a very negative view of our children. Their wills must be suppressed in favour of ours. They are naturally 'naughty' and need correcting. We almost expect bad behaviour. I was surprised to realise that I have been guilty of this attitude even though Alice is still so young. When she picks up something off the floor and it is en route to her mouth, I tell her not to eat it without any real conviction that she will do as I say. But here's the thing. She does do as I say. More often than not, if I ask her to give me whatever she's holding, or come away from something she shouldn't touch, she does so with no fuss. If I take it off her or quickly pull her away, naturally she gets very cross, as I'm sure I would in her situation.

I am at the very beginning of my parenting journey, and I don't claim to have any expertise, but my instinct tells me that if I keep my expectations of good behaviour high, then Alice will probably live up to them. Speaking to her with respect and giving her reasons is not talking above her level, it is showing the courtesy that I would have for an adult, and that I hope she will display to others. Obviously there will be times when she behaves in a way that I don't approve of, but hopefully having a good relationship based on trusting each other and modelling good behaviour will help to see us through difficult times.

Armchair Experts

I was fortunate enough to be breastfed until I self weaned at around 18 months old. I've spoken to my mother about this and whether she encountered any negative attitudes from others. She said that she didn't and just continued feeding me because it seemed to be the natural thing. I still wanted milk and she still wanted to feed me. When one day I proclaimed 'No gack', that was where it finished. It wasn't anyone else's business.

Many people now seem to see the parenting choices of others as very much their business. I have a theory about partly why this may be. Over the past 10 years, television programmes have sprung up showing parents who are struggling with their children. Sleeping, eating and behaviour problems are all held up for scrutiny by the in show experts, and for us. We are encouraged to be armchair experts, sagely shaking our heads at the glaring mistakes these foolish parents are making.

We forget that these are television shows, edited and cut together to make good TV that fits the pattern. We have no knowledge of a back story of these families, nor have we a right to know, because it isn't for us to judge. Unfortunately, that is what we are encouraged to do, and it begins to spread out into the real world. What right have we to judge the parenting choices of others? I am convinced of the benefits of attachment parenting and believe it is the right way to bring up my daughter, but if another parent follows, for example, the Gina Ford approach, who am I to criticise? It isn't any of my business. If anyone asks me my opinion, I am more than happy to explain my reasons for the way I raise my daughter, but otherwise, I must learn to keep my mouth shut and allow others the freedom to get on with being a parent and hope that others will have the same respect for me.

Blackberry picking

My lovely husband went off food shopping the other day and I asked him to try to get local apples rather than some that have flown half way round the world. He proudly returned with some Bramleys, and although I like tart fruit, I didn't fancy biting into one of those. I decided to make the most of the blackberries that have just started to appear around us and bake a blackberry and apple pie. It's the first time I've gone blackberrying with a baby tied to my front (I'm still struggling with the backcarry) but we managed it, despite eating more than we collected. I noticed some sloes appearing on the trees too, and must remember to go back in a month or so to get some to make sloe gin.

As the blackberries are so sweet, I found that I didn't need to add sugar to my pie filling. I am continuing to find that my taste buds seem to be rapidly adjusting to my new low sugar diet, and sweet foraged treats certainly help with my remaining cravings!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Sugar free - End of week 1

Well it's been a week since I stopped eating refined sugar, and I must say, it's gone better than expected. Before I go on, I'll admit there were a couple of blips. I ate some muesli with added sugar after my husband got muddled up about which one to use, and I had a tiny bit of jam on a scone at a friend's house (would have been rude to refuse, obviously!). I'm not going to beat myself up about it though, as it's a significant improvement on my usual intake.

Thankfully, I've not experienced any issues I had anticipated. No headaches, mood swings nor excessive tiredness. In fact, I'm feeling happier and more energetic than I was before I started. I can't help but connect the two. I've also noticed that naturally sweet things taste sweeter than they did. I've enjoyed fruit more this week than I have in a long time. I really think I had been killing my sense of taste with the artificial flavours of the sweets I was eating.

On the downside, I do still have cravings. They are more psychological than physical though. When I sit down with a cup of tea, I really want chocolate. At the end of a meal I start fantasising about puddings. I've also found it hard to walk past sweets in shops without a little internal wrestling. happily though, the cravings seem to go quite quickly. Having some snackable foods in stock is helping too. I'm still constantly hungry but I'm making healthier choices. I've managed to find a recipe for a sugar free courgette cake which will sort out my courgette glut and hopefully see off some of the more persistent cravings.

Let's hope week 2 is just as successful!