Sunday, 28 April 2013

To Bee or Not To Bee

One in 3 mouthfuls of the food we eat is dependent on pollination at a time when a crisis is threatening the world's bees.  Its worrying that bees are in such danger due to current farming practices (use of harmful chemicals and destruction of habitats) and also the threat of disease to already weakened bees.  

All is not lost though as there are plenty of things we can do and even if we can not become beekeepers ourselves, we can make our gardens "bee friendly" by planting lots of pollen and nectar rich plants, provide bee "hotels" where solitary bees can lay their eggs and hibernate in the winter or even adopt a hive. There are some useful links at the end of this item.
worker bee taking a shortcut to nectar

At My Home
Worker Covered in Pollen
worker bee taking a shortcut to nectar

I've been fascinated by bees for a while now and am also considering becoming a beekeeper myself, but there's a lot to learn before I eventually take the plunge.  Yesterday, however, we took the first step and attended a day long introduction to bee-keeping course with our local wildlife trust

We had hoped to put the suits on and have a little more practical experience than we had, but the weather was too cool to lift off the roof of the hive - although it was good to see that at least it wasn't raining and the bees considered it warm enough to venture out from the hive and were managing to make it back with lots of lovely yellow pollen on their legs!

small beehive

Our tasks now are to make our garden even more bee-friendly than it already is and to learn more about the art of beekeeping by joining a local beekeeping society and increasing our knowledge, experience and confidence so that, perhaps next year, we may be able to introduce a hive of our own.

The first step, this afternoon, I will be sowing some borage seeds - bees absolutely love this plant but I don't think slugs and snails do because the stems and leaves are a bit hairy!  The flowers are edible so can also be used decoratively in summer foods and drinks.

Here are some useful bee links:   (British Beekeepers Association)  (the Co-op's Plan Bee campaign)

(Friends of the Earth - Bee Cause)

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Wake Up Shower

There are some mornings when you get out of bed and still feel tired and at times like this there's nothing like an invigorating aromatherapy shower to help boost your energy.  Certain essential oils have a stimulating effect on energy levels, such as cypress, eucalyptus, juniper, lemongrass, ginger, grapefruit, rosemary, mint and thyme.*

For maximum effect, if you put the plug in the shower tray and add 5 or 6 drops of oil, the steam helps to disperse them into the air so that they can be inhaled more easily.

For an extra boost, you could try scrubbing your body with a loofah or body scrub and (if you've got the nerve) finishing with a blast of cold water.  

This advice comes from Dr Alison Grimston who is holistic GP and expert on women's health (particularly during times of hormonal change and stress).  Her informative blog can be found here:

* many of the more stimulating essential oils are not advised during pregnancy, so please check first if you are wanting to use essential oils and are pregnant

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Parsnip Tarte Tatin

Being a winter vegetable, I associate parsnips with comfort food such as roast veggies and soup.  But they're nearing the end of their season now and are at their sweetest as cold weather (and boy, we've had a lot of that!) turns more of their starches into sugars.  I thought I would try something different with the humble parsnip and make it into a dish more in keeping with a lighter spring menu as this tarte tatin goes well with a fresh salad.

A tarte tatin is an upside down tart with a caramelised fruit centre but the sweet parsnips work really well in this recipe:

Serves 2 - 4

400g parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
25g butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
freshly grated nutmeg
150g ready rolled puff pastry

  1. Heat oven to 200 degrees C (180 degrees C if fan oven), gas mark 6
  2. Put parsnips in a pan of lightly salted water and bring to the boil then simmer for about 6 minutes until tender
  3. Drain and leave to steam dry.  Score the tops lightly with a sharp knife
  4. Heat the oil and butter in an oven proof frying pan*.  Add the syrup and fry the parsnips over a medium to high heat for 2 - 3 minutes until they are caramelised and golden.  Season with the nutmeg
  5. Unroll the pastry and cut out a circle a few centimetres larger than the pan.  Prick over the top with a fork and lay the forked side of the pastry over the parsnips, tucking the edges in down the sides of the pan
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and crisp
  7. Leave to stand for 2-3 mintues then slide a flat-bladed knife around the edge to loosen the pastry.  Put a serving plate on top and then turn out onto the plate so that the pastry is underneath and the parsnips on top.
*  I don't have an ovenproof frying pan so used a normal pan for caramelising the parnips and then put into an enamel dish that was vaguely frying pan shaped, and this seemed to work ok!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sugar, oh, honey honey

This week-end has felt positively spring like - the sun has been out and everyone seems to be a lot happier!

The daffodils have been holding back this year because of the cold weather but are now out in full bloom and looking beautiful and exuding happiness with their yellow "faces" dancing in the breeze.

It was the first car boot sale of the year on Saturday at our local recreation ground.  I love browsing at car boot sales as you never know what you are going to find.  I came across this lovely honey pot which will look good as a sugar bowl in our yellow and white kitchen.

The lady I bought it off said she had been building up a collection of honey pots over the years and she had reached the point where she needed to get rid of a few of them as they were taking up too much space!  She had a selection and it was difficult to choose but this is the one I went for in the end.  

This is particularly appropriate when you find out what I'll be doing in a few days time ......

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Handmade Soap for Sensitive Skin

As a result of having friends and family with eczema and sensitive skin, I got into making products at home with a view to helping to soothe and heal their skin complaints as I hated to see the suffering that eczema causes and how over the counter products and even many prescription medications seemed to add to the problem rather than solve it.  

Here is a great soap made with the melt and pour method.  SLS is an ingredient found in the majority of shop bought soaps as its used to give soap its lather, but its a detergent and so can easily irritate the skin.  This doesn't make sense to me so I use SLS free soap.  I also use the following essential oils: Camomile (because it soothes and calms), Lavender (because it helps to heal sore skin) and Tea Tree (because it is antibacterial and fights infection).

The soap base is inexpensive to buy online and for the molds I recycle food packaging although the heart shapes were silicone molds found in a post-Valentine day sale!

These are the ingredients I used ...

  • 450g of SLS free clear glycerin melt and pour soap base
  • 3 tsp (15ml) olive oil
  • 1 tsp lavender flowers (crushed with a mortar and pestle)
  • 6 drops camomile essential oil
  • 5 drops lavender essential oil
  • 5 drops tea tree essential oil
  • 3 drops blue soap dye

And this is how I did it ...

  • I cut the soap up into small cubes (just smaller than a cube of jelly) and popped them into a double boiler (bain-marie) for them to slowly dissolve.  (Don't allow the soap to boil)
  • Once the soap was melted, I removed from the heat and quickly added the olive oil and dried lavender flowers
  • Then I stirred in the soap dye and the essential oils
  • I then quickly poured the soap into the molds, before it had a chance to start setting.
  • I left the soap in a cool place to set for an hour before removing from the molds

This is an easy recipe to try if you are new to soap making, but please be aware that some essential oils can be an irritant to the skin and some oils should be avoided in pregnancy.  I have chosen the 3 "safest" oils and used them in small quantities but you can experiment with different oils and quantities as you gain experience in soap making

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Owl and the Pussycat

Mr P just loves to chat - sometimes you just can't shut him up!  He likes to chat to people and he likes to chat to animals.  We recently played him some owl sound effects and he couldn't resist joining in ....


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Recycling the Cycle

I'm a firm believer in recycling and reinventing things as far as possible and hate the idea of automatically sending items to landfill without first ruling out whether they could be given some alternative use or, if not, of use to someone else.  Many objects can be seen in a completely new light when they are given a new lease of life.

I was particularly impressed to see recently how my nephew and brother-in-law (who are both very keen cyclists) had re-used some old bike parts which could no longer be used on their bikes.  They had recognised the sculptural beauty of the pieces and created a couple of clocks and a windchime.

an assortment of cogs make a unique timepiece

or two (looking a bit steampunk)

I was wishing for a gentle breeze so I could hear the lovely tinkling sound of this wind-chime

Friday, 12 April 2013

Souvenirs From Abroad

One of the great things about trips to new places, whether they are to the next county or a different country altogether, is the opportunity to enjoy new experiences and look at life in a different way.  We can appreciate things from a different perspective and perhaps have the opportunity to enrich our lives back home by bringing experiences back with us.  I'm not particularly into New Year Resolutions but I do seem to bring back lists of resolutions from my travels. 

Here are my top 10 resolutions from my recent trip to Florida which I intend to incorporate into my lifestyle back home in England:-

  1. Learn how to cook (and therefore eat!) more Mexican food - especially bean and rice combos
  2. Switch from eating ice cream to frozen yogurt whenever I can
  3. Find (or make) an organiser for my little car
  4. Watch Game Of Thrones
  5. Make guacamole and experiment with hummus recipes
  6. Take more care of my nails and try out some nail art
  7. Swim regularly
  8. Drink pineapple and coconut flavoured water as my zero/low calorie summer drink
  9. Be more productive with my time
  10. Take more walks in nature - the park, the beach and the Downs

I'll be going into these in more detail in future blog posts

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

New Bracelets

I'm now working on some memory wire bracelets and have added 2 new ones to the Cocopopia shop on Folksy this week

Visit my Folksy shop here:

Monday, 8 April 2013

Sand Sculptures

Yesterday we cycled to the Marina in Brighton and just outside the Marina went past a mysterious high fence - what was it hiding??  We found a hole in the fence and were completely gobsmacked by what we saw ...

The final preparations were taking place for the Brighton Sand Sculpture Festival which opened today.  Twenty of the world's top sand sculpture artists have contributed and some of the sculptures are amazing.  They are constructed from compacted sand and water only - no other ingredients "hold" them together.

These sculptures are made to last as the Festival is open until the end of September so well worth a look if you are visiting Brighton over the summer.  Further information on their website here:

Friday, 5 April 2013

Cinnamon & Raisin Bread

For various health reasons, I've gone gluten free this year (or some days I'm just "low" gluten).  It's been easier than I thought it would be, and I've noticed some of the health benefits almost immediately, but I do like eating bread and have found gluten free versions a little lacking for one reason or another.  

It seems you pay a lot of money in the supermarket for what appears to be a tiny, dried out loaf which falls apart in the toaster!  The gluten is the "glue" which gives "proper" bread it's bouncy texture and which binds it together.  However, there are good gluten free alternatives and they tend to be when you bake your own.  So this year one of my challenges is to come up with some good (ie. taste good and have a decent texture) gluten free bread and cake recipes.

While in the States I came across Bob's Red Mill baking ingredients  A great selection of products available in local stores if you live in the States and a few products available in the UK if you buy online or at selected health food stores. The website is inspirational and worth checking out.

Ok, so I cheated a little and have tried out a couple of bread mixes rather than starting from scratch - but you have to have a standard to work towards.  One of the mixes I tried was the Cinnamon Raisin Bread Mix which is a good breakfast bread, either spread with butter as it is, toasted or even made into French toast.

The mix made a large sized loaf and I was able to cut it into slices and freeze some for later.  

half of the loaf made (the other half stored in the freezer)

Gluten free loaves often rely on the addition of eggs as these help to hold the dough/finished bread together and they do give the bread an almost cake-like texture. As we keep chickens, there is never a shortage of eggs in our house!

Bob's Red Mill products are available in the UK, but as they are imported from the US, they are a little pricey so would be an occasional treat.  However, Bob's website and products are inspirational and so will help me in my quest to produce decent gluten free baked products here in the UK

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Tu-whit Tu-whoo

Tu-whit Tu-whoo, I believe, is the sound of 2 owls (female and male) calling to each other through the trees.

At the week-end my brother in law was sorting out some some fencing on the Florida farm when he heard the sound of a bird in a tree overhead and when he looked up into the branches he saw this beautiful owl

Olly (or Molly)

Because of the colour and dark eyes, my guess is that it's a tawny owl.  He seemed to be as fascinated by us as we were of him.  

Owls have the ability to fly almost in silence so as not to alert their prey, so we didn't hear the other owl take off and fly past us, but oh yes, Olly noticed him/her alright and did that owl thing where he swivelled his head effortlessly around from front to back to watch the second owl fly off into the woods behind him.

We're not sure yet whether they are a mating pair or two males claiming their territory.  Either way, there's a strong possibility there may be some little owlets on their way by this summer - let's hope so.