Thursday, 30 January 2014

Vegetarian Toad-in-the-Hole

Well the sunshine has gone away again for a little while and we're back to the wet chilly days and comfort is needed.  Driving to work this morning I was listening to a feature on the radio about toad in the hole recipes and by the time I'd got to work, that was it, I decided toad-in-the-hole would be on the menu this evening.  Its been ages since I've made it but its easy to make and perfect comfort food for chilly days - this is a low fat, vegetarian version but still tasty.


(serves 4)

65g plain flour
100ml skimmed milk or soya milk
1 medium egg
1 teaspoon of rosemary
1 teaspoon of thyme
half a level teaspoon of salt
half a teaspoon of ground black pepper
4 vegetarian sausages
1 tablespoon of olive oil


  • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (or 180 C for a fan oven)
  • Sieve flour into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle - pour the milk into this.
  • Add the eggs, herbs, salt and pepper and whisk, starting at the liquid centre and gradually incorporating the flour from the sides until there are no lumps.  Set to one side at room temperature whilst you prepare the sausages.
  • Prick the sausages (if they are in a "skin") and lightly coat in olive oil.  Place in a medium sized cooking dish and put in the oven for 15 minutes to brown.
  • Then remove from the oven to pour the batter into the dish and return to the oven for 30 - 35 minutes or until the batter is golden brown.

Great served with some fresh vegetables and onion gravy (lower calorie version) or a small jacket potato and baked beans (extra comfort version!)

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Breakfast In Brighton

On a sunny Sunday morning in January, its fun to get out the bikes and head into Brighton (about an hour's cycle away, the speed I go at) for breakfast at the Marina.

On the way, we pass both the East and West Piers.  Sadly there's not a lot remaining now of the West Pier, having been destroyed by a combination of arson attacks and severe storm damage.

Looking from the East Pier towards the remains of the West Pier

And looking East, towards the Marina

Brilliant Winter sunshine sparkling on the water

Once we reached the Marina, my reward was American style pancakes with maple syrup, served on a very pretty plate.

If you're interested in Brighton, its people and culture, then I could highly recommend Breakfast in Brighton by Nigel Richardson - it makes great reading.

Breakfast in Brighton

Friday, 17 January 2014

Home Made Sea Kelp Soap

Last year I blogged about how, 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 very often over the counter products and even many prescription medications seemed to add to the problem rather than solve it.

I made some Lavender, Camomile and Tea Tree melt and pour soap which proved to be very helpful at the time and was a pleasure to use.

However, there is currently another eczema flare-up within the family and so its been time to get soap-making again!

I made soap once again using the melt and pour method, with an SLS free, vegetable based glycerin melt and pour soap base (plenty of suppliers can be found online).  SLS is an ingredient found in the majority of shop/supermarket bought soaps as its used to give soap its lather, but its a detergent and so can easily irritate the skin - so it doesn't make sense to be rubbing something into your skin which is likely to dry it out and irritate it if it is already feeling sensitive to start with (or even if it isn't feeling sensitive).

I kept the recipe really simple to start with, and only added some olive oil and some kelp powder to the soap base.  Olive oil being a gentle but effective moisturiser and sea kelp is also considered to be helpful for irritated skin conditions.  I also added a touch of natural yellow colouring (the sea kelp powder alone colours the soap brown).  To be honest (thanks to the kelp), the soaps didn't smell particularly pleasant, but this isn't noticeable once they are being used.

I then made a version with the addition of cedarwood essential oil - which is said to relieve itching and has the added benefit of smelling nice (a very popular fragrance in masculine products).

When there's a flare up, its best to go back to basics with everything - looking at products used on the skin, diet, changes in soap powder, daily activities, contact with animals etc.  Then, once things start to heal, with trial and error, changes can be made and things added back again.

My final version included dried lavender flowers (a good exfoliator and the floral smell also hides the smell of the sea kelp!).  I made these in striped layers in heart shaped molds - the prettiest versions in the batch.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

An Evening of Murders, Mysteries and Mayhem

On a rainy (but atmospheric) evening this week we ventured into Brighton to join a guided tour which revealed some of the dark and ghostly secrets of the city.

We arrived early and had time for a drink at The Victory Inn, one of Brighton's oldest pubs, rebuilt in 1824 to commemorate the victory at Trafalgar in 1805.  

We met the rest of the tour group outside the Victory and it wasn't long before we found ourselves in the churchyard of St Nicholas Church, said to be the oldest building in Brighton, dating (in its current form) from the mid 14th century.  There are some interesting characters buried in the graveyard including Captain Nicholas Tattersell who helped King Charles II escape to France from Shoreham Harbour in 1651; John Weiss, a surgical instrument maker, who so much feared being buried alive that he devised a metal spike on his coffin lid to puncture his heart when closed, just to make sure he was definitely deceased.  

I was most impressed with the story of Phoebe Hessel who lived to the ripe old age of 108.  Her life story would make a great movie - best know for disguising herself as a man and enlisting in the army so that she could be with her lover.  Amazingly, they served for 17 years before being found out and discharged from service.  They then married, moved to Plymouth and had 9 children, sadly 8 of them dying in infancy and the 9th at sea. When her husband died, Phoebe moved back to Brighton and remarried, her second husband dying when she was 80 and so she sold fish, oranges and gingerbread to make a living.

Our tour continued around the town and we heard other stories such as the tale of "The Chocolate Cream Poisoner", ghostly hauntings at the Theatre Royal and two unrelated stories of "The Brighton Trunk Murders" (weirdly enough, as we were standing outside the small terraced house which had been the scene of a murder in 1934 when a woman's body was hidden in a trunk, 2 students then awkwardly walked past us, struggling to carry a coffin-sized cardboard box...) 

We found ourselves opposite the Brighton Pavilion, with stories of royalty and secret tunnels.

There are many old public houses in Brighton with lots of secrets and stories to tell.  We found it very sad that Deryck Carver of the Black Lion public house was burnt at the stake in 1555 for being a protestant.  Originally from Holland, it is believed he was the first brewer in Brighton and he was probably just trying to make an honest living.  Since the 1940's, it has been claimed that his ghost haunts the cellar.

Next to the Black Lion, stands the oldest pub in Brighton's Lanes area, The Cricketers Inn.  In the past, it was a lodging house and Jack the Ripper prime suspect Robert Stephenson used to stay here and his ghost now allegedly haunts the building.  This pub was a favourite of the author Graham Greene who took a room here while writing one of his best known novels, Brighton Rock.  

Our tour ended and we felt we needed another drink - and despite the Jack The Ripper connection, we felt drawn back to the Cricketers, which seemed warm and inviting.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Images of a Winter Garden

Spring Onions out already in the veggie patch

I took advantage of a rain-free period to let the chickens out into the garden whilst I wandered around with my camera and took a few snaps of current items of interest.

Last year's indoor narcissi doing well outside

Razzie poses for the camera

tomatillo skeleton with raindrop

Winter Jasmine cutting given to us a month ago by Mr Cocopopia's parents - doing well in its new home and hopefully will be strong enough to plant out properly in the garden this autumn

With the mild winter (so far) and all of the rain, the grass has continued to grow (albeit more slowly) over the winter - the chickens like to eat the grass and at the same time keep the lawn trimmed - its a win-win situation!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Balancing the Calories

On Sunday morning we took advantage of a gap in the wet and stormy weather to go out for a bike ride.  After all of the rain, it was far too muddy to consider going onto the Downs and so we went for a gentle,flat cycle ride along the sea front.  We had a chance to see the storm damage for ourselves as quite significant areas of cycle path along the way were covered in seaweed and lots of pebbles washed inland from the beach by huge waves.  The ride became quite challenging trying to dodge the worst of the pebbles, pedestrians and numerous dogs (it seems we weren't the only ones desperate to get out into the fresh air after being cooped up indoors for so long due to stormy weather - not to mention the warnings to keep away from the seafront which have recently become quite dangerous places to be when the tide is in and the wind is up).

After my previous post, mentioning my good intentions of healthy eating, I went and did the opposite of having a cappuccino and large piece of coffee and walnut cake when we stopped at a cafe.  I've done a quick online calculation to see if I've managed to burn off enough calories cycling to counteract the calories consumed at the cafe - I might have just managed it!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Roasted Vegetable Soup

Now we're into the new year, I'm trying to get back into sensible eating habits and a winter favourite is home-made soups.  They're so easy to make and a good way of getting a daily dose of veggies.  I tend to make a little more than I need so I have enough to take to work for lunch the next day.

We had some roast veggies left over after our New Year's Eve dinner, so I thought I'd use them as a soup base.  Here's how I made it:-

  • In a medium sized saucepan, fry a shallot or small onion in a little oil until they are slightly brown
  • Add a small, finely chopped chilli pepper
  • Stir in the cold roast vegetables and break them up a little with a wooden spatula
  • Dissolve a stock cube (I used a low salt veggie stock cube) in a pint and a half of boiling water and then add this to the saucepan
  • Cover and simmer very gently for about 5 - 10 minutes to allow the flavours to develop.
  • Remove from heat and blend ingredients together (I use a small hand-blender, which means you don't need to remove the soup from the pan)
  • Add pepper to taste.  You can also stir in some soured cream or a little milk if you want to make the soup creamier
  • Serve with crusty bread and enjoy!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year

On the South Downs Way - heading up to the Chanctonbury Ring

Wishing a Happy New Year to all my blog readers! 

Its been exactly a year since I first started blogging and in that year there have been 117 posts with 2,926 page views, with readers dotted around the world.  I wasn't quite sure where this blog was quite heading when I first started but have really enjoyed letting the blog find its own way, to include my take on living a life on the South Coast of England.  

I'm now looking forward to growing this blog and taking it forward with more thoughts and ideas for 2014 and hope you are looking forward as much as me to the path ahead!