Category Archives: Health

My Sustainable Garden -Chickweed Pesto

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Tiny seedlings are starting to appear in our garden from plants that I let go to seed last year. The fun is in spotting these new plants growing in unexpected places and in being able to identify what they are. I know I have violas, sweet alyssum, petunias and begonias but I have also noticed another seedling spring up all over the garden. Web_chickweed-in-bricksThis last unknown is appearing in my hanging baskets, tumbling over my walls, and in between the pavers. Web_chickweed-basketInitially I nurtured it with water and seaweed emulsion only to have an explosion of growth suddenly start taking over the beds. Suspicion started to creep into my mind as nothing I have planted grows that quickly and I have now realised I am battling a worthy foe. Chickweed!

Web_chickweed-stalksI have been on my hands and knees reaching under the roses, through the hydrangea, around the olive trees and across the brick pavers removing this fragile but tenacious weed and throwing it into the bin. Fortunately it is relatively easy to pull out but little bits still litter the garden probably preparing to haunt me in another 12 months. I have been muttering to myself, asking where did it come from. As I have been growing my own mulch (which is another story) for the past 12 months I doubted that it was from the bag of sugar cane I had used 12 months ago. Web_chickweed_neighbourI didn’t remain in ignorance for long as crouching under the olives I glanced across my neighbour’s neglected backyard and saw a glorious carpet of light green starting right next to my fence. The ground is covered in a tangled mass of stalks, leaves and flowers.Now I had found my source; Stellaria media commonly known as chickweed, winter weed, bindweed, satin flower, satin-flower, starweed, starwort, stitchwort, tongue grass and white bird’s eye.

Web_chickweed-flowerI am trying to make my garden as sustainable as possible and I hate throwing plant material out but this weed had gone to seed and I am not going to put it into the compost bin. As I threw the fourth bag away I started to wonder if it was edible. The name surely has to be a clue; I mean chickweed? I grabbed a couple of handfuls and walked through the forest to see if my son’s chooks would eat it. No problems there and they are still alive as I write. Chickweed is easy to identify with its frill of fine hairs running up one side of its stalk, changing sides at a leaf juncture.

Web_chickweed-and-chookMy father, curious about my frenetic gardening activity, wandered down to see what I was doing. I explained that having identified that this weed was not toxic to humans I was going to put some in our salad. Curious to see what it tasted like he reached down and picked off a few leaves to nibble on.

‘Mum won’t forgive me if you die on my patch,’ I told him. ‘Hey, at 91 years old I have to die sometime,’ he said, munching like Peter Rabbit on the sprigs.
Chickweed is one of those super foods, rich in omega-6 fatty acids and saponins, high in vitamins A, C, D, and B as well as the minerals, calcium, zinc, potassium, manganese, silica, phosphorous, sodium and copper. Web_chickweed-in-mug2It now definitely has a place in my diet both in salads, as an infusion and in pesto. It is also said to be useful as a poultice or tincture for skin irritations and helpful in treating obesity not that this is a problem in our household. I am really quite excited about identifying this plant and am now keen to see what else I can use from my garden’s supply of edible weeds.Web_chickweed-pesto

The chickweed was starting to go to seed and forming stalks which might have made the pesto stringy so I pulled the leaves from the stalks. The pesto was delicious.

Chickweed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups chickweed leaves

1 large clove garlic, smashed

½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated

¼ – ½ cup nuts – pine nuts, macadamia or walnuts

½ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup fresh basil leaves

salt and pepper

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Process:

In a food processor, pulse the chickweed and the basil leaves with the garlic until well broken down and blended, scraping down the sides to ensure even chopping. Add the Parmesan and pulse, then the nuts and pulse well. Slowly add the olive oil pulsing all the time. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve on bruschetta, over pasta or as a dip with vegetables.

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A Summer squash salad

Our unseasonal hot weather is stretching my imagination for summer salads that tempt the taste buds. Seeking inspiration I rummage through the vegetables in the fridge and came up with what I think is a perfect salad: a marriage of colour and tasty. I served it on the pretty yellow Laburnum Petal plate available at my Maddie & Marie online shop.

The squash and zucchini salad is tempting and tasty.

The squash and zucchini salad is tempting and tasty.

 

I served it on a pretty lemon yellow plate and drizzled a saffron infused vinaigrette over the top. I added a few beans which were also in the fridge but you could use other firm green vegetables such as the stem of asparagus or broccolini. It was delicious.

2 small yellow squash

2 small to medium zucchini

A handful of green beans

A handful of rocket or small English spinach leaves

Slivered almonds, toasted

Fresh parsley

If you have a mandolin this makes slicing easy, otherwise slice the squash and zucchini very finely. Steam the green beans until just cooked. I prefer them to be crunchy. Toss the vegetables together with the rocket or spinach leaves. Sprinkle the toasted slivered almonds over the top with ripped parsley leaves.

 

Easy to make Summer Salad

Easy to make Summer Salad

To make the vinaigrette:

Saffron threads infused in 2 tablespoons hot water

Juice of half a lemon

Light olive oil

1-2 tablespoons tahini

½ teaspoon mustard

Salt and pepper

Blend together the saffron infused water, lemon and olive oil in the combination of ⅓ water and lemon juice and ⅔ oil. Add the mustard and tahini and taste for flavour. Add salt and pepper. The longer you leave this dressing the brighter the yellow colour becomes.

Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve to gasps of delight.

Chilled Carrot Soup


Summer is here way too early;  30 degree days but at least the evenings are cool. I had invited friends over for a Sunday evening meal and wanted to prepare something ahead of time so I could enjoy talking with them rather than rushing around in the kitchen. I wanted something pretty and summery in colour and flavour.

Carrot Soup is a glorious summery colour

Carrot Soup is a glorious summery colour

Not only was I providing a delicious entrée but I suggested I was giving them youth dew.    Carrots are rich in anti-oxidants including beta-carotene which is thought to play a role in helping our immune system and possibly lower the risk of developing cancer or heart disease. Beta-carotene is converted into Vitamin A which aids eye health and revitalises the epithelium.

Carrots also contain Vitamin C another strong anti-oxidant, plus smaller amounts of Vitamin K, E,  B6 and B12. It also contains calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, and potassium for your heart and blood pressure. Plus of course all that fibre, with no fat or cholesterol.

So to the Chilled Carrot Soup recipe which is such an easy recipe and so delicious.

Because I had run out of chicken stock I made a vegetable stock first with the ends of some asparagus I had in the fridge plus the leaves from the leek, half a small onion chopped, a bay leaf, sprigs of parsley and thyme,  the peels and ends of the carrots and a few black peppercorns which I simmered for 40 minutes before I used it in the soup.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek finely sliced,
  • 750 g carrots, peeled with the ends cut off and sliced
  • Sprig of thyme, or chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (or light chicken stock)

Add the oil to a large soup pan, and sauté the chopped onion and leek over a gentle heat until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the carrots, stir to combine then add the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots are tender.

Cooking the Carrot Soup

Cooking the Carrot Soup

Remove from the heat and blend until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. This soup is also lovely served warm.

Flavouring ideas: you can add fresh coriander to the mixture while cooking, or ½ teaspoon ground cumin or 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger to give the soup a Moroccan flavour.

Hints: If you have run out of stock, use unsweetened carrot juice to add flavour rather than just use water.

 

 

The carrot soup

The carrot soup

Serving suggestions:

  • A swirl of sour cream, a scattering of coriander or thyme and a grind of pepper
  • I whipped up some crème fraîche until it was thick, then added finely chopped garlic chives from the garden and some thyme,
  • Lightly steamed carrot balls which are then chilled

The Gods of Old Age

“Susie, he’s trying to kill himself,” shouted my mother, leaning over her balcony.

“Well he hasn’t succeeded,” I shouted back.

The gentle whirring sound was still going so I put my garden tools aside and walked next door to where my father was sitting on his very old exercise bike.

“I’m feeding my brain,” my father explained in response to my arrival. “I read that laboratory animals do better at solving complicated problems when they have a wheel to work out on.”

“So now I am living with an 85 lab rat. You silly old fool,” my mother said in exasperation. “Perhaps we should offer his body to the local Veterinary School,” I suggested.

 There is a certain amount of vanity in all this effort and my sister has a lot to blame for it. She told Dad about a ‘young looking’ chaplain who officiated at a recent funeral of an 80 year-old. The 90 year old chaplain told her he kept fit by swimming a couple of times a week. So guess who insisted on accompanying me to the local pool to swim 500 metres yesterday. I was so worried my father would disappear beneath the water and not come up I couldn’t concentrate on my own laps.

He survived the swim and has now joined the health centre, delighted with the discount the manager gave him due to his age. I wish she had doubled it.

He plays bridge, 18 holes of golf a couple of times a week, now swims and is walking the dog around the neighbourhood befriending other dog owners. He is determined to defy the Gods of Old Age anyway he can. Good luck to my old man I say and I hope I can do the same.

 

 

Wonderful minds are also forgetful.

How embarrassing. My girlfriends and I were having a lovely morning, coffee and orange juice blended with catching up on everyone’s movements around the world all set of to perfection through being able to watch the passing parade of pretty young things looking gorgeous in the latest fashions. Long legs, short skirts and flat tummies although as one of us commented, ‘she’ll look just like us one day!’ And we all did look like that once.

It wasn’t until a couple of hours later when R texted me apologising for not paying for the coffee and juice that I realised I had also done a runner leaving the F & S to pay our share. I couldn’t believe I had been so vague as to forget such an obvious thing but when one of my friends said to blame it on a senior moment I began to wonder whether my forgetfulness was a sign of menopause. So I googled memory loss and menopause and if I wasn’t confused before I am now. It seems that according to some writers I can blame a lot on menopause including temporary memory loss and forgetfulness whilst other sites indicate that this isn’t a symptom of hormonal imbalance at all.  Determined not to let this happen again I wondered how I could avoid being so vague and it seems that with a couple of simple activities this problem can be alleviated.

Sleep 8 hours a day sounds so easy but I cannot remember doing this since I was about 18 years old. If you aren’t having sex at that age, you are dreaming about it, then along come three children, mortgages, a husband who goes through employment and midlife problems, divorce, teenage children, and unemployment. There may have been a few years when there wasn’t something happening in my life to intrude on my sleep but I could count the years on my fingers. Unless I resort to drugs I still wake up at 3 am with my heart thumping and feeling hot all over. Sleeping tablets are an option but from previous experience I tend to adversely react and become completely zonked out for about 48 hours.

Activate the brain was another puzzling piece of advice as once I am awake at 3 am there isn’t much to do but lie there thinking about replanting my garden, putting a pool in and renovating my kitchen and bathroom. This is much more fun than counting sheep and I never seem to empty the bank balance.

Eating well is easy particularly as I found a site that recommended coffee to activate the brain and chocolate for well being so there is no excuse not to have that espresso and after-dinner chocolate with a whiskey thrown in for good measure.

Lastly reduce stress is laughable when at the moment I am coping with removalists and packers on both sides of the world, negotiating with suppliers of telecommunications, gas, power and water in the UK and Australia in addition to pacifying a husband who hates the thought of returning to Australia with no sign of employment for himself or me.

None of the above options either appeal or are possible so I have decided to follow the advice contained in my photo; I am going to look for a good bar, order a glass of champagne and watch the roses grow which in this part of the world are looking particularly stunning due to the glorious spring weather we are experiencing.

Men-o-pause

Okay guys, this post is for my girlfriends, so read it at your peril.

Menopause.  There it is, I had to spit the word out quickly as the very thought horrifies me. Only a man would dream up such a name for a female condition. There is no way I am going to let what is happening to my body put a pause to my sex life. I adore my gorgeous husband so take your paws somewhere else as I am not stopping my enjoyment of life.

As my children know, it isn’t easy for me to admit I am getting older, and although we can use all manner of creative techniques to delay aging including colouring our hair and Botox (neither of which I am doing, but may consider both soon) I haven’t read of a technique for preventing or delaying Menopause. There is no point complaining about the effects with my husband A as he looks at me blankly and just says he is glad he is a bloke so I am using this page as an opportunity to whinge to my friendIs this what I will look like after menopause?s.  In fact he did sweetly suggest that I might end up like this beautiful cat I saw lounging in the sun, plump, relaxed, purring happily but ever ready to swipe you with her claws should you be tempted to stroke her soft fur.

I have been doing my research into what the symptoms are and how best to cope with them. It is amazing how many pages there are on this rotten situation, and as expected there seem to be plenty of support sites and blogs for American women, but other than a couple of professional sites I didn’t run across any being run by Australian women so I am putting word to paper and hope this might start something for us.

I am going to be really honest here, surprising really as I haven’t even told my local GP what I have been experiencing. Not that it is bad all the time but I have had the horrible nights when you wake up with a racing heart and getting hot all over but thank goodness, no night sweats and wet sheets. Having been skinny all my life I am not sure I can blame the dryer for the way my jeans are feeling tight around the thighs. Well the advice columns all say you have to restrict your alcohol and coffee intake so I guess I could drink one less glass of wine at night but I am damned if I will give up my morning coffee and I would miss my espresso and whiskey after dinner. I will balance this out by doing more exercise, easy to do at the moment in London where you have to walk everywhere, and I will just work harder on the exercise bike.

If I am not drinking alcohol then at least I am moisturising my skin with extra water, but it is the other side effect of menopause I hate. I find myself skulking down the aisles of the pharmacy looking for moisturisers for you know…’down there’.  I think there is a niche market for a female moisturiser that you can use for the ‘real you’. Vaginal dryness – that is why it is called men-o-pause! Ouch. Who thinks that a mentholated, chilli or even strawberry flavoured lubricant is what I want when I go to bed with my husband? Thank you guys, I have already had the salad as the entree this is my dessert. I would rather use my virgin olive oil.

Enough from me. Talk soon. I am off to run up and down the seven flights of stairs in our building.