Cous Cous Salad

Recipe: Roast Beetroot, Walnut and Feta Cous Cous Salad

Eating the Ayurvedic way means that crisp, cold and raw salads are not always the best way to get your five-a-day.  Raw foods can be difficlt to digest and according to Ayurveda, cool salads should be reserved for the heat of the Summer months, when we will benefit most from the crunchy, refreshing goodness. Luckily for me I LOVE warm salads and adding cooked ingredients and healthy grains can really improve what can sometimes be quite a boring meal option.  Salads are the ultimate customisable meal so ditch the lettuce-cucumber-tomato combo and look to more inspiring ways to enjoy salads.  Healing Foods talks about food variety being of optimum importance when eating for wellness and that adding dressings, chutneys and spices to your dishes increases the molecular variety of the food your body digests, thus increasing the health benefits.

“Including more spices and herbs in your food can also boost it’s flavour and nutritional density: adding a handful of chopped fresh herbs to lettuce in a salad, for example, can add upp to 75 percent extra antioxidants to the food.”

– Neals Yard 2013:13

This recipe is perfect as a vegtarian main or as a filling accompanying dish to meat (For my carnivorous husband!) and works great as a nutritious packable lunch too.

Roast Beetroot, Walnut and Feta Cous Cous Salad

Serves 4 as a sidedish or 2 as a main.

Ingredients

1 cup uncooked Cous Cous
1 1/4 cup hot vegetable stock (I use a kallo organic stock cube)2 medium beetroots, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
1 cup spinach leaves, washed
A handful of walnuts, chopped and toasted slightly
A handful of fresh chives, chopped
100g feta or goat’s cheese, chopped into 1cm cubes
2 tbsp rapeseed oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Method

  1. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4, 180 or 160 (fan assisted)
  2. Place your chopped beetroot onto a baking tray, season and drizzle over 1-2 tbsp of rapeseed oil. Mix well and spread into a single layer. Roast for around 15 mins until tender, checking regularly.
  3. Meanwhile, place the cous cous into a large glass bowl and pour over your hot stock. Cover with a plate or tea towel and allow to sit for around 10 mins, until tender. Stir in the spinach leaves and cover for a further 5 mins to allow the spinach to wilt slightly.
  4. Once the beetroot is nice and tender stir into the cous cous and add the chopped feta, toasted walnuts and chives.
  5. Give it all a good mix and drizzle over a glug of rapeseed oil and balsamic vinger, season to taste. Serve onto warm plates and enjoy!

This recipe keeps really well in the fridge and is so versatile.  Use any nut you like and why not substitute the beetroot for other root veg such as carrot, squash or parsnip? Supplement the spinach with any of your favourite greens – just adjust the method by lightly cooking hardier greens such as kale, prior to adding to the cous cous.

Question about this recipe? Feel free to comment below with your questions, suggestions and tips.

Jaime xx

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#reasonsforbeinghappy – week 6

Happiness is our natural state – the human default if you like.  Just look at the children around you; unaffected by learned cynicism, prejudice and judgement, they are free to enjoy life and all that their world has to offer them.  Children aren’t bound so tightly by societal norms, niceties and routines; they are free, to an extent, to be who they are and express themselves as such. When you consider how life begins, it’s such a monumental shame that we as society, strip our children of their default state; their happiness, by squeezing those happy little individuals into clearly labelled boxes and packing them off for a life built on adhering to ‘the norm’.

It’s a difficult cycle to break! We need society and modern life with its rules,regulations, niceties and comfort, of course, but we can relish in snippets of childhood wonder and punctuate our lives – however normal – with those things that make us most happy. Those things that bring us back – even if just for a moment – to our default state.  Happiness.

Week 6

1. Roses are red

Its more than a week after Valentines Day and the beautiful deep red roses which arrived, husband-in-tow, the evening before the 14th are still flourishing in their cream-enamel jug. Flowers maketh a happy human.

2. Catch up with a close one

My beautiful friend Naomi came to visit this weekend all the way from sunny ‘saaf’ London. Being a busy mum and teacher, 24 hours of high-quality adult company and help keeping the small ones entertained,  was utter bliss. We get so caught up with the drudgery of everyday life – especially if family and friends are far away, so visits like these are the perfect antidote to sadness.

3. Blogging like a pro…almost!

The big site migration! I feel like a wildlife trekker following migrating birds as they navigate their way across hemispheres in search of warmer climes. Except it’s not the natural world but the virtual one, that has had me on the edge of my seat this week.  Yes, I have finally taken the plunge and in addition to my new domain name, I have now moved away from the wordpress.com platform and am officially self-hosted at Godaddy! (Yay!) I must say, it wasn’t without its hair-pulling moments and flashes of gritted teeth, but lots of tea, a Twitter plea, plenty of phone calls and two square eyes later – I have just about finished rebuilding my site. I’m sure it’s not without it’s hiccups and I’m still updating/adding my widgets – please let me know if you come across any errors when viewing the blog!

#reasonsforbeinghappy from across the blogosphere!

@007nai: “I’m happy that despite having an exam next week, I know exactly what to do to relax – great friends like you and the gym!  ”

@amyloves_: “For some quiet time on my own so I can enjoy long meditation ” (www.amy-loves.co.uk)

Indulge in your #reasons this week and find that default setting. Find your happy.

Jaime xx

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How I Brought Nature Back to my Urban Garden

I am so proud to say that the birds are back! We currently have a jolly little resident robin and a pair of inquisitive blue tits, who although have yet to move in; have been exploring our homemade bird boxes and feeding in our food-draped tree for a while now. Starlings and blackbirds battle for space at the feeders and the ever-rare sparrow, perches cautiously at the fence as though mustering the courage to descend and enjoy an afternoon treat. This hasn’t been an overnight success, it’s taken around five years to get to the point where wildlife is finding us as well as us finding it. I live for nature and although my garden is a modest, postage-stamp, urban space, I have managed to create an environment where even the freest of birds are happy making their homes here and here’s how it happened.

Years 1-3

We bought our home in 2009 through a new-build home scheme. We were impressed by the sound eco-standards (Bonus – cheaper bills!) and although the outdoor space was small, it was infinitely better than our previous London dwelling where the ‘garden’ was a concrete slab by the communal bin store. Although by London standards, we felt pretty lucky even then! When we finally moved into our new home the front garden had been turfed and was bordered by a bee-friendly hedge which was good, so we turned our attention to the back garden – and goodness did it need some attention!

My eldest at aged 2, helping to weed the mud flat!

My eldest at aged 2, helping to weed the mud flat!

So we got to work improving our little slice of England and set about de-weeding the barren mud flat we had inherited. The soil quality was so bad and when we explored under the earth later on, we found tonnes of rubble and concrete left by unscrupulous builders. This in addition to a typical Kentish clay soil left us with a compacted, solid and unorganic piece of land from which we were hoping to create our very own piece of outdoor heaven. It was going to be a tough road! We began by using the neighbour’s rotivator (Tip: Beg, borrow and steal!) to turn the compacted land and then ordered a truck-load of organic soil from a local company, which helped to enrich the ground before laying turf. As a wildlife lover, I’m not a huge fan of masses of pristine lawn, but in order to create a space where our daughter could play, camp, kick a ball, it was necessary for us at the time. As you’d probably expect, our lawn has now shrunk quite considerably in order to make room for lush borders and a couple of raised vegetable beds.

A lawn to kick a ball around on.

A lawn to kick a ball around on.

The next job was planting an ornamental tree for rich spring blossoms and I went for the Cheal’s Weeping Cherry, which gives an early pink/white show of flowers in March (Usually just in time for my birthday!) before sweeping branches drip with lush dark green leaves in Summer. The leaves turn a beautiful deep red colour in Autumn before dropping in Winter and providing the ground below with a rich leaf-mould. This was no mean feat as when we began to dig the planting hole we discovered the soil depth was only about four inches – less than the depth of the spade we were using. Several telephone complaints, lots of organic matter and one determined hubby later, we finally got the tree in the ground – and going by the land it was planted in, it’s nothing short of a miracle that it’s still thriving! I had hoped that by installing a tree, its roots would help to break up the compaction that still existed under the soil. If you are doing the same in your garden – make sure you do your research and choose a tree with the appropriate final growing size! A fruiting cherry tree would have swamped our tiny garden – and house! A mistake no-less, made by our neighbours who had to hastily remove their new tree a year after planting on realising their error (Cue large sighs of relief from neighbours either side!)

The marshmallow pink of the 'Prunus Kiku Shidare blossom.

The marshmallow pink of the ‘Prunus Kiku Shidare blossom.

We then began to mark out and dig our borders and this is where the magic of time shows the most amazing results. For the the first few years I needed to build up a lush backdrop and began by planting flowering evergreen shrubs such as Choisya and Hebe and then began to experiment with wildlife-encouraging perennials. Lots of these failed of course and as an amatuer gardener I was learning along the way, but still each year some plants would come back and I was inspired by this and simply kept up a routine of filling the spaces with more flowering perennials each year, hoping to create a burst of bee-attracting colour and scent in the warmer months.

An early scabious proving endless joy for a little explorer.

An early scabious proving endless joy for a little explorer.

We began to use a compost bin to increase the nutrient content and bio-diversity of our garden and its soil and also installed a basic water butt to enable us to water our flourishing garden ecologically. It became a labour of love and soon I began to see a difference. The garden was beginning to feel like that little slice of outdoor heaven we were after.

Years 3-5

In the last two years we have expanded our borders and installed two raised vegetable beds. The small, round picnic lawn that remains is enough for us and our wide borders actually give the sense of more space, more depth. It’s funny how peering through thick green bushes at the back of borders, actually deepens this sense of space, this sense of mystery, it begs the question; ‘what’s behind there?‘ So even in the tiniest of gardens, don’t be drawn in to cutting perfectly straight, thin borders – go wild and create a deep, lush backdrop for your outside space. For really tiny gardens, bamboo canes work brilliantly for this; adding depth, height and texture, whilst taking up as little room as possible.

We built our vegetable beds from two basic raised bed kits bought for pennies from the local DIY store. Raised beds were a necessity for us as our soil was so bad, but they also help to contain your planting zone and help to structure and plan your planting. I usually operate a square-foot gardening technique rather than growing in traditional rows, and this is a great way to maximise variety in your useable space. Having them raised also brings them that bit closer to you when gardening (sore backs anyone?) and means you can easily target your soil, fertiliser and feed. I filled the first raised bed with homemade and shop bought compost and some left over top soil from when we cut our turf. The new bed was ready to use immediately and that was treat but it was also rather expensive to fill! We prepared the second bed a year before using it and in this bed we started by using as much ‘filler’ as we could, before topping with finer soil and compost. Into the void went; left over straw, some large pumpkin carcasses left over from Halloween – which had been two big for our little composter, some shredded paper, ‘rough’ compost from our own bin and some wicker strands which had come from a disintegrated old basket. It was only after the main volume had been filled that we topped this with soil and finer compost and then we covered it with tarp and left for a year, or perhaps longer, until when uncovered, a rich planting bed had been established. This way is so much cheaper than buying in a tonne of crumbly compost and is so much more friendly for the environment, increasing your own biodiversity as you do so.

Next to our vegetable beds we have a herb patch to die for, although it really does need sorting and investing in. At the moment we grow lavender, rosemary, marjoram, sage, mint and two varieties of thyme, as well as having some recent success with annuals such as dill. Moving forward, the herb patch is my next project, it needs expanding, organising and improving – any tips or inspiration from other small-garden growers? Might try barrels or pots next? Although it’s a productive patch its scruffy and the plants are definitely not at their best.

Our tree has really come into its own now and as well as solar-powered fairy lights, is strung up with all sorts of feeders for all sorts of birds. At it stands we have; peanuts, seeds, fat balls and a mealworm block. We also have two bird ‘houses’ for smaller, wild birds and of course, the seed heads left on in winter from all of my flowering plants. This ‘messy gardener’ method really works and makes you so much more time efficient! As the proverb advises with dogs, let the autumn leaves lie, and they will in turn give you a rich leaf mould to seep into your borders or to spread on your vegetable garden. As mentioned before, don’t snip and prune your summer plants at the end of their life – leave them be and their seeds will spread to double your stock next year and the birds will feast on them in the coldest of months, when abundant food is all but a sun-filled memory. Plus, hydrangea flower heads look beautiful on frosty mornings!

As well as the herb patch, I also have aspirations to grow more fruit; berries in particular and so this year I am going to try to find a spot for a burgeoning fruit cage; again if anyone has any tips for doing this on a small scale do let me know! I do have a new blackberry plant behind the veg plot now, which provides good cover for the birds and hopefully some yummy fruit this year for our jams and pies.

So, there you have it! A feast for man and beast alike in the smallest or urban gardens. I’d love a vast plot one day (wouldn’t we all!) but for now and at least the near future I have built my little slice of outdoor heaven and I hope this inspires other small-space gardens to do the same! Please share any questions, comments tips or tricks below! I’d love to hear from you.

Jaime xx

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Samphire Hoe – Dover

It’s crazy to think that we’ve been living in Kent just over five years now and we still have so much to explore and see! It’s a huge county, and Ashford; where we currently live, feels like the perfect epicentre between London to the north, the coast to the south, the downs to the east and the Weald to the west. It’s the nature lover’s dream!

I’ve been wanting to visit Samphire Hoe for a while now – I’m always looking for rugged new spots for Sunday afternoon walks, and so when the sun began to shine brightly this weekend, we quickly donned our boots and thermals and headed down to the coast.

Samphire Hoe is a beauty spot located at the famous white cliffs of Dover, and in the low sun this Sunday, these majestic white cliffs certainly provided a magnificent backdrop. The Hoe has a plenty of metered parking and also a tea room/info centre, which is – according to their website- open everyday during peak season and every weekend year round. We couldn’t find anyone serving tea but we did speak to a friendly gentleman in the site office, who let us park for free when we had run out of small change, for the rather old fashioned pay machine (no pay by mobile here!) Located just of the A20 heading to Folkestone from Dover, it’s easy to find and makes a great place to stop for a quick stretch of legs or rustic family picnic.

Hope our photos give you a taste of what to expect at this lovely Kentish beauty spot.

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Jaime xx

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#reasonsforbeinghappy – Week 5

It’s been a testing week! Long work days have left me feeling drained and weary, and mornings have seemed as brutal as the uprooting of long-established shrubs, who’s roots are firmly planted in their bed. Winter is a natural hibernation period for many species (Even the birds stop singing in Winter!) and so we must, in order to preserve our health, learn to take it easy and switch off this season. Although there have been lows this week, it is still possible to see the highs and I live for these moments. My goal is to make more of these moments and to savour them!

1. Clear home, clear mind
I have been reading lots lately about breaking free of the mundane, everyday ‘cycle’ we all live. More on that later! For now though, to work towards this freedom we all need to downsize our lives – stop buying ‘things’ and clear cupboards of their ‘stuff’. I have given away two bags of clothing this week – most items had not been worn for several years and the breathing room they leave behind is far more beneficial than saving them for ‘that’ day. Now just to work on Hubby’s side of the wardrobe…

2. Seasonal suppers
The foodie highlights this week have all been seasonal delights; Parsnip gratin, beetroot soup (A staple in our house!) and a gorgeous roast squash and leek risotto. Winter tummies favour the warm and the filling so dig out that slow cooker and stock up on seasonal roots this Winter. Featured image is of a beautiful Crown Prince squash (Fondly known in our house as a ghost pumpkin!) My all-time favourite squash; it’s sweet with firm flesh and delicious roasted whole with a filling of cream, thyme and Parmesan cheese. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

3. A bloggers chat
I finally caught up with my bestie and fellow blogger this week and what began as a quick catch up, turned into an epic chat about everything from world travel to teaching, and everything in between. We talked lots about the blog; she really is my go-to-girl for advice on the technical stuff and I came away from our chat with a new sense of determination and inspiration. I have dusted off my laptop and dug out my notebook – I can’t wait to share lots more posts with you this year!

#reasonsforbeinghappy from around the globe:

 

I love hearing good news! Congratulations @KaraWillow, good luck in your new position! Do you have any good news to cheer up this final cold winter month? Share your happy stories below!

Jaime xx

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