3 Ways I’m Going To Be Better In 2018

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Yes, it’s that time of year! We’re on the verge of 2018 and everyone is keen to get their New Year’s resolutions out there.

Well, mine are fairly modest this year.

After a poor start to 2017, suffering from an anxiety disorder which caused me to fall behind on the allotment, I have spent the rest of the time cooking up a recipe (figuratively speaking) which will allow me to keep focussed on the plot next year. Hopefully, you will find this blog post useful too. Especially if, like myself, you struggle to keep yourself motivated in the garden. There are lots of ways in which you can manage a busy life and keep on top of the watering and weeding, and it all starts with your mind and body.

1 – Keeping myself fit

Keeping yourself active is top priority. Last year, I either walked, cycled or ran every day to beat my anxiety and increase my mood. Not only has it helped my mind focus on what is good in life, it’s also improved my memory, given me confidence and the allotment is starting to take shape nicely.

Now, combining this with my allotment makes the whole experience even better. The plot where my allotment is situated is the largest in Bristol and it’s a fantastic track to jog around. Furthermore, I’m out of the smoggy city so I’m breathing clearer air, I can practise mindfulness with the  birdsong and when I’m done, I take a big swig out of my flask and get to work on the plot.

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2 – Organising my time better

Whether it’s my mild dyspraxia or my regular day-dreaming, I can often be a little disorganised.

This extends to the allotment. Even as I write this, there are still a handful of jobs that I keep putting off. In fact, I will often look at other pictures of gardens and feel a little out of my depth – sometimes deciding to give up for the day.

What keeps me coming back however, is my dream of being self-sufficient. I remind myself that I’m lucky to have an allotment as big as the one I have. A plot that is filled with fantastic perennials and has the potential to supply me with food throughout the year. And the only way that I’m going to get to this point is by organising my time better.

This starts with keeping diaries, calendars, notes and spreadsheets with all of the planned projects and timeframes. It then moves into more regular jobs like weeding and grass-cutting. Here, my phone comes in really handy. I can set times for both jobs months in advance if I want to, and slowly but surely, I work my way into a solid rhythm. I then notice how much better my plot looks and how easy it is to do, and I keep up the pace.

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3 – Only eating homegrown or organic

Sure, I grow my own food. But I’m still a sucker for convenience shops too.

This year, the harvests have been patchy. Most days I’ve found myself picking up a tin of beans or a bag of vegetables to bulk out my supplies.

Instead, what I should be doing is going on a slightly longer walk to my local greengrocers. There are hundreds of organic, local and independent shops in cities and towns – and they’re actually pretty affordable too. I did an entire week’s shop of vegetables in my local recently for under £10 – and if you’re making an effort to keep fit and be healthy, shopping fresh and organic is a logical decision to make.

Of course, if you’re having to manage a family your options can be more limited. One thing that I will suggest, though, is that you write out a meal plan, buy and cook the vegetables that you need and then store them to whip out whenever you need to throughout the week. By doing this and shopping organically, you can do your little bit for the environment, whilst arguably saving money where you’re not impulse buying.

So there you have it. Three ways that I’m going to be better in 2018. Perfectly achieveable and affordable too. What resolutions have you made for 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy New Year wherever you’re reading this and keep up to date with all of the latest by following me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

 

12 Meals of Christmas – Day 12 – Croissant and Apple Butter Pudding

To celebrate Christmas, I’ve launched a brand new blog series covering the twelve days of Christmas with the 12 Meals of Christmas. Each day you’ll be getting an exciting christmassy recipe to help you save money and your belly for the big day.

We’ve saved the best until last. The mighty croissant and apple butter pudding.

What separates this from a normal bread and butter pudding? The buttery croissants and apple pieces create a soft, sweet texture and flavour that will have you coming back for more. Additionally, this dessert can be enjoyed for breakfast throughout this festive weekend and it doesn’t cost the earth.

Before we get down to the recipe, I want to say a huge thank you to all of you who’ve read and supported the 12 Meals of Christmas. I have some ideas in the pipeline for 2018 that I think you’ll enjoy, but for now – grab yourself some croissants and have a go at making this beautiful dessert. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

Croissant, Apple and Butter Pudding (Serves 4)

Four croissants, cut in half

75g of raisins

Two apples, peeled cored and sliced

400ml of milk

200ml of water

Three eggs

70g of caster sugar

Three heaped tablespoons of cornflour

A teaspoon of vanilla essence

A teaspoon of cinnamon

A sprinkling of caster sugar

Turn the oven to Gas Mark 5/180C. Into a saucepan on a medium heat, pour in your milk and water. Crack in your eggs, then begin to whisk the ingredients together. As you do so, drop in your vanilla essence, caster sugar and the three tablespoons of cornflour. Whilst you whisk, make sure that the ingredients aren’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. Once the custard begins to thicken to a consistency similar to single cream, remove it from the heat and start work on the croissants.

Taking an ovenproof dish, arrange your croissant pieces inside. Layer over your apple pieces, cinnamon and raisins before pouring over the custard. Finish this stage by scattering over a little caster sugar before popping in the pudding for the exciting part of the recipe.

Bake the pudding for around 35 minutes, or until the top is golden and the croissants have soaked up a good deal of the custard. Serve immediately with fresh cream for a delicious treat whatever the time of day. You can also keep a supply of pudding throughout the christmas period by storing it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

That’s a wrap for the 12 Meals of Christmas! If you enjoyed this recipe, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to look back at all of the recipes featured.

 

12 Meals of Christmas – Day 7 – Spicy Root Vegetable Pasties

To celebrate Christmas, I’ve launched a brand new blog series covering the twelve days of Christmas with the 12 Meals of Christmas. Each day you’ll be getting an exciting christmassy recipe to help you save money and your belly for the big day.

There is a good reason for pasties and pies being so popular. With hearty pastry encasing hot, flavoursome fillings, each one is a surprise. I’ve made lots of pasties over the years, with one recipe featuring on this blog earlier on in the year. So, it made sense to have a pasty recipe in this Christmas blog series. What’s more, the Jus-Rol pastry in this recipe is vegan and if you use sweetened soya milk instead of egg you have an entirely vegan dish.

Root vegetables are the perfect winter food. And by combining them with spices such as paprika, cumin and turmeric, you can transform them into something even better. As a pasty filling, these root vegetables will have you feeling Christmassy in no time at all!

As you can see from the picture, they don’t even last long enough to take a photo…

Store these goodies in the fridge and you can enjoy them in your work lunches for the days ahead. It certainly beats the office canteen or a lunchtime meal deal. Best part is, they have actual vegetables in, and because they’re relatively fresh, they’re healthier for you too.

Spicy Root Vegetable Pasties (Serves 3 or 4) VG

One roll of readymade shortcrust pastry

Two carrots, chopped and peeled

Two potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly

Half a leek, sliced thinly

A clove of garlic, chopped

A teaspoon of turmeric

A teaspoon of cumin seeds

A teaspoon of paprika

Sweetened soya milk for glazing or a beaten egg yolk for non-vegans

A splash of olive oil

Seasoning

A knob of margarine (vegan or dairy)

To begin making these delicious pasties, heat a dash of olive oil over a medium heat and slide in all your root vegetables. Fry the carrots and potatoes with the cumin seeds, paprika, turmeric and seasoning until the potatoes can be squashed with a fork or knife. As they begin to soften, add in your leek and chopped garlic, frying for around five minutes more. Remove from the heat and set to one side.

Pre-heat your oven to Gas Mark 5/180C. Grab yourself a baking tray and grease lightly with a little margarine. Roll out your pre-made pastry and, using a large bowl, begin to cut out as many circles as you can manage (I got about three out of my sheet), you can grab another sheet of pastry if this isn’t enough for you. Place each of the circles onto the baking tray.

Taking a ladel, dish out your vegetables onto half of each of the circles. With your hands, gently fold the pastry over the vegetables and press it down at the edges to make the traditional pasty shape. With a pastry brush, glaze the pasties with the egg yolk before sliding them into the oven to bake for around 20 minutes, or until the tops of the pastries are golden.

Once the pastries have a nice colour to them, remove from the oven and serve immediately with a hearty winter salad ( I recommend shredded beetroot, walnuts and rocket) or store in the fridge for up to five days ready for work lunches).

Stay tuned tomorrow for more from the 12 Meals of Christmas. If you enjoyed this recipe, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a comment below!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay up to date with all of the meals featured.

Don’t Let the Weeds Bring You Down

Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re either a very neat and tidy grower or you’re a messy one like me. Yes, contrary to the professional (cough, cough) pictures, my allotment is more on the wild side than it is the Gardener’s World side. The site is big; I’ve inherited a whole batch of great plants – yet I’ve also inherited a very well-established hoard of bindweed, which is nigh-impossible to get rid of.

On a typical trip up to the allotment in mid-summer, I can often come away feeling disheartened. Even if I get on with a good bit of de-weeding, the grass stands wild and tall and the pesky weeds dominate the plots once more. In the end, I’ve come to the realisation that I should simply embrace it.

Young Growers – Don’t Give Up Over Weeds

I’m appealing particularly to my generation of young gardeners here, as it’s with first-time gardeners and growers that weeds win.

Across my youthful allotment site, I often compare younger gardener’s plots to older people’s. What I find is that, where there had been good intentions – growing a range of tasty, organic fruit and veg – what instead happens is the manured beds and cleared edges become perfect breeding sites for thick weedy growth.

Many of these people give up their plots after a short while and abandon the idea of growing their own food completely.

As a passionate advocate for growing your own food, and as someone who has his fair share of weedy worries, this makes me very sad. So, I want to tell you something:

Weeds Will Always Grow Because Nature Has More Time on Its Hands

You can’t stop weeds entirely, so move that thought aside. When you see pristine allotment plots, notice the little tuft of grass near the bed’s corner or the creeping vine – no one is perfect and no allotment is either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to improve conditions, though.

By mulching your growing beds heavily in the late autumn with leaf mold, horse or cow manure and things like newspaper or cardboard, you can kill off a lot of weeds by starving them of light. Then, when the few sprouts begin to surface, book yourself in for a weekly de-weeding session that only needs to last 10 minutes. Do a quick scan of your beds and pull a handful out here and there. By keeping this consistent (use a phone calendar if you need to) you’ll have more time to focus on your veggies.

By raising the soil up, you can also stop the weeds from spreading. The trick is to smother and starve any unwanted plants underneath. Then, once your growing beds are ready you won’t have to worry about weeds. So long as the weeds aren’t growing or creeping over any growing vegetables, just keep them a little managed.

It’s also healthy to let the grass grow. Remember that lots of wildlife relies on tall grass for coverage, pollination and much more. So you only need to give that a cut once it reaches your anywhere before your knee. If the grass is going to seed, it’ll likely spread across your beds. Don’t worry though – as long as you keep up a little bit of weeding each week and learn to embrace the messiness of nature, you’ll do just fine.

Whatever you decide to do – remember this: if the weeds are too high, don’t give up. It’s nature’s job to grow – and you just have to work with that. What’s more important is that you get something out of your garden or allotment. You know, there are even professional gardeners and veg growers out there who use weeds and permaculture to make their crops better.

 

Small Space Garden Episode 3 | Peashoots and Peas

The Small Space Garden series continues.

June is the perfect month to roll up your sleeves, pick up a trowel and start growing some quick and easy crops.

Peas are great speedy vegetables. Home-grown, their flavour is phenominally better than those cheap ones in cans, and if you’re clever you could even save a bit of money too.

In just under a week and a half, with a bit of heat, you’ll have pea seedlings poking through the soil. Very soon after potting the peas up or planting them outside, you’ll be inundated with flowers and delicious pods, ripe for picking.

Trust me, they won’t make it back to the dinner plate.

Last year, I grew just one large container’s worth of peas. There were about ten plants in total. From those ten plants, I received a constant supply of pea pods that saw me through the best part of three weeks. This just goes to show how productive peas can be, even in the smallest of spaces.

No room for a big container? Grow your peas in a small pot and harvest the growing tips instead. Use these on your salads and you can gloat about how healthy you’ve become.

Check out my video below for more information on growing peas:

Small Space Garden Episode 2 | Sowing Tomatoes and Peppers

Last week I created a small bed, this week I’m sowing tomatoes and peppers.

The Small Space Garden series continues. This time, I’m looking at sowing some late tomatoes and peppers ready for containers in the garden.

Tomatoes and peppers are fantastic little plants for limited spaces and you’ll get rewarding crops at the end of it all too. It might be easy picking up that pack of peppers or those vine tomatoes, but you’ll never get the same flavour as you do by growing your own. Follow me and join in on this fun growing adventure.

If you haven’t seen Episode One, you can watch it here.

Happy planting

Cost-cutting Curries: Sag Aloo

Don’t you just hate it when you’re craving an Indian but you only have £5 to your name?

Well, it may surprise you to know that you can make several of your Indian takeaway favourites with very little effort and without blowing the bank.

My sag aloo goes perfectly with this recipe.

Behold, my video recipe for sag aloo – one of our all-time favourite Indian sides. It takes no more than 20 minutes to make, is full of yummy flavours and will cost you barely anything. The potatoes here are dirt cheap, the spices can be used again and again and sag aloo is also a great way of using up that leftover spinach you have in your fridge that goes off tomorrow.

You can bulk make this dish eating it alongside a delicious curry tonight, storing it for a couple of days in the fridge and taking it to work with you instead of buying that meal deal.

Why not give my simple recipe a try and let me know how you get on?

youngground reviews: The Royal Navy Volunteer

You don’t need a lot of money to have a great foody time. By putting down the lunchtime meal deal and making your own food throughout the week, the weekend can be the time that you truly indulge yourself on some fine food.

Being a vegetarian, it’s a given that I only review the alternative options on menus. However, I should say that I do sit down to eat with many meat-lovers and pay close attention to their satisfaction of the meal too. Even so, I often find that a restaurant can be measured well on the innovation and the inspiration behind its alternative dishes.

Continuing my exciting (but affordable) culinary journey through Bristol and beyond, this week I’m reviewing the brilliant Sunday lunch menu at the Royal Navy Volunteer, located along the timeless King Street in Bristol.

If you’re an experienced Bristolian, or you visit regularly, you’ll know that the city is full of innovative, inspiring and beautiful food. Every corner holds a new foody treasure and King Street is no exception.

As soon as you arrive into the Royal Navy Volunteer you get a sense of true pub authenticity. The Volley’s interior is deceptively large: each little corner is full of life – and this is particularly true on a Sunday. Across Bristol, people arrive at the quaint pub to sample its roasts. They know as I, too, found out that the pub’s roast has garnered quite a reputation.

As a vegetarian, I often judge the quality of a menu on its options. Although I’m quite satisfied with a spread of vegetables, I do enjoy something a little more filling to compliment them. The Volley menu did not disappoint on this occasion, and I chose the intriguing option of a lentil roast served with the classic trimmings.  My Sunday lunch buddy, who is 100% carnivore, chose the lamb roast.

I felt a very strange sensation when the food arrived, one that I haven’t felt for quite some time. More often than not, when I go for a roast I find that the plate can often lack the colours and the flavours of its meat counterpart. Yet, here I was presented with food that filled, and almost spilled, off of the plate. More importantly, the entire thing was soaked in a rich gravy; something that many other vegetarian roasts miss.

Then, with knife and fork in hand, another strange-but-brilliant sensation overcame me: I was lost in this bounty of delicious food and had no clue where to start. However, once I’d worked out that the crispy potatoes would be my first destination, I devoured them quickly. Roast potatoes are easy to make but difficult to make well. As I crunched my way through the crisp, beautifully textured skins and into the glorious fluffy middles, I felt complete.

Looking over at my Sunday lunch buddy’s choice, the lamb roast itself was so large that it could’ve been put on its own plate. Again, the bed of vegetables was cooked to perfection and the whole thing looked straight out of an advert.

Onto the vegetarian lentil roast, and the passion that had gone into creating this soft, meaty, wonderfully flavoured meal won me over immediately. In fact, every element from the spongy Yorkshire pudding to the freshly steamed kale and the depth of flavours noted in the gravy created a meal that truly celebrated the end of the week.

The Royal Navy Volunteer isn’t just an innovative restaurant, of course. As a rustic and authentic pub, the Volunteer celebrates the Bristol craft ale scene, offering a wide selection of different beers which round off any roast or other meal perfectly. I enjoyed a dark porter with my food. With this palette of hops combined with the smoky flavours of the lentils and the rich gravy, I had a few moments in food heaven.

If you really want to round off your week with a Sunday roast, I urge you to pay The Royal Navy Volunteer a visit. Sit yourself down in the warm, immerse yourself in the food and forget about the working week ahead.