Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Birthday reflections

It was my birthday earlier this month. I had a lovely day, S always comes up with the nicest surprises and this year again he made it perfect. I felt loved and soo lucky!

But birthdays are no longer just fun celebrations to me; they're also milestones and make me reflect on the past year and my life in general.

I have so much to be grateful for in my life. I have the most amazing partner, great friends and family, two gorgeous cats, and as of recently I also have my own dream home and garden. I have a job that pays my bills, I have my passions that make me happy, I only have minor health issues that are easily kept under control. 

But there's been a shadow hanging over all this, something that can easily take everything I have away from me. The current political situation in the UK (Brexit) means I've been living in fear over the past several months. As a EU citizen living in the UK I really don't like the way things are going, with the government constantly refusing to guarantee the rights of people like me. My entire life I've been building here for the past 11 years can be taken away with one political decision. People say it's unlikely that they make people leave the country - fair enough, but until there is an actual guarantee anything can happen. And the slightest risk of losing my home and family makes me sick with fear (for reasons I will keep to myself, in case I wasn't allowed to stay in the UK, my family will literally fall apart as S will not be able to leave with me). 

S was considerate enough to put music on in the car on my birthday instead of the usual radio station, so I didn't get upset listening to the news. I don't think about this all the time, I'd lose my mind if I did, but it's always somewhere at the back of my mind, easily provoked. This overwhelming fear of losing everything I've got and never seeing my family again.

I am prone to exaggeration, drama and depression, so I've been told. To me it's more about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst... Although how do you prepare for this?

Sad, sad times.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Gołąbki - stuffed cabbage leaves

Gołąbki is my no.1 favourite Polish dish. They're cabbage leaves stuffed with a mixture of meat and rice, served with tomato sauce. The preparation is a bit time-consuming, but at the same time it's very simple and usually yields enough for more than 1 dinner. Gołąbki can sit in the fridge for a few days, and they freeze well too. Each Polish family has their own recipe - here's my take on it!

Ingredients for 12 gołąbki:
1 white cabbage - the largest you can find!
1kg minced pork
200g rice
Salt, pepper, marjoram
Optional: chopped & fried onion and garlic.

Cook the rice, let it cool down and mix it in a large bowl with the raw meat and the spices. Be generous with the marjoram, you really want to be able to taste it. Divide the mixture into 12 portions.

Meanwhile, take any damaged outer leaves off the cabbage. Put the cabbage in a large pan and cover with boiling water - set this on medium heat and leave for about 20min. This will soften the leaves and allow you to take them off the cabbage head one by one, without breaking them. You will need about 12 nice, whole leaves to make your gołąbki. Keep any damaged leaves aside - you will need them later as well.
Once you have your leaves ready, take a sharp knife and slice off the thickest bits of the stem on each leaf. This will make the leaves more flexible for wrapping and easier to eat.
Put a portion of the meat mixture at the bottom of each leaf, fold in the sides and roll it up like a burrito. Repeat until you run out of leaves and meat mixture. If your cabbage leaves are not very large, you may end up with more than 12 gołąbki.

To cook, line the bottom of a large pan with any leftover/damaged leaves you have left. Place your gołąbki in the pan quite tightly, in two or three layers. You may have to cook them in batches or use two pans at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Cover them with water, put the lid on and cook on low/medium heat for about 1.5 hrs.

Meanwhile, make tomato sauce - I made mine by melting some butter in a pan, adding a tablespoon of flour, mixing well, ten pouring in a box of tomato passata and some stock until the consistency was to my liking; I then added some herbs and spices. You can use a ready-made jar of tomato/spaghetti sauce as well.

When your gołąbki are cooked, served them hot with a good splash of tomato sauce. 

Friday, 24 February 2017

Mum's potato pancake - a quick and filling dinner for two!

Here's an absolutely delightful recipe my Mum shared with me recently. It's cheap, it's easy and it's very filling - a perfect dinner for two after a long day at work! Both S and I were surprised how good it tasted, and we will definitely be making it again. This potato pancake is crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle, and the pizza-like topping is an explosion of flavours.

Ingredients for the potato pancake:
3 large or 4 medium potatoes
2 eggs
2 tablespoons of flour
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt & pepper
Oil for frying

Ingredients for the topping:
You can use any combination of these - a great way to use fridge leftovers!
Bell pepper
Smoked sausage or ham
Grated cheese
A little oil or butter for frying

Grate the raw potatoes and transfer them, juice and all, into a bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix well with a spoon.
Heat the oil in a large pan. Pour the pancake mixture onto the hot oil and fry on medium heat until the underside starts getting brown.
In a separate pan, heat some oil or butter and fry your selection of topping ingredients (all chopped small), except the cheese.
Flip the pancake using another frying pan or a large plate. Cover with the topping mix and sprinkle on some grated cheese. Cover and continue to cook until the cheese has melted. Cut in half and serve (I served it with the pickle I wrote about in the previous post). Delicious!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Quick fridge pickle - Danish style

The Danish Agurkesalat is one of my favourite ways to serve cucumbers. I make it quite often and serve right away, but last night for the first time I made it for the fridge - it should keep for about a week and the flavour is actually supposed to improve over time.

Here's how I made it:

1 English cucumber
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt

Optional flavourings:
Whole black peppercorns
Mustard seeds

The recipe is very simple. All you need to do is put the vinegar, sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat and wait for the sugar to dissolve (stirring helps). Don't boil the liquid. Meanwhile, slice the cucumber thinly, sprinkle with salt and transfer to a jar (I doubled this recipe and made two jars). When the liquid cools down, pour it into the jar along with any flavourings of your choice. Put the lid on and place the jar in the fridge. Serve after a minimum of 3 hours. Keeps in the fridge for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Spring is creeping up on us!

This time of the year is soo exciting to me, a brand new gardener. I can see sings of spring popping up all over the garden and it just blows my mind, seeing all these little things waking up from their winter sleep.
The little patch in front of my house is full of things planted by the previous owners and I keep getting one surprise after another. The other day I discovered the oddest-looking furry little plant, which my Mum identified as lungwort. I've read up on it and it seems to have a lot of wonderful properties, so I'm all excited about trying lungwort tea some time this year! 
There are different flowers popping up here & there and I can only guess what they are. My edibles are doing ok - there are loads of tiny buds on my Japanese quinces; my garlic and onions are still looking strong and my rhubarb is definitely growing. These days I'm in the garden at least once a day, marvelling at all the changes!

I don't know what this plant is, but looks like it's going to have yellow flowers very soon.

Heather is looking absolutely beautiful.

Daffodils have grown so much over the past couple of weeks!

I will definitely have some rhubarb this year :-)

The sage is thriving - I've harvested quite a bit over the winter months but it's still producing new leaves.
Garlic seems to be doing alright.

Lungwort - isn't it the most peculiar looking plant?

I think these are crocuses but I wouldn't bet my life on it...

Saturday, 11 February 2017


Spring is still far away, but it doesn't stop me getting excited about my little seed collection. We recently visited my parents and I received a few seed packets from my mum; I have also bought some myself. It's not a huge selection as I don't want to get overwhelmed; besides I only have so much space to work with.

I have (more than pictured above):

Carrots (2 varieties)
Lemon balm
Wild strawberries
Parsley (collected from my mum's own plants last year)
Peppers (mix of sweet and hot)
Bush beans
Butternut squash

Some of them can be sown indoors right now in February, which I did this morning. I also ordered broadbean seeds, but they haven't arrived yet - I think I will plant half of them indoors and half directly in the raised bed and see what happens. 

This is my first year of gardening and I still have loads to learn; being impatient doesn't help, so I try to control myself. I wish I could sow everything already! Here in Scotland though the last frost can appear as late as mid-May, so I need to be careful.

I already have a fair amount of things growing in the garden that I have planted since autumn; my rhubarb is doing exceptionally well and is a pleasure to watch. The garlic, onions and strawberries look good; all the fruit bushes and trees on the other hand still look dead so I have no idea how they are doing. Time will tell!

Friday, 20 January 2017

A childhood memory

Source: https://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/123890316.jpg

I was thinking about my garden the other day, and out of a sudden a memory of the garden in my childhood home popped to my mind. 

When I was little, my parents, both young teachers just a couple of years out of university, got jobs in a primary school and a preschool in a small village (pictured above) not far from where I was born. The jobs came with a house: a very old, neglected, pre-WWII house typical for that part of the country, which had been German up until the end of the war. The house was attached to the primary school; in the picture below the school building can be seen on the left, the house is in the middle, and the building on the right is a barn.

I spend most of my childhood there, from the age of 5 to 18. 

Source: an old German postcard

There was a really big garden there, probably four times the size of the garden I have now. We had a huge strawberry patch, with probably about 100 plants; several black, red and white currant bushes (white was my favourite!), a large Japanese quince bush, five or six peach trees, a very old and huge pear tree, loads of tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers (all out in the garden, no greenhouse!), wild strawberry bushes dotted all over the place and probably many other things I can no longer remember. The gate was guarded by a giant mulberry tree, very popular with all the school kids. Behind the garden, there was a large and old orchard, a real jungle after many years of neglect. We had apple and plum trees there. I remember sitting high up on a branch and eating apples straight from the tree!

Being a kid, my only job in that garden was weeding (and harvesting - but that was pure pleasure!). I didn't realise it at the time, but my parents must have put an awful lot of work into it - the soil was very poor and sandy (the opposite of the heavy clay I have now); I remember them making buckets of nettle 'tea' and getting bags of manure from the nearby farm to improve it. In addition, the hot and dry summers meant long hours of expensive watering. My parents were both raised in cities, without much gardening knowledge or experience, so they learnt everything on the go. It is only now that I have my own garden that I can fully comprehend the importance of all the hard work they did - and I can sort of understand why, when my parents moved to the house they live in now, my mum decided not to grow any more vegetables and only keeps ornamentals now.

It's a very fond memory, as are all my memories from that time. I don't think I fully appreciated it when I was a kid, but it was a truly great place to live, and I think deep inside that was the reason I always wanted to move back to the countryside. I am so happy that dream has now come true!