Autumn sweater

We haven’t heard the last swansong of summer just yet, but there’s definitely a chill in the air. Last week, I wore a jumper for the first time in months, and I was almost tempted to put the heating on.

The nights may be drawing in, but the sun’s still shining. It’s not quite the weather for comfort food but autumn’s harvest is in abundance. I know it’s a bit basic to quote a certain Keats poem, but it really is a ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, and I’m trying to make the most of root veg, blackberries, apples and plump plums.

My work-life balance isn’t too healthy at the moment and I haven’t had much time to cook, so I’ve come up with some easy no-cook meals using seasonal ingredients.

There’s a colourful autumn salad with blackberries (if you don’t have time to go picking, or don’t live close to where they grow, just buy them from the supermarket or greengrocer) and a celeriac and white bean dip which makes a tasting topping for toast, sandwiches and baked potatoes.

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Autumnal salad with kale, walnuts and blackberries

 

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

1 x 180g bag pre-cut kale (or buy the leaves and roughly chop), rinsed and drained

The juice of 2 lemons

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

A generous pinch of sea salt

2 parsnips, peeled and grated

2 small apples, cored and thinly sliced

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

100g blackberries

100g walnuts

 

For the blackberry vinaigrette

100g blackberries

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp balsamic or apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp caster sugar

A generous pinch of sea salt

 

Put the kale in a large bowl and add 3 tbsp olive oil, the juice of 1 lemon and some salt. Using your hands, massage the kale until each leaf is covered in the mixture. Add the grated parsnip, the sliced apple and the chickpeas, then cover with 1 tbsp olive oil, the rest of the lemon juice and a little more salt. Massage again to combine all the ingredients. Scatter over the blackberries and walnuts.

Quickly make the vinaigrette by placing all the ingredients in a bowl and blending using a hand-held mixer (or put them in a food processor or blender). Serve the salad and drizzle over the vinaigrette.

 

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Celeriac and white bean dip

 

Makes one large bowl

 

Ingredients

Half a large celeriac (around 200g), peeled and grated

1 x 400g can cannellini beans (chickpeas or butter beans will also work well), rinsed and drained

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled

The juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp tahini

1 tsp dried thyme

Salt and pepper

 

Simply put all the ingredients into a bowl and blend using a hand-held mixer – or pop them into a food processor or blender and blitz. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of thyme.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eat your greens

You know it’s peak asparagus season when it’s all you can see as you thumb your way  through Instagram.

We’ve reached the end of what farmers call the hungry gap, when, in early spring, there is little fresh produce available. That period is well and truly over, with greens lining up on the shelves of our greengrocers: watercress, cucumber, leeks, spring greens, and my favourite, asparagus. They’re often regarded as a delicacy, but these stubborn little spears are a hardy lot and will generally stick around in the salad drawer for a good week or so.

Spring is definitely here (how can it be mid-May already?) and as the days get longer and temperatures rise, I want to cook easy meals with fresh flavours.

Asparagus season comes but once a year, so I’m making the most of these green shoots while I can. Instead of boiling, I prefer to pan fry them in a little olive oil with salt and pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Asparagus works well in most dishes, from pasta to pastry, and because of its robust flavour and texture, it will often take the starring role alongside other ingredients.

This simple risotto takes under half an hour to cook and uses buckwheat (which contains 13.25g of protein per 100g – that’s more than eggs) instead of rice. The wild garlic adds a sweetly mellow flavour, but it’ll be gone in the next few weeks, so two cloves of garlic will also do the trick.

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Buckwheat risotto with asparagus, spinach and wild garlic. Captured hanging out of our kitchen window for optimal daylight (we don’t have a garden).

 Buckwheat risotto with asparagus, spinach and wild garlic

 

Serves 2

Ingredients

150g buckwheat, rinsed and drained

8-10 asparagus spears, ends removed and roughly chopped

500ml vegetable stock

Half a leek, diced (or use half an onion, peeled and diced)

3-4 wild garlic leaves, roughly chopped (keep the edible flowers for a garnish)

3-4 large handfuls spinach

The juice of 1 lemon

A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

A few leaves of fresh mint, roughly chopped

 

Heat the oil in a large pan, then add the leek and sauté for 3 minutes. Add the wild garlic and the chilli flakes and cook on a medium heat for a further 2 minutes. In a separate pan, fry the asparagus in a little oil; do this over a medium heat for around 10 minutes.

Add the buckwheat to the pan and mix well, coating each grain in oil – add a little extra if necessary. Add a ladleful of the hot stock to the pearl barley and stir well. Bring to a simmer as the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  Continue adding more stock, a ladleful at a time, letting the buckwheat absorb it gradually; do this for about 15 minutes, until soft.

Add the cooked asparagus to the pan with the spinach, lemon juice and salt and pepper and stir until the spinach has wilted. Turn off the heat and stir through the chopped mint. Squeeze over some more lemon juice and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if you like, and decorate with the wild garlic flowers. Add a smattering of sunflower seeds for extra bite.

 

Light at the end of the tunnel

We’re almost halfway through February, a short but (bitter)sweet month. It’s always been a happy time for me because it’s when I celebrate my birthday and it’s one step closer to the beginning of spring. By the end of February, it’ll be almost six o’clock before it gets dark, and just a month later, the clocks go forward and we’ll say hello to British Summer Time.

It might be a small and dark month, but its fruits (and vegetable) are handsome; ‘tis the season of blood oranges, purple sprouting broccoli and Jerusalem artichokes.

I’m pretty passionate about eating seasonally when possible because it’s tastier, better for the environment, and it’s often cheaper as well. Head to your local market (or even supermarket) and you’ll find local home-grown fruit and veg at a very reasonable price.

Back to those Jersusalem artichokes. These knobbly brown roots might not look very jolly, but they’re sweetly mellow and incredibly versatile. They’re not actually artichokes, but a type of sunflower, hence the name which is derived from girasole, the Italian word for those sunny shoots.

Jerusalem artichokes contain vitamin C, phosphorus and potassium, and are a good source of iron. They’re also very rich in inulin, a carbohydrate linked with good intestinal health due to its prebiotic properties.

You can eat them raw in a salad (try pairing them with apple or beetroot) or roast them like potatoes. Last week, I roasted them and made them into a light but velvety soup. The lemon adds a lovely bit of zing and you could add spinach if you wanted a bit of extra vitamin C.

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Roasted Jerusalem artichoke and lemon soup

 

Roasted Jerusalem artichoke and lemon soup

 

Serves 2

Ingredients

400-500g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and roughly sliced

2 unwaxed lemons

1 medium onion, peeled and finely diced

500ml hot vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

Fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

Olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the sliced artichokes into a large oven dish and pour over a generous glug of olive oil. Squeeze over the juice from the lemon halves then add them to the dish, and season. Place the dish on the top shelf of the oven and roast for about 45-50 minutes.

When cooked, remove from the oven and set aside. Heat some oil in a large pan and fry the onion for 5 minutes. Pour in the roasted artichokes and lemons (use a little boiling water to loosen the juices from the dish and use these as well) and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour over the hot stock, season, and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and then cook for another 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the lemon halves from the pan and add the basil leaves, then blend with a hand blender. Serve with bread and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Recipes for Bonfire Night

And so it’s November, the quiet spell before the festive fervour begins – and when it really starts to get cold.

It’s also World Vegan Month (Thursday was World Vegan Day) and a recent survey has revealed that one in eight Brits are vegan or vegetarian, while 21% of us follow a flexitarian diet. It seems that ditching the meat, dairy and eggs – or eating less of it – is now the norm.

Things have changed a lot in the three and a half years since I went vegan, back when it was assumed that switching to a plantbased way of eating meant sacrificing any form of flavour. Well, my tastebuds aren’t (and never have been) for turning and I’ve been trying to explain that to the naysayers for a long time. Now there are dairy-free Magnums, a sure sign that veganism has gone mainstream.

On Thursday, I went onto Prynhawn Da (you can watch me here – and there are subtitles if you don’t speak Welsh) to show the huge selection of vegan convenience foods that are now at supermarkets.  From pizza, burgers and fishless fingers, to Christmas cake, mince pies and Wensleydale with cranberry, it’s clear that eating vegan is easier than ever before. And while these goodies can be a little pricier, like the non-vegan versions, they should perhaps be seen as an occasional treat. After all, the bulk of a vegan diet (fruits, veggies, grains and pulses) are some of the cheapest things you can buy.

But while these are handy meals to bung in the oven or microwave when you’re tired or busy (the vegan life doesn’t have to consist of kale and cacoa), I’m actually really keen to cook at the moment. I’ve had a few weeks of not eating particularly well, thanks to working, commuting and generally being busy, so I’m looking forward to healthy, hearty soups and stews, and perhaps the odd cake, too.

It’s Bonfire Night on Monday, one of my favourite times of the year. It marks the turning point in the calendar, just after Halloween, when it’s just about acceptable to start thinking about Christmas.

This year, I’ll be staying in with baby Bobbie, our five-month-old kitten, who no doubt will be a bit afraid of the bangs and screeches, which are even louder than mine during a bad case of PMT.

It’s an evening for food to warm the cockles, so here are two easy recipes for you to try.

We had a load of pumpkins and apples left over from our Halloween party (which Bobbie and I just about survived – a gaggle of tweenage girls is terrifying whether you’re cat or human) so I’ve put them to good use in a simple but sustaining pumpkin soup and a sticky and sweet apple cake.

 

Pumpkin and red lentil soup with apple and sage

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Pumpkin and red lentil soup with apple and sage

Ingredients

1 medium pumpkin (or 400g) pumpkin or squash, peeled, roughly chopped and seeds and flesh removed

2 apples, cored and diced

2 small onions, finely diced

5-6 sage leaves

200g red lentils, rinsed and drained

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp allspice

1 red chilli, finely chopped

1.5 litres vegetable stock

A glug of rapeseed or olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

To garnish (optional)

Sage leaves

Pumpkin seeds

 

In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium temperature. Add the onion and sage leaves and fry for 2-3 minutes then add the pumpkin and apple and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add the chilli and spices and fry for a minute, then add the lentils and the stock and season. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, place a lid on the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and blend with a stick blender.

Serve in bowls with crusty bread. If you like, fry the pumpkin seeds and sage leaves in a little oil for a few minutes, or until crispy, and scatter over the soup.

 

Toffee apple traybake

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Toffee apple traybake

 

Ingredients

200g dates, roughly chopped

400ml milk

100ml rapeseed, vegetable or sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing

250g self-raising flour

100g light soft brown sugar

½ tsp baking powder

2 tbsp mixed spice

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 apples, grated

 

For the topping (optional)

1 apple, thinly sliced

A little brown sugar

 

Heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm baking tray with baking parchment. Put the dates and 200ml of the milk in a small pan and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Whizz the date mixture to a smooth purée in a food processor or blender, then scrape into a large mixing bowl. Tip in the oil, the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, mixed spice, vanilla extract and the rest of the milk,  and mix together well. Fold in the grated apple.

Pour the mixture into the tray and spread out evenly. Place the tray on the top shelf of the oven and bake for 45 minutes until a skewer poked into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tray then cut into slices.

If you’d like to add the topping, remove the cake from the oven after 35 minutes, arrange the apple slices on top and sprinkle over the brown sugar. Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes.

Scary spice

October has crept past me and all of a sudden, the clocks have gone back and it’s Halloween. The past four weeks have been a bit of a blur after a short stint of working nine to five in Cardiff. While I enjoyed it (I met some great people, the work was interesting and it gave me a reason to get out of my pyjamas), it was quite a shock to the system after the freedom and flexibility of freelancing. It got me out of the house andI was always paid on time (take note, other companies), but gosh, I was tired. I really don’t miss leaving the house while it was still dark and getting home at 7.30pm. I realise how lucky I am to do what I do.

Although commuting by train from Swansea to Cardiff took up a considerable chunk of the day (thank you, delays), it did mean that, when I wasn’t working, I could sit and watch the world from my window, or just read. I never finish books. Although I’ve always been a bookworm and own piles and piles of paperbacks, it’s rare for me to finish one before starting on another. Call it a short attention span or perhaps it harks back to my English degree when I always had about three books on the go, but I just can’t commit to one.

Well, finally, I’ve settled on one book and I’ve devoured its pages like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’m re-reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt, which is my all-time favourite novel. There’s a reason why it’s a cult classic and I’ve loved it ever since I first read it aged 18. For a novel in which the central plot is about a murder, it’s an oddly comforting read (in fact, at uni, I studied it as part of a module called ‘Danger, Domesticity and American Literature’) and the protagonist’s descriptions of fall in New England make me feel all warm and cosy. If you haven’t discovered it yet, you’re in for a treat.

It’s been good for me to slow down my brain, and reading really helps me switch off. While life has been busy, I haven’t had much time to cook, so I’ve been relying on ready meals and batch cooking at the weekends. I’ve always been a fan of one pot meals but they’ve proved especially useful in the past month. This warming curry is another way to use pumpkin and squash this scary season, and it’s pretty easy to make, too. I like the hint of a kick provided by the cardamom – if you’re using the pods, make sure that you remove these before cooking, although you can buy the ground version if it’s easier.

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Pumpkin, lentil and spinach curry with coconut milk and cardamom

Pumpkin, lentil and spinach curry with coconut milk and cardamom

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 medium (around 300g) pumpkin or squash, peeled, diced and seeds removed

200g red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 x 400ml cans coconut milk

1 bag (about 250g), fresh spinach (or use frozen)

1 onion, peeled and finely diced

1 heaped teaspoon coconut oil

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp coriander seeds, ground

1 tsp cardamom seeds, ground

2 inches of ginger, peeled and finely chopped or grated

1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated

 

Prepare the pumpkin then in a large pot or saucepan, heat the oil over a low temperature, then add the onion, garlic and spaces and fry for 2 minutes. Add the pumpkin and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour in the coconut milk with the lentils and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the spinach, stir through, and cook for another 2 minutes – or a bit longer if using frozen. Serve with brown rice.

All the leaves are brown…

Is it just me who feels a bit undone as the seasons change? We’re halfway through September and although the temperature’s dropped, we have much colder weather to come, and I’m dreading it. I’ve been feeling a bit low recently, and on some days I’m gloomier than Eeyore. Hormones and hiraeth are a heady combination.

It’s been over a year since I moved to Swansea, but I’m still in a long-distance relationship with Cardiff. I miss my daily walks through leafy Bute Park, the familiar faces, the smell of Brains Brewery and the gentle hustle and bustle that you can only get in a city the size of Cardiff. Where we live now, all the leaves are brown and the skies are grey.

People tell me that I’m lucky to be by the sea, but contrary to popular belief, not everyone lives in Mumbles, and unless you drive (and I don’t yet), the beaches aren’t quite on your doorstep. Thankfully, I’ve found some comfort in the words of Dylan Thomas, who as we all know, described Swansea as: “An ugly, lovely town … crawling, sprawling … by the side of a long and splendid curving shore. This sea-town was my world.”

It’s not my world yet, Dylan, but I’m working on it. I’m not slagging off Swansea, but it hasn’t found its way to my heart just yet.

At least I can cheer myself up with autumn’s abundance of fruit and vegetables. The kitchen is full of apples, squash, pumpkin, pears and plums, and partly inspired by The Great British Bake Off, I’ve been baking again. The prime-time favourite has survived the move to Channel 4 and watching it is still the televisual equivalent of a warm bath and a bedtime story – well, kind of. I’m rooting for Rahul, who is surely Britain’s nicest man, and looking forward to the much-anticipated vegan week.

I’m no star baker but I do like to experiment with my cakes. This approach can sometimes end in tears, but I’ve created a recipe that works a treat. While we’re on the cusp of courgette season, pears have been at the greengrocers for a few weeks, and the two work surprisingly well together. In this cake, the sweetness of the pears and the mild mellowness of the courgettes are lifted with a pinch of cardamom for a gentle kick of spice. I’ve used rice flour, which makes this a gluten-free bake, but any flour will work.

Perfect with a mug of tea and five minutes’ peace.

 

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Pear, courgette and cardamom loaf

Courgette and pear loaf

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

 

Ingredients

200g rice flour

2 tsp baking powder

100g porridge oats

2 large ripe pears (300g), cored and cubed

2 small courgettes (200g), grated

100ml vegetable, olive, sunflower or coconut oil (plus a little bit extra for greasing the loaf tin)

200ml plant milk

100g brown sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1-2 tsp apple cider vinegar (optional)

Cardamom (seeds from 5-6 pods)

Preheat the oven to 200C. In a large bowl, sieve over the flour and baking powder and mix together. Add the other ingredients and stir thoroughly. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan, add the cake mixture and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Allow to cool, then serve in slices, perhaps with some coconut yogurt or vegan ice cream.

 

Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages

If this bank holiday weather’s anything to go by, summer’s packed up and gone away for another year. After a blisteringly hot June and July, our last long weekend’s a bit of a damp squib. It’s nothing we Brits aren’t used to though, and as autumn’s my favourite season, I’m looking forward to cosying up in warm jumpers and coats, kicking up some leaves and making comforting soups and stews.

It’s not cold yet but there’s a noticeable chill in the air and I’ve been wearing a cardigan or jacket for the first time in a while. The changing of the seasons always creeps up on us and it can leave us a bit out of sorts. If like me, if you’re feeling a bit stuck when it comes to cooking, try this speedy stew.

As a Gosh! ambassador, I’ve tried a few of their products over the last few months but the sweet potato and black bean sausages with a hint of chilli and lime are some of my favourites. They’re great in a classic hotdog, with sweet potato mash and vegetables, or in this easy one-pot stew. I’ve been making the most of late summer courgettes, but use whatever vegetables you like.

All Gosh! products are vegan, gluten-free and nut-free, so this mighty meal is a crowd pleaser that everyone can enjoy.

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Spicy stew with Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

1 packet Gosh! sweet potato and black bean sausages, chopped

100g red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 shallots, peeled and diced

1 tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

½  head broccoli, broken into florets

1 large courgette, chopped into medium-sized cubes

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes (or 1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped or plum)

500ml vegetable stock

2 tsp tomato puree

2 tsp harissa paste

1 tsp sweet paprika

A pinch of chilli flakes

The juice of one lime

Salt and pepper

 

Heat the oil in a large heatproof casserole dish or pan and fry the shallots for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped sausages and lentils and a little of the stock and stir. Gradually pour in half of the remaining stock, stirring constantly, then add the courgette, season and cook for 10 minutes. Add the broccoli, tomatoes and the rest of the stock, the spices, harissa and the tomato puree and cover with a lid. Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Before serving, add the lime juice and stir through.

 

Home sweet home

It’s the tail-end of August, and like Cher, I’d be rather pleased if I could turn back time. What’s often a quiet month has, for me, been unusually busy. I had intended to spend the month taking stock of my first year as a freelancer and sorting out my tax return, but it’s gone by in a blur of work and a family holiday. I guess it’s true that life happens when you’re busy making other plans, but I feel even more disorganised than ever. I don’t feel particularly rested after our trip away and I feel like I have a million and one things to do so that I can play catch up.

Holidays are good for the soul, I know, and I’m the biggest advocate for them, but I feel well and truly out of kilter and I’m struggling to get back into a routine. We were sunkissed under the blue skies of Paris, but back in the UK it looks like the heatwave is going, going, gone. As I write this, bundled up under a blanket on the sofa, the grey skies are telling me to stay put even though I need to leave the flat, if only for my own sanity.

On Mondays I rarely talk to a soul until my other half gets back from his day at the office. Working from home can be a lonely business and I sometimes wonder if I’ve forgotten how to socialise, so I’m sure that starting at a new co-working space will change that. September and its shiny new school term always kicks me back into shape.

I’m looking forward to getting back in the kitchen, too, as the past few weeks have been a binge of eating out, oven dinners and of course, holiday food, which in Paris (and Disneyland) is très mal when you’re catering for a vegan and a pair of fussy vegetarians. If I never see another bread roll, I’ll be pleased.

Food aside, we had a lovely time, even if it did prove that my A Level French is woefully rusty. And I can’t complain as I’ve just come back from a flying visit to London where I soaked up some culture (if you like photography, you must catch the Dorothea Lange and Vanessa Winship exhibition at The Barbican before it ends next weekend), saw some dear friends and spent a lot of money on eating and drinking.

The payback of all this is that I’m now broke and busy with work so home cooking will be very necessary for the next few weeks. Here’s a one-pot pasta recipe that I made earlier this summer with runner beans and peas, which are still (but only just) in season. Use whatever green vegetables you have to hand though – courgettes would work pretty well with this, too.

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Pea and runner bean pasta with pesto

Pea and runner bean pasta with pesto

Serves 3-4

 

Ingredients

100g peas, fresh or frozen

100g runner beans, diagonally sliced

200g fusilli or penne pasta

1 x 400g can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

The juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper

 

For the pesto

50g nuts of your choice

4-5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

The juice of 1 lemon

5-6 basil leaves, torn and stalks removed, plus extra for garnishing

5-6 mint leaves torn and stalks removed, plus extra for garnishing

2 garlic cloves, peeled and cut finely or grated

2 large handfuls spinach

A dash of plant milk

Salt and pepper

Place the pasta into a large pan and pour over 500ml boiling water, then add the lemon juice and season. Cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Remove the lid and cook on a high heat for 5 minutes, then add the runner beans and after 2 minutes, add the peas and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and drain any away any residual water from the pasta and return to the pan.

Meanwhile, quickly make the pesto by placing all the ingredients in a food processor and pulsing on a high setting for a minute or two. Add the cannellini beans to the pan and stir through with the pesto. Scatter over the leftover mint and basil leaves and serve.

Freekeh Friday

I can’t sleep. I suppose I’d better join the club, as it can’t be easy for any of us during this hot, hot heatwave, but in my case, I don’t think the heat is to blame.

I’ve always been a light sleeper and the slightest sound or movement can jerk me awake, and sometimes I struggle to nod off again. I can’t take naps, I’ve never been able to fall asleep on trains, planes or buses (perhaps I’m too highly strung) and it often takes me a long time to fall asleep even though my other half is out like a light as soon as his head hits the pillow. As he snores, I lie awake, worrying about things that I haven’t done or thinking about food – yes, I even dream about it, too.

I wouldn’t mind the late nights, but the early morning sunshine streams through our blinds and wakes me up, so no lie-ins for me. Inspired by Dani Dyer, whose Love Island puppy love with Jack the stationer is warming the nation’s hearts, I’ve turned to an eye mask. While Dani looks cute in hers, I look like I’m nursing a heavy hangover, but hey, it works.

So that problem’s solved, but no, there’s noise, too. I can’t sleep unless there’s complete silence (diva, me?) which means no radio, TV or music in bed – and the sound of traffic, wind or rain, or snoring puts me on edge, too. Unsurprisingly, ear plugs have been a godsend for some time now, but they don’t block out everything.

For the past couple of years, I’ve heard a low, vibrating sound, a bit like a car engine. It’s usually at night, but sometimes during the day, and I hear it more often than not. It drives me mad. My boyfriend can’t hear it and thinks that I have tinnitus but I swear to God: it’s there. Has anyone else experienced this?

What’s a woman to do? Should I resign myself to the fact that I’ll forever be sleepless in Swansea? Sadly, I’m not nearly as winsome as Meg Ryan pre-surgery (yes, I know it was Tom Hanks’ character who lived in Seattle because God, I love that film), especially with my lack of beauty sleep, but I’ll survive and anyway, I’ve always loved coffee.

Moving onto food (because why else are you reading this?), I’m very much into my salads at the moment, mainly due to said heatwave. On Monday, I had a lovely afternoon making, eating and taking photos of salads with food photographer extraordinaire, Manon Houston. I’m in love with summer strawberries and they’re delicious paired with avocado and mint, and I made the most of seasonal asparagus by teaming it with giant couscous and pistachios. It was a very good day.

While I was in Beanfreaks in Cardiff, I picked up some freekeh, something I’ve been meaning to cook with for a while. This ‘ancient grain’ (whatever that means) seems almost too good to be true: it’s full of fibre, protein and high in magnesium, potassium, calcium and iron. A 200g packet is just over two quid and it tastes good, too. I made a salad with it using asparagus (again), sweet nectarines and salty green olives. This is light enough for sultry summer evenings but won’t leave you hungry either. Enjoy with a crisp glass of white wine or an ice cold beer.

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Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

Freekeh salad with asparagus, nectarine and green olives

 Serves 2

Ingredients

For the salad

100g freekeh

Pinch of sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

8 asparagus spears, sliced lengthways

2 nectarines, thinly sliced

Half a 340g jar pitted green olives

3-4 handfuls spinach leaves

2 handfuls unsalted almonds (optional)

 

For the dressing

The juice of 1 and ½ lemons

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp dried mint (or oregano)

½ tsp chilli flakes

½ tsp sea salt

Place the freekeh and 500ml of water in a saucepan, add the oil and salt, if using, and bring to the boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes until tender, then drain and return to the pan. Pour over the dressing and stir. Meanwhile, bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the asparagus for 5 minutes or until tender. Divide the freekeh onto two plates and add the spinach, asparagus, nectarine and green olives and scatter over the almonds.

Inner stew

Although summer’s in full swing, the days are slowly getting shorter, and as many people jet off on their summer holidays, I feel that I need the opposite of a break.

It’s a traditionally quiet time for freelancers, which is not all bad when the weather’s this beautiful, but I’m getting itchy feet. I’ve been lulling the lull with Love Island, but I don’t think it’s helping. This bunch of homogenised honeys might be nice to look at but it all gets a bit repetitive after a while. There are only so many times I can tut as I see Alex turn redder and redder (he’s a doctor for God’s sake; where’s his sun cream?) or watch as Adam snakes his way over to every new woman who arrives at the villa.

A much better way to feng shui my funk is to do something about it, so next week I’m going to make a plan and stick to it. Part of that plan involves me trying very hard not to beat myself up for not ‘achieving’ much this month. I know that I will though, because my inner voice can be a bitch sometimes. Ah, impostor syndrome, the frenemy of women everywhere. A friend who’s also freelance shares my pain and suggested that I start a ‘joy journal’, where I write down my wins, no matter how small, so that I can see where I’m doing well and where I need to improve. I think she’s on to something there.

Anyway, my one constant is cooking and I’ve been road testing some new recipes with summer vegetables. I love making (and eating) stew and although it’s normally a dish associated with chilly nights, a few little tweaks can transform it into a summer staple. This stew is sustaining but it’s also light and zesty. Fresh peas are just in season but if you can’t be bothered to shell them, use frozen instead.

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Summer stew with courgettes, asparagus and peas

Summer stew

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

2 shallots, peeled and diced

500ml hot stock

100ml oat milk

1-2 tsp white miso paste

400g Jersey royals or new potatoes, quartered

100g asparagus, chopped

150g courgettes, diced

100g peas (podded weight), fresh or frozen

1 x 400g can cannellini beans

The juice of 2 lemons

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp olive oil

A handful of fresh mint, chopped

A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

 

In a large heatproof casserole or pan, heat the oil at a low temperature. Add the shallots and garlic and fry for 3-4 minutes, until translucent. Add half the stock, the miso, the bay leaves and the potatoes and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Add the asparagus, courgette and the rest of the stock and cook for 5 minutes, then add the cannellini beans and lemon juice and season. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 minutes, then add the peas and oat milk and cook for another 3 minutes. Just before serving remove the bay leaves and stir through the chopped mint and parsley.