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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Blackberry picking

The last time I posted a recipe on here back in May, it was asparagus season and summer was on the way. As I write this, it’s 1 September, what I think of as the first day of autumn, although summer apparently lasts until 23 September.

It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining, but the leaves are already falling and plump blackberries are sitting on the hedges, waiting to be eaten. This morning, we walked up Kilvey Hill, somewhere we occasionally go to stretch our legs and look down on Swansea when we get to the top.

Recently, life has become a bit of a juggling act with a new job and a fair bit of freelance work to keep me busy. I’m also developing recipes for a new project, which I’ll be able to share with you soon. I have quite a lot on my plate (don’t we all, though?) and I’ve been feeling quite stressed at times.

One thing that helps me switch off is escaping into the countryside. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nature can be the best medicine. If I want to stop the whirring thoughts inside my head, I get outside and head for the woods or the beach, and I usually feel ten times better afterwards. Last week, I had an afternoon out with my new work colleagues and went rambling around Llantwit Major, which incidentally is where I was born. It turns out that a combination of fresh air, no WIFI and a hearty meal at the pub is tonic for just about anything.

In the last week, I’ve been out and about blackberry picking. As a city dweller, it’s something I’ve come to late in life, but where we live in Swansea, they’re abundant at this time of year. I’m far too impatient for mindfulness, but picking blackberries does help me be ‘present’ – and stops me looking at my phone.

Now that I’ve started picking, I’ve started to notice other ‘pickers’ on my walks, and we smile at each other, almost conspiratorially. It’s like being in a secret club: if you know, you know. Having said that, blackberry picking is one of the most accessible activities, if you know where to look for them, and who doesn’t like free food? They’re plentiful at this time of year, so head out with a load of Tupperware and pick to your heart’s content. Just remember to be careful of thorns and always wash the berries thoroughly. And if you end up with too much, you can freeze them for eating another time.

So what to do with all those blackberries? You can always make crumble or pie – or you can try my simple no bake mini cheesecakes. I’m a sucker for those little Gu puddings (which I buy as a treat or when they’re on offer) so I used the empty glass pots for these cheesecakes. If you don’t have those, use ramekins or glass tumblers, empty jam jars, or even coffee cups.

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No-bake blackberry cheesecakes

Makes four mini cheesecakes

Ingredients

200g (about half a tub) soya or coconut yogurt

3 tsp vanilla extract

100g Hobnobs or oaty biscuits (about six biscuits)

50g vegan butter or margarine

300g blackberries, washed and drained

50g caster sugar

 

In a small pan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the biscuits to a large bowl and bash with the end of a rolling pin until you have a crumb-like texture. Add the melted butter and set aside.

Using the same pan, add the blackberries, sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract and warm over a low heat for about 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

In a large bowl, mix the yogurt with 2 tsp vanilla extract and whip vigorously using a hand whisk.

Take four ramekins and spoon the biscuit mixture into the bottom, making sure to press down firmly. Add a layer of yogurt and top with the blackberries. Eat immediately or chill in the fridge. If covered, these will last a couple of days.

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.

 

Spring fever

We’re slowly inching away from the cold, dark months of winter, but I’m not quite full of the joys of spring. That could be because it’s been rainy and windy for the last three days or because I’ve been feeling rundown and unwell, but I don’t think that’s it.

Maybe I just need some pie. It’s British Pie Week, another week for another foodstuff, but if there was ever a time for comfort food, this is it. While Brexit rages on, climate change is more apparent than ever (hello, February heatwave) and the number of students in the UK learning a foreign language has nearly halved. Personally, I think our governments need a generous slice of humble pie.

Over the past few months, freelancing has started to chip away at my general wellbeing and I’m starting to wonder whether it’s all it’s cracked up to be. It’s great to have freedom, but that’s not much compensation when you’re chasing yet another outstanding invoice and trying to keep your many ‘bosses’ sweet. If you like structure, this isn’t the life for you.

I thought self-employment would mean endless coffee dates but most of my friends live in Cardiff and I just don’t have the time most weeks. When I do meet a pal during the day, it’s almost guaranteed that an ‘urgent’ email will come through, and when any work is money, it’s hard to say no.  If I do take a break for a few hours to catch up with a friend or go to the gym or for a walk, it feels like I’m mitching from school, and I’m constantly checking my phone to make sure that I haven’t missed anything. It’s difficult to enjoy yourself when you feel that you should be working.

So, work is busy but life is pretty quiet when you don’t go have a 9-5 office job. Some days, my only interactions are with Bobbie, our kitten, the staff at the Starbucks across the road (haters gonna hate, but there isn’t an independent coffee shop nearby and sometimes I need to get out of the flat to work) or the occasional work-related phone call.

Happily, I’m working on a few food-related projects, but they don’t pay the bills, so I don’t always have that much time (or money) to cook fancy meals or eat out. And as I’ve mentioned before, I live with a pair of fussy eaters, who don’t like anything out of the ordinary, which is why I like to have friends over for dinner!

Sure, I get asked to try vegan food at restaurants in return for a blog or Instagram post (and I realise that’s a pretty jammy situation to be in), but I turn down as many invitations as I accept because I can’t justify taking time out my working day to travel to Cardiff just for a meal.

Anyway, it’s British Pie Week (not an ad), and by sheer coincidence I baked a pie using up leftovers from the fridge just last week. This one’s really simple to make, especially as it uses ready-made pastry. All you need to do is prepare the filling cover with pastry and pop it in the oven. Mine came out looking a little less than perfect (all my food looks rustic when it’s unfiltered) but it was very tasty. Food for the soul indeed.

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Celeriac, kale and chickpea pie. Rustic cooking (and photography) at its finest.

Celeriac, kale and chickpea pie

Serves 4

 

Ingredients

1 medium sized celeriac (about 200g), peeled and diced

100g kale, rinsed and roughly chopped or torn

1 x 400g can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (keep the water!)

½ an apple, cored and diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and grated or finely chopped

A couple of sprigs of  fresh rosemary, chopped (or use dry)

2 tsp wholegrain mustard

The juice of ½ a lemon

200ml plant milk (oat milk works particularly well)

2 tsp nutritional yeast (optional)

Salt and pepper

2 tbsp rapeseed, coconut or vegetable oil

1 sheet (320g) Jus-Rol or supermarket own brand shortcrust pastry sheet (take out of the fridge 45 minutes before making the pie)

 

Preheat your oven to 200C. In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium temperature and fry the celeriac for 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and garlic and fry for another 2-3 minutes, until golden. Add the apple and kale and pour over the lemon juice. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then pour over the milk and stir through the mustard and nutritional yeast, if using. Add the chickpeas (pour the water from the can into a mug or bowl and set aside) and season, then cover with a lid and cook on a low temperature for another 5-10 minutes.

Take the pastry out of its packet and gently unroll and drape over a medium-sized ovenproof dish or pie dish. Make sure to press down the pastry and cover the sides of the dish, then spoon in the pie filling. Take the loose ends of the pastry to form a ‘lid’ and press down together. Now, using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ over some of the chickpea water across the pastry lid.

Place the dish on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. Serve with mashed potato or swede and lots of veggies, or enjoy cold with salad.

 

 

 

 

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.

I don’t care if Monday’s blue…

Today (21 January) is Blue Monday, which is apparently the bleakest day of the year. It’s something to do with the post-Christmas slump, failed new year’s resolutions, gloomy weather and being broke until pay day. It’s true that January can be pretty joyless, but it can also be a quiet, contempalative and even quite consoling time of year – if you’re kind to yourself, that is. A lot of us put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect – to lose weight, kick those goals and be a ‘better’ person – that it’s no wonder that we feel rubbish. Maybe it’s best to hunker down, eat up those leftover mince pies and ride it out until spring – and finally, the days are getting ever so slightly longer.

There’ll be none of that ‘new year, new me’ nonsense for me. In the past, I’ve given up on too many resolutions, so this year I didn’t make any. I’m just going to keep going and that’s enough, because I’m enough.

That said, I’m trying to head to the gym regularly, not because I’m on a health kick – although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to tone up a bit – but because of how it makes me feel. As a fairweather runner (during my twenties, I somehow managed to do three half marathons), I know all about the power of post-exercise endorphins, and although I’m much less fit these days, I still feel high after the gym. I feel more upbeat, less anxious and I usually sleep better as well. It seems that this is one spot of ‘self-improvement’ that might actually work.

I haven’t cooked much recently as I’m busy with work (no bad thing for a freelancer who’s about to pay her first tax return), but I did make an easy stew the other week. This brightly hued one pot features the stars of winter veg, beetroot and celeriac and is guaranteed to brighten up the chilliest of evenings. It’s also a good way to use up leftover chestnuts, although you can use chickpeas or lentils if you don’t eat nuts. If you have brown bananas wallowing in the fruit bowl, take one and mash it up and use instead of the tomato puree for a richer and slightly sweeter sauce.

This is lovely served with mashed swede and steamed red cabbage – and if you’re not doing Dry January (I’m certainly not), a glass of red.

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Beetroot, celeriac and chestnut casserole

Beetroot, celeriac and chestnut casserole

 

Serves 2-3

 

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive, coconut or rapeseed oil

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped finely or grated

2 shallots, peeled and diced

200g celeriac, peeled and cut into small chunks

250g beetroot, peeled and cut into small chunks

180g cooked chestnut, roughly chopped

1 x 400g can chopped or plum tomatoes

2 tsp tomato puree

½ tsp fresh or dried thyme leaves

2 tbsp cider apple vinegar

Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a pan at a medium temperature, then fry the shallots and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the beetroot, celeriac, thyme and vinegar, and season. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the tomatoes (fill the empty can with water and pour that in, too) and tomato puree, cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chestnuts, cover with the lid, and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

 

 

 

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.

 

Pinch, punch, first of the month

It might be the first of September, but like most of us sun-spoiled Brits, I’m hoping for an Indian summer. I adore the autumn, which for me, is the season of new starts, but I’m feeling rather ill-prepared for it this year.

I don’t feel ready to get back into the swing of things because I never got off in the first place. My freelancing has been more feast than fast recently, which is no bad thing, but it does mean that I didn’t get to enjoy as many long and lazy summer days as I’d have liked.

Perhaps I need follow the example of our Gallic neighbours. If you’ve ever been to Paris during August, you’ll know that everything shuts down. The French love their holidays, but in September, after a well-deserved break, it’s ‘à la rentrée’, and life returns to normal.

School starts next week and so does the beginning of a busy month for me, and many others. The nights are already drawing in and I’m not relishing the return of colder, darker days. I really don’t want to say sayonara to the summer so in typical rebellious fashion, I plan to stay bare-legged, go out without a coat and eat summer berries for as long as I possibly can.

Speaking of which, summer strawberries are still on the shelves, but only just, so in homage to the sunny season, here’s a sweet bake to brighten up those grey skies. You can find tahini in most larger supermarkets and world food shops, but peanut butter works well, too. When strawberries disappear, you can try it with autumn apples or blackberries.

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Strawberry and tahini loaf

Ingredients

1 punnet (about 400g) strawberries, hulled

200g plain or rice flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp baking powder

100g caster sugar

250ml plant milk

75ml rapeseed oil, plus extra for greasing

3 tbsp tahini

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 200C. Take half the strawberries and chop into small pieces. Add to a pan with a little water and a tablespoon of caster sugar and warm over a low heat for 5 minutes. Leave to cool.

Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and stir thoroughly. Add the milk and stir through and then the oil, and stir again. Now add the tahini, cinnamon and vanilla extract and stir again. Finally, add the strawberries, making sure to include the juice and stir through the mixture.

Pour into a greased loaf tin and place on the top shelf of the oven. Bake for 25 mins or until fully risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean.

When the cake has cooled, slice the remainder of the strawberries and layer over the top of the cake. This will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.

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