Pumpkins, not just for Halloween…

We are in the depths of autumn and Halloween is upon us but who knows what sort of guise things will take this year. What I do know however is over the last six months, lots of blood, sweat and tears have gone into creating pumpkin patches up and down the county. Most of which opened last week, coinciding with the October holidays.

Pumpkins are not the easiest fruit to grow. I know. They are however without doubt the best thing we grew during lockdown but they are fussy plants a bit like small children around the kitchen table. Not too much rain, lots of manure, keep them sheltered from the rain and keep the slugs off the patch. Easier said than done when you live in the west of Scotland.

We lost a lot but these plants, which grow at a monstrous rate and will quickly take over the garden are such fun to grow with children, along with potatoes and sunflowers, and we did successfully grow three crown prince pumpkin fruits. It’s a culinary pumpkin variety I was inspired to grow after visiting Russell and Lucy Calder at Kilduff Farm last year. A steely blue colour on the outside and a beautiful turmeric colour on the inside. Nutty and sweet you can eat the flesh, seeds and skin.

Since June I have been lucky enough to be working along side them. Their passion about food and farming is addictive and we all share a desire to connect children more to the countryside and help educate everyone more about where their food comes from. The patch to plate idea is a great way to communicate this and a pumpkin revolution is well underway.

They really are on a mission to get more of us cooking and eating pumpkins and reduce the terrifying amount of food waste associated with pumpkins, which comes around every Halloween. All pumpkins are edible, but culinary pumpkins, which Lucy and Russell are growing are one of the most delicious, nutritious and versatile ingredients I have cooked with. They are also developing a range of recipes, which I have contributed to, which will stop anyone in their tracks who may just chuck their pumpkin out on November 1st.

Pumpkins might be associated with Northern America, but due to increasing climates over the last few years pumpkin patches across farms in the UK are on the rise, gaining huge popularity but still 18000 tonnes of pumpkin waste ends in landfill. That is a lot of pie.

Their alluring colours and shapes provide warmth as winter creeps closer. And they can keep into the new year as long as they are not damaged, providing an abundance of comforting dishes for the cold months ahead. Something I think you can agree we all need at the moment.

So if you haven’t grown pumpkin before I really do recommend you give it ago next Spring. Order you seeds now, to plant in April. The Crown Prince variety or the Tractor variety would be worth the effort.

However before we start planning ahead to next year and drawing a close to the garden in 2020, wrapping a big warm blanket around it there is still much to be done.

1. Make a hedgehog house by cutting a whole in a plastic box, covering it with a bin liner and covering the bin liner with twigs and pieces of tree. Add some leaves inside and keep it close to a hole in your garden fence.

2. Collect fallen leaves, put in a bin liner and add holes to the bottom of the liner. Tie it up and keep it in a cool dark place until next year and you will have perfect mulch for your beds and borders to keep them warm over winter. A great way to occupy the kids!

3. Plant garlic bulbs now while the ground is still warm and easy to work with.

4. Between now and December plant daffodils, tulips and allium bulbs. Something to look forward to and provide hope and you will be rewarded with a burst of colour come spring.

Who doesn’t love a one pot dinner. Nothing quite beats it and when you throw sausages into the mix, especially in my house with three small but hungry boys (and one large one!) you are on to a winner. Quick and super easy to create and super tasty. The perfect mid week supper and some good quality sourdough is highly recommended to mop up the juices at the end.

1. Begin by pre heating the oven to 180C and place 10 good quality sausages on a large baking tray and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile peel and chop three white onions into chunks and core and chop two large red apples. You will also need 6 cloves of garlic.
3. Cut one medium sized pumpkin in half. I have used the Crown Prince variety. Remove the seeds with a spoon. Use one half and cut into similar sized chunks. Use the other half for a soup.
4. Once the sausages are ready, add the apples, onions, garlic and pumpkin to the tray making sure that everything is evenly spaced out and not on top of one and other. Scatter a handful of pumpkin seeds over the top.
5. In a small bowl add 3 – 4 tbsp of olive oil together with 4 tsp of honey and mix well. Drizzle all over the ingredients. Bake in the oven at 180c for 40 – 45 minutes and turn everything half way through.
6. 10 minutes from the end add a good handful of blackberries for an extra autumnal blast.

Pumpkin, apple & garam masala soup

What says Autumn more than a bowl of piping warm roasted pumpkin soup. It is essentially a hug in a bowl. Something we are deserving of at the moment.

1. Use one half of a medium sized crown prince pumpkin. Leave the skin on, remove the seeds and cut into chunks. This helps the pumpkin keep it’s shape. Drizzle with olive oil and roast in a pre heated oven at 180c for 40 minutes
2. Meanwhile peel and finely dice two white onions and fry in butter with 1tsp of cumin seeds for at least 15 minutes on a low heat being careful not to burn the onions
3. Once the pumpkin has been roasted, remove the skin (you can then snack on it!) and add the pumpkin flesh to the onions.
4. Add 1.5 litres of good quality vegetable or chicken stock. Bring to the boil.
5. Add 1 tbsp. of Garam Masala and 1tsp. of cinnamon and allow to simmer on a low heat for 20minutes. Blitz until smooth and serve with pumpkin seeds on top!

And some exciting news. In the coming weeks I have a new podcast about to launch. Grow, Cook, Inspire, aims to get more people growing and connecting people, whether they are 5 or 85 to the countryside and educating us more about where are food comes from. Highlighting the benefits of gardening for body and mind there will also be a recipe in each episode.

Silver linings & green fingered legacies…

Summer draws to a close with a final burst of colour….

Not sure if it’s because we got to escape beyond our postcode for two weeks, but July flew by in a flash and August sped by at a speed of knots as our children north of the border returned to school. Autumn is creeping slowly upon us and there is most definitely a sharp chill in the air and evenings as nighttime closes in on us quicker. It’s time to take stock and prepare for the winter months ahead and start to plan ahead for spring. A sure fire way to focus the mind on hope and renewal. After all like flowers, we can’t flower all year round. We need time to rest and recharge.

Although the sun may not have been blazing compared to previous months, the garden has delivered the goods, food, flowers and a safe space to escape to. And although the leaves are beginning to brandish their golden hues, summer lingers ever so slightly as our sunflowers continue to shine and our Dahlias take centre stage, both in colour and size.

Otto’s Thrill

With the last of the summer crops harvested, the autumn seeds of kale and beetroot are bursting through the soil. Never will this process cease to amaze me. And there are signs of cauliflower and broccoli. Our Crown Prince pumpkins, Penelope, Pandora and Dolly are continuing to take over the patch. Despite some setbacks due to slugs and recent wet weather, i’m confident we’ll get a few of these beautiful autumnal gems, to turn in to delicious and nutritious dishes. With each day come a few changes in size and colour. Providing focus and distraction from the uncertainty and the thin veil of normality which surrounds us. And that focus and distraction is the silver lining of the last 6 months for us as a family.

From tiny seedlings…
Penelope the Crown Prince pumpkin
Measuring the bounty

Our intention was always to get stuck into the garden with the boys this year and enjoy our first full spring and summer in our new home. However, never did I expect to spend so much time in a space which quickly became an extended part of our house. A place where we played, ate, fought, learned and nurtured during such an unsettled time emotionally and mentally. It’s a cliche that rang so true for us. Gardening really does provide a sense of calm in a chaotic world, allowing you to pause and engage with nature and people.

Watching things grow and the seasons change provides reassurance, focusing your mind away from events unfolding that you can’t control. In the same way that waiting patiently, but with an undercurrent of excitement, for ingredients to come into season has on me. I long to enjoy certain foods at at certain time of the year and cook and eat with them as if they are going out of fashion, as you know you’ll have to wait until next year to enjoy that taste again.

Nurturing and looking after his crops. Instilling a life long learning about how to grow food. Something which is so important but has become so lost.
The bee garden.

We’re far from out of the woods but I hope if there were to be any silver linings to have evolved from the last few months it would be that we have had to slow down and developed green fingers, which will last a life time.

I really struggled mentally during lockdown, being at home with three preschoolers, while my husband was out at work. It was lonely and my anxiety was heightened to new levels. The memories being made were not always rose tinted as you can imagine. Having had a long history of post natal impression, these feelings were reignited during lockdown.

However as we were forced to stay at home for such a lengthy period I am so glad I caught the gardedning bug and I really hope that as we begin to slowly retreat out of our homes and gardens, we don’t just hang up our trowels and gardening gloves. Gardening is not just for lockdown. It is something that should be embraced whether you are five of 85.

Ivor and I.

The garden has also been a lifeline for my children. By introducing them to gardening early on, I hope it becomes the norm for them to get out and roll up their sleeves and watch tiny seedlings grow into delicious food to be taken from their patch to their plate. It not only teaches them were their food comes from, something which has got lost in translation due to the huge disconnect between people, nature and farming, but it also teaches them how to nurture.

A daily haul.
The dinosaur garden evolved and grew a lot.

If you caught the bug I urge you to hold on to it and grow this interest. And if you’re children have been capitaved by digging for potatoes or building bugs hotels and hedgehog houses then harness this and allow them to run wild with this new fascination for plants and wildlife. If your local school doesn’t have a gardening club, why not get one going. That is our plan.

Nuggets of gold
Homegrown carrot and almond muffins
Our bee and butterfly patch. Nothing makes you stop and be more mindful than watching butterflies take flight or bees forage from one flower to another.

It could be the beginning of an important turning point. Food and biodiversity is an essential part of our life, but for far too long has been taken for granted and local producers and farmers misunderstood. We need to place a higher value on our food and respect it far more and educate our younger generations about it. A healthy diet is fundamentally important to our wellbeing. Cooking and gardening go hand in hand and are vital life skills that should be celebrated not pushed to the back burner. I want my children to be able to cook from scratch and know how their food is produced.

So with the arrival of autumn and as we start to clear the decks for winter ahead, now is the perfect time to look ahead.Planting daffodils and tulips now is another way to keep your mind focused on the future. Something to look forward to. If you have sunflowers towering high above, why not leave some standing as they will provide birds with food in the colder months. And if you haven’t already, build a hedgehog house. He or she will be very grateful. But most importantly keep calm, and keep gardening. 🌼🥕🌻🐝😉

Helen x

July: Reap What You Have Sown…

July is the month when you can pause and take stock. Step back and enjoy the growth you’ve helped orchestrate. If like us you have been busily sowing, this is the month when you can enjoy the fruits (or veg) of your labour. Just remember to sow extra seeds to fill in gaps. You can still sow carrots and lettuce in July. Scotland’s soft fruit scene is also at it’s best. What better way to spend an afternoon than pick your own strawberries or raspberries. A sure sign that the summer holidays have arrived. Although not if you were to stand outside today for any length of time. But I guess that’s summer in Scotland for you. Dreich!

Week 15 of our lock down kitchen garden project.

As well as baskets of garlic, onions, chard, turnips and beetroot we’ve also enjoyed a bountiful supply of peas. Some of which have nearly even made it into the kitchen, before they have been snaffled and gobbled straight from being picked. However the highlight has got to be our first harvest of potatoes from our first Of three tubs. It’s like digging for treasure when you do it with children. Each one a nugget of gold and there’s a race to see who can find the most. Now to mash, bash and roast them into delicious simple supper time treats.

Our veg haul, which has not only supplied us but also friends and neighbours during lockdown.

Our bee garden that we sowed from seed has sprung into life and is providing daily new bursts of colour. Our DIY pond made from an old wash tub has also filled up with rain water and looks quite the part. But no visitors to report of as of yet. However the dinosaur garden, which we created quite early on in lockdown, the alternative to a fairy garden, has taken on new life and there is now a jungle of wild flowers, again grown from seed, which the dinosaurs can explore if it takes there fancy.

Our dinosaur garden.
Our make shift pond. Easy activity to do with children.
The first of our poppies. Now a kaleidoscope of colour.

And also if you have like us sown lots of bee and butterfly friendly seeds or kept your grass a little longer (I’m really not into perfectly mowed grass, ready for a Centre Court Wimbledon final) why not pick a patch and sit for 15 minutes and count and take note of the different butterflies, bees and bugs you spot. Children will love it and they could even draw their favourites or take pictures.

Otto was lucky enough to receive caterpillars for his birthdy from a very good friend. We all loved watching them develop and eventually turn into butterflies before letting them out into the garden. But you don’t need this to count butterflies. Why not take part in The Great Butterfly Count before the 9th of August, and help assess the health of our environment by simply counting the number of butterflies you spot in a 15 minute window. A great activity to do this week.

While on the whole our lock down garden project has been a success there have been some disasters over the last few days, thanks to the wild wet summer weather. Who knew you could become so emotionally attached to plants. Turns out you can. I guess it’s a good way for children to learn about loss and the circle of life!

There have been a couple of sunflower casualties, slugs have torn their way through our Dailiahs and made their marks in the cabbages. And if you are letting children do the sowing, you have to realise you are going to have a collective mix of vegetables growing intertwined together and random flowers popping up in your raised beds or pots. Adds to the character.

Nevertheless, when things have got tough and moods drop, the garden comes into its own and delivers what it set out to achieve. A place to escape too and forget about everything else. Even just for a moment, while the children decide what weird and wonderful concoctions they are going to stir up with their bounty of veg.

Which brings me nicely on to this months recipe from the plot. Reuben wanted beetroot ice cream, so we made beetroot ice cream. You could also try roasting it and adding it to frittata or making hummus. But the ice cream was a winner!!

Chocolate, orange and beetroot ice cream…

The colour alone is reason enough to make this supper time treat.

1. Bring a pan of water to the boil and scrub clean 200g of beetroot. Add the beetroot when the water is boiling and simmer until tender, when you pierce it.

2. Remove the beetroot, peal it and blitz in the food mixer until smooth.

3. In a separate pan add 300ml Of double cream and 200ml of full fat milk. Gently heat, while stirring. Once it has come to the boil take off the heat and leave to the side.

4. Crack three egg yolks into a bowl and add in 180g of caster sugar, using a hand whisk, whisk until the mixture is pale. Add the cream and milk mixture into the eggs and sugar, whisking as you add it slowly. Stir in the beetroot as well as 50g if dark chocolate broken into chunks and the zest of one orange.

5. Pour into a loaf tin and freeze overnight until solid.

Dynamic Duo Spread Love & Hope Through Food…

You can win this beautiful illustration that has inspired today’s post, by the inspirational artist Charlie Mackesy for Waitrose July’s magazine by visiting http://www.waitrose.com All proceeds will go to The Trussell Trust, aiming to end hunger and poverty in the UK.

Lockdown restrictions may be easing and a new normal way of living may beginning to unfold. However, the fall out and economic impact of Covid 19 is set to be long lasting, hitting individuals and families up and down the country hard. The number of people using food banks has been steadily increasing over the last five years. However with people loosing their jobs unexpectedly or being furloughed this number has dramatically increased.

According to the Trussell Trust they have seen an 89% increase in the number of people using their network of food banks, with a staggering 107% rise in the number of food parcels being delivered to children compared to the same time last year. 

Food on our table is something for so many of us, myself included, we take for granted. However the current crisis has put the spotlight on the food poverty issue that plagues this country as well as the widening gap between food poverty and food waste, which also exists.

Amanda Robinson and Amy Wight, founders of Cafe ReCharge in Galashiels

However, up and down the country organisations and charities like The Trussell Trust as well as armies of volunteers have been working tirelessly to keep those in need fed. A home cooked meal may seem like a drop in the ocean but for many it has been a life line, which has enhanced the quality of their life.

Two such individuals doing their bit are Amy Wight and Amanda Robinson in the Scottish Borders. After a hugely successfully crowdfunding campaign, smashing their target at the start of the New Year, they were set to open Cafe Recharge, a pay what you can Cafe in Galashiels in March. The purpose of the enterprise was to take surplus supermarket food and turn it into family friendly healthy meals, ensuring the whole community could reap the benefits of nutritious home cooked food, that would otherwise go to landfill.

Every year over 10 million tonnes of food and drink is thrown away in the UK and around two-thirds of that amount is perfectly edible food. Yet last year Scottish Borders Council reported the highest percentage rise in food bank usage of any local authority area in Scotland. An increase in 329% on the previous year.

Unable to open their doors to the public they decided to respond to the crisis by using the equipment, premises and surplus food collections to prepare meals and food parcels for the community most in need. This has included those who have been furloughed, taking an unexpected drop in wages, self employed individuals and families who currently have no income and those who are shielding.

Last week, with the help of their volunteers and a subsequent crowdfunding campaign to cover additional running costs, not met by the income of the Cafe, they delivered their 1000th meal, by delivering afternoon teas to the local food bank. A phenomenal achievement as a result of some quick thinking during a very difficult period.

To date the team has provided meals to Galashiels Foodbank, Langlee Early Years Centre and TD1 Youth Hub plus other individuals and families who contact them directly and are at risk of food poverty in these strange and unprecedented times.

It’s hoped in the coming months Cafe ReCharge will, like so many others in the food industry, be able to open their doors. The positive impact they have made however thus far, taking a different approach than intended as been far reaching.

@cafe_rechargecic

Www.trusselltrust.org

Watch out Monty…

Otto and I put together a video to show you all of our efforts over the last three months. From tiny seeds, great things really do grow. From bug hotels to monster pumpkin plants the growth and change has been mesmerising. If you manage to tune in until the end, Otto demonstrates he could be a strong contender for Gardeners World presenter in 2036. Monty, watch out! 💚🌱⬇️

June; sow, water, weed, eat & repeat….

The highs and lows of lockdown have meant June’s newsletter is a little behind schedule. While cooking and gardening has kept the boys and I relatively sane and provided as much structure as possible, cracks will always show. We are only human after all.

However despite the uncertainty and anxiety of this surreal period in time, our garden and nature has marched on triumphantly, defiant of any barriers. It certainly hasn’t been standing still, which continues to provide a sense of reassurance and calm and utter amazement.

Spring is slowly sliding into summer. Days are long and nights are balmy. The wild garlic has faded but the trees are filled with the heavy scent and white buds of elderflower, the key ingredient to the best cordial. Summer in a bottle and add rose petals for a twist, and makes a pretty good Father’s Day gift.

In the garden our bee friendly bed is on the verge of coming alive with colour and vibrancy and will no doubt provide entertainment for the boys, who are mesmerised by bees. There really is something therapeutic about watching them going about their work as well as the butterflies, which provide extra colour and life in our green spaces. So while it is all to easy to be busy digging and sowing, remember to stop and watch and listen. The power it will have emotionally and mentally is overwhelming in a positive way.

The veg patch meanwhile has gone off the scale, lettuce is being harvested every night, onions, garlic and potatoes are on the verge of being ready and the beetroot, turnips, carrots, peas, cabbage and pumpkins are all gaining momentum. Our seeds really have provided focus and hope in moments of darkness.

Otto and Reuben have been my chief slug and snail watchmen. I’ll reward them a princely sum. Perhaps even hire them out?!

Although we are half way through June, it’s not too late to sow seeds. Cut and Come again lettuce, beetroot and carrots can all still be sown to fill in gaps and for colour we’ve been sowing edible nasturiums seeds as well as poppy seeds. There really is no better activity to do with kids. Seeds have the power to sow hope and generate intrigue in little minds.

What’s more the first of the Scottish strawberries are ripe and ready and in abundance. Be sure to buy local if you can. Nothing tastes quite like summer than strawberries.

And if you are looking for something to do with kids this week head down to your local wood or park and forage for elderflower, nothing beats free food and it is so versatile. Think cordial, ice cream and cake. Or if you fancy making a pond even if space is tight, dig a hole big enough for a washing up tub, fill with stones, pond plants and rain water. Then Wait and see who comes to visit.

Recipes of the month…

Elderflower and rose petal cordial

1. Pick 20 elderflower heads but don’t wash them.

2. Add the flowers to a big heavy based pan, with 2 lemons halved, petals of two rose buds, 1kg of granulated sugar, 50g of citric acid (available in chemists) and 1 1/2 pints of water and mix altogether.

3. Bring to the boil and simmer on a low heat for 5 minutes. Leave to cool and remove the elderflower flowers and petals and let the syrup liquid and lemons to sit covered overnight or for 24 hours.

4. sieve once again to remove any bits and Pour into sterilised jars or bottles and serve with tap water or sparkling water with ice and raspberries.

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Keep calm, and garden on….

You don’t need me to tell you that we are living in extraordinary times. We’re all adjusting to a new ‘normal’ currently, cut off from family and friends. Tough and exhausting. I’m at home on my own with three preschoolers during the day. The monotony is trying but in the last couple of months we have not only been seeking more inspiration in the kitchen but also in the garden.

It is no secret I do a lot of cooking with my boys. They were stirring and mixing before they were walking. However as I come from a farming background and a family of very good gardeners I have been encouraged to experiment a little more in our own garden, which we have had for little under a year. As we can’t venture down to my parents farm any time soon, we’ve created our kitchen garden in the south side of Glasgow.

A growing and gardening revolution is taking place throughout the country, on balconies, window sills, pots in porches and even in back lanes of terrace houses. And although we’re not going to be self sufficient the lessons it is teaching myself and my three boys are paramount. Like cooking, gardening is an important life skill that should be harnessed from a very young age. Simply sowing a seed, helps to give children an understanding as to where our food comes from and how it is cultivated. You can’t put a price on that.

This week I should have been heading down to my second home from home, London, to enjoy the 2020 Chelseas Flower Show for the very first time. However suffice to stay I am at home but like those who are lucky enough to have a garden, we are spending a lot of time in our green space. It may not be a Chelsea Gold winning design but the boys and I have have created our own unique escape and sanctuary, allowing them to grow, flourish and learn new things as well as get even more grubby and filthy than ever before. I will never ever have a clean house with three boys. Fact.

We’ve created two beds bursting with bulbs and sees to attract butterflies and bees in the coming months and our four raised beds and up cycled sheep feed containers are home to a host of vegetables including, pumpkins, peas, leeks, onions, garlic, potatoes, rhubarb, cabbage, beetroot, carrots, Swiss chard and much much more.

As cliche as it sounds, watching things grow is not only a distraction from things we can’t control but it also inspiring. Nature and the seasons are still turning and evolving. Bees and butterflies are beginning to appear. New shoots of growth are bursting through the earth. Each morning we inspect the changes over night in the vegetable beds and in that moment we are a million miles away from every other distraction and worry. It is addictive. A positive addiction. Gardening at this time of uncertainty could be compared to a fourth emergency service. Sharpening are green fingers and putting your hands in the earth is not only good for you physically but also emotionally and mentally.

We’re reconnecting with nature, stepping away from our fears and focusing on something other that the 24 hour news cycles, which is all too often overwhelming. Spending 120 minutes in nature each week has shown to have a positive impact on mental well being and I can vouch for that as someone who has suffered from post natal depression and anxiety following the birth of my first and second son and during my third pregnancy.

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For children, gardening and growing things provides them with a focus and encourages their curiosity. It allows them to become increasingly independent as they care and look after plants from seedlings and beyond. I wish I could capture and bottle the excitement when Otto and Reuben first spotted the blossom on the apple and pear trees we planted at the start of the year. It was infectious.

We’ve all had to pause and slow down to some extent. However this recharge of our batteries is perhaps something we all need as we spend more time cooking and growing together. Hopefully these new habits we foster will last beyond this period of lockdown.

Beyond planting seeds, there are lots of other fun things to do with children to encourage them into the garden. I have suggested a few ideas below and if you head to the Royal Horticultural Society website, this week to coincide with their Virtual Chelsea Flower Show they will also be sharing ideas to encourage more mini green fingered crusaders. And if you are looking for more recipe ideas to get kids cooking head over to my Instagram page @MrsHelencross, where I am posting daily recipes to help inspire during lock down.

1. Make a bug hotel out of bits of wood, pine cones, leaves, old pot plants and toilet rolls, sticks and bricks. Basically anything you have lying around your garden. Let their imagination run wild and each day inspect for any new arrivals, who may have checked in.

2. Make a hedgehog den in the corner of your garden , from logs and sticks, to provide a shelter. You can leave water and dog food for them too.

3. Get creative and make your own mini garden, whether it’s for fairies, dragons, unicorns or like the one we created, dinosaurs.

4. If you’re handy with a saw and a hammer and have old pallets then a mud kitchen is a must if you have space. Add a few old pots and pans and you’ll be enjoying mud pie, dandelion soup and snail porridge in no time at all. Or make your own make believe camp fire from sticks and stones.

5. Up cycled old wellies, bread bins, and watering cans are great for children to plant things in. Just be sure to make holes in the bottom for drainage. Give them there own one to take responsibility of and they will really surprise you with their commitment. You may even catch them talking to their plants.

6. For the arty using flowers, leaves and sticks as paint brushes is a great way to encourage mark making using nature and you could also try making your own butterfly feeder. Get a glass jar fill with a water sugar solution and make a hole in the lid big enough to slide a sponge through. Decorate the jar and hang upside down. Or if you want to make your own bird feeder scoop the flesh out of an orange, fill with peanut butter and seeds and make two holes on either side so you can tie the orange up.

7. Using food in your house get children to cut pieces of fruit and veg such oranges, apples, peppers and lemons to find the seeds and plant them up in a little pots of compost to put on your windowsill and watch what grows.

8. Finally have a go at making your own watering can out of a plastic milk container. Simply fill with water and make several little holes in the lid.

Recipe

Today’s recipe, making the most of the very last of the wild garlic with these Wild Garlic & Cheese Scones. These are epic and scones are a great store coupboard basic to get kids to learn to make. Super easy and super tasty. We have so much wild garlic on our doorstep but if you don’t simply add a tsp. Of mustard powder or paprika. 💚

🌱🌱🌱

1. Heat the oven to 220c and lighty grease a baking tray.

2.Using your fingers rub together 500g self raising flour, 4tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt & 200g softened unsalted butter, just like your making a crumble topping.

3. Stir in 150g grated cheddar cheese, 2 handfuls of chopped wild garlic and 200ml full fat milk. Mix it all together.

4. Turn the dough on to a floured surface and knead gently. Using your hands pat the dough and flatten it into a round shape about 2cm thick.

5. Using a cutter, cut out scone shapes and pop on your baking tray.

6. Prick the tops using a fork and brush the tops with a little milk and egg mixture. Bake for 12 -14 minutes. They should be well risen and golden in colour. Leave to cool.

Store cupboard staples: oats

Many of us may find ourselves having to resort to store cupboard basics over the coming weeks, but you will be amazed what you can make in the kitchen with only a few ingredients, which you’ll have in the back of the cupboard. Let’s get inventive and go back to basics with some cheap yet delicious and versatile staples. My favourite is the humble porridge oat. Not just for breakfast.

Sticky fruity Flapjacks

Who doesn’t love a flapjack? And if you have children at home with you more than usual, then this is a great recipe to get them involved in to.

Makes about 12

1. In a pot melt 200g of unsalted butter & 6 tbsp honey together.

2. Add 100g sunflower seeds, 140g chopped apricots, 2tsp cinnamon and 200g oats. Grate one carrot and combine all the ingredients together and pop into a greased baking tray.

3. Bake in a preheated oven at 180c for 25 minutes. Leave to cool and refrigerate before cutting.

Apricot and Raisin Granola

Once you’ve made your own homemade granola, you’ll never ever go back to the shop bought stuff again. It’s so easy to make and so delicious. Perhaps too delicious.

1. Heat the oven to 150C

2. Add to a bowl 300g porridge oats, 100g of chopped hazelnuts, 50g of chopped cashew nuts, 2 tsp ground cinnamon & 2 tsp. Vanilla extract.

3. Pour 50 ml of light olive oil and 150ml maple syrup into the bowl and mix everything together well.

4. Spread the granola evenly over the baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes, turning the mixture with a spatula a couple of times. It will be ready when golden.

5. Leave to cool and then mix 50g of raisins and 50g of chopped dried apricots through the granola. Store in an airtight container.

Escape to the kitchen and the garden…

I normally post once a month on here, with a snapshot of seasonal dishes and gardening tips for you and your little cooks and gardeners. However, like so many I am going to be at home with my brood for the foreseeable while my better half is at work and as I live for routine this space is going to provide me with a creative outlet, where I can share more recipes, you can cook with you children and also the highs and lows of our gardening endeavours.

A snapshot of our garden in March, ready to be pressed and then framed.Cooking and gardening, are not only important life skills but also provide an opportunity to escape and provide distraction from the things we can’t control. Gardening especially, at this time of year is an opportunity to sow seeds for the future, providing a glimmer of hope as green shoots begin to appear. Whether you decide to plant potatoes or sunflower seeds, gardening will provide something to focus on and watch grow. Every child will watch in wonder.

You also don’t need lots of expensive kit. We’ve even recycled an old bread bin and made watering cans into plant pots. Just be sure to make holes in the bottom, using a hammer and a nail or a drill. We’ve also used old egg cartons to sow sweet pea and tomato and courgette seeds.

If you scroll back to my March blog post you will be able to get a recap of what’s in season this month and what to plant out. Our potatoes are planted and we’re planting more onions, carrots and beetroot in later this week. We’ve also planted some butterfly friendly bulbs, including Dahlia’s, to bring some colour to our garden. For more inspiration check out The Good Life Ain’t Easy on Instagram and The Dirt podcast from the editors of Grow Your Own Magazine. Also my secret crush, Monty Don and Gardeners World is back on our screens on Friday night. Never has this been so timely and who doesn’t love a guy in a woolly roll neck, with big hands and who likes to get dirty!

My recipes will keep a seasonal theme but I will also share recipes that use pantry staples such as flour, lentils and oats as well as recipes to make sure we are making the most of every last scrap of food we have before we restock. An important message to help reduce waste.

A black veil has undoubtedly fallen across our fragile world. However the seasons are still turning and the clocks keep ticking. Night turns into day and the birds chirp and the bees are beginning to buzz. This is a time to pause. Take stock and be kind to those around you. Life is going to slow down, while those on the frontline work tirelessly to fight to regain some sense of normality. While we stay home take time to enjoy the simple things we all take for granted, like cooking a meal and sitting at the dining table. It is going to be difficult but I hope this space provides some ideas and gets more children cooking and stirring up homemade memories in the heart of the home.

There will be lots more tips and recipes over on my Instagram feed @mrshelencross

Fruit Bowl Cake

This cake is great for making the most of fruit that looks a little past it’s best as well as some pantry staples, including flour, oats and dried fruit (left over from Christmas!). Kids will love mashing the fruit and cracking the eggs. And at the end of it you can enjoy a big slice with a cuppa. Everything is better after a cup of tea.

1. In a bowl mash three bananas together and mix in two grated apples.

2. Crack four eggs and stir everything together.

3. Next add 100g of oats, 140g self raising flour, 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, a handful of cashew nuts and a couple of handfuls of mixed fruit to the bowl and fold all the ingredients together.

4. Add 2 tsp. of honey for extra sweetness. Pour the mixture into a greased baking tray and top with slices of apple before baking at 180c for 50 minutes.

Next up recipes for Flapjacks and granola.

March: Go Wild For Wild Garlic…

If you go down to the woods this weekend, don’t be surprised to come across lots and lots of wonderfully scented and vibrant wild garlic. It’s in abundance at the moment and is a foragers and cooks dream ingredient for the month of March and April. Little foragers will also love to help pick some and take it back to the kitchen.

From the wild onion family, this perennial bulb is such a versatile ingredient. It can be the star attraction in pesto (recipe below) fried in butter with onions and mushrooms and served on toast, stirred through a tomato sauce or added to a frittata.

And if you’re looking for more vibrancy in the kitchen make the most of blood oranges this month. We can’t get enough of them. The olive oil cake recipe below is a must if you’re looking for a new pudding idea this weekend too. Just watch you don’t burn the top of it!

What’s in season; leeks and turnips, perfect for making broth soup with, just add some carrots, onions and vegetable stock for a warming and hearty lunch idea . Wild nettles are beginning to appear, wild garlic, blood oranges and forced rhubarb are all at their best.

What to grow; our seed potatoes have been chitted and have been planted in their tubs at the bottom of the garden as well as some more Rhubarb. I love growing potatoes with children as when it comes to harvesting them, it’s like digging for nuggets of gold. Follow me over on instagram @MrsHelenCross where we’ll be sharing more of our growing adventures as we work our way through March and hopefully stumble across some drier days. We can but dream.

Top Tip; If you’re looking to get children into gardening then a great way to kick off this addictive hobby is to get them collecting Cacti, succulents and Venus fly traps. They are low maintenance and relatively cheap, and far less effort than a dog. We headed to Apercu in the Southside of Glasgow last weekend and picked up a few gems to start off our collection. This is a gorgeous shop and a house plant lovers dream. Check it out if you are ever along Pollockshaws Road. A hub for vibrant and quirky independent small businesses.

Recipes

Wild Garlic Pesto

Picking something straight from the ground, taking it home and cooking with it, is a great way to really help children understand where their food comes from and also helps them to experiment with new flavours. Foraging for wild garlic is a great example of this process. Just be sure to respect the environment you are picking from, don’t pick too much from one patch and wash thoroughly.

1. In a food blender, mix together 2 good big handfuls of wild garlic, juice of one large lemon, 160g of Parmesan, 120g of cashew nuts and enough olive oil until you get to the consistency you prefer. Use as a dip, spread it on toast or stir it through pasta.

Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

This is a a very decadent and moist cake and is a great way to show children how some ingredients, in this case blood oranges, can be used in their entirety. I love food but hate waste.

1. You will need a 20cm loose bottom round cake tin, greased with butter.

2. Wash three blood oranges and pop them in a pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Slice in half and remove the pips. Blend the oranges in a food processor until you have a smooth pure and set aside.

3. Pre heat the oven to 180c. In a bowl whisk 100ml of olive oil, 4 eggs and 160 g of light brown sugar together. Fold in 160g of ground almonds, 2tsp. of baking powder and the orange pure until mixed thoroughly.

4. Bake for 50 min or until golden brown on top and cooked through.

5. Top with a homemade sticky toffee sauce and fresh slices of oranges if you like.