7 Tips for staying at home

7 Tips for staying at home

It is currently a strange time. Practically overnight we turned from people with busy lifestyles to sitting at home wondering how to declutter the home, start home-schooling, and wondering how to cut our own hair. I can of course only recount my own experience here. If you are a key worker or medical staff then your life will have been busier than ever. 

In London, it all started in mid-March 2020.  At first, my friends and I felt a bit uneasy and anxious about what this new situation will mean for all of us.  How could we avoid catching this dreaded virus?  A few days in, we secretly admitted that the quarantine was not too bad and we started to enjoy these ‘enforced, guiltless pyjama days’. 

But there is so long you can sit around in your pjs. After a bit of rest came a rush of decluttering the loft and some obscure bathroom cupboards that had remained untouched for a while. Life felt good and productive. 

Week 3 of lockdown. The enforced ‘holiday’ started to wear thin. One of my friends created a WhatsApp meditation group- very enjoyable experience.  I started writing ‘Gardening With The Moon’ (An Introduction to Biodynamic Gardening – which I hope to finish soon) and of course did a fair bit in the garden. We all confessed yo-yo-ing between good and bad days, some faring better than others. 

Your experience may, of course, be entirely different. You may not be affected at all or you have lost someone close, in which case accept my sincere condolences. 

May was going to be a month full of life, parties and get-toghers. Well, it does not look this way now. But let’s stay positive and use this time constructively. Here are some tasks that we all can do – and they are easy and cheap. 

  Tip 1 – Planting herbs

Dig over a  small patch in your garden and plant some herbs. For all those without an outside space, find a window sill that gets some sunshine during the day. There you can grow chives, parsley, basil, mint, or oregano in small pots. 

For the garden or slightly bigger pots,  grow dill, rosemary, fennel, or sage.

 If you want to have immediate access to herbs I suggest you buy already established herbs in pots. These can be replanted into bigger pot by adding some good quality compost soil or replanted into your herb patch. Make sure you loosen the roots before planting and add some good quality compost (home-made is of course best). 

Herbs are very thirsty and will need watering on a daily basis (except of course when it rains).  Make sure you keep the compost moist but not wet – otherwise your plants will drown.  It is wonderful to have an endless supply of fresh herbs for salads,  cooking, and garnishing dishes. Fresh mint or sage make wonderful herbal teas. 

My top tip: cut some herbs and put them into an ice-cube tray and add a bit of water. These ‘herb-cubes’ will keep up to 6 months. 

Here are some related articles from the LWTM blog series ‘ Cooking with herbs’. 

Cooking with Oregano

Cooking With Tarragon

Cooking With Dill

  Tip 2 – Make your own bread   

It has recently become really popular to make your own artisan bread. I have had breadmakers for years and been doing my own sourdoughs. But here is a quick and easy recipe for all those who want to give it the first try. The recipe below is for a simple and tasty mixed loaf that can be done in any conventional oven. No breadmaker or sourdough needed.

 You will need kitchen scales, the ingredients below, a ceramic dish with a lid (ideally round), a bowl, and a mixing spoon.
Ingredients:  560g wheat flour, 190g rye flour, 550g hot water, 16g salt, some cumin seeds (1/2 a teaspoon should be enough), 3gram of active yeast. You could add some linseeds or other seeds if you like. 

1) weigh all the ingredients and put them together into a big kitchen bowl.  I use a big mixing spoon to blend them together. Then add some flour to your hands and knead the dough.  (please use enough plain flour on your hands, otherwise, the dough will stick to you). After a few minutes of kneading, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and leave it to rest. I suggest a minimum of 3 hours. You could also prepare the dough in the evening and let it rise overnight. Then it will be ready for baking the next day. 

Tip: To see if the dough is ready for baking. Pull some upwards.  If it rips easily it needs to rise a little longer.  A dough that is ready for baking should glide out and not rip straight away. 

2) Once the dough is ready,  preheat oven to 250degree C (480F) and put the empty ovenproof dish with lid into the oven. Yes, that is right – empty to heat it up!

3) Take it out when it is very hot (be careful handling it!) and add some sprinkles of plain flour to cover the bottom of the pan. This is important as otherwise the bread will stick to the pan and it will be hard for it to come out.
Then add the dough. With the mixing spoon create a line in the top of the dough – that is where the crust can rise and sprinkle some plain flour on the top.  Put the lid on and bake the bread (middle shelf) for about 35 minutes.
My Tip: Pour water into an oven dish and put it on the bottom shelf, so the bread bakes it in moist air.

For all my members, I will share with you my grandmother’s sourdough starter in the LWTM May newsletter.

  3. Do some exercise every day

It is amazing how just a few minutes a day can make a big difference. I have started running and do on average 5-6 miles (8k)most mornings. If you think about starting from zero exercises to running a regular 8k then my top tip is to get a Fitbit or device that can monitor your heart rate.  I honestly can say that this was my secret to success.  Start very gently and check your heart rate regularly.  Never go over 160, even if that means walking for a bit until your heart rate has down again to 120/130.  If you keep this under control, you will eventually get better and better. Soon you will run the first few miles and enjoy the experience. Once you made it to 5k (3 miles) and you can enjoy the experience – you are on your way.

You can find a few good apps to help you along. One of them is  5k runner. 

Most evenings I do some yoga exercises.  There are so many great videos on YouTube or find a good yoga/pilates app/book.  It does not have to be super advanced. Make sure you warm up with a gentle stretching program and always include some breathing exercises. Over just a few weeks, a stiff body can transform into a body that is more toned and flexible. Try to keep this up for (ideally) the rest of your life.

Other alternatives are brisk walks or a cycle trip. My teenage son does good oldfashioned plank and sit-ups every day. So find what works for you. But do at least 30min per day. There has never been a better time to start exercising. 

  4. Learn a new skill and develop a new hobby 

With more time on your hands, try to clear 20 minutes each day to learn something new. This could be a language, a skill like knitting, an online course in finance or computing, etc. It does not matter, but make a date with yourself and keep to it. Then set an alarm where you stay (ideally) 20minutes undisturbed. No phone checking, etc. If you look after children, give them something to do (depending of course on the age – otherwise do it when they are in bed). Every day you will advance just a tiny bit further and once you emerge from lock-down, you will feel you have achieved something new with the time you stayed indoors. 

     5. Have a DIY manicure and pedicure 

This month is all about exercise and well-being. A big part is pampering yourself. Show some extra kindness to your body with a home-made pedicure, manicure, face masks, body peeling, or body brushing regime. Look them up on  The Month Ahead 

Look after your feet 

Nail strengthening manicure 

   6. Plan your finances

Now times are uncertain and most of us will suffer a downturn in our finances. This true for everyone – whether your work has stopped or you are lucky enough to be still fully employed working from home. The chance that your disposable income will be squeezed is very likely. Here are a few things to keep you financially safe and sound. 

  • check your income over the last few months and work out your monthly disposable income. This is especially important if you work freelance or have more than one employer. Let’s call this figure 1.
  • add together all your monthly liabilities, rent, electricity, gym membership, etc. Ideally, this should be less than figure 1. If it is not, then you need to take action now.  What can you cut?  
  • check over all the financial products that you have. Life insurance, medical care, mortgage, credit cards, etc. Are you still on track, is this product still fit for purpose? It never harms to shop  around for a better deal. Remember, a lot has changed over the last month, so now is a good time for assessing your current situation. If you find yourself in financial troubles, don’t hide, but get in touch with your bank as soon as possible. They may be able to help you by arranging a payment holiday.
  • When money does come in (and try to keep to this formula from now onwards) divide all your income into 4 pots.
    50% expenses (living costs) – 20% to put aside for investments –  20% goes straight into a savings account that is easily accessible (for tax, unforeseen costs, extra necessary purchases)  and 10% for charity/good causes. This is a good formula. However, you can adjust it to your own needs, but make sure that there is always an element of saving and investing there, even if it is 5%. As over time these small sums will add up. 

  7. Meditate and rest for a few minutes each evening/morning

As I mentioned above, about 3 weeks ago I started to participate in a meditation group. Every evening before going to bed – I  took out 15minutes. This is the ultimate me-time.  Banishing all thoughts, just concentrating on my breath and ‘rest’. 

At first, I participated only as a goodwill gesture to my friend who took the time to create this group. But after a few days, I really started to enjoy the process and looked forward to these precious 15minutes of productive rest.

I think this is especially useful if you have anxious thoughts and find it hard to get a good night’s sleep. If that is you, I really recommend drinking a cup of chamomile tea before going to bed and then listen to very calming music or a meditation app.

If you are a morning person, you may prefer to follow a meditation program just before getting up.  This will prepare you mentally for the day ahead. 

If you have never tried meditation before, check out some good apps like Headspace – they usually have trial periods, so you don’t have to pay to give it a go.

You will see that anxiety levels will drop and some problems all of a sudden seem to solve themselves. Your unconscious mind is very powerful. 

Back in January, I wrote this article The importance of resting. Of course, I did not have the faintest idea that ‘resting’ would take on such a new meaning. Especially for people employed in the travel and hospitality industry. However, there is a difference between ‘slouching on the sofa’ and ‘conscious resting’. If you have not read it before, please have a look.

 

So I hope one or the other tips will enrich your ‘lock-down life’.  If you have any other good lock-down tips – please get in touch and I am happy to mention them (with or without your mention – up to you).  Please stay all safe and well – and look after yourself!

Cooking with herbs – winter rocket

Cooking with herbs – winter rocket

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Winter rocket – barbarea vulgaris winter rocket

This herb grows about 30 to 60cm (12-24 inches) tall and has shiny, dark green leaves. Between April and July  it displays clusters of bright yellow flowers.

This herb shows a particular tolerance to beetles and moth and is the home of choice for many butterfly species. It is often planted on the side of a vegetable patch to encourage pollinators and to make sure the ‘ordinary crop’ is left alone.

Because of the superb flower display, this herb is often sown as a decorative plant and only few know that it is very useful in the kitchen.

How to cultivate it
Winter rocket is easily grown and the leaves are usually harvested before the flowers come out, so up until April. Add these aromatic leaves to your normal salads or steam them with a knob of butter and garlic as a side dish.

In late winter/early spring your body needs vitamins and winter rocket provides you with lot of vitamin C. In fact together with sloe and rosehip, winter rocket is one of the great, home-grown providers of vitamin C. Other health benefits include: blood cleanser and helps to maintain a good functioning digestion.

Here are a few recipes how to use winter rocket

1.  Mixed leaf salad bowl 

Ingredients: A small head of lettuce (chopped), two handfuls of winter rocket, 2 fresh carrots (cut into small pieces), 4 medium sized tomatoes and a few radishes. Wash and cut to size and then put them into a large salad bowl.
For the dressing: 6 tbsp olive oil, 3 tbsp wine or apple vinegar, salt, pepper, 2 glove of garlic and a bunch of parsley. 

Make the dressing in a separate jar and keep it apart. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and mix it in with two folks, so the salad is well-covered in dressing.

Tip: Only use as much salad and dressing as you will eat. If you keep them apart, this salad will keep well for a day or two. If the salad leaves start to wilt, then soak them for an hour in vinegar water (a bowl full of cold water and add a tbsp. of cider of wine vinegar). In an hour, the salad will be crisp again.

2. ‘Pick me up’ – tea 

Boil 3 cups of water and put them into a jug, then add a handful of winter rocket and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Drain the herbs and fill the tea into a thermos flask, sip throughout the tea. This is a great vitamin C booster and will help you with your concentration, so a ‘must try’ for everybody in the need of a natural boost.

 

 

 

Cooking with herbs – dandelion

Cooking with herbs – dandelion

dandelion leavesWelcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Dandelion  – Taraxacum officinale

Dandelions often grow in lawns and that is a reason why most gardeners see dandelions as a garden pest that spoils their perfect lawn. Only a few people know that the dandelion plant is actually a very useful and healthy kitchen herb.

Its name comes from the French ‘dent de lion’ which means ‘lion’s tooth’.  It refers to the shape of the leaves which vaguely resemble lion’s teeth. In the English folklore dandelion  is often referred to as ‘piss a bed’, because it has such a strong diuretic effect. That is the reason why dandelion leaves and teas should be used as part of a successful  weight loss regime. The dandelion tea is blood cleansing, clears the kidney and bladder and ‘make you go to the loo’. The same effect, if a bit milder, is achieved when eating the fresh dandelions leaves, for example as part of a spring/early summer salad.

The golden flowers need to be harvested before they turn to white blooms that disperse in the wind. Then they can be used to make dandelion honey (please see recipe below) and picked when still yellow, it won’t self-seed as much, keep the dandelion population in check.

The dandelion root is  mainly used in form of tinctures for ailments such as gout, rheumatism, as a blood cleanser and for people who suffer from diabetes.

Spring salad bowl:

Take a handful of lettuce, a handful of young spinach leaves, a few leaves of dandelion and mix together with a few cherry tomatoes and slices of cucumber. Then add a few leaves of chopped dandelion leaves. Finally crumble some feta cheese on top and add a dressing of your choice.

My favourite dressing is: 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp of dijon mustard and some pressed garlic, add a few drops  of water, mix all together in a jar and add to the salad.

Dandelion honey: 

It is quick and easy to do. Dandelion honey is a good alternative to plain white sugar when it comes to sweeten your tea, breakfast porridge or you can even bake with it. Why not ask your children to make it with you, as they can help you gather the bright yellow flowers.For a couple of jars of dandelion honey you will need:

  •  150/200 dandelion heads, 1 kg of jam sugar or brown sugar, juice of a lemon. A couple of sterilised glass jars. The easiest way is to collect used  jam jars and then boil them in a big pot for a couple of minutes to sterilise them, finally  leave them to dry on a kitchen towel. Ideally do this the morning before filling them, so they are still very clean.
  • Collect the dandelion heads from your garden and  get rid of the green stalks. Then  put the flower into a cooking pot and add about 1 litre of cold water.
  • Cook the dandelion heads briefly until the water reaches boiling point. Then take the pot off the fire and leave to stand for 24 hours.
  • The next day strain the cold mixture through a sieve into another cooking pot. It will leave you with a ‘yellow looking water’. Add about 1 kg of brown sugar (you can also use jam sugar if you don’t want your honey to be runny). Now cook the mixture, whilst occasionally stirring, until it reaches boiling point. Then reduce the flame slightly and cook for another few minutes. At the end, stir in the lemon juice and take off the heat.
  • Fill the hot mixture into the sterilized jars and cover the jars with cling film. Leave the jars open until the mixture has cooled down and the put the lid on over the cling film. When stored in a cool, dark place it will keep for a couple of months.

 

Cooking with herbs – tarragon

Cooking with herbs – tarragon

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Tarragon  – artemisia dracunculas

Tarragon belongs to the Artemisia family, (like dandelion and vermouth) and comes originally from Siberia and the West coast of the US. It grows over 1m tall and has fine green leaves, which are very aromatic and used in the kitchen. 

But tarragon has also medical properties and is  especially helpful for the digestion, kidney and bladder, rheumatism and gout. People used to drink  tarragon water: Boil one litre of water and leave three to four tarragon twigs in the water, then sip this water throughout the day. Its main health properties is to help the digestion, especially with bloating, but also aids with the production of urine and helps with the general elimination process. It is also an antiseptic and can rid the body of worms and parasites.

It was brought to Europe throughout the Middle Ages by the Crusaders who returned from the Middle East. It was used as a treatment for foul breath, toothache and anaemia. The word ‘tarragon’ is believed to come from ‘tarkhun’ which means little dragon in Arabic, as it was used to heal snake bites. Another herbal recipe prescribes chewing tarragon will help with persistent hiccups.

Tarragon In the kitchen:
Its aromatic fresh leaves are used in the French or generally Mediterranean kitchen. Tarragon has an aromatic property reminiscent of anise due to the presence of estragole. Taste to put in conjuction with helpful properties for the digestion make it a favourite kitchen herb and it can be found in sauces, such as sauce Bernaise or as flavouring in mustard, soups, salads and even as tarragon vinegar.

 Sauce Bernaise:
Ingredients: 1 tbsp water, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1/2 small onion (chopped),
I chopped tarragon leaf (keep the stalk), 1 egg yolk, 75g melted butter, salt and pepper to season. 

  • Place the vinegar, water, onion, and tarragon stalk into a small saucepan over a medium heat and simmer, until you have half a tablespoon of liquid remaining. Strain the liquid into a bowl and set aside.
  • Place the egg yolk and tarragon vinegar reduction into a food processor and blend together until light and frothy.
  • With the food processor still running on its slowest speed, add the melted butter, 1 tbsp at a time, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Be careful not to over beat the mixture as it may separate.
  • Stir in the chopped tarragon and season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

this sauce works well with steak and steamed vegetables

Tarragon salad dressing: 

Ingredients: 1 tsp of chopped tarragon, 1 tsp of dijon mustard, 1 tbsp honey, 5 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp of wine vinegar, salt & pepper to season.

Mix all these ingredients together in a big salad bowl and then top up with fresh leaf salad mixed with ruccola or raddicio salad. Mix the salad, so the dressing coats lightly all the leaves.

Cooking with herbs – Savory

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog seriessavory

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Savory – satureja hortensis

Savory is native to the Mediterranean, where it is commonly referred to as the bean herb as it gives bean dishes a distinctive flavour and also helps prevent flatulence when eating beans. Crushing the fresh herb and putting it on fresh bee stings can help with the swelling.  You can use both the fresh and dried herb.

Savory tea is excellent to clear a spotty, teenage skin
Use 1 tbsp of the fresh herb and add 250ml boiling water. Leave to steep for 10 minutes and then pour into a bowl, add cold water until the temperature is warm, but not boiling hot. Soak a clean flannel and apply to the face, leave until it has cooled down and repeat a few times. Then use a good peeling face mask and finish up with a healing day cream (you can also use nappy rash cream in small amounts, especially when the spots are very sore).

The same tea as above can also help with a chesty cough. In this case gargle the tea and spit it out again.

In the kitchen 

Savory with its peppery, aromatic taste is used for lamb dishes, hearty stews and of course it must not be missing from a bean casserole or any other cooked bean dish. Could it be the phrase ‘savoury dishes’ comes from this herb?

Here are a few recipes:

1.  Tuscan Bean soup
A wholesome soup for the winter,  serves 6

12 oz/350g dried canneloni beans, soaked overnight (or tinned), 4 ripe, well flavoured tomatoes (or use tinned), 2 sticks of celery, 2 carrots, 2 leeks,
11 oz/300g kale (chopped), 2 cloves garlic, handful of winter savory, 2 sprigs fresh thyme. 6-8 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper

To serve:
6 slices of stale country bread (2-3 days old),  7 oz/200g savoy cabbage, red onion and olive oil

  • Pour off the water in which the beans have been soaking, place them in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water to a depth of 2″ above the beans. Bring to the boil and boil hard for 10 minutes, drain. Cover the beans with fresh water and add a small handful of fresh savory. Bring the water back up to boiling point then reduce the heat and simmer for approx 1½ hours until the beans are tender but still whole.
  • If you use tinned beans then use the recipe from here.
  • Drain the beans and pass three-quarters of them through a sieve into a bowl with 2 pints (1.2 litres)of fresh water. Reserve the rest of the beans separately.
  • Finely chop the carrots, celery and leeks. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and cook the vegetables until soft. Meanwhile peel, de-seed and chop the tomatoes then add them to the vegetables along with the garlic and thyme. After 5 minutes add the cabbage, salt and pepper and cook for a further 10 minutes before adding the bean puree. Cook slowly for an hour adding tepid water if the soup becomes too solid, although it should be a very thick soup.
  • About 5-10 minutes before the end of the cooking stir in the whole beans to heat them through. Finely chop the Savoy cabbage and sauté in a little oil. Serve the soup ladled over a slice of bread and topped with cooked cabbage. Offer finely sliced red onions and olive oil at the table.

2. Beans with savory and bacon
This is probably one of the easiest and tastiest recipes there is.

You will need:

400g canelloni beans (tinned is best here, as you can use the juice) 
150g of smoked bacon (vary how meaty you want this dish, vegetarians can replace it with chopped red pepper instead), 1 large onion, 1 tbsp oil, 1 tbsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp chopped savory, salt and pepper to season.

  • Chop the onion finely and brown in 1 tbsp of olive/cooking oil. Add the paprika seasoning to it, so it turns the onions slightly reddish.
  • Add the chopped bacon until brown and finally add the 2 cans of beans with the juice (canelloni preferred, but really any beans will do), chopped savory and cook covered on a low flame for 15 minutes, finally season with salt and pepper and serve with fresh sourdough bread and butter.

Word of Advice: Always cook beans with savory, as they soak up its flavour, but never add salt or pepper during the cooking process, always add at the end as particularly salt prevents the beans from softening. This is especially important when you cook raw (rather than tinned) beans.

 

 

Cooking with herbs – dill

Cooking with herbs – dill

Welcome to the LWTM – ‘Cooking with herbs’ blog series

In this blog series you will find historical information and recipes about the most commonly used kitchen herbs. They do not only add flavour, but they also make a positive impact on our health and well-being. To find out more about other kitchen herbs, please type ‘cooking with herbs’ into the search box.

Dill – Anethum graveolens cooking with the herb dill

Dill is an annual herb that has feathery leaves and a distinctive aromatic smell. It grows about 2 feet tall and has feathered leaves.

Dill, like caraway and fennel, cleanses and strengthens the digestive tract. When used an herb tea dill it strengthens the bladder, combats stress and is also good for the throat.  If you feel a cold coming on and have a fury tongue, an old recipe suggests to chew dill seeds.

But it is a well loved herb for adding flavour and one of the main ingredients in Swedish cooking. The flowers and seeds are used for pickles, but the leaves as seasoning for salads, especially cucumber and potato salad, yoghurt sauces and salmon (gravad lax).

 

Here are two recipes:

1. Yoghurt-dill dip 

This is a great condiment for baked potatoes, fish and meat dishes. But you can also serve it as a starter with raw vegetables, such as carrots, celery or cucumber.

Ingredients:  250 g cream cheese or quark, 2 tbsp. creme fraiche, salt & pepper, 1 tsp lemon zest and a small bunch of finely chopped dill. 

Add all ingredients together and serve cold.

2. Potatoes with dill  

Ingredients: a handful of new potatoes, 2 tbsp of chopped dill, a dollop of butter, salt

Steam the potatoes with the peel for about 20 minutes. Once cooked, remove the peel and add a knob of butter, salt and the chopped dill. These potatoes are best served with fish dishes.