Our online store is open, with more than a ‘little’ help from our indie friends!

Our new and improved online store opened with a bang at an amazing launch party on Saturday. This is definitely not a post to plug that (honest), this is because I’m on cloud 9 after having a chance to meet and catch up with so many amazing and awe inspiring independent businesses. Many whom we have the pleasure of working with, and many who we hope we are lucky enough to work with in future.

 

A few years ago, I saw a headline in a national newspaper branding Cambridge as a ‘clone city’, saying the high street is full of chains and has next to no independents or character. I’ve had a bit of a rage simmering under the surface about this for years, and now again it rears its head and I can’t help but express my love and support for the independents, of which there are many!

You see, for every high street chain there is, there’s at least 10 times the number of independents working tirelessly, through blood sweat and tears to make a positive impact on people’s daily lives. And this extends beyond Cambridge! Independents may not have the money to have a fancy big city centre store, or the money to aggressively market themselves, but they are there, they are thriving, they are growing, and in their own way they are changing the world for their own families, the people they employ and the customers they serve.

I have a list of stores and business I never use; due to bad customer service, disregard for customer satisfaction, or unethical practice. One day I might share this list with you. But for today, let me just say that none of them are small independents! And I’d like to grow this list of nationals I don’t use, so I’m forever on the lookout for other indies to replace them with.

Our business only exists because of the whole host of indie business’ that work along side us; supplying us, providing services for us, shopping with us. We are all tiny players in a game where a mighty supermarket could just squash us all. We pay ourselves last, or not at all. We sometimes don’t know where the money is coming from to pay the bills. Yet we all hold hands and get through it together! We lose sleep, family time, money, sanity even. But we are united by a love for what we do, a pride in what we make, a respect for our suppliers, and an appreciation of our customers. And after our launch on Saturday, I’m more convinced than ever that we can do this together. We might not all be on the high street, but we can be there for our customers and offer them an alternative to the chains.

We need your help though, the more of us that get their names out there the better we will all do. If we can help one person to shop from their local indies, and help them avoid the supermarket, that’s pretty amazing. Nothing says you appreciate and recognise your indie business’ quite like spending your money with them. If you know anyone that makes quality food and drink please point them in our direction so we can hopefully give their food a home on our website. But above all, share with your friends and family the indie business that you use. There could be people dying to get away from chains if only they knew of a better option.

Aside of the food industry our lives have been full of friends and families running indie business, and they have all inspired and helped keep us sane. There is farmers, dj’s, spa owners, publicans, landscapers, nail technicians, therapists and personal trainers, to name but a few! I’d love to know more, because let’s face it; a life that is filled with interactions with real people, and not sitting listening to ‘your call is very important to us…’ on a multi nationals switch board is a life well spent. Let’s get sharing the indies we love and avoid the faceless, passionless, steam-coming-out-of-the-ears interactions as much as possible.

So special thanks to all those who helped, and continue to help, create the business that we have today. The future is looking bright for a more personal, enjoyable, passionate future that we all share together.

I don’t want to finish this post without a special thank you to Pina writer of the blog One Two Culinary Stew https://onetwoculinarystew.com/ , who took loads of the lovely pics I’ve used today. Pina’s blog is great, she works selflessly to help promote good indie food business, and cooks lovely food too, do check it out, she was a huge inspiration for me starting my own blog. Thanks also to Anne Beamish of Independent Cambridge who has also provided photos, spoke some lovely words at our launch, and generally does amazing work to make sure everyone knows that Cambridge is NOT a clone city!!

 

 

 

 

 

Our journey into the good life ‘part 2’: I wonder if we could start our own shop?!

I’ve put off writing this post for ages. Not because I’m not immensely proud of the journey we have gone on, but because there is so much water under the bridge, I don’t know where to start!

As regular readers of the blog may have seen from the original ‘Our Journey Into The Good Life’ post, I grew up on the farm, as my Dad had before me. I loved every aspect of living on the farm and my parents had instilled a strong work ethic in us, and themselves worked very hard over very long hours. My 2 great aunts that lived on the farm were an amazing influence and inspiration. Born just after the turn of the century, they had seen so many changes in the world, yet they still lived their way; collecting fruit from the hedgerows, growing vegetables, making clothes and repairing clothes, bottling and jarring till their hearts were content. Reading everyday, staying active into their 90’s, being so proud of what they had seen women achieve in their lifetime,  (they couldn’t believe girls now went for school for as long as boys, women were not only voting but we had a female prime minister), they really made me want to pass this lifestyle on to my children!

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So I will pick up my story in the summer of 2005. I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed, 19 year old student of Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (Anglia Polytechnic ‘in those days’) , having just finished my 2nd year at university. In the long summer break before starting my 3rd year, we thought it would be a cool idea to open a little shop on the farm. This was part of an experiment into farm diversification to see if we could potentially bring in enough income from this, that after my 3rd year at university had finished that the farm could support me coming to work there full time! So we put up a little wooden summerhouse shed, in the middle of our farm, with a bit of space for car parking out the front, and we had a shop. A very sparse shop, but a shop nonetheless! We sold in the shop eggs from our free range hens, potatoes that we grew on the farm, and some veg that we had planted in late spring/early summer in readiness for this venture into retail. We weren’t a grower of vegetables, this was new to us. We had an alarm so we could hear cars driving down to the car park and I would run to the shop when it went off, eager to serve the customers the best eggs, potatoes and vegetables around. We hardly had anything in the shop at all, it was quite pitiful looking back. But what we did have was amazing, and I was proud as punch of it! As we sold each bunch of carrots, I would scurry off to the field and pull another fresh bunch to replace it. I got the buzz and I was hooked! Mum and Dad amazingly said they would keep the shop open while I returned to university for my final year. We had never had actual retail customers down at the farm before, and it was quite exciting.

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Then!

So after the hard work I’d put in on my summer break, I just had time for a girls holiday with my friend, also called Vicki, and then it was back off for my 3rd and final year. However, never one to stick to a plan, I happened to meet a nice red- haired chap whilst on holiday in Crete. He lived in Cambridge, where I was studying, and was working in a pub. This nice chap of course, turned out to be love of my life, and future husband, Ben! How life throws these curve balls at you?!

During my 3rd year, Ben spent a lot of time visiting the farm with me. He jumped into farm life with both feet. He even got into the early morning rises to watch a bit of cricket with my Dad before going out to tend to the animals. We had, over the course of the year, grown the shop to include a few lines for other local producers, and Mum and Dad had been on a course to learn sausage making, and we had started retailing our own home reared meat too. With Ben and I taking frequent trips back to the farm, our friends, acquaintances and even Ben’s pub customers were putting in orders to us, for shopping to bring back for them to Cambridge. We were starting to get a bit excited. ‘There could be something in this’, we would say to each other with youthful enthusiasm, ‘People in this city want this amazing stuff from the farm, maybe, just maybe, we should open a shop here, right in the middle of the city’.

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Testing out the produce from our first suppliers to our farm shop, local honey, straight from the jar!

 

Problem with me and Ben is, our crazy ideas soon turn into realities! Ben has a flair for retail and selling, and throws himself into anything he does. Within a year of meeting he had learnt how to look after animals, butcher meats, fit in with a farming family as an outsider and ‘townie’ (very tough order) and we were in the process of signing a lease at our first city store, on Victoria Road Cambridge.

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Now!

Well guys, I’m sure you can pick up on the story from here! What an amazing 12 years it’s been though. We now have a different store on Victoria Avenue (after spending time on Chesterton rd inbetween). We still have a little store and all our production on the farm. Ben still runs the butchery, I still run the bakery. We have an online store (fancy that for a little girl from the farm?!). We produce more on our still working farm that ever before. We have an arsenal of hundreds of amazing products from other businesses and producers just like us! We have laughed. We have cried. We have been so exhausted we couldn’t stand any longer! We have made life long friends, and learnt so much about such a fantastic industry. We have been immensely proud. And…we still love it. But do you know my best achievent? Ben and I are now married with 2 beautiful boys of our own. And they live with us on the farm. They get that magical childhood that I had! We have so much more we want to achieve, but with this goal I can safely say ‘mission accomplished’!

All about Autumn!

It used to be something I could only admit to a select few close friends. It’s was a bit of a shameful secret that had to stay hidden to the general population for fear of scorn and ridicule. But the tide is turning. The army of people in the same camp as me is growning, the movement is gathering momentum. It’s beginning to be socially acceptable to say it in public…

I hate summer. I love autumn. And winter, come to think of it. I love the dark night, the clocks going back, the winter weather and all that comes along with it.

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So now that there’s enough people in the cold weather camp that I can comfortably hold my head high and admit I love the sometimes drab and dreary season, here’s my top 10 highlights of autumn.

1. There’s loads of stuff to collect!

Its nice with little ones to have a purpose when you take them out, so you can give them a clear mission for what you’re doing; ‘we’re going to go the park and have a go on the swings’, ‘we’re going to go to a shop and buy some milk’ etc. I find it easier so they can understand a bit more about the world around them and they can feel in control of what’s  happening. It just so happens Autumn gives you so many missions! It starts early autumn with picking blackberries, then there’s acorns, fir cones, conkers and even pretty leaves to name but a few. My boys love going on a mission to collect something and return proud as punch with their pockets full of treasures! It really engages them with the world around them too.

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2. You don’t get your hopes up!

The summer fills you with false hope! You visualise weeks of wearing a t shirt and being outside in the sunshine. Major disappointment. In Autumn you get prepared with warm coats and jumpers and you expect grey and miserable. So when you have beautiful sunny days it’s a delightfully unexpected bonus! Which leads me nicely into number 3.

3. The sun isn’t too hot!

Moan about everything weather related in the U.K. dont we? Well on the whole I won’t moan about much, except it being too hot! If you have ever seen the hair colour of my family you may sympathise a little more. When both boys were born the first thing the health visitors said to me was ‘you’ll have to be very carful with them in the sun with that hair colour’! And although I’m not a red head myself, I’m extremely fair. This means summer is riddled with sun cream fights, feeling greasy (never yet found a suncream that doesn’t feel gross) and saying ‘put your hat on’ a hundred times a day.

4. Amazing shadows!

I just love that low afternoon sun! So magical.

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5. The clocks go back!

Strange thing to love isn’t it? Thing is, in our line of work, when it’s light you are out working. Plus the animals can’t be shut in for the night until it’s dark. So you can’t get an evening in and switch off until that’s done at 10:30 in the evening in the summer. In the winter the evenings in the house are longer which is a delightful bonus. Yes, there’s still work to be done in the home often, but it’s inside and comfy! And there is the odd chance for an evening film.

6. Lighting the fire!

We are so lucky to have a log burner in our house. Family snuggles in front of the fire are second to none. I try to not put the central heating on until after the clocks have gone back, but we do get a sneaky fire or 2 in before this time. When my Dad grew up in the house that we live in now, there was no electricity so the fire and candle light were essential! Explains why he now hates candles!

7. The scenery

Its just breathtaking in Autumn. The colours, the changing views as the leaves thin out, the very early frosts that show up the dewy cobwebs in the hedges. I’ve never had many skills in photography, but it’s the one time of year that I always think it would be a cool skill to have. We go out on far more walks on Autumn just to take it all in. Plus it’s easy to take for granted the wonder of nature, so it’s good to remind ourselves we are very lucky to live in the middle of all this!

8. The cute winter clothes come out

Because who doesn’t love to see a toddler in his snuggly overalls?!

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9. The crazy train comes into town!

If you work in retail and you don’t love this time of year as we start the preparation for Christmas, you seriously  need to re think your career choice. Especially food production and retail! It’s stressful, its pressured, normal life and routine go out of the window for a little while; but would we have it any other way? NO! Because when hundreds of families sit around their beautiful Christmas tree, sit down together for their most important family meal of the year, or share hand made mince pies while carrying out their annual carol singing tradition, there is no better feeling of satisfaction and pride for us. We know we helped make that family occasion special, we provided food made with love to a family occasion full of love. And that’s pretty amazing, and definitely worth long hours, sore feet, and very little sleep for a month or 2!

10. I’ve saved the best for last…THE FOOD!

What more is there to say? The food! I was made to eat Autumnal food. I love the orange and greens, the gravies and sauces, the slow cooking and roasting, the casseroling the and soup-erising (this should definitely be a word)! I love all the squashes and root veg. I love the meals that you can put in the slow cooker in the morning and return to a wonderful smelling house later in the day! And I actually thank summer for this. It’s long enough to miss this sort of food that you really appreciate it when it comes back!

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So haters of the cold and dark, I’m sorry. I will be silenced no longer! I love Autumn. I shall hold my woolly hat covered head high and say it with pride!

 

The Weekend Baking Session and the Quinoa Bars

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As I continue my journey to get a bit fitter and healthier, shed a few pounds, and generally feel better, I have noticed something that’s actually quite obvious, yet hits you in the face like a hammer. When I eat better, when I move more, so does the whole family! And then comes the Mum guilt that you’ve let them eat badly in the first place!

Its easy to forget sometimes that you are the whole world to your little infants. They live within your set of accepted rules and routines (well mostly they do) and they look to you for guidance and acceptance. This has never been so apparent to me as when I have improved my diet. My children are eating biscuits because those are the snacks that are in the cupboard. My children are eating biscuits because I’ve deemed it ok for them to eat biscuits. My children are eating biscuits because I am eating biscuits.

So what has happened when Mum isn’t eating biscuits all the time? Well there’s no magic spell that suddenly makes them hate sugar, that’s for sure. We’d have all used it years ago if there were! But the frequency of snacks has definitely slowed down, they have tried a lot more things that they otherwise wouldn’t have (always have to try a bit of what Mum and Dad are having) and we are cooking more at home, so they are more involved with making a meal and learning some life skills, something that regular readers of the blog know I love as much as them actually eating the healthy food.

So here’s another thing that’s changed. At the weekend, I try to do a bit of fun baking with the boys. As I’m always baking for work, I worry that they might ‘miss out’ on the whole ‘baking a cake with Mum’ thing, so I make a conscious effort to include one baking session a week. Baking for fun is much different than when they help prepare dinner. Preparing dinner is a necessity, it’s about leaning about ingredients, skills and encouraging them to try to new foods and make meals more approachable, and ultimately be healthy. Baking for fun, however, is all about devouring your sugary treat afterwards!! So I’m determined this weekly bake off won’t stop, I just need to get creative with non sugar packed recipes, that make a healthier treat afterwards that we can all enjoy with a cup of tea!

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Out first attempt at healthy snack making was Quinoa, Banana & Peanut Butter Bars. I thought I had heard you could use Quinoa to make a crispy snack bar, so I gave it a google to see if this was in fact a ‘thing’, and to my delight it was! I don’t know if I’m the only one that hadn’t even heard of Quinoa 10 years ago, now we even make it into snack bars! So below is the recipe I invented. Sorry to all UK readers, it’s all measured in cups. Purely because it’s so much easier with the children to get them to fill up a cup and tip it in than it is to operate scales!

Ingredients:

1 cup oats

1/2 cup uncooked Quinoa

1/3 cup almonds flaked

1/4 cup chia seeds

3/4 cup diced dates

1.5 tsp ground cinnnamon

2 large or 3 small ripe bananas

2 tbsp peanut butter (I use meridian as it only has peanuts in it!)

1.5 tbsp honey

1 tbsp agave nectar

35g dark chocolate (I use 85% cocoa)

How we made it tasty:

Tip oats, uncooked Quinoa, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and spices into a bowl and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, thoroughly mash the bananas.

In a small pan, heat together the peanut butter, honey and agave nectar until completely runny and mixed together.

Combine the dry ingredient with the contents of the pan and the mashed bananas. Leo stir, Arthur stir. Mummy stir just to make sure it is actually stirred!!

Then tip into a small baking tin, lined with greaseproof paper (my tin was about 8inch square) and press down with the back of a spoon.

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Bake in a medium (180oC) oven for 15-20 minutes, turning the tin around half way through. When it’s done it should be firm to touch and golden on top. Take it out of the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 5-10 minutes, then take out of the tin and cut into 12 portions, and leave to cool completely.

When cold, I melted the chocolate in a heatproof bowl above a pan of boiling water (I did this without the children!) and drizzled it all over the top of the bars. Then refrigerate until the chocolate has set. I then wrapped each bar in greaseproof and stored in the fridge, I think they would last about 5 days but they didn’t get the chance.

I’m going to try it again with different combinations of fruit, nuts and seeds, it’s one of those great recipes that you can make totally differently by switching some of the add-ins around. Next time I might try with some crystallised ginger and orange juice too. Or maybe puréed pumpkin and spices. Or maybe cashew and raisin. There’s no escaping it, I love food!

But anyway, we got our baking session in. We made a much healthier snack that the whole family really enjoyed (came to 195 calories per bar, and was really filling). And it’s inspired us to do more of the same next week! I could get used to this healthy transformation thing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben’s King Prawn & Edamame Bean Chow Mein Style Noodles

IMG_6368We really love cooking Asian food at home. Well Ben loves cooking it and I love eating it! As our quest continues to get a bit fitter and healthier and fit back in our old clothes, it’s a cuisine that fits in well. It’s a great way to get loads and loads of flavour into a meal, you can pack loads of veg and lean protein in, and it’s not too naughty. So tasty, filling, and the children even eat some if we have noodles. I think they believe it’s spaghetti and Tom & Jerry eat Spaghetti! Whatever works to get them trying things.

So today’s recipe is for Ben’s King Prawn & Edamame Bean Chow Mein Style Noodles. This need a bit of forethought as the prawns need to be put into marinade a few hours before cooking, but once that’s been accomplished the actual meal is really quick to cook. We buy raw prawns because it’s much easier to get the flavour into something that hasn’t already been cooked, but it would work with cooked ones also if you can’t get hold of raw. We have never paid full price for raw prawns because they are ALWAYS reduced in the supermarkets, maybe everyone tends to opt for ready cooked ones?

Ingredients:

This served 4.

For the Prawns & Marinade:

Raw King Prawns (around 150-200g)

Garlic (3 cloves crushed)

1 medium onion diced

Paprika (1/2 tsp)

Cumin ( 1 tsp)

Chinese 5 Spice (1/4 tsp)

Ginger Peeled Grated (couple of inches)

Coriander Sprig Chopper

Soy sauce (couple of splashes)

Sesame oil (1 tsp)

To make the marinade, simply combine all the above ingredients in a sealable tub, and mix together well to incorporate. Put the lid on and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Ben prepared this at lunch time so it was ready for out evening meal.

Additional Ingredients:

Sesame Oil (1 tbsp)

Drop Water

Mixed veg for stir-frying (be creative)

Beansrouts (medium bag)

Noodles

Edamame Beans (amount according to your preference)

To begin, heat sesame oil in a wok. Tip the entire contents of the prawns and their marinade into the pan. Stir fry until the prawns are completely pink and the sauce caramelised. Add the drop of water to deglaze the pan and stop it from sticking. Add in the veg and bean sprouts and stir fry. Finally, add in the noodles until they are warmed through and emulsified with the sauce. Serve this onto plates, then put Edamame beans into the used wok and back onto the heat. Stir for a minute until they are warmed through and have used the additional sauce that was left in the pan. We always keep a bag of Edamame beans in the freezer as a quick add or finishing touch to a stir fry. Sprinkle the beans on the top of each plate, and top with a sprig of coriander.

The tale of the wardrobe rediscovering and the healthy granola!

It’s no secret that Ben & I enjoy our food. Enjoy our food so much that we have gone up through the clothes sizes through our years of having a shop! Well we are trying to continue enjoying our food, just in a manner that allows us to dig back out some of those forgotten back of the wardrobe numbers and bring them back into daily wearing territory! One massive factor for us, to help with shedding a few pounds is cutting out (or severely cutting down) the sugar. So people will say ‘you sell cakes for a living and now you are talking of cutting out sugar?!’ Well, yes. Because if you have a piece of cake, you know it’s got sugar in it and you KNOW it’s a treat. If you have a bowl of cereal, a can of soup, a cooking sauce of a loaf of bread; the sugar in there is hidden! You don’t realise you are having it and you definitely don’t consider these things a treat. This is the sugar we are going after! I’m convinced that by cutting out or down the sugar in these day to day foods, you can still eat the same meals, to the same or even greater enjoyment! When I have bought a tin of soup and seen sugar in the ingredients and then made a homemade soup, I have an overwhelming sense of amazement that the manufacturers ever feel the need to put sugar in that! So home-making everything is definitely the way forward. We do this a lot anyway so it’s no big deal, but it’s made me try a homemade version of something new; granola!

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We don’t have granola a lot, maybe once a week with some yoghurt on a day we are running short of time in the morning. I’ve been lucky enough to never have had to make my own before as we sell some fab ones in the shop that have only natural sugars; cobs bakery, rude health and rolla granola to name a few. But I wanted to take it a step further to control how much natural sugar went in.

I looked up this recipe online by cookie & Kate as a guideline and for some tips and then adapted it according to what we like and had in the cupboards-https://cookieandkate.com/2015/healthy-granola-recipe/

Of course, I had some little helpers with me! I didn’t weigh anything (rarely do) so this is not an actual recipe write up, just a guide really!

First we added oats to a big mixing bowl, about 2 mugs full. Then I added about a mug of plain puffed rice. You wouldn’t normally expect to see puffed rice in granola, but I had some in the cupboard and thought it would be good so the boys had something to snack on whilst we went along! I then added flaked almonds and cashews (until it looked nutty enough) and a sprinkling of chia seeds. The last dry ingredient was a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon.

Whilst my trusty assistant mixed all that together I prepared the liquid ingredients. In a pan I put a tablespoon of coconut oil, a glug of honey and a glug of agave nectar. This wasn’t enough wet ingredients to coat all the dry mixture but I didn’t want to add more sugar so I put a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter in the pan too, with a teaspoon of vanilla. When this mix was all liquid, I tipped it into the dry ingredients, and mixed together. It was all lightly coated so I was happy it had enough ‘wet’ in it.

Next we tipped it into a lined tin and lightly spread out and baked in the oven. I was cooking jacket potatoes for lunch (and didn’t want to ‘waste’ the oven being on for just a couple of potatoes) so it went in at potato temperature of about 200oC but it wouldn’t have hurt if it was a little cooler. After about 10 minutes I took it out of the oven. It was nicely brown on top so I stirred it so that it was well mixed and patted it down again. It went back in the oven for another 10 minutes. By this time the top was browned again so I took it out and left to cool completely in the tin (whilst we ate our lunch).

When it was completely cool, we tipped it out of the tin into the mixing bowl. Some of it stayed in clumps so I was pleased with this. I then stirred in some dried fruit. Not too much cause I didn’t want to add lots of sugar this way, just a couple of handfuls of dates and sultanas. I then put it in a big plastic container to keep. This made a huge pot full! And the house smelled AMAZING when it was cooking.

Overall it was very little effort for the huge amount it yielded, and was delicious. I will definitely be making it again, and can use different mixes of nuts, seeds and fruit next time to vary things.

We both got in smaller sized clothes this week so the healthier swaps will keep on coming; watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Shunning the meal deal and ‘Ben’s Garlic & Ginger Chicken Stir Fry with Easy Egg Fried Rice’

I really want ‘my family and other hungry animals’ to contain recipes in addition to tales and challenges from the farm. The only problem is, I never remember to take any pictures, or record down what went into a meal; amongst the hustle and bustle, and trying to get the children involved (as anyone that read the last post will know!), it’s the furthest thing from my mind. But I have resolved to pay more attention to recording the food that’s made in our kitchen; so please hold me to it! As it’s a blog, every recipe has to come with a story and a background, doesn’t it?! So here goes with ‘Ben’s Garlic & Ginger Chicken Stir Fry with Easy Egg Fried Rice’…

As many families do, we have always included ‘stir fry’ into our weekly meal plan. This was just a generic thing, and the conversation usually went as follows.

Vicky: shall we have a stir fry one night this week?

Ben: yeah ok

Proceed to supermarket shelf (yes, even we use them sometimes) and buy into their brightly stickered ‘meal deal’ by putting one bag of limp shredded vegetable mixture (with an unimaginative name along the lines of ‘brightly-coloured stir fry or crunchy stir fry’), one pack of noodles and one giant, squidgy sachet of Sauce. Obviously, for the chicken; no thanks Waitrose, we got that covered on our end!

Of course, this was fine, it was a meal. But one day we had enough and started asking ourselves the important questions in life. ‘Doesn’t this sauce taste REALLY sweet and sickly to you? Yes, and a bit synthetic. I wonder how many ingredients there are in it? (Proceed to be shocked by the ingredients list)’ and also questions like ‘what’s actually in this vegetable bag? It looks a bit dry where it’s been sliced up for ages, doesn’t it? Wouldn’t we prefer it if we put the veg we actually wanted in it?’ And also the very important observation ‘it’s not actually very cheap at all, it would save us so much money to make our own’. So that was it, bye bye meal deal and hello home made meal!

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Ben is a great cook, he loves making new and exciting things. In contrast to me, Little Miss ‘safe-option-that-I-have-made-a-million-times-and-know-everyone-likes’, Ben tries new things all the time, I don’t think he’s ever made the exact same thing twice without some new ingredient, new twist, new style of cooking. He loves asian food, and experiments all the time, which made us question why we hadn’t started making our own stir fry sauces long ago. This makes for exciting meals, but just try documenting what he’s done and you will find its near impossible! So tonight I made a point of quizzing him as he went along about what he was doing, how much he was putting in and taking a few pictures too. For today’s sauce, Ben went for a ginger, garlic and teriyaki base, with free range chicken breast (from none other than Radmore Farm). The veg we put in today was sliced red pepper, thinly sliced carrot, mange tout and sugar snap peas, broccoli, and edamame Beans, but that’s largely because that’s what we had in the fridge. This will work well with all manor of veg, we often use bean sprouts, courgette, and baby corn too. The accompaniment today was quick egg friend rice; if Ben makes this as a main course he packs loads of veg in (Diced carrot, butternut, peppers, onion) and sometimes prawns too. But as it was a side dish today it was a plain and simple version.

So here we go, Ben’s Garlic & Ginger Chicken Stir Fry with Easy Egg Fried Rice, we think it’s cheaper, healthier, more exciting and definitely tastier than the ‘meal deal’! Plus it can be easily adapted to what ingredients you have available.

Ben’s Garlic & Ginger Chicken Stir Fry with Easy Egg Fried Rice

This served 4 of us (2 were children, and the other 2 were hungry)

Ingredients:

3-4 tablespoons Teriyaki sauce

Fresh Ginger (about 2 inch piece)

3 large Cloves Garlic

1 large whole or 2 small fillets of skinless free range chicken breast

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

1 large Onion, diced

salt and pepper

Veg (we used: 1 sliced red pepper, 1 medium thinly slices carrot, 1 handful of each mange tout and sugar snaps, 10-12 stems tender broccoli, small handful edamame beans)

For the egg fried rice-

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2-4 eggs depending on preference

Cooked rice (we used brown rice, enough for for a side portion for 4, around 250g)

A little soy sauce

How to make it tasty:

Ben made the sauce ahead of time so he could marinade the chicken in it for a few hours first, but if you are short of time you could skip this part. Ben put the teriyaki, peeled garlic cloves and peeled and roughly chopped Ginger into the blender and pulsed until smooth. He then added enough water to make a pouring consistency.

Ben kept the chicken breast as one piece, seasoned it and pricked it all over with a fork, before smoothing in the blended sauce, and refrigerating for 4-5 hours.

When it was dinner time, Ben heated the rapeseed oil in a wok, over a high heat, and browned the onion. Whilst the onion was browning, he took the chicken out of the sauce, and Diced into chunks. The Diced chicken was added to the browned onion, and cooked through, and then the remaining sauce added to the pan. A little water was added at this stage, perhaps 2 tablespoons. The veg was then tossed in, stirred thoroughly to incorporate with the sauce, removing from the heat before it lost its crunch.

For the egg fried rice, you will need some rice that’s been cooked ahead of time, or a pack of shop bought ready cooked rice could be used also. Heat the sesame oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Ben then whisked up the eggs, he used 4 but this was very eggy, which is ok for us as we have eggs in ABUNDANCE, but would have been ok with 2 or 3. He tipped the egg into the pan, and stirred continuously to scramble until it was fully cooked. When it started to stick he used a little soy sauce to help prevent sticking and enhance the flavour. Then he added to the pan the cooked rice, and a little water and finished with a drop more soy sauce to taste.

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Thanks Ben!

‘To pod the peas or eat the peas’, that is the question…

My struggles with giving my children the best start to life!

I have found this post really hard to write. I have started it several times before deleting it again. It was going to be about how eating healthily in childhood is really important, and feeding your children the best food sets them up for life. But here’s the thing; my children don’t exactly eat brilliantly. Far from it!

It wasnt going to be like this. In my world before I had children, where I was a hypothetical parent, my children ate only the best local fruit and veg and shunned the very idea of chips or chocolate. They didn’t even know what a packet of crisps was. Being the family with all the best and freshest foods at our fingertips, we were going to rock eating healthily. I started off well too. After being solely breastfed till 6 months, my now 3.5 yr old Arthur, started munching his way through boiled sticks of veg, soft grabbable pieces of fruit, yoghurt, scrambled eggs, pasta & grains. You name it, whatever we presented him with he ate, he embraced baby led weaning and never had refined sugar pass his lips. It was all going so well! But when he was around 14 months, it all fell apart. Around the time I became pregnant again, the business was really busy, we moved house, you know how the story goes. Arthur stopped eating, probably just a phase connected to teething, but as a parent you worry. And when you are busy and stressed you offer them whatever they will eat. Sugar creeps in, unhealthy snacks creep in, and before you know it we have a child that would live on bread, bananas, biscuits and chips if I let him. Oh and of course, ice cream! There are times that I have wondered if it was my fault for getting him into bad eating habits, perhaps because I prevented him from having things and now he’s gone mad with them, perhaps because I didn’t keep strong for long enough and say ‘no’ more, and perhaps (most likely, and hardest to take) because we have had spells of eating badly ourselves, and children learn from what they see. Or perhaps I should not blame myself at all. Because my youngest, Leo, had exactly the same start. He went from exclusive breastfeeding, to baby led finger foods, to joining in with whatever we were eating. Snacks crept in (which he loves), yet he eats a huge variety, he loves healthy foods, he never has spells of not eating, or cutting the food he finds acceptable down to 4 items. So maybe it’s just them as people, or perhaps I should say, maybe it’s just them as CHILDREN.

I’ve thought long and hard about how I fix this, because my children growning up happy and healthy is obviously the most important thing to me. And I won’t be beaten. I still offer up healthy meals everyday, even if I know Arthur won’t touch it, and I still put a bit of salad on their plates, hoping for that one day they might give it a go. I try to give as good an example to them as possible, as I think this is really important. But I’ve had a bit of change of tack recently, after some important realisations I have had, and it’s turned meal times from a “please just try a bit/ aren’t you hungry?/ mummy is enjoying hers/ lightening McQueen eats this to make him big and strong” affair, to a much more joyous family occasion! It goes a little something like this…

So after a particularly frustrating bout of Arthur not eating, around the time Leo was weaning, I was saying to my husband, Ben “what are we going to do with him, he can’t exist eating 4 foods for the rest of his life, and if we take those away he just doesn’t eat, for ages! The baby is eating more than him! We have the best food imaginable and all he wants is mini cheddars- what are we going to do?’. And then we realised, we should do nothing. Well not nothing, but we should lay off the trying to encourage him, because that actually makes him resist more. Because how many of us as adults only eat what we did as a child? Our tastes change all the time, we try new things all the time. And actually when you think about it, I haven’t met many parents that say their children eat a perfect diet, without a hint of ‘I wish they ate a bit more of this/ a bit less of that”. So if I’m not going to worry about what he eats, how do I send him off into the world satisfied that I’ve done my job as a parent? Instead of trying to make him like certain things; teach him ABOUT food, where it comes from, what makes it healthy/ not healthy and most importantly, HOW TO COOK! EUREKA!!!

This has changed our lives. Arthur loves helping to cook, and Leo is starting to get involved too. Ok, it’s not always ideal having 3.5 and 1.5 yr old try to muscle in, but whenever I can I’m trying to get them involved. Arthur loves stirring and singing while he goes. While we prepare food he can learn about all the individual ingredients that make up a dish, and then when it gets dished up on their plates it’s much more approachable, he even tries new things now! The other day, both boys were helping me pod peas and broad Beans to go in our vegetable risotto, and while podding them and singing ‘peas peas they are so yummy’ from Tractor Ted, Arthur reached in the bowl and ate a few; this was unthinkable a few months ago. Leo was also stealing them, but he try’s everything! Another victory is that now our free range flock of chickens are outside our house instead of down at the farm yard, both boys help to collect the eggs each day. Now, Arthur hasn’t tried an egg since he was about 9 months old, however they are cooked and presented to him he treats it like I’m serving up poison. Since he’s had involvement in the hens, and collecting the eggs he has started to try them, and realised he loves them. Last night he ate a whole egg. He didn’t eat anything else, but I will take that.

Mealtimes are happy again! Mummy is happy again! I have realised the importance is not on making them love spinach as toddlers but giving them the skills in life to know where their food comes from, the value of it, and how to cook it. They will not become teenagers that don’t know what a cauliflower is, or where milk comes from! I won’t lose any sleep if today they don’t want to try their stir fry, but I will make sure they know what a stir fry is and how to make it, because when they grow up and their tastes change they will have the SKILLS they need to live healthy lives. They will know that cake is a treat, they will know that we cook at home and we don’t live out of packets, and they will know where food comes from. Most importantly they will know preparing food is good and positive and NOT that mealtimes are a black cloud hanging over us. I’m sure that if they have the right skills and knowledge, and built a solid foundation, the rest will follow. I once met a girl that told me whilst growing up that her parents did not say ‘no’ to any food. But the catch was she had to make it. Want a cake? Fine, we have all the ingredients, let’s get to work. I thought this was crazy at the time but now I think it’s brilliant! I might implement this when mine become teenagers. Because not only does it practice your skills, it tests how much you really want that cake!

So there it is, my journey from wanting to say that eating the best food sets your kids up for life, but not being able to truthfully say mine eat the best! BUT, actually realising that EDUCATION and SKILLS about the best food can set them on a healthy and happy path. And those things, I can provide!

What are we going to do for 6 weeks?

I feel like I need to make a plan for summer.

Arthur, my biggest boy, started pre school this year, so for the very first time we are breaking up for the summer holidays. Every Mum, Dad, Grandparent and carer I have seen for the past few weeks has at some point mentioned what they plan to do to fill up the summer holidays. Whether it’s working out how to juggle childcare, or how to make summer memorable, or how to prevent the family from going stir crazy, its on everyone’s mind!

This has got me thinking. Because as a child I LOVED the summer holidays. It’s the thing that first comes to mind when I think back to being a child. Every summer was brilliant, and every summer seemed to go on forever. So what was it that made my summers on the farm so special? Once I can put my finger on the secret ingredients that made my summers so special I can start to replicate it with my boys! So here goes with my top 6 summer experiences.

1. Whenever you are outside, hunt for 4 leaf clovers!

I remember my mum showing me how to press a 4 leaf clover inside the front cover of one of my books. Challenge accepted- to find a rare gem to go inside the cover of each and every book in the bookcase! It became quite an obsession, whenever I would see a thick patch of clovers, to have a glance through it and count the leaves, desperately hoping to find one with 4. I have to admit, I’d still have a look now! There is something so magical about it, and this is something I’m definitely getting my boys into when they are big enough to understand. Such a small thing to add a bit of enchantment and engage them in nature.

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2. Helping to prepare food that was growing an hour ago!

My great aunties and my granparents were all keen gardeners, and had big vegetable gardens on the farm. In the summer we would get the chance to help them  pick, dig, and gather, and they would beam with pride at the fact that we were preparing food that was still growing earlier that day- you couldn’t get fresher. They would also take us blackberry picking around the hedgerows toward the end of summer and we would delight in the free food we had found and hauled back. Then came my favourite part, turning our harvest into a meal. I honestly attribute my career in food to these beginnings. Because once you have tasted food that fresh and honest, and played a part in podding the peas, stringing the beans and slicing the rhubarb- you can’t go back! I remember us all sitting around the table competing as to who had the most peas in their pods, and trying desperately to fill your podded bowl up first, only for Dad to walk in from the farm and steal a handful to eat raw; and put you behind in the competition! I also remember with utter devastation when my granny said I couldn’t help her string the beans because it was the start of the season and they were still scarce and as a child I would waste too much!

3. Packing a picnic to take across the fields was serious business.

Nothing gave the primary school age me a bigger sense of freedom than packing my cheese sandwich, apple and a penguin biscuit into my coolest ‘bum bag’ and setting off across the fields to find a spot to eat it. I said summer was fun, I never claimed to be fashionable!

4. ‘Garden Camping’ was the best holiday!

Like every other arable farmer with combining to do, we didn’t go on a family holiday over the summer holidays. We used to go about June to ensure it didn’t clash with the summer harvest work. Luckily my best friend also lived on a farm a few miles away so we used to make our own holidays, pitching our tents and camping in the garden. I’m not sure if we ever made a full night, but the pitching the tents, the midnight feasts (that didn’t make it past 9pm) and the torches and ghost stories were the best fun!

5. Watering the pigs was great entertainment.

I don’t mean giving them water to drink, they had plumbing for that. I literally mean watering them with a hosepipe, on a hot day. Pigs struggle in the heat, they are big animals with small surface area, and they don’t sweat so they don’t lose heat very easily. Spray them with the hose though and you have never seen such joy. Snouts in the air, snapping at the water, curly tails happily waggling, and darting around in the puddles it makes on the floor. Lovely.

6. Tractor rides that taught you so much.

Summer was a busy time for Mum and Dad, but if you joined them on the tractor or combine while they were working they had all the time in the world for us. They would teach us about growing the crops and the history of the farm and the family, as well as talk about news, politics, cricket, anything. My dad taught me the whole of Marmalades, ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Life Goes on’ and when I asked him how he knew that song his answer was ‘I made it up’. I literally was about 20 when I found out it was an actual song and not something my Dad made up. In fairness to me ‘Desmond had a barrow in the marketplace, Molly was a singer in the band’ sounds like something your Dad made up!

So where does this leave me for my boys summer? It seems to me the best plan is to not have a plan. Just a few suggestions for activities that they can run with. It wasn’t planned fancy days out I loved as a child. It was exploring, learning, and getting more freedom as I got older.

What are we going to do for 6 weeks? Spend a lot of it outside and take each day as it comes!

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Maybe even start to train our workforce!

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Our journey into the good life…

Let’s start at the very beginning.

Our fields were farmed by my family before I was born. Before my Dad was born infact. My grandfather, and his brother, bought the farm in 1937. So my dad and his brother and sister were raised here from when they were born, just like I have been.  Is it any wonder that I wanted the same thing for my children? The third generation to have grown up on Radmore Farm.

My childhood was nothing less than a dream. Freedom to play outside, animals to care for and a different activity every day; from picnics amongst the rows of harvest time straw to tractor rides and taking our fishing nets down to the brook (because my dad promised us their were fish in there, not just his attempt to keep us busy at all!). There was always something to do, someone to help, something to learn.

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My parents were really busy, it’s easy to look back through the fun-loving eyes of a child and only remember the good bits. But their job was hard, it was long hours, it was was all weathers, and it was stressful. We had a 500 sow pig unit, and all their offspring, which equated to about 3000 pigs on the farm at any one time. My dad had also bought some more farm land giving him about 500 acres of arable land to farm. This didn’t give them many free minutes! Luckily my 2 great aunties lived on the farm and they provided all the entertainment needed when Mum and Dad were busy.

‘The Aunties’ as they were fondly known by the whole family, had never married and moved to the farm shortly after their brother bought it in the late 30’s early 40’s. They taught me sustainable living, providing for yourself and avoiding waste like no one else ever could! They must have been in their 80’s when I was born, and lived into their late 90’s and one well past the 100 mark!

These 2 women used to darn socks, pick blackberries from the hedge rows, walk around the fields collecting sticks and logs for the fire, and collect rainwater to use on their garden. And they didn’t do it because it was trendy, or because the wanted to save the planet. They did it because it was normal! Because why would you buy things that you could make or collect or grow? They told stories of the 2 world wars they lived through, of the soldiers that camped on our farm, and of the prisoners of war that were sent to our farm to work. They told us stories that the Italian Prisoners of War became great friends with them as they worked on our farm (the aunties cooked hot meals for them and in return the POWs made them hard-wearing shoes. They even kept until they died letters that these men and their families sent them when they returned home after the war). They even told stories of hearing on the wireless that the Titanic had sunk! They lived through times when girls didn’t go to school for many years if at all, through depression, suffrage, rationing, through plumbing and electricity coming into homes, and through us having our first female prime minister. They saw so many changes to the world around them, but they still lived their way. They went to bed when it got dark, and rose with the sun. They never turned the lights on! They walked and got the bus, never owned a car. They cooked. They grew fruit and vegetables. They made their own fertilisers from sheep poo they collected round the farm, mixed with rain water. They even made cushioning for inside their shoes when they got old and worn from sheeps wool they would find on the hedge branches. They bottled and jarred, and pickled and preserved, from recipes handed down from mother. Even when sometimes it backfired, like when they attempted to give the Vicar a glass of sherry, but instead gave him blackberry Vinegar due to lack of labelling! A most embarrassing faux pas! But what I loved most about them is that they so happily involved me in their ways and history. A little girl born 80 years apart into a very different world!

The most important things I learned from the aunties that set me up for life:

1. Make the most out of what you have

2. You have to eat a spec of dirt before you die

3. Enjoy learning and make the most of school, especially as a girl!

4. Be part of the community, it gives so much back

5. Everything has a use, don’t throw anything away

6. You can swing a full can of blackberries over your head without spilling any, if you  swing your arm fast enough!

So it was an obvious choice to open a farm shop, and bring my children up in this lifestyle too, wasn’t it?! I just hope I can relay ‘the aunties’ healthy, active, sustainable, and most importantly happy lifestyle to my boys.