Friday 30 October 2009

Where Food Comes From: Teach Your Toddler Tip Three

Although we are lucky enough to have grown our entire summer vegetable supply in our garden, not everyone has a garden. But being reliant on the supermarket to buy your vegetables does not mean that your toddler is unable to learn about where the food comes from. When you are shopping there are lots of things you can do to help your toddlers learn about the food you are buying.

Let your toddler pick out the fruit and vegetables for you. Garden Girl loves selecting apples of various types. Some days she will only choose red ones, other days shiny ones and sometimes she will choose the biggest. She also counts out my carrots and picks out the biggest broccolli. If I am not following a recipe I will let her choose the type of vegetables, telling her to pick out three different vegetables, or three green vegetables, or choose one vegetable that grows above ground and one that grows under the soil. Garden Boy will always join in and makes Garden Girl giggle when he gets it wrong or sends an apple rolling across the supermarket floor. I have to watch him though, as he is liable to take a big bite out the vegetables, testing them out before he buys. Still, most of the vegetables from our garden have munch marks in them, so why not those from the supermarket? It just makes them more authentic!

We usually buy frozen peas and tinned beans, but if you don't grow your own it is worth buying some fresh peas or broad beans in the pod every now and then. Our Little Garden Helpers love podding them for me while I chop the rest of the vegetables and they get to see what they looked like on the plant. Around Christmas time there are usually sprouts still attached to the plant stalks in the supermarkets and there are always tomatoes still on the vine on the shelves, so look out for them and occassionally buy them like this so you can explain why they look like this.

Supermarkets also sell herbs growing in their pots so try to buy these rather than the ready cut ones, or the dried ones, although many herbs are easy to grow from seed on a window sill, in small pots, so spend less and let your toddler plant their own.

I also frequently take our Little Garden Helpers to the garden centre for nothing more than an afternoon's entertainment. They love it, as there is lots to see (especially near Christmas when they have fabulous Christmas displays) and if you are trying to teach your toddler about food you can just seek out the vegetable section and show them what the plants look like in the early stages, before they hit the supermarket shelves.

And the best thing about getting your toddler to help with the shopping? They stay happy and engaged while you shop instead of feeling like they are being dragged round and when they don't want to eat their food later you can remind them that they chose it and it might just encourage them to tuck in.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Tomato and Green Tomato Chutney recipes

A large pan of Green Tomato Chutney is bubbling away, wafting a lovely aroma of spices around the kitchen, while Garden Dad is all set to carve out some fabulous faces on our Little Garden Helpers pumpkins. Garden Girl drew her pumpkin face for Garden Dad to copy, while Garden Boy chose a design from a halloween story book. I will take some ghoulish pictures of the pumpkins to show you on Saturday, but for today I thought I would share the two tomato chutney recipes we have used this year in case you wanted to give them a go.

The first recipe we made last year and it was so delicious we have done it again this year. We gave jars of this chutney as christmas presents to all our family and it was a hit with everyone, including our Little Garden Helpers, so comes well recommended. I found the recipe on the Channel 4 food website and we didn't change anything so give it a try. You will not be disappointed.

The Green Tomato Chutney which is currently making me very hungry as it slowly simmers is untried and untested, but smells lovely and was found in a recipe book from which I never cooked a bad recipe, so I have high hopes. The book is called 'Choosing and Using Spices' and was written by Sallie Morris and Lesley Mackley and this is the recipe;

1.75kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped
450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
450g onions, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1tbsp salt
3 tbsp pickling spice
600ml cider vinegar
450g granulated sugar

Put the tomatoes, apples, onions and garlic in a large saucepan and add salt. Tie the pickling spice mixture in a piece of muslin and add to the pan.

Add half the vinegar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for one hour, or until the chutney is thick. You will need to stir frequently.

Dissolve the sugar in the remaining vinegar and add to the chutney. Simmer for one and a half hours or until the chutney is thick. Stir frequently.

Remove the muslin bag from the chutney then spoon the hot chutney into warm, sterilized jars. Seal so the jars are airtight and store for at least one month before using.

According to the book this will make about 2.5kg of chutney.

I will let you know our verdict on taste in about a months time but if you give it a try I hope you enjoy.

Monday 26 October 2009

Clearing the Dead Wood

Over the weekend we managed to achieve a lot in the garden. We threw away all the dead tomato plants, harvesting the remaining green tomatoes ready for making a big batch of green tomato chutney. We harvested all the things we had left to dry (intentially or unavoidably!) and we repotted the surviving rosemary cuttings we took earlier in the year. After drying out and turning brown soon after taking these cuttings they made a surprising recovery and there are 10 healthy plants in our greenhouse now.

We also dug up all our potatoes for storage. They won't last long. They didn't crop particularly well. It must be something we did wrong because the seed potatoes we gave to Grandad South were successful, with a bountiful harvest of big potatoes. Next year I think we should improve our earthing up skills.

There is still some tidying up to do in the garden but it was very satisfying to see the dead plants get cleared away and space appearing in the beds to plant broad beans. We have to start planning our autumn/winter tasks now. I once believed there wasn't much to do in a garden over winter. How wrong I was!

Friday 23 October 2009

Where Food Comes From; Teach Your Toddler Tip Two

It is Friday again already and time for another tip to get toddlers learning about food. In our house we have spent much of the week cooking vast quantities of vegetables we dug up at the weekend, so it only seems approriate that I talk a little bit about ways to get your toddler involved in food preparation.

The vast majority of the meals we prepare have vegetables chopped into small chunks and served in a sauce, whether its a pasta sauce, curry, casserole or stew. Most of these meals get wolfed down without a second thought but the trouble with this sort of meal is that toddlers have no idea what the ingredients actually are. When they help to make the meal they get to see the vegetables before they are chopped up and know what they are eating.

One of the things our Little Garden Helpers enjoy doing most in the kitchen is washing the vegetables. I usually put a washing up bowl on the floor with some tea towels underneath to soak up any spills, with a few spare tea towels on hand to catch any larger spills. This is great for their learning as they see the carrots with the leaves on the end and the potatoes covered in soil. They love splashing in the water and chasing runaway potatoes across the kitchen floor.

Garden Girl also loves helping to chop vegetables. She sees it as a very grown up job and treats it as a real responsibilty, which makes her feel like she is contributing properly to the meal making. With the softer things like mushrooms or avocado a blunt toddler knife is sufficient to cut through, but for harder vegetables like carrots I will boil or steam them whole first. Once they are cool Garden Girl will chop them up while I deal with the meat and then I'll add them to the dish a bit later than usual to get warmed through. Don't worry about losing nutrients by pre boiling the vegetables; just use the water for the stock or add it to the sauce and simmer for longer or add cornflour to thicken it.

Another great idea for the older toddler which I picked up from CBeebies 'I Can Cook' is using toddler scissors to chop some vegetables like spring onions or just ripping things like sweet peppers apart. (And if you haven't seen this show, I would recommend it for some fabulous ideas on meals your child can cook pretty much from start to finish).

If you mash potatoes or carrots and swedes, get your toddler to help. Garden Boy loves the opportunity to crush things and he gets to see how the consistency and texture of the vegetables have changed. Garden Boy will also quite happily put peelings and chopped leaves in the bin for me (or on some days he will scatter them over the kitchen floor to create a lovely carpet of greenery) but it keeps him occupied while Garden Girl chops as he isn't yet controlled enough to help her.

Garden Girl takes a lot of pride in her cooking and loves it when she can tell Daddy she made the dinner. She is also a lot more eager to try something new if she has helped to cook it. The kitchen can become a little messy but I have a lot more fun cooking when our Little Helpers are involved. There are so many more giggles than usual and making dinner becomes an enjoyable activity rather than an everyday chore. Only Garden Dad might bear a slight frown when I hand him a broom on his return from work, though our Little Helpers are surprisingly eager to help out with this too.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

The Not So Simple Life

Yesterday our Little Garden Helpers had a friend to visit and they wanted to go out into the garden so they all put on their wellies and headed outdoors. They played basketball for a little bit but then decided to pick tomatoes. I handed over a bowl and settled down with a cup of tea while they got to work. A short while later Garden Girl returned with a bowl containing one red tomato. Garden Friend had a handful of green tomatoes but Garen Girl kept throwing them back out of the bowl. 'Not the green ones' she told her friend with a small hint of exasperation. I have taught her well. Except that it is that time of year when the green ones will never turn red. 'It's OK to pick the green ones today,' I told her, which was met with a frown and look of confusion. 'Tomatoes need sun to turn red and now it is autumn there is not enough sun and it is not warm enough for them to turn red. You can pick every tomato in the garden and we will make Green Tomato Chutney with them. You can help.'

That is all it took to undo the frequently repeated mantra of summer; 'Pick the red ones only'. And I fear that next summer I will be told by Garden Girl that it is OK to pick the green ones for making Green Tomato Chutney. She has a surprisingly long memory. The world is complicated. Not even tomato picking can be reduced to one simple rule.

Monday 19 October 2009

Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. Carrots, Carrots, Carrots

Garden Boy has spent the morning shouting at the patio doors, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy'. I thought that he had eventually given up but no. He had just wandered to the hallway to get his wellies and coat. Back at the patio doors he tried again, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.' No amount of 'He's at work' and 'He isn't in the garden' convinced him, so I took a break from chopping carrots and walked around the garden to search for Daddy. Finally convinced that Daddy was not in the garden we came back inside and Garden Boy stationed himself at the front door, 'Daddy, Daddy, Daddy'.

Garden Boy obviously enjoyed digging with Daddy in the garden all day yesterday and is not entirely happy to be stuck indoors today doing domestic chores like washing carrots and sweeping the floors. I have to admit I share his feelings. I chopped enough carrots yesterday, but I need to get going on more carrot soup while they are fresh out of the ground. Garden Boy has now fallen asleep, exhausted after his shouting for Daddy and I am waiting for Garden Girl to finish meticulously washing the carrots. With all the practice I got yesterday, I have been chopping faster than she has been washing.

Luckily our Little Garden Helpers have a friend coming to play later to keep them occupied and cheer up their Monday and I have promised they can make cakes. The best way to beat the Monday blues. And they definately won't be carrot cakes!    

Friday 16 October 2009

Where Food Comes From: Teach Your Toddler Tip One

Having read the results of the McCain survey which revealed that one in five children aged between 7 and 11 do not know that potatoes grow in the ground, I have decided to write a series of posts with ideas on how to teach your toddler the origins of food. We are very lucky that we have a garden large enough to contain raised beds where we grow our own vegetables. Our Little Garden Helpers are in the garden most days helping us plant, dig and harvest a variety of vegetables and as a result they are in no doubt as to where their food comes from. But not everyone has a garden. These Friday tips therefore are aimed at everyone, with or without a garden.

Tip One: Forage for Free Food

Put on your woolly hat, wellies and warm coat and head outside for a walk, keeping your eyes open for fruits, nuts and edible leaves. There are lots to find, all year round, if you really look for them. Even in the cities, just head for a large park and there will be food for picking. You have probably all been blackberry picking at some point and there might still be a few late ripening berries out there now, but the best thing at this time of year are the Sweet Chestnuts. Your toddler will love throwing sticks high into the trees to try and knock the prickly round cases onto the floor and then will have even more fun stamping on the prickly balls (with thick boots of course) to crack them open and reveal two or three sweet chesnuts hidden inside. Just make sure they wear thick gloves so they don't prick their fingers. Let them eat some raw there and then, a great reward for all their hard work but make sure they fill their backpacks with lots to take home for roasting.

If you are brave enough there are lots of fungi growing at this time of year and with the wierd and wonderful array of colours and shapes these are fascinating for toddlers. I must confess that I am not brave enough to pick wild mushrooms just in case I get the identification wrong and I poison my whole family, but we still look out for them when we are walking and both my Garden Helpers love looking at the strange formations. I always tell them that the mushrooms we buy at the supermarket once grew under a tree just like the ones we see when we are out, but that some varieties can make people feel sick so it best to let experts pick them. I am also always telling them both not to pick and eat enything unless they have checked with me first just to make sure they won't get a sore tummy.

The best thing about foraging for food is that its free; both the food and the day out. And while they are having fun your toddlers will be learning how things grow. Once you have started foraging you will always be on the look out and there is more out there than you might have thought. If you think you might want to give it a go there is a brilliant little pocket sized book called Food for Free by Richard Mabey (ISBN 9870007183036) which will help you identify edible plants, trees and fungi, as well as having a handy list of what to look out for each month. We take this with us whenever we go for a walk now.

Have fun foraging.

Wednesday 14 October 2009

Prickles for Dinner?

Following our recent sighting of a hedgehog Garden Girl has become very interested in animals with spikes. She wanted to know what other animals there were with spikes and the best I could come up with was the porcupine so she sat patiently on my knee while I searched the internet for some information. And we discovered some amazing creatures from spinning sea urchins, churning up sand with poison tipped spikes, to the Porcupine Puffer fish which blows itself up into a huge spiky balloon so no predator can swallow it. Whilst I would be interested to see this marvellous spectacle you would never catch me trying to eat it, despite it being a delicacy in Japan where 100 deaths a year are apparantly caused in gourmet restaurants from people 'prickling their taste buds'.

I think my most adventurous trip into culinary strangeness is an ostrich burger so nothing too wild there. What is the strangest or most dangerous food you have eaten?

And if you want to learn more about the spiky inhabitants of planet earth check out the Zoo Friends website.

Monday 12 October 2009

Severed Carrots

It is harvest time and consequently we have been doing a lot of digging. Garden Boy loves the opportunity to throw soil everywhere, move it around the garden and stamp in it. Garden Girl is a little more careful, digging around the vegetables in an attempt to make them easier to dig up but we are struggling with our carrots.

The idea had been to make soup from all those carrots which had split or been slightly munched and as such were not suitable for storage and to store the rest to provide supplies over the coming months. The heavy, hard soil is thwarting our efforts of having any carrots left for storage however, as the bulk of the lovely, long, undamaged carrots are not making out in one piece. Even Garden Dad is finding it impossible to clear enough soil to pull these perfect carrots out in less than two pieces.

It is a good job we all like carrot soup a lot, as this week I will be cooking a massive panful for the freezer but if anyone has any tricks for digging carrots up in one piece they will be gratefully received.

Friday 9 October 2009

The Potato Story; Chips are not made from Potatoes...

... And potatoes do not grow in the ground. Oh no, chicken's in fact lay potatoes.

You might be forgiven for thinking that I have gone a little crazy but according to a recent survey carried out by McCain, 1 in 5 children aged between 7 and 11 do not know that potatoes grow in the ground, with 1 in 10 believing that they are instead, a product of chickens. I have to wonder where these children believe eggs originate. 1 in 5 children are also not aware that chips are in fact potatoes.

I find the results of this survey worrying. Our children need to understand where their food comes from in order to develop healthy eating habits. McCain share this opinion and have started their 'Its all good' campaign in order to educate and guide consumers and children towards healthy eating habits and active lives. As part of this campaign they have launched 'The Potato Story'. This interactive learning experience takes the form of a double decker bus, which is taken to schools across the country and introduces children to the story of how the humble potato is grown, harvested and cooked.

The bus, has already visited over 130 UK primary schools but McCain have decided to extend the programme and visit a further 30 schools throughout September - November 2009. They have also launched a website at  where there are games for children, as well as resources for parents and teachers.

Do take a look and if you have children of any age, think about how you present food to them. Tell them what is on their plate, what the ingredients are and where they come from. You might be surprised how interested they are and just by talking about food you will be educating them about healthy eating. And when you see the sparks of interest perhaps you will be inspired to grow something. You don't need to have a garden, or even a plant pot. Any old container will do; yoghurt pots, cardboard tubes from loo roll, empty margarine tubs. Growing herbs indoors is easy to do or if you want something less leafy try Red Robin tomatoes. They grow into very small but very productive tomato plants and look lovely and colourful on a kitchen window sill.  Just give it a go. Its fun and you might just prevent your child from believing that chickens lay potatoes.

And if the bus has visited a school near you do let me know. I am really interested to know how the campaign is going and in quiet support of educating our children about food, over the next few Fridays I will publish a series of posts with simple ideas to get your children involved in growing and preparing food.

Thursday 8 October 2009

One Hundred

This is my one hundredth blog post. When I realised I had written that many posts I was amazed, but when I look back over the archive I see that I have an excellent record of what has been happening in the garden and more importantly, some brilliant memories of time spent outdoors with my Little Garden Helpers. Reading through some of the older posts reveals how much I have learnt about vegetable growing in just one season, as well as just how much more there is to learn. I also smiled and laughed a lot when I looked back at some of Garden Girl and Garden Boy's antics. I wonder what they will make of it when they are older and read over my words. How much of it will they remember and will it amuse or embarrass them?

I hope that when they are older they will add their own contributions to the blog, with their own thoughts about the garden, which they in turn, will be able to revisit. Yes, I am hooked and in it for the long haul, (both the garden and the blog) and I am looking forward to creating many more happy memories to document and share.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Spiders... Everywhere

There are spiders all over my garden. Left undisturbed while I wasn't very well, they felt free to build massive webs amongst the tomato plants, between the garden furniture, across the slide and pretty much anywhere. I don't like them. I am scared of them in the house (somehow they seem scarier indoors where they don't really belong) but I can usually tolerate them outdoors. However, they are everywhere, taking over and are scarier than ever before. I am trying not to pass this fear onto my children but it is so hard. I walk into a web unwittingly and suddenly I'm jumping around batting my head, trying desperately to get rid of the spider that might not even be there. Then I see my Little Garden Helpers looking at me with worried eyes and I try to calm down. 'Sorry. It was just the shock. Spiders are lovely really. Mummy isn't scared. I was just surprised to walk into a web and the spider will be happier in the grass than in Mummy's hair.'

Today however, I am looking out of the window, the rain pouring down and the garden looks beautiful with lots of spider webs decorating it. The rain drops are settling on the webs turning them into large glittering patterns and they look stunning. I tried to take a photo for you but it just didn't work well. In one place there are three webs parallel to each other getting gradually smaller as they get further away, so if you look through the middle it looks like a glittering silver tunnel. And the best thing is the spiders have gone somewhere to hide from the rain. I only hope that their dry hiding place is not my house.

In the meantime I will take the opportunity of a wet day and a beautiful display of webs to inspire some craft and we'll create our own spiders and webs this afternoon to decorate the corners of our house. I wonder if that will be enough to convince our Little Garden Helpers that Mummy likes spiders?

Sunday 4 October 2009

Campaign Beetroot; Assault Wave Two

Yesterday our Little Garden Helpers took a short break from digging carrots up in the garden to do some baking. On the menu was Beetroot and Chocolate cake and it was a huge success. We found the recipe on the BBC Good Food website and it was delicious.

I asked the family if this cake was worth growing beetroot for and the answer was a resounding yes. Garden Girl said 'Yes, I think I like beetroot now' and then 'You can me a beetroot sandwich next'. I have to admit I nearly fell off my seat. Meanwhile, Garden Boy was stuffing pieces the size of an egg into his mouth, he just could not eat it quick enough.

So what is on the menu for today? Well, Beetroot sandwiches of course.

Friday 2 October 2009

Hedgehog Hunting

We have been gradually working to get the garden in order but there will be lots more to do at the weekend when Garden Dad will also be available to help. However the real excitement in the garden was the recent spotting of a hedgehog. It is just a shame that they are nocturnal as Garden Girl and Garden Boy did not get the opportunity to meet him. I was returning home in the dark when, pulling onto our driveway, I saw him ambling away from the headlights with little sense of urgency at the nearing car wheels. He hid behind our bins and curled up in a ball.

The following morning there was no sign of him, though I like to think he has found a cosy corner of our garden to curl up and sleep off his slug feast. There were certainly a lot of slugs about that night I spotted him and they were no longer there the next day. I told our Little Garden Helpers to keep a watchful eye for him in the garden so they do not get prickled by him. Garden Girl, as usual, is taking the warning very seriously and she peers into every nook and crevice and almost tiptoes around the garden for fear of standing on a hedgehog. Garden Boy meanwhile hasn't taken a blind bit of notice to my words and is gaily sqeezing himself into all corners of the garden without a care in the world. I fear Garden Boy will be the first to find the hedgehog's home but at least there are fewer slugs lying around for him to pick up and try to eat.