Foraging – elderflower

What?

If you could gather up quintessential English summers and put them in a bottle, it would taste like elderflower. We love the stuff, and increasingly so. Elderflower cordial is the go to non-alcoholic posh drink used as alternatives to champagne at weddings and taken along to summer dinner parties as something a bit more ‘cool’ than Schloer. And unlike passionfruit juice, which in my opinion is on par with elderflower in yumminess, it thrives in the English climate and is confidently ‘local’.

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Picking

When you first begin to forage for elderflower, you start spotting it everywhere and realise that it is particularly good at growing in urban London – all it needs is a little scrap of soil and there it will

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Urban elderflower

be chockablock full of little white flower clouds (unless someone has beaten you to it on the foraging front). It is fairly easy to identify, with some key features being: scraggly scrappy shrub often looking like a tree in London given how tall they grow and clouds of tiny white flowers coming off the branches that smell of elderflower. If a cloud of white flowers is on a stem coming up from the ground, it is not elderflower.

Pick from late May until end of June – so hurry, the window is not massive and now is the time!

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Elderflower normally smells like elderflower – a good sign that you are picking the right stuff. Spot the actual shrub/tree in the background.
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J up close and personal with elderflower pollen. The hazards of foraging with babies attached.

 

What can you do with it?

All green parts are poisonous but the flowers and berries can be used for cordial, jams, champagne, or infused in vinegar, added to chutney, dried and added to cakes and muffins…

Homemade elderflower cordial has become a bit of a summer staple in our household. We make a few batches during the season, which normally lasts us well. Having tried and tested a few recipes, we now use a combination of River Cottage and BBC. You can buy citric acid from chemists; supermarkets don’t stock it (presumably they don’t want people buying in bulk to make drugs).

 

 

Ingredients

25 elderflower heads, or as many as you can pick

1kg sugar

zest of 3 lemons and 1 orange, and slices of the remaining fruit

50g citric acid (from chemist)

Method

Remove any bugs from elderflower heads (gently wash if necessary).

Mix sugar with 1.5 litres water and heat without boiling until sugar is dissolved.

Bring mixture to boil and then turn off heat.

Add elderflower heads.

Add zest and slices of lemons and oranges.

Leave for 24 hours.

Line a sieve with a muslin cloth (or thin tea towel). Gradually ladel mixture through cloth into another pan, squeezing out all the juice.

Finally, sterilise a glass bottle by pouring boiling water into it, empty and then pour the cordial into it using a funnel.

Store in fridge for up to 6 weeks.

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Verdict

Homemade elderflower cordial is so much tastier than the bought stuff – it is fresher and more pungent and the lemon gives it a good kick. It is really quite easy to make, so it is well worth having a go. One batch should make up a few bottles, and if you don’t think you will drink it quickly enough you can freeze it in ice cube trays which will allow you to see if you will have some left for Christmas!

 

 

 

Foraging – dandelion leaves

What?

Dandelions! Probably the most famous “weed” but still, in my opinion, possessing a great deal of beauty, brightening up alleyways and scrappy ground. They are prolific breeders, reproducing asexually, spreading everywhere and thus staying true to their weed identity. Dandelion leaves contain vitamins A, C, potassium, calcium, iron and manganese so they are definitely worth getting hold of to keep colds at bay.

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J proves to be a difficult student in my foraging class

Picking

We all know what dandelions look like, so this is one of the easier plants to pick safely. They are around from February to November so there is a decent window in which to collect. I decided to pick the leaves, although I’m told that every bit of the plant is edible. It was a little tricky bending over to pick lots with Jonathan in the sling, but luckily they seemed to grow in patches so I didn’t need to go far to get a good bunch. I tended to veer towards younger, smaller leaves rather than the beasting mature ones, because I assumed these would be slightly less bitter.

What can you do with it?

Over the last couple of years I have tried various different types of pesto – so I was pleased to learn that I could use my dandelion leaves to make yet another variation of the yummy green mush. Pesto is IMG_1498great, partly because you do not cook the greens so you get to enjoy all the green goodness in its raw form. I used a recipe from http://www.kitchn.com – the measurements are in american cups, but you really do not need to be very precise with pesto – just remember to taste it at the end and add whatever you think it needs more of.

 

The basic formula for all green pesto seems to be: greens, roasted seeds or nuts, parmesan, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper. You can experiment with different nuts seeds, or add different herbs and greens like mint, basil, kale etc. This particular recipe uses a huge amount of pumpkin seeds which makes it really creamy.

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Giving them a good soak to get rid of any insects

Ingredients:

3/4 cup unsalted hulled (green) pumpkin seeds
3 garlic gloves, minced
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 bunch dandelion greens (about 2 cups, loosely packed)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Very simple instructions:

(1) Thoroughly soak and wash dandelion leaves (2) Roast the seeds, allow to cool, whizz seeds in food processor with garlic, (3) Add parmesan, dandelion, lemon, whizz (4) Add olive oil while whizzing (5) Season to taste.

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Verdict

Dandelion leaves are bitter, but within the context of creamy rich parmesan and pumpkin seeds I actually enjoyed the bitterness. The pumpkin seeds seemed to make the pesto more granular than other pesto I have made but that is not a negative.

I will be making this again, admittedly partly because it is just fun picking the leaves and knowing you are benefiting from this pesky but nutritious weed!

Retaining perspective

As I enter the final leg of this pregnancy, it becomes easy for me to get a bit lost in baby mania. Thinking about all the bits and pieces we need, all the bits and pieces companies tell us we need, worrying about the baby being transverse, getting familiar with E.A.S.Y routine, discussing (or not, in this case) possible names, re-arranging bedroom furniture…you get the idea. It is easy to forget a few essential truths. Such as:

  • TODAY is the day that the Lord has made for me to rejoice and glorify him (Ps 118:24). I need to keep reminding myself not to be impatient, to savor every moment at work and with Tom, thanking God continually and being open to the ways he will use me for his plans TODAY. Like being engaged, being pregnant makes it hard to stay living in the moment.

  • Whilst becoming a mother is such an important, precious role, God’s plan for my life has not changed. I have still been called, first and foremost, to carry out the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). While that may look different being a mother, I need to remind myself that making disciples of all nations, baptising them and teaching them the word of God, is still the primary calling of my life as a Christian. My preparation for motherhood needs to include some consideration of this.
  • My desire and longing for Jesus to return, to be united perfectly with him needs to remain strong. This is hard, when I am secretly praying “please wait until I’ve experienced motherhood”. Again, it was the same with being engaged. Yet throughout the whole New Testament we are urged to eagerly await Jesus’ coming (Phil 3:20, Gal 5:5, Rom 8:23, Heb 9:28) and to set our hope on Christ (2 Cor 1:10, 1 Tim 4:10, Ep 1:12), rather than babies.
  • God is sovereign and he has my and my son’s future in his hand. I can trust him, that he will be with me, that he is in control. Even if birth doesn’t go as planned, I can rest in his grace. Even if my mothering is shambolic at times, I can rest in his grace. Even if I deal really badly with lack of sleep, I can rest in his grace.

So I pray that through his Spirit, God will give me discipline to meditate on these important truths so that they become real to me, and to savor each DAY!

Making Christmas more Christ-y

The traditions

In this run up to Christmas, I have really been challenged by how little we focus on Jesus through our traditions and celebrations. We are very good at compartmentalising focus on Christ – into Carol Services, church or out normal weekly small groups – but we find it difficult to allow Christ to permeate into all the cracker cracking, mulled wine mulling, turkey basting, christmas jumper wearing and secret santa opening.

My church small group have been doing Bible Overview this year where we take chunks of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation seeing the whole narrative of the Bible come together. In recent weeks we have been introduced to the Jewish celebrations of Passover and the Day of Atonement. Unlike Christmas, these were God given celebrations where the meaning was closely linked to the rituals themselves. There was a purpose to all the things they did.

Christmas on the other hand is a man made celebration, taking its roots mainly from pagan tradition and then having been adopted by Christians as a celebration of the birth of Christ. It somewhat explains why the rituals of Christmas do not particularly help us to understand the Christian meaning. Indeed, you could so far as saying that they detract from the meaning, but I don’t wish to be a scrooge!

I love Christmas rituals, and my Swedish heritage has meant that my experiences of Christmas are magical, utterly beautiful, warm and exciting. This year however, I have been challenged to think about how we can alter the festive rituals that we enjoy with our family and friends so that the rituals themselves are helpful in reminding us of the meaning: Christ, Immanuel, God with us.

Christmas lunch

The real challenge is working out how to do this with just adults. Two weekends ago we had our small group Christmas lunch. Normally, in all honesty, despite us all being Christians such lunches would have had zero time dedicated to contemplating Christ. I wanted to make this year different, but I really struggled to think of ideas and the internet was solely focused on Christian traditions for kids. In the end, I decided to keep it simple and just printed out excerpts from Luke 1 and 2, numbered each passage chronologically and randomly arranged one on each persons place. Throughout the lunch, people periodically read out the passages in order. On the whole I think it was a good thing to do, and an improvement on spending zero time thinking about Jesus. It did break up the jovialness somewhat, and it was a bit hard to change our focus so frequently from hysterical laughter at rounds of “Heads Up!” to storytelling, listening to what Mary, Joseph and the others were getting up to. So it was perhaps a bit stilted and disruptive. Some of that comes down to habit though – we are just not used to spending much time doing church in our ‘designated’ social time. Hopefully the more we do it the more natural it will feel.

A model which is quite useful to explore for combining readings and food, is the Scottish celebration of Burns night which I had the privilege of experiencing last year at the Hendersons. If we could take the Burns night model and make it a Jesus night instead (sorry for how cheesy that sounds), that might work really well. Not sure what that would look like in detail, but it is something I am keen to explore further.

Thinking about Christmas more widely

Moving beyond just the turkey lunch, thinking carefully about how best to glorify and worship Jesus at Christmas is a fantastic challenge. I expect our Christmases would look very different. Perhaps Christmas would be less of an insular biological family time and more outwardly focused – thinking about the people in your community or church who need some family time. Volunteering at Crisis like my friend Tobi does every year, opening the invite to Christmas lunch to all who need company, serving lunch and putting on a church service at the old peoples home. Present giving might change especially with children, with an excited emphasis on giving to others rather than receiving, if that is possible!

I am only starting to think about this, but would love to hear people’s ideas about how they focus on Jesus through the Christmas traditions – especially where there are just adults involved.

 

Paper cuts

Not the disproportionately sore variety.

I first became interested in paper cutting when Michelle Lindsell encouraged me to have a go at doing a paper cut myself for my wedding stationery.

I had never before considered the possibility that I could do my own – it seemed like such a technical, precise art discipline, far above my skill level. But, up for a challenge, I bought a medical scalpel, cutting board and some black paper and started to cut different words and simple images. I think I loved it from the minute I started cutting. I have always loved paper art in various forms. This was such a simplistic way of creating beautiful design centered compositions.

My first paper cut was my wedding Save the Date. I was living in Peckham at the time and after sketching various reiterations of the layout (involving a huge amount of rubbing out and re-drawing), I remember starting cutting at 6pm and not stopping until I finished at 3am. I had such severe neck ache as a result, but I was also super pleased that, what I initially intended to be a simple paper cut, turned out to be something more complex than I had ever anticipated being able to do myself!

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Wedding Save the Date

 

The process

The first step in doing a paper cut, is drawing out the design. For me, this takes the longest amount of time – perhaps partly because I am not amazing at drawing, but also because you have to work out a balanced composition where all parts are linked and where you don’t “cut out” anything accidentally.

I enjoy the challenge of this bit, and seeing a normal drawing taking on a more abstract look when you start to link everything together with lines. You end up with a design that is interwoven, and for me that adds to the aesthetic appeal of paper cuts.

Once I have my near final design, I then use tracing paper to trace over it, ensuring that what I draw onto the tracing paper is absolutely correct and linked properly. It is important to be able to trust every single line on the tracing paper, so that when you come to cutting, you don’t have to keep on checking you are cutting out the right lines.

The tracing paper is laid onto your final piece of paper, taped and then ready to be cut.

Cutting is methodical and doesn’t involve much thought. I roughly aim to cut from the top down, ensuring I don’t rip bits with the weight of my hand. Because of how close my face is to the paper I’m cutting, my neck normally aches from the process, but I’ve learnt to take breaks rather than doing my Save the Date marathon!

When cutting is finished, the next step depends upon whether you have white paper, or black and what colour you want the final paper cut to be. I normally use white paper and then spray paint it black. However, I have started experimenting with leaving white paper white and using coloured backgrounds when framing instead which is quite fun.

Designs

Since my first paper cut, I have done various paper cuts for friends weddings, leaving presents and Christmas cards. The biggest paper cut I have done was a monster A3 for Mitch and Jess when they left for South Africa. The design is roughly based on a map of central and east London and includes houses they’ve lived in, places they’ve worked, places they’ve been, church and friends’ houses. The individual elements are very simplistic, but put together it creates a cool memory piece of their time in London!

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Mitch and Jess, London

I am starting to focus more and more on Christmas cards, although still only managing one new design per year. I love creating Christmas cards that have scripture as a central element to their design and that are contemporary and a step away from what is currently widely available.

This year, I am selling my paper cut Christmas cards, greetings cards, framed prints and 5 original framed paper cuts (for a very reasonable price!) at Christmas is Coming, a christmas craft fayre with canapes and an interview on 7th December at St Helen’s Church: WOW Christmas is Coming2015.

Come and say hello!

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Christmas card design

 

Training for an Ironman, I mean labour.

I obviously don’t think its a perfect comparison, but both an Ironman and labour last a long time (approx. 12 hours for the former and up to much longer for the latter), both involve continuous physical exertion and pain and both burn a huge amount of calories. Yet people are super “wow” when someone does an Ironman, yet it is absolutely normal for someone to go through labour (a good thing of course). Furthermore, the majority of women desire to experience labour at some point in their life, unlike an Ironman.

I suppose one difference is that you can drop out of an Ironman and forfeit your medal and free massage, whereas with labour your baby shaped medal is pretty much guaranteed one way or other; whether through a few final earth shattering pushes, forceps, ventouse or a c-section, your baby is coming out and there is no opportunity to “drop out”.

Despite the similarities, the respective levels of expected training are vastly different, with the Ironman taking up most of your life for about a year beforehand and labour taking up a few evenings for antenatal classes. This doesn’t quite make sense to me given how epic labour and birth is, so I am trying to see labour as an Ironman, albeit with totally different training and less need for it to take over my life in the same way. The following are a few of the things I am doing/have done in training for the big day (or night). As I am getting bigger and as the the daylight gets shorter I am wanting more and more to just hibernate with lots of Kit Kats, so I am really having to motivate myself to keep up the exercise!

Cycling

I love cycling and as soon as we started trying for a baby we were googling whether I could continue cycling my 22 mile commute while pregnant. Opinions are different and there is not that much about it online. I did read a super helpful blog about it here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/may/21/pregnant-cyclists and here: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/green-living-blog/2010/oct/27/cycling-pregnancy-london.

I continued cycling my normal commute all through my 1st trimester. There were about two occasions when I took the tube; I nearly fainted on one of the journeys and had to squat before someone offered me a seat (I wasn’t wearing the ‘badge’ at that point), and felt the most sick I’ve felt on the other journey. Needless to say, cycling was hugely preferable.

There are clearly a few risks involved in cycling: pollution, getting knocked by a car or just spontaneously falling to the ground (yes it has happened to me). In the 1st trimester the baby is so tiny and well cushioned/protected on all sides so I felt there was a comfortably low risk of falling off/getting knocked and that leading to something bad happening to the baby. The pollution risk is difficult to avoid and even masks don’t do a great deal to filter out the teeny tiny particles. The risks have to be balanced against the massive benefits of daily exercise and maintaining the strength of the legs, heart and lungs in particular.

I was fully intending to carry on cycling for the full term, but a combination of Cycle Super Highway road works intensifying and my daredevil cycle crazy boss telling me she thought I was absolutely stupid for continuing to cycle, meant that after 3 months I began to take the tube having managed to find a slightly longer direct route that gives me a seat for the whole journey. Had the Cycle Super Highway been complete, I suspect I would still be cycling.

Bums, Tums and Thighs

I am lucky enough to work near a council run gym that offers pay as you go gym classes, one being a fantastic one hour BTT class that works some great muscles for training for labour. Pay as you go is great, because you don’t need membership and just pay for what you attend. It also means you’re incentivised to go to a class you’ve booked and paid for, instead of bailing last minute because you feel tired! In my 1st trimester I did the class as normal, not telling the instructor I was pregnant, just listening to my own body and reducing intensity where necessary. The class involves, among other things, lots and lots of squats which is pretty perfect for labour training. At 3 months I told the instructor I was pregnant and she stopped me from doing anything that stretched my hip flexors too much (pregnancy makes you release a relaxin hormone that can cause you to over stretch) and I left the class 15 minutes early avoiding the focused “core” exercises.

BTT has been fantastic for keeping my legs strong and bum and pelvic floor toned and I can’t see any reason why I won’t continue all the way up until labour.

Pilates

This is the obvious “labour training” class (along with yoga, which I have found a bit too ‘spiritual’ so far) for great reasons as it works on core strength and flexibility. The council run gym also runs pay as you go Pilates classes and again I told the instructor that I was pregnant at about 3 months.

The Pilates instructor has made numerous adaptions to the class for me, many more than BTT and especially now as I am getting visibly bigger. No lying on my back, no planks, no core, etc. It means the class is quite different for  me, which is not ideal but the instructor does take the time our after class to run through the adaptions with me.

I looked hard for a antenatal Pilates class but I couldn’t find any that were outside of working hours – who are all these pregnant ladies who have time for Pilates at 3pm?!

A free top up that compliments my class is a fantastic antenatal Pilates YouTube video that I have been using: https://youtu.be/j_ccd8VDTEc. It consists of five 10 minute routines so is super easy to fit into the evenings in between cooking, washing up and all the other things that make evenings disappear. It is also a lot cheaper way of doing antenatal Pilates than the classes that I found.

Replacing the lift at work with the stairs

Simple but very effective. Walking up 5 flights of stairs three to four times a day seems to demand a surprising amount of energy, and it hasn’t got easier either. However it is free and a great way to maintain the strength in my thighs and bum, both of which I hope to use a lot of during labour.

Swimming

This along with Pilates is the classic labour training exercise. The only proviso is that you have to be a bit careful with breaststroke leg kicks to avoid over stretching the hip flexors again. I haven’t been particularly good at doing this regularly, but did a lot of swimming on holiday recently so hopefully will continue it once my maternity swimming costume arrives…

How will all of this help?

Who knows what complications will arise and what medical intervention I will need. However, while keeping the safe delivery of my son as a priority, I would like to be as active as possible during labour which will demand good leg and core strength. Any labour also demands a huge amount of stamina, and I am hoping exercising now will help massively should my labour take a long time (which is more than likely with a first baby).

I reckon mental training is just as important as physical, but that is a topic for another day!

Baby Scan rollercoaster

Pre 12 week scan

So I have peed on a stick and it made a couple of lines indicating that I am pregnant. I am ecstatic and now counting down the days/weeks until I get out of the “danger zone”. Every day that goes past without my period showing up feels like a triumph.

But am I really pregnant? What if the positive test was just my hormones playing up? What if my lack of a period is also due to the same hormone glitch? What if my womb is empty and they can’t find a baby in there? What if I’ve had a miscarriage, but it hasn’t shown itself yet? What if they do the scan but find that there is no heart beat?

At the 12 week scan

What a lovely sonographer!

Woohoo I can see an unidentified object moving on the screen! Could this be a baby?! Apparently it is hiding… stop hiding, we want to say hello to you.

Sonographer A: “And this is its heart beat…” BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM (very fast)

I’m shot. WOWZER, that sound! So fast and determined! I feel like I’m going to EXPLODE, my soul is expanding so much, am I about to cry?!

Calm down, calm down, lest they think you’ve got high blood pressure and change your pregnancy status to high risk.

Sonographer A: “And here you can see a great butterfly shaped brain”

Hooray for butterfly shapes!

Pre 20 week scan

Not long now until we see the baby again!

I hope its OK. Perhaps I shouldn’t have eaten x, y, z. Did I over do it trekking the Tour Mont Blanc? Did it get enough oxygen? I can’t feel it kicking yet, I hope it’s growing well. We’re going to find out the gender. At the moment it is a HeShe – we just flip between genders. I’m looking forward to seeing the Sonographer, she was so lovely!

At 20 week scan

Different Sonographer B: “I see you haven’t paid for any photos”

Me: “No, we’re happy to just look at the photos we get in my medical notes”

Sonographer B: “You know those are hospital property and cannot be removed from your notes?”

Me: “Yes that’s fine I can just take photos of them with my phone” (completely the wrong thing to say!)

Very flustered Sonographer B: “I don’t think that is allowed, you can’t do that, they are medical images and medical records, not souvenirs”

Me: (is this a joke?!) “OK”

After two seconds of seeing a very wriggly and beautiful baby the monitor was turned away from me and I wasn’t able to see any more of the scan unfortunately, unlike my 12 week scan where I saw the whole thing!

Me: “What are you doing now?” (asked every 10 seconds)

Sonographer B: “Checking the brain. We can eliminate 50% of all brain defects at this stage”

Me: “And is it OK?”

Sonographer B: “I haven’t finished yet”

Me: “Oh

Sonographer B: “Yes it’s fine”

Thank goodness…but what about the other 50%?!

Sonographer B: “Your baby is really active, its hard for me to do the scan”

Unsure whether I’m meant to apologise on baby’s behalf here… I just stay quiet.

Sonographer B: “Do you want to know the gender”

Me: “Ooh yes”

Sonographer B: “It appears to be a boy but I can’t say for sure”

Me: “Oh is it difficult to see?”

Sonographer B: “Not particularly, (speaking to Tom) these are its two legs and that’s a willy, but I can’t make any promises in case you sue us for the colour of the nursery or the pram”.

Me: “Ah don’t worry, we would never do that!”

Sonographer B: “I have to treat everyone the same”

Me: “Right”

Sonographer B: “OK so I think I’ve done all the measurements, if you just wait outside while I put the report together and then I’ll give your notes back”

Later..Sonographer B: “Here you go, have a nice day”

Yay, since I didn’t see any of the scan I’m really looking forward to seeing the photos!

24 photos, wow that’s a lot! 6 brains, 3 unidentifiable objects, 11 spines, 2 bladders, 1 umbilical cord, a pair of feet, a pair of humeri, a pair of femurs, 1 placenta, 2 very scary eye sockets, 2 kidneys, some more unidentifiable objects…

…but no whole baby! 😦

Tom thinks she removed the standard baby “profile” photos before giving the notes back as he was sure she took some. That’s so mean!

Darnitt, why didn’t we just pay that measly six quid!!

Later that day

Man, why am I not over the disappointing scan experience yet? I have a healthy, ‘normal’ baby, so why aren’t I pleased?

A boy, a boy! I think that was my preference, but its odd knowing there is no girl anymore, the HeShe is now just a He and I have to say goodbye to the She! Very bizarre.

Now for names. This is going to be fun with T ‘fusspot’ P.