RECIPE: Foraged nettle soup

October 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

This weekend I decided to practise what I preached earlier on in this blog by going out foraging, also known as ‘seeing what wild goodies I can collect to feed myself with’. Foraging scares a lot of people – it sounds difficult, time-consuming and frankly, dull. To these people I say, you are incorrect, sirs.
Obviously if you’re a ready-meal enthusiast, picking your own is not for you. It does require going out, finding some tasty leaves, gathering them up and bringing them home. However, as well as usually getting to go on a nice walk, it’s surprising how much you can gather in a small amount of time. In a ninety-minute walk from Combe Down in Bath to the charming Tucking Mill (victim of many a name-alteration), on Sunday, I collected a huge bag of green things to take home, including these beauties below.

Rosehips

Blackberries

Sloes

Something I’ve rather shied away from in the past are nettles, since in my view, they sting you with their stupid pointy hairs and martyrs make shirts out of them. These are good reasons for nettles not receiving my time or custom.
However, they have long been used as a foodstuff. Native Americans would harvest the young plant in spring, and nettle cordial can be traced back to the Romans. Stinging nettles taste similar to spinach, have an unusually high protein content for a vegetable and are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium and calcium. Clearly they are something I must learn to love. So, step one, harvest your nettles. They grow in abundance everywhere in the UK, and are easily recognisable. I took thick gloves and pulled the stalks up from the roots, then washed them in hot water (this neutralises the stinging chemicals and makes them safe to eat. A crucial step, unless you are these insane people).

Freshly picked nettles

After some internet research into what to do with my lovely safe nettles, I decided to adapt foraging king Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s basic nettle soup recipe. Here’s my revised version.

Ingredients:
50g butter
carrier bag full of nettles
1 onions, sliced
1 carrot, chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 litre good chicken stock (I used some we made from a roast a few weeks ago)
1 cup cooked rice
100g feta cheese

Pick over the nettles and wash them thoroughly. Discard the tougher stalks. Melt the butter in a large pan and sweat the onion, the carrot, 2 stalks of the celery and the garlic until soft. Add the stock and pile in the nettles. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the nettles are tender. Add the cooked rice and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve, garnished with celery and crumbled feta. It’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.

xx Sian

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Ninja Fox: the best animal hat in the world

October 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

I am in the process of writing a grown-up blog on the beauties of foraging in Somerset, heron spotting, nettle soup and autumn leaves.
But until then, please enjoy:

THE BEST HAT IN THE WORLD.

River Island Raccoon Hat

I’ve had “raccoon”, “ninja fox” and “that dog, what’s his name, Rex the Runt“. I have also had small children in the street thinking I had an animal on my head. Brilliant.

xx Sian

LOCATION GUIDE: Cardiff Castle to Castle Coch

October 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

My housemate Leo and I went on a little impromptu cycle ride last week along the Taff Trail, which runs from Cardiff Bay to Brecon for 55miles. After a more paltry 8 miles, we ended up at Castle Coch, a stunning, fairy-tale castle near the village of Tongwynlais, which I can’t say and am not completely sure I can spell. The trail is very pretty, hugging the river and passing a huge weir on its way to the castle. The whole thing is traffic free and perfect for cyclists. It was getting late by the time we had biked up the steepest hill I have ever seen to Castle Coch (Leo biked, I walked/biked/pushed/complained), so we had a well-deserved pint in the The Lewis Arms and cycled home. Next time we’re going to do it all (Leo doesn’t know this yet).

Leo is excited about Bute Park

View of Castle Coch

Beautiful woods by the castle

xx Sian

Why I love my bike

October 19, 2010 § 2 Comments

The lovely 'Andrea' bike

I love my bike. A whole lot. His name is Walter and he’s worth absolutely nothing, but I think I would need therapy if something happening to him.

I was given Walter (he’s a Raleigh, get it?) by a friend last year, and he has completely changed my life. I have gone from being not particularly fussed by our two-wheeled friends to a convert. Cycling is just so unbelievably fast, cheap, healthy and convenient. I now go pretty much everywhere on Walter, despite his constant ailments.

5 reasons why you should love bikes

1. Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, biking is a proper part of the culture – bikes are lovely old upright models draped in flowers. Like cows in India, they are respected by cars and loved by locals. When I visited a friend there this summer we explored lots of the city in a few days, zipping up and down little alleyways and along the canals (something you should not attempt when intoxicated, you have been warned).
2. Boris’s bikes (and other variations on the theme). In pretty much every city you visit, shiny machines are lined up all over the city for you to use for a pittance. I’ve cycled citybikes in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Seville… It’s by far the best way to explore a new place.
3. Towpaths. They are flat and they take you on fantastic tours of the English countryside. My personal favourite is the one that goes from Bath to Bradford-upon-Avon, passing lovely pubs, canal-boat cafes, wild swimming spots and, um, more pubs. I’ve got my priorities right.
4. Fashion. I’m not joking. Style guru The Sartorialist has a page dedicated to fashionable bicyclists for you to be inspired by. Americans love that “European girl on a bicycle” look (side note: no-one, except possibly Natalie Portman in Garden State, can make a helmet look cool, so just accept that you put safety over chic).
5. Pretending you know what is happening on the Tour De France.. Everyone will think you are mega cool. Just say “Oooh, looks like Schleck is breathing down Contador’s neck. But the King of the Mountain could be a wild card, you never know, the Pyrénées are looking brutal”.

My faithful Walter on the Bath canal path

In Berlin

Red bicycle we borrowed in Amsterdam

Naked bicycling in Amsterdam

xx Sian

Autumn leaves and accessories

October 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

Simply my favourite fashion blogger, Alix at The Cherry Blossom Girl posted these stunning photos of her weekend in Scotland. Proof that you can go mushroom-picking in Miu Miu. Also proof that French girls are so effortlessly beautiful the rest of us should just give up now.



xx Sian

LOCATION GUIDE: Great British Country Getaways

October 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

stay in a lighthouse in Scotland

1. Farm stay in the Peak District
Stay in a farm cottage, a barn or a log cabin and see lambs gambol, horses graze and cows do cowpats – right back to nature. You can eat fresh food, feed the animals, and wear flattering overalls on a farm stay, where you get to live like a farmer without worrying about rubbish milk prices or foot and mouth. The Peak District is a good place to do it as they have lots of farms to pick and choose from that start from £170/week, and proper black and white cows like the ones in the books I read when I was a little’un.
www.farmstay.co.uk
www.peakdistrictfarmhols.co.uk
www.haddongrovefarmcottages.co.uk
www.cheshirefarmstay.co.uk

2. Surfing in Bude.
Cream-tea and pasty-flavoured Cornwall is a student holiday staple. But don’t go to Newquay, just don’t. All you’ll do is get horrifically drunk, sleep with a lifeguard called Brett, then experience the evil that is attempting to surf with a hangover. Instead, head to Bude for touristy ingredients like cute little cobbled streets, arty souvenirs, rock pools at Summerleaze and good surfing, especially Crooklets Beach, without hoards of vomiting teenagers. There’s Tintagel nearby for pretending you’re King Arthur, or Penzance for pretending you’re a pirate, according to preference. Coastal cottages are picture-book cute and very cheap out of season.
www.iknow-cornwall.co.uk
www.cornwall-stay.com
www.cornwall-online.co.uk
www.cornwalls.co.uk

3. Coasteering in Pembrokeshire
Now, ladies and gentlemen, my guide to combining a chilled-out country stay with white knuckles and that sick kind of adrenaline you get when you almost fall down the stairs – coasteering. An extreme nature ramble in which you climb, swim and cliff-jump your way around rocky coastlines, the best place to do it is the TYF centre in Pembrokeshire, from £50. You can stay in their (dirt cheap at £16 pppn) Eco Lodge, or the more expensive but comfy cottage, sleeps 8 at £450/week. Idyllic town of St David’s is nearby, and the area is famous for its beach-studded coastline.
www.tyf.com
www.westwalesholidaycottages.co.uk
www.coastalcottages.co.uk

4. Lighthouse-keeping in Scotland
Ive got a sea farin’ soul and I always wanted to live in a lighthouse, a lá Johnathan Creek. Believe it or not, it isn’t that expensive to do. The National Trust for Scotland and the Northern Lighthouse Board let out nine lighthouses from as little as £50pp for a weekend, and they tend to be in remote, craggy locations, often on steep cliffs above deserted beaches where you can play at being Robinson Crusoe. Lighthouses sleep up to 6, so take some mates and some booze and have a cosy weekend in. Just don’t expect any bangin’ nightlife.
www.nts.org.uk/holidays
www.cottages4you.co.uk

5. Cottages in the New Forest
The first time I went for a walk in the New Forest, a baby donkey licked my hand. Awww. The area is absolutely stunning, and if you rent a cottage in the centre of it you can walk, hike and mountain bike your way around it all (or tour the fantastic little forest pubs. Don’t do this bit on a bike). Bristling with pickled tourist villages like Burley (complete with resident witch) and luscious stately homes such as Beaulieu, it’s a gorgeous place to pootle about and explore. Cottages are often thatched and aren’t loan-bustingly priced.
www.newforestliving.co.uk
www.newforestcottages.co.uk
www.new-forest-cottages.co.uk

6. Walking in the Lake District
I like William Wordsworth. I like fells. I like walking about a bit in pretty rolling hills near lakes, far away from cities and cars and kebab shops. I also like not walking too far, then going back to a warm cosy cottage with a fire and some inebriating beverages. This is why I like the Lake District. You can also rent boats for splashy fun on the water, which is a very tranquil experience. Go out of season for breathing space and more modest prices.
www.goosemirecottages.co.uk
www.cumbrian-cottages.co.uk
www.lakedistrict-stay.co.uk

7. T’ Yorkshire Dales
Come over all James Herriot with a stay in the rolling hills and dales of Yorkshire. Eat cheese with fruitcake, drink proper tea, and attempt to speak with the accent (not in front of a local if you want to keep your teeth). Go for brisk, windy walks or visit the ghostly ruins at Scarborough Castle. York itself is a lovely city to wander round as it’s stuffed with teashops, little boutiques and warm cosy pubs. Sheffield, not so much. Nor Leeds. Only go to York. Cottages are reasonably priced on the whole.
www.yorkshiredales.org.uk
www.yorkshiredales.net
www.yorkshiredales-stay.co.uk
www.dales-holiday-cottages.com

8. Jurassic Coast in Dorset
Sadly no relation to epic blockbuster Jurassic Park, the Dorset coast is still pretty stunning, and boasts one of England’s nicest skinny-dipping hotspots – Studland Bay, near Poole, a popular beach with a café for the interesting experience of eating a full English breakfast in the buff. It’s an official nudie beach and the nice people at Dorset County Council reckon its “okay to be naked”. Dorset cottages aren’t the cheapest, as it’s a popular location with city workers desperate to replace CO2 with West Country air, but they aren’t sell-your-granny expensive, either.
www.dorsetcoastalcottages.com
www.dhcottages.co.uk
www.dream-cottages.co.uk

9. Wild swimming near Bath
As well as being the prettiest city in the UK, Bath is varied and vibrant for such a small posh place. There are some fantastic real ale pubs and indie nightclubs, and grittier Bristol is only a 10min train ride away. The main attraction is the beauty of surrounding bucolic Cotswolds countryside: my favourite thing to do is go swimming in one of the local rivers and weirs in Frome, Claverton or Castle Cary, where you can float happily in the river with the weeds and the moorhens. Lovely. Cottages near Bath can be quite pricy, so hunt around for bargains.
www.bookcottages.com/bath
www.bath-holiday-cottages.co.uk
www.bathselfcatering.com
www.wildswimming,co.uk
www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com

10. Exploring Ireland
Ahh the Emerald Isle, Famous for green stuff like shamrocks and leprechauns, black stuff like Guinness, and ginger stuff like the Irish. There’s a lot to do: The Giant’s Causeway is a pretty unbelievable sight, Dublin’s all hip and down with the kids, Killarney National Park is stuffed with woods, deer and lakes, and traditional Irish pubs are often as fun as they look in movies. The Irish somehow manage to be friendly to hordes of tourists invading the island, and places to stay are generally equally friendly on student purses, with stone cottages from £150/week for four people.
www.shamrockcottages.co.uk
www.irishcottageholidays.com
www.cottagesinireland.com

xx Sian

Cheeserolling, or why I love the British

October 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here is the basic premise: You get a very steep hill in gorgeous Glocestershire. You get the local rugby team to stand at the bottom, arms out and ready to catch muddy people. You park some ambulances handily close. You get some mental men and woman to stand at the top. You get a cheese. After that it all gets a bit out of hand, but it’s a truly beautiful experience, as the 2009 video below attests. You can’t get more British than chasing dairy products down hills for absolutely no reason.

However, after a spate of broken limbs and cracked heads, the event has been officially cancelled. This is a sad end to something that has been held for over a century (with wooden cheeses chased during the war due to rations – possibly the most endearing war-time story I have ever heard). I count myself lucky to have been amongst one of the soaking, freezing, happy crowd at the rolling in 2008.

The official website ( Cheese Rolling ) cites inability to pay insurance costs as the reason for the forced cancellation of this lovely event. Nanny state, what are you doing? It’s a free country, if the good men and women of this isle wish to hurl themselves down precipices after Double Gloucesters, then the government should simply stand by (and provide ambulances).

xx Sian

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