Seasonal Recipes: Cream of Spring Vegetables

img_7725-1Recipe of the month.

#healthy #delicious #quick #seasonal

15 mins prep and 30 mins cooking time.

Why a cream of vegetables? With the abundance of luscious fresh vegetables available right now, it would be rude not to!

Sure, you can buy it ready-made or frozen, but it does not deliver a fraction of the flavour, nutrition and aroma that the fresh version offers.

Pick your favourite selection of seasonal vegetables – any variation of the following is good (serves 2): 3 courgettes, 2 leeks, 250 gr peas, 2 red peppers, 4 or 5 celery stalks, a bag of swiss chard (spinach is fine too), fresh herbs like basil or parsley and a clove of garlic. You will need a tin of chick peas or butter beans, a carton of passata or a tin of tomatoes, some good olive oil (extra virgin is best), salt and pepper. For the garnish I suggest crème fraiche and pesto.

Method: wash, chop and slice the vegetables (more fun if done to the tune of your favourite music; Beethoven’s pastoral symphony works for me!). Soften the chopped leeks and garlic in some olive oil. Add the veg selection and stir fry for a few minutes. Add a spoonful of tomato paste and a tin of tomatoes or a carton of passata, salt and pepper to taste and some fresh herbs – basil or parsley are perfect. Add hot water to cover the veg and lower the heat, simmer gently with a lid on for 20 minutes to half an hour, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon and adding a little water if the soup gets too dry.

Once cooked through, you can puree with an immersion mixer and serve with an elegant swirl of crème fraiche, a few drops of pesto/flavoured oil, a sprinkle of parmesan, a few basil leaves as a garnish, alongside some freshly toasted croutons or just a couple of slices of toasted and buttered sourdough. So nice it ought to be naughty – but it isn’t!! Easy.

Bon appetit!

PS See our Instagram video

A day at the hospital

Yes, I know – it hardly sounds like a programme. A day at the hospital invokes images of drab, sterile interiors, grey, featureless buildings surrounded by large, monotonous car parks. Not in Cirencester. If you are unlucky enough to have twisted an ankle while dismounting from your horse at the Sunday polo or slipped outside Waitrose on a rainy day, you can count on a welcoming, comforting and yes, picturesque environment at the local hospital.

I became an assiduous visitor when my kids were little; as a new parent, I was a little over-anxious and needed regular reassuring from the medical experts that my kids were behaving normally, even when they exhibited what I interpreted as near-death symptoms. We took many a trip to Cirencester hospital and were met, every time, with helpful staff and delightful facilities. Now that they are teenagers, I am past seeking reassurance on their normality and keener on checking on my own remaining sanity.

And so for years, we never went, only ever driving past it, barely giving it a glance, much less any brain time.

And then, just the other day – and entirely out of the blue – I had cause to be reminded of what a gem our local hospital is. My teenage son contrived to acquire yet another sports injury (and they say sports are good for you), injuring his foot while playing football. (That’s what he told the school nurse, anyway.) So there we were, my daughter and I, maladroitly but enthusiastically carrying him through the doors to the minor injuries unit, where we were mercifully relieved of our porter duties thanks to the prompt delivery of a wheelchair. Cue the embarrassing display of wheelchair driving skills – seriously, it’s not as easy as it looks – as we negotiated the narrow, twisting corridor to the waiting area. Here we were finally able to relax and enjoy the views out of the large bay windows onto the beautiful landscaped gardens, and admire the other hospital wing facing us: a beautiful Victorian manor house.

Cirencester hospital is set on a hilltop, in a central position in the town. The manor house we spent those couple of hours admiring is actually Querns House, a grade II listed building, built in 1825 in the Tudor style. Being a converted manor house and a period building, it features the traditional mellow Cotswold stone (now pleasingly mottled with lichen), church-style windows,  and rolling landscaped gardens. There’s even an internal garden that you can enjoy through the glass panels lining the corridors around it.

Being a market town hospital, it exists on a smaller scale than other, more modern hospitals and as such appears less forbidding and more human in scale. It has little charming traits: take the tiny shop that sells refreshments (sandwiches, pens, toys and a therapeutic cup of tea), run by a sweet elderly lady, the sort who could easily feature in a children’s storybook as the archetypal spoiling grandmother. We have made several attempts to adopt her during our visits to the hospital – yes, she’s been there a while –  but  it turns out she has enough grandchildren already. Such a pity.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I enjoyed my ante-natal appointments there and was really saddened to learn the maternity ward had been just closed; what a serene place it would have been to enjoy the miracle of motherhood! (Although, with hindsight, the screams accompanying childbirth might have spoiled the relaxed atmosphere of the place.)

Fortunately, while the maternity unit is no more, other units remained – and remain – open, though the shadow of closure seems to have hung over the place for some time. Every few months, rumours seems to surface about a potential closure of this cherished establishment; happily, this has not happened yet, even if there has been some down-scaling of services. We need our hospital to survive; it serves a large network of surrounding villages as well as Cirencester itself, and offers prompt assistance for injuries that need attending to as a matter of urgency and would otherwise require a long trip to Gloucester on a busy dual carriageway.

So as a call to action, I urge you to support our local hospital, keep an eye on its status and voice your appreciation for it. Be more adventurous and incur the odd sprain, dislocation or break.  My son  – collar bone fracture and this latest sprain – should be an example to us all. His self-sacrifices on the playing fields of Deer Park have been our family’s contribution to keeping it in business! If there is to be a silver lining to the new, extensive housing construction planned for our town, it ought to be that it justifies better facilities for our community and more investment in this undervalued town institution. One can hope.

Relax and recharge: spa days in the Cotswolds

Winter is made for resting. We may think it coincidental that the hours of darkness exceed daylight time in winter, that the temperature drops and that nature, plants and animals alike, go dormant for a few months, but could it be a gentle nudge to us humans too, to batten down the hatches, take cover and rest? It is so tempting to get over-excited about the Christmas festivities and get carried away in revelries, late nights and consumption of food and drink, but then just as easily feel exhausted rather than rested when the time comes for returning to work. We may have ticked all the boxes in terms of the social calendar, the parties and the exchanges of gifts but what about the box marked “make time for me”. Hands up if you feel you’ve started the new year with your energy stores depleted rather than replenished.

When it comes to new year resolutions, giving your body and mind some respect – in the shape of regular recuperation time, might not be such a bad idea. A weekly yoga session, 10 minutes of meditation each day or simply some alone time for a gentle stroll – away from your daily tick list – might be beneficial. Indeed, whatever helps recharge your batteries will improve your mood and ultimately your quality of life. I like writing, taking and editing photographs, baking, or losing myself in a good book. You may like running, knitting, woodwork or baking – it really is very subjective.

Because we are so used to operating at lightening-fast speed though, we need some help in slowing down, to properly engage in creative activities and enjoy the moment, rather than perennially racing to the finish line. What better way to draw a line below the routine than a Spa day? Or maybe just a half-day:enough time to stop and contemplate life, to just be, to consciously relax and offer your body the care and attention it deserves. A spot of reflexology, an Indian head massage or an aromatherapy oil massage can enhance your sense of well-being and help kick-start a healthier lifestyle.

In the Cotswolds we have a few gems, when it comes to spa venues, nestled in the dreamy rural landscape of Gloucestershire and all tantalizingly close to home if you’re based in the Cirencester area. Without wanting to draw an exhaustive list – we’re talking relaxing after all – here are some of our favourite temples of zen. They have in common a gorgeous setting, amenable interiors and of course delicious food treats.

CalcotManor

I received a couple Spa day vouchers as a Christmas present one year for this lovely establishment, which I shared with a friend. We started our visit with a very enjoyable and almost healthy fruit smoothie, (aside from the addition of some celebratory champagne), in the outdoor hot whirlpool (heated by a real wood fire that emanates a fantastic fragrant aroma). There followed an aromatherapy massage and a facial, a swift swim in the pool, rewarded by a spot of lunch in the bright and comfy bar area. In the afternoon, we moved to the relaxation zone where we read our books to the soothing sound of gently cascading water, stopping for a restorative cup of hot tea before selecting a couple of delicious items from the Aromatherapy Associates oils range and reluctantly changing from our fluffy dressing gowns back into our battle-gear

Whatley Manor

Ok, so this one is really in nearby Wiltshire but just a stone’s throw from Tetbury – and less than half an hour’s drive away (again, we’re talking from Ciren here). It has very high standards and impeccable ethos and I have it from reputable sources that it delivers a first class experience. The spa uses ethically sourced, organic, artisan ingredients, such as Moroccan Argan oil, Hymalaian salt crystals and Damascena rose oil. Get an oxygen boost with the Natura Bissé Bubble treatment, a kind of oxygen therapy cabin where you can breathe 99.995% pure air in isolated atmosphere; the latest detoxifying beauty trend, as read in the February 2018 issue of Vogue.

Cowley Manor

I love the interiors of Cowley Manor, with its warm parquet floors and its gracious undulating, landscaped gardens. It speaks of a bygone era of crinoline dresses, banquets and gentrified country folk. A beautiful Victorian manor house set in dreamy Cotswold countryside, Cowley Manor plays host to a very serene spa in a unique setting. Set apart from the manor house itself, featuring Cotswold stone and floor to ceiling glass walls that enable you to enjoy the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape, it doesn’t take long to feel a sense of tranquility. You can relax in the sauna and steam room after your holistic, nature-inspired treatments, including the latest advances in skincare with peptides and stem cells treatments. There are rooms, too, in case you want to stay the whole weekend and really pamper yourself.

Barnsley House

In the genteel eponymous village, Barnsley House is your quintessential country house. On a smaller scale than the other establishments featured here, it possesses considerable charm and it is located just three miles from Cirencester, a very pleasant – if short – ride away. Set in lovely gardens, the spa is a secluded and peaceful hideaway, featuring a sauna, steam room and outdoor heated hydrotherapy pool. The aromatherapy treatments use essential oils and the excellent Elemis skincare range.

Bamford Haybarn Spa at Daylesford

The ultimate in refined rustic, the spa at Daylesford organic farm combines luxury and relaxation seamlessly and elegantly. The small spa is part of the larger complex at Daylesford, one that incorporates the excellent restaurant, the deli, kitchen, clothes shop and the florist’s. The common thread for all the components of the Daylesford complex is superlative quality, at a price. The spa is serene and tranquil, set aside from the rest of the buildings and looking out onto the surrounding fields. The relaxation area makes you want you curl up with a book and your favourite classical music compilation, looking up occasionally to enjoy the uninterrupted views from the glass frontage, the water fountain trickling gently in the background. That is restorative in itself, and there are the treatments still to enjoy; bliss, and then some.

The winter months, when the world is grey and cold, are made for a retreat or a spa break – after all, half of nature is doing it as we speak. So let this be a form of hibernation, putting the ‘treat’ in retreat and giving some time to restoring yourself a little, and then you can come back with a smile, refreshed, with a positive outlook, and with that season not so far away now, a spring in your step.