13 May 2017

Little Houses under the Castle

Stara Lubovna castle

This is a very late post about our August trip to Slovakia, which I took with my man. My parents took us to many places, as they wanted to introduce the nice bits of the country to the foreigner :) We saw this open air museum on the same day as we rafted down the Dunajec river on the border between Slovakia and Poland. The open air museum lies right under the Stara Lubovna castle, which overlooks it from the hill.

The little houses were brought from different parts of the republic, so they looked different on the outside and even more different on the inside.

Some had gardens and there were really nicely arranged flowers in the windows. If you like finding those little details, you would be thrilled here.

The houses were also decorated for certain big life events that the people celebrated in very traditional ways, such as birth of a new member of the family, weddings or deaths and pre-funeral preparations.

The Owlets

These little birdies are the latest additions to my little family of crocheted animals. They are small, soft and cute. They don't have owners yet, but I don't think finding some will be a problem :)

Growing Seedlings in Toilet Paper Rolls

After last year's disappointment I decided that I will not grow sweetcorn again. The garden at my in-laws doesn't have enough sunlight, the soil dries up very quickly because of all the trees around it and cats and foxes digging up the seedlings did not help.

However, something changed my mind this year. Did you know that maize leaves, unlike the actual corn on the cob, are safe to feed to tortoises? Apparently so, as it is a grass (my information is from The Tortoise Table). That meant that as long as there are some leaves growing, I cannot be disappointed. And neither can Rocket.

After browsing ideas on Pinterest I decided to try growing my seedlings in toilet paper rolls. I have temporarily turned the bathroom into a planting area and started working on it. I cut the bottom into four flaps and folded them to create a little "pot".

It worked very well. As the plants grew, the roots found their way out of the bottom and I ended up with many healthy looking seedlings :) 

14 April 2017

Maundy (Green) Thursday with Nettle and Mushroom Quiche

Back in Slovakia Maundy Thursday is called Green Thursday. There are many traditions linked to "Green" Thursday. One that I tried to keep since I was a child is to eat something green in colour. This year I decided to use the green garlic and nettle tops from our garden to make a refreshing quiche.

My pastry is a variation of the pastry from foodlover.cz, which is a blog from which I learned to make quiche and since then made it many many times, although I must admit that I rarely measure out all the ingredients, I just throw things together and add flour/water depending on the dryness/stickiness and thickness/runniness of the pastry.

For the pastry you will need:
  • 350 g of plain flour
  • 185 g of unsalted butter (if you use salted to easier on the pinch of salt)
  • 2 egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt
You can roll it out and then place in the tin/baking dish or if you are - like me - reluctant to get another piece of equipment messy, just push it into the dish with your fingers. It looks less pretty and neat but tastes exactly the same. Bake for about 15 minutes on 180°C. Some recipes suggest covering the top of the pastry with ceramic baking beans to prevent it from rising but I find this step is unnecessary and the pastry doesn't rise that much.

My quiche is quite massive, so you may want to halve the amounts and masses above. Alternatively make two quiches or one regular quiche and a lot of mini quiches in muffin cups.

For the filling you will need:

  • 2 large mushrooms
  • 3 eggs (plus the two whites that you did not use when making pastry)
  • 3 spring onions, bulb and leaves, chopped
  • grated cheddar (or any other hard cheese you like)
  • nettle tops, steamed
  • 150 ml single cream
  • 5 green garlics, bulb and leaves, chopped (to be completely honest here, my garlic wasn't traditional green garlic, it was garlic that survived the winter, thenw as given summer to grow and survived another winter and was still minute, so I lost my patience with it and pulled it out and sowed lettuce leaves in its place)
  • optional - salt and pepper to taste


1.  Steam the nettle tops until they wilt and stop stinging.
2.  Prepare and bake the pastry.Take it out of the oven.
3.  Lay out sliced mushrooms on the pastry

4.   Lay the steamed nettles on top of the mushrooms

6.  Add the chopped spring onions and garlic on top of the nettles.

7. In a bowl mix the eggs, single cream and half of the grated cheese (you can add more salt or pepper to taste). Pour the mixture over the raw ingredients.

8.  Return to the oven and bake until the top starts getting golden and crunchy looking, but do not overdo it! (It usually takes 20-25 minutes depending on the thickness of your quiche.)

9.  Cover the top with the remaining grated cheese and return to the oven for 5 minutes until all the cheese is melted.

10.   When you like the look of it, take it out of the oven and serve with your favourite salad and a bit of vinaigrette.

I love what a versatile dish this is, you can add any vegetables you have in your fridge or freezer and it will keep in the fridge for several days. It can be eaten cold or warmed up, with salad or on its own. It is great for using up seasonal vegetables and I would imagine it freezes quite well, too (although I haven't tried yet as I never have anything left over :) )

I made a version of this quiche for my family when they came over for our wedding. Stressed out as I was I forgot to add the cream! And - it was still delicious and nobody noticed anything!!! A very forgiving meal :)

13 April 2017

Mothers' Day Gardening

Mothers' day is always a big family gathering over lunch in my husband's family, either somewhere out over a carvery or over a roast lunch at home. This year I wasn't looking forward to eating the meal or the cakes that I made, but I couldn't wait to take my niece Amy (almost three years old) out into the garden.

We built the experience up over a couple of weeks. She knew what she was going to do, she was given a choice of planting flowers or potatoes. She picked potatoes, so I bought two varieties of seed potatoes and out we went with them.

I dug up a hole for each one and she carefully placed a potato into it. At first she was just throwing them but she learned quickly and soon she became very careful. At least some of them were the right way up. After that we said "Bye-bye potatoes, we'll see you later!" and covered them with soil. 

The entire experience took no longer than 20 minutes (I forget how limited attention span youngsters have) but I think it was thoroughly enjoyed by both of us.

A bit more than two weeks later and we have our first sprouts poking above the soil. All the watering and earthing up will be up to me but I look forward to being able to present Amy with her very own home-grown potatoes.

10 April 2017

The Windowsill Jungle

I have been gone from home for a couple of days, paying a visit to my relatives and friends back in Slovakia. When I came home, this amazing jungle has been waiting for me! All of my seedlings - broad beans, cabbages, tomatoes, sunflowers, sweetcorn, pansies, pot marigolds - have been busy growing and the flat looks... quite overgrown! My two little tables in the living room and the windowsill in the kitchen were taken over by living green stuff! How exciting! :) I can't wait to re-locate this jungle outdoors.

Big thanks goes to my husband who managed well without me and watered all this growth whilst I was gone. Well done!

25 March 2017

Mother's Day Cakes

Tomorrow my English family is gathering to celebrate mother's day, so I made some little cakes (recipe here), one for each of us. With spring coming and so much fruit in the shops, it only made sense to make them extra fruity. And they look pretty, too.

17 March 2017

Plants and Pets Meet a DSLR Camera

Up until now I have been using my small digital camera, my iPad or my phone to take pictures for this blog. However, last Saturday we went on a"Take better photos with your D-SLR camera" course organised by Surrey Adult Learning which really opened my eyes to some of the features that are available on a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera.

My favourite part of the workshop was when we were sent outside to have lunch and take some pictures and play with all the settings. I particularly enjoyed practising my photography on this Hebe plant, just seeing how the camera focuses and how close can I get to the plant to still see the detail without it all blurring up.

I couldn't wait to come home and start taking all the pictures that were forming in my head. One of the reasons I was so excited was because we had some very special animal visitors staying for the weekend - ten chicks that we hatched at school as a part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fortnight.

We received ten eggs and all ten have hatched successfully, giving us five male and five female chickens. The little one below still has his egg tooth attached. It is the lighter extension on the tip of his beak. It helps the baby chicks breaks through the shell and peels off after a couple of days.

Ever since being hatched they worked extremely hard being observed, picked up, cuddled, showed in lessons and eagerly visited during break and lunchtimes.

No wonder they were tired! I loved looking at their little bodies all huddled together to keep warm, making up for the fact that their mother hen was replaced by a heating light bulb.

But of course when I played with my camera, I couldn't leave out Rocket! After all, she is the star of the household! Here she is stuffing her face with some lamb's lettuce.

And then dragging some lettuce stuck underneath her shell around the tortoise table. She's the cutest!

05 March 2017

The Excitement of Spring

It is so sad that in this busy world we can get so distracted that we do not notice the gradual changes around us. And then suddenly we are really surprised when we find out that we let them pass us by without actually enjoying them. 

That nearly happened to me. But one day as I was walking to town spring suddenly hit me in the face with warm sunshine, sweet scent of flowers and bright colours - greens, yellows, violets - coming out of the ground everywhere. 

That evening I sat down with my seed collection, diary and an old copy of Gardener's World Magazine - Grow Your Own from 2015 and thought about what I will grow and where, whether to start my seedlings indoors and then re-pot them and when I'll do what.

I am particularly excited about this little selection of seeds from Shelled Warriors that my husband gave me for my birthday. This year I will not only try to grow food for us, but also for Rocket

With wellies on I dug up a few small beds today, but being constantly interrupted by rain, I soon retreated indoors to a warm cup of tea and a packet of crisps.

25 February 2017

Little Squares for a Little Baby

My evenings have recently been occupied by a ver cute and heartwarming little project. Just before Christmas one of my best friends let me know that she is expecting a baby. Of course, I immediately decided that I must make something for her and I started on a blanket. Earlier this year I made a silly purchase of three blue-ist and three pink-ish balls of yarn, not knowing what they will be good for but knowing I'll need a lot.

Since at first the gender of the new baby wasn't known, I started knitting squares from both colours. However my friend really fancied a boy, so as an act of moral support I was making more blue ones than pink ones.  More recently it turned out it really will be a boy! So now all that is left to do is wait. And knit and knit and knit :)

I look forward to spending more evenings in front of the telly or listening to music whilst knitting row after row of ripples that will eventually envelop a tiny baby.

06 February 2017

Peace and Quiet

My annual voice loss has visited me once again. For a week I tried to fool myself that it is nothing but voice loss because it's winter, because I speak too much... but last Thursday I had to admit I was actually properly ill, phelgm and all.

So I cancelled all my plans and gave in to hot baths, cozy blankets, soothing cups of tea and sweet semi-unconsciousness induced by cough syrup. And silence, only interrupted by occasional coughs and sneezes or boiling of a kettle for another cuppa whilst it rained outside. I was unwell, but I had a glorious weekend of forced inactivity.

Today a different type of silence crept in whilst I try to be as quiet as possible so that I don't wake up the husband - who has caught the bug from me! Life is funny, isn't it? At least it makes us ill at different times so that we can take care of each other. ♥ ❤

26 January 2017

The Surprising Tortoise

Our wedding day was full of happy moments, beautiful presents and lovely surprises. The biggest one of them was my kidnapping. It is a tradition in Slovakia that the bride gets "kidnapped" during the wedding - by the best man or someone from the family - into a nearby pub and the groom has to go and find her. I have agreed with my friend that she can take me for a glass of wine - simply for the kick of being in a pub wearing a wedding dress - when else do you get a chance to do that, eh? :)

So when my friend has taken me by the arm and starting pulling me away from the village hall, I went with her. But when we passed one pub, another pub and went down the hill where there were no more pubs, I got a bit confused. Instead of for a drink, she took me to a pet shop and there at the cash desk the guy handed me an envelope with a card inside that started "To my wife..." My husband has gotten us a baby Hermann's tortoise!

In spite of what it sounds like, this was not an impulse buy. We have been talking about getting a pet for ages and ever time we went to a pet shop, we spent ages watching the tortoises (although they are quite a rare animal to see in a pet shop around here). He had the whole thing arranged months in advance, researched the housing and built our very own tortoise table, bought the heat lamp and UV light which he hid from me in his workshop and bought the tortoise as well but he paid her a boarding fee in the shop so that she could stay there until our honeymoon was over.

We brought her home and named her Rocket (because of her speediness, although the first thing she ate at our place was a rocket leaf which just made me think that the name is right for her in more than one way). Every night she digs herself into the substrate in her little house and she sleeps there, moving her little legs up and down as she breathes. In the mornings she looks around confusedly for a while and if I wait long enough, sometimes she presents me with a massive yawn before she shuffles herself under the heat lamp to warm up so that she is ready for breakfast.

She is a very eager climber. I still find that a bit weird, but very cute and amusing. She puts so much effort into it and I sometimes put a bit of food on the house as enrichment activit to prevent her from getting bored (She also has a ping pong ball and a toilet paper roll that she pushes around).

It is funny how something so small can bring so man changes into life. Ever day we decide who "does the tortoise breakfast" depending on who needs to have a lie in. On weekends when we naturally wake up a bit later, I often find myself feeling guilty tthat I am letting her wait and it gets me out of bed.

She has also completely redefined the way I see plants. Tortoises can eat so many common weeds - Rocket loves ribwort plantain and dandelions - that I look for them wherever I go. I even ordered some seeds and can't wait for spring to start. Yes, I am going to have a plantain/dandelion/deadnettle patch in the garden. My friends made fun of me, sayng that everyone is trying to get rid of the weeds and I plant them.

She is our little baby and I still cannot believe how lucky I am. One of the things I love the most is when I am still just opening m eyes in the morning and I can hear my husband in the other room talking to the tortoise as he brings her food. It makes me feel that life is pretty great and I am thankful.

21 January 2017

Our Handmade Wedding

Photo by Laura Ashman
One of the most fantastic events in 2016 was our summer wedding. Planning a wedding has been... Well, let's call it interesting. Being from two different countries with different traditions, what we imagined as wedding had been quite varied. There were moments when I worried about how will certain aspects of my personality that will project themselves into the wedding be perceived by the "natives" of the isles, I worried even more about how the English bits will be perceived by the non-natives belonging to my family (which is in itself a patchwork of Slovakian, Czech and Hungarian).   With the family flying in from afar and staying in our flat, it was sure to be a bit of a bumpy road, but all with a good old happy ending :) 

Wanting to not spend a fortune, we decided to do many things ourselves. Apart from many "me" touches to the wedding like the moss and fern, there were also many "us" touches. After all the wedding was not mine only. The wedding favours were one of these touches.

When we first met, our first conversation was about tea. In spite of being freedivers who generally stay away from caffeine, we both had a taste for black tea, which has brought us together. Therefore love tea favours were a must. Amazingly, we got all the little jam jars for free from a coffee and bagel shop where we both go so often that the owner knows us and agreed to save us these little jars. They are unbelievably cute (alnd also super expensive when you try to buy them in craft supply shops). I really enjoyed mixing the little sugar hearts into the tea.

 Childrens' wedding favours were slightly different - filled with gummy bears. Hubby did the brown paper tops and string tying. Proper teamwork!

Photos by Laura Ashman

Since hubby has hundreds of metres of brown paper in his workshop, I used a lot of it in decorating. The bunting was made by my sister-in-law and her die-cutter and I made the seating plan and table numbers myself, with help of one image from Shutterstock which we also put on our wedding invitations and order of service booklets at church.

Photos by Laura Ashman

I have been saving glass jars from absolutely everthing all year and spent many hours decorating them with hessian, string and ribbons. One of the drawbacks was that because of the fire safety regulations we could not use real candles, but we bought masses of the little electric safety tea lights. We still use them at home - romance at a flick of a switch! :)

Photos by Laura Ashman

The chairs and tables belonged to the village hall where we had our reception, the tablecloths, crockery and cutlery were rented but the flowers, jars and hessian were all prepared and set up by us (well, a dedicated team of groom and a team of helpful family members and friends who worked on it for ages whilst I was having my hair and make-up done).

My flower girl and maid of honor both received a special set of biscuits which I got on Etsy from CookieArtLondon.

Photos by Laura Ashman

The cake was a Christmas-like fruit cake baked by my lovely father-in-law. He had it professionally iced and made the cake toppers himself - a snail and a piano! It was his super secret wood-turning/carving project and there couldn't be anthing better to put on top of a cake for us - a piano technician and a trained malacologist. :)

Well, that was the first day of our married life and I dare sa it left us completel shattered, even though it only lasted until  10 p.m. We tend to be a bit spontaneous and agreeable when we make plans, but we have never planned an event of this magnitude and importance, which meant there were a couple of disagreements on the way, but I am so happy we made it all the way here. Seven years have gone since we first got to know each other, five since we started going out and the rest of our lives is ahead!  I bet it's going to be wonderful :)

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