Easier, better or both?


Nirvana at the Clover Mill

The Clover MillWorcestershire has a wonderful new spa, which nestles in an idyllic setting between Cradley and Suckley.  The Clover Mill is a very special spa. Arrive stressed and tense and leave feeling relaxed and wanting to learn a whole lot more about Ayurveda.

I approached the Mill along a little track then rounded a bend to find a Tudor cottage and a stunning Cotswold stone mill.  The grounds are beautiful – wild flowers, fruit trees and a lake.  There are three eco-lodges for those lucky enough to be able stay for one of the Clover Mill’s speciality ayurvedic, yoga or meditation retreats. Alpacas, bunnies and birds completed the picture.

IMG_0081The treatment rooms are in the lovingly restored water mill. The millstone, water wheel and mill workings are displayed behind glass panels en route to the steam room.  A biomass boiler supplies under floor heating. Once I entered the serene treatment room, the eco credentials of the spa became apparent. I was surrounded by natural materials; wood, cotton and linen.

Before the treatment began, a questionnaire and chat allowed the therapist to assess my “Dosha”. The questions were interesting and I was amazed at how well the assessment characterised me. The choice of oil and nature of the massage was tailored to my Dosha. I placed my clothes in a grass basket and popped on a crisply ironed sarong.  There was even a little box in which I could store my jewellery – a lovely touch.

Cotswold Stone WallThe massage was blissful. The oil was gently warmed and had the most divine, subtle aroma. A warm pad on the couch ensured that I remained toasty throughout. It was one of the best massages I’ve ever had – the therapist has been doing massage for many years and it showed. She was technically superb, intuitive and passionate about ayurveda and it’s the focus on wellness.  Stress drifted away and muscles that had been stiff for months melted. At the end of the massage there was a warming cup of herbal tea.

After the massage I had a light, healthy lunch made by the spa owner, Julie, who is a passionate cook. Most of the ingredients for the meal were harvested from the garden. Julie had even gone to the trouble of whipping up some gluten-free courgette and pinenut muffins to accompany the delicious beetroot and elderberry soup. There was a divine lemon polenta cake to follow.

I left The Clover Mill in a warm glow, skin soft and lustrous, feeling relaxed, nurtured, happy and planning the next visit.

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Red

Hawthorn berriesIsn’t it fascinating how individual colour palettes predominate at various times of the year?

This week in the gardens, lanes and on the hillside near our home we have seen:

Deep crimson Discovery apples. Their red colour leaks into the white flesh when you take a bite.

Squashy, matt, light red yew berry cups, which stand out against a background of dark green leaves.

Hawthorn trees weighted down by lavish clusters of bright red berries

Columns of opaque, red spheres hanging amongst heart-shaped leaves on bryony vines.

Delicate deep red, translucent bunches of guelder rose berries.

Light red upright clusters of rose hips covering wild rose bushes.

Luscious, tiny, shiny, ruby red elderberry clusters.

Spikes of closely packed orangey-red balls on Lords & Ladies (Cuckoo pint)

Red and purple ripening blackberries

Looks like it’s the Red Season in Worcestershire!


Our amazing solar thermal panels

We love our solar thermal panels and have been blown away by their performance. They were commissioned in late winter this year, so we have been able to monitor their output through the dull, cool spring and sunny, warm summer.

Solar thermal panelsWe use the solar thermal panels as the primary source of heat for our hot water.

(Technical details: Worcester Solar Lifestyle 2 Panel Retro-fit Solar System. Bosch Thermotechnology Ltd. Total capacity 2.2 kW. System filled with glycol.)

An air-to-water heat pump acts as the secondary heat source and also provides on-demand heating when necessary.

P1030309Our hot water is stored in a highly insulated Kingspan 250 litre unvented solar cylinder.

  • Cold water feeds into the bottom of the cylinder
  • During daylight hours heat is generated by the solar thermal panels and is used to warm the water via a coil in the lower part of the tank.
  • The heated water rises within the tank.
  • By the end of the day the thermal panels have heated the water throughout the tank.
    • On cold, grey winter days the water is generally heated to between 20-40°C (depending on the starting temperature and the number of hours of sunlight that day).
    • On clear sunny, summer days, the water is heated to 70°C, which is the maximum allowed by the system.
  • The heat pump is controlled by a timer, and comes on after sunset, if supplementary heating is required. The fluid in the heat pump circuit flows through a coil in the upper part of the cylinder, to raise the temperature to 55°C. This is a comfortable temperature for baths, showers, etc. Once a week a 65°C pasteurisation cycle is run to prevent legionella infection.

Since late winter we have barely needed the heat pump. The solar thermal panels have harvested energy from the sun to provide almost all of the heat for our hot water. Even on overcast days, the solar thermal panels have contributed some heat, so the pump has never had to heat the water from “cold”. Those two little panels have heated 250 litres of water to over 60°C almost every day for the last 3 months – amazing!!Energy from the sun


Our More Sustainable System for Heating our Home and Hot Water

Earlier this year we renovated our house and used the opportunity to revamp our heating and hot water systems.

We live in a rural village where there is no access to mains gas, so the house and the water were heated using an oil (kerosene)-fired boiler.

Our house is a modern (for the UK) detached property, with wall and roof insulation. Windows are double-glazed throughout. While undertaking the alterations, we discovered that there is no insulation under the floors – one explanation for the cold tootsies in winter.

As we both work from home, we needed a system that would keep the house warm during the day and in the evenings, but would cost less to run than the old oil-based system.

Solar PanelsOur new system was planned using the premise that we’d generate our own energy or use renewable energy sources where possible, and that we’d minimise our use of fossil fuels. It was also designed to make us independent of oil.

The wood-burning stove was the first item to be installed and significantly improved our quality of life during the recent long, chilly winter.

We have installed two solar thermal panels that heat our water during daylight hours. An air-to-water heat pump boosts the water temperature, when necessary, on cloudy days. Hot water is stored in a large (250 litre), highly insulated, dual coil cylinder. A bonus of the new system is that we now have mains pressure water for our showers and taps and have been able to remove the header tank in the loft.

Air-source heat pumpThe air-to-water heat pump also heats our home via radiators. As this system runs at a lower temperature than the traditional oil-based system, radiators with larger surface areas had to be installed. Photovoltaic  (PV) solar panels were fitted to generate some of the electricity required to run the heat pump. We import electricity from the grid to supplement what we generate from the PV panels.

We are now independent of oil and so will soon say goodbye to the ugly oil tank in the garden. We no longer have to juggle the timing of oil deliveries against the oil level in the tank and fluctuating (usually rising!) oil prices.

The installation is complete and I’ll keep you posted on our experience with the new system over the next few months.


Crunchy Buckwheat Granola

Before the strawberry jam disaster, I did have some culinary success last week.

During the winter, I saw an interesting recipe in a newspaper using raw buckwheat as an ingredient. However by the time I’d managed to find a shop where I could buy raw buckwheat, I’d lost the recipe. Since then the buckwheat has been hanging out in the cupboard, looking for something to do.

Earlier this month we tried a gluten-free muesli, which was pretty good, but rather pricey (amazing how costly items become once they are labelled gluten-free). Interestingly the muesli contained buckwheat. I wondered if this would work in granola too, so I hit the internet in search of a recipe.Crunchy Buckwheat Granola

I found this super Crunchy Buckwheat Granola recipe on the “Kath Eats Real Food” website.

I made just two changes to Kath’s recipe – I substituted chopped, mixed nuts for the whole raw almonds, and sunflower oil for the canola oil.

For those with metric ovens, 300 degrees F is ~150 degrees C.

The granola was a great success – crunchy and delicious. If you use  gluten-free oats, the granola is gluten-free too. I’ll definitely be making this again & again. Now if only I could remember where I purchased that buckwheat ……??


Baby Birds and Burnt Jam

StrawberriesI went a little crazy & bought too many punnets of juicy strawberries last week, so they started growing beards faster than we could consume them. Inspired by Alys Fowler’s recipe for Strawberry Conserve (June issue of The Simple Things Magazine), I decided to make some jam.

My initial jam-making attempts in 2011 and 2012 using plums from our tree were quite successful. The most delicious batch was the first. It caramelised slightly because I left it a little too long, while trying to work out what the setting point looked like. (Yes I know the theory about the jam developing a skin when placed on a cooled plate, but it didn’t seem that simple in our murky old kitchen.) Subsequent batches were more “textbook”, but never tasted quite as good as that first one.

This is my first attempt at strawberry jam. After two 24 hour “set aside” steps, I was into the last leg; “Boil rapidly until set, about 20 minutes.” I armed the timer, and made a cup of tea.

Then ……. I the noticed a robin feeding it’s chick on our fence. So exciting, as it is the first time we’ve seen baby robins in our garden. Their perch on the fence was soon taken over by a sparrow family – two chicks vying for mom’s attention, one nearly unseating the mother in an attempt to get to the grub. Then the blackbirds started – chick behind mom, bobbing along to lure worms out of the grass.

Spoon welded to plateWhile engrossed in the antics of the baby birds, the smell of caramel started to waft in from the kitchen. The timer alarm hadn’t gone off yet, but the jam had clearly progressed a little beyond the desired setting point. It was a light shade of brown. “No problem”, I thought, this might be like that first batch of plum jam that was so divine.

I continued to follow the recipe; “To stop the strawberries floating to the top, allow the jam to cool slightly…. before bottling.”

Given the advancedSolid jam & a sticky mess state of caramelisation, this was a big mistake. When I tried to pick up my mixing spoon to pop the jam into the jars, the spoon had become so securely welded to the plate where it had been resting, that the plate came along for the ride. After wrestling the spoon from the plate, bottling commenced. Based on what happened later, I am not sure that I’ll ever extricate the “jam” from that bottle.

As the jam cooled it became stickier, it morphed into caramel and then started to solidify into what looked suspiciously like toffee. I decided to abandon further bottling attempts, go with the flow and make toffee sweets instead.

I started popping spoonfuls of the brown gum onto a sheet of grease-proof paper. But soon golden strands of caramel started to proliferate all along the path of the spoon. As the mixture cooled, the stickiness increased, to a point where it was no longer possible to get the goo off the spoon. By this stage I was giggling uncontrollably and hubby came downstairs to investigate. He tried one of my partly-set “toffees”, which proceeded to stick his teeth together. Not sure that the toffee idea is going to work either. Oh well – I’m off to clean the pan now.

Apologies to Alys for turning her lovely recipe into such a shambles, but I just couldn’t resist those baby birds!


Asparagus

AsparagusThe Vale of Evesham is the place to be this month if you’re a fan of asparagus. The 2013 season started slowly, but it’s been worth the wait.  We are taking every opportunity to eat these delicious, crisp, tender spears at the moment.  Our favourite sources for this luscious luxury are Reville’s Farm Shop in Defford and Collis’ Farm shop on the A44 near Broadway.  Both sell wonderfully fresh asparagus, straight from their own fields. Wayside Farm Shop sell local asparagus, asparagus quiche and even asparagus scones! In fact, everyone goes a little aspara-crazy around here at this time of year at the annual Asparagus Festival.