dear diary :: rainy days and Sundays

Yes, I know it is really rainy days and Mondays in the lyrics of the song but today suits the song very well. What else do you do on such a wet weekend but grab your camera and go outside and take photos. Such an abundance of raindrops, dripping from every leaf and berry and glistening like tiny jewels.

Inside, is a different story – dry and cosy but oh so dismal. I spent an hour or so switching over beach pebbles and shells for a few discreet pieces of autumn decor. One or two pine cones, a few little dried pumpkins, my favourite seasonal cushions and pictures and before I finished I replenished all the tea lights and candles in the holders. I have some lovely wooden candle holders which add a nice warmth to the room this time of year.

Whilst taking these pictures I smile to myself …. just out of shot is absolute chaos in our house – we may be doing the pantry conversion from the smallest room in the house, the downstairs cloakroom, but every room in the house is now upset. To get more lighting and sockets fitted DH had to pull back the carpet in the bedroom above….I could have guessed…have been here before – so all the furniture had to be taken out and temporarily put where we can.

Despite all the mess – I made more, and have been crafting over the weekend – remember this knitting….

With the help of this book I found called Simple Knitting by Erika Knight I finally manage to finish the knitting part of this little hooded jumper and have only to sew the seams together now. Whether it will fit little Sweetie is another matter – I rather think it might be passed straight on to little Freddie – do you think the colours too girly? I can’t decide.

The four teatowels below came in a pack from Sainsbury’s in the sale. They are a good weight of cotton with a slight linen slub or waffle and my idea is to turn them into place mats. Two tea towels will cut down to make 2 place mats. So the striped grey will be backed with the plain grey and the dashed white backed with the plain white. We only need two mats most of the time being on our own now, so they will do us fine. I will need to buy some heavier vilene interfacing to sandwich between the two layers so they keep a good shape – but it is shopping day tomorrow so I can get some in town. Next time you see these I hope they will be made and on my table.

I have also been having a bit of a play around with ideas for Christmas presents and cards. So out came the sketch pad and pencil – had to dust it off a bit! In April I bought 5 of these calendars on stands for around £2 each, from Sainsbury’s clearance sale, with the intention of designing and printing my own calendar pages for 2020 and switching them over.

The original calendars had some quite nice little line drawings so I had thought about doing a simple lino cut print reflecting each of the months but time might be short now and twelve is a lot of designs to work on and print.

Calendar

– so I decided to look through my sketch book for drawings that could be adapted.

This is still an idea in the making and I will have to do a few mock ups first to see what might work. I am no artist but some of the sketches will pass….I think. Whilst I had the sketch book handy I scanned in a few pages of drawings – these were mostly done in the days when we had more time and well before the grandchildren arrived on the scene!!

I keep intending to try to get in the habit of doing a sketch each day so that I might improve, but am not sure how I would fit it in.

And what better to occupy my time on a cold and miserable day than trying out a new recipe. I have been wanting to try this recipe for a long time – I think it is from Good Housekeeping magazine. I didn’t quite have all the right ingredients so had to improvise.

I just happened to have chestnut and ordinary mushrooms but no dried ones and I used a vegetable stock cube rather than the yeast extract, but it still tasted fine – in fact it was really delicious – but be warned I made two strudels from the mixture – the second one was much smaller but there is ample filling.

Mine doesn’t look quite as good as their picture – the cooking time seemed rather long and the crumpled filo pastry that you lay on top caught a bit whilst in the oven…. and the sesame seeds didn’t seem to want to stay on top. I might do this bit slightly differently next time or even use a different pastry, puff pastry perhaps.

I will add the recipe to the list in a day or two. For now I will have to close – it is my brother’s birthday today and I need to go and surprise him with a card – then I have a big mess to clean up.

Hope you all had a brilliant weekend despite the rain. x

feasting :: from the apple tree

Before we left Scotland we gave the apple tree a good shake but still couldn’t dislodge the ones at the very top of the tree; so we had to make-do with all the windfalls we had collected.

This year wasn’t quite the bumper crop of last year (but then we had reduced the size of the tree during the previous winter) and I noticed a lot more blemishes and rotten bits to cut around where insects and the like had got there first.

Despite the blemishes and scars on the outside the flesh on the inside was still good; so we have been peeling and slicing, cooking and freezing apples all week and yesterday I used two of them to make one of my all time favourite recipes for this time of year – Apple and sultana cake. The original recipe from Good Housekeeping Basic Cookery uses raisins but I much prefer the juicier sultanas.

It is the perfect cake for early autumn – still quite a light texture, a hint of cinnamon and uses those just picked apples and windfalls straight from the tree. Try it sliced and buttered at teatime.

For anyone wanting to make this you will find the recipe in the drop down recipe section in the tabs above the header photo. Enjoy x

homestead :: domestic bliss

There is no denying that it has turned much cooler since the unexpected mini heatwave over the recent Bank Holiday weekend, but like most people I feel that we have said goodbye to summer now….ready or not.

My first reaction has been to swap the cooler cotton duvet cover for the extra warmth of my cosy flannelette. This seems a little early compared to other years and I may even throw on a blanket tonight or just grab a hot water bottle. The heating has started to come on in the mornings too now so the temperature must have dropped low enough to trigger the thermostat. Are we possibly looking at a long cold winter? I may need a new warm coat.

The kitchen is a blissfully warm place to be right now. After months of salads I am ready for a change to warmer, more satisfying meals using root vegetables and pulses and looking forward to roasted veggies with a good handful of herbs scattered on top and our favourite nutloaves. I am also being mindful of minimising our food waste and using up all the vegetables from the weekly shop in whatever creative ways come to mind.

We ended the week with a few oddments – a couple of leeks, one carrot, a courgette and two baking potatoes – once chopped I added some celery and onions together with a packet of brown lentils and made a good old warming Lentil Stew – enough for two days. Eaten with a chunk of bread and butter it was everything that I love about autumn food.

Whilst browsing my recipe books looking for some new ideas I noticed a recipe for Carrot and Walnut Loaf that I haven’t made for a very long time – a bit different from our usual nut loaf – vibrant warm colours with the mix of carrot and tomato paste – so thought I would make some to freeze ready to take with us to the cottage – when we eventually get to go. We have only just got the car back from the garage after 3 days…..I was expecting a very large bill…..one that you have to sit down for……however, due to one thing and another (won’t bore you with the details) the lovely garage man only charged us for the parts and no labour costs.

It has become almost a daily ritual for one of us to make a batch of soup – this week I made tomato and red pepper and a healthy green soup using a bag of the ready washed watercress, spinach and lettuce – throwing in celery, leeks and frozen peas – plenty of iron and no doubt calcium. I had a recipe for parmesan crisps that I have wanted to try for ages – I can tell you they are simply more than moreish and keep crisp in the fridge for days. I will add the instructions to my recipe tab.

The blackberries we gathered are now partly cooked and in the freezer. This little fellow below crawled out of them, luckily before they went into the pot.

He is so cute and so tiny – I have never seen a snail so small – he is on some kitchen paper here and magnified in the photo – measuring only about 0.5 cms in reality, smaller than my little finger nail. After surviving the ride home and then being rinsed in salt water I decided he should now have the freedom to live in the garden. I might regret that!

This is the longest few days we have had at home for the last two months so there has been a lot of ‘jobbing’ going on here. Plenty of domestic chores – stripping beds (as well as walls) , scrubbing floors and generally all those day to day normal household tasks. And lots of tea – mostly ginger, sometimes green or even just ordinary black.

But in and amongst and during some of the rainy days I have been sorting through my kitchenware – this is a category I both love to collect (mmm…. just how many blue patterned bowls do I really need) and find hard to part with. The one in one out rule does not work here so the new drinking glasses (only £4 for six from IKEA) – although they are a replacement still needed a home. The paper cocktail umberellas are used when Little L comes to stay – she always takes her glass of milk with one and a stripey paper straw of course – it has become a bit of a tradition now, granny’s little treat. I always loved them when I was a child and my granny used to save them for me when she had been out drinkng cocktails. I can’t say I go out for cocktails in the same way – mine just come courtesy of Sainsbury’s!

Progress on the pantry is steady – DH has stripped the walls of both paper and the old magnolia paint beneath and has started filling in holes. The back window wall needs a skim of plaster as does the ceiling – so now we wait to have someone come to do that.

The garden has been an absolute picture of colour this year and there are still plenty of bright spots here and there – but the colder wet weather is certainly bringing them to an end sooner than usual. It has been touch and go with the outdoor tomatoes but at last I think they are on the turn – just a little more sunshine should do it. Little L helped me sow a few more lettuce seeds – I may have to make some kind of cloche to help them on their way.

We have been busy cleaning and putting tools away in my new shed, which is now painted a lovely shade of grey and ready to take the harsh wet winter weather here. The festoon lighting has been taken down – drying off in the airing cupboard to prevent any rust. I decided they seemed a bit too delicate to be out over winter. I felt a bit sad to see them go and the garden feels a bit empty at night without the little trail of lights streaking across the darkness.

My dad’s old stool will have to go away too and the garden seats covered if this rain ever stops long enough for us to get all the outside jobs done. With such a turn in the weather there seems to be more of an urgency this year to get everything under wraps.

And surprise, surprise in my inbox…..I only mentioned that I needed this the other day as I was running out of face cream – a 20% discount voucher from Neal’s Yard. I decided to stick with the intense serum but drop to the cheaper Hydrating Frankincense cream to save a little money. I also had £12.90 in reward points to use so the two items were a lot less than expected.

The Liz Earle shampoo was covered using my Boots advantage points so I was well pleased with my savings this week. In fact the whole week has been quite a low spend week which is a good start to the month.

I decided I need to ease myself back into some craft work and hesitantly took the baby jumper I had been knitting out of the basket – I abandoned it sometime in May whilst making the Christening dress and never got back to it. I really couldn’t remember where I had left off but had a faint recollection that it involved some hand sewing of the seams before I can knit the last little bit of rib around the hood. I am pretty sure it will be far too small now for Sweetie so I only hope that Freddie might like it despite the bit of pink.

I have almost finished the first of the library book stack The Life of Stuff – an interesting read though I am glad to be at the end as hoarding is quite a depressing subject. I am dithering now between Christmas at Thrush Green and Not in your Genes for my next read. Do I want to be entertained or educated….

Have a lovely weekend everyone and welcome to new readers.

dear diary :: a day of accomplishments

I had a rather disproportionate feeling of accomplishment yesterday to the amount of things I actually got done but it felt good to do something and move forward.

The washer is now working a treat and together with the warm wind I managed to wash and line dry a couple of loads so I have a pile of fluffy white towels waiting to go into the airing cupboard and an assortment of clothes to iron.

It is important that I keep up the daily routines I have developed since leaving work even when they seem to go astray or I have to abandon them for a while; checking emails, doing the ironing, shining the sink, entering receipts, planning the meals, taking my supplements, eating an apple – they bring a sense of accomplishment each day in themselves – if anything else gets done then that is a sure win.

We emptied the old cloakroom of its contents – this is only a small part of it above in the picture. It was a bit like Mary Poppin’s bag once we delved in there and now the stuff, that was once quite contained in the smallest room of the house, has spread itself into every free corner throughout the kitchen, dining area and living room resembling that expanding foam when you release it from the tube. I am looking at it wondering if it will all fit back in when it becomes the pantry.

Of course not everything is due to go back and it is this stuff I must deal with. I have decided that a car boot sale is the way to go as we have things not easy to sell by means of ebay because of the weight and I would rather try and get rid of it all in one day rather than string it out. We have a lack of boot sales round us so I am looking to go to Bedale near my daughter. They hold one every Saturday until mid October – she says it is quite a good one and she has room to store the stuff in her house until we have a nice collection together, and she can add in some of her unwanteds.

Once empty DH set too like the guy Jonathan you may have seen on the program Buying and Selling and within no time had hacked the tiles off the wall and then created himself a little sauna with the wallpaper steamer going full pelt.

The wallpaper is now scraped off but we need to remove the old patchy magnolia paint beneath until we get back to the bare plaster; then we will have a good sound surface to apply the paint on the walls.

Whislt he was working away I enjoyed a relaxing couple of hours with my neighbour catching up with news and airing our thoughts on the state of the country. I am not a very political person but I am worried about our politicians at the moment and the fact that we are being led into unknown territory and what is the real motive for this. It is rather overwhelming especially when I feel what we need is a bit of stability and reassurance.

Enough said on that topic.

I tried a new recipe for tea – it worked out well and tasted delicious, a relatively simple and inexpensive meal using red lentils, sweet potato, red peppers and mushrooms with halloumi cheese slices placed on top. The picture does not do it justice – the one in the magazine looks much more appetising! I will certainly be including it in our meals for the coming season. I will put the recipe up under the new Recipe tab above.

I have an assortment of recipe clippings to file away in my folders – so that will be a job for today. I have the guest bedding washed and waiting to go out on the line – it looks a dry sunny day here so far. Then I am going to look at the finances, reviewing last months figures and planning for September.

August seemed a long month but I am sad we are at an end as it signifies the end of summer too. The mornings are seeing a definite change now and a lot of the flowers are already dying back. But there is something quite comforting in nature as it always continues from one season to another and we adapt to the changes; always looking forward to repeating those little pleasurable activities that come with each of the seasons and ones which we will no doubt have done many times before.

My favourite at this time of year is definitely blackberry picking and collecting the Bramley apples to make pies and crumbles, I am sure you will have your own too. I will mourn the end of summer whilst eagerly awaiting the cooler weather and darker nights – when I can snuggle down with blankets and candles by the fire and watch a few favourite period dramas.

Have a lovely day everyone. x

seasons :: sweet summer

The pleasure of a perfect summer’s day…. the warmth of the sun, dappled light falling through a canopy of trees creating cool shady spots beneath, an abundance of colour and scent in the garden and the taste of all summer has to offer with freshly picked fruit and vegetables.

An air of excitement and romance. Summer, for me, definitely has the feel good factor.

And it is Picnic weather. Eating outdoors is one of my favourite activities in summer, especially if I can take along my little trusty camping stove and whistling kettle to make a cup of tea, and not to forget a pile of picnic rugs to lie on and a good book or my sketchbook. All these things, but especillay that distinctive sound of the whistling kettle, brings back so many childhood memories spent in a state of absolute summer bliss.

I have all the necessary ingredients available to pack up a picnic at a moment’s notice and also make little treats that I would not normally indulge in; so a good stock of plain vanilla ice cream in the freezer is of prime importance for creating simple quick desserts using fresh fruits.

Yesterday I bought lolly moulds for £2 from Ikea – I will need to find some old fashioned wooden lolly sticks though as I am not keen on the plastic ones provided with the set. When Libbie comes to stay in the school holidays I thought she might like to make ice lollies, I think I might like to too!

Filo pastry is so easy to use and I have a number of recipes where you just beat up some eggs with a little milk, sour cream or fromage frais – whatever is to hand, add seasoning and pour it over any mixture of lightly steamed summer veg spread over a filo pastry case. Then add grated cheese – here I just used cheddar but hard or soft goats cheese, parmesan or a blue cheese would be just as good and finally a sprinkling of fresh herbs to suit your taste.

I have herbs growing everywhere in my garden – freshly picked herbs added to any meal are delicious. Chopped mint on Jersey Royals with a knob of butter, torn basil leaves in tomato dishes and rosemary scattered over a tin of roasting vegetables.

The vegetables and salads I am growing are not very far on this year with all the wet weather and lack of warmth and sunshine. I am so envious of all those bloggers displaying ripe red tomatoes already but hopefully mine will soon make up for the late start.

Having a working oven again is just brilliant – to turn it on and find it heats up (and quickly) is an absolute wonder. I am excited again about cooking and already delving into my pile of recipe books.

Thank you for all the comments on my previous post about the adverts – I am finding out from WordPress if these are their usual amount of ads – if so and nothing can be done I may buy into their ad free plan. As a reader myself I would not want to be bombarded with them and I always have an ad free read myself on other blogs because I more often than not read blogs through the wordpress reader and my own PC browser settings are set so that hardly any get through. I will update you all more on this soon.

Today we have no firm plans, maybe a bit of gardening or perhaps we will make a picnic and go off for the day. I will let you know.

Finally welcome to all the new readers …enjoy the journey but most of all enjoy summer while it lasts. x

sEAsons ~ celebrating Easter

Hi there – just dropping by to say I am still around but for some reason still very busy – this is not what I expected when I gave up working, I feel I am working twice as hard now as then.

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter enjoying the glorious weather we couldn’t have timed our party better and of course it ended up as a real garden party (I needn’t have cleaned the living room quite so thoroughly after all!).Many of the plants had started to grow quickly in the warm sunshine  – we are usually quite late in this area being high up and I was willing my pretty Aquilegia plants, which have self seeded all over the garden, to open in time for the party….. but sadly they didn’t.  But no matter there were plenty of the bulbs and Primula still blooming and the blossom….hasn’t it just been delightful?

The party took some preparing in the end – for new readers this was a party for my son-in-law’s 40th birthday combined with an Easter party as it fell on Easter Sunday, we held it at my house because my daughter’s house is so much smaller.

We had Easter eggs and decorations amongst the party decor.  I spent some time covering polystyrene eggs with tissue paper which I hung from twiggy branches supported in a pot of sand hidden with a topping of moss, then added a few fluttery butterflies with my glue gun. I also had fun making these Easter food ‘flags’ to help guests identify the different sandwiches, salads and quiches. And of course we planned an Easter hunt around the garden for the children though the eggs had to be hidden well in the shade so they did not melt in the heat.

We had a day or two in the garden beforehand – setting out all the pots that had been in winter hibernation and adding a few inexpensive pansies and primulas for a touch of colour.

We removed the covers from our garden tables and chairs and brought out the large parasol, then hung out the white solar lanterns from my daughter’s wedding a few years ago – they had been stored in the loft and I was quite surprised they still worked. We also bought some Festoon lighting and DH made a great job of stringing it across the garden using the clothes prop and an old piece of aluminium tubing he found in the garage.At night it looked so magical……Our guests were handed nibbles and cocktails on arrival….. I had spent four days making a mountain of ice cubes in readiness – and ice-cold drinks were very much in demand.

The table was laden with food – sandwiches, mini wraps and four different salads all ordered from M&S by my daughter.   For the true meat eaters her MIL bought a selection of pies, sausage rolls and scotch eggs from a local award-winning butchers and my contribution was some small quiches and of course the cake.

The cake was certainly one project too many – it nearly didn’t happen when twice the ready rolled icing stuck to the kitchen work top despite the oodles of icing sugar I had sifted beneath.  I am no cake decorator and it was very rushed so this is extremely wobbly and the icing a bit cracked in my desperation to get it onto the cake!   And exactly what is it you may ask……a circuit board of course – as son-in-law is an electrician come electrical engineer and is always playing about with circuit boards.  I had to have precise instruction for this from DH as I had no idea what I was doing.For desserts we kept it simple with profiteroles, a huge bowl of mixed berries with crushed meringue and double cream to make Eton mess and some tiny party cheesecakes and chocolate bites.

Although not everyone was very impressed!!!

….but all in all it was such a wonderful day.

And the best bit…..Libbie (Little L) had made me an Easter present from some DAS clay a beautiful little pink heart – of course I will treasure it.It has taken me a while to straighten the house up again after the party – putting dishes back and packing bits and pieces away – I am feeling quite exhausted now – I could barely drag myself to Yoga on Tuesday morning and somehow I need to gather up a little more energy to start on the Christening dress….we need to do a bit of fabric hunting in the next day or two and celebrate yet another birthday, but on a much smaller scale this time, before we can finally escape up to Scotland for a well earned rest.

fEAsting ~ and the cupboard was bare

At first glance on Friday our cupboards and fridge seemed a bit bare…panic…

My menu planning had become a bit out of sync with having mum to stay recently and we only did a part shop last Monday in Sainsbury’s to cover a few days, expecting to have to go again at the end of the week to top up.   But I didn’t really want to go down to town to Sainsbury’s again just for the weekend and I am watching the pennies so I decided to make what we had stretch over to next Monday when I would usually shop.  We had run out of milk completely but we can get this from the local village Co-op and once I had assessed the meagre offerings laying in the fridge and devised a menu plan to get us through the weekend I asked DH to bring back a carrot too. The sum total of the veggies leftover from last Monday’s shopping trip were a few large old potatoes and a handful of small new potatoes, a number of tiny tomatoes, a little gem lettuce, 2 leeks, 2 onions, 2 courgettes, a few bits of celery, most of a swede and 3 pointed red peppers plus 2 very small avocados.

We also had a block of mild cheddar, a piece of Jarlsberg, 5 eggs;  and in the freezer I keep peas, broadbeans and nutloaf.  In the store cupboard I had a packet of chickpeas and plenty of brown rice.

So I worked out a menu plan to incorporate all these bits and bobs and tide us over

  • Friday evening meal – *chickpea and rice with 1 onion, 1 courgette, the leftover mushrooms (not at their best but salvageable), and the 2 small stalks of some celery,
  • Saturday lunch – a ploughman’s lunch of bread, cheese, tomatoes, pickle and the avocado
  • Saturday evening meal – omelette with tomato, red pepper, courgette and herbs, small roasted potatoes and peas.  Also a small cherry crumble each from the freezer.

Leek and Potato Soup

  • Sunday lunchtime – Leek and potato soup (I can add a carrot to this and the remaining lettuce), bread with avocado and cheese.
  • Sunday evening meal – Nutloaf, mashed potatoes with swede, carrot and broad beans and we have a pack of small Yorkshire puddings in the freezer if we want to turn it into more of a Sunday dinner.  I also serve the Nutloaf with apple sauce (also in the freezer).
  • Monday lunchtime – rest of the Leek and potato soup and bread

* The chickpea and rice concoction – I kind of invented it myself one day and it has been a winner here ever since.  Quick and easy and you can throw most things in it.

Cook a chopped onion and celery in a little oil to soften, then add chopped courgettes and finally add a packet of pre cooked Chickpeas and some chopped mushrooms.  It works with most vegetables so a good way to use up those little bits and pieces.  Once the mushrooms are softened I add some stock – about 200ml and leave to simmer so the flavours infuse.  I add some parsley at this point too.  Meanwhile cook some brown rice about 3-4oz (usually takes 30mins). Once cooked add to the chickpea mix and combine.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes and serve.

It is always amazing how far you can stretch the leftover veg when you need to and it is a good way of saving a few pounds.  We have a few standby things in the freezer like Nut cutlets, Pizza and some dried pasta in the cupboard but it was the veg I was interested to use up completely so there is no waste.  The frozen Pizza will save for another day or another emergency.

With the 2 remaining eggs I might just be able to make some chocolate buns or brownies.

A day of purposeful prudence and penny-pinching…with a positively perfect outcome for the cost of a carrot.

Spend £0.45p (DH actually bought a bag of carrots rather than just one…but hey you can’t win them all!)

sEAsons ~ winter is the time for home

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
– Edith Sitwell

Ivy

RaindropsWe have had the icy cold days with a frosting of snow recently and then we had the rain… but it brought slightly milder weather with it, which has been quite welcome…today it is cold once again but very sunny.    Although I like the winter months the cold has got to my bones a bit – I must be getting older. The full force of the winter weather can be seen further afield out on the moors above us where there are wonderful and ever-changing vistas to capture – I love the bleak atmosphere that surrounds this expanse of wilderness  – there are no trees, no buildings and no people.  Even the sky can seem quite dark and foreboding at times.  Only days ago this road was closed to a heavy snowfall and ice and we had to find alternative routes on lower ground – yesterday as you see it is quite passable with only a light dusting over the hills.  The beauty of this untouched landscape is breathtaking no matter when you pass through.

Around the garden there are plenty of delightful things happening at the moment despite the weather.  I haven’t ventured outside very much but I have noticed little pockets of colour and a show of buds here and there.  Sometimes everything looks deceptively still and quiet beneath the carpet of leaves but on closer inspection there are shoots appearing and the bulbs I planted only a couple of months ago and these Snowdrops are beginning to push through the earth – a sign that spring will be here soon. Snowdrops To prevent the local cats doing their business and scratching around in the bare patches of earth where the bulbs lie beneath  I pushed a few twigs, from the hydrangea prunings,  into the ground as a deterent and to protect them and I noticed they are starting to bud and have actually taken root.  Anyone want an hydrangea there will be far to many to keep!Spring bulbsWhilst it is so cold I find the best thing to do is stay warm indoors in the kitchen making those nourishing winter comfort dishes.  Cauliflower and Broccoli Cheese bake is always a favourite here and plenty of nut roasts with root vegetables.Cauliflower Cheese bake Mushroom soupMaking plenty of soup is still on the menu too – I have found a pack each of white and chestnut mushrooms mixed together make a very quick soup for lunch – add a  leek and a stick or two of celery and a generous handful of fresh parsley for flavour…

…and use up any leftover large ripe tomatoes to make a very warming Tomato Soup with red pepper and a little carrot and a touch of paprika, run through the blender and sprinkle with a good spoonful of parmesan cheese….Tomato soupOn those days when we only have enough soup left for one we share it and I serve a mini bowl of soup with a ploughman’s lunch to use up the thick crusts of bread.For some reason I always feel January is a good month for home life and a little housekeeping – not a deep spring clean and certainly nothing too strenuous but just enough to freshen the place up once all the Christmas decorations have been taken down and packed away.

I have spent time in each room adding decorative bits and pieces and moving pictures around;  just using what I already have and switching things about.  Remember the dried oranges and limes I made at Christmas;  they have mellowed now but still add a touch of colour to these grey winter days and continue to fragrance the air. dried oranges My daughter bought me this lovely glass showcase perfect to display little bits and bobs.  I chose this lino-cut print with the red fox and the little red bird to go with my hand carved wooden robins – the bold black and white with a splash of colourful red seems quite appropriate for now.In the corner of the dining room the yellow tulips from Aldi for £1.89 are so wonderfully vibrant and cheerful – and very reasonably priced – I will certainly be visiting the store for more flowers in future as they have lasted so well.Tulips TulipsAnother small but new pleasure in my life is this desk calendar on a gold metal stand – Sadie over at Notes from an Ordinary Life introduced me to pink and I must say I am hooked – I saw this in Sainsbury’s and somehow it found its way into my trolley last week – it cost me £7 but it can be used again and again if I make and print my own calendar sheets next year when this one is finished.  I am looking forward to making my own too – I might try out some decorative stamps or lino-cuts.CalendarWe have done very little shopping so far this year as there is not very much that we need other than a new kitchen.   During the sales I got a great deal on the Neal’s Yard items – the face cream and serum I use was being offered at a discount in a gift box so not only did I get it cheaper but there is a free eye cream with it.  I also love their sturdy boxes and reuse these for all kinds of things.Mum must be getting more forgetful as for the first time in years (and I mean years) she didn’t buy me my usual slim handbag diary for Christmas so I looked for a cheap one in Poundland  – I should be able to spot this colourful one easily in my handbag – I carry one about to jot down appointment times, phone numbers or anything I need to make a note of whilst I am out (most people would probably use their phones but I am not a phone user – I still like paper – you don’t have to remember to charge it!).  Whilst out shopping I also took advantage of the reductions on Christmas cards and bought a couple of packs with 50% off to put away for next Christmas.

Staying snug and warm by the fire, watching old movies in the afternoon on the Talking Pictures channel, laughing at ‘For the Love of Ada’ – a comedy from the 70’s ,  a little reorganising and cleaning around the house, a few bright spots of colour placed here and there in each room, writing thank you notes to friends, flicking through my magazines for ideas and lots of planning for the year ahead – a pleasurable way to get through the long grey days of winter.

As Edith Sitwell says – winter is a time for home.

Baby X is now doing well – I think we are on the turn and mum and dad are easing into a routine – one with little sleep – but starting to find their feet now and feel more confident – they dealt with the problems that arose very well and deserved a medal for their perseverance – having a tiny baby relying on you for everything is especially hard when mum herself has post delivery problems that needs attention too.  Thank you for all your good wishes – it is very much appreciated.

I will be putting a tab at the top of my blog just for recipes of anything I mention here – do bear with me this may take a little time to do.

Hope you are enjoying your winter days x

crEAting Christmas ~ day 17

Mince pies Mince piesDay 17 – I swapped my Advent task today to make the mince pies  – after all Christmas would not be Christmas without them even though I can only eat one or two as they don’t really agree with me now.  I often bake these tiny ones as they make a lovely token gift and this batch was to take in to my old workplace for my former colleagues.

I was eager to try out the new kitchen tool I found at the local hardware store when we were in Scotland.  It is a wooden pastry tamper – it cost about £5 and is double ended for pressing the pastry of small or large circles into the trays.

I was impressed – it works a treat and gives the pies a professional look.  To save time I used the ready-made roll of all butter short crust pastry – I like the fact it has all natural ingredients.  I was a bit disappointed that the finished pastry case is a little on the thick side; if I used it again I would put the rolling-pin over it to make it slightly thinner.

Mince piesThe thickness didn’t affect the taste though, the pastry was ‘melt in the mouth’ with no soggy bottoms.  After a dusting of icing sugar I packaged them up onto these little white trays (I collected during the year from Chocolate Mini Rolls) lined with a doyley and added a sprinkling of confetti – green metallic holly leaves. Mince piesI also took in a tray of the chocolates.  Well it is Christmas.

It is getting very close now to the big day – most of my list has been ticked off and just a few bits and pieces left to do but if they don’t get done I wouldn’t be worried. The traffic in town and the village is building up and the shops getting busier so it is taking longer to do anything that requires leaving the house.  I expect it will get worse over the weekend.

There still seems to be an awful lot of stock to shift in the shops and the prices are steadily dropping but there is nothing now that I need to buy.  We have all the gifts ready and a spare emergency one just in case.  My family Not so Secret Santa gift was for my younger daughter and she needed a coat that fit her now she has had the baby.  I bought part of it for her birthday too (as it is in December) and suggested she start wearing it now rather than wait for Christmas.  We wouldn’t normally do that but there was no point in her being cold until Christmas Day.

We have a family 21st party on Sunday at my sisters and then I am looking forward to a quiet Christmas at home.

 

fEAsible ~ a little baking and a lot more planning

Christmas cake Christmas cakeA nice quiet Sunday spent baking my Christmas cake whilst singing along to my favourite CD of Christmas Carols to get me in the mood.  DH had gone to the final concert in town and I had the afternoon to myself so once the cake was parcelled up and in the oven I had another go at my Christmas card.  I have so many varying Robins now but none are quite right and I am in two minds as to whether to ditch the idea and do something else.

On Saturday morning DH finished the shelving in the shed and today I remembered to take some pictures.  Garden shed Garden shedHe has done a fantastic job – plenty of hooks and shelving and the melamine from the old wardrobe will make the shelves easy to wipe down (and I am so pleased we could repurpose the wood and we didn’t have to take it to the landfill).  All I have to do now is put the contents back – but that will be another day – as will painting the outside as it is still too damp for the paint to stick.

We can however tackle the next maintenance job on the list – re-staining the front door surround and painting the door as it is well protected under the porch roof.   DH made a start this morning while it was both sunny and dry.

It was also completely still; no wind at all – the towels I hung on the line did not move an inch and came back in almost as damp as when I hung them out.I spent the day taking stock of what I have done and what I still have to do.  After a few hectic days I needed to check up on our finances and other bits and pieces and generally have a little time to think.

I added a few more tasks to my list as they came to mind – this time of year there are so many little jobs to remember – picking things up, dropping things off, and plenty of decisions to make – trying not to overlook anything.

Following on from my previous list of initial preparations I have a further list (no surprises there!) that is more about cleaning and preparing the house ready to decorate with the Christmas trimmings and also to make sure I have stocked up with all the basics so I don’t find myself running out to the shops on Christmas Eve for batteries or loo rolls.

One of the first things I do is to check the basic stocks in cupboards and drawers of non food items such as toiletries and household items – shampoo, toilet rolls, greaseproof paper, kitchen foil, batteries etc.  I have a reminder list of these items and I generally make a note to stock up with these things well before Christmas so I don’t run out or have to think about them when I am too busy doing other Christmas shopping.

I will then plan to eat up any of those odd bits from the freezer and clean it out.  Once this is done I can prepare some meals like the Nut loaf for our Christmas dinner and restock with the basics like peas, frozen chips and bread.

This is also a good time to have a quick check to see that any evening wear / party outfits are in good order and drop them off for dry cleaning (though I normally only buy washable clothes these days).

Finally I have a quick check over the Christmas lights to see they are in working order.

Cleaning plans

I do like my home to be relatively clean for Christmas especially before all the decorations go up and it gets difficult to clean.  I make a note of tasks that need to be done in each room and anything outside.

I like to give the downstairs rooms a good clean, knocking the dust off the lampshades!  I find that adding a bit of polish to the white goods and small appliances gives them a bit of a sparkle and of course I include giving the oven a good clean.  Once the main rooms look passable I can bring out the Christmas bits and pieces like my cute knitted Christmas pudding tea cosy and robin napkins that my daughter printed and made, my little Christmas china mug and plate and the Christmas candles and holders; by this time adding a few little finishing touches to the house it is beginning to look quite festive but not over done.  The tree and staircase garland are not installed until much nearer Christmas.

During November I will have been clipping away looking for some fresh ideas for the Christmas trimmings.  I have on the list to buy the tree and make a wreath and this I find is getting earlier each year.

DH usually decides where the outside lights are going to go – I leave this job to him and how many lights we have will depend on how much time he has to put them up and how much enthusiasm.  We lost our tree in the front garden a few years ago but still have a number of large shrubs and a climber that we fix lights to but also two tall metal cones made of sturdy chicken wire that look like Christmas trees when decorated.  I have made a note for DH to do the lights in November (thanks to Sadie from Notes from an ordinary life) in readiness for the switch on in December.

If we are having guests to stay over Christmas I will clean and prepare the guest room and check the bedding and also make a note of any specific dietary needs for any fussy visitors.

I have been doing quite a bit of the cleaning as I have decluttered recently so I feel I am well ahead but that could all change.  On a blustery day I might even wash the cushion covers and throws too so they smell fresh.

Well those are the plans so I had better get started now – lots still to do.  You would think after years of practice I must be getting better at this – but somehow it can still fee a bit of a rush to be ready on time.