Friday 30 August 2013

A wander through my garden

Eating apples, similar to golden delicious
It is nice to explore the garden with my camera, I'm looking forward to the harvest that will be coming up soon!

Thursday 29 August 2013

A little bit of history

I was recently given these two old jars that came from my gran's house. I can't help but wonder what is the history of these two objects. I believe that she has kept them for many years and they must have been important to her as they stayed even when she drastically downsized everything for her last house. Were they from her first marriage? Her mothers? Or just something that she always loved?

Can I find a use for them without adding more clutter to my home?!

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Rearranging living space

The room 'before'
We have had a rethink on renting out a room. We would love the cash but don't really want to have a stranger in our home, this is probably one of the reasons it has taken so long to get the room finished. So rather than continue to drag our feet over this and lose the use of a decent size room we have decided that it is to become the spare/music/office room. Hopefully everything should fit in!

The sludgy brown is wallpaper that went across the whole back.
This frees up our current spare room, a lovely little bedroom at the back of the house. My eldest is beginning to need more space now but my youngest is not yet ready to move out of their bedroom. So my solution is to create a dressing room/playroom for my youngest. It is actually a fully dressed bedroom but nobody is admitting this! It is good to get the large toys out of their shared room and the new space is getting a lot of play, I like to see my little one sneak away for a quiet hour in his own room.

The new spare room is on the ground floor and the décor was inspired by No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath, specifically this room. The Edwardian fire surround was found by J's mother who had planned to use it in her own house but it wouldn't work. It nearly didn't work here, the proportions seemed odd until I did some googling and noticed that in every photo I found this style fire surround in the rooms also had picture rails. So up went the rails and it now looks as if it has always been here.
Another after.
This room has been almost finished for a while. This past weekend I moved our books onto the shelves in there (part of rearranging our living room). Now it actually feels complete, a proper room rather than an odd 'doesn't get used often' room. You may spot that there is no desk in here yet,  eventually it will sit in front of the window where the keyboard is. Where I'm going to put the keyboard then I don't know!

Tuesday 27 August 2013


One of the disadvantages of our home is that we can't easily see the sunset. When I do catch it I like to take the time to enjoy it.
Sunsets are beautiful.

Monday 26 August 2013

Tinned potatoes

Saag aloo
I have been reintroduced to tinned potatoes thanks to Jack Monroe from the blog, 'A girl called Jack'. That's right, I did say tinned potatoes. Those salty, disgusting white blobs that people use when camping. But tinned potatoes have changed since I last used them.

For a start they are not salty. And secondly... actually I can't think of any other improvements. They are still pretty vile in my opinion. But they do have a couple of plus points: they are cheap, they are convenient and storage is simple.

So, what do you do with a tin of potatoes? Well, I tried sautéing them. This was a disaster but then I have never successfully sautéed anything, I suspect that I'm too mean with the fat.

My second attempt was to roast them. I drained the potatoes and put them in a bowl. I poured over a little oil and a generous spoon of dried rosemary. If I had had dried garlic I would have added that too. Finally a sprinkling of sea salt (table would do) and then gave it a good mix before pouring it into a hot tray ready to roast in the oven. They don't take too long and prep was much quicker than peeling potatoes. On the downside they had an odd texture but I could forgive them this for the yummy, crunchy coating. A semi-success. I don't think that I'd like them without the extra flavour but they are definitely worth keeping in mind if I need to rustle up a meal quickly.

The third attempt was to tip them into a casserole. Absolutely brilliant. They absorbed the flavour of the meal so there was no odd taste and the texture seemed fine. I am definitely using them for this again!

Fourth attempt was dauphinoise potatoes. Semi-success, when eaten with lots of the cream mixture they were very yummy. Without it you could taste that they were tinned potatoes. So an okay meal but one I probably won't bother with again.

Final meal, saag aloo; I followed my own simple recipe for this. Chop up one small onion finely, gently fry it with a spoonful of Balti paste. Add garlic, stir, then add the chopped cooked potatoes and spinach. Just a couple of minutes to cook the spinach and you're done. With tinned potatoes this meal was still great... until you ate the potato and that odd taste was back again.

Overall I found that as a family we are very fussy about our potatoes! It was a good experiment and I am definitely going to be keeping a couple of tins in the larder from now on. Very convenient but ultimately fresh is best.

Friday 23 August 2013

Easy Garlic Bread

Recently, this has been one of our favourite snacks, easy garlic bread. It is a buttered piece of sliced bread on which an inch of garlic paste has been spread over. A minute or two under the grill and it's done. You have to go easy with the garlic paste as it's pretty salty.

Ever since I've worked as a waitress many, many years ago, I have been making garlic bread. For the base I will usually use a decent bread that is beginning to go stale. I would mix up some butter, garlic and herbs to generously spread over. Always a bit of a faff softening the butter but worth it. It never crossed my mind to use boring sliced bread but it is ideal for using up the crusts that nobody wants. Unfortunately our paste is now all used and won't be replaced anytime soon. We're now on the fresh garlic thanks to our garden. So whilst garlic bread is still an option, it's not quite so quick to prepare.  

Thursday 22 August 2013

Ever flowering wisteria

Wisteria on our shed
We have a wisteria plant that is currently hiding our workshop. Even if we wanted to open the doors we wouldn't be able to, some major pruning will be happening next spring. For the moment I am puzzled by the flowers. This is the second flowering this year. Are we just very lucky or did the previous owners plant two varieties? Perhaps this too will be answered when we prune. For now I will allow the bees to enjoy the flowers.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Why Tarot?

I have always been attracted to fortune telling but my scientific nature has stopped me from exploring this field though I couldn't resist a second hand pack of tarot cards that I picked up many years ago in a charity shop. I have played with these on and off over the years but not truly put in the time to understand them. It has taken me a long time to be settled in my own mind about my mixed feelings towards the cards.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Getting ready for winter

House wood store
We've been working hard, getting our wood ready for the winter cold. The wood store by the house has been filled with all of the 'odd' pieces you inevitably get when working with wood. This particularly includes the knotty pieces that we now choose to cut short as they are such a pain to split when in longer lengths.

Monday 19 August 2013

Tractor working

J using his 'new' trailer whilst test driving mower
I have my ride on lawn mower back in action! It currently cuts the grass at a slightly lopsided angle so there is still more tweaking to be done... but it's better than pushing the old mower. Very, very pleased.

Mower refused to start a second time! (working now though) 

Friday 16 August 2013

I've been sewing

In assessing the clothes in my wardrobe alongside my lifestyle it is clear that many layers are useful. I have quite a few knit-fabric vest tops but their numbers are slowing shrinking as time passes.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Washing up

On my to do list this August is to get the washing up done. It does usually get completed daily anyway but it can be known to hang around for a while sometimes - I hate doing it! More often than not my boys are badgered into helping too but the whole process feels like such a hassle.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Playing with blog rolls

I like blog rolls. I find that they are a simple way of keeping up to date with my favourite blogs. I also enjoy poking about in other peoples blog rolls. You may have noticed that one had crept into my sidebar here for a few days... and now it is gone again.

Keyhole garden update

Here's the latest picture of my boys keyhole garden. The tomato plants are taking over! We are having a bit of a problem with pigeons as most of the greens have not survived, something to consider further for next year. I'm planning to fill the gaps with leeks that are currently in pots. Next year (so I've been told by my sons) it is going to become a strawberry mountain! We have that to look forward to.

Tuesday 13 August 2013

Hardy Country

Sunday morning, everybody was up and dressed. Even the washing up had been completed. Obviously it was to be a day to get out somewhere new to us. A quick flick through the National Trust book pointed us in the direction of Hardy country.

Monday 12 August 2013

The box that changed Britain.

BBC4 show some odd little films, and this was one of them, The box that changed Britain. There was some great social history and I learnt a lot about container shipping that I had simply never thought about before. I really enjoyed this film but it's lasting legacy with me is the incredible mass of stuff that gets shipped into our country. Shipping is actually quite a good way of transporting things globally but do we really need so much?

A lot to think on.

Unfortunately The box that changed Britain is only available on BBC iPlayer until midnight tonight.

Correct gloves and a long sleeved top...

Bark path by my leaf mould and compost bins. what I should have been wearing! Today was a big catch up day with hours of weeding and I have the tingling arms to prove it. Whilst I've been keeping up with the veg beds I've not been so good with the surrounding areas such as the compost bins. So today I was on a mission to demolish the nettles - and clean up anything else that I came across in the process.

Friday 9 August 2013


Bindweed, strangling a nettle.
As a child this was my favourite plant in the garden. I really didn't understand why my grandmother would cringe at the site of it. I used to imagine a little seated arbour with bindweed smothered in flowers covering it. Of course, there is nothing to stop me from doing that now apart from a bit more common sense! But despite my battle against it here, seeing the flower here still makes me smile.

Do you remember Victoria Plum? She was a cute little character who wore a bindweed hat, my sister had several of her books. I don't recall the stories well but I always loved her costume.

Thursday 8 August 2013

New trailer!

Garden Trailer
Finally, after a year of keeping our eyes open, we have found an affordable but still sturdy garden trailer. There's a bit of rust and even a few gaping holes but we are still chuffed with it. We plan a fair bit of earth moving at some point, mainly the pond, and this will help save our backs just a little bit. It also tips!

Wednesday 7 August 2013

My boys can cook

£5 of ingredients
Letting our children learn life skills is very important to me. Once a month my boys get to buy and cook a meal for £5. I feel that the buying is important. Much as I want to just give them the ingredients for a good, cheap, meal this doesn't offer the same learning experience as allowing them to make the choices themselves.  Any money left over can roll forward to the next meal. This month they wanted to cook a stir fry.

Shopping: there was a lot of swapping and changing of ingredients as they moved around the supermarket. Apparently the baby sweetcorn was essential even though this took a huge chunk out of their budget. Water chestnuts were snuck in too as was a sachet of cook in sauce. To balance the costs they decided against meat and used a can of cheap kidney beans for protein, they also went for cheap noodles. So not what I consider a cheap meal but it was within the £5 budget.

This was not my favourite meal! They cooked it well but I don't like baby sweetcorn or water chestnuts. I was a good girl, though, and cleaned my plate. I wonder what they will give me next month.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Why do we have lawns?

Middle lawn last spring
Lawns have no practical purpose other than to offer an area to play sport games or sunbathe. They can be hard work requiring at least regular mowing and, being a monoculture, from an environmental point of view make no sense what so ever. Historically they were started by the aristocracy and became a status symbol that has filtered down to our present day gardens.

I have never had a perfect sward. I grew up with lawns full of clover which made a soft and squishy landing for those handstands that went awry. I am pleased to see that it is now creeping across my lawn along with a host of other weeds. When we first moved in here the house and garden had not been touched for over a year and as a result the garden was a wonderful wilderness, my children genuinely got lost in it!

I am slowly trying to eat into the lawn creating new planting beds for added biodiversity. Unfortunately the cost involved to create instant borders is well out of my budget but I am painstakingly taking cuttings and sowing seeds to allow the creation of these in the future. I did try just mowing path ways through much of it last year and it was lovely to see that there were some wild flowers. But soon the cow parsley took over and nettles got a hold of things so I'm back to mowing for now. One day I dream of having a flower meadow at the end of the garden. The soil is too rich to be just wild flowers but I'm sure I can come up with something.

But ultimately, despite knowing all the negatives about lawns, I still love them.

Monday 5 August 2013

Gooseberry cordial

I like my drink so decided to use some of my harvested gooseberries as a cordial. A quick google led me to a recipe on the Islington Tribune site. I don't have lemon verbena but plenty of not so fresh lemons needing to be used up. I adapted the recipe to this:
Gooseberry and lemon cordial
Makes about one litre.
500g gooseberries, washed
200g caster sugar
1 litre water
1 lemon, halved and squeezed
Bring to the boil the gooseberries, sugar, water, lemon juice and lemon halves in a large saucepan. Simmer until gooseberries are soft, about 10 minutes. I then left it to cool overnight. I strained the mix through a cheap jelly bag into a bottle. Shake the bottle before use. 
I actually used the juice of two lemons but one is more than enough. The cordial, when diluted, is a very refreshing slightly tart drink. My boys are not keen on it which is a bonus for me! When making cordial I usually freeze half and keep half in the fridge.


Friday 2 August 2013

The Squeezed middle

Recently there have been quite a few programmes on TV about people in food poverty. There was the 'Great British Budget Menu' which was appalling in just about every way. Where it wasn't completely impractical it was cringingly awful. Essentially three celebrity chefs had to produce a meal at £1 per head... and failed. How?! It's not exactly a hard challenge - though admittedly eating frugal meals day after day is dispiriting and much harder to happily maintain.

The other programme was 'Nick and Margaret: we all pay your benefits'. This paired up a family living off benefits with another family that is earning. Lots of vile judgements shown here. The only redeeming feature of this two-parter was Nick and Margaret discussing that no matter how tightly benefits are squeezed people are still going to claim them because there are not enough jobs. Fact.

Anyway, I'm going off track a little. I've been reading comments in the blogospere and one in particular caught my attention, describing these programmes as aimed not at those with real food poverty but at the squeezed middle.

This is such a wonderful term, the squeezed middle. Not poor but certainly feeling more than a pinch at the current economic situation. Actually, I suspect that it was meant in a derogatory way but it is apt for I, too, am one of the squeezed middle.

I am counting my pennies, live in charity shop clothes and have few luxuries. But whilst money has been getting harder to deal with I still have choices. We could downsize, lose a car, move back to a city. We choose not to and that is the biggest factor. We choose to live off very little in order to have our house in the country and we are lucky to have that choice. True poverty has few choices.

I have other advantages too. I have a garden which produces a harvest. I can cook and, having grown up with no money, I know how to cook cheaply. I am blessed to be able to take advantage of bulk buying and can be flexible with my budget to do so. Importantly, I also have the space to store this.

I am very fortunate. It is humbling to be reminded of that.

Thursday 1 August 2013

July review, August planning

Last months plan:
Wellbeing: Make sure that I take time to appreciate my garden
Home & Garden: Keep on top of the veg patch

We have had a fabulous month, weather wise. Long, dry, hot days. Possibly too hot! But, after the initial few lazy days, the heat has enforced a new routine on me that has worked well. Immediately after breakfast I have been working outside, watering plants and catching up on other chores. I cannot believe how much I have achieved in the past few weeks. When finished, or if it simply became too hot, I would wash and get going with the rest of the day. Something to keep up!
Health: Stretch - keep going!
Hmm, something to keep working on! I am not as bad as I was but there is still much room for improvement.
Arts & Crafts: Puddle art to do
Uh, no. This didn't happen. Most of my creativity has been happening in the garden. But I have been doing some very practical craftwork, sewing. Mainly minor adjustments that make a big difference to how often I wear certain clothes, nothing blogworthy though.
Self Learning: How to store our harvest
Still an ongoing mission. Finding recipes is not a problem but meals that we can all enjoy is a little trickier. I fondly remember making gooseberry fool but have a strong suspicion that my spoilt monkeys would be turning their noses up at this. I did taste some of my wines that are quietly aging... some may be drinkable by Christmas.

Okay... how about next month? With a lot of children likely to be around this is not a time for grand plans!
Wellbeing: Keep sane and plan days out
Home & Garden: Keep on top of the washing up!

Health: Still stretching
Celebrations: Lammas? Carnival
Self Learning: Tarot

What a lot of gooseberries!

The morning's harvest
What am I to do with half a basket of gooseberries? As a child I would make gooseberry fool but I suspect that my boys won't touch it. Gooseberry jam? Definitely an option but probably for the adults and we don't tend to eat much jam. Chutney is another option but we have so many that we don't need yet another. A quick google seems to show that bbc good food have two ideas I fancy trying, cordial and sorbet.

I'll let you know if they are a success!