Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Plum clafoutis

You may remember I collected some free plums on my dog walk the other day. They're weren't fully ripe of course but I intended on using them to make a plum clafoutis anyway.

This is the recipe I used:-

Butter a pie dish (I forgot to do this!). Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of Demerara sugar in to the bottom of a pie dish and mix with 1 tsp of mixed spice of cinnamon. Cut the plum flesh from the stone ( as mine weren't quite ripe, the flesh came away in smaller pieces, but if they are halved then lay them cut side down on top of the sugar). In a liquidiser mix 300ml milk (any variety will do), another 2 tablespoons sugar, 3 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla essence, 1 tsp cinnamon and 75g flour (again any variety is fine but I think it needs to be white personally). Once fully combined pour over the plums and cook in a moderate oven (170c) for about an hour until set and lightly brown on top. You can sprinkle with icing sugar before serving, but I didn't bother.
You can serve it on its own or with cream or custard. I had some custard powder left over so used that.
It tasted yummy and smelled lovely whilst cooking. You can use any stone fruit I guess - cherries or apricots would be good and you could alter the spicing by adding nutmeg or indeed ground almonds or almond essence?

Mr D and I have stopped clearing now. The house is pretty much all done bar the kitchen and we have cleared out under the house and the garage. Two massive loads to the charity shop and three tip runs. I even managed to donate all her unused hearing aid batteries to Brixham Does Care, for which they were very grateful. I'm glad we have managed to donate such a lot and find uses for lots of it too. A lot of the towels and old sheets are going to a friend who teaches art to make felt or canvases and several rolls of textured wallpaper which can be used for screen printing or some such apparently. I found some hats to go to the drama department and a lot of Spanish language books to go to the sixth form.
Fortunately my Mum didn't have a lot of stuff in her house - just the normal things we all have for day to day living on the whole. I have been thinking about my aunt's house though - she is nearly 92 and has lived in the same house since she was 9! I suspect it may be a whole different ballgame!!!

Monday, 27 July 2015

More clearing

Mr D and I are back at my Mums house for a few days continuing with the clearing. I had the difficult task of clearing out all her clothes yesterday but we now have three suitcases worth to take to charity. In fact, with the clothes, books, ornaments and kitchen paraphernalia we could open up our own charity shop! I now need to hope that the charity shop can cope with this much or I'll have to spread it out across several!

Just the tip of the iceberg to go to the charity shop

What I need to watch out for is that I don't bring too much home with me 'just in case'. I have the same inability to waste stuff that Mum had, so I'm definitely at risk!

Sorry terrible photo, but Mr D was still snoozing so I couldn't turn the light on! There are a lot of books in the house, but I'm hoping to deal with a fair number this time round at least.

The garden is still looking good - we've had a gardener popping in every fortnight - but it definitely looked at its best on the day of the funeral.
We had some of mum's soup from the deepfreeze yesterday for lunch. It felt a little odd, but as Mr D said, she would not want it wasted! She made loads of soup - courgette and cumin, tomato, carrot and coriander. I'm really pleased that we have managed to eat pretty much everything from her two deepfreezes rather than having to throw it away.
It's a shame the weather is a bit naff! Not such a stunning view from the sun porch this morning.

I think when we go back, we will leave with a good sense of 'mission accomplished' knowing that we are another step nearer getting the house cleared. Hopefully, come the Autumn time, interest in the house will pick up. Selling a house in the summer down here isn't easy, but I'm going to pop in to the agents before we head back to reiterate that it needs to be sold BEFORE the winter!
The sun is really trying, so I'd better get myself going for another day of sorting ........

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Homity pie

If any of you have ever eaten at Cranks restaurants, you may well have tasted their wonderful homity pie. I love it and when Mum and I used to go over to Dartington Cider Press Centre we would sometimes nip into Cranks for lunch - homity pie was always my 'go to' meal with a selection of their salads.

I made one large pie and three individual, although I could only manage half an individual pie with all that salad.


This is the link to the recipe. I served it with a mixed green salad with plenty of watercress, a bean salad with spring onions and peppers and a carrot, poppy seed and apricot salad, but you could obviously serve it with whatever you fancy. It is neither vegan nor gluten free I'm afraid ( eldest daughter is in Paris this week) but very economical, freezes well and great tasting!


I also made a banana and carrot cake. I use the Waitrose recipe, adding mixed spice to the mix. I didn't have any walnuts or pecans, so I added some macadamia nuts and some cashews. You could leave the nuts out altogether if you prefer. It's my favourite carrot cake recipe and can easily be turned into GF by using the correct flour and vegan by using egg replacer. I also add a little cinnamon to the topping or orange zest.

Mr D and I went on a nice dog walk this morning and came back with a tub of blackberries from a sunny spot along the Wey Navigation and a small bag of plums from a tree at the very back of the local park. Can't beat free food!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Monday, 20 July 2015

Bits and bobs

I've been spending some 'unplugged' time this weekend. I find myself trawling through the Internet too often if I'm on my iPad, so I've not even brought it downstairs until much later in the day. Consequently I've been outside a lot more and felt more peaceful. I think I will try to limit the time I have phone/iPad/TV more and more - it's too easy to stupify in front of screens and before I know it, I've wasted an hour or more achieving nothing!

You'll be pleased to here that Jet is an absolute treasure :) he's been so well behaved and calm and he seems to be very happy here. Our only concern is that he is limping a bit. I think a) he has a pre existing injury to his right shoulder (apparently he fell off the settee as a puppy), b) he is overweight and c) he is unfit and not used to the amount of exercise he is now getting! He had some fantastic walks along the canal at the weekend and was running all over the place like a puppy, but then  became very stiff later in the day. I've given him a very gentle, shorter walk this morning and will do the same again this afternoon just to give him a rest day and we will start him in some anti-inflammatories too to ease the stiffness. He doesn't seem to be in pain which is a good thing. Getting anything done around the house isn't easy as he is constantly by my side, but I have managed to get him to stay downstairs so the cats can have the freedom and peace of upstairs. They are distinctly unimpressed with his arrival!!

His previous owner sent us this photo of him as a puppy x

I harvested the last of the loganberries (5 kilo in all from 3 plants!) and broad beans at the weekend and picked the first pattypan squash - they are very cute! I'm going to google some recipe ideas as I haven't cooked them before. Do any of you use them?

Sorry - blurry photo! 
 I made a start on a new craft project this weekend too, which I'm very excited about. I will of course write a post about it when I've finished, but here is a teaser.....

My ever present helper!
 This is an idea which has been in my head since I went to Barcelona for my 40th eight years ago!! I'm hoping it will finally reach fruitition now!!

Mr D starts his summer holidays tomorrow. He is much in need of a break, so we are hoping to be out on lots of dog walks if the weather stays as good as it has been!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

An appraisal of my first 'simple' year

This time last year, I was coming to the end of six and a half years working at my last school and potentially also the end of my working life. It was a funny old time full of mixed emotion - fear, excitement, relief, confusion, sadness and hope. I didn't start blogging straight away, but have been looking back at the notebook I kept in those early weeks and also the first few blog posts where I talked about what I wanted from the year ahead and beyond.

This post from November - http://happeninguponhappiness.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/project-me-part-two.html#comment-form talks about what I wanted for me to 'recover' from the overload of stress I had been feeling before leaving work. It took me at least three months to start to see any improvements, but after a while I felt like a new person!

At the end of the year, I am certainly doing more of the things I enjoy; I've made lots of craft things; I've read more; I have enjoyed making bread and yoghurt (although I could do it much more often); I've had the tattoo, do my own manicure and pedicures and have saved hundreds of pounds NOT having my hair cut! We are certainly eating well and I have lost about half a stone, but I could be drinking even less wine and probably still need to lose the other half stone! I spend loads of time outside, gardening and walking or just sitting and contemplating life! I have read more, but could certainly do to watch less TV and 'unplug' myself from technology more often, choosing to read a good book instead. I purged my wardrobe and haven't bought a single new item of clothing since last September - something which I have found liberating.
I am more on top of things and have kept better organised, but I still haven't got a good enough routine and I sometimes find myself de motivated, which irritates me.
All in all, I feel I have achieved what I set out to achieve.
I am most proud of how much healthier I feel both mentally and physically and of how much kinder I am to myself.

Paying off the mortgage to become debt free was a highlight, but of course, Mum's illness and subsequent death has caused a great deal of stress. Mind you, if I hadn't been working so hard on becoming a better person, it could have taken me under, so 'every cloud' and all that!

Over the course of the next 12 months, I want to .......
  • Continue to simplify my home by clearing out clutter, completing outstanding tasks and designing and adopting a simple routine and rhythm to my daily life which encorporates the way of life I believe is important
  • I would like to watch less TV, read more and teach myself more new skills such as knitting, crotchet, patchwork
  • I will aim to meditate more often and continue with the daily walks (easier with a dog!), allowing myself time to appreciate my surroundings and be grateful for the improvement in my wellbeing.
  • Continue to live frugally, looking to save money where I can, only buying what we need, whilst also succumbing to the odd treat here and there, but enjoying it fully because of it's rarity! 
  • Keep squirrelling away savings towards our master plan. 
How would you assess your last year and do you have any plans for the next year to improve your wellbeing or quality of life? 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

A new addition to the family

We have been thinking about getting a dog for ages. Before we had the children, we bought a Golden Retriever called Woody. He was the best dog - loving, well behaved and fabulous with the children and all the other animals that we introduced along the way. Woody was an integral part of our family for nearly 16 years and it was crippling when he finally became too ill. For quite some time none of us could face another dog and then I went back to work so cats seemed a better bet as they are so much more independent. When I stopped working, we started talking about dogs again, but couldn't agree. Mr D wanted a puppy, I wanted a smaller dog and a rescue dog, my son wants a husky (!!) and so on and so on ..... The discussion would happen, none of us could agree, so it was put on the back burner again.
However, an opportunity has arisen and so we have adopted a black labrador. His name is presently Jet although that may change, he is 2 years old and his owner is working full time and cannot give him the attention he needs. She has therefore made the tough, but brave decision to put him up for adoption to a home where someone is around during the day. He came on a day visit on Sunday - I wanted to see how he was with the chickens before making a decision. He was calm, friendly, good with other dogs, fairly disinterested in the chickens (they were thinking, jeez foxes are sure getting big these days!). The cats were disgusted with us, but they can fend for themselves and I'm sure they will find a way to let him know that they were there first! He's a bit porky, so will be put on a diet and gentle exercise routine to get him back into shape, but I get the feeling he will settle in just fine. 
When we move to our bigger house in the country, we will look at having a second dog, probably a puppy and Jet can teach him the ropes! 

Monday, 13 July 2015

25 insights

I've read a number of blogs recently where the author has put up 25 interesting facts about themselves. I can't promise the following will be of interest, but here goes:-

1. I will eat everything except mushy peas, tinned spaghetti hoops and pot noodles. Oh and Turkish delight!
2. I learned to plait hair on my grandmothers hair, which had been cut off when she was a girl and preserved in a long ponytail. Slightly macabre, but at least the previous owner of the hair was still alive and well at that point!
3. I speak fluent French although it's a little rusty at the moment from lack of use. At Uni I spent an academic year teaching in a French school with another English colleague. I was often asked if she was my English pen pal - much to her irritation!
4. I had a tattoo of a rose on my lower back in my early thirties and another one of a bird on my right ankle done about a fortnight ago. If my Mum had even known, I would NEVER have heard the last of it!!
5. My favourite colour is blue but I also love white (technically not a 'colour').
6. I love classical music, but our music collection has everything from Gregorian Chants to Iron Maiden! I don't like Iron Maiden!
8. I am both the oldest sibling and the youngest sibling. I was adopted as a baby and have an older brother. I also have two blood siblings, a sister and a brother, who are both younger than me!
9. I can't ride a bike because I have terrible balance. I was also rubbish at skiing for the same reason. My older brother taught me to ride, but it was a very frustrating experience for both of us!
10. I take sadistic pleasure in dropping slugs into boiling hot, salty water!
11. I am married to an ex stripper. Yes, Mr D once had a sideline, mostly whilst at Uni, as a stripogram. Unfortunately my Mum and Dad found out from the best man's speech at our wedding - oops!
12. My guilty pleasure is watching programmes about hoarding. It fascinates me,  although I err more on the minimalist side of things!
13. I'm rubbish at sport. I was always the last one to be picked for the school teams. I then married a PE teacher.
14. The bridesmaid at our wedding was one of our Year 10 students. She was also a guest at our Wedding Vow renewal in 2012.
15. I haven't bought a single item of clothing for 11 months, having set myself a challenge last September.
16. I have a scar on my right thigh after I caught it on a nail in a fence whilst playing kiss chase!
17. I always wanted to be a teacher, setting up my dolls and teddies as a class and taking registers!
18. In my first year of teaching, I was homeless for a short while, living out of my car and dossing on  people's settees!
19. My biggest fear is drowning. I once wanted to die rather than continue on an horrendous ferry crossing from Roscoff to Plymouth, as my sea sickness was so bad. I still get travel sick on most long journeys. My mother used to give me ground up, pink 'Joy Ride' tablets, mixed in her raspberry jam. For many years, I disliked raspberry jam because of that!
20. As a little girl I had a length of silk ribbon from an old blanket, which I would take everywhere. It was often absolutely disgusting! I wrapped it around my fore finger whilst sucking my thumb. Fortunately I grew out of it!
21. I would love to live near running water and rustling trees - two of my favourite sounds. Despite loving the sun and going brown very easily, I prefer the verdant landscapes of cooler countries to the arid, rocky landscapes of hotter climates.
22. I have no fillings and have strong nails, and until 5 years ago, had never broken a bone. Then I broke my little toe by stubbing it on a dining room chair!
23. I was given a box of chocolates by Jeffrey Archer when I was at University at a charity dinner. He was the guest speaker and I won them in the raffle. He was actually quite entertaining!
24. I worked as an usherette in Paignton Theatre; I taught English to foreign students and gave guided coach tours of London; I have worked as a barmaid and a waitress; I have been a stenographer for a lettings agent; I was a childminder; I did lots of babysitting as a teenager; I have been a PA for a local surveyor and I was an Au Pair in Austria and of course I have been a teacher.
25. And finally, my favourite place to be? My home and in particular, my garden or by bed!

Thank you to Her Indoors, Him Outdoors for inspiring me this morning!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Insect house

I went to Wisley with my eldest daughter yesterday and enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours strolling around the gardens. The gardens look good at all points in the year, but the mixed borders and rose gardens were particularly gorgeous.

Nepeta in the foreground and a wild flower garden in the background

I do love the look of wild flowers 

I love going in their vegetable garden too drooling over the wonderful rows of vegetables. I'm always envious of the set up they have there. One day .........
When we were strolling around their 'sample gardens' I spotted this bug house which I had admired back in October.

I have some spare roof tiles and bricks at the bottom of the garden, so I can feel a project coming on if I can fine a spot to build one. I guess the back corner of the chicken run might work as the girls would love the extra company!!

They had an Alice in Wonderland theme this  week. This 'structure' was impressive! We noticed the lack of drug taking  paraphernalia with this version though!

This beautiful grass looked as if it had been sprayed gold. Against the blue of the sky, it was very striking. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Cheap as chips

If I say so myself, I was very pleased with the frugality of last night's tea. I hadn't planned to have this tea, but when it came to it, I really fancied curry.
We had garlic and cumin roasted new potatoes; Gujarati style cabbage, carrot and coriander; tomato and chick pea curry and dry roasted spiced cauliflower. I didn't use any recipes, just a little of this and a little of that. I am fortunate to have a good stock of spices to dip into.

I have done a reasonably detailed break down of costs and calculated that the entire meal cost a mere 70p per head for the six of us. Of course if I had used my own potatoes, garlic and onions and the coriander hadn't gone to seed, it would have been even cheaper, but nevertheless I was pleased with the outcome.

The only negative? It's all the same colour! However, it was very tasty, low fat and of course high in fibre! It is also naturally vegan and gluten free.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015


I met up with a friend yesterday for a walk and a coffee. She, like me, gave up work recently without another job to go to. For a few precious months, she is allowing herself time to catch up with everything, plan her new venture and just be. We were talking about how both of us have had huge amounts of stress to deal with over the last few months, but that we had been better placed to handle it due to our new, simpler way of life.  I mentioned that the lovely Mr D often asks me "What have you done today?", when he gets home. I struggle a bit with this question for two reasons - a) despite doing lots, none of it is particularly noteworthy, so I end up saying "Not much" or "just the usual" and b) I'm not sure I want my day measured by what I have done.
Modern society seems to be entirely based around doing and achieving. If you haven't squeezed 14 hours of activity into a 12 hour day, you are lazy, a lesser being. People should 'have it all', juggling every aspect of their lives - working, volunteering, child rearing, housekeeping, finding time to go to the gym, socialising, caring etc etc...
Even holidays aren't spent relaxing anymore - long gone are the days of deckchairs and knotted hankies with the most excitement coming from a donkey ride on the beach and an ice cream!
I know I'm guilty of this mentality. I am still judging myself if I haven't achieved a whole list full of things every day and if one more person asks me "what are you doing with your time now you're retired?", I might explode. I am 48 and NOT retired and I do what everyone else does with their day if they aren't going to work!
This morning, before 12, I have fed and watered the chickens and cleaned them out, fed and watered the cats, swept the floors and hoovered the lounge and stairs, the dishwasher has been emptied, the porch has been swept, I've wiped down the bathrooms, the beds have been made, I've mowed the lawn, strimmed the edges, cut the hedge and pruned, I've caught up with my neighbour over the fence, the bins have been emptied, I've done a load of washing and hung it out and ironed 18 items of clothing and put them away. This afternoon, I will plan the menu for next week and write the shopping list, I will cook a meal for later, clear another drain (I know!!!!) and replace the batteries in the smoke alarms.
I'm doing these things not because I feel the need to be doing and certainly not because I wish to be competitively measured by how much I've done. I'm doing these things simply because they need doing in order to make our lives pleasanter. I won't be reporting back to Mr D this evening on the days achievements, but he will come home to a clean and tidy house, a nice meal and clean, pressed clothes to wear in his wardrobe.
Perhaps I'd like his question to be "What was your favourite moment today?" Or "what has made you happy today?"

Monday, 6 July 2015

All at sea

Although unfortunately not off a Maldivian island in the Indian Ocean .....

I'm talking more emotionally here! I feel as if I've been cast adrift and am floating around aimlessly. I don't know what direction I'm heading in and can't seem to grip on to anything to anchor me back into my life. I haven't written a post for ages because I can't seem to focus on anything long enough.
I'm going through the motions, still managing to do the necessary cleaning, washing, ironing and cooking, but I could do that afloat in a stormy sea with my eyes shut. I've been doing that for that last 35 years in some guise or other. If you looked in to my life from the outside, you would imagine everything was ticking along as normal and occasionally it all feels fine, but then I wake up feeling utterly lost. Normally I don't hold much store by dreams - they are frankly just the detritus from the day being churned around in your brain as your sleep, but last night my entire dream was about knowing I needed to get somewhere but not being able to find anyone to help me get there. If that isn't an analogy of my life at the moment, I don't know what is!
I should probably take comfort from the same old routine and the wheels rolling along, carrying me with them. However, there's a very big part of me going mad with frustration at not moving forward! I guess, I feel it even more keenly now I've lost my Mum, my anchor to my past. I long to move on the next stage of my life before it's too late. You never know what is around the corner. I certainly hadn't expected to lose my Mum this year.
I think I'm going to need to find a temporary anchor to allow me to cope with the next 12 months before we can make our move to achieving my longed for vision. Any suggestion anyone?

By the way the photo above is from our 20th Wedding Anniversay trip to the Maldives three years ago. It was THE most amazing place I have ever been to. We are hoping that once Mum's estate is sorted, we may be able to eek out another visit before all the islands sink with global warming. I know its not massively frugal and indeed you could argue it goes against my anti-consumerism standpoint, but it's so very very beautiful........

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Mexican street salad

I'm always on the look out for new recipes to try out. I'm not good at eating the same food too often, although, having said that, all our food mostly revolves around the same trio of veg, pulses and spices!
I came across Jamie Oliver's Mexican salad recipe online and thought it looked interesting. I'm not a huge fan of lime, so it was a risk, but one which turned out to be well worth taking!


As is often my way, I tweaked his recipe. He used red cabbage, but I didn't have any, so I used more white cabbage and for some colour added finely sliced purple mangetout on top. I have a jar of jalapÄ“no peppers so used those. 

Aren't they gorgeous? Because I grow a lot of my fruit and veg in the flower border, I chose some coloured varieties this year - ruby broad beans and these purple podded mangetout. They taste the same but add a striking dimension on the salad and look great in the border.

I served it with some simply boiled new potatoes, although Jamie reckons it goes very well with grilled chicken or pork chops. We all thought it would be a great addition to a BBQ too.