Wednesday, 28 October 2015

A fascinating book

In the last couple of days, I have finished a very interesting read. My brother, who is a GP, had recommended that my eldest read it at the beginning of her medical studies and also that I might find it helpful in terms of our mothers recent death.
The book is called 'Being Mortal' by Atul Gawande and as the title suggests it is an insight in to how we want our lives to be at the very end of our days and how medicine often fails to take into account the quality of our life other than in terms of our safety, medical and basic survival needs.
It's not an easy read and certainly it's not a barrel of laughs, but I found it very interesting indeed and it has certainly made me think about having the difficult conversation about how we would like our final days to look, with our children earlier rather than later!

Funnily enough, this post ties in rather neatly with this post over on Frugal in Norfolk. It seems many of us are moving away from old, commercial, stuff laden, stressful, work driven lives to simpler, more purposeful, even spiritual lives.

One passage from the book in particular seemed to sum up exactly how I feel about life now. Obviously I'm hoping there's a lot more winding down to be done before my final days, but I certainly feel as if I am on the verge of a new chapter.

"As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures - companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces. We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating, and more interested in the rewards of simply being. Yet while we may feel less ambitious, we also become concerned for our legacy. And we have a deep need to identify purposes outside ourselves that make living feel meaningful and worthwhile."

Also in the book, Atul quotes the philosopher Ronald Dworkin who wrote "The value of autonomy.... lies in the scheme of responsibility it creates:autonomy makes each of us responsible for shaping his own life according to some coherent and distinctive sense of character, conviction and interest. It allows us to lead our own lives rather than be led along them..."

We are all of us looking to be able to take charge of our own lives and live them in the way we feel is right, right up until the very end. It surely is the most important thing for a human being to feel that they have led their lives based on their core values and ideals?

And to cheer you up ....

I brought this oil painting back from Mum's. It's by Ernest Knight and is over 6ft long. It was in her rather large hallway, but I just knew it would look amazing on this bright blue background in my conservatory. It will bring a smile to my face every day - even the dull ones! 

I'm glad you liked the bead idea on my last post. Perhaps it will catch on as a trend?! 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Toilet revamp

Sorry, I've been 'out of action' for a while. Mr D and I went down to Mums to do a final clear out and despite me requesting her Internet provider to keep the house supplied, they obviously hadn't so I wasn't able to post. I'll also have a lot of catching up to do now on everything that everyone else has been up to!
I'll post more about the visit to Devon in a few days, but meanwhile here are some pictures of my refurbished cloakroom, completed just hours before we left for Devon.
We're off to the Isle of White at the end of the week too, so I might be a bit intermittent for this week.

The bathroom in this house used to be at the top of the stairs, but over the years, with remodelling, the main bathroom is now downstairs and upstairs there is a small ensuite and a separate cloakroom. It was looking a bit tired so, partly as part of my general preparations for our next plan and partly just because, I decided to tart it up a bit.
The woodwork got a fresh lick of satinwood, the walls and ceiling were freshened up with matte white and the bathroom cabinet was given a facelift.

It had been orange pine which wasn't looking so good in the bright white room! I painted the whole thing white, then put a duck egg blue in the door recesses and stuck a backdrop of a rather cheerful Japanese paper on the inside. I also replaced the door knobs with porcelain ones with a little floral motif. I'm rather pleased with the overall effect. It certainly looks more cheerful than the dreary orange pine did!

I'm not a fan of those tiles, but replacing them was a whole other ballgame, so they have to stay for the time being! 

I don't know about you, but I find that the pull chords for bathroom lights rapidly look grubby. I had tried to clean ours up to no avail. Obviously I could have easily gone out and bought some new chord, but I decided instead to thread it with brightly coloured wooden beads. They will be much easier to wipe down.

The whole revamp cost me absolutely nothing because I had paint, paper, doorknobs and beads - even better!
Back soon :)

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Making progress

I read Rhonda Hetzel's Down to Earth blog regularly and am always impressed with her sensible approach to living a simpler life. She often gives tips on approaching frugality and simplicity at all stages of life which is great.
When I started changing over to a less consumerist and wasteful life, I adopted many new techniques (many of them from Rhonda's blog) to help the family come along for the ride. On the whole, we have been quite successful. We spend less than we did, we eat healthily, home made gifts are given and there is pretty much zero food waste.

However, I have to say that as the family shrinks, so the whole process becomes easier again. The processes that were put in place in the beginning are still going strong, but I now have less cleaning, less washing, less ironing, less food shopping etc etc. This in turn means that I have more time to catch up on other jobs and time to socialise.

So yes, of course you can adopt a simpler lifestyle as a family with 4 (almost) adult children, but it's surely got to be easier when there are fewer variations, opinions and needs to meet?

I've also been able to work through my huge list of jobs to do on the house. They're those pesky little jobs that get put off - a kind of 'snag list'. Every day, another little job gets done - painting a door frame, sanding down and refilling a rough patch before repainting, decluttering corners of the house and completing small, outstanding DIY repair jobs.
One job I couldn't do was to replace the mortar on the roof. I suspect the original mixture was a little dry and now it's started to crumble and crack, causing large chunks of mortar to slide down the roof. The other week, I climbed out of the bedroom window onto the roof and cleared the dorma gutter from the largest pieces, but I've had to call in the experts to repair it. I've used a company from
Checkatrade, so I'm hoping they are as good as their reviews. The problem with being a teacher is that certain surnames instantly make you think of certain families and not always in a good way! Despite his potential 'pedigree', he seemed like a by nice young man....
I know, I know, I shouldn't judge a book by its cover or even its surname!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Too much thinking!

It's nearing the first anniversary of my blog and I have now had over a year of not working. I am taking some time to reflect. I'm never quite sure if it's a good idea, as I do have a tendency to overthink things, but I can't stop myself perusing my life when I'm home alone most of the time. Jet's lovely and all, but not a great conversationalist!
Overall, I am still very contented with my new way of life and I'm sure this is the way I want to be living. I enjoy the creativity, the home building, the simplicity and the mindful approach to life.
The one area where I am less confident, is that I still feel my life controls me rather than me being in control of where I want to be and what I want to do. For many years now, I have had a vision of the type of life I want to embrace in this next stage of my life. There have been lots of reasons along the way that have prevented me from just 'going for it' - mum, husband's job, my job, children's education, finances... You know, exactly the things that keep many people tied to a life not quite as they'd like it to be.
Some of those responsibilities have now gone - my job, mum. The children are starting to leave home and by the end of this academic year, only one will be left at home (poor soul!). Thanks to my father's frugality and my mother's willingness to take the odd risk financially, the financial situation will be the best it's ever going to be for us in the next few months. Thanks to our own sensible planning, we have no debt and are in a position to embrace a change of lifestyle.
And yet, I still feel fear that it will never happen; that I'll be forever on the inside, looking out at the life I'd like to have. I think that losing mum has had a huge impact. I feel derailed, lost, disconnected.
It's rare in life that circumstances coincide to make things possible, but in my mind, losing mum, the change in our family situation and the enhanced finances should all lead to the opportunity to move forward. I need to get back on my wagon so to speak. This is surely the time?!
What circumstances encouraged/forced you to change your lives and how did you convince yourselves to be brave enough to take the leap?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Cheddar cheese soup

From some of the comments on my last post, it seems several of you like the sound of the soup. It's a Cranks recipe. I thought it might be online, but I can't find it, so thought I'd post the recipe for you :)

1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 potato, peeled and chopped
About 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1oz butter/margarine
1pt vegetable stock
I crushed garlic clove
Thyme and sage (about 1/2tsp each dried or more if fresh)
1/2 pint milk
6oz grated cheddar
Salt and pepper

Soften the onion and garlic in the butter in a large pan, add the herbs and other veg with the stock. Simmer until soft. Liquidise, then add the milk and cheese. Reheat until the cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Serves 4-6)

I tend to use a combo of potato, carrot, parsnip and swede in mine. I've not tried it with sweet potato or turnip but I guess you could, she says doubtfully! I also add way more veg than they suggest. This last time, it was so thick already that I didn't add the milk - it was still delicious. I tend to use extra strong cheddar too.

Mr D thought it would be fun to photograph all of the jams, marmelades, chutneys etc I have made this year.....

Some of the flavours from the last couple of years

I think I may have gone slightly overboard?! 77 jars in total plus all the little bits which didn't fit in the jars which are being used up out of the fridge. 

 Of course, as I suspected, he couldn't then fit them all back in the cupboard! I resisted the urge to say 'I told you so'! I still have loads of plums, blackberries, loganberries and gooseberries in the freezer, but I'll have to use them for other things because I can't make any more jam now.  I am all jammed out ! 

Friday, 16 October 2015

A loaf to be proud of

I have had mixed success with making my own bread. On the whole, it turns out fine, but the last time I made this particular loaf it was dense and almost inedible which disappointed me hugely. Bread making can be an effort, so I was cross that it hadn't turned out well.
Not to be outdone, I tried again the other day. Exactly the same recipe ......

... A much better result. It had a good crust and a lovely soft texture inside. This is the Pain Montmartre recipe from this post:-
It's an easy bread to make and unlike some techniques, doesn't take hours of proving and rising. Not sure what I did wrong last time, but my confidence has been renewed. The loaf that went wrong was turned into breadcrumbs for a pasta bake.
This loaf was served with Cranks Cheddar Cheese soup - omg that's stuff is gorgeous. It seems we're all turning to super healthy, warming bowls of soup now the weather is turning colder.

I thought I'd share this photo of a pampered pooch! Bless him, I had wrapped him in his freshly washed blanket and he was snuggled with his teddy (which he came with). He's so lovely :) 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Itty bitty day

I'm having one of those days where I'm catching up with all sorts of odd jobs. I can normally tell if im having an eclectic day by the items on my draining board. Today, we have a peeler, a small knife, a saucepan and lid, a measuring jug, the glass from a frame, a paintbrush, a funnel, a large plastic container and a small frying pan. (That reminds me of that game you used to play at parties where you had to remember the items in a tray so you could work out which one had been removed when the towel was put over it. Anyone remember that too?)

This diverse pile of objects derives from...

Fried eggs for breakfast
Peeling and stewing the last of the apples
Painting a recycled frame for my youngest to hang a picture she likes
Making handwash and funnelling into the containers

I've also rung the solicitor - things are moving slowly along with Mums estate - these things aren't rapid are they?!
Jet's bedding has been washed and his dew claws have been clipped
I have taken the two CD storage shelving units to a second hand furniture shop this morning and received £5 for them, so not only were my new shelves completely free, I also got an extra fiver - bargain! I'm thinking bottle of wine.....

I'm off out to lunch with a friend later and then I think I'll have a quiet afternoon reading my latest book club book, so a pleasant day all round! How about you all? What kind of day are you having?

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Pear and lemon jam

This is actually three kilos - the last of the crop.

Ok, this really is the final batch. Quite frankly I'm a bit fed up of making jam now anyway. As with so many fruits this year, we have had a super crop of pears. Only two of us in the house will eat them, so I needed to find an alternative way of using them. I googled and decided this sounded like a winner. It's the first time of making it, so who knows .....

(I'm writing this as an afterthought because I have now made the 'jam'. I had it boiling for an hour and a half and it still wasn't really set very well. I'd added some more pectin too. Still, it tastes nice despite it being more like a syrupy sauce than a jam. Personally, if I were making it again, I would half the water in the recipe below and maybe add some apple quarters or crab apples in the cooking stage to up the pectin levels)

2 kilo pears, peeled, cored and chopped
3 lemons, grated zest and strained juice of
1 kilo granulated sugar
Liquid pectin
1 litre water (please see note above)

I add this picture because I had to laugh. I'm normally a very tidy cook, but for whatever reason (hormones I suspect) I made an absolute mess. Fortunately I was wearing an apron, but zest still managed to get down my top :( 

Prepare the fruit and put in large pan. Add lemon zest, juice and water. Boil gently until the fruit is soft. Add the sugar and pectin (see label for quantity). Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Keep at a rolling boil for 15 mins. Test for set.

I had read that this jam was very difficult to set. Mine took 90  mins in total and still wasn't really set like a proper jam.
Decant into warm sterilised jars.

After 30 mins rolling boil. Still a lot of liquid left at this stage. 

Taste wise, this was half way between a jam and a marmelade. The lemon juice added a fresh tartness that was the perfect foil for the sweet pears. Personally, I think even non pear lovers will like this, but I'll test it out on Mr D and let you know!

I had a delivery whilst I was cooking and the young delivery man commented on how lovely the music was .... Cimarosa's Requiem! Who would have thought it? It took me back to the days when I used to play Gregorian chants to my bottom set year 10 French class (almost all boys) to help them concentrate. One lad, who was not well known for his classical tastes, said "it's actually not that bad miss". It pleased me no end :)

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Fun and games!

We seem to have accumulated rather a lot of CDs. And boy is it an eclectic collection. Everything from 15th century Gregorian chant to Iron Maiden, with 70s disco in between.

I think the sunlight made this photo look all soft focus?

When we moved in, 21 years ago, we had none - not even a CD player. We were given our first CD by a friend who didn't like it, but now have rather a lot! At one point, they all fitted neatly in two slender, tall CD racks either side of the piano, but as our collection grew, they were starting to spread and look untidy.

I didn't count them, but it's about 200 or so. This was the sorting stage which was therapeutic.

Friends of ours moved house recently and passed on some bits of wood, knowing I am a secret hoarder of all things useful! My house is clear of clutter, the shed however ......but that's a whole other story.
BUT, those stashed away bits of wood, have meant that i could build some shelves for the CDs for free.
I actually think I need a fourth shelf, because it would look neater to have all the CDs on shelves and the top of the bureau clear, but I'll work on that.
The most fun I had was alphabetising the CDs - very zen for me!
The least fun I had was drilling holes in old walls - you start with a small hole and before you know it, half the blinking wall has fallen out in dust all over your feet! Aargh! Fortunately, for me, the neighbours and the walls, I went out for lunch half way through so had a chance to calm down before finishing off the job.
One day maybe, I'll do things in straight lines? Or maybe I'll buy an even older house where wonky is fashionable......yes, that's a much better idea!
Still, it all made a nice change from making jam.

Ps. I had a letter addressed to Mum today, forwarded from her house. It was from the pensions office telling her they were going to visit her and giving a date and time. I left them a curt message pointing out how difficult they may find that! They did, at least have the courtesy to ring me back and

apologise. Inefficiency irritates me.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Quince jam

I made just over the eight jars above from one plant. 

I'm nearly there on the jam making for the year. I seem to have made silly amounts, but no doubt after Christmas,  I will find our stocks are at a slightly more sensible level.
Today it was the turn of the quinces. Mine are a Japanese Quince rather than the old fashioned English quince, but they still make good jam.
It's a bit of a faff due to the rather unforgiving nature of the raw fruit, but the end result is well worth a try.

Once the fruit has been harvested, give it all a good wash. I then cut it into quarters (being very careful as its a hard fruit and the knife could easily slip!), then slice diagonally across the core to remove the pips. I don't peel them. In fact, I'm not sure it would be possible to anyway!

After prep, I was left with about 2kg fruit

I place the prepared fruit into a large pan with about a litre of hot water and simmer until the fruit is soft and pulpy. I let it cool for a bit, then strain through a metal colander into another large pan, thereby removing any hard bits of core/skin. (I gave the unwanted quince mush to the chickens who devoured it!).


To the strained quince purée, I added 1kg of sugar for the 2kg prepared fruit weight and 1 large teaspoon of nutmeg. The nutmeg is optional or you could add vanilla. I am imagining serving my quince jam with cheese, so liked the idea of a savoury twist.

The strained quince purée

Boil until  it has reached setting point - mine took about 15 minutes in total. Decant into warm, sterilised jars. Add lids and labels. Store as per any other jam.

I made this last year and found that it darkened and solidified more after about a month, so I would suggest that you wait this long before eating it to allow the full flavour to develop. As I say, it's lovely with cheese, like a Spanish membrillo, but equally nice on toast or muffins.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Not a straight line in sight!

Daughter number two has gone off to Anerica for the year, so after giving her room a thorough clean, I moved in my sewing machine. It had been downstairs on the computer table, but there wasn't room or sufficient light, so I'm borrowing her room for a while. I have never been much good at sewing - I think my craft skills lie elsewhere! To be frank, my mother could barely sew a button on so wasn't the best example either. Undeterred, I decided I wanted to give it a go. I love patchwork, but quite sensibly realised that starting with a quilt was going to be beyond me, so my first project was a more realistic cushion cover.
After multiple false starts and a deepening sense of stupidity at my inability to understand the basic principle of placing the squares right side together before sewing, I managed a very higgeldy piggeldy first attempt. I don't think that any of the seams meet up properly and the border is slightly skewiff but I like it all the more because of that - it's jolly, imperfect and handmade by me.

Many moons ago I bought a wicker chair from a certain Swedish superstore to go in one of the bedrooms. It has then been moved from pillar to post before ending up in the conservatory. With two settees and two armchairs in there already it was somewhat unnecessary. Daughter number two had requested a very striking cushion for her birthday, but it needed a neutral backdrop, so the chair had a spray paint makeover and is now residing in my new sewing room. 


After in its new little space in the corner. The cushion is designed by Ian Snow, in a style similar to that of the artist Frida Kahlo.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

An orange kind of day..

I finally got out and bought the cheap vodka to make my Arancello. I made this last year, along with the more well known limoncello and it was divine. I don't drink vodka as a rule, but if you pour a little shot of this straight from the deep freeze, it is warming, in-your-face sunshine in a glass!!

The recipe is simplicity itself.

6 /7 oranges
Two 70cl bottles of cheap vodka
500g White Sugar
500ml Water

Sterilise two large kilner jars. Wash and peel the oranges, taking care not to remove the bitter pith. I use a vegetable peeler successfully for this. Place half the orange pith in one Kilmer jar and half in the other. Pour one bottle of vodka in each jar. Shake well. Leave to stand and infuse for at least 4 weeks, longer if possible, giving it a friendly jiggle every now and again. After the allotted time, the vodka will have turned a wonderful sunset orange.
Add the sugar and water to a saucepan and melt over a gentle heat to form a syrup. Pour half the syrup in each jar on top of the orangey vodka. Give it all a good shake. Leave for another week or two. When ready to decant, strain the Arancello into sterilised bottles (I keep the original vodka bottles although you'll need more than just the two obviously). Make pretty labels. This is best served icy cold, so keep in the fridge, but then pop in the deepfreeze for at least an hour before serving. Enjoy :)

I then had seven oranges minus their peel, so I decided to make orange curd. I use the microwave method as I find it sets well.
Obviously, this recipe can be halved, but I had a lot of oranges....

Squeeze the juice of six oranges (I ate the other one to give me strength!)
200g butter
1kg sugar
8 eggs beaten

Put all of the ingredients in a large microwaveable bowl and heat at 2 minute increments, stirring each time until thickening. When it starts to thicken, heat at one minute intervals, stirring each time, until set. It can t ale quite a while (15 mins plus) to thicken, but of course it does thicken again once refrigerated. Pour into warm, sterilised jars, as per making jam. Label once cool. Store in a dark cupboard and then the fridge, once opened.

Ps: just for good measure, I have already thought that I will finely mince the vodka soaked orange peel when I strain the Arancello and add it to some of my Christmas truffles. My mouth is watering at the very thought!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Cut by a third in one fell swoop!

I had all my chicks back in the nest this weekend, which was lovely. Eldest daughter came back from Uni for the weekend to say goodbye to daughter number two, who has just taken off on her flight to America for a year. We had a lovely weekend, helped by the gorgeous weather. Lots of leisurely meals, dog walks in the woods and along the Thames followed by more food and relaxed chat. There was laughter and a wonderful sense of quality family time.

I'm at the front - they're all taller than me now! 

We have just returned from Heathrow having gone, en famille, to see her off. She was so excited! A few tears were shed by us though!
Back home now for a quick tea before eldest daughter catches the train back up to Derby. So we will have gone from six down to three in the space of a few hours :(
It will feel very quiet again and I imagine my ever present 'cloak' will feel rather heavier this week, but I have lots on my to do list, so I shall keep myself busy. A sense of progress always helps keep me positive.