Thursday, 30 April 2015

Willow pattern

Welcome to my new followers, I hope you enjoy reading.

I mentioned before that I'm collecting willow pattern crockery, to replace our original stuff.  We have 2 sets of different pattern crockery - well, incomplete sets now as the odd plate or bowl has been broken over the years, and quite a few of what's left are chipped.  We've now collected in the willow pattern 10 each dinner and side plates, a few dessert dishes, a fruit bowl, 2 meat platters and 2 cake plates....they don't all match as some are different makers, but near as dammit, and I don't mind anyway.  I've spent this morning clearing out the crockery cupboard, giving it a good clean (it was so dusty!  Where does all the dust come's a cupboard - with doors!) and installing the willow pattern stuff.  The old crockery will be taken to a charity shop, apart from any pieces that are badly chipped.

There's one big advantage of this willow pattern stuff.....the dinner plates, being vintage, are a bit smaller than our previous ones, meaning we are having smaller portions.  A sneaky way of cutting calories and eating a bit less - but with the plate still full it kind of tricks you into thinking you're still having a big meal!

There's loads of willow pattern crockery on ebay, but mostly at ridiculously high prices....I've got all my stuff so much cheaper at boot sales, in charity shops and vintage markets.  I know people want to make a profit, but everyone seems to be jumping on the 'vintage' or 'retro' bandwagon and charging what I think are often extortionate prices.  And, let's face it, the willow pattern crockery, much as I love it, is only very ordinary's what I guess normal working households would have had years ago.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Ice cream and faggots

I picked up a 900g box of strawberries in the supermarket on Monday afternoon, reduced from £3.49 to £1.29, so decided to make ice cream.  The strawbs (well, most of them....a handful found their way into me) got put in the processor and pureed, I added 4 tsp sugar to them as, being foreign ones, they weren't as sweet as they might be.  When I use our own home grown strawbs, I don't add any sugar.  I whisked together a 300ml carton of double cream and a tin of condensed milk, until thick.  The strawberry puree was then mixed in.  Some recipes say to sieve the puree to get rid of the pips, but I don't bother.  I poured the mixture into 2 tubs to freeze, it filled a 1kg butter tub and a 900g ice cream tub.

I then made faggots.  I used 500g rindless pork belly slices, about 300g pigs liver and about the same amount of bacon....these got whizzed up in the processor until minced.  I scraped it all into a large bowl and added 1 tsp mace, some chopped sage and salt & pepper.  I made up half of a 170g pack of sage & onion stuffing with water, the rest I used dry, adding all this to the bowl.  It's then a case of mixing it all together thoroughly.....I use my hands for this.  It's a messy job and not one for the faint-hearted or squeamish (but then if you were that way inclined, you'd probably not be eating faggots!).

I formed them into balls (mine were about Satsuma-sized) and then rolled in a plate of flour.  I put them all in a large roasting tin and baked them for about 25 mins or so.  Meanwhile, I made about 1.5 litres of onion gravy....sliced 2 large onions and cooked slowly in a little oil in a large saucepan, until soft and browned....I added a tsp sugar to help them caramelise.  2 tbsp. flour stirred in and cooked off for a minute, then the stock added - I made it with a couple of beef stock cubes, heaped dsp yeast extract, big squirt of tomato puree and slosh of Worcester sauce.  Poured the stock into the roasting tin and back in the oven for another 30 mins or so.  I portion them up with some gravy when cool, in those tin foil dishes with lids, then freeze.  I made 13 huge faggots out of this quantity, there could of course be more if you made them smaller.  I have one, husband has two, we have them with mash and peas usually.

The before and after pics:-


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Firstly, another 10 or so people have become followers, so a big welcome and thank you to you all, I'm quite surprised.  I started this blog partly because I like writing (I did a creative writing course in another life a long time ago), but mostly as a way of consolidating all the ideas and plans we have for our life here, and documenting how we get on.  I didn't really expect it to be that interesting to anyone else and am amazed (and quite overwhelmed) by the amount of followers, lovely comments and well over a thousand page views I've had since starting just over a week ago.  It seems I have readers in 8 or 9 different countries(!!) does that happen?!  Thank you all so much.

Yesterday we went to Burnham on Sea for a look round the charity shops.....there are 8 or 10 I think, including a couple which do furniture.  Well, in the very first one, we found the chairs we've been looking for to go with our new (to us) dining table.....4 lovely old oak chairs in very good condition.  They've been varnished at some time in their lives....OH is going to strip off the varnish and sand them down, then I'm probably going to paint them in antique cream, to match the table legs.  We got them for the bargain price of £26.99 for the four!  I'm so pleased with them.....that's another item we can cross off our list.


Apologies, by the way, for the poor quality of the photos on my blog....I only take pics with my phone, and I'm no photographer!

OH is out in the garage right now, starting to strip the varnish off the chairs, so hopefully I should be able to make a start on painting them in a couple of days.  We popped into the diy store and bought a tin of antique-style eggshell paint in cream.

Whilst he's doing that, I'm off to the kitchen to make faggots and strawberry icecream.....I'll post pics and the recipe tomorrow.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Moving to a forever home

Annie b asked if we'd always lived in Somerset, and wondered how people come to decide to live in a rural area.

We haven't always lived down here.....for the first 25 years of our marriage we lived in a big town in the Midlands.  We'd talked for years about wanting to move to the country when we firm plans, we just knew we'd like to do it one day.  Towards the end of 2009, OH said there was really nothing keeping us in the Midlands....4 months later, we'd moved to Somerset, we've been here 5 years now.

Why Somerset?  Our relatives are scattered between the Midlands, London, Wiltshire, Dorset and Cornwall.....we've always loved Cornwall, but so do millions of other people, so that was out really....too expensive and too popular in holiday time.  It was actually a toss up between Somerset and Norfolk - we'd been on holiday to both lots of times and liked them equally.  We looked in Somerset first, as that was more centrally placed for visiting relatives.....luckily, we found a lovely place (our previous house) within days, so Norfolk never got a look in.

We've both been townies all our lives....although my family did live on a farm for a few months when I was a child and that had always stuck in my mind.  We had a touring caravan for about 10 years and went away often....we loved waking up in a field in a rural area, watching the birds and wildlife, and even the cows and sheep!  Having become very fed up with traffic, noise, pollution, crowds and petty crime, we longed for a more peaceful and slower pace of life, somewhere where we could look out over fields and countryside from our windows, rather than rows of houses.  We've found just that here.

It's not all been plain was a very steep learning curve for the first year or so - living in a rural area is so very different to living in a town, in lots of ways.  No shops on the doorstep, for a start, nor doctors, dentists, library, bank etc. - a car is a necessity.  Especially since the nearest bus route is a couple of miles away.  And there's no nipping out to the corner shop for a paper or when you run out of quickly learn to plan things so that you combine several errands into one journey.  And you make sure you don't run out of sugar!

But when you can look out of your window and watch lambs jumping about, see sparrow hawks and buzzards (one day last year we had 10 buzzards overhead), have the neighbour's chickens come visiting your garden for the bird seed, see the little Muntjac deer and hares in the field behind your house, and gaze at thousands of stars in the night sky (no light pollution street lights!)....then you count yourself very blessed to live here.

I hope that answers your question, Annie.

Oh, and welcome to SimpleSuffolkSmallholder, Marlene Jones and MargaretNan.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Furnishing the house

Firstly, welcome to new followers Janice, Pam Ingham and Wean, lovely to have followers in my first week!

We will, hopefully, be living in this house for the foreseeable future.....the farm landlords like to have long-term tenants (the previous tenant lived here for more than 30 years).  The landlords are also very easy-going about anything we want to do to the house.....within reason, of course.  Their philosophy seems to be that it's our home, so we can choose to make it as homely as we like.  And of course, any improvements we make can only benefit the landlords as well as ourselves.  We're not doing anything drastic, but there are a few things we want to change.

The previous tenant had a new kitchen fitted - not to my taste, but perfectly ok and functional, we don't intend to change that.  However, he also built a cupboard and worktop himself, with a shop-bought wall cupboard with glass doors above, in the dining room.....I think it's supposed to be an imitation of a Welsh dresser.  The base cupboard is not particularly attractive and we want rid of it.

OH is going to rip it out, making good the floor and wall as necessary.  We're looking for a nice second hand Welsh dresser, or possibly a sideboard, in solid wood to replace it....I keep all my crockery in there and some kitchen equipment on top, so need a replacement.

I'd been looking for an oval drop-leaf gate-legged dining table for about a year, we finally found one at an antiques and vintage fair a couple of months ago.

After some haggling with the seller, we got it at an amazingly good price.  It's solid oak and has been lovingly restored, the top has been sanded and waxed, the legs painted with vintage cream eggshell, I just love it.  Now we're after some chairs to go with it.....we're off to another vintage market and boot sale tomorrow, so you never know!

Friday, 24 April 2015

More of everything!

Of last year's garden produce, we have left....4 red onions, plenty of brown onions and shallots, 1 pot of strawberry jam, 1 pot of chutney, a tub of frozen roasted tomatoes, 3 or 4 frozen tubs of various veg soups and 1 tub of carrot & potato mash.  We had the last butternut squash 3 or 4 weeks ago.  Our potatoes were very disappointing last year, both earlies and maincrop, much lower yield than in previous years.  The stored maincrop spuds ran out a couple of months back. 

With OH's coming retirement in mind, we want to grow as much veg and fruit as we can, to the point of being self sufficient pretty much all year round.  To this end, OH is going to construct another 2 raised beds in the centre of the mentioned previously, we don't sit out in the back garden as it doesn't get as much sun as the front and isn't as sheltered, so the lawn is pretty much wasted space.

Currently we have early and maincrop spuds planted, including some earlies in bags in the polytunnel for really early harvesting (we did this as an experiment last year and they were quite successful, so are doing more this year).  Lots of brown and red onions and shallots.  A small bed of carrot seedlings.  In pots indoors or covered in fleece in the polytunnel are tomatoes (3 kinds), Brussels, cauli, butternut squash, purple sprouting broccoli, yellow & green courgettes, yellow French beans, climbing peas, ridge cucumbers, peppers.

For salad leaves, we simply buy a tub of the Growing Salad from the supermarket salad's usually £1 a tub for a mixture of red and green leaves.  We've done this 2 years running now and it's really successful....we separate out the plants, there's usually around 15 or 20 in the tub, and plant them up in a growbag.  We put it on the old garden table and cover it with a homemade fleece cloche....keeps the butterflies and slugs off.  It grows really well and we're picking salad leaves all through the summer.  When you consider a bag of salad leaves is £1.50 or £2.00, it's a huge money saver.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Money saving habits

.....well, more a case of trying to acquire some.

As I mentioned before (I think, can't be sure without reading back!), OH reaches retirement age next year and plans to cut back from 4 12-hour shifts to 3 per week....he'll do that for a year, possibly 2, and then cut down again to just 2 12-hour shifts a week.  He plans to retire from work for good at probably age 68.  Our income will drop quite substantially along with his reduced hours, so we need to start planning now for living on a reduced income.

One of the things we've decided to do is to start stocking up on tins and dry goods and toiletries, especially when we see things we normally buy on special offer.  E.g., last week one of the shops had the deodorant we normally buy on offer at less than half price, so I bought 4 of them....wish I'd bought more really, I will do if they're still on offer when I go next.  I must try and get into the mindset of buying stuff like that in bulk when the price is really good.   Oh, and having the money at the time would be useful, too!!

Stocking up like this obviously means we need somewhere to store it all.  We do have what I grandly call a utility reality, it's a brick built outhouse added at some point some years ago to the side of the kitchen.  It used to house a loo, coal cupboard and bread oven, apparently - they're all long-since gone.  The previous tenant added a load of mismatched wall cupboards and worktops, most of the cupboards are in dire need of remedial work....or preferably dismantling and new ones put up!  My washing machine, tumble drier, spare fridge and 2 freezers (one small upright, plus a small chest freezer that was given to us when somebody was moving home) are all in there.  At the moment, the cupboards house my collection of ornaments and Chinese pottery that I used to collect.....don't really have anywhere to display them and they've been in there since we moved in 2 years ago, so a bit pointless keeping them really!  I'm pretty sure there's nothing 'Antiques Roadshow' valuable, but I suppose we could flog them at a boot sale, if I can bear to part with them.  The point is, it's all taking up valuable cupboard space.  I do store a small amount of tinned and packet foods out there, the tins on a worktop, the packets like flour and sugar in a lidded plastic box.  But if we can clear out the cupboards and OH can fix or do them up, then it would provide lots of useful storage.  Something we need to sort out in the near future.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


All the women in my family are Nanna used to knit as a job, she made baby clothes, shawls and things like toilet roll holders for some company who paid her to do it.  I'm sure she was paid peanuts, even though the things she made were beautiful.  She tried on many occasions to teach me to knit....for some reason I just couldn't get the hang of it at all.  My mother also tried, with no luck.  However, Nanna also taught me to crochet.....successfully.  I've loved it ever since.  I used to crochet a lot in my teens and 20s, mostly baby clothes, or scarves as birthday/Christmas presents.  The most elaborate thing I did was a fine lace tablecloth for my Mother's 60th took me months and, I have to say, put me off crocheting for a long time!

Since moving down here to Somerset and adopting a slower pace of life, I've taken it up again.  No fancy stuff, though - I can't be bothered with that anymore (plus my eyesight isn't what it used to be!).  I've made several blankets, throws and cushion covers.  Last week I finished a rainbow throw as a present for my Mother, who is fairly immobile now and gets very cold legs.  Now I'm doing a single bed size blanket, to replace one I made a couple of years ago which wasn't one of my best efforts.

The rainbow throw I did for my Mother, it was about half completed here.  I followed Lucy of Attic24's pattern for her Cosy Stripe blanket.

Two of the blankets on the beds.  I like the patchwork one a lot.....just don't like joining all the squares and sewing the ends in!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Testing photos

Having managed (for the first time!) to transfer (upload?) photos from my phone to the computer, I will now attempt to put some on my blog.

This is our front garden (well, a bit of it) and the field beyond.  Sometimes there are sheep in that field, sometimes cows.....the farmer is letting the grass recover since the sheep were last in there a few weeks ago.

The back garden, with more fields beyond, generally used for crops but is being allowed to lie fallow this year.  Our fruit bed is on the left, veg beds on the right.

Well, that seemed to work, amazingly!  I'm such a child when it comes to techie stuff.....well, except that a child would of course know exactly how to do all this stuff.  Now I know how to do it, I'll try and post more pics in the coming weeks.

The Garden

The front garden is small and pretty, full of flowers with a small lawn, it's south facing so gets the sun all day.  With hedges on 2 sides it's very sheltered and is where we sit, rather than the back garden.  I have 2 blueberries in pots here, and several pots of herbs.

The back garden is a good size, quite open with a picket fence surrounding it and a large field just beyond the fence.  It doesn't get as much sun as the front, obviously, in fact it's really only the rear half of the garden that gets any sun.  It's quite windy, too....the Bristol channel is only a mile or 2 away as the crow flies and we get a lot of wind coming off there.  So we don't sit out in the back garden! 

The garden was mostly laid to lawn, with a mini forest of wildly overgrown assorted shrubs in the middle, and a small one-time veg patch which was completely overrun with weeds....both back and front gardens had clearly been neglected for years when we first moved in.  Our first year here was spent cutting down and digging out all the shrubs.....they were so neglected, we only managed to save a lilac, one rose bush and a fuschia.....having pruned them heavily and relocated them we weren't even sure they'd survive, but they have.  There was a very old cooking apple tree at the bottom of the was diseased and didn't fruit very well.  No idea what variety it was, but the apples from it were horrible - very soft, and that was before they were cooked.  Once cooked they collapsed into mush within a couple of minutes and had hardly any flavour.  So we decided that had to go too.

OH built and dug 4 new raised beds for veggies last year.....this year he's added another raised bed, just for fruit.  We now have 2 Conference pears, a Fiesta dessert apple, a Bountiful cooking apple and a Victoria plum, all are blossoming well, although I doubt we'll get any fruit from them this year, except maybe the plum which has been in the ground 2 years.  There are 2 blackcurrants (one we brought with us from our last house, it's a heavy cropper) and a dozen raspberries in the new fruit bed.  We also have rhubarb and lots of strawberries, so are well supplied with fruit.  Having seen on Dawn's blog Doing it for ourselves in Wales that she grows citrus trees, I really want to get a lemon tree too.....thanks Dawn, I thought citrus trees had to be in a heated greenhouse or conservatory in this country!

We did grow some veg last year and intend to grow lots more now the beds are all in place, along with our two polytunnels, the 2nd of which we've only just got.

We are planning to have two more raised beds in the centre of the lawn.....after all, we don't sit out in the back garden so we may as well make use of the space.  And it cuts down the amount of grass to cut!

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The House

We live in a 1950s 3 bed semi down a quiet lane in a very rural farming area....our house is one of 4 that belong to the farm and is on the edge of the past times the 4 cottages all housed farm workers.  We look out onto fields both front and back, it's beautiful here and we count ourselves very lucky to live here.  We've been here 2 years now.

The previous tenant clearly did nothing to the house or garden (a middle-aged man who worked full time and lived on his own for several years after his wife left him).  He presumably didn't own a vacuum cleaner, mop or paintbrushes......every room was filthy when we moved in and the place hadn't been decorated for years.

Our Landlord arranged for the bathroom to be fully refitted before we moved in, for which we were very grateful......the original bathroom was horrendous.  He also arranged for the very old (condemned!) Rayburn to be taken out and oil-fired central heating installed. 

OH has built the most lovely rustic shelves in the alcove where the Rayburn was, I've now got all my cookery books, my collection of jugs and some kitchen equipment on them.

We've got lots of plans for the house.  As I said, the previous tenant clearly did nothing.....the first bit of decorating we did was to the smallest bedroom, which still had children's (peeling) wallpaper on the walls, and luminous stars attached to the polystyrene ceiling.....the tenant's son who used that bedroom (and who works with OH) is now in his mid-30s, so the room hadn't been decorated for about 30 years.  We've also painted the hall, stairs and landing, which were really grubby.  We couldn't do any decorating until the central heating installation had been done last year, we're now doing one room at a time, the worst first.

We want to furnish the house with preloved and renovated things.....we are gradually replacing most of our, frankly crap, modern furniture with things more in keeping with the age and style of the house.  We scour charity and second hand shops, car boot sales and vintage fairs for cheap but good quality things and have managed to get some real bargains so far.

I'm after blue & white Willow pattern crockery too......last week I picked up 4 dinner plates, 4 side plates, a fruit bowl and 2 cake plates very cheaply in a vintage store.

We have a list of things we want.....there's no rush to do it all at once, we know it will be a long term project, we just pick up things as and when we see them (and have the money!).

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Hello! An Introduction....

Welcome to my new blog.

This is the first time I have blogged in a long time.....I used to have a dieting blog a few years ago, but that fell by the wayside along with the diet.  No dieting nowadays, other than trying to eat mostly healthily, cutting down drastically on sugar and as much as possible on carbs.  There is the occasional lapse, of course.....after all, I'm not Gwyneth Paltrow (in looks or weird obsessional dietary habits).

This blog will be about our daily life, the things we cook, bake, grow and make, and our ongoing preparations leading up to husband's retirement.

There's just OH and I, he currently works full time (4 days a week, 12+ hour shifts), whilst I stay home.  OH works in the garden on his days off, we have a productive veg & fruit garden at the back of the house, along with 2 small polytunnels.  He potters in his garage, builds things (fences, raised beds, cloches, compost bins) and generally clutters up my utility room, dining room, under the stairs and anywhere else he can get away with it, with his tools.  I cook all our meals from scratch, bake bread, pies and cakes, make jams and chutneys, blanch and freeze our produce.  I also crochet.....blankets and throws, mostly.  They give a house a lovely homely feel.

Next year OH reaches retirement age (how on earth did that happen?!  He was a boy of 30 when we met!).  Whilst he won't be retiring from work, he will be reducing to 3 days a week for a year, and then 2 days per week for a further 2 years, if all goes according to plan.

Our income will fall quite substantially when OH reduces his hours and then eventually stops work.  We are therefore planning now for the future, so that we may still enjoy a comfortable, if not affluent, lifestyle. 

When I did the diet blog some years ago, I never did get around to posting pictures.  Not even sure how to do it.....techie stuff has never been my strong point (being blonde and menopausal and, well, not techie).  I will read up on it though and try to post pics.