Monday, 31 August 2015

Must be getting old!

Not done much over the last couple of days, but I feel like I've run a marathon whilst baking cakes and dragging the hoover (well, dyson actually) behind me (and I haven't even done the hoovering!).

Yesterday, all I did was cook the dinner, wash up and make 3 jars of mixed berry jam.  Today, we've been food shopping, which was a bit of a nightmare as the world and his wife plus all their crying, demanding and running around children decided to go too.....if I had a £ for each time one of the little brats trod on my foot, ran into the back of my legs or barged past me without of course an 'excuse me', I'd have added a couple of bottles of nice wine to my shopping.  Other than that, I've made the bed (well, dragged the duvet up into a slightly less wrinkled state), made a quick tomato & mozzarella salad for lunch, washed up then prepared a lamb biryani for dinner.  And that's it.  And it feels like something electrical has been attached to me and sucked out all my energy.

Think it's lack of sleep.  I've never been a good sleeper, suffering with insomnia my entire life.....when I was about 7 Mum took me to the doctor about it - he just said "oh she'll grow out of it".  Erm, how much more growing do I have to do?!  Normally, I cope alright with it, being so used to it I guess, but every so often it catches up with me and I'm shattered for a couple of days.  I guess I'm feeling it more as I get older :-(

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Where are we at now?

Some of the blogs I follow write about very emotive subjects, following which they get dozens of comments agreeing/disagreeing, some of which descend into slanging matches and insulting personal comments.  I don't want to do that.  I'm not for a moment suggesting people shouldn't write about stuff like that - far from it, each person's blog is their own and it's entirely up to them what they write.....if readers don't like what's written, they can always go and read something else instead.  I also don't comment on highly emotive or contentious blog posts....simply because I'd rather not get involved in the fallout. 

I sometimes wonder though why people write what they do.  Sometimes it's clearly because the blogger feels very strongly about something, or something in the news or a thing that's happened to them personally has really riled or upset them.  Someone recently wrote that they'd done something that day that they were keeping secret and weren't going to tell anyone about.....well, is it just me, or does that seem totally odd?  If you have no intention of letting on, then why bother saying anything in the first place? 

I also don't understand bloggers who get really angry and make spiteful comments about/to people who've taken them to task or disagreed strongly with something they've said.  If the commenter makes a valid point that just happens to disagree with what you've said, then why not just agree to disagree, why be rude about it?  And if the comment they've made is just plain offensive, well you can always not publish, or delete it and just forget about it - let's face it, if it's an anonymous person on the internet you're unlikely to ever meet them and they don't know you, so what does it matter?

Anyway, the reason I started writing this blog is because I wanted to document our day to day lives, the progress we make in trying to make our garden as productive as possible, the crocheting and cooking I do, and our ongoing project to furnish and refurbish our house using preloved and upcycled things.  I did get a bit sidetracked when OH's mother died and when my mother was ill recently - life does have a habit of getting in the way from time to time.

So where are we at now with the original purpose of this blog?  Well, OH has begun building and painting with preservative the frames for the new raised beds he intends to dig later on this year (later on?  We're already nearly 3/4 of the way through, blimey, how time flies!).  We've acquired some extra storage pieces for the stocking up of toiletries and dried foodstuffs we're starting to do in preparation for OH's winding down to retirement.  We've planned which rooms we're going to decorate next and in which order, and bought some of the paint when it was on special offer.  OH has put up a new handrail for the stairs, to help my mother when she comes to stay (and to help us when the time comes!!).  I've sorted out all our paperwork and now try to deal with it as soon as it arrives.

We've not had much luck so far in finding a new (to us....all the furniture we've bought recently and intend to buy is good quality second hand) Welsh dresser or sideboard for the dining room.  I'm not worried about that though, I know we'll find the right one took over a year before we found the exactly right table we wanted.  We would also like a different 3-seater sofa - the suite we bought 2nd hand a year or 2 ago is a Parker Knoll in cream, looks lovely but gets dirty VERY quickly (husband is a dirt magnet).  The armchairs are fine, but the sofa, we've discovered, is not particularly comfy for lounging on for several hours of an evening when watching TV.  We'd like a leather one really, in a darker colour, we'll get one sooner or later, the right one will appear somewhere.

So that's us up to date.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Fruity drinks

Welcome to my new follower, John Wooldridge, who takes the most lovely photos.  Thanks for all your comments on my pulled pork, it was pretty scrumptious.

Our soft fruit harvest this year has been the best ever - apart from the strawberries which didn't do so well.  We have a couple of early raspberries and about 8 or so autumn fruiting ones....the autumn ones are loaded with fruit, they do much better than the early ones.  We've just been putting all the fruit in boxes in the did start off just in one freezer, but then migrated to the other 2 (we have a large upright fridge/freezer in the kitchen, a couple of years ago we bought an under the counter freezer for the utility room to store our garden produce, then last year we were given a small chest freezer, also in the utility room.  All of them are now pretty full.....I don't know how we managed before with just the one!!).  The other day I sorted all the fruit out - well, I did my best under the's a bit difficult to sort through 3 full freezers, you tend to lose feeling in your hands.  I weighed and bagged up the fruit, to free up the dozen or more plastic boxes....I was running out of them.  We have about 5 lbs (yes I still do old money, I know what i'm talking about then!) of rasps with lots more to come, about 3 lbs blueberries, around 2 lbs each blackcurrants and strawberries. 

I thought it was about time I did something with it, although we have had a few fruity puddings.  I don't tend to make loads of jam as we're not great eaters of it, although strawberry is a must for homemade scones of course, and it's nice to have a few jars to give as gifts or thank yous.  I made blackberry gin a few years ago.....gorgeous.  So raspberry gin was an obvious choice.

The blackberry gin I did in a large jar, straining and decanting it into bottles later.....I can't find the jar so did this straight into bottles, cutting the bigger rasps in half to get them in.  I just hope I don't have a problem getting them out again in a few months time....

I also made blackcurrant and blueberry cordial, I also chucked in some supermarket frozen forest fruits I found lurking in the freezer.  It made 2 1/2 litres (see, I can do new money as well hehe).....the kitchen, OH and myself got splattered when straining it through the jelly bag.  Just as well purple's my favourite colour.

I added some citric acid to help preserve it, the bottles are all in the fridge.  The fruit that was left in the jelly bag is now in a box in the fridge, waiting to be transformed into jam later on today.

Not really made much of a dent in the rasp mountain.....I only used 600g for the gin.  Will get some whisky next time we go shopping to do a raspberry & honey whisky liqueur for OH - he doesn't like gin, I don't like whisky.  Takes all sorts!

What do you do with your soft fruits?

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Lovely pork dinner

I'm cooking a joint of pork today, in my new favourite way which I've done 2 or 3 times now.  It's a spare rib joint, boned by the butcher.  It had a good layer of well scored skin and fat, which I cut off - I'm going to roast that separately, we do love nice crispy crackling.  The joint I put in the slow cooker on high with about half a pint of water and salt & pepper, about 10.15 this morning.  Round about noon I turned it over.  Took it out about 2.30 and let it rest for 10 minutes, whilst I drained off the stock into a plastic box, it will get frozen to make gravy with for chops or another joint in the future.  I then shredded the meat with a couple of forks, it was easy to do, just fell apart.  I've put it back in the slow cooker, turned on low now, with a jar of bbq sauce.  So, pulled pork in other words.  Well, I actually put half the pork back in, the rest I'm freezing for another day, we'll probably have it in a korma sauce.

I'm roasting the skin along with spuds, we'll have cabbage and peas too.

I've also cooked lamb joints in a similar way a couple of times, I do those in lamb stock.  After taking out the lamb, I add a tablespoon each of redcurrant jelly and mint sauce to the stock and thicken it, before adding the shredded meat back in.  Yum yum. 

Incidentally, I'm roasting a double quantity of spuds......the surplus freeze well and only take about 20 mins to heat through from frozen in a hot oven - quick roasties for when I don't have much time (or can't be bothered!).

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Getting back to normal

Well, we've been up and seen Mum.  She's definitely gone downhill since the last time I saw her, but is slowly improving after these latest bouts of urine & chest infections.  Her mood has improved no end.....she'd got so low, I think that was what worried me the most.  By the time we left to come home, having spent a couple of days up there and had a few serious talks with her, she was up and dressed early (well, early for her), had put her compression stockings on and hearing aids in, had used her new inhalers and had made and eaten her breakfast - none of which she'd been doing before.  She's promised to keep it all up - sister and I will be checking to make sure she does!  I also told Mum I'd like her to get herself into proper routines for everything before she comes down to stay next month....she said she will do her best.  So I'm a lot less worried about her now, and she is much happier and feeling better, so it's all good.

Seeing as we'd been away, we had a crazy mad day of cramming all our jobs in yesterday, before OH goes back to work today, plus a couple of extra things to do as well.  We've bought a new handrail plus all the fixings for the stairs, we only have one handrail at present, and Mum definitely needs two to get upstairs (we have no downstairs loo).  OH has also ordered a new wheel for the 2nd hand wheelchair we bought for Mum last year, we keep it here for when she comes to stay.  The last time she was here one of the front wheels fell off....and yes Mum was in it at the time, fortunately she didn't fall out!  And we were only a short distance from the car, so it was alright.  I sometimes think our life is a series of cartoons, we do seem to have a few Frank Spencer-esque calamities every now and then!

Not doing much today, the worry and stress of the past couple of weeks, coupled with a few sleepless nights, is catching up with me and I'm knackered.  Got a couple of individual meals (leftovers from previous dinners, a portion of fish pie and one of lasagne) out of the freezer for lunch to have with salad.  Have just made a tray of bread pudding to use up half a loaf of bread that we forgot about when we went up to Mum's.  Love the warm spicy smell of it cooking, especially on a rainy windy day like today.  Once OH's gone off to work, I will sit and carry on with my crocheted poncho whilst watching some rubbishy afternoon film on TV.  Mindless stuff like that is just made for crocheting to!  Although it does irritate me a bit that the programme schedulers seem to think that housewives who watch daytime TV are brainless and just like to watch either stupid films with a plot so thin the actors must have learnt their lines in half a day, or the likes of Jeremy Kyle (which I wouldn't watch if you paid me).  Oh well, there's always my Mamma Mia! dvd which I fall back on when I fancy a singalong (even I can sing better than Pierce Brosnan, and that's saying something.....still, he did give it his best shot and he looks quite good in it so I'll forgive him).

Thursday, 13 August 2015

My latest project

Thank you once again for all your encouraging comments, I'm pleased to say having spoken to Mum this morning, she's sounding much brighter and less depressed.  Her urine infection is no better, but she's only been on the antibiotics 3 or 4 days and she frequently needs several courses to get rid of it completely.  On the subject of meals on wheels, I did look into it but Mum's local area are not accepting any more referrals!  Between us though, I think sister and I can make enough meals to keep her going at least until she's well enough to start doing her own meals again.  We just need to keep checking that she is actually eating every day.

I've made a start on a new crochet project:-

Can you tell what it is yet?!

Here's another view:-

It is, or will be, a poncho.  I have fond memories of a poncho my Nanna crocheted me when I was a child, I absolutely loved it.  The colours definitely wouldn't be to my taste now was orange and brown (it was the late 1960s/early 1970s after all!).  I'm doing it in this lovely purple flecked Stylecraft Extra Special DK.  It's hooking up quite fast, I'm sure I'll have it finished by the time the colder weather comes! (I hope).

We've had a little rain this afternoon, although it's been gloomy and cloudy since I got up this morning.  We had no rain during the night, despite it being forecast, and certainly none of the thunderstorms that I know some areas had.  The garden certainly needs the rain, even though OH waters every day.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Cautiously optimistic

Firstly, thank you all so much for your kindness, it's really appreciated.  I've not been blogging long and it's lovely to think that people out there in blogland, most of whom I've never met, care enough to leave such warm comments when they don't even know me.

Mum has a urine infection and chest infection, she gets both of these regularly and they really take it out of her.  The chest infection means her asthma has been particularly bad as she hadn't enough puff to use her inhalers properly.

She has a number of other health problems too, none of which is particularly serious, but all of them combined do affect her a lot, causing her a lot of pain, stomach problems, lack of energy and mobility.  She also suffers with depression and had become very low of late, to the point where she was saying she was tired of everything and wished she could just go to sleep and never wake up.  We (my sister and I) also found out that she hasn't been eating properly or regularly recently - doubly worrying as some of her (many) medications need to be taken with food.

She hadn't seen her GP for a while.....she didn't want to see him as the last time she saw him for the severe arthritis pain in her legs, he told her there's nothing more he can do for her as she's already on the max dosage of painkillers/anti-inflammatories.  I've met her GP, he's quite abrupt and his bedside manner is distinctly lacking.  Sister managed to get Mum in to see the senior practice nurse - she was lovely and very helpful indeed.  The upshot of this is that mum now has different inhalers which are easy to use, is having a chest x-ray today, and has been given larger size compression stockings and an appliance to help her get them on (her current ones were too tight so she had great difficulty getting them on and they were hurting her legs even more, so she'd abandoned them altogether - she has ulcerated legs and bad circulation so she really needs to use the stockings).  

Sis and I have gently but firmly told Mum she must eat regularly, even if it's just some yogurt and fruit, and we are checking that she is.  OH and I are going up there for a few days next week....I've been making Mum some small ready meals and freezing them to take up for her - things like cottage pie, fish pie, macaroni cheese, lasagne, chicken stew - things she can easily reheat in the microwave or oven.  So she'll have no excuse not to eat, and it takes a bit of pressure off my sister.  I've also made her a few treat things I know she likes, such as spiced apple cake and apricot crumble.   

Sis is taking her to her various appointments.  Mum's breathing is now much easier, which in turn is lifting her mood.  We've also told her that she can come down here to stay for a week next month - IF she's well enough (she loves coming to stay here), so that is hopefully giving her an incentive to try and get better.  Sis and I are therefore feeling cautiously optimistic that Mum is starting to improve. 

Getting old is a bugger - I don't want to do it!

Sunday, 9 August 2015


Blogging will most likely be sporadic for a mother is very unwell and my sister and I are very worried about her.  Whilst there's nothing much I can do other than keep in contact by phone (we live over 3 hours' drive away, my sister lives next door to mum, thankfully) and I have tried to let go of the worry, it's just not possible, my mind keeps betraying me.  We'll be going up to see her next weekend, unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control we can't go before then.

I just need to keep busy in the meantime.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Feeling content

This is the view from our front bedroom window this morning - just lovely.  When I first got up the sky was a cloudless bright blue, since then a few fluffy white clouds have appeared, they do look like cotton wool. The cows have been moved out of this field as they've eaten all the grass.....they'll be back again in a few weeks once it's had a chance to rejuvenate.

On the whole, things are going very well right now (she says, crossing everything).  There are a couple of things that aren't going so well and are causing some concern, in fact I have been worrying quite a bit lately.  But I had a good long think about it all yesterday and decided that there's nothing I can do, I can't influence the outcome at all, what will be will be, it's out of my hands.  So I've accepted that and let go of the worry.  I'm just going to concentrate on the things I CAN do.

I'm really starting to look forward to next year when OH starts to reduce his hours leading up to retirement, it will be good to have another day when we can get things done together.  The veg & fruit growing needs more of my input.....although OH gets on with it all diligently and is very hard working, he can be a bit haphazard at times.  E.g.  I'd asked for 2 green and 2 yellow courgette plants.....somehow, we've ended up with 1 green and 5 yellow, and this kind of thing tends to happen every year!  He has a habit of mislabelling things at the sowing seeds stage..... Last year I wanted 2 each of cherry, salad and plum tomatoes......the result was about 7 cherry ones, 1 salad and NO plums.  I put it down to him being dyslexic, bless him.  That plus the fact that he sows lots of everything and then can't bear to throw any away.  And he mixes up the labels in pots.  Or forgets to put labels in in the first place.  So next year we're doing it together!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A short 'How to...'

Or rather, how we do it.

Thank you for all your comments on our produce, we are overall pretty pleased with what we're growing this year, it's definitely been one of our best years for produce, despite the cold, slow and wet start when we were beginning to think nothing we'd sown would ever get going!

I'd just like to answer a couple of the comments, to give an insight into how we do things.

Sue asked about blueberries, saying she thought they were difficult to grow.  Well actually they're not really difficult at all, provided you give them the right soil.  They like acid soil.  Now, rather than messing about with digging stuff into the garden soil to try and alter it to suit the bushes (and that would be after having to test the soil in the first place to see what type your soil actually is!), we just put them in pots with ericaceous compost.  They do grow quite quickly, so a large pot is needed.  And that's about it, really.  You do need to water them regularly, especially when the fruits start forming, and of course the birds love them, so we just wrap some fleece around the bush, securing it with pegs.  Oh, and it's better to use rainwater from the butt rather than tap water, as tap water contains some chemical (I forget what!) that can make the soil less acidic.  Once a year we dig out the top inch or so of the soil and replace it with fresh ericaceous compost.  We prune them lightly in the winter, just tidying them up really and taking out any dead wood.  So give it a go, Sue, they're really not difficult to take care of, and they produce so much fruit.

Yorkshire Pudding (welcome, by the way, Sir, if I haven't welcomed you before!) says he's never been able to grow carrots in his clay soil.  Our soil is heavy and claggy, although OH has improved it a lot in the nearly 3 years we've been here, by digging lots of homemade compost and manure into it.  However, we grow carrots in a purpose-built raised bed....OH made it himself (as he has all our raised beds) from pallet wood, he was lucky enough to be given loads of pallets when we first moved here.  The bed is around 5 feet long, 3 feet wide and a foot or more deep, he fills it with a mixture of sand and compost, which he sieves.  He takes some out each early Spring and refills it with more.  The carrots seem to like it a lot.  Almost too much, in fact......we are absolutely inundated with carrots (which is probably mostly to do with the fact that OH sowed a whole packet of seeds in there in one go......sigh.  He assures me he'll do the successional sowing thing next year).

I hope this helps.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Thinking about next year's crops

We've spent some time in the garden this afternoon, picking stuff, tidying up, pulling up some of the spent veg plants - oh, and disposing of 2 more dead rats.  We picked another 1 1/2 lbs blueberries.....I should think we've had about 5 or 6 lbs in total, I didn't remember to weigh them all before I froze them.  They're coming to an end now, maybe another 1 lb still to ripen on the 2 plants.  Also picked 1/2 lb of lovely big fat raspberries......about 2 lb of rasps already in the freezer and loads more to come.  We also have a couple of pounds of blackcurrants and probably the same of strawberries already frozen.....oddly, the strawbs didn't do so well this year as they did last year.  This has definitely been our best year for soft fruit.  Oh yes, we've also got a cultivated blackberry....or it may be a loganberry, or one of those types!  We bought it months ago for 50p somewhere, it was reduced because the label had disappeared, that's loaded with fruit too.

Also picked the first of our yellow French beans - we grow them every year, I really like them.  I grew a wigwam of climbing purple ones in a pot in the front garden last year, they did really well and looked very pretty, but I was so disappointed that the purple colour disappears and they turn green when you cook them!  That put me off a bit....although they tasted alright, they looked too much like runner beans, which I loathe.

We've decided not to grow any brassicas, other than maybe purple sprouting broccoli, next's just proving too difficult to keep the white butterflies off.  OH did net them, but perhaps didn't secure the netting to the canes as well as he could have, and with it being so windy here, the netting kept getting blown off in places, allowing the little buggers access.  Consequently, there are tons of caterpillars now, which is guaranteed to put me off eating any of it....I'm a total wuss when it comes to things like that.  And the caulis are a dead loss, after 3 years of trying unsuccessfully to grow them I just don't think it's worth wasting any more time or space on them.

We will have lots more French beans and peas, I love them.  Also lots more onions, both red and white, and leeks, as I use one or the other of them virtually every day.  More spuds too, maincrop ones, I'd like enough to see us through the winter and early Spring, until the new potatoes are ready.

OH needs to remember to do successional sowing too, rather than a whole packet in one go, meaning we have a million radishes and carrots all ready to eat at once!!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Foodie things

I rearranged the freezers a bit yesterday and have managed to create a little bit of space.  Just as well, not only do we have loads of courgettes and soft fruit ready to pick every day, but tomatoes are now ripening almost faster than we can pick them.  Onions are ready to be lifted and dried least the rest of the carrots and potatoes can stay in the ground for a bit longer.  The purple sprouting broccoli is coming to an end now.  Thank goodness the peppers, chillis and butternut squash won't be ready for a while yet.....I don't think I could physically cope with any more veg!

One thing we've finally decided to give up on and not bother growing anymore is cauliflower.....we've tried 3 years running and the crop is always so poor, we only ever get perhaps 2 or 3 caulis anywhere near suitable for picking.  Don't know what it is with them, they either don't form heads at all, or the heads are small and not properly formed.....they're all loose and sort of 'blown' looking, and a dark yucky yellowish colour tinged with brown.  It's not a soil problem, as they were the same in our last garden way across the other side of town, several miles away.  Oh well, never mind, can't win them all, and I'm not really a huge fan of cauli anyway.

Now I've got space in the freezer, I'll do a bit of produce prep to freeze.....Dawn of Doing it for Ourselves in Wales's courgette bhajis, and some tomato & onion sauce for pasta.  Will also slice, blanch and freeze some more of the carrots.

We had some mashed potato left over from a couple of days ago.  Sometimes I peel and cook a double quantity then just leave the extra in a plastic box in the fridge, it keeps for 2 or 3 days ok.  This time though I'd misjudged the amounts and there was only enough left for 1 portion.  So I've made fishcakes with it this morning - added 2 small tins of salmon flaked up, lots of parsley, some lemon zest, a squirt of tomato ketchup and plenty of salt & pepper.  It made 4 large cakes, we'll have them for lunch with chips and salad for me, mushy peas for OH.  I always bake the fishcakes instead of frying them....they don't get the crispy outside (well, unless I forget they're in the oven!) but still taste just as good.