Saturday, 27 June 2015

Melting!

I know I shouldn't complain about good weather, but I just don't cope with it very well.  I'm blonde (well, mostly out of a bottle now but am/was naturally blonde!), fair skinned with freckles and I burn VERY easily.  I don't sit out in the sun (lobster face is not attractive), but it's not just the burning skin.....heat makes me feel physically ill.  I probably should have been born in Iceland rather than southern England.  The thermometer in our front garden reads 30 deg C at the moment....needless to say, I'm hiding indoors where it is cooler.  And it's forecast to be hotter still next week.....

I don't feel much like cooking/baking in this weather.....who would want to be in a kitchen made boiling hot by the oven when the temp is so high anyway?  But OH needs cake.  So I try to bake early in the morning before it gets too hot, or in the evening when it's cooled down a bit.  I try to bake several things at once too, since I don't like having the oven on for just one thing and it saves time another day.

Dc from Frugal in Norfolk made this cake the other day http://frugalinnorfolk.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/fruit-crumble-cake.html (sorry, that's the only way I know how to link to another site) and I thought it sounded so delicious.  I used strawberries and raspberries from our garden.  The sponge base came out very stiff for me (I suspect I measured the ingredients wrong....I blame it on the heat addling my brain) so I added a splash of milk and it was fine then.  I had a slice for lunch (didn't fancy the spag bol I did for OH, too hot to eat hot food) and it's so nice, i'll definitely be making it again.

I also did a trayful of Mediterranean style veggies - yellow and red peppers, aubergine, mushrooms, red onions, plus courgettes from the garden, which are now starting to arrive daily.  Some of this has been frozen, the rest is in the fridge.....I like it cold with a blob of mayo, it makes a lovely light supper for me when OH is at work. 

I also made a leek, potato and cheese pie.....double crust pie with sliced leeks softened in oil, then mixed with some leftover boiled potatoes mashed up, lots of grated cheese, double cream and black pepper.  We'll have it cold for lunch tomorrow with salad.

Thanks for all your comments re haircutting.....seems half of us have a go ourselves (so glad i'm not alone!).  Joy, no unfortunately, we don't live near Warminster, we're on the western side of Somerset.

I see I have a couple of new followers, Everyday Gems and 1st Man - thank you, you are most welcome.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Hair cutting

When we lived back up in the Midlands, I had a mobile hairdresser, Jill, she used to come round to do my hair about every 6 to 8 weeks.  She'd been coming to me (and other members of my family) for about 15 years and had become a good friend.  I've had the same short hairstyle, with a couple of slight variations, for about 20 years.....it's easy to look after and takes no time at all to wash and blow dry (I use a diffuser attachment, I like the messy bed hair look).  Jill started off charging me £5 (she just did a wet cut), then after about 5 years it went up to £6, then eventually after a few more years, £7 - total bargain.  I've always preferred blow drying my hair myself......hairdressers over-complicate it, seeming to be obsessed with smoothing it down, placing every single strand just so, and using far too much 'product', which just weighs it down and makes it stiff and sticky....yuck!  So, whilst the £7 cut was, without a doubt, a bargain, it took into account the fact that Jill, being an extremely experienced skilful hairdresser, only cut it and only took a few minutes.

Living where we do, in a tiny hamlet of about 15 houses in a very rural area off the beaten track, I've not been able to find a mobile hairdresser willing to come out here.  There is a salon in the village about 4 or 5 miles away.....I have had my hair cut and styled there twice, when it had got so long and out of control it had become an absolute necessity.  But they charge (at the last visit around 8 months ago) £28, and then there's the tip on top of that.  Some months ago, I found out that a hairdresser had moved into a house a couple of miles from here and was doing hairdressing at home, so I quickly made an appointment.  I've been to her twice now, she does a perfectly good job, just doing a wet cut with no blow dry, just like Jill did.  But she charges £15.....and I have to wait for OH to be free to take me as I don't drive.

So yesterday I decided to take the plunge and cut my hair myself.....I mean, how hard can it be?!  (that was a joke, by the way, I don't profess to have any hairdressing skills whatsoever and don't wish to offend any readers who might be hairdressers!).  I have (as I'm sure we all have) cut my fringe on numerous occasions, or chopped a bit off here and there over the years, but have never before attempted a whole head cut.....well, not on myself.  I regularly cut OH's hair, but as he has a No. 2 cut with a razor all over, and hasn't much hair left anyway, that doesn't really count!  The one thing in my favour, with regard to cutting my own hair, is that I reckon I pretty much know how to do it, having watched Jill cutting mine for getting on for a couple of hundred times.

I couldn't do the back of my hair, so had to enlist OH to do that.....which was a bit of a fraught and nail-biting experience - he's so cack-handed, bless him.  But we managed, between us, me issuing instructions with demonstrations, and the occasional "Nonono......not like that!!".  It was a very slow process.....by contrast, when I did the top, sides and fringe myself, i'm happy to say it was much quicker and - well, a doddle actually.  Ok, so it's not up to Jill's standard, but it looks recognisably like my usual cut and I am actually very pleased with it.  So I don't think I'll bother getting it done professionally anymore.

Oh, and I've always coloured it myself, for about 40 years now, apart from the odd (hugely expensive) salon experience.

Do any of you DIY?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Our home allotment

After a bit of a slow start, and a few losses of young plants due to late frosts, all our fruit and veg is growing very well.  OH grew some early potatoes in bags in the polytunnel, we've just finished eating those.  We're now harvesting beautiful young carrots, rhubarb which seems neverending, the strawberries are coming thick and fast on a daily basis.  The first blackcurrants will be ready in a couple of days, as will courgettes.  Purple sprouting broccoli is almost ready.....which is a bit late actually, but the first seeds we sowed didn't germinate at all and subsequent ones were slow to get going.

Here's the right hand side of the garden:-


Starting from the back, we have carrots in a square raised boxed bed at the front of that bed, with 2 rows of 2nd early spuds and the rest maincrop along the bed.  Climbing peas up the canes beside the bed.  In the next bed there are shallots, red and brown onions, with leeks to be transplanted into the small space at the beginning of the bed.  Then it's Brussels sprouts, caulis and purple sprouting broccoli in the next one, with radishes at the beginning.  The next one has leeks in the polystyrene box on the table, waiting to be planted out, and 2 growbags waiting for cut & come again salad leaves to be transplanted into there.  The bed has courgettes and butternut squashes, then yellow French beans.  There are strawberries in the purpose-built bed OH made and attached to the fence.  Out of sight in the right hand edge of the pic is a Victoria plum tree....as it's a young tree, we don't expect any fruit from it this year.  It did have a few tiny fruits but they've since dropped off.

The left hand side:-


The fruit bed.  This end nearest the watering can has a dessert apple (Fiesta, lots of fruits on it), with a mature blackcurrant wrapped in fleece and netting to stop the birds from scoffing the lot.  There's also a young blackcurrant beside the fence, which isn't doing anything much right now.  Oh, and another young blackcurrant at the far end, which is doing a lot better.  All the bushes in the middle are autumn fruiting raspberries, and another long handmade planter of strawberries on the fence.

The 2 polytunnels have peppers and cucumbers in one, 3 varieties of tomatoes in the other.

The whole garden:-



As I've mentioned before, next year OH is starting to cut down his working days, leading up to stopping for good in about 3 years, we therefore want to grow a lot more produce, to be as self sufficient as possible.  To this end we will be digging up the middle part of the lawn and creating another couple of raised beds.  Dawn from Doing it for ourselves in Wales mentioned the other day about getting an Azada or digging hoe, and how much easier it made digging.....OH was very interested so we ordered one, it arrived this morning.  Thanks Dawn!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Ta dah!

I've finally finished the crochet blanket topper for our bed.  Well, if truth be told, it's not totally finished.....still have a few ends to sew in.  I can't remember when I started it, should make a note of these things really, but it's certainly taken me a few months to do.  I've really enjoyed doing it, except for the past 2 weeks.....it's felt like I was never going to get to the end, and the bigger it got, the longer each round was taking, of course.  Plus the weather's been so warm and having a huge chunky double blanket on my lap and legs was making me so hot, I had to keep throwing it off and stopping for a cold drink and a brisk fan with a magazine.  Bit daft really to do a chunky blanket at this time of year....I have enough hot flushes as it is!

Anyway, here it is:-


I'm so pleased with it, but am very glad it's finally done.....I don't think I'll be making another for a while!

We're decorating the bedroom the week after next, mushroom colour emulsioned walls, plum colour plain curtains - they exactly match one of the colours in the blanket.  I plan on getting a couple of large pictures for the plain walls, they've got a good selection in The Range, there's a big square one of a purple flower I particularly like.

We're gradually working our way through decorating the whole house.....the smallest bedroom was done first as it was the worst room, then the dining room was quickly touched up.  We did the hall, stairs and landing late last year, that was a job and a half.  Next to do will be the twin spare bedroom, followed by the sitting room.  A proper job on the dining room will be the last thing.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

A day out

Yesterday we decided to have a day off from gardening, housework and baking and went out for the day.  OH gets 3 days off a week, he does 12+ hours on the night shift the other 4 days, so every couple of weeks we try to have a day out.  We went to Porlock Weir, which is a small and very pretty village and harbour a few miles west of Minehead.  It has some very lovely old cottages, some of which inevitably are holiday accommodation.  There are a handful of small shops which are geared to tourists - high end shops though, not cheap tourist rubbish.  There's a couple of galleries, glass blowing studio, handmade jewellery, beautifully made wood furniture and picture frames etc......all of the crafts, paintings etc are locally made/painted.  Everything is beautiful, although naturally costs a lot. 

There are 2 pubs serving food, both with plenty of outside seating to take advantage of the lovely harbour and sea views.  Again, they're not cheap though.  Porlock Weir is a tourist magnet because it's so pretty, but it's at the opposite end of the spectrum to the likes of the holiday camp dominated places like Minehead and Weston super Mare.

An oyster farm was set up in the bay last year (couldn't see any evidence of it though).....apparently oyster fishing was big business here years ago until it was overfished to extinction by trawlers.  There are plans to start selling the oysters to the public very soon.  I won't be partaking.....they just don't appeal, I'm too girly and squeamish when it comes to shellfish!

view from the bench where we ate lunch

and another.....the beach is stony, no sand

across the car park to the hills beyond

We took a packed lunch which we ate sitting at a picnic table overlooking the beach, the above pics were taken from there.  The weather was intermittently cloudy and sunny, very warm but with a stiff cool breeze coming off the sea.  After lunch we had a walk round and looked in some of the shops, then sat in the sun by the harbour.

some of the little shops, there's also a tiny (one room!) museum

the harbour, the tide was well and truly out!

these cottages are on a little island, when the tide is in they can only be reached by a bridge over  the harbour wall to the right of the picture

closer view of the cottages....the end thatched one is a holiday cottage with a lovely garden and the most wonderful views

looking back towards the village from the little island

We had a lovely time there.  On the way back we stopped off at the supermarket in Minehead for a few things and picked up some bedding plants for the front garden.....yellow French Marigolds, Dianthus and Antirrhinums - very reasonably priced.  Planted them out straight away when we got back....well, after a cup of tea of course.







Monday, 15 June 2015

A baking morning

I mean foodwise, but it's also pretty hot and muggy weather....especially in the kitchen with the oven on!

A week ago I decided to have another go at a sourdough starter.  I've done it a few times in the past, sometimes successfully, sometimes not....I've found that the starter doesn't do nearly so well in the winter, obviously doesn't like colder temperatures.  Well, this past week it's bubbled along really nicely and smelled delicious - beery, yeasty and sweet.  You can (hopefully!) see the bubbles in the pic below.....as always, the pics are taken on my phone so aren't of the best quality.


I started off the starter last Monday with wholemeal rye flour as I've found that to begin activating very well, and 1/4 tsp yeast....a belt and braces approach, just to be sure it would get going quickly.....it did.  I used rye flour on the 2nd day also, but strong white on subsequent days.

This morning I tipped 3/4 of the dough out onto the well-floured worktop.....it was very loose, spreading like some kind of alien monster in those old sci-fi movies, creeping all over the worktop.  I used my 2 dough scrapers to lift and fold the edges into the middle, adding more strong white flour as I went along.  When the flour was all incorporated and the dough firmer and no longer wetly sticky, I used my hands to shape it into a neat round, picked it up and quickly plopped it onto baking paper, cutting a big cross into it. 

I'd bought a deep round Pyrex stoneware casserole dish with glass lid yesterday, specifically for baking bread in....I have found that if I just bake the loaves on a baking sheet, they expand outwards instead of upwards, creating a loaf that's too shallow.  Whilst the shaped dough was resting/proving, I pre-heated the oven to 220 deg (it's a fan oven) and put the dish & lid in to thoroughly heat up.  30 mins later I took the dish out and lowered the dough into it, still on the baking paper.


Into the hot oven for 30 mins, then I took the lid off the dish and carried on baking the loaf for another 10 mins to develop the crust.  It's come out looking very good, nicely risen and with a lovely thick crust.


 

Whilst the oven was on I also made a puff pastry tart......sheet of puff pastry topped with bacon, sliced red onions softened in a little oil in the microwave, halved cherry tomatoes and torn goats cheese.  We're off out to the beach tomorrow, Porlock Weir, and will take some with us for a picnic lunch.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Plodding along.....

Thank you for all your lovely comments, the holiday did us so much good, we knew we were stressed but didn't realise quite how much it had affected us both until we came home feeling utterly 'normal', for the first time in ages.  We'd forgotten what 'normal' was.

Bit of an anti-climax this week though.....we both feel fine, it's just that life is now plodding along with no dramas, aggravations, stresses, worries.  So what am I complaining about?!  Well, nothing really....I'll take plodding over aggravation any day. 

Nothing much to report really.  I sorted out all the tubs in the front garden the other day, pruning dead stuff, taking out the top couple of inches of old soil and replacing with new, then filling with bedding plants - petunias, geraniums and lobelia.  OH weeded and pruned the two corner flower beds.  All the veg and fruit is coming along really well....we've had several meals of new potatoes, the ones he grew in bags in the polytunnel.  We're pulling early carrots now, they're so yummy and full of flavour, makes you realise that supermarket bagged carrots are simply tasteless.  The first courgettes and strawberries are just about ready too.  Blackcurrants are turning colour, which reminds me, must cover the bush with fleece before the birds strip all the fruit off.  I don't mind them having a few, in fact I deliberately scatter a few on the ground when I'm picking them....I just don't want them scoffing the lot!  Must pick and freeze more rhubarb, it's taking over that corner of the garden.

The crocheted bed topper is very nearly done, just another 3 or 4 edging rows to do, I should finish it tomorrow I reckon.  Will post a pic. 

Might go to a boot sale tomorrow, providing it's not peeing down.  There's a new one just starting up, it starts around midday which is good....most of them round here start at 7 or 8 am.  That's no good for us.....OH doesn't get home from work until about 3 in the morning, which means he doesn't get up till about 10 ish.

Hope you all have a good weekend.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Back and eager to get on with things

Thank you all for your comments, we had a wonderful time in south west Wales - even the weather was kind to us, we only had 1 and a half wet days.  The hot tub was just fabulous, so relaxing.  We didn't think about any of the horrible stuff surrounding MiL's death at all, we just totally forgot about everything and just enjoyed ourselves.  Having talked things through now, we've decided to simply let go of all the bad things.....I don't want to say too much about it, but certain things concerning one of OH's siblings came to light following his mother's death, serious stuff which could have involved police and court action and would have had far reaching consequences.  Well, it's not something that we really want to get involved in and really doesn't affect us personally, so as we don't want all the hassle and stress, we've made the decision not to have any further involvement in it....if others want to take it up, that's up to them.  So that's that.  Onwards and upwards, as they say.

All the unpacking and washing has been done - this usually takes me several days, but having come back with a renewed sense of purpose, I just wanted to get it done so I can get on with other things.  I did a freezer stocktake this morning and menu planned for the week using up what's left in the freezers, then went shopping with a list of just the necessary things.  The freezers (we actually have 3 - the large fridge/freezer indoors, plus an under the counter one and a small chest freezer we were given last year, both in the outhouse) are emptying out nicely.....I want to make room for all the veg/fruit we will soon be inundated with.  We're growing more stuff this year, with a view to having a good supply of home grown veg and fruit to last us all year, so need plenty of space in the freezers. 

I'm going to try and get all 4 dining chairs finished this coming week.....I've decided that I'm only going to paint 2 of them (one is finished, the other has been undercoated).  The other 2 I'm going to sand right down and then use light oak oil on them, to bring out the beautiful grain of the wood.  I do like old solid wood, it's really lovely when it's well looked after.

We're going to start looking for an old dresser or sideboard for the dining room now, plus an antique pine wardrobe for the twin spare bedroom.

In the evenings I shall be cracking on with my crocheted bed topper blanket....it's coming on really well and I can't wait to see it finished and on the bed.  I've just bought some new plain bedding for our bed, we have plain plum curtains and a stone coloured carpet, the walls when we decorate in the next month will be plain mink painted.  So the crocheted bed topper in 4 wide stripes of royal blue, plum, pink and magenta will be a big splash of colour, along with a couple of large pictures.  I'll post pics when it's all done.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Having a lovely time....

Well, the holiday is everything we hoped it would be....apart from Monday when we had a howling gale all day, the weather here in not-so-wet-Wales has been pretty good.  In fact, today it was intermittently quite hot.  We didn't even mind it being so bad on Monday, as it meant we had an enforced lazy day just reading or watching TV, it was good to relax and recharge our batteries.  The holiday cottage, which is beautiful, has exclusive use of the owner's indoor pool, sauna and hot tub - how luxurious!  The sauna is lovely, but we especially like the hot tub and are making full use of it....there's nothing so good as relaxing in hot bubbly water outside in a very pretty garden - sheer bliss.

Today we've been to St. David's, a tiny cathedral city about a dozen miles from where we're staying.  We've been there before but didn't go inside the Cathedral, so did that today.  It's beautiful, as are all cathedrals.....whilst I'm not remotely religious, I do love cathedrals - the sheer hugeness and majesty of the architecture never fails to amaze me, how people managed to construct such magnificent massive buildings all those years ago with essentially very primitive tools just blows my mind.  The intricate, detailed and highly decorative carvings and ceilings, plus the fabulously beautiful stained glass windows, fill me with awe.  I took some photos (with my phone, as always, so apologies for their inadequacies). 

Just one little moan here.....this cathedral, in common with several others we've been in, makes a point of saying it has free entry, but has posters and a big collection point right in your face in the entrance way, asking for a 'suggested donation of £3.00 per adult'.  Now, don't get me wrong, I do realise the upkeep of such a building costs a lot and don't mind at all making a donation.  But a 'voluntary' donation should surely be just that - a voluntary amount, of whatever you feel able to make, NOT what amounts to more or less a blatant demand for a fixed amount.  Having said that, £3.00 is a lot less than some others we've been in......Right, i'll get off my soapbox now!


 





The ceiling was just glorious, so beautiful.  The tapestry in the last photo was amazingly detailed with the most intricate stitches, it must have taken months and months to complete, such beautiful work by a very talented person.

On the way back from St. David's, we went to Porthgain, a tiny very picturesque harbour our cottage owner had told us about.  It was very hot and sunny, we climbed up on the hill overlooking the harbour and open sea and sat there for a while, hoping we might see some dolphins....no luck though. 

I'd read on TripAdvisor about a collectibles shop with tea room attached, in a little village called Mathry, 3 or 4 miles down the road from here, so we stopped off there for afternoon tea.  The reviews said it was good....they weren't wrong, it was fabulous.



Sandwiches with 2 fillings, crisps, scones with jam and fresh strawberries, an assortment of cakes.  The little gold-rimmed cups held strawberry jelly with cream and strawberry-flavoured chocolate curls....how cute!  And a large pot of really good tea, and all served in/on very pretty vintage china.  It only cost £14 for the two of us, which we thought was a really good price, especially seeing as, having eaten the sandwiches, crisps, scones and jelly, we couldn't manage the cakes so the proprietor boxed them up for us to bring home.

Oh, and I bought a lovely 2-tier cake stand in the blue & white china I'm collecting, in the little collectibles shop, which had some lovely things in it.  I forgot to take a photo of it though.