Sunday, 28 August 2011

Tea Cups and Scone Rings

It has been a scrumptious weekend so far, I am happy to report, even though the weather is still decidedly unseasonal for August! A dear friend got married yesterday, and it was a beautiful day...the bride was elegant and very Kate Middelton, the bridesmaids carried sunflowers, and we had hog roast and Pimms in a marquee at the ancestral home of the Petre family, Ingatestone Hall. As well as being a very happy occasion, and seeing lots of friends from school, and suddenly realising we have been friends for half our lifetimes, it was also memorable for the weather. We arrived early for the service as the trains do not often run to that village, and emerged into pouring rain. As we got to the church, the sun shone, and happily stayed out for the bride and groom to emerge into a flutter of confetti...of which there would have been more, but the breeze had blown up, and scattered most of it back at the confetti throwers! As we got to Ingatestone Hall, we had hail! Hail in August! I felt so sorry for the waiting staff, who were standing out in the courtyard to meet us with glasses of Pimms. Needless to say one and all hurried inside!

There were more beautiful touches...a jazz band playing throughout the evening, and after dinner, an old fashioned ice cream cart which also served candy floss and popcorn! It was also a memorable day because the sister of the groom, who had been going to be a bridesmaid, gave birth to her first child, and their parents very first grandchild! A little girl arrived while we were in church singing the final hymn of the service! The father of the bride gave a funny and touching speech, and some time round midnight, a little band of us walked through the dark country lanes back to the railway station, and from there home to bed for a welcome cup of tea.

We woke up a little sleepy-eyed today to a grey day which has been full of showers. We did get out for a little walk in a brief respite, and when we got back I was seized by the urge to bake. I think it was partly that I have been reading another in the Laura Childs Tea Shop Mystery series, and partly because of seeing my latest craft project all finished (little tea cups that I have turned into candles. The cups and saucers are pale cream with a spray of roses on them, and I have filled them with pale pink wax to turn them into candles). Where it is so Autumny I wanted to scent the flat with baking and had some locally grown Bramley Apples, so I have made an Apple Scone Ring. This is a recipe that I first made at school, in cookery lessons (which had the uninspiring name of Food Technology!). I have tinkered with it a little over the years, and it is now like this:

Apple Scone Ring

On an autumn-feeling rain speckled Sunday, preheat the oven to 160 oC. Don't even stop to put on a pinny, but weigh out 8oz of self raising flour, and sift it into a bowl with 1tsp baking powder. Rub in 2oz of butter or margarine, and stir in a tsp of cinnamon and 2oz caster sugar. Grate in a medium cooking apple, skin and all, but avoid the core and pips as much as you can. Stir in enough milk to make a soft dough, and add a tiny bit more flour if it is too sticky. About 1/4 pint of milk should do it. Lightly pat out to a round about 1/4 inch thick on a baking tray. Brush the surface with milk and scatter with a little more sugar, either caster or soft brown. Perhaps add a little more cinnamon. Score into 6-8 wedges, and bake for 20-5 minutes. Err on the side of caution as it goes from golden to burnt in the blink of an eye.

When they are cooked, you should be able to smell apple and cinnamon wafting through the rooms. You can cut the scone almost as soon as it comes out of the oven, although it is a more comfortable eating temperature after 5 minutes or so. These are not delicate afternoon tea scones, more rustic high tea scones. I never split them or add cream and jam, but if I was going to, a cream flavoured with a little ginger would probably go very nicely indeed.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Joy of Cooking

I hardly dare say it, lest I should jinx it, but I am pleased to say...I have my cooking mojo back! At last! I have posted so many times over the past few months about how I wished I could get back into menu planning, and felt the zest had gone out of me a little...well, as you can probably tell from the number of cookery posts lately, it is back!

Yesterday afternoon at work I was stamping books whilst pondering dinner. It was a rainy morning so comfort food was in order. I had a cooked chicken at my disposal, and Carl had expressed an interest in a stew or similar. So whilst I stamped I toyed with ideas in my head. Sketched out possible dinners and mused some more. In the end, I decided to soften an onion in a little butter, then simmer some carrots and green beans in chicken stock, then add in some chunks of chicken towards the end. Then I added a little milk to the veggie-chicken-stock mixture to make it creamy, and a little cornflour to thicken. Then I threw together a cobbler topping scented with rosemary and baked in the oven.

Although the dinner was lovely, what was lovelier was deciding what to make and getting excited about how to make it!

Tonight dinner was extra special, because we finally ate at a table like grown ups, thanks to our local second hand shop! I made 'Tuesday Tarts' although it is of course a Thursday, courtesy of Attic24. I tweaked the recipe a little, using a red onion instead of white, drizzling with basil oil, and adding a sliced tomato to the top of each tart before baking. The best bit is that there are 2 tarts left over for tomorrows lunch.

Now we are sitting in the nearly-dark living room, soft lamp light giving a gentle glow. Coffee scents the air, and a bowl of ripe plums sits between us to be shared.

Wherever you are, I hope you are having a lovely evening


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Tonight I Am...

...watching The Great British Bake Off (recorded last night!)

...crocheting white edging to red stripes for my Union Jack Cushion (destined to be a Christmas gift)

...sipping tea (of course!)

...eating homemade chicken cobbler

...snuggling in my soft red dressing gown (usually reserved for winter!)

...taking my Tea Shop Murder Mystery to bed to read until my eyes close (will I find out the murderer before that happens?!)

...looking forward to collecting my new glasses tomorrow!

Penny For My Thoughts

I was flicking through the Sunday papers, when a fashion shoot caught my eye. Now usually fashion shoots only catch my eye to make me gasp in horror or shock, but this time my attention was caught for a good reason! The feature was about autumn fashions, and one of the models had the most beautiful nail polish on, a really rich chocolate brown.

When I looked up at the bottom of the page, I found that despite her wearing a £500 jumper in the photo, she was wearing £5 nail polish by Andrea Fullerton in a shade called 'Penelope'. I had a £5 gift voucher stashed in my handbag, so it seemed to be the fates of Autumn telling me to try it!

So here are my thoughts on Penelope by Andrea Fullerton...

...firstly, the display in the shop was nice, rather than a static counter, it was a spinner display which made it nice and easy to see the different colours on offer. I know it makes no earthly difference to the product, but I do like it when makeup has nice names for their shades rather than just numbers. 'Penelope' is described as chocoletta brown, but I was also tempted by the similar looking 'Naomi' which was a little more red, and the natural creme 'Nigella'. I walked away with just what I cam for though. considering that the press release which I found on the Andrea Fullerton website suggests that the colours are perfect for one coat application, I have to wonder if they have actually used their own product. While I was pleased that the colour came out the same as in the bottle, it felt very thin and streaky. Almost like it had been diluted too much. A second coat was essential, which did make the coverage more even, but also made the colour just a little bit darker, perhaps a bit too dark for my liking. Perhaps it is my pale skin, but the colour loses some of its rich chocolate colour and becomes more like black coffee. So I preferred the colour of one coat but you really could not wear it with one coat because of the coverage.

...the lasting power I have not really tested fairly because OPIs Start To Finish has become a standard part of my manicure. I have said it before but it will keep polish on for at least a week without a hint of a chip, even if like me, you tend to wash up without using gloves!

So overall...I liked the display and the concept of giving the polishes girls names, but at £5 a bottle I would expect a better quality of product, to go on in one coat without the streaking, or to retain the correct colour after 2 coats. For my money, I think Rimmel offers better products at better prices, so I won't be buying from Andrea Fullerton again.

I must remember to change my polish before Saturday...we are going to a wedding, to which I am going to wear a jade green dress, and I want to have bright red nails to go with it. I wore the outfit last weekend, and with black heels, a black belt, red lipstick and nails and fluttery false lashes, and really liked the jewel green and red against the black.

A Nice Cup of Tea and a Murder!

Yesterday, whilst I was in Waterstones, waiting while a friend made her purchases, I suddenly spotted a display of books...aimed at people who like Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth - 'cosy' murder mysteries. I actually gave a little shriek as I rushed over, because for the first time ever, I saw Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mysteries for sale in this country.

I had read a few that were in the library and really loved them. Theodosia Browning is the main character, and she owns a Tea Shop where the menus sound heavenly and are often themed, and some of the recipes are included at the back of the book. She often gets embroiled in a murder mystery, and plays a kind of Jessica Fletcher character. The titles all have some kind of tea in them, such as 'Shades of Earl Grey' 'Dragonwell Dead' 'The English Breakfast Murder' and so on. They are gentle stories, yes there are murders, but they are very much in the Agatha Christie vein, and they won't leave you jumpy or with nightmares.

I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed reading them, and when I checked, more have been written since I read them last, so I have placed some orders at the library so I can start reading the series again. If you are looking for a gentle read that will keep you guessing, and leave you hurrying to the kitchen to start baking and brew a fresh pot of tea, then do give them a go!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


I know it is a terribly English thing, to talk about the weather, but really, it is like living on a meteorological see-saw at the moment! A week or so ago the mornings were cool and crisp, and it was positively autumnal. Days later the sun was blisteringly hot, real ice-cream weather, and autumn seemed months and months away. Now it is showering with rain and the trees are shivering again!

Last night, I was washing up at about half past eight, when I noticed that it was almost dark. Almost imperceptibley, the nights have started drawing in. I am fighting the urge to get out the slow cooker and start cooking stews and baked apples, and light cinnamon scented candles. As you know, autumn is one of my favourite times of year, but as much as I love it, it is August! The proper place for autumn is mid-late September!

All the seasons seem to be coming early this year...we had an early spring, an early summer, and now it looks like Autumn is coming before it really should. I wonder what comes next? If Winter is here early too, will we start next year before the calendar runs out? Or if we are lucky, perhaps we will have an Indian Summer, and then a gloriously long and crisp Autumn that will mellow gently into a toe-tingling winter.

I know too, that I say this every year, but it does seem to me that Christmas comes to the shops earlier and earlier. Yesterday, I needed to buy a wedding anniversary card for my sister, and a wedding card for this Saturday, and as soon as I walked into the card shop I was confronted by a huge display of Christmas cards! The first Christmassy-ness that I have seen in the shops so far. I don't know if I should be relieved that it was not even earlier, or a little sad that it is a third of the year too early!

Sometimes I feel a little hypocritical, talking about not liking Christmas in the shops when I craft throughout the year, and buy gifts to squirrel away. But, and here is the big but, the things I make are not overtly Christmassy. I am currently crocheting a Union Jack cushion, and the only thing Christmassy about it is when it is going to be given. I will be making pots of pear and vanilla jam later in the month, and again, nothing Christmassy about that, in fact, you couldn't really get more is just what they are destined for. And after all, my getting ready for Christmas does not affect anybody else, whereas cramming the shops so early affects everybody who walks through their doors.

But enough of this, I realise I am sounding quite grumpy, when really, I am not at all. Time for another pot of tea, I think! So just a little roundup of the past few days...Saturday was glorious and will get a post all of its own. We went to a sumptuous hotel to celebrate my Aunt and Uncle's Ruby Wedding Anniversary, had a divine meal and then spent time with the family which was just blissful. Sunday was a gentle drifting day, and yesterday I cooked Watercress Soup with Smoked Salmon Toasts for tea which worked well. I watched an episode of Countrywise Kitchen set in Essex, and saw the very place Carl and I met - Mersea Island, also the wonderful Springstep Goat Farm where we have enjoyed several afternoon teas, and admired tiny wobbly-legged newborn goat kids. It was lovely to see these places through a lens, somehow the colours of the salt marshes and wide expanses of sky seemed even more beautiful.

I am spending the afternoon with a friend...we have a small trip to Hobbycraft planned, and then I am cooking dinner for us and another friend and her friend, before an evening trip to the cinema (hurrah for cinema loyalty cards, and enough points for a free ticket!) Somehow it is nearly half past nine, so it is time I set to the kitchen to work out what to cook for tea tonight for us all. One can't eat wheat, one can't eat dairy, and another only likes peas and sweetcorn. Time to get creative!

Wherever you are, I hope you have more sunshine than showers today


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Aubergine and Tomato Bake

Having spent years and years believing that I hated aubergines, you can imagine how pleased I was to discover, one day, that actually I rather liked them! One of the ladies I used to work with was famous for her spiced potatoes that she would bring to any buffet, and as they were so delicious I was easily persuaded to try her aubergine bake. Since then I have had Aubergine Parmigiana at Zizi, and really enjoyed that, but now we are being a little more frugal, I thought it would be the perfect time to recreate it at home.

So, for a relaxing Sunday evening, Carl and I cooked together. I preheated the oven to 180 oC whilst he sliced an aubergine in half, then into half-moons about 1cm thick. Whilst he griddled them, I made a tomato sauce. Into a little pan went some oil, a chopped onion and some lazy garlic. Then a tin of plum tomatoes, a squirt of tomato puree and a sprinkling of mixed herbs. A good stir with a wooden spoon broke up the tomatoes, and by the time the aubergine were all griddled, the sauce was lovely and thick.

Into each of two rectangular individual baking dishes, I spooned some of the sauce, then topped with a layer of aubergine. I then sprinkled over a little grating of cheddar, then the rest of the tomato sauce. After topping with some breadcrumbs and grated parmesan I baked it in the oven for 20 minutes, and served with some steamed broccoli.

The result was not an exact replica of the Zizi dish, but then I was not expecting it to be because I had made some deviations, but it was really tasty and I will definitely be making it again.

You could make it more filling with some red lentils in the tomato sauce, or some thinly sliced potatoes amongst the aubergine. Perhaps some roasted peppers or courgette would be nice too. You could also sprinkle some pine nuts over the top, or instead, make a white sauce for the topping.


Thursday, 18 August 2011

Gifts From The Heart

Saturday is day that I have been looking forward to for some time. I have a wonderful Aunt, who is the kind of person who just makes you feel better from talking with her. As long as I have known her, she has worn her hair up in a twist of some kind or another, is ever so properly mannered yet has the naughtiest laugh and a delightful sense of humour. When I was a little girl, we would never know when she and my Uncle were coming to visit. Instead, we would get home from school, and they would either just be there, or were on their way. They visited rarely enough for it to be a wonderful surprise, and often enough that I was never shy with them. My Uncle was an airline pilot, and as well as teaching me the phonetic alphabet almost as soon as I knew the real one, he used to give me little gifts that meant so much - such as a rubber with a black swan on it, from Australia.

When I was 8 or so, my sister and I went to have a weeks holiday with them. It was so exciting to be away from home on our own, and I just remember the most exciting time. Then the next year, I went on my own. I have a memory and also a photograph of me in their beautiful garden, wearing the biggest smile, and what I thought then was the prettiest jumper in the world. It had a lady clown on it with sparkly buttons and ribbons and things, and they had bought it for me when I fell in love with it in a shop.

Fast forward a few years, and they lent our family their home in Looe in Cornwall so we could holiday there. Such a lovely time, and the best day of all when they dropped in to visit us. It is the same Aunt and Uncle who kindly lent us their appartment in Barbados for our honeymoon.

Best of all are the days we drive down to visit them. It only happens 3 or 4 times a year, and I really wish it were more. I wish I could capture the loveliness of their home and hospitality for you. She is not houseproud but everything is clean and tidy and just so. She loves pretty things, and there are pretty throws on the sofa, embroidered tablecloths, and always a cup and saucer for tea from the pot, usually accompanied by a plate of homemade sausage rolls warm from the oven.

As you can tell, they have given me a lot of happy memories over the years. And this Saturday, the day I have been looking forward to, is their Ruby Wedding Anniversary. To celebrate they have invited us and the rest of their family to a hotel near their home, where we are having a celebration lunch. It is the South Lodge hotel, and hopefully, if I have done it correctly, the title of this post should link to it. It looks wonderful, and I am really looking forward to seeing the family, celebrating such a wonderful marriage, and in such a setting too!

Now Aunty Dottie has been pressing on us how they don't need presents, how they have everything they want, and how our company is their gift. A lovely thought indeed, but we really want to give them something. What to get though? And then, I had a thought. Rather than 'get' them something, I want to give them something. So I have baked them a cake, a fruit cake with rum-soaked fruit that I will marzipan and ice. I am going to put a red ribbon around it, and have a silver '4' and '0' to put on top, along with a spray of red roses made from icing. I do hope they like it! This is my recipe:

A week or so before you want to make the cake, take 12oz of currants and raisins (the combined weight, not 12oz of each) and steep them in 550ml rum or, if you would rather 350ml rum and the rest port. Be sure to use dark rum, Barbados if you can get it.

On a rainy summer afternoon, preheat your oven to 160 oC then tie on your prettiest apron, and grease and line a 8.5-9.5 inch cake tin (a round one, not a square one).

Beat together 6oz soft butter with 7oz dark muscavado sugar. Then beat in the zest of 1 large orange, 2 large eggs, 1tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp mixed spice, 1/2 tsp nutmeg (again from Barbados if possible, mine came home in my honeymoon suitcase!), and the steeped fruit and the excess rum that hasn't yet soaked into the fruit.

Stir it together, and breathe in the rich scent, making you realise how soon it will be that you will be baking your Christmas cake, and remember when you made your own wedding cake, and smile.

Sift in 13oz plain flour and 2tsp baking powder. As you stir, stir in lots of love.

Turn the mixture out into the baking tin, and bake for 1 hour- 1 hour 15 minutes.

This cake is so delicious and moist that you do not need to ice it, but can eat it plain. However I will be marzipanning and icing this one.

The kitchen is warm from the glow of the oven now, the air is rich with fruit cake cooking, and my heart is warm too, from happy memories. Aren't the best gifts those made or given with love?

Wonderful Waitrose

I always used to think that my personal measure of richness would be able to do all my grocery shopping in Waitrose or Marks and Spencer, and to always be able to buy the proper wool for a project rather than getting a cheap brand from the market.

Can you imagine my surprise then, that I find myself shopping at Waitrose now, when our budget is tighter than it has ever been? And although it would be very, very easy to spend a month or more of housekeeping in one go in there, if you shop carefully, it is actually surprisingly economical.

I had a £15 off if you spend £75 voucher, so I decided to use that, several months ago. I shopped online, with a list, and got a lot for my money. Also, I was really impressed with the service. The delivery slots are in 1 hour blocks, staggered in half hour intervals so it is really easy to get a time that you want, and not have to wait around too long for it. They send you a text message on the morning of your delivery, to confirm the time, who the driver will be, which van they will be driving (they are all named after fruit or veg!) and if you have any missing items. The bags are colour coded so you know what needs to be unpacked into the fridge first, and they will take old bags back to be recylced. Also, on the receipt, the items are laid out in order of expiry date so you can see what to use first. The delivery people have carried everything up to our first floor flat and been really pleasant too.

All in all, I really couldn't be more impressed. I have been getting even better value for money too, by paying a flat fee each month which entitles to me to as many deliveries as I wish. It works out better than paying a delivery fee each time! Oh, and I had an email today to say that when I have put in my fifth order, I can choose either a box of chocolates or a bottle of champagne as a thank you!

I still was not convinced it was the cheapest option out of those supermarkets who deliver, but was pleased enough with the service and quality of the goods not to worry too much. But out of curiosity, I did my last shop through My Supermarket, which calculates how much your shopping would cost at several different supermarkets, and then transfers your shopping to whichever one you choose. To my surprise, Waitrose came out cheapest! So not only have I been getting great service, it really is great value too.

The only word of advice I would give is to shop online, with a list, and don't get too distracted by lovely things such as pale blue eggs for breakfast, or you can easily break your budget. Having said that, their Waitrose Essentials range can save you some pennies, and also I think it is important to have a treat or two in the trolley!

Happy Shopping!


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Let Down Your Hair

Four years after our wedding, I can finally say, with a happy swish of my locks, that I have long hair again. It makes me feel...better. The weight of it just feels right, somehow. Although I will of course get a trim from time to time to keep it in good condition, and may play with layers and fringes here and there, for the forseeable future, the length is here to stay!

We have had an electrician and a plumber out to look at our shower over the past week and a half, so sadly I have been reduced to washing my hair under the bath tap! Not idea when you have longer hair and are trying to take good care of it! I like to change my shampoo and conditioner from time to time as I think hair gets used to it if you use the same one all the time, so I have started to look about for something to use once we have a working shower again.

I have seen lots of adverts for the new range from VO5, and it looks good. It seems to be on offer in lots of places too, which is even better. Alas, the range is perhaps a bit too good, and I found it impossible to choose which I needed. Initially I thought Gloss Me Smoothly was for me, but then saw Plump Me Up, Give Me Moisture and Nourish Me Truly. How to choose? Not in a snap in front of the display, so I decided to take some time to think about it. What I did bring home though, was a tiny bottle of Miracle Concentrate (click on the title of this post to go to the web page). It was on offer, and I used my Boots points, so I decided I had nothing to use!

I have been slightly wary of oil treatments in the past, as they can have an unfortunate effect on the hair, but I am pleased to report that I am really impressed with this one. You use it very sparingly, on either damp hair that you can then dry, or dry hair. I used it on dry hair, massaged it though the lengths, then gave it a gentle brush. Almost immediately my hair seemed to relax a bit, defrizz, shine more, and smell heavenly. Without knowing I was trying out a new product, Carl came home and announced that my hair smells 'good enough to eat'! That has to be a result.

I can't decide how often to use it at the moment. I want to use it often enough that it has a good effect, but I definitely don't want an oily build up on my hair! I think I will start by using it when I wash my hair, and see how I go.

I am really looking forward to choosing and trying the shampoo and conditioner now!

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Oh, how I looked forward to this novel, and oh, how much I wanted to like it. It was a promising premise...a girl wakes up one day to find that not only can she taste the flavours in food, but the emotions of the person who made it. Imagine her distress when she discovers her Mother is particularly unhappy. Her brother also has problems, and it is the portion of the story concerning him which I really struggled with. It is impossible to talk about too much without giving away much of the story, and it is constructed in such a way that you are left thinking you won't know the outcome of his story until the very I don't want to spoil it for you, if you are going to read this. But I had to read sections out to my poor husband, to check that I was reading what I thought I was. Perhaps the fault is my literary palate, and I am not sophisticated enough to fully enjoy it.

I did enjoy the slightly dreamy quality to her writing to begin with, but it actually gets quite annoying after a while. A particular quirk is that the authoress does not write speech in the typical manner. Instead of using speech marks she just writes it all into the prose. Ugh. has left me with a strong desire to perfect a lemon cake recipe (although never ever with chocolate icing, as in the novel!) and a gladness that I borrowed the book from the library and did not buy it! Not a book that is destined to live on my bookshelf, alas. If you have read it, I would love to know what you think!

On Getting My House In Order

There has been a lot percolating in my mind lately, and a lot has to do with the housekeeping. By which I do not mean the dusting and polishing, but the budget set aside to buy food, cleaning products and other household necessities. As of Monday, we are living more or less on one salary so naturally, it seemed a good time to look at our household expenses. We have put together a budget for our bills and suchforth, and set aside a budget for the housekeeping. Now, for me, the aim is not for us to live or manage on the housekeeping budget, but to live well on it. By necessity it is smaller than I am used to, but I am also aware that it is probably more than some people have to spend. So rather than feeling hard done by, I am actually really enjoying the challenge of living and living well on less.

In the course of some internet dabbling to find ideas on living on a smaller housekeeping budget, I have found some lovely blogs: (Thanks, Midori, for the tip!)

Isn't it interesting though, how 'frugal' does not conjure lovely images in the mind. I like 'thrifty' as in my head it sounds quite jolly-hockey sticks and war-time vintage. Thrifty reminds me of the feeling evoked by the book 'Orchids On Your Budget' whilst frugal makes me think of mouldy bread and stale cheese. (The word that is, not the blog!) It is all window dressing really, because whatever word you choose to use, it is about living well on little. Not necessarily as little as possible though, because I think it is important not to trim the fat completely if you can possibly help it, otherwise if there is a tighter pinch, there is nothing left to cut! Also, for me I would have to be very hard up indeed before I started eating battery eggs or chickens. (I realise I am lucky to have the luxury of making that choice, though). I would rather have good tea bags and coffee, and make my little sacrifices elsewhere. Ultimately, it is about what matters to us individually as housekeepers.

Now that Carl is the breadwinner, it is also more important to me than ever that I get value for the money that I am spending, because suddenly it is his money I am spending rather than mine or ours. I know to some it may sound old fashioned, but if he is going to spend a long day at work earning to support us, then I want him to come home to a dinner that is nutritious, delicious, and that he enjoys. That might mean eating vegetarian 5 days of the week then having a really good steak or beautiful piece of fish. Or it might mean taking a cheaper cut of meat and braising it slowly in beer as a stew. Either way, whatever happens, I am going to need to be really organized.

So, first things first, I need a plan. For me that means a budget, a goal, a framework and a menu plan!

The Budget

Having discovered the Grocery Challenge on the money saving expert website, I will spend the first month or two aiming to stay inside my budget (£260/month) and then after that reduce it by £5 or £10 a month. £260 sounds an awful lot for 2, but when you think about it that is £130 each for the month, £29 a week, £4.19 a day, £1.39 a meal! Less than that really, because the money is for all household expenses, not just food! And with the rising costs of food prices, I think it would be rather easy to burst that budget, especially when a quick visit to Marks after work for some dinner and a pint of milk can easily see £15 spent....

The Goal

As I said before, I want to provide nutritious food that is delicious and does not feel frugal. I have seen some terrifying websites where meals are made for 30p a head and include tins of pilchards and value pasta. Fine if your tastes run that way; mine don't. Instead, think a yummy lentil dahl and homemade naan. Automatically this is going to mean eating in season (in season fruit and veg being cheaper and tastier) and lots of home cooking. All this whilst staying in budget!

The Framework

No more 'just buying milk' on the way home for me! Instead, the monthly budget divided by 4, a quarter to be spent each week on a grocery delivery planned in advance. Breakfast is more or less taken care of - in general we are cereal eaters. There is variety of course; we may have porridge or mueseli, and I usually keep a box or two of granola or weetabix to choose from as well, the changes being run with chopped or grated fruit in addition. On Sundays, we used to go out for brunch as our weekly treat; for now I will be making pancakes or bacon sandwiches or similar at home three weeks out of four, and plan to save enough out of the housekeeping for breakfast out on the fourth.

Lunch tends to follow the pattern of sandwich/roll/wrap/pitta/salad, fruit, yoghurt, flapjack style bar, so they won't be too hard to plan either.

Dinner is where the bulk of the money and the inspiration is needed! So here is the pattern I have put together to make things a little easier for me:

Monday~Free Choice
Wednesday~Soup (Souper Wednesdays!)
Thursday~Pizza or Pasta (homemade of course, and probably vegetarian)
Friday~Curry (I am going to work my way through Indian Every Day by Anjum Anand)
Sunday~Simple Supper eg meat, potatoes, vegetables

By now I am sure you are pouring yourself another cup of tea and thinking that you know more than you want to about the running of my household, but seeing as I have found other blogs and blog posts about this helpful, I am hoping that if there are other ladies out there tightening their belts a little, this may help them. So do stay with me please, or put on another pot of tea whilst I just finish up!

To keep track of it all, I have a spreadsheet! Now usually you know that I adore my notebooks and fountain pens, but I decided to do it online because I can share the spreadsheet with Carl, and also I can access it on my phone when I am out and about! There are several sections to my spreadsheet; an inventory of my storecupboards, fridge and freezer so I know what ingredients I have already; the weeks menu plans; an archive of past menu plans; a running tally of what I have spent and what I have left to spend.

I wish blogger would let me share the actual spreadsheet with you, but alas, it will not! I can add images, videos and links, but not a simple spreadsheet!

The Menu Plan

Using the framework, all I have to do is go through and choose a dish for each day, and then think about breakfasts and lunches, and from that I can make a shopping list. I found it much less daunting today, rather than just sitting down to a blank sheet of paper. This week we are going to be enjoying amongst other things Tuesday Tarts which I found on the lovely blog Attic24, Pea and Goats Cheese Risotto, and Vegetable Curry with Homemade Naan. I have made my grocery order and it should be delivered tomorrow evening.

The only minor issues so far have been that it has been time consuming (but then I have turned out and inventoried all the food cupboards!) but I anticipate the time needed will be drastically reduced next week, and also, it is slightly scary to buy only what you need and not just add things for 'in case'. I know I have money left in my budget, so if the worst comes to the worst and we need more I can get it, and we do live only 5 minutes away from the shops...but it does feel a bit odd!

So, that is what I have been up to the last day or so! We shall see how it goes, but you know, even when we are both in gainful employment again and have a larger budget, I think I will carry on housekeeping like this. I like the idea of knowing exactly where my money is going, and getting the best for it. Ultimately, at the end of each week I will be asking myself 'Is this the best I could do? Can I do better?' and take those thoughts forward for next week.

With that, I will take my apron off, and sip a cup of tea for a while. My mind is a bit of a jumble of recipes and ideas. I have recorded The Great British Bake Off to watch, so I shall sit and sip and enjoy watching the baking. I am still slowly working on my crochet cushion Christmas gift, and enjoying the cool evening air.

I wish housekeeping was taught at school! But perhaps it is...the school of life!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

I Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

Somewhere at the back of my mind is a quote...only I can't remember exactly who said it, or how they said it. Oh yes, wait, I do! It was Raloh Waldo Emerson, who wrote:

"A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognise our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.....tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we will be forced with shame to take our own opinon from another."

Isn't that an eloquent and beautiful way of telling us to have faith in ourselves? The French film I watched the other evening (Love Me If You Dare) had a scene in which the male lead character meets the female lead character again after a number of years. She is working as a waitress, and he asks her something to which she replies (I am paraphrasing here) 'this is not my life, it's just my job'. Now that is an attitude that I need to adopt a bit. I don't mean that I don't want a job that I don't love and care about, or that I would give less than 100% to my job. More that I don't want to define myself by my job anymore. Doing that has not exactly brought me happiness so far, especially in the last months.

Have I mentioned before that my little brother (he is in his mid 20s and probably a foot taller than me, so not really little, but younger!) works at temp jobs? He has been in his last one a while, but he definitely goes for jobs rather than a career. That is because he has a lot of outside interests, and he works to fund them. He has a hobby that takes him all round the country, and occasionally across the pond to America. Whilst I would like to see him happier at work, it did occur to me that he probably has a far healthier attitude to work than me. If you were to meet him, he would tell you about what he does with his life, where he went at the weekend, his last trip abroad, the one he is already planning. I would probably tell you what I do at work. Ok I have lots of outside interests too, but work has always been a big part of my life.

So I suppose really, this post is all about finding oneself. A lot of my character traits and personality quirks are firmly drawn in already. Anyone who knows me will associate tea and red lipstick and never wearing trousers with me. Books and black and white films and sparkles and baking and vintageness. Taking a cup of tea into the cinema. Eating my packed lunch off a china tea-plate. Writing in fountain pen, even just to sign the bill. I would say that I am fairly comfortable with who I am, with not being 'fashionable' but liking my own style. But of course we are always growing and learning and developing. I like to think that there is more, much more of us waiting to be discovered by ourselves, if that does not sound too out-there. I also think that we have two 'selves'...the self that we see and imagine ourselves to be, and the self that everybody else sees. I think it is good from time to time to just check in and make sure that you still enjoy everything you are doing and being, to let go anything that you don't need or isn't working for you anymore, to pursue new avenues or branches of interest. But most of all, whatever and whoever you are or want to be, it is important to embrace your authentic self, to borrow a phrase from Sarah Ban Breathnach. I have been working through the Muse programme written by the wonderful Alison at Brocante Home, which is all about becoming your true self, so this kind of thing has been in my mind lately.

To cut a long post short, Fleur de Guerre, whom I admire very much, wrote the most stunning blog bost today. Do go and read it at she really says it better than I can myself. I am coming up to 30 myself, and silently shudder when I find a silver hair, so her thoughts on ageing are inspirational. Also, I realised, all of a sudden, that I have not been particularly happy this past year and a bit. I swam a lot when I got my new job (the one I just lost) to swim away the stress that came from it. I think one of the reasons that leaving it has upset me so much is that I never feel I really got to grips with it. I realised, browsing the 'wellbeing' shelves at work, that I probably haven't been particularly well. I don't mean that as a euphamism for anything, more that the stresses of work and then the stress of the restructure and redundancy have become almost commonplace to me, so waking up suddenly and realise that I am not going through it any more, it is a thing that happened to me in the past, is rather relieving.

Of course I do need another job, and quickly too, but I imagine that I will have a few weeks of just working part time (and I pray it is not much longer than that). But I have decided that I really want to take this bit of time and work on my wellness. To drink fresh apple-carrot-and-celery juice, to do yoga stretches in the morning. So when Fleur wrote in her blog post

'it's never too late to take up a new fitness hobby, beauty regime or change in your eating habits to make yourself shine from the inside'

it really resonated with me. It is not that I want to change who I am, more that I want to make the best of who I am, and spend a time on a little self care. My hair really is properly long now, so I want to take time to learn to put it up. I like the idea of one of the 'things' that people associate with me being beautiful vintage up-dos! I want to sign up to a burlesque dancing class in the autumn, and start going on early morning walks. I want to shine from the inside!

My manager recently told me that I really need to start being kind to myself, so I think I will try doing that.

What things do you do to be kind to yourself?

Fruit and Flowers, Tea and Showers

Today was a day I have both been looking forward to and dreading in equal measures. Looking forward to it because it is our fourth wedding anniversary (how in the world did that happen?! It feels just like yesterday!) but dreading because it is the 11th August, and for the past eleven weeks I have not been able to see past August 9th, my last contracted day of work. To me, August 9th was a big roadblock and there was no August 10th. August 9th was when the world ended! Needless to say I woke up and it was August 10th, and as they say, life goes on...

This morning was a much happier morning to wake up to. After an early oops moment from Carl when he asked if he could work late tonight, not realising it was tonight, I was really looking forward to it. We buy each other low key but thoughtful gifts for our anniversary, and our activites for the day are always built around sharing time together.

4 years is the fruit and flowers anniversary, and we decided we would buy a joint membership to either the RHS or National Trust or similar (on the basis there are flowers in the gardens of those properties!) and get each other a small token gift too. Carl bought me the most heavenly bunch of long stemmed red roses and grape hyacinths which really took my breath away. I bought him a blueberry scented bath bomb from Lush, some grapefruit scented tooth tabs (also from lush) for the 'fruit' part of my gift, and a bottle of organic locally produced beer for the second part (beer is made from hop flowers!).

Originally we planned to sit in a park with a picnic today, but alas the weather forecast was correct and it was a drizzly day. We started off by visiting one of my favourite places, the Secret Garden Tea Rooms ( where we drank coffee and ate bacon rolls with the drizzle tapping against the windows and damp chickens taking shelter! It is so peaceful there. The service is always slow, but in a relaxed way rather than a sloppy way. Just as well as it gave as a chance to decide what to do with the rest of our day! As it was not raining too hard by this time, we drove to Danbury Country Park. It is a place I have always known was there, but is far too far to walk to from my little library on top of the hill, so today seemed the perfect time to explore. My grandparents used to live in the next village, and their garden backed on to some woods, so I used to spend a lot of time playing in the woods as a little girl. These aren't the same woods, but they are very similar, and the scents of damp leaves, and soft mulcy underfoot feel took me right back. We took pictures of mossy tree trunks and wizened tree stumps. There are some beautiful little lakes there too.

It made me smile that the other people we saw walking there were all wearing jeans, trainers and anoraks. I was wearing a maxi dress, shawl, and was carrying a polka dot umbrealla! I felt very Lizzy Bennett-ish, as though I was walking to Netherfield to visit my neighbours! And of course, lucky me, I just so happened to have my own Mr Darcy with me!

After a long walk, we drove back to the village, and found ourselves in another tea shop! This time it was Tea on the Green. I really wish it had a website so I could share with you how lovely it is. Despite winning many Tea Council awards, it does not have one though! It is by the village duckpond and is just...lovely. I really faniced Welsh or Buck Rarebit, but it was not on the menu, and then Carl had the wonderful idea of having afternoon tea (seeing as it is our anniversary, and we had an afternoon tea for our wedding reception). Carl drank the most incredibly fragrant Earl Grey, and I drank English Breakfast tea. We each had a two-tier cake stand (mine was patterned with violets!) with two kinds of sandwiches, a scone with cream and jam, and a slice of cake. Alas, neither of us could manage the cake, so we had to bring it home wrapped in foil! It also put paid to our plans for dinner tonight, because even as I type, we are still full up!

Now as compatible and happily married as Carl and I are, there is one very serious matter upon which we will never agree. You see, Carl is one of those people who puts the cream on his scone first, then the jam, where I am very firmly from the school of jam on first, then cream. And before you even ask, yes it does matter, and it does make a difference! Devon and Cornwall are practically at war over the issue!

But that aside, we have spent the rest of the day very companiably indeed. We returned home and watched a film on Sky Box Office (there was nothing on at the cinema), drank more tea, and then somehow, it was half past ten! Where did the day go? Actually, now I come to think about it, we had that exact same feeling on our wedding day too!

You know, as soon as we were married, standing outside the church, holding hands and smiling as the photographer snapped pictures of us, we squeezed each others hands and whispered at how it felt different already. It still does, and in the best possible way. I know that marriage is not for everyone, but it is most definitely for us. There is a wonderful passage in Mrs Miniver, where she talks about the little but important things in marriage...the having somebody's eye to catch at a dinner party, and saving little stories and anecdotes from your day to take out of your pocket and share with your spouse at the end of the day. She is right, those things are wonderful....and so is having someone to eternally quarrel about the correct way to eat a scone....

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Macaroons and Moody Blues

When I last left you, I was pondering on what to do with my evening of Saturday solitude. In the end I painted my nails red (Affair in Red Square by OPI) whilst watching the French film Love Me If You Dare. Then I took myself into the kitchen to make coffee macaroons. I have made them once before and was astonished at how well they came out, given their reputation for being difficult.

It seems to me that if macaroons were people, they would be a moody french femme fatale, giving you a smile at first, then tossing her hair and walking away. Because this batch of macaroons just refused to behave at all. Despite my blending the almonds, icing sugar and coffee, the mixture was somehow lumpy, and impossible to pipe into neat circles. I cooked them in an oven preheated to the same temperature as last time, for the same length of time, but this batch came out a little underdone, and several collapsed into a sticky mess as I tried to get them off the baking sheet. I hoped that the next morning things would go a little better, but the coffee icing was far too runny and refused to set! I wonder how they will come out next time.....

Actually, the moodiness of my macaroons put me in mind of two things...firstly a novel that I have been waiting to read for a while, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, about a girl who can taste the emotions of the person who has prepared the food. Secondly, this song by Elvis: which I love!

I am determined to master the art of macaroon baking...perhaps when I make the next batch, I will listen to Moody Blue whilst I bake!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Saturday Solitude

This morning was incredibly busy and bustly at work...which is lovely. But a quiet afternoon alone is a nice contrast. It feels a bit odd to be alone on a Saturday afternoon though. Usually dear Carl and I spend them together, but he is in London with a friend who gets married in a few weeks time. I have been reading the archives of a blog I discovered last and just got caught up to date. As well as having a severe case of wardrobe envy, she has made me want to try rag-rolled curls, although I think my hair might be a little on the long side. I want to make some coffee macaroons to take tomorrow when we go to my sister's barbeque. Later I have a friend coming to see me for a little while before going off on a night out a groups of friends, then she is coming back to ours to sleep. I have found out the blow up mattress already which is a good thing!

And now I find myself pondering what to do next. Change my nail polish? (I know I keep singing its praises, but OPI Start to Finish is really fabulous) or watch the film I ordered from the library (Love Me If You Dare) or go into the kitchen and start baking. Maybe its time for a coffee and a custard tart that I bought from the Farmer's Market this morning? Crochet a bit more on the Union Jack cushion I am making? Cross stitch a bit more on my 'Keep Calm and Carry On' embroidery?

Actually, I think what I may do is go and put the kettle on, and make a cup of tea while I decide!


Friday, 5 August 2011

It's A New Day

I am almost certain that there is a word that describes when the weather reflects your mood, but I cannot think of it, and a cursory internet search reveals that there are other people in the same boat. Perhaps we have all imagined it...but we cannot have imagined the feeling of when you are feeling down and lost and blue and the sky seems to be as bruised with clouds as you feel bruised yourself, when the rain that comes pouring down is exactly how you feel....or how, the morning after, when the world seems scrubbed clean by yesterdays rain, full of light and hope, that too reflects how you can feel the morning after a good cry.

Now although the rain certainly came tumbling down yesterday, I did not actually spend it crying, but I did feel like I was crying without the tears, if that makes sense. Today I have all the windows open to let in the fresh air, and the air seems bright somehow, like it has been cleansed by yesterdays rain, and I feel brighter too, and more hopeful than I have. I do hope my blog is not becoming a negative place to visit, but it really is helping me to acknowledge how I am feeling rather than trying to swallow it down and smile the whole time.

I am doing a lot of smiling too, though. I am trying not to dwell on things as it doesn't really help matters at all. So, some things that are either making me smile, or at least feel brighter, from the past few days:

Having a fountaing pen filled with purple ink that I keep in my handbag.
The feeling of using that pen to fill in mundane forms, sign papers etc.
Changing handbags and discovering a red lipstick I had thought I had lost in the process.
Brushing my hair and realising it is getting longer.
Fresh tiger bread for breakfast.
The sun shining through my window.
A day spent with my Mum.
A bunch of perviun lillies from my Mum.
Waking up to a cup of tea brought to my bedside by my lovely husband.
Book club tonight, discussing a lovely book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Crocheting a union jack cushion for a gift for a friend.
Blogging and blog friends old and new.
Knowing my wedding bunting is being used at a friend's daughter's wedding today!

I hope you are having a lovely Friday!


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Upon Twitter...

...I am lucky to have a husband who does not mind the technology confounds me. He thinks it is rather lovely that as he sits there synching his online diary with his mobile phone, I am writing important dates into mine with his fountain pen. Some technology I have embraced perfectly well....after all, I blog, I get my groceries delivered and am good at using amazon! But there are other things that well, just pass me by.

Facebook I just about cope with, but I do dislike that for some people it has replaced proper communication. Rather than sharing what is going on in their lives, they shrug and say 'well it was on facebook' as though we are all meant to be glued to it, just watching for when they have news! I am likely to miss any event I am invited to through facebook because I probably wont realise I have been invited! But I do like it for keeping in touch with friends, so it is definitely not all bad. work has a twitter page (if a twitter page is in fact something you can have!) and I used to get sent all the twitter stats for how many tweets work had made, and how many retweets there were.....well once I got past the first stat, I had no idea what the rest meant! And although one of the girls did talk about retweets and trends...nope, still none the wiser! Part of me likes the accessibility of being able to hear first hand from people in the public eye (I dont really like to use the term star or celebrity for too many people!) but then again....I cant help but wonder if we had fewer interviews and photographs and so on, if they might be better quality. I like that Marilyn Monroe used to score out the negatives of photographs of herself she did not want used from photoshoots. Now with nearly everyone having a mobile phone camera it is so much harder to have control over your image. When that photo of the lovely Christina Hendricks in her swimsuit made headlines, I thought it was so silly. She was caught in a split second, and had it been a split second earlier or later she would have been in a position so you could see how tiny her waist is, rather than all those ridiculous headlines about her size, just because of a bad camera angle. But then again, it is nice to feel that you will hear these peoples actual views and thoughts rather than just what the press agent has allowed to be released.

So, I am not on twitter.....yet. I don't know if I ever will be. I love blogging, but I don't know if I could distill my thoughts down into the character limit. I suspect it is not meant to replace blogging but be an also...but there are so many methods of communication now, it can be a little exhausting. There is the post, in which you so rarely get a handwritten letter or card, and then the mobile phone and texts, the landline and the answerphone, then there are emails, and blogs...I don't know that I want to add to that at the moment. My phone ran out of battery early in the day yesterday, and it was actually curiously nice to be free of it, even if just for the day.

I do think new technology is amazing. I don't claim to understand even a bit of it, but it is wonderful to be able to use it. But when all is said and done, I am rarely happier than with fountain pen and paper, a book and a cup of tea...and so far, I don't think that technology can improve on these!

Thoughts on Jobs... this time next week, it is my last day at Chelmsford! I still can't believe it and I am still really unhappy about it, both from the point of view that I am really, really going to miss working there, and also that it is going to make things difficult financially.

The job market here really isn't good at the moment...did I mention that for one job that I applied for, so did 299 other people?! There is a job I really, really want, in London. I hope to find out this week if I got an interview or not. When I first saw the job advert, I had a really good feeling about it, the kind of feeling I got when we viewed our current flat. I felt like it was mine. But now my application has gone in, I feel a lot less sure and a lot more nervous!

If I do get an interview, and please do keep your fingers crossed for me, they are a week Friday. So I will wake up on the monday morning afterwards with no job to go to. I don't want to say 'nothing to do' because there are always things to do at home, but that feeling of I should be at work...but I am not.

I know, I know I should try to enjoy the break, but it isn't a break if you don't have anything to go back too. If I knew it was going to be one, two, three or however many weeks before I got a job I could plan my time accordingly and try to enjoy it, but I am dreading it to be honest.

I don't mean to be gloomy, but I do find it really helps to talk out how I am feeling on here.

I hope so much that none of you will go through this, but sadly in this day and age it is likely that more people will be made redundant. If you do, the best advice I could give you is be kind to yourself. My new boss told me that yesterday, and I suddenly realised that I have been putting myself through things that I wouldn't do to my worst enemy! So if you can, tuck away a little money when you can to cushion you against the fall, and if you do fall, lower your expectations of yourself. Don't go to work when your skin si coming off and your ears are bleeding because you are so stressed. Don't force yourself to go into a workplace that makes you cry in the toilet every day. I know there isn't always an option, but if you need teh time, take teh time. Your logical brain will tell you that you will have all the time off you need once you have worked your notice, but ignore it! This is not about logic, it is about intuition. You will feel numb and sad and useless, but try not to dwell. Dwelling just pulls you down into a spiral of sadness. It sounds superficial, but get up out of bed, put on your red lipstick, drink your tea out of a cup and smile in the mirror. It might not be all better, but it is a start.

Also, look for cheap pleasures where you can. We have a subscription to Sky which we cannot cancel because we are on a contract. So rather than fill my time watching trash which drains me, I record things that I want to see and are 'good quality'. Rather than read trashy gossip magazines (the kind filled with celebrities who I have no idea who they are' save your pennies and buy one really good quality magazine instead. Borrow books you have always wanted to read. Keep an eye on the bargain bin when you are doing the shopping groceries, but don't forget to try buying cheaper cuts of meat full price and cooking them low or slow. A bargain is good, but rummage too often and you start to feel like you are scavenging rather than eating.

There are so many little pleasures that everyone knows about, but because we all know about them, we tend to forget them. Take a bubble bath mid afternoon for true decadence! Walk in the park, fill your lungs with fresh air, and enjoy the is free! Bake a cake or biscuits. Listen to beautiful music, read your favourite blogs.

Whatever else you do, just be kind to yourself, and remember, this too, shall pass.

On Menu Planning

I am sure I must have mentioned before that when we were first living together, I menu planned religiously. It did not occur to me that there was any other way of doing things. I would sit and plan the menus for a week, then produce the shopping list from that. It was time consuming of course but it was lovely to always know what was going to be for dinner that night, and for all the shopping to be done in one go.

However, as many ladies will surely agree with me, it is draining to be the one in charge of planning the menus all the time. I started to feel really jaded and unenthusiastic for the task and found it harder and harder to make time for it. Eventually one day we went to the supermarket with the idea of buying some fruit, veg, milk, and some fish or meat for each evening. Things didn't fall apart so we carreid on doing that for far too long, and as my working situation took up more and more time and energy and travel, it quite often got the point where I would pop into a shop on the way home to pick up something for tea. The trouble with that is that it is more expensive, and it takes up more time, and when you are tired and hungry you are generally looking for a quick option, which does not make for a happy cooking experience.

More than once, on hearing my complain about the situation, Carl would ask 'why not just start menu planning again?' which is a sensible question, but is rather like telling someone to 'just give up smoking' or 'just lose weight'. There seemed to be a kind of invisible barrier in my way just making it impossible to get back in it.

Another issue is that I feel that there must be an optimum way of eating for good health and enjoyment, but I don't feel we have found it quite yet. I know what we are working towards, but pinning it down on paper and designing a routine with which to bring it about has been a bit elusive so far.

I have previously talked about how we eat less meat and fewer processed foods, but also I like food to be seasonal. With me only working part time as of next week, and other dark clouds on the horizon, budget is a definite factor. Of course, it needs to look good and taste good too! For me meat has to be good quality and free range even if I can't always afford to buy organic. It is important to me that if an animal has died so I can eat it then it needs to have had a good life first. I want to work towards having a kind of menu planning routine, so for example Monday would be fish night, Tuesday would be soup night and so on. I think having that kind of structure will be helpful, and by using books from the library such as 'Women's Institute Book of Soups' I should be able to make sure there is enough variety that it doesn't feel boring.

I have been enjoying getting our shopping delivered again and doing a menu plan to shop from. I do find it is too easy to get fall off the plan though, if for example we arrive home too late to cook or one of us really doesn't fancy what I had planned for that evening. Once I am properly back in the saddle, I would like to find a nice way to display the menu for the week in the kitchen. That way if Carl is back home before me, he could make a start because he would know what we were having (which he has said he would like to do!). I quite like blackboards, but I also saw in a magazine a square artists canvas decorated with silk flowers and ribbon, with a gold peg, and you clip the weekly menu to the clip and just change it next week.

I almost feel like I am writing a book at the moment, to be honest. I have been reading a lot of books about nutrition and cookery, right from the 50s up to is amazing how some ideas which seem newer (juicing) were already being written about 60 years ago! There are elements from different authors that I like and seem to make sense, so I want to try and weave them together to make something that suits us. And then of course we actually need to try using the plan for a few weeks to see how it makes us feel!

At the moment though, a tupical week would start on Sunday with an organic free range roast chicken and lots of vegetables, and perhaps some stuffing. Then on Monday we would use some of the meat in sandwiches for lunch. Monday night would be a vegetable soup (one of my favourites is spinach or watercress with poached egg). Then on Tuesday we might have chicken and vegetable risotto. Wednesday could be a vegetarian dish such as aubergine parmigiana, and then on Thursday I would do something like roasted vegetable pasta. Friday night we may have poached fish, steamed veg and new potatoes, and then on Saturday I might make a pizza (my favourite topping is grated carrot and broccoli). The principle is to have some meat and make it stretch, and then fill in the gaps with vegetable dishes and fish.

There will be more on this at some point in the future...but for now, that is menu planning in our household!


ps Dinah, iced tea is not particularly well known here...the cocktail is probably more widely drunk than actual iced tea. However, I love it! I fear it may not be seen as authentic to you though, for us, iced tea is made by Lipton's and comes in a bottle! I love the original flavour and the peach, and the lemon. We have a chain of tea and coffee selling shops here called Whittards - they have a website - and they sell powdered instant iced tea, so far I have only tried the elderflower flavour and it was heavenly!)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Upon The Making and Drinking of Tea

Now I don't know if this is completely true, because I have never been there, but I am given to understand that in America, a kettle is not a standard piece of kitchen equipment! I hear rumours of water being heated in microwaves! I really cannot get my mind to quite imagine such a world, but I suppose it must be true!

In my kitchen, a kettle is a necessity. In my first kitchen, we started with an electric kettle, and then switched over to a whistling kettle that you use on top of the gas hob. I loved my whistling kettle. Yes, it took longer to boil, but it was just the most cheery sound in the world. Now we have moved into a flat that does not have gas, so we are back to an electric kettle, and although I miss the look and the whistle of our old kettle (it is in storage!) the speed of electric does make up for it.

When I was growing up, we never made tea in a pot, it was always made in a bag in the mug. Yet Carl's family always made tea in a pot, again with bags. Somehow tea does taste better made in a pot. I have a blue teapot for every day use, and I generally use bags just for ease, but I do have some leaf too that I enjoy using on occasion. I also have a beautiful Royal Doulton tea pot that I use for special occasions....although that might mean that I am just in the mood for pretty tea things, not necessarily that it is a birthday or christmas!

I actually have an entire cupboard of tea things...pretty cups and saucers, tea plates, tiered cake stands, milk jugs, cake forks, sugar bowls....such bliss!

We usually drink decaffeinated tea for everyday, but I also adore Whittard Rose tea. I have to be really, really in the mood for Earl Gray, but am quite partial to Lady Gray. When I last had afternoon tea out, it was at Liberty, and I had the breakfast tea despite it being the afternoon, and it was fragrant and beautiful. I am also quite partial to chamomile tea, particularly in the evening.

So that is my answer to what kind of tea I drink...just the menu plan to go now!

My Impression of a GloWorm

Oh dear, oh dear. You would think I should know by now that with my fair skin I just cannot go out in the sunshine for long periods of time. But this past Sunday morning, I spent a happy hour or so wandering around a car boot sale with a dear friend who I have not seen for a while, and didnt notice I was catching the sun at all. Until I got home, and poor Carl opened the door to a bright red wife and said 'Wow! You have turned into a gloworm!'

It is so terribly hard to look elegant when you are bright red, and I fear I have done my nose a real damage as it feels all...papery and squishy at the same time! But it was lovely to catch up with the lovely Carla again, and we both found some real treasures. My first buy of the day were 4 teeny tiny cups and saucers and an equally petite sugar bowl, floral of course. I plan to serve chocolate mousse in them next time I have people round for dinner. Carla was on the look out for a vintage typewriter, but was not particularly expecting to find one as she had not spotted one before....we found 5, of which she bought 2! My other purchases were a Hollywood Album for 1960, and a beautiful dressing table set in green and silver. Pictures some point soon!

I will be back later with thoughts on meal planning, and tea making in answer to my other 'enquire within' questions. Off to cook dinner now though...I hope you are enjoying the sunshine, and aren't strawberry red like me!