Sunday, 29 January 2012

Sunday Evening Musings

Good evening everyone!

I have been lucky enough to enjoy yet another cosy Sunday (breakfast with my lovely husband, a walk home in the cold bringing the newspaper with us, a headscarf on while we did the housework, then pots of tea and Poirot and the papers and now Harry Potter in the audiobook format) but this evening I find myself just a little blue.

You see, I have discovered that the temporary job I started last week is not going to be feasible for me to carry on after the contract ends at the end of March. I won't bore you too much, but at work our pay structure is in bands, and the job I was made redundant from was a band 4, the one I am left with is a 3. And the one I am doing now, that I am enjoying and had hoped to apply for permanently is only a 2. On one hand you could argue that some job is better than no job, but I just can't afford to work for that. It would take me back to the band I joined at, 11 years ago.

And so I have been searching for jobs online again. I still don't know what I want to do. One friend wisely said 'but why do you need to do that? Just see what there is, and choose something!' but there is so much out there. So many jobs that are just dregs.

I feel so much like I have been left at the train platform, and everybody else has moved on. Most of the people who were made redundant along with me have started their own businesses. Carl has been made redundant and found a new job in the same time that I have been trying to work out what to do next. It isn't fair on him, although I know he would support me as long as he needed to without a word of complaint. But ultimately, we want to buy a house, we want children, and every day I drift along I feel like it is drifting further and further out of our grasp.

It isn't as if I am not willing to work, and work hard. It is just that I really and honestly truly cannot see the wood for the trees out there. Another kind friend has put me in touch with a contact she has in a recruitment firm, so I have sent off my cv, but am aware that it is very quiet out there.

I just wish, so much that this was all over. I know that the waiting time is good for us, that we are given things and situations for a reason, but really, I am tired now. I don't want to have to explain to one more person my complicated working situation. I am fed up with working odd jobs and hours here and there and still not taking home a decent wage.

I am utterly sad about it all, and I just don't know what the magic answer is. I wish I knew. Maybe I will feel better tomorrow, but I don't know. Everyone else seems to just know what they want to do. I try and take heart from knowing so many people who have had several diverse careers in their working life. That maybe one day I will be giving an interview in my new career, and people will be surprised to hear that I did 11 years in library 'before'. I know now that all of this, the career that I loved so much and thought was for life is the 'before' but I don't what the after is, or how much longer the wait between the two will be.

I know what not to do...I see so many people making mistakes. In my job I have seen poorly spelled CVs printed out in their dozens to be handed out to anyone who will take one, and many that do not want to take one. I know that you need to tailor your cv to the job, NOT WRITE IT ALL IN CAPITALS and spell check! I know that you need to apply for an actual job rather than trawl round the shops with no discrimination, handing in a cv 'just in case'. I see all the mistakes and my heart goes out to those people putting in so much effort, knowing that it is unlikely they will get much return on it. But knowing what not to do, alas does not mean that you know what TO do.

I don't like posting gloomy posts here. But this is my virtual tea table as it were, and as much as I love to raise a tea-cup in celebration, sometimes you need a soothing cup of tea in consolation too. Ceylon is my choice for this evening. The Twinings box that I have is black with a blue design on it. That is rather how I am feeling, black and blue.

So tea here is my first consolation, and then a shower, rinsing my worries down the plug-hole. Then finally going to bed with clean hair, and clean sheets. And hopefully waking up tomorrow with a cheerier frame of mind.

Some cheery things, before I forget! I am knitting a sparkly polar bear for the Noah's Ark set. I have just spent a Christmas amazon gift voucher on some books about afternoon tea. I have devoured the Dorothy Whipple just reprinted by Persephone, Greenbanks. I have a new dress (all my clothes are literally wearing out and falling apart. I have been sales shopping, and bought several dresses for work at £10 each. Have discovered that curiously, I am happy to spend that on dresses, but remarkably reluctant to spend on tights and similar! Wonder what that says about me?) Also we are having friends in tomorrow evening, to celebrate Chinese New Year belatedly.

Sorry I haven't been about much, I will be catching up a bit more this week, and replying to comments and emails. I hope that wherever you are, peace pours from your teapot and happiness is in your heart


Friday, 20 January 2012

Things I Like, Things I Don't Like

I (really, really!) don't like... when people sit on the bus and play music out of their mobile phones without headphones so we all have to listen to it. It is never good!

I like...having my ipod with me for the first time in ages and being able to block out their gangster rap with Hilary Hahn playing a nice Bach violin concerto.

I don't like...when I phone the bank to tell them they are sending someone else's statements to our address, and they won't talk to me or make a note of it because I am not the customer.

I do like...when I manage to track the person in question down via the internet and they drive across town in their lunch time to retrieve their mail, and actually say thank you.

I don't like...when my umbrella blows inside out in the rain and wind.

I do like...splish splash splishing through the puddles, and listening to the rain pattering at the windowpane.

I don't like...when I put down my knitting mid row to answer the phone and it is a recorded marketing message

I do like...a lovely email from my Aunt and Uncle who are in Barbados for a few months

I don't like...having cold feet

I do like (love!) electric blanket

I love...burlesque class with friends...kidnapping the window cleaner until he cleans the inside of the windows as well at the out (I lured him inside with tea and biscuits!)...knitting polar bears out of sparkly white spaghetti bolognese with red wine...finding lovely comments from my dear readers...discovering a fab teacosy pattern generator thanks to one of those readers...text messages from friends...planning a trip to London in some days off work....lots of library books I ordered arriving...a vague plan for a new crafty endeavour starting to percolate...chamomile tea

Even on gloomy days when the rain tips down, there is much joy to be found, and sometimes you don't even have to look for them, they find you.

I hope you are having a lovely cosy Friday evening! I am just recovering from the shock of sitting up till gone eleven o'clock with my husband, feeling desperately tired and deciding to sneak off to bed...and realising it was only half past nine!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Thank Heavens For Tea

Today is my last day off at home on my own before I go back to work (almost) full time. It is a strange kind of day, and all I can say is thank heavens for tea!

The sky is slate grey when I look out of the window, and yet the light is piercingly bright. Every now and again it rains, fine, very wet rain, and then the sky is blue again, but in the blink of an eye it is back to grey again.

I had to go to Brentwood for a meeting this morning, so I took my pink flowery rain coat and polka dot umbrella. I like travelling on the train, but not when you have to change trains half way through, as was the case today. I made it to Brentwood without incident, but the ten minute walk to the library took me half an hour in the pouring rain because the directions I had didn't seem to match the town at all. I ended up stopping kindly looking passers by and found my way like that.

Coming home was a different story though. I have no idea how it happened, but rather than ending up in Chelmsford, I found myself in Harold Wood! Which is, apparently, about the only train station not to sell tea and coffee and sandwiches! So I had to go back to Shenfield, then catch another train....and thankfully this time I got back to Chelmsford.

Somehow I feel really tired and drained by the entire experience. The meeting itself went well, but everything just felt out of kilter after getting the wrong train. I picked up a little shopping on the way home, and found the card machine was broken, so had to abandon my shopping at the till to go and get some cash...the ladies were lovely, but you know that feeling of will it never end?

Thank heavens then, for tea. I got home and made myself a pot. Not a pretty flowery pot today, but the comfortingly chunky blue tea pot, and to go with it my dark blue-and-white-starred cup and saucer, and the little pot bellied jug decorated with the Union Jack. Three strong cups of tea and an egg-and-cress sandwich later and I am starting to feel human again!

Although, also a little alarmed at how quickly the day is slipping away. I want a bath yet, and I have some washing up to do, and a menu plan to write and shop for, and I also want to start knitting the next animals in my Noah's Ark set (I think it will be the polar bears!)

This evening I will be going to bed early, with a candle for light, and Radio 4 in the background. I can't wait!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Slow Sundays

I love a little rhythm and routine, watching the changing seasons, feeling the difference between the mornings and evenings. Over the last year or two, our weekends have slipped into a lovely routine, and we have resolved to try and stick to it this year.

Saturday is our day for adventures, if I am not working. Or, if I am working, as I am two Saturdays in four, then it is a smaller afternoon adventure. Last weekend we had a trip to Colchester, had lunch with my lovely sister and her husband, and then looked round the Castle museum and a smaller museum. Yesterday we had tea at the new tea rooms, which I have since discovered are called Small Talk Tea Rooms, and then went for a long walk around Hylands Park. It was frosty, but bracing and really enjoyable.

Sundays are for relaxing, a pause to savour the day and think back on the week that has been and anticipate the week to come. We usually have breakfast out, then bring home the newspapers, sit and read, watch a film on the tv, cook, perhaps a long is really lovely, and I believe, very good for the soul.

This afternoon we were in the post-breakfast, post-newspaper phase. A pot of tea had been drunk, shortbread biscuits had been consumed. I was catching up on some blogs, when I noticed that a knitting group that meets in the library I used to work in was meeting in five minutes times. I have just started knitting a Noah's Ark set for my godchildren, and seeing as I am going to be working in the same building again, I thought it would be good for me to go back. So with a swift kiss for Carl, I gathered my knitting and hurried down, and I am so glad I went. It is a small group, but a really friendly one, and there was a lot of variety in the knitting. I was the only one knitting an elephant, but there was a nativity set being knitted, two scarves, a tank top for a new baby and one other thing which slips my mind.

I hurried back home in the fading light, and found myself wishing, not for the first time, that there was a way to stretch out Sundays and make them last longer. The evening holds more reading and knitting, possibly catching up with Sherlock on tv, a bath, and maybe the new issue of Country Living magazine. I am somewhat late to the Sherlock party, but everyone was talking about it at the knitting group, so I shall try it. I am recording Call The Midwife, as I am reading the book at the moment. When it is finished, I shall add it to my Great Library Project list.

Slow Sundays in January....they are wonderful for their slowness, and feel like a cosy blanket to be wrapped around.

Wherever you are, I hope your teapot is full, and that you are having a lovely Sunday.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Red Sky In The Morning

Most of the time, I get on very well with just having a camera on my phone, although I do wish I understood how to get the photographs off of my phone and onto the computer, without having to get poor Carl to help me. Next time he shows me, I think I will make an instruction list!

We do have a digital camera, but it was bought back in 2001, so I rather suspect that my phone camera is far better! The times I wish that I understand photography and have a proper camera and know how to do all kinds of clever things with the photos are when I see beautifully illustrated blogs such as Attic 24 and Yarnstorm, but also mornings like yesterday, when I left home for work to find the sky was the most wonderful colour.

It was such a deep pink, with a single rent along it, as though the beauty was too much to be contained and had burst through, shining with a brilliant orange luminosity. I wish I could have captured it to share with you. I have seen wonderful sunsets or moonscapes, and tried to capture them on my camera, but somehow there doesn't seem to be a magic button that captures exactly what you are looking at. My wonderful huge moon turns out to be a little smudge in a sea of inky black. My panoramic sunrise turns out to be a bit of pink atop a picture of rooftops.

But the lucky thing is, is that there are other bloggers out there with wonderful photographing talents and clearly the equipment they need too! This post jogged my mind about the sunrise yesterday.

Seeing such a pretty morning sky was a lovely start to the day, although I couldn't help but think 'red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning'. It did rain a bit, so perhaps there is truth in the saying! The sunset was beautiful last night as well, and it struck me as funny that a single day could have both a red sky in the morning and evening. The weather reporter on radio 4 had just said that it will be cold for ten days, but settled, and actually, I am rather looking forward to it. There is something right about chilly weather in January. Time to make sure I have got marshmallows for the hot chocolate!

Wherever you are, I hope that last night's red sky brings you a shepherd's delight of a day!


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Good News!

Fill your favourite teacup to the brim, and get out your special tin of biscuits please ladies! I am happy to share that after a phone interview yesterday, I have another part time job! And it is still within libraries...I am so pleased! We have an enquiry service that you can phone, email, fax, write, live chat to...probably even send a carrier pigeon, should you wish...and they will find the answer for you usually the same day, but always within two days. They tackle everything from crossword clues to case law, and as of Monday week, I will be joining them! (Just in case you were wondering, it is a free service! You don't even have to be a library member to use it!) Alas it is only 15.5 hours a week, and I had been really hoping for 18, and it is only till the end of March...but they may have a permanent part time job going after then!

It is a big, big relief. Working 32.5 hours a week isn't quite full time, but it does leave me 4.5 hours to either try and fill or spend working at home. I feel really lucky indeed. I don't think I had realised how much the stress of not working was getting to me.

Here is for the really lovely news....the enquiry service is attached to the library that I was made redundant from last year! So I will be able to share tea breaks with my old friends, who I have really, really missed.

Thanks so much for all your good thoughts and wishes!


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

By Request

Good morning!

I am just popping by before hopping in the shower and heading off to work (to my little library on top of the hill today). I wanted to share a few little things with you, two by request, one just from me!

Snowdrop walks...Dinah, sorry, I meant to mention this earlier! When the snowdrops bring the very first signs of the beginning of the end of winter, some gardens and National Trust properties arrange days where you can take yourself on a snowdrop walk. They are so beautiful to see it really is worth seeking one out. Luckily there is a wonderful garden near to me, The Gardens of Easton Lodge, which I have posted about before. Sadly they don't have the funds to open as often as they or we would like, but they do still open for two Sundays in February for the snowdrops, as well as a few Summer Sundays too. There is an article about snowdrop walks in the (English Version) of Country Living magazine this month. Country Living is the kind of magazine you need an entire pot of tea with, and perhaps a top up mid way through! It is sigh-makingly lovely!

And Ange, here is my recipe for Lentil and Egg Kedgeree, for Two. It is one of those recipes that is really simple to make, but tastes like it took more time, effort and ingredients! I think it is fairly storecupboardy too....I am rarely without lentils, rice, eggs or onions!

Lentil and Egg Kedgeree For Two

This recipe takes so little effort, you can go without putting on an apron...

Soften one chopped onion in a little oil, and then stir in 1 tsp mild curry powder (you can use a little more if you like it).

Add in 125g rice and 25g split red lentils, a bay leaf and a cinnamon stick (I have been known to use a pinch of cinnamon instead). Stir for about 2 minutes, to combine everything and warm it through.

Pour over 11 fluid ounces of stock (I tend to use chicken but use whatever you have to hand) bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and with the lid on, leave undisturbed for 10-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil 2 eggs. Ideally you want the yolks set so they don't run everywhere when you cut them in half to put on the kedgeree, but if you like a runny yolk, just be careful when you cut them!

Serve the kedgeree with the eggs on top and a good grating of cheese. Don't forget to take out the bay leaf and cinnamon stick!

My third thing is a request for you to keep your fingers crossed for me today...I havae a phone interview for a job that would be really nice for me. It is still in the library service, close to home, and would (hopefully!) fit around my existing hours, and bring me up to 2 hours or so shy of being full time. I really hope that it works out. It is a temporary contract but I believe it will be extended, and although it wont be good for forever, it would be good for now!

Wishing you all a lovely Wednesday,


Ps another Daisy Dalrymple mystery to add to the Great 2012 Library Project! This time, Styx and Stones, about a poison pen writer and a murder in a churchyard. I was expecting a twist at the end which didn't come....perhaps a sign that I need to give this series a rest just for a little while! Another £6.99/£5.59 saved, depending where you shop!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Keeping House

I sometimes wonder if things will ever be the way they were just a few short years ago. I remember when £40 would buy a whole weeks shop, and an extravagant one at that. We were both in full time employment which was secure, and at the end of the month there was always money left in our joint account. Now it is easy to spend £10 just getting bread and milk and eggs and the like on one of those popping-to-the-shop-to-top-up shops. Although Carl is thankfully in full time employment, I seem to be working twice as hard as I used to in part time hours for less money, and there is never money left over at the end of the month. Now I don't want to turn this into one of those moany blogs, I know that with a roof over our heads and not having to choose between eating or paying the bills we are luckier than a lot of people, but really, I can't imagine that there are many households who do not find that there seems to be less money, and it does not go as far.

I see it very much as my role to help make it go just as far as it will, and I know from experience that the food shop is capable of eating up as much money as it can, if you will pardon the pun! I have also found that the best way to keep it down is to make a menu plan, make a list, shop online, and stick to it. It is so easy to run out of milk or bread or whatever and decide to pop to the shop to pick some up, but I am going to really try and avoid doing that as it is so, so easy to spend more whilst you are there.

One of my favourite things to do when I am trying to make my pennies stretch is to turn out the freezer, the fridge and the food cupboards and make a list of exactly what I have got. This helps no end with menu planning, and it is surprising how many packets of pasta with just a little bit in you can accumulate. As well as useful for keeping an eye on how much you have of 'big ticket' items such as meat and fish, I find that keeping an eye on my herbs and spices is really useful. They cost a lot to replenish in one go, but adding a new one here, or topping up an old one there little and often and you hardly notice it at all.

So that is how I spent this morning, and I am pleased that all my cupboards are now well ordered and I know just what I have got. I am going to be making a chicken, sweet potato and spinach curry for dinner tonight, and hope to get an online shop done later on, for delivery tomorrow. I thought I would make the sweet potato and smoked mackerel fishcakes from Attic24 tomorrow, as they are so quick and easy to make, and really delicious too.

Whilst I was refilling the fridge, I noticed my recipe for lentil and egg kedgeree underneath a fridge magnet. That used to be a real favourite- it is cheap, filling, nutritious and tasty- so I will be making that again soon. There is no fish in it, like a traditional kedgeree, but if I have some leftovers from the mackerel fish cakes, I could throw them in I think.

What are your favourite end-of-the-month recipes?


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Yule Gifts

Whilst browsing some new found blogs and some old friend blogs, I have been reading several posts about Christmas gifts...and realised that I don't remember posting about what I made this year! So here is a very quick run down, because it is late, and I don't want to bore you!

My book group received a vintage floral cup, saucer, and sandwich plate. I made the cup into a teacup candle, and stacked the trio together before wrapping with cellophane and tying with blue ribbon.

My friends at work were given mini hotwater bottles with handmade hot water bottle covers made from soft fleece.

The men got homemade spiced rum this year, and also rum and raisin rocky roads made in those little cardboard loaf tins from Lakeland.

Our Aunts and Uncles got homemade pear and vanilla jam, made using pears from a friends tree.

I also made a variety of individual gifts, including knitted gloves, a knitted snood, a knitted cushion and a crochet cushion. Ooh, and I knitted from a vintage pattern a pixie hood and scarf set. I think that was about it...

I received some really lovely and thoughtful gifts in return, and was very touched indeed. People are so kind, so lovely. I can't wait to do it all again this year!

The Library Project 2012

I am so lucky that my Mum joined me to the library before I could even sit up, and I have always had books in my life, even when I was tiny and Mum was on her own with me and my sister, and not a lot of money. Some of my happy memories of summer holidays as a child include the annual Summer Reading Challenge, collecting stickers and getting a certificate for reading over the holidays.

A particular pleasure now that I work in libraries is browsing in a library that I don't work in, as it is very hard to be a customer in a library that you work in. You either end up just tidying the shelf, refilling the display, or answering an enquiry! I have been lucky enough to do that once this week, and I have a few library visits in the offing over the next month which I am looking forward to.

In the meantime, most of my library borrowing comes from ordering books from other branches. Although we rotate the stock amongst branches, and I do fairly often find a book from my own library that I want, it is really convenient to think of a book, order it and have it arrive for me! Kind of like amazon, but without having to pay, or find a home for the book once it has ben read!

I read a wide range of fiction, and quite a lot of non-fiction, but the genre I read from most often tends to be crime. Although I love the twists and turns of Harlan Coben, and the sharp detail of (early) Patricia Cornwell, the particular facet of crime fiction that holds a place in my heart is the cosy murder mystery. The kind of book that I have described before as being like an Enid Blyton for adults. Recently I have discovered a sub-category even of this, and discovered the almost Agatha Christie kind of historical crime novel. An example of this are the great Daisy Dalrymple novels by Carola Dunn. I have read two of these back to back, and these make the first entries on my Library Project 2012 list:

Gunpowder Plot
Carola Dunn

I am not reading these in the order they were written, which would explain why Daisy is suddenly pregnant! In this adventure, she goes to visit an old school friend, to write about their centuries-old Guy Fawke's Night celebrations, but whilst she is there, there is an apparent murder-suicide, but all is not what it seems! I love the period detail in these novels, and this one did not fail to please. They somehow manage to be light, without feeling like they are 'popcorn' novels. I didn't guess who the murderer was which is always nice!

Full price £6.99/Amazon price £4.86

Anthem For Doomed Youth
Carola Dunn

Parts of this murder mystery played out in Epping and Saffron Walden, with one of the policeman coming from Chelmsford, which made this even more fun to read. As well as a good murder mystery, with three bodies being found in the woods, and lots of clues to think about, Carola Dunn also makes some quietly observed and well placed points about the first world war. So something to think about, as well as enjoy!

Full price £6.99/Amazon price £4.86

Although I am really enjoying reading the Daisy Dalrymple series, I am not sure that I would want to buy them, as once you have read them, you know who the murderer is, so I am not sure how well they will bare rereading. They are cosy to read though, so if I see them in a charity shop or booksale at the library, I will pick one or two up for my bookshelf, as it is always good to have something soothing to read on restless evenings.

So, those are the books I have borrowed so far this year, but here is a quick run down on what is on my library ticket, left over from last year. Some I am still using, some will go back over the next few days, but I think I should count them in my Library Project 2012, so here goes:

Christmas Memories
Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt is one of my favourite Christmas songs, and this album has this on it, and also songs by Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Perry Como, Bing Crosby and more...velvet smooth voices to listen to with a hot chocolate in hand!

Full price £5.37/Amazon price £5.37

Delia's Winter Collection
Delia Smith

I borrowed this after a customer returned it to me. I have seen it on the shelf often, but never actually flicked through it before. It now has some sticky post-its in it, marking recipes to try in the coming weeks.

Full price £12.99/Amazon price £6.99

Rosemary Stanton

I have been steering our meals to include more vegetables for some time now, as I think it is good for us, automatically means you are eating with the seasons, and hopefully is a little more economical. I borrowed this book to give me some ideas for how to serve them.

Full price none available/Amazon price £0.01

The New You
Anita Naik

What can I say, it is January, the book is called the New You, and it was pink! Sadly not as good inside as the cover, so this is off back to the library tomorrow.

Full price:£7.99/Amazon price £7.19

Village School
Miss Read

One thing I have resolved to do is to read this series in order. I have read a few out of sequence, but am going back to the beginning. A lovely gentle series, that keeps me going between the Turnham Malpas books from Rebecca Shaw!

Full price:£6.99/Amazon price £5.59

A Spoonful of Sugar
Liz Fraser

I like books about the olden days and grandmothers wisdom etc and this is ok...but not the best of its kind that I have read.

Full price £6.99/Amazon price £0.01

Cross Stitch
Diana Gabaldon

This has been on my to-read list for ages...and has been on my library ticket for a while too...I will get round to it soon, and am rather looking forward to it as it has been recommended to me by several friends.

Full price £8.99/Amazon price £5.66

Staying Young
Charmaine Yabsley

When my hair was going white and falling out and I found my first wrinkle last year, I thought I was just ageing, and decided to do something about it, with this book! However, my hair has stopped going white and falling out, and I have realised that I was probably really, really stressed about being made redundant. Still, a good book with lots of lovely recipes in it.

Full price £12.99/Amazon price £11.69

Easy Slow Cooker

This book was recommended by Lucy over at Attic 24. I have tried a few of the recipes that she has blogged about, and been really pleased with them all, so when she said she uses this book, I borrowed it. Tonight I made the French Onion Soup from it, and was really pleased with it (although my eyes were quite red at the end of it!)

Full price £8.99/Amazon price £6.61

GI High Energy Cookbook
Rachael Anne Hill

I don't want to follow 'a diet' but eating low GI does make sense to me, and the recipes in this book looked really enticing, so I borrowed this book. I have several book marks in it with recipes to try so far!

Full price £12.99/Amazon price £8.25

Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm
Stella Gibbons

I didn't have many days off over Christmas, but I did bring home several novels to read over the festive period, this being one of them. I loved Cold Comfort Farm and Nightingale Wood, and can't understand how so few of Gibbons' novels are widely known.

Full price £7.99/Amazon Price £5.76

Noah's Knits
Fiona Goble

With Christmas over, I suddenly have no knitting projects or crochet projects in progress! I thought this book sounded lovely and was not disappointed. I am toying with the idea of making two animals a month, so I have a Noah's Ark set to give to my godchildren this coming Christmas.

Full price £9.99/Amazon Price £7.17

Baking Made Easy

Lorraine Pascale

It seems that I am rather late to the Lorraine Pascale party...somehow she managed to pass me by! This was a book returned by a customer that I had a quick flick through and saw several recipes that I would like to try. Imagine how surprised I was, although pleasantly surprised it is true, to discover that there is a tv series as well as another book!

Full price £19.99/Amazon price £8.39

By my calculations, just one week into 2012, and I have saved £136.25 by borrowing from the library, instead of buying at full price, and even £88.41 if I bought from amazon! Clearly, working for them, I am going to be pro-libraries, even after my experiences of last year, but I do think that we are so lucky to live in a country with a really good public library system, and I don't think people realise just what we are in danger of losing. Anybody can walk into a library, without any kind of reference or, in our county, proof of address or identity, and walk out with hundreds of pounds worth of books, dvds, or cds, to enjoy at their leisure and return, to borrow more. That's pretty amazing, really. I know I have said it before, but I would not be able to afford my reading habit were it not for the library system. I love that I can order from other branches within my county, but also have books come in from other counties, or even countries. Even more amazing that although a very small part of our taxes pay for it, the library service is basically free. And the best way to ensure it continues? Use it!

I didn't mean to get on my library soapbox...I will climb down now, and take myself off to bed with a cup of tea and a good book!

Wherever you are, sleep well!


Slow Cooked Chicken, Vegetable and Pearl Barley Stoup

I must confess, I do love my slow cooker. It is not in itself a thing of beauty, being a rather chunky model from the eighties, (my mother in law kindly passed it on to me) but it really does turn simple ingredients into dishes of beauty, in a way that is quite magical.

A day or two ago I mentioned that I was going to be experimenting with a new dish, and would share the recipe if it turned out well. I am pleased to report that it did indeed work, so here is my recipe for Slow Cooked Chicken, Vegetable and Pearl Barley Stoup. And before you wonder, no that isn't a spelling mistake...but this recipe starts as a stew, and then you turn the leftovers into soup...stew + soup = stoup!

The best time to make this is on an overcast Winter's afternoon, when you have the afternoon to potter at home. Although I know it is perfectly safe, I don't feel comfortable leaving the slow cooker on whilst I am not at home.

In a large frying pan, brown some chicken pieces. I prefer to use thighs, but you use whatever you like. I tend to use bone-in but skin-off, but again, go with what suits you. When they are nicely browned, put them into the slowcooker. Soften a chopped leek in the frying pan, then throw in a selection of vegetables. I used a carrot, cut into pound-coin width rings, broccoli, green beans and peas. Pour over a bottle of cider (round about a pint) and 200ml of chicken stock. When it comes to the boil, pour into the slow cooker, over the chicken. Stir in half a teacup (about 4tbsp) pearl barley, and a good teaspoon of dried tarragon. Pop on the lid, and leave on high for 5 hours or so.

The heavenly scent should start to permeate your home before long, and you will feel very domestic goddessy as your dinner cooks whilst you potter. The lovely thing about this is that it is packed full of vegetables and other healthy ingredients, so as well as tasting good, it does you good.

At the end of the cooking time, I carefully poured of most of the cooking liquid, back into the frying pan, and thickened it with a little cornflour, and then stirred in a tablespoon or so of creme fraiche. The creme fraiche is not essential, but it really lifts the whole dish.

I served it with some really delicious sunflower seed bread to mop up the juices. The leftovers went into the fridge, and made an appearance at dinner a day or so later as soup. I took out the chicken, and shredded the meat. I blitzed the veggies and stewing liquid briefly, then put this into a saucepan along with the chicken to heat up. I was then struck that some dumplings would be lovely in it, so I whipped up a quick batch, simmered for 20 minutes and then served. Leftovers are one thing, and always useful, but what I love even more is when the leftovers let you reinvent them, to make a whole new dish.

Do let me know if you make this, and how you get on! Tarragon and chicken and apple is one of my favourite combination of flavours!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Tea For Two

Good afternoon!

I am home again, and just about as jolly as I could possibly be on a Friday afternoon in January! Which is to say, very jolly indeed!

Firstly because I have such lovely friends here on my blog, who offer such good advice and such kind words. Secondly because the interview went really well...I had prepped for everything that came up, which felt really nice. Thirdly, I have just had afternoon tea in a new tea shop which turned out to be super cosy and lovely, with a dear friend. Fourthly, it is my weekend off, and I have three days of bliss ahead of me. Fifthly....I picked up the new issue of Vintage Life Magazine on the way home, and finally, Sixthly.....I didn't get the job!

It feels a little wrong to be so relieved, but I think that it was the right outcome for me, and I think the right outcome is more important than getting the wrong job. Dinah, you were so right when you said to listen to the tongue in my shoe! It would have been lovely to have had a better paid full time job, but it would have meant leaving Danbury for 6 months, lots of money and time on train travel (and there is only one an hour) would have been a lot of stress. A challenge I would have made the most of given the opportunity, but it wasn't to be. And to be honest, the fact that I just thought 'thank heavens' says a lot. I think as well that I feel good because I did a good interview, and my interviewer kindly said that I should apply for other jobs in his area, which is a nice sign and a nice professional compliment. I think if I hadn't got the job because I had made a mess of the interview that would leave me feeling bad, but it was just that there was someone better suited, so I feel really good about that. Plus, I do have another iron in the fire at the moment, more of which I should be able to share sometime over the next week or so...

As for the teashop, I find that, quite ridiculously, I have no idea what it is called! If you know Chelmsford, then it is opposite Argos, where Formative Fun used to be. The outside has been painted a slightly muted green, and inside it is lovely. All higgledy piggledy sofas and chairs, little tables, dressers filled with mismatched china. There were tables dressed with hand crocheted tablecloths, under a sheet of glass for protection. there were little tables with books about tea stacked on them for browsing, and lots of little paintings on the wall. It was like having tea in an old lady's living room, and I mean that as a high compliment! There is also a small partition wall, dressed to look like outside brick, with a window, so it also feels a bit like being in a dolls house, again in a good way!

I was disappointed that the cakes in the glass cabinet did not look spectacular, and it was hard to decide if they were home made or not, but lovely Wendy had some St Clement's cake that she said was divine, and my scone was delicious. I was also really impressed with the tea menu. Wendy had Russian Caravan, and I had a tea with three names, a kind of Ceylon, but alas, I cannot remember the full name. It was so delicious though. What was really pleasing, was that each tea pot came with its own tea cosy, which looked distinctly handmade. Nearly every time I take tea in a teashop, I wish I had remembered to bring a cosy with me! So I will definitely be visiting again!

Now I am home again, and reflecting on the day. I feel good. I have had so much support and love from family and friends. I am so, so blessed. I just hope that I can be in full time employment soon, as there are so many things we want to do, and I don't want to hold us back. We hope to buy our own house one day soon, and we rarely take holidays. It would be nice to do both! And just not worry....

I have the kettle boiling, ready for another cup of tea. My lovely sister bought us a pair of blue tea cups with white stars on them for Christmas, along with tea infusing balls. They are slightly chunky, which feels good on a blustery evening.

Wherever you are, I hope your kettle is boiling, and your tea pot is full!


Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Last Lights Of The Christmas Tree

Twelfth Night seems to have come round very quickly this year. I have spent a happy afternoon in the glow of the tree lights for what will be the last time. I have kept the curtain open so I can watch the blustery afternoon light fade first into twilight and now into the soft blanket of evening darkness. The room is lit only by the tree, a pillar candle, and my writing lamp. The corners of the room are dark, and it has been really peaceful and calming to sit in here.

There is something really lovely about being at home in the afternoon. Recently, it qualifies as one of my favourite things. I worked this morning, and it is one of the rare half days when I don't have to stay once the library has closed, to do admin and so on. Being on the first floor, we have a nice view out across town. From my kitchen, I could see the trees whipping around in the wind. It brought to mind a favourite poem by Christina Rossetti, which I once embroidered in cross stitch, along with the silhouette of two figures flying kites in the wind. It was all in black and white, except for the three bows on the kite string.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you
But when the leaves hang trembling
The wind is passing through

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I
But when the trees bow down their heads
The wind is passing by.

It has been so blustery the last few days, that I have left the house with my hair tied up, to stop it being whipped into medusa tangles! I don't mind the wind, as long as it is not causing danger, as it has in Scotland. When it is just 'normal' but blustery, I always feel really invigorated for walking in it.

I am trying to feel invigorated this afternoon, because I have an interview tomorrow. I can't ever remember feeling so calm and unbothered about an interview, but I have been doing my prep, as much as I can, so I am prepared as possible. I am in a bit of conflict though. You see, there are two jobs that I am in the running for. Both are temporary, so aren't a long term solution to my situation, but both will offer me respite from my present working situation, and put money in the bank while I find something long term and permanent. The job I am being interviewed for tomorrow is more money, but means travel on the train (at £136.40 a month!!) so may end up meaning I have less at the end of the month than the other lower paid job. It is also a lot more responsibility than the other job, and it would mean having to leave my darling little library on top of the hill, although only temporarily, as I could go back to it. There are two other really strong candidates.

The other job is a five minute walk from home, less money, but no travel costs, less responsibility, I would not have to give up my little library on the hill, and I get the feeling that there are enough posts for the number of candidates, although I could be wrong about that. There may be a little wrangling about late nights and weekends, but that is a bridge to cross later.

So, what to do? My heart tells me that option b is the easier choice, that would be gentler on me. But I also know that option a is something I could really get my teeth into, and would probably be better for my career and cv long term. Easy isn't always the best thing, is it? Or is my utter sense of calm a sense of knowing that it isn't really right for me? Who knows! I think the thing to do is to go in tomorrow and try and acquit myself gracefully and intelligently, give a good account of myself, and see where the chips fall. I do not expect to be offered the job by any stretch of the imagination, but it would be lovely to be offered one of them. So do keep your fingers crossed for me!

There is a Sainsburys nearby the library in Braintree, so I will be dropping in before or after my interview to buy a copy of their magazine...Cherry Menlove, whose blog I really enjoy has a column in there, starting from the current issue. She also writes a column for Making Magazine, which is worth checking out.

Other plans for tomorrow include trying out a new teashop in town with my lovely friend Wendy.

This evening, it is all about gentle, soft and warm. I have in the slow cooker a recipe of my own invention, which is currently perfuming the flat. If it turns out well, I will share it with you. It is basically chicken and lots of vegetables with some pearl barley cooked in a tarragon cider stock, which I plan to enrich with a little creme fraiche at the end. I have a sunflower plait to serve with it, for mopping up the sauce.

Of course, there is the tree to take down too...but I quite like that. The laying away of Christmas ready for next year. The sweeping away of all ready for a new start. I am really ready for a new start. Wherever you are, Happy Twelfth Night!


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year, Part Two!

Ahhh, January. Just a stroke of midnight, a single second separates you from December, and yet you feel so different, so very far apart. Last night was as lovely as I hoped it would be, seeing in the New Year surrounded by friends old and new, taking part in our little rituals of predictions and sharing songs of the year and things we learnt, champagne, smiles, love and laughter. That seems a pretty good way of seeing out the old year, as well as seeing in the new.

So many messages to say Happy New Year, which make me feel so lucky. Perhaps next year (next year! I mean this year, really!) will be the year I make and send out Happy New Year postcards. I have always thought that would be a nice thing to do, an extra little something in the post, just as you think it is all over.

And yet, a comment by a friend on Facebook made me frown. Most people's status updates had been sending good wishes to family and friends, but this one suggested that it was New Year's Eve, not New Year's Day, so it was incorrect to say Happy New Year. I can see her point from a technical point of view, but from a heartfelt point of view, when is it ever wrong to send good wishes out into the world?

I have been reading some of my favourite blogs, so many of whom have written lovely posts reviewing 2011. Well, while I have been really enjoying reading those, I am not tempted to write one of my own. After all, so many of you have been here with me all the way, and know that there are some parts of the year that I really would not like to revisit. And much as there have been good things that have happened this year, such as discovering and moving into our new little flat, I feel a pressing need to look forwards, not backwards.

I have been looking forward to posting today, to be able to write Sunday January 1st, 2012, to see a new year added to my blog archive. To think of all the things I want to do this year. If you don't already have it, do get hold of The Wonderful Weekend Book by Elspeth Thompson, which has so many great ideas for lovely things to do. Thinking about the early part of the year, I want to go on a Snowdrop Walk, make marmalade, organize a bridal shower for my sister-in-law, watch The Artist at the cinema, and make some heart bedecked Valentines celebrations.

Wishing you a very Happy New Year,