Monday, 29 October 2012

Things I Have Bought Today

A new bathmat in aubergine purple, soft and fluffy, reduced in a sale to a price so silly it would have been positively rude to leave it on the shelf (£1!!)

A bright pink turban to put my hair in while I am in the bath, so it doesn't get wet, or alternatively to sweep all my hair off my face while I put a face mask on.

Stocking fillers for my husband...I like to start early and squirrel away little treats. I would post here what I have got so far, but I know him to be an occasional visitor to my little blog.

Miss Read's Christmas Book from amazon for a single penny, plus postage. I was so excited to discover this book exists. I love the simple, lovely world of Miss Read, and I adore her descriptions of Christmas. When Christmas preparations start to feel overwhelming, I find reading one of her Christmas stories really centres me again. I was just thinking it would be lovely if someone had written a book on how to have a Miss Read Christmas...and lo and behold, they have!

And lastly, something I did not buy, and shall not buy, but oh, how I would love to! Singer have brought out a new sewing machine, which looks like a vintage machine but is in fact a modern one. If you google Singer 160 Anniversary you can behold it in all its glory...but alas it is £400 which is too, too much!

I feel sleepy now - I suppose to my body clock it is an hour later than it really is, so I am away now, to a bath, a book, and then bed. My favourite evening routine...

Wherever you are, I hope your evening holds similar simple pleasures

Love Mimi xxx

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Pumpkin Pleasures

Just over a week ago, I walked to work and smelt wet leaves for the first time; along with cinnamon and cedar, that is the real scent of autumn for me.

The leaves seem to have fallen from the trees almost overnight, and there were at first lofty piles of them which would get caught in the breeze and scatter about, but now are damp and stuck flat to the pavement.

The days seem to be passing so quickly, that we seem to have moved from the first stirrings of autumn to the sudden crisp cool days of deep autumn almost overnight. We went to see the new Bond film on Friday night, and when we came out of the cinema it was late, and cold, and the moon was dazzlingly beautiful and bright. It had seemed to burn a hole in the clouds almost, and lit our way home.

As we walked home, with the wind nipping my nose, I was thinking of pumpkins, because we had two days of entertaining this weekend, and pumpkins were the order of the day. Yesterday we had Carl's sisters and their partners to visit, and today was our annual Pumpkin Carving Brunch Club.

One of Carl's sisters lives in London and eats in a lot of lovely restaurants, so I wanted to make things extra special. I thought about things and decided to go for several courses of tiny portions rather than my usual serve-yourself-buffet-style cooking. I made my signature hot mulled apple punch which I keep warm in the slow cooker, and serve in teacups with a jug of rum or brandy so people can spike their own drinks to their own taste. I like that it is communal and the drinkers and non-drinkers can share the same drink.

I made a pumpkin dip (roasted pumpkin blended with cream cheese and a pinch of dried chillies) with celery, carrots and seeded crackers to scoop it up with, and then roasted a camembert to go alongside. When people had settled, had a drink and a little graze on the nibbles, I served the first course, which was pumpkin soup served in teacups with a little swirl of cream in the top. Next followed rolling pin ravioli (so called because you don't use a pasta maker) stuffed with roast pumpkin. I served 3 little cushions of ravioli tossed in a little butter, pine nuts, crispy bacon, sage, spinach and sprinkled with a little cheese. Next came overnight slow-cooked lamb stew with dumplings. I found tiny casserole dishes, slightly bigger than a ramekin, to serve it in. I nestled a single dumpling atop the stew with baby chantenay carrots on the side. After that came Nigella's hazelnut and chocolate cheesecake, but rather than making a large one and serving it in slices, I made them in little glass ramekins. They are beautiful, but very, very rich. Definitely one to serve with a cup of tea on the side! I had planned to make marzipan acorns to serve with coffee at the end, but I realised too late I did not have any green food colouring. Instead, I served mini doughnuts! I had seen in the Lakeland catalogue that they had a little silicone tray to make them in, and that you could bake them in the oven, so I decided that they would be the perfect thing to try making.

I am pleased to report that they were a total success! Although the recipe on the Lakeland website said that the mixture would make 8, it made 16! I tossed half in caster sugar and the other half in cinnamon sugar, and they all got eaten within minutes! They were very quick and easy to make and I can't recommend the tray enough!

It was really good to catch up with the family again and we spent a happy day talking, although there was a lot of washing up to do afterwards! Today has been pumpkin carving brunch club, and I got a head start on the catering by making twice as much pumpkin soup as I needed yesterday, so served that as a first course again today. I made pumpkin macaroni cheese for the main course, and blended ciabatta, dried sage, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds and cheese to sprinkle over the top before it was baked. I served a big dish of sausages alongside, and another dish of bitter green leaf salad, with my favourite beetroot and balsamic vinegar dressing on the side. I was really pleased with the macaroni cheese, as I concocted the recipe myself. My dessert was an 'impossible vegan pumpkin pie' which turned out much better than I hoped.

My guests today are some of my favourite people in the world, and it was a pleasure to have them with me for the afternoon. One brought delicious pumpkin and chocolate brownies, and the lovely Annastasia came bearing the most amazing mini cupcakes which looked like they would bite back! Each cupcake had a strawberry jam mouth and macademia nut teeth, and looked scary but tasted delicious.

Inspired by apple day at the farm a few weekends ago, we had our first apple peeling competition - Annastasia is the reigning Miss Apple Peel 2012, but I shall be practising ready for next year! I used a lino cutting tool to carve my pumpkin this year - while it is really effective I think I need more practise to perfect controlling it.

And so we come to Sunday evening. What a difference a week makes...I remember last Sunday I did not feel so happy at all. But this morning, I needed to pick up a few last minute ingredients, and strode out into the cold, the leaves scuttling about my feet, the air cool in my lungs, and just felt happy. It is a good feeling, and I hope that it lasts for me and that all of you feel happy yourselves.

The extra hour in bed last night was much appreciated, but it means I am feeling very sleepy now, but want to finish off catching up with Strictly Come Dancing on the iplayer before bedtime. I wonder if I will have time to knit up a tiny pumpkin before Halloween on Wednesday?

I think that tonight will be a hot-water-bottle kind of night, and tomorrow will be a scarf and gloves kind of morning. Wherever you are, I hope you are wrapped up warm and had a lovely weekend,
Love Mimi xxx

Monday, 22 October 2012


When I awoke this morning, my little corner of the world was wrapped in a soft blanket of mist. The air felt soft, and all the sounds of the day were muffled slightly by it. It was as though somehow, the day knew that I needed to be wrapped in cotton wool today, to be gentled.

And even though I have had news which is more good than bad, thankfully, I do still feel like I need gentling. I am thankful becuase I still have a job, which is much better news than some of my colleagues will have received. But it is half of the hours I had asked for, and not at a library I had asked for. But it is a job, a chance, an opportunity. Even better, I can continue my secondment.

So although I feel mainly relieved, I feel a bit shaky too. There is hope glistening away in the shimmering half light, which is what I am going to hold on to.

I plan to work not too late today, go home and have a quiet hour before visiting friends. I have a card on my desk which says 'All Shall Be Well, And All Shall Be Well, And All Manner Of Things Shall Be Well' flanked by a smooth pebble from Aldeburgh beach and a smaller stone from the same beach, with a hole straight through it. These are my points of reference to stay grounded and when I feel stressed, I try to hold them and think positively.

I think of this blog as a kind of patchwork blanket where I weave the thread of my days. I don't know what colour these past few weeks would be, but I know I am grateful to have this space to weave them, just the same.

Thank you for your kind thoughts and words these past few weeks, Love Mimi xxx

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Thoughtful Sunday Evening

I find myself pensive this evening. It has been a wonderful weekend, with lots of adventures to write about. I still haven't told you about all the inspiration at last weekend's Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace, or regaled you with tales of my first night as a burlesque dancer, performing on stage for a paying audience...and to add to that I have Apple Day at our local farm shop (I had a go at archery, amongst other things) the model railway show, the vintage fayre, or just the general loveliness of autumn days and coffee from a proper coffee pot, falling leaves and the scent of cinnamon and cedar in the air.

There will be time enough for that another day. I find myself this evening with snatches of T S Eliot poetry wandering through my mind.. And indeed there will be time For the yellow smoke that slides along the street, Rubbing its back upon the window-panes; There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; 30 Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions And for a hundred visions and revisions Before the taking of a toast and tea.

I had a tempestuous relationship with Eliot when I studied him years ago, but I find he creeps into my mind more and more often now. Perhaps it is that I have just watched The Ghost and Mrs Muir and cried at the ending, and then did the washing up listening to Elvis singing 'It Hurts Me' or that tomorrow I find out if I am redundant again or not, and a dear, dear Aunt gets some medical test results which will I think be bad news, or worse news.

Maybe it is just autumn days filled with rain or just the Sunday evening blues. But I do feel pensive this evening. If I was in Little Women, I would be sitting in my garret eating apples while the rain pattered against the window. If I was in Pride and Prejudice I would be taking a long walk across the fields, getting my petticoat quite muddy. But I am not, I am here, so I shall boil the kettle, run a bath, and settle back with The Persephone Biannual and plan a great many literary treats to come. And try to remember that this too, shall pass.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Storecupboard Squirrel

Last night, I finally made time to turn out the freezer and make an inventory before repacking everything neatly. Having had such a thorough look at our food stores has been really beneficial - I now know exactly what we have got and what needs replenishing, and have an idea of how squirrels must feel when they make their little stores all ready for winter!

I enjoy cooking, so it was no surprise to me to realise that gradually my herbs and spices and flavoured oils etc had taken over an entire shelf in one of the cupboards, but I was surprised to find I have 33 different herbs and spices! And that I was nearly out of sage, all out of rosemary, and my mixed spice had lost its scent, and so almost certainly its flavour!

I have not done a proper 'big shop' for a while, and so find myself without things that I consider staples, such as tinned tomatoes, but am pleasantly surprised to see how much we do have. If we had a sudden unseasonal snowfall and couldn't leave our home for a few days, we could eat very easily, although I must put milk for the freezer on my list so we could still have our pots of tea!

In my list making, I have included everything except for the fridge, because I see that as very temporary storage and perishable - there is no point to me saying I have milk in the fridge on a list because there is always milk in the fridge; meat in the fridge is there because it is about to be cooked, etc.

I now have my google spreadsheet all set up, with colours for the main categories of food (blue for dairy, red for protein, etc). The only thing that could make life a bit easier is if I had the magic kind of phone where you can access google docs on it, because then if I was in a shop and couldn't remember how much of something we had, I could look it up. Having said that, the plan is definitely to shop online as much as possible, except for the local market for fruit and veg etc, so I shouldn't really need to look things up while I am out and about!

Hopefully seeing at a glance what I have already will make menu planning easier. For example, I knew I had some pork mince in the freezer, but knowing I have some dry noodle nests and a jar of peanut butter means all I need to do is buy some new soy sauce, and sugar snap peas, and I can make pork-and-peanut-noodles for dinner. Although that won't be tonight...I have my friend and her parter coming to dinner tonight, and he is vegetarian. I am thinking of a spiced carrot and lentil soup, served in small portions in teacups as a starter, and steamed pumpkin and syryp sponge pudding for dessert...just have to decide what to put in the middle!

But before I get to any of that, I have to fill in my application form for the restructure at work. And remember to go and put my out-of-office reply onto my work emails, and try not to look at them as they come in....

But first, time for a bolstering cup of tea!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Looking Back

My progress on turning out my cupboards and stock taking and replenishing the kitchen has been slow but steady this week. All that is left is the fridge and the freezer. I wish I had been able to do it one evening this week, but long, intense days at work have left me so tired that my evenings have been stumbling through dinner and a shower, then into bed, where I fall asleep, book in hand.

I have Monday off work. It isn't a day off as such, it is to complete my application form for a job in the restructure which is happening within our libraries. Voluntary redundancies have been granted, but there are still too many of us for the posts that will remain, so those of us left fill in our forms, and then wait. By the end of the month I will know if I have a job or not.

You would think that I would be terrified...part of me is a little worried that I am not. It isn't that I am by any means confident of securing a post - after all, I was made redundant in the last restructure. It is more partly that I am just too worn out to have the energy to be terrified, and partly because when I was made redundant last year, it was the worst I could imagine happening, and I have survived.

Looking back to this time last year, I had left the big library in August. In the second or third week in September I started working part time in one of the branch libraries to make up my hours. My life was just starting to settle into a rhythm of getting on the train on one day, on the bus another day. I remember meeting my friend who lives in Witham for lunches in a lovely little cafe called The Well - pots of tea and jacket potatoes. I remember a long, straight road to walk down from the train station to the library, and one of the houses along the road often had bags of windfall cooking apples. I remember coming home and making batch after batch of apple puree for the freezer, whilst listening to Alan Rickman read The Return of the Native.

I remember Carl being made redundant, too. Being so thankful that we pulled together rather than apart. When he got a new job, just before Christmas, the elation. Knowing how important it was to him to be employed on his 30th birthday and being so glad he got his wish.

I remember having so much less money, having to choose my pleasures wisely, and discovering Oh Comely magazine, falling in love with it for an issue or two, but then moving on. I remember dark evenings in our new little flat, lit with flickering candles. Being pleasantly surprised by how warm the flat is.

It will be 2 years in January that I first heard about the first restructure in which I lost one of my jobs. Soon I will know about this job, either way. I wish that just for a little while, I could live with certainty. I remember when I was working my one contracted job, and all the little side jobs here and there, not being able to see the way forward, not being able to sense or imagine what might come next. A bit like when you wake up in the pitch dark and can't see your own hand in front of your face, although you know it must be there. And there was something in front of me. I had from March to August in a new office and made some good friends and put a lot on my CV. I am now working in the Cabinet Office and again, there are wonderful people there and I am working in a world I could not have imagined before.

So I keep telling myself that this too, shall pass. What will be will be. That all shall be well. But it is hard. I know I am luckier than most, because if they do make me redundant, I have my secondment to finish. Everything feels so tentative at the moment. It is very hard not to shrink into yourself and be afraid.

So on Monday, I shall do the best I can with my application. I will be thankful for the safety net of my secondment. I will check the job websites just in case, so I can have an idea what else might be available. I will try to be positive and remember that whatever happens, even if it isn't how it feels at the time, is for the best.

Recently, I have been having a strong urge to nest. To set up my stores, to make our home cosy and comfortable, to replenish the things we need, to get settled in for whatever is to come. I think a lot of that is autumn in the air, but a lot of it is also the uncertainty of work. I am going to do some baking at the weekend. I remember making a pumpkin caramel cake last year, and I think I will make that again this weekend, and perhaps make some bread, too. Simple pleasures, to soothe the soul.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Storecupboard Progress

Inspired by Quince Tree 65, I decided it would be a good thing to make a list of all the provisions we have in our food cupboards, fridge and freezer. I especially like how QT65 used a different colour for protein, carbohydrates etc. I was full of good intentions, but after eating dinner and washing up, I have managed only to turn out the tea and coffee shelves and the small dry goods cupboard.

I do this periodically anyway as it is good to know exactly what you have and haven't got lurking in the back of your cupboards, and I like just being able to check my spreadsheet to see if I have the right herbs and spices for a particular recipe rather than having to go and check. I like the feeling of everything being shipshape and catalogued neatly - a relic of so many years spent working in libraries coupled with the autumn feeling of squirrelling away stores for cold weather.

I am so tired this evening I can barely keep my eyes open, so I am signing off to go and snuggle in bed and fall asleep listening to Radio 4. Tomorrow evening I am going to tackle the larger dry goods cupboard, and the fridge and freezer. The next part of the plan is work out which things that I like to keep a stock of need replenishing (tinned tomatoes, lentils, arborio rice etc) and which things I need to use up (frozen meat etc).

Then is is just a case of working the latter into a menu plan, and seeing how well I can do with the Storecupboard Challenge that I mentioned last week. I have How To Feed Your Family for £5 A Day by Bernadine Lawrence to read to get some ideas. I think my Mum used to have an older edition of this when I was a little girl, so I am hoping to discover some forgotten childhood favourites in there, as well as some new ideas.

Heaven forbid that either of us should ever be in a situation where we start the day with our jobs, but end it without, but I like to think that should that happen, or should we be snowed in, or whatever else, we could not just survive for a few days, but eat well.

What are your favourite store cupboard items?

Love Mimi xxx

Suddenly, October

I came home from work at half past five today, which is uncommonly early, and stopped at the shop to buy some milk. Even as I stepped out of the shop, dusk was falling, the gloaming was settling, and the light was fading beautifully.

I got home and opened all the windows to let the last of the daylight in, and turned the oven on while I put together a sausage-and-sage-and-onion-pie for dinner. In the time it has taken to roll the pastry and mix the filling and decorate the top with tiny cut out pastry hearts, anoint with milk and place in the oven to bake, the sky has deepened first to royal blue, and now to navy, so dark it is almost black.

Suddenly, it is October. Autumn is no longer coming, it is here. We saw out September in wonderful style with a weekend at Aldeburgh; we stayed in the delightful Curlew Cottage that we stayed in this summer, and spent two days at Snape Maltings at the Food Festival. I enjoyed a tutored chocolate tasting with Rococo Chocolates - salted milk chocolate topped with goats cheese, lemon zest and cracked black pepper was an utter taste revelation to me! We went to a black-and-white themed dinner dance, and were put to shame by the energetic dancing of the other guests, most of whom were at least twice our age!

On the way home we stopped at my parent's house, I miss seeing them so much as I used to since I started my new job. We enjoyed dinner and just sitting and talking. I came home with a bag of Concorde pears (they are amazingly delicious and worth watching for. Curiously Marks and Spencer sell them at a premium in a posh box; Morrison's often sell them in their value bags!) and a bag of craft magazines. Food for thought and the tummy!

I can't wait for my husband to come home tonight. A pot of tea, a home cooked pie, candles alight, and home, home together.