Sunday 29 January 2012

Feeding the hoardes

With four growing children, and three adults with hearty appetites, much of my time seems to be in the kitchen preparing food.  Especially the evening meal as most have been out all day with limited amounts of food (ie their lunch boxes), and usually come home and raid the kitchen sometimes before even taking coats and shoes off!  With increasing food prices feeding everyone is becoming more of an eye opener.  Our favourite meal, fish pie is more of a rarity now, as it is so very expensive to get enough fish to feed all seven of us. 

I do not usually blog about food, but last night I felt quite a sense of satisfaction, feeding everyone with a hearty meal, and only spending £7 on the meat!  I know there is a whole argument for not eating as much meat, but this is a family that is very keen on traditional, meat and two veg type meals.  And I am a cook who likes to source the food very carefully, which tends to mean local, free-range and sometimes organic, but which also tends to bump up the price a fair bit!!

Anyway, onto last nights meal.  Stuart had been talking to someone at work about pork belly, and it reminded me that I had a recipe that had made it into my little black book, ie a tried, tested and enjoyed recipes that I hand write out into a notebook for easy reference.  So I paid a visit to our local farm shop and bought 9 slices of free range pork belly for £7.  Now that in itself should bring a smile to anyones face!

Anyway, all week it sat in the freezer, as it takes a good three hours to cook, and that is difficult to fit around our school evenings.  Plus, the thought of cooking the really fatty pork belly was, to be honest, putting me off.  Well, I eventually took the plunge and cooked it last night.  Oh my goodness!!! It was delicious!!  The aromas wafting through the house for 3 hours were mouthwatering, the succulent, melt in the mouth meat, the crispy, honey basted skin, and juicy roasted onions.  It is fair to say it was a resounding success (ok Alec and Ethan weren't that keen, but 5 out of 7 who adored it is good in my books!)

I was trying to think where I got the recipe from, I thought it was a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe, but can't find it in any of the books I have. 

I would love to hear of any family favourite recipes you have using cheaper cuts of meat, because there is such a sense of satisafaction turning something that is felt to be inferior into something spectacular, plus saving money!!

Friday 27 January 2012

Springtime smiles

Now, if I was an excellent photographer, who had a wonderful zoom lens, and carried her camera with her wherever she went, then I would be able to add some photos to this post. But I don't have a fantastic zoom lens, I don't carry my camera when I go to let Hetty out in the morning, or when doing the school run, and I am at best a mediocre photographer, so I guess words will have to do!

Anyhow, it all started this morning, going to let Hetty out, and I was stunned by the number of birds I saw. There were the usual suspects, the starlings that are roosting in the space between the ceiling of the first floor, and the floor of the attic room. There were wood pigeons, crows, magpies, and then the more occasional visitors such as a flock of long-tailed tits, and a visit from our ring-necked parakeet who always makes me smile when I hear him call. Apparently he has been named Peter by some of the neighbours, and has even been in the local paper a couple of times! So, all in the matter of a minute this morning, I had noticed all these birds.

Then on the walk back from school this morning, a tiny little flash of yellow over my head, and a little firecrest flew into a nearby bush, what a busy little fella he was too, flitting from branch to branch. And bringing another smile to my face.

I have noticed the birds singing with all the gusto they can muster recently. Sophie and I stopped to listen to a robin in full flow the other day. It was beautiful, and gave me a feeling that Spring will soon be here. Combined with all the flowers that are already showing their heads, (I've already seen snowdrops, crocus', daffodils and even a grape hyacinth!) I really do think that Spring is just around the corner.

What have you spotted around and about that has brought a smile to your face recently?

Wednesday 25 January 2012

A distracted yarn along

It's Wednesday, that must mean it is yarn along time. 

Well, this week has definitely been one for bits and bobs, and getting easily distracted by other woolly projects!  I knitted up the billy goats gruff for another story bag order.  And am currently doing the parts of the troll, ready to assemble and await the arrival of the book from that big bookstore on line!  But my distractions have been to finish off spinning/plying some beautiful purple wool.  Just have to think what to do with it now!  And a little needle felted bunny rabbit, which is my first attempt at needle felting a three dimensional object, ready to send off for a birthday present!

In amidst all my distracted crafting I have started to read "Car Sick", a book I found at the library whilst searching for something completely different, I'm only one chapter in, but is already has me thinking about our car use, and how, when I get some wheels back, I will be far less ready to jump behind the wheel to do a short journey.

Looking forward to seeing what everyone else has been up to, hopefully they have been sticking to the tasks at hand a little better than me!

Monday 23 January 2012

Seven Days

Joining Jacqui aka "The Barefoot Crofter" with a review of the last seven days.  Because even when you think nothing special is happening, if you look closely enough you find it! 

After last week was very much an out of the house kind of week, this week has been more home based.  Monday whilst getting very cold walking back from the shops I stopped to put Sophie's gloves on her for the umpteenth time, and happened to stop outside a friend of my Mum's house.  She saw us and invited us in to warm up.  Sophie got to play with her grandson, and we had a lovely impromptu chat.  This happened again on Tuesday, calling in to a friend, just to check her daughter was ok, after seeing her daughter very distressed earlier, and another cup of coffee and a lovely chat.  It really made my week.

Other lovliness that has been happening...

...finishing off the bag for the three little pigs

...catching Sophie making shadow puppets whilst eating her lunch... 

 ...having the time (and ingredients) to be able to make Sophie's demand for chocolate cake a reality...
 ...whilst I was at Guild, Sophie had popcorn, I do hope she shared it!
 A big package of woolly goodness (if a little dirty) arriving in the post, with the promise of endless amounts of dyeing and spinning.  Thank you Dawn!
 And more little knitted animals, this time the Billy Goats Gruff. Awaiting the arrival of the troll, and a bag, so that they too can make their way to their new home.

Looking forward to the week ahead, which I think will  be a good mix of home and out and about. But I guess we will just have to wait and see what it brings.

Saturday 21 January 2012

National Exhibition

At last nights Guild meeting we were each given a 6 inch steel ring.  Why? Well, the Guild is having a national exhibition at the Weald and Downland Museum in July.  Each member can submit a piece of work that will fit within the 6 inch ring (the ring making up part of the exhibit).

So, what to do?  Apparently it can be three dimensional or flat.  So I bought an extra ring so I could experiment!  But looking at the ring I was so uninspired.  I mean, where do you start?  However, on the 30 minute drive home the ideas came flooding.  I first thought of a crescent, needle felted moon, with a star hanging within the ring.  I've since thought of a full moon, in 3-D with the dark side shown too.  But then my ideas became a little more ambitious (as they do!). 

I then spent a couple of hours browsing ravelry, and found some beautiful crocheted applique motifs, and thought of doing something along the lines of fairy tales, but then discovered the patterns were in chinese, or something similar.  But I now think I have decided on two themes.  For a 2-D creation it will be themed, "under the sea", and for the 3-D one it will be named "shhh" and is inspired by a picture by the very talented Jacqui.

I'm all for a challenge, and hope some others I know will be taking part.  Exciting times!!

Tuesday 17 January 2012


 It has turned cold, eventually!  We've had three days now of hoar frost building up on hoar frost, so it is in places looking a touch like snow.  But what really stirred my curiosity was when going to defrost Hetty's water every morning.  Last year, when we had all that really cold weather the water would be nearly frozen solid, with only the core being liquid,  This year we have little slivers of ice, but they go right through the water container, so it looks web like when you drain the water out. 
So it got me thinking, what is that is different?  Wikipaedia was useless, it just confused me even further!  But guess who came up with a theory?  Luke!  Apparently, the best ice cream is made by rapid freezing, making small ice crystals, but if it is cooled over a longer period then you get larger crystals.  So the theory as it stands now is that last year when it was sooooo cold, really small crystals formed quickly and it became clear solid ice.  This year, with it not quite so cold (but cold enough!) the crystals are growing at a slower rate, making these large slivers. 

Who knew that emptying the chickens water could be so interesting?!

Sunday 15 January 2012

Seven Days

Joining with Jacqui with a review of the last 7 days.

And in fear of repeating myself, the week started off with a trip out to Clent, but as it is such a lovely place, I figure it is worth repeating!
 And again with the allotment, first trip in a couple of months, still there, still weedy (but slightly less so after my visit!)
 Ethan has started Karate classes, following going along with a friend about 6 weeks ago.  We gave him his karate suit for Christmas, and this week was his first week wearing it.  Alec has also decided he would like to learn as well, so went along with Ethan this week too.  Ethan has also started a street dance class, lead by a male teacher, and the vast majority of the children are boys too.  He is really enjoying it, and keeps practising his moves at any opportune moment.
 Alot of this week has revolved around walking.  Stuart's car is being mended, so he is using the Chrysler, and things have still needed to be done.  Me being my usual disorganised self keeps missing the buses by a matter of minutes, so has walked into town a couple of times, and by the end of the week it is fair to say my feet were hurting!  But won't do me any harm, and in fact I have really rather enjoyed the time just walking, observing, and actually feeling more of the community, rather than my own little self, driving in the car, that little bit removed from the environment around me.  I hope that I will continue doing this even when I have four wheels again during the week.
 One of the trips into town was to pick up my new glasses.  Having broken my other pair only weeks after having an eye test, and deciding I would save money and not get new frames, I think my glasses had other ideas.  I'm always rather nervous choosing new frames, as it will be a very visible part of me for the next few years.  But you know, I'm rather pleased with these.
The week also saw a gorgeous banoffee pie made by Luke at school.  Got eaten too quickly to get a photo of, although I think the request has already gone out for him to make another!  Stan has also returned, following spending the last couple of weeks with his daughter in Wales.  So the house feels complete again.

All little things this week, but all very special in their own way.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Three little pigs

 Joining in with Ginny and her yarn along.  A bit of post Christmas crafting resulted in three little piggies and a big bad wolf.  The patterns are from Knitting Animals by Anne-Dorthe Grigaff, although I adapted the fox pattern to create the wolf buy basically knitting a different style tail, and obviously changing the colour.  The idea is to make a bag to put these in, along with a pocket to hold the story of the three little pigs.  Once the bag is finished, it will be popped in my shop, Aisling Designs to see if there is any interest for them.  My favourite thing about them is their little corkscrew tails! 

As for reading, I picked up a magazine when out shopping the other day, permaculture.  I have read a few of these before, and found them really interesting, and now I have a purpose, ie educating myself for the distant future when we get to build our hobbit hole, it is even more interesting. Also reading the Dalai Lama's new book, that I got for Christmas.  Again, another book that makes so much sense.
Looking forward to seeing what everyone else has been up to.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Making the most of the weather

 Last Sunday we decided to return to Clent.  Make the most of the weather and drink in the wonderful views.  Of course, we had to start off with some fuel inside us.  A bacon sandwich to beat all other bacon sandwiches ever, from the very popular Nimmings Cafe.  Really, for a January weekend I wouldnt have thought an outdoors cafe would have much trade, but it was busier than ever!
 Sophie did so well, walking off on adventures with her brothers for the whole time we were out, (until blisters stopped her)  And her brothers were so good at accommodating her in their adventures, even if it did mean they had to go very slowly.
 This time we remembered the drinks!
 My favourite moment.
 We had adventures with dragons, found the ideal spot for a hobbit hole, and had some lovely family time in the incredibly balmy January weather.

And so I have continued to make the most of the weather.  And managed an hour and a half down the allotment today.  I tried to find the wasps nest in the compost bin, but to no avail, but hopefully they will not return to it now.  I then got tired of pulling bindweed out of the strawberry patch, so moved on to clearing some beds.  Nearly finished one bed, I reckon we'll put pumpkins and courgettes in here, nice and sunny, and should be easy to dig in plenty of manure.
 Also pulled some parsnips to see how they had done (they were late going in, so wasn't expecting much.)  I guess they were a bit bigger than I anticipated, if a little curly! Also pulled the remainind carrots, not a single one was edible, eaten by I'm not sure what, but lots of little tunnels in the root.  So that's it, I'm done with carrots, I admit defeat!  Instead I will focus on growing more of the things we are good at growing, like beans, strawberries, onions etc.
Apparently the good weather is to continue this week, so I'll be out on my bike I hope, and also see if I can squeeze another allotment trip in there somewhere (if I'm not aching too much after that first trip down there for a good couple of months!)

Friday 6 January 2012


 Betty slipped away very peacefully last night, despite syringe feeds and antibiotics, whatever was wrong with her was too much.  She was always a seemingly weak chicken, with us not sure whether she would make it through the first few days with us three years ago.  Where we got the chickens from offered to have her back from us and give us a replacement, but she had already found a place in our hearts, and we gave her a chance with us.  For that first year she was blighted with sterile egg peritonitis, so she tended to have two weeks laying, then two weeks off whilst looking sorry for herself.  But things settled down for her, and she would follow me around the garden making these lovely chirruping noises.  She was a shy bird, and never far away from Hetty, they were inseperable. 
 Hetty would lead her into mischief, such as this adventure into the kitchen!  Betty gave us our first egg, and I can remember one time when she had been unwell, and then started laying again, she came strutting out the henhouse throwing bits of straw over her back as if in celebration. 
She is now resting in her favourite dustbathing spot at the bottom of the garden.  Hetty is lost without her, and I've resorted to sitting in the garden to keep her company, as she was getting really agitated earlier.  We will now have to look at rehoming Hetty, she needs to share her life with feathered friends, and we have decided that we will not be getting any more chickens, for the foreseeable future.

Rest in peace Betty.  I hold some very fond memories of you. xx

Thursday 5 January 2012

The New Year

We welcomed in the new year with a new game. Talisman.  Such an excellent game that we missed the moment of midnight, as it was so engrossing!

New Years Day saw us without any transport, as the car tax for the big car had run out, Stuart's Mazda is still sat on the driveway looking very sorry for itself, and the courtesy car is too small for us all to fit in!  So we walked into town to go to the cinema to see "Puss in Boots".  Excellent film, and great to get out of the house and some exercise.  On our way home the heavens opened, we did all have coats, but it wasn't enough to protect us.  Fortunately the weather was mild, so it wasn't too much of a problem, in fact Luke and Ethan embraced their wetness and just had loads of fun!

I can't vouch for anyone else, but my plans for 2012 revolve around being organised.  This does not come naturally to me, and I seem to be stumbling at the first step (eg people running out of clothes as had run out of washing powder, and the shop that was in walking distance only sold bio, which was no good, as some of us have sensitive skin.)  But I am trying, and I am hoping this will extend to the allotment too, with me aiming to get down there at least once a week (yes, I have been "that" bad at getting down there recently, probably pushing a couple of months since my last visit!!)  My organisational skills will have an extra test from tomorrow, as the courtesy car goes back, so Stuart will need the Chrysler for work, leaving me carless for the foreseeable future.  Haven't quite sussed doing a weekly shop for 7 of us on foot yet, but I'm sure there is a way, failing that it will be having to face the shops on a weekend with the rest of the masses!!

Other news, our beloved Betty (chicken) is very poorly.  Being syringe fed, and very weak.  I guess only time will tell, but we are trying our best for her.  And Hetty seems very lost in the backgarden all by herself.  We have had the chickens three years today. 

Hoping everyone is getting into the swing of the new year now.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Woolly Wednesday

 Back last spring I got this lovely surprise bundle of wool from Sarah.  She had hand dyed it and sent it to me, and I have been itching to start spinning it up, but there has always been some other projects with a deadline attached, so it has stayed on the shelf, until now.  I had spun a small amount of it prior to Christmas, but once all the guests were gone, one of the first things I did was set about on the wool!  It was so lovely getting reaquainted with my wheel, which had sat collecting dust in the corner for far too long for my liking! 
This is about half of it, nearly finished the other half, and am looking forward to plying it, and seeing how the subtle changes in the colours contrast with each other. I have no idea what I am going to make with it yet, but it has been an utter pleasure working with it. 

Other woolly goodness was a needle felting set for Christmas.  I made a heart garland as a wedding present for some friends who got married just after Christmas, and as usual, with these last minute presents I forgot to take a photo!  Great fun though, and initiated my nieces into needle felting too!!

Oh, and that bag I made for the competition.  Another friend has tentatively asked Stuart if I could make her one!  Not sure if she wants handspun wool, but I hope she is patient!!

Good to be back in the land of wool!  Happy New Year to you all.