Saturday 30 November 2013

Christmas Wrapping Bought

I'm keeping it simple with the Christmas wrapping this year, well I do every year but I used to have a shop and then a Farmers Market stall so I could always pilfer bits and bobs for wrapping from my craft supplies.  Now in our efforts to keep it simple I've sold all my crafting things, (well they weren't going to be used any more by me and there are lots of crafters out there who threw good money at me for them and I had decided I would rather buy myself a house!!) so I decided to spend a little to 'tart up' my presents.
This lot cost me just £4, wrappings are currently 'Buy To Get One Free' in T*sco at the moment AND I spotted that they have a box of Value Range 12 Christmas crackers for just £1.  Nice shiny glossy crackers, with a motto, a hat and the naffest of naff little plastic gifts in each one.  But what's to stop you carefully opening one end of each cracker and removing the plastic gift and inserting one of your own or even just a couple of Quality Street sweeties instead.  These crackers do not seem to be available online, maybe they want your money by only having the glassy £10 a box packs on there, so do look out in store for them. (It would actually cost you more to buy a kit to make your own crackers than buy these.) 
But this year I don't think I'll bother with crackers at all, if anyone really wants a paper hat I'll make them one 'a la The Good Life'  .... from the newspaper pile near the log basket.
I toyed with the idea of wrapping the pressies in newspaper or glossy magazine pages, but on finding a large roll of brown paper it seems a shame to waste it, and as we have virtually no decorations to put up  the little gifts we have bought for our Christmas Day visitors will sit under the teeny Christmas tree from last year (it's survived wonderfully outside in it's pot all year and will move house next week) and make our living room look suitable festive.
The sticky tape and the bows were £1.50 each, so I got all three for £3 and the sticker book just £1, not bad at 1p per sticker and as the presents I've bought are quite small these will cheer them up no end.
Our only other expenditure this year has been another £1.50 on a pack of mini baubles for our little tree, he's still too small to be able to bear the weight of our normal baubles which will be piled into a couple of bowls and dotted around the place.
The main decorations for the house will be cut from our woodland just before the big day, there are lots of bushes laden with berries but we will only be taking a few sprigs of these as really I consider them wild bird food, and we have a wonderfully big Holly bush directly opposite the kitchen window which will be tidied up just in time for Christmas Day as will some of the ivy.
What have you got planned up to now?
Sue xx

Thursday 28 November 2013


All this packing and unpacking, moving and shifting has made me think even harder about the things we own.  We worked so hard all through this year and the year before to get rid of things, to sell at car boot sales and online, to move to a more simple way of life and yet still we seem to own so much. So many items have been packed, loaded, driven up the motorway only to be unloaded and unpacked at the other end.  I think doing it in small loads has highlighted to me the sheer amount of stuff we have. 
We forgot to bring the dog bowls home with us last weekend, and I wondered what we would put their food in ... for a moment I even very briefly contemplated going and buying two more stainless steel bowls for them.  I needn't have worried, looking around the house when we got home I managed to find two dog bowls within minutes.  We have bowls sat inside and outside the house filled at all times with fresh water for the dogs and cats to drink out of and there were the bowls that used to belong to Sophie, our beloved Border Collie.  So it took me literally two minutes to get two bowls together that can be designated food bowls for the two dogs during the week and stop the need for bringing the others backwards and forwards with us.
We also have enough plates, bowls and cups for us at both ends, I seem to have two very functional kitchens working in tandem with each other.  We truly have everything we need and more.  There are so many less fortunate than us.  We've worked hard for what we have, we both work very hard to earn money and make that money work for us.   And we've managed through sheer hard slog to get together half the value of our home and we plan to pay for it completely in as short a time frame as we possibly can so it is truly ours. To make sure this happens I have decided I will be continuing to downsize our belongings, already at the new house there is a growing collection of things, some not wanted and left by the previous owners and some ours that we have realised simply don't fit in with how we want the house to be, all these will be sold off at the first chance we have and the money raised diverted to paying off the mortgage.
In the new year I intend to resurrect my Recipe Book Blog and work my way through my vast collection of books, being much more ruthless this time and only keeping the very useful and much used favourites, the rest will be sold.  I may even be tempted to try to raise £2014 in 2014 the way I did very successfully in 2012.  I find with a definite figure to aim towards you do push yourself that little bit more.
But anyway the main thing behind this post was to tumble down in words my desire to get back to simplicity, as I feel in buying things for the new house I had lost sight of it somewhat.  There's been no 'make do and mending', there's been lots of 'we need this so we'll buy it' and that's no bad thing for a short while after all we'd worked hard to save the money to get ready to buy these things and it is the first home we have ever bought together, but soon it has to stop and I guess with a brand new year almost upon us it's a brilliant time to make plans for how you want things to be.
How do I want things to be - Simple.
Sue xx

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Cold Days, Warm Soup

These cold, cold days mean only one thing in this house.
Six scoops of dried soup mix bought from Approved Foods whenever it is on offer (the last lot cost me 25p a bag) ...
... and one large scoop of Vegetable Bouillon mix from the same place (an unbelievable £1 for a 2.5kg tub) ...

.... equals one huge pan of steaming hot and tasty soup. 
I add any veggies that are lurking in the bottom of the fridge and a spoonful of garlic or chilli flakes, this alters the flavour slightly each time and keeps things interesting.  Making it at the start of the week and keeping it in a couple of large jugs in the fridge, it means that I can have a warming bowl of soup for lunch in amongst the sorting and packing, and taken to work in his 'soup mug' Lovely Hubby can zap it in the microwave and have one too.
Simple food at it's best.
So we are literally eating for pennies, the only drawback is it's not emptying the freezer as quickly as we would have liked and there is still quite a bit to eat our way through.
Sue xx

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Plans, Wires, Cats......

My head is full of plans at the moment, they whizz round in the most disorganised fashion. 
I tried making lists in my large desk diary but now my handwriting has gone to pot, even I can't read everything I've written and usually I'm the only one who can!!  I have a notebook in my bag at all times and scribble away as things come to mind.  Only the other day I found myself thawing out in a café drinking a huge mug of coffee and planning the Blog for next year.   Notes, plans, diagrams, if I don't catch them on paper they will vanish or be taken over by other equally important ideas for the future.
I have plans for the new house, which as you have seen have almost come to fruition now, so as I'm painting the final surfaces and walls I find my mind wandering to poly tunnels and rhubarb patches edged with strawberries.  Fruit bushes line the edges of the central bed with an apple tree standing proudly in the centre and the net tunnel is full of the most delicious berries .... Ooops there I go again......
I have to drag myself back and tell myself to do one thing at a time, get the edge of the paint line neat, wipe up the spills as they happen, forget planning the next meal in the Aga until I have actually finished eating my breakfast.  I'm two pages ahead of myself and three pages behind where I want to be.
Reigning in other people and planning a working day is something I was trained to do, reigning in myself is a whole other matter!!
The wires? ..... oh yes, this is a picture I found on my camera when I was downloading the sheep pictures yesterday.  I'm guessing it's the socket of the central heating controls, Lovely Hubby was about to fit a timer to the heating so it can come on while we are still in bed and take that vicious chill off the air before I push him bodily down the stairs to make me a hot cup of coffee in the mornings.   He took it all off the wall, studied the pencil drawing the guy that fitted the new boiler drew for him, pondered for a while and then quickly reattached it all and decided he needed a conversation with him before going any further.
And cats .... well I couldn't have a Blog post without a cute and furry face after yesterdays lovely shots of a dreaming Suky, so I thought I would include a photo of Ginger, and looking very serious he is in this one.  I guess he knows we're still waiting to hear if we can take him with us when we make the final journey to North Wales, I do hope we can, after all he's family now.
He actually belongs to our landlords family and we said we would foster him while we lived here and hand him over on their return, but they have decided to stay away for another year and we don't know who will be here next.   Anyway, she says stamping her feet in the most stroppy of stroppiness way ....... he's one of us now!! 
Those sheep have a lot to answer for, they have me yearning for more furry creatures around the place ..... I wonder what Santa might bring ... did he get my letter .... :-)
Sue xx

Monday 25 November 2013

What Do You Expect to Find on a Welsh Hillside?

We pulled up at 3am, early on Friday morning after a long and diverted drive from Berkshire, to see twenty eight pairs of eyes shining in the trucks headlights. 
 The sheep had arrived!!

Chatting with our neighbour the other week we had mentioned that it was a shame our lovely grass was going to waste, and did she know of anyone with a couple of sheep that needed some Winter grazing.  She was straight on the phone, passing it over to Lovely Hubby who had a chat with a chap called Will, who yes, indeed had a 'few sheep' that would be grateful of a field of long luscious grass.
Well looking at the now neat grass he must have been round the day after we left and deposited them into the field, cobbling together a gate to fill the gap and leaving them to fend for themselves as sheep do.
They had nibbled away and got the grass well under control, they rushed towards me when I approached the fence, no doubt my jacket was a similar colour to the farmers, although I had no bag of food on my shoulder, so their interest was short lived.

Suky loves, loves, loves all animals, be they cattle, sheep, goats, cats or chickens.   Give her something furry, feathered or woolly to look at and she will drool through the fence, wanting nothing more than to get up close and personal with any new friends.
The sheep were pretty interested in her too :-)

Later as she lay in her bed, you could see the thoughts passing through her mind.
' I've got woolly friends, just through the fence .... yay!! '

' Sheeps ..... yay ... zzzzzzz !! '
Every trip outdoors now needs five extra minutes for her to go and check that her new friends are still there.
It's nice to have some sheep on our Welsh hillside, even if they don't actually belong to us ..... but one day they will.
Sue xx

Sunday 24 November 2013

The Store Cupboard

Someone asked me what will I miss most about this little bungalow.
There have been lots of advantages to us living here for the last two years.  The fact that it's half the price in rent than our last place meant we could save up even faster to get together the deposit for our forever home and that was very important, that it was a fifteen minute drive for Lovely Hubby to get to work instead of the previous hours journey each way was brilliant and meant more time together and less money in fuel and wear and tear on the car.
But the one thing in the house that I will miss the most ....
... is the little built in larder in the kitchen.
They knew how to make provision for storing food in the 1930's.  The shelves are deep enough and with enough space between them to store the maximum amount of food, the cupboard is nice and dry and everything is totally accessible.  I've been amazed at how much food it has managed to hold.  Even a full Approved Foods order has fitted neatly into the shelves after each delivery. 
If I can find a way to replicate this in the new house I will be a very happy little bunny :-)
(This picture was taken before we started eating our way through the stores, it's looking a lot emptier now.)
Sue xx

Thursday 21 November 2013

Totally Work Free and Cost Free Crop of Spuds

Yes, this is a totally free crop, potatoes that I didn't buy or plant, leftovers from potatoes we missed digging up last year.  In fact this year we planted NO potatoes at all and have been eating new potatoes, late potatoes and now this last batch that I honestly thought would have rotted away knowing how much rain has come down in the last few weeks.  So I was delighted when on sticking in the garden fork some lovely clean perfectly formed potatoes were speared by it's prongs!!
Half a dozen of the freshly dug up spuds were used straight away to make a big pan of Leek and Potato soup, it's so very green because I threw in a handful of Kale that was in the fridge, waste not want not!!  This fed us for four meals each .... lots of soup.
We had enough for a large pan of chopped bits, avoiding all the green bits and damage where I had slid the prongs of the fork through the potatoes when digging them up, this was turned into mash for a meal one night this week, Bangers and Mash with Red Onion Gravy (veggie sausages for me of course). 
Once the pan was full of the bits I popped the rest in a bag and decided to weigh them to see what was left, not bad at all, just under two kilos and that was after a pan full of soup and one of mash.
Leftover mash, because there was far too much for just two portions from that pan full was added to the contents of these pasties, Cheese, Onion and Mash for me and Steak, Sausage, Onion and Mash for Lovely Hubby.
And we still have the bag of spuds in the cupboard, which should last us a couple of weeks at the rate we eat potatoes, but shock, horror I have only one portion of pasta left here, so the next couple of weeks will be about using up spuds and rice.
It's nice to see the supplies going down and I'm finding things I really had forgotten we even had tucked at the back of the cupboards, so there will be some inventive meals coming up in the next few weeks.
I'm off now for a flick round with a duster before a new set of prospective tenants come to have a look around the bungalow, there are lots of surfaces to flick a duster at but luckily no things or books left anywhere to actually dust around.
Sue xx

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Luxury Meals Using What We Have

There's been no big supermarket shop for me for the last few weeks, in fact thinking about it there's been no big supermarket shop for me for ages and there won't be.  We are still using up what we have and supplementing it with just enough fresh stuff bought as and when needed.  For instance the only thing amongst all of the above that was bought last week was the pack of Salmon Trimmings.
All I do is open the fridge and check what needs to be used up first and then have a look in the freezer and cupboards and decide what will go with it to produce a meal.  In the picture above the main things that needed using up were the parmesan style cheese, (it had been brought out of the freezer the day before and mistakenly put away into the fridge, usually once grated it lives in the freezer) and the cream, so I decided on a creamy Salmon and Pasta dish. 
 I picked and washed some Kale from the Veggie patch, chopped an onion, picked and finely chopped a fresh chilli off the plant on the kitchen windowsill, now on it's third crop of chillies, fished a jar of Basics Fish Paste out of the cupboard and weighed out enough pasta for the two of us (and a bit extra to add to the dogs dinner).  Along with the Smoked Salmon Trimmings that I had bought to try after hearing such good reviews about them, we had a meal fit for royalty.
Only problem was we had eaten it before I remembered I hadn't taken a photo of the finished dish ... oops!!
If you want to make it for yourself simply pop the pasta on to boil, then put the chopped onions in a frying pan with a dash of oil to soften slowly, after a couple of minutes add the chopped chilli and let them cook together for about five minutes. 
Add the fish paste and then pour in the cream (or you could use yogurt or crème Fraiche, whatever you have), add about three quarters of your parmesan and then the salmon trimmings. 
Your pasta will be almost ready now so add the Kale to the water and cook for one more minute, then drain them making sure to catch a cupful of the pasta water in case you need to 'let down' the sauce slightly and then tip the pasta and kale mix into the frying pan on top of your salmony sauce, stir everything together, add some of the pasta water if you need to thin it slightly and then tip into your serving dishes.
Top with a sprinkle of the remaining parmesan style cheese and serve.
If you're having a skint week you can omit the salmon trimmings altogether and add a little more chilli to really zap up the flavour, but this really is a cheap but luxurious tasting meal.  I've just worked it out and not counting my home grown kale and chilli it cost me £2.98 to produce, so that's a lovely luxurious meal for less than £1.50 a head, without the salmon trimmings that makes it just 75p a head and believe me it does taste almost as good without them!!
This is a meal we now have on a regular basis since reading about it on Jack Monroe's blog A Girl Called Jack earlier this year, and if you visit a well known Italian restaurant it is very similar to their 'Penne con Salmone' which costs £10.95 a time.  So much cosier to stay at home in front of a roaring log fire and save lots of money.
Sue xx

Monday 18 November 2013

Shifting, Cleaning and Organising

This weekend has all been about sorting out, shifting things around and cleaning.
The trailers were emptied, the small animal trailer was half full of bits and pieces some still there from our last move, so everything was hoiked out, sorted through and then stacked on the patio if being kept.  The larger one we have been using as a store for the chicken food, bedding etc, and parked up just outside Chicken World so everything was lifted out and stacked neatly while the pair of them were pressure washed inside and out by a very wet Lovely Hubby and then left to dry overnight.

The other trailer has already been backwards and forwards twice to the new place, both times filled to the top with heavy outdoorsy type stuff, it didn't need cleaning thank goodness as it's next load will be dirtier than ever ... compost and plants, so there's really no point.
The utility room is a bare place at the far end now and there was the opportunity to clean it thoroughly ...

... before neatly stacking the bags of chicken food and the bin full of corn.
We got together the next load of things to go to Wales with us, the filing cabinets and desk drawers for the office and stacked them by the door ready for loading.
The little animal trailer is now filled to the roof with all those things that we can take and leave there, things that we won't need immediately and that are safe to sit in the damp Welsh air and not come to any harm.  The large animal trailer is going to have all it's ventilation flaps temporary taped down and will be used to transport all those larger items of furniture etc that we can't fit in our truck, it's first trip however will be the contents of the Manshed.
We have had to sit and work out a timetable for each trip between now and Christmas so that we know exactly which trailer to attach and whether it is staying in Wales or needs to come back and luckily there are just enough weekends to be able to get everything there, to be able to finish the decorating and to get ourselves and all birds and animals settled in in time for Christmas.
Over the weekend we also had our landlord and his handyman/gardener planting new trees and generally doing necessary maintenance on this place ready for showing to the next set of prospective tenants.  The estate agent has been round for a preliminary check and will be calling around again later this week before the property is being marketed for the next year, and then our landlord will be moving back in himself ready to knock down the little bungalow and rebuild the house of his dreams. 
As I tidied the front flower beds I couldn't help feeling that with the dismal autumn light, our hearts already at home on a Welsh hillside and not knowing it's fate this poor little 1930's bungalow starting to look a little unloved already.
Sue xx

Saturday 16 November 2013

Leftovers and Good News

The other day we had a dish of leftovers from our Mediterranean Veggies meal the night before, a mix of the veggies and a couple of tablespoons of cous cous .... yes we are still working our through the cous cous mountain, and very tasty it is too!!

I decided to keep it simple and use some of the frozen breadcrumbs from the chest freezer and a good portion of my bargain cheese (it actually worked out cheaper to buy this one than the 'Basics' range that I usually get).  I grated the full pack and put the unused portion back into the fridge for another day.  Because it is a strong tasting one I only needed about a third of the pack to make for a lovely cheesy bake.

I mixed about two thirds of the cheese with the breadcrumbs, usually I might have mixed in some herbs here, either fresh or dried at this stage but as the cous cous was the flavoured variety and the veggies had been cooked with chilli and garlic there were already lots of flavours going on.

I sprinkled the breadcrumb and cheese layer and then topped with the rest of the cheese and the whole lot was popped into the oven for the last 20 minutes of the chicken cooking time.

This is Lovely Hubby's portion and I had mine with a veggie burger, a last minute addition was half a jar of homemade tomato and chilli sauce as I though it all looked too dry.  
 Thinking about it this later it would have been brilliant added to the vegetables and cous cous layer  in the first place.  But as usual it was a leftover experiment and that's half the fun of eating this way, no two meals are ever exactly the same.
This weekend we have jumped off the Wales/Berkshire/Wales treadmill and are at home making good use of the lovely sunny day to have a good clear up of the outside things.  Two of our trailers are being scrubbed clean and the smaller one will be packed to the roof with all those outdoor things that are now out of use as the growing season for us here has come to an end.  The larger trailer will be used to carry things from the house next time so it will be so much nicer if we don't find layers pellets or straw stuck to the bottom of our furniture on arrival in North Wales!!
While LH gets on with this I'm off for a tidy up of the Veggie Patch to make sure that nothing we need gets forgotten.
And some brilliant news for those of you who have been asking via the comments and emails ... my Mum is now the proud owner of her very own lovely little retirement bungalow.   
She has the keys, has already ordered new carpet and is meeting with a decorator today to discuss a thorough refresh of the décor before she moves in on 26th of this month.  So it's exciting times for us all at the moment and we both so very proud of her for getting through this stressful and tiring time in one piece.
Congratulations Mum
Sue xx

Thursday 14 November 2013

Liquids or Solids Which would YOU Choose?

The other day at Lovely Hubby's request I knocked us up a couple of batches of Juice. 
 Each batch contained the foods you see prepared and ready for juicing on the chopping board above.

It was only after I'd done both batches and drunk a glassful of the juice that I came to the conclusion ...
.... I'd rather have eaten the ingredients.
*** *** ***
Just for fun .... which would you choose ?
You can have three glasses of Juice, each one a third of a litre over the course of the day
Breakfast - Stewed Apple Compote with Lemon and Ginger
Lunch - Waldorf Salad on a bed of chopped Lettuce
 (add some walnuts, sultanas and a tablespoonful of dressing to chopped apple, cucumber and celery)
Tea - Kale, Celery and Cucumber Soup
Served with either homemade croutons or a slice of crusty bread
Drinks - Coconut Water
Hot Water with Lemon and Ginger and a tablespoon of honey
Snacks - Apple, Celery Sticks
*** *** ***
I've decided I prefer solids to liquids ..... well unless it's a black coffee, a skinny Latte or comes in a can marked Strongbow!!
Sue xx

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Frosty Morning

It was a really frosty morning this morning, but of course that meant as the sun came up there was a wonderful clarity to the air and the world around me.
Taking time to grab the camera to get some last shots of an Autumnal morning here in Pangbourne made me stop and appreciate all the more the wonderful colours all around us.

This past few weeks has been wet and miserable, and sometimes it takes a bright fresh morning like this to make you look twice at things you have hurried past oh too quickly in a bid to stay as dry as possible.
Yesterday walking the dogs around our paddocks I had spent time re-attaching some of the new trees that line the drive back to their posts, the winds of the other week had tussled them free from their straps.  It made me notice how few leaves were left and that the baby trees were pulling back as they seek to reserve their strength to last through the Winter ahead.

As I made my way into Chicken World all was quiet and peaceful save for a muffled crowing as Caldwell announced the start of their day.   As usual I let the chicks and their Mum out first, simply to give them five minutes of dashing about on their own before the big girls appear to boss them all about. 
Bat is always the first out, hence her name, short for 'Bat out of Hell', formerly known as 'Grey Boy' now the name Bat will stick.  Her feathers, if you can call such a bundle of fluff feathered, are jet black and she shoots out of the bedroom of the Eglu just like a 'Bat out of Hell'  I do like my chickens to have names that suit them and reflect their characters.

I opened the main henhouse to find an egg already laid and as I got started on cleaning the birds were down the ramp and already getting stuck in to breakfast.
Clambering for first pickings at the feeders ...
... and chatting at the drinkers. 
Tabby and Daisy seeming deep in conversation for a few moments before taking an icy cold drink of the fresh water.
Walking back to the house the sky looked wonderful.
 If you click on this picture to make it larger you will see a fine white squiggly line in between the two main aeroplane flumes.  I don't know what made it but it looked as though someone had scribbled on the blue of the morning sky with a white marker pen.

Looking down a familiar little face running towards me tells me it's time to stop snapping and time to start feeding the four legged family members.
After such a wonderful start to the day it can only be good.
Sue xx

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Backwards, Forwards and Welsh Weather

It's not just us that have been going backwards and forwards between houses, of course there are the dogs as well but also the wrapping and boxes.  Over and over we are wrapping things in the same wads of tissues and pieces of bubble wrap and placing them in the same plastic and cardboards boxes.

Of course the plastic boxes are standing up well, they are brilliant as they keep everything safe and dry as well as stacked neatly together.  Our truck is known to leak slightly around the joins where the hard top meets the back and if we park it facing the wrong way on our little slanting driveway a neat little puddle forms in the back and in all the grooves on the floor.  So we know now to face it up the hill to drain away any incoming rain. 
Even if when we arrive there seems to be no sign of rain we have now learnt that this doesn't mean there won't be any, even in the next ten minutes.  The valley seems to have quick bursts of weather in no set pattern and the only way to see what the weather is about to do is to actually look out of the window.  If you can see the hills, it's not raining, but it might be any time soon, if you can't see the hills it's raining now .  If you can't see the hills or the road but can hear what sounds like a hundred hobnail boot shod albatrosses tap dancing on the conservatory roof ... it's raining very hard.  But don't despair .... in a few minutes the sun will be back out as the clouds pass over and for a brief spell it looks as though there never was a deluge from heaven ... whatever you do don't get cocky and think it's worth hanging washing out in the lovely sunshine ..... the rain will be back before you have time to even find the pegs!!
The cardboard boxes don't do well against the wet so we are careful where we place them in the truck, no lower levels for them.   We have found that the Approved Foods boxes are brilliant, the small inner ones for books and all heavy things and the larger outer boxes for bigger, bulkier but lighter things.  And of course they all stack neatly inside one another once the contents have been unpacked at the other end ready for the return journey.
And as the boxes fill and empty ....

... the cupboards are getting sparser and sparser ... and we're loving it.
So much so that we have decided on a really good sort out to jettison even more of our belongings, and of course the boxes will come in useful again to store everything that will go to our one and only car boot sale of next year.
Sue xx