Thursday, 31 October 2013

The life of Riley...

We have a new addition to the family! Meet Riley. As you can see he likes to rearrange the cushions on the sofa and then climb on top of them and sleep.

Riley is four, the same age as Harvey. There were a few stand offs before Harvey decided Riley would do. Riley came to us through the magic of Facebook. He was free to a good home due to a new baby. I thought he might have naughty habits that would be a bit challenging. We've got used to having one well behaved dog. So far so good. He sits nicely when you want to put his lead on, he comes back when he's called, he's rubbish at fetch but one obsessive fetcher in the family is enough! He's also quite respectful of the cat. She's taken to him much quicker than we expected (she sulked for three months when we bought Harvey home as a puppy).

He doesn't seem at all traumatised for being re-homed (he came via the owner's friend, so three homes in as many weeks). He's made himself quite at home, and it feels as though he's always been here. We've been on lots of extra walks just to see how he behaves, and he's passed all the tests with flying colours. He doesn't bother other dogs, he doesn't go too far ahead of us, he understands 'wait' when we get to the end of the walk.

So Harvey has a brother and we have a madhouse!

Sunday, 27 October 2013


I've always been fascinated by 'wild' food. Way before all the TV programmes and websites dedicated to it. See previous post re chestnuts, our garden also had hazelnuts. When we were not building dens in our back garden we were out exploring local woodland. Thanks to the likes of The Famous Five we made it a game to 'live off the land'. More than likely just a handful of blackberries and some stolen apples. I say stolen, lying outside the property on the grass, but it felt like stealing hence we didn't hang about for long!

So M and I went back to the crab apple tree that we found tucked away in a corner of the village. No-one else seems to be in a rush to make crab apple jelly so we filled a basket with roughly the amount we needed, leaving plenty for the birds.

We spent a while removing stalks and that tufty bit on the bottom and then simmered them until they were soft and pulpy. There's no need to cut them up because they split easily when cooked. Well ours did, maybe bigger ones would need cutting in half. (We reckon ours are Golden Hornet but we could be wrong). A jam bag would have been handy at this point but we made do with the muslin square we had from making marmalade last year and suspended it over a sieve over a pan (don't squeeze or the jam will end up cloudy). It made a surprising amount of juice.

Add seven parts sugar to ten parts juice and keep on a rolling boil, removing scum, until it thickens. Then keep testing it on the back of a cold spoon. This is never an exact science and we may have erred in the side if caution here and left it a tad longer than necessary (nothing worse than runny jam).

We halved the recipe given on the BBC Good Food website and used 2kg of fruit. This made three large jars. Tested for breakfast by M...

...and announced a big success. So three big jars of jam for the price of 1kg of sugar, about 50p per 600g. That was fun.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Are you sitting comfortably?

When my brother and I were young (and foolish) we decided one day to gather up all the fat chestnuts in our garden and sell them from a makeshift market stall outside our house. We had at least half a dozen mature sweet chestnut trees in our garden so there was plenty to gather up. Bear in mind that we didn't get a lot of passing traffic (our road was a dead end) and we were both painfully shy when it came to strangers. Mum wasn't keen on the idea but reluctantly agreed thinking the project wouldn't last five minutes. She was right, but not in the way she (or we) expected.

We reckoned on being out there for quite a while so after weighing up portions and bagging them up we set up our table and a lunch box containing various refreshments and snacks for ourselves. Every aspect was thought out including our prices (we knew what was being charged elsewhere and undercut it by a little). Five minutes into our venture a car drew up and a man got out. R mumbled something like, 'oh heck' and I tried my best salesperson smile. Even more terrifying was cutting a deal for him to buy the entire stock! I said if he bought everything I would give him 10% off and he laughed heartily and accepted. No doubt he ran a shop somewhere.

M is under strict doctors orders to walk more for his sore hip. This is music to my ears because it's always nice to have company on a walk. Today we didn't venture too far but came across a very small sweet chestnut tree. I couldn't believe the squirrels hadn't got there first. We scooped up the entire windfall. I've since googled recipes and there's more you can do with chestnuts than I realised. I think we will probably just roast these though.

We also picked what we thought might be a crab apple, and may go back for more now that we have a recipe for crab apple jelly. No sense in wasting free food!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Another year older...

The best laid plans and all that... we shelved plans to go to the coast this afternoon on account of the dreadful weather. I did a spot of crochet, opened my pressies, got lots of nice cards...

...and just when I was worried I might never find a tasty gluten free cake, one arrived here via Jake (whose football training week was a bit of a wash out) in the shape of a Warburtons Blueberry and Cranberry muffin complete with birthday candle. Thanks Mum! Now all I need to do is force everyone to sing Happy Birthday and my day will be complete.

PS. Thanks R&L for the very apt 'too many candles, so little cake' how true, how true.

NB. I resisted the blue hair dye. I'll have my mid life crisis next year.

T. A. C...

So I'm surfing the net and thinking about doing something vaguely Halloweeny. Yes I know that's not a word, but it should be. Then up pops a crochet skull. Very cool I thought. Looked a bit tricky. Studied the photo and knew it would probably start with a figure of eight chain... dug out some white cotton. Ten minutes later casually show E what I made, 'Wow, cool!'. So there you have it, teenage approved crochet (TAC). I'm now attempting to circle it off in black cotton to make a coffee coaster for her room.

Monday, 21 October 2013

before the rain...

I'm so glad we went for a lovely sunny walk yesterday before the heavens opened. It is torrential here in Lincolnshire today. No walk is complete without taking home a little of nature's treasure. I couldn't resist a pocket full of shiny conkers.

It's a lovely peaceful walk, the old coach road, only known to locals and a much better option for us than the very popular nature reserve down the road. Harvey doesn't really bother other people or other dogs but I always worry that he'll take a shine to someone and place his large muddy paws on a clean pair of trousers. You never know.

It's a shame this walk is littered with odd car parts. This piece was at least half a mile in from the road.

Loved the autumn colours.

...and mission accomplished, we wore the dog out. We thought he'd vanished but when we caught up with him he was having a crafty rest on a pile of soft leaves. I always thought Spaniels went on forever, not this one.

It's going to be a restful half term. We are hamster sitting while their owners are sunning themselves in Spain. J is football training at the ground of his favourite local football team. E is mainly sleeping, 'cause that's what teenagers seem to do/need. M is stripping wallpaper in the kitchen. I am making tea and dreaming of a new kitchen with an oven that works and a cooling tray of large oaty gluten free cookies. Dream on.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Little cat, big nuisance...

Mollie has been a bit of a pickle lately. She's been doing that street running business in the kitchen; running and leaping from object to object without touching the floor. Clever. Not so clever is the dusty footprints she leaves behind. The dust from the kitchen floor is a losing battle.

She's also started her winter mouse culling programme. Last year she left them whole on the doormat. This year she seems to have developed a taste for mouse heads. This Is Not A Good Thing. Last week I had to step over two mouse bodies quite a few times before M got home from work and gave them a watery burial. Yuk.

Just when we've finally found the bed of her dreams (her Amazon box) she decides it's time to explore other options. See above for sunny afternoons on the deck, in Jake's old bed which is now Harvey's outdoor basket. Harvey was not impressed. Not one bit.

Then she discovered the freshly washed cushion cover on Ella's bedroom chair. She's a sucker for fresh linen, but so am I. I think this cover had been on for all of an hour before her nose led her there. It's now covered in black hair. Thanks Moll.

Is there a cat thing going on here that I'm unaware of, or is it just Mollie? I find dogs are a lot easier to understand. Harvey's language is mud and water. Preferably at the same time.

I think the cat might be having a mid life crisis! She's not the only one. Next week my age begins with 4 and ends with 4 and I'm thinking, is it too late to dye my hair blue?

Friday, 18 October 2013

Roughing it...

The kitchen hardly looks any different one week on. The only change is a nice new fuse box on the wall. I'm relieved we've had all the wiring renewed and new lighting circuits put in. They were always dodgy. The fuse box tripped out at the slightest of things including storms, when everyone nearby was fine. We also had two lighting circuits, one of which did two of the bedrooms, the hall, dining room and porch light. This circuit only worked intermittently and was mostly not working. We had two electricians charge us for work on it and neither solved it. It looks like changing the junction box in the loft has finally fixed it. Believe me it's a novelty being able to find our way to the front door without the light from a mobile phone.

The plastering is next and not for a week so we've moved some food cupboards back in temporarily to make life easier. The hall feels nice and spacious once more and there's a bit more room in the dining room. We no longer have to shimmy sideways to get through to the conservatory.

Having been making coffee for the electrician for the last three days (and putting up with his cigarette smoke wafting from the back door through the house) I desperately wanted to get out of the house today. M had a day off too. We couldn't go for a walk because M has a bad hip. So we drove some rubble and worktops to the tip. What a lovely day out.

On the plus side, with the electrician being here, I have been hiding myself away in the conservatory and doing a little crochet. I've been working on Jake's blanket. Only two stripes to go now. It'll be the biggest blanket I've made so far. I've also 'cast on' for a quick project for myself. It's my birthday next week and I might even have it finished in time for that. It's the shrug from the latest issue of Simply Crochet. I'm really not a small cardigan/shrug kind of person but I'll give anything a go once. It looks pretty straightforward and I had plenty of aran weight wool. As it happens I have a 400g ball intended for Jake's blanket but turned out not to be a very compatible colour. I'd like to think its a denim type shade but in fact it's got a slight hue of purple about it, luckily more blue than purple though. At the moment it's just a plain strip of treble crochet fabric so I'll take a pic when it gets a bit more interesting. I wondered whether there was anyone out there who has already made one in their own colour choice so googled it, but couldn't find anything, I suppose because the pattern is only just out.

Kitchen work this weekend: stripping the rest of the wallpaper off. It's nasty plasticky stuff that was the choice of the previous owners. They didn't give a stuff about how difficult it is to get off! At least there is only one layer this time. When we did Ella's bedroom a while ago there were *4* nasty plasticky wallpaper layers to get off. It made the walls an extra half inch thick at least! As we say in our family, they must have hired the DIY duo 'Bodgeit & Scarper'!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

off the hook...toddler cardigan

I have an entire Jacobs Crackers tin full of buttons and yet couldn't find three suitable buttons to finish off this cardigan.

Following a pattern for a 6 month size but with any old DK instead of the recommended brand resulted in a size suitable for a nearly two year old. Lesson learned. Luckily this was with foster children in mind and my sister in law fosters children up to three years old. Phew.

I'm going to attempt another baby cardigan next, excuse me while I go and work up a tension swatch!

Thursday, 10 October 2013


I've had my iPad a while now and I've only just got round to using the Kindle app on it. I also have a Kindle which I must admit I don't use as often as I should given that it cost £89. I find myself taking it along whenever M has a day off and we go out for the day. Inevitably he has to take business calls when we're having lunch or coffee and I get bored looking at the back of his phone.

M takes his iPad everywhere and therefore always has something to read, something to take notes on, something to look up the nearest... whatever (wool shop!) So I thought I'd get my Kindle App up and running and make a start on my backlog of free novels. Somehow I got browsing and stumbled across this American crochet book, One Skein Wonders, and couldn't believe it was only £1.49. The paper version is nearly £10 at the moment. I orderd it and downloaded it and hey presto, it's in colour! Doh. I'm not sure why I thought it would be in black and white, perhaps because my Kindle is.

It's a big improvement on owning a Kindle I must say. I like being able to click on something of interest in the table of contents and go straight there. The book is organised in yarn weights with a good variety of projects. I've resisted buying this kind of book in electronic format until now but at this kind of price I'd gladly buy any of my paper crochet books for Kindle just for the portability aspect.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Simple crochet baby jumper...

I was right about my baby cardigan. It turned out a little large for 3-6 months. In fact it was nearer toddler age, so I put it to one side today (because I was a bit miffed with it) and attempted an altogether simpler pattern. This one is by Vicki Brown and was featured in Issue 27 of Inside Crochet. I ran out of blue wool with one row to go which is why it has a pale blue neckline. I tried various embellishments but decided it looked better plain, though if it was for a girl I did a cute pale blue flower with a white middle.

Just to give an idea of how dinky it is I laid it on my newly acquired angora/merino sweater. Made in Italy and only £3. This is the second expensive wool sweater I've bought recently. The first was a lovely dusky blue cashmere and wool affair in a fine knit with three quarter length sleeves, that was £4. I think these things end up in charity shops because some poeple find them itchy. They both look brand new.

Tomorrow I will return to my first cardigan attempt and finish it anyway. It's a much cleverer looking garment and I reckon cardigans are always a better option for dressing babies, no pulling clothes over their little heads!

Once that is done I am going to take a break from following patterns and take a leaf out of my Mum's book. She's much better at crochet than I am and never follows a pattern. Now that I am armed with chest measurements for baby sizes I'm planning a boat neck top, possibly with a button or two on the shoulder, using granny squares.

This reminds me of a very good friend I had when we were both studying (me, graphic design and her, illustration). When she heard I was expecting Ella she decided to learn to knit. This was nearly sixteen years ago and there weren't as many classes or knit and natter groups as there are now. She joined a local knitting circle which was mainly grandmothers. Her first attempt was a cardigan which used only squares of garter stitch with two folded down for a collar. It was great. I loved it. I appreciated that she had learnt this new skill and made it completely herself. Later attempts became more adventurous and colourful. By the time Ella was three she declared that she was too big for hand knits and would start making clothes for her favourite doll instead. 'Dolly' has an extensive wardrobe of hand knitted skirts, cardigans and jumpers and even shoes based on bootie patterns (the doll had big feet!).

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

A new toy...

It's taken us seven years to get round to purchasing a proper apple picker. I guess we've had other priorities. Spurred on by my tasty apple pie (and the danger involved in picking the apples) I googled apple pickers and read reviews into the small hours. There are quite a few different models out there. Some seem to have aluminium teeth with mesh bags and telescopic poles, and they don't come cheap. The general feedback on these is that the teeth break and the bag parts company with the frame.

Eventually I stumbled upon a good old fashioned wooden stick with a metal basket on the end. The basket has prongs that hook the branch that the apple is attached to and with a gentle tug it just pops the apple into the basket, which has a foam pad to stop the apples bruising. It's brilliant! I can definitely recommend it. The pole is only 1.4m long which, with 5'8 and outstretched arms means I can get most of the good ones. The rest will have to be harvested by M standing on something.

I got mine from a website called It arrived very quickly. Would have been very handy for the plums at the end of August too.

Just the sleeves of my baby cardigan to crochet and attach and then buttons to choose and sew on, and then I will show you... I'm either out of touch with how big 3-6 month old babies are or this one is only fit for Hagrid's love child!

Monday, 7 October 2013

Baby crochet...

One minute you're rocking them to sleep in your arms (Ella) or rubbing their backs until they fall asleep (Jake) and the next minute you're dropping them off in town for work experience! On the outside I was saying all the right things and on the inside I was thinking 'how did it all go so quickly?'

Work experience was an ordeal for me. I didn't have the social skills (shy) nor the equipment (ears) so I hated every minute. Later I got a second chance at it, press photography for the local paper and I loved every minute of that. One highlight was finding myself at a 'do' for the Mayor. We had to mingle and drink Sherry before taking photographs. Between you and me the photographer I was with liked a drink or two so he encouraged me to be polite and take one, despite the fact that I was only 15. Yuk. Foul. I've never had one since.

Meanwhile back at home, the kitchen is in a stalemate situation and I needed to take my mind off the whole work experience thing (I didn't find out til much later that it had gone well). So I did the only sensible thing this afternoon and sat outside with my crochet. It was gloriously hot. Harvey sunbathed at my feet. Mollie reclined in the spare basket chair.

I've been all over town today trying to locate a good crochet pattern for a baby cardigan or jumper. I've got a couple of online possibilities but I like a good paper one for portability. In the end I found just what I was looking for in the indoor market. I had the tweedy yarn already. It started off with a row of granny type squares with 8 clusters in the middle, making a flower shape, it's squared off with half trebles (love that stitch) which makes them cute and dinky.

I'm half way through the pattern already. Baby clothes are the perfect little project with a useful outcome. This will be the first of several. So who is the lucky baby? M's sister is a foster parent and looks after babies mostly. They are not always short term and often don't arrive with much of a wardrobe so she's asked for cardigans or jumpers in neutral colours. I don't usually like requests but who could resist baby clothes?

Saturday, 5 October 2013

More baking...

So, while we waiting for the electrician and plasterer I seem to be in a baking mood. Typical that this occurs when all around is utter chaos and only the top oven works.

Do you like my vintage new rolling pin? I bought that today in an antique shop, only £4. Quite useful for baking but also useful for the roller printing featured in this months Mollie Makes. For a minute there M thought I'd gone all domestic.

The apple pie is all gone. It met with approval, which was a surprise because M assumes I'm totally incompetent in the kitchen. He did comment that he thought there was a touch too much cinnamon. Really? Can you have too much cinnamon?

I have been up the rickety ladder and risked life and limb on the shed roof and picked a few more apples. I'm planning another gluten free apple pie but this time using the pastry recipe supplied by the gf flour: Doves Farm. Simpler and probably more reliable.

In the meantime... there anything better than the smell of freshly baked cookies? Oatmeal and Vanilla with chocolate chunks. This was my second batch. I did half of the batch with the chocolate for the family and half without for me. Yes I do realise that I get the better deal quantity wise, but they don't need gf cookies. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. Jake in particular won't touch anything that he knows is gluten free because he associates it with an inferior taste. Little does he know he's been munching gluten free oat cookies all week!

Spot the conkers? I love conkers. One of the best memories I have of primary school is donning our Wellies and going out to collect things for our nature table. I can still remember the fascination of catkins. They just struck me as incredible things. The children bought a handful of conkers back after school on their walk from the bus stop. I was a bit of a conker champ who I was ten. They're with the solitary acorn that I picked up the other day and two silver birch leaves the colour of Werthers Toffees.

Harvey thinks he's getting extra frisbee catching practice when in fact it's just an excuse to collect things for my nature table!

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My first ever apple pie...

How did I get to 40 something cough, did I say 40 something? What I meant to say was 39... so how did I manage to get to that age without making an apple pie?

OK so mine doesn't look like the book version...

Left over pastry for leaves? You've gotta be kidding me. Blasted stuff fell to pieces as soon as I lifted it. I blame the gluten free flour. On the other hand I might add a bigger egg next time and a dash more milk.

Taste wise though; wow! Fabulous. More than likely extra tasty because I haven't had an apple pie in a long time.

Meanwhile, who needs a new kitchen when you can have a fabulous sink like this one? Suspended with washing line while the floor was being levelled, it now has to stay like that until the new sink arrives. I bet Nigella never had to put up with this aggro!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Slow progress...

Hello all! I have just climbed out from underneath a dusty pile of rubble. The wall is completely gone now and we are roughing it in the new space. That line on the floor is where the kitchen used to end. The chairs and table are in the new bit while we level the floor. Typical unforeseen issue. It's taken quite a lot of levelling compound to raise it up and apparently it wasn't helpful when I suggested we should have used concrete because it was cheaper. Anyway, it's done and we are now waiting for some help with the boring bits, like moving a fuse box, creating a new lighting circuit, new plugs, blah blah. When that's done we'll need a plasterer.

By the way it is pouring down in Lincolnshire today hence the low levels of light for the photos. I know I say this a lot but this is the first day in ages that I've got the place to myself. The children had a half day last week due to an open day. Then Friday was an inset day. They had a day off yesterday due to a strike. Ella has been at moping around the place with a nasty cold. She is very rarely ill so naturally she thought she was dying. It was a throaty one and she was off her food so she's eaten jelly and ice cream in very small doses for five days.

Meanwhile M and I have spent some serious time at IKEA. He who formerly hated the place and would only consent to going once every three years is now on first name terms with an array of IKEA kitchen staff and rushes to get there before 11 for the hearty English breakfast. This is all very good but it seems the more we go the less I like going. It was fabulous and fun when the children were small and the furniture was cheap and ideal for them, not to mention that we bought a £1 toy every time which kept them happy for the journey home. In fact 'one pound IKEA Ted' was Jake's one and only favourite Ted for years... but I digress, as Ronnie Corbett would say.

So we've been round the houses (the IKEA house), we've opened drawers, run our hands along worktops, looked inside cupboards (here's where m gets excited... a big wide drawer with a place for every utensil, oh my!). We have pretty much decided on the look we want and I know the planning software inside out now, so much so I even put a house plant on the window sill yesterday! Yep.

My first choice would be classic oak. M hates that one. His first choice would be cream shaker, we've just ripped out shaker and boy was it a nightmare to keep clean with dogs and a cat. I didn't want shiney doors which eliminates quite a few options. So we're looking at something like this...

I know, most poeple talk about replacing dark kitchens, but we reckon with two windows and a half glass back door, plenty of white tiling and white walls and ceiling, not to mention one entire wall of just white cupboards, we'll probably have enough light. We've also chosen two pendant lights for the central island and we'll probably have some of those lights that sit flush with the ceiling. M wanted plinth lights but I've put my foot down. I think they are largely pointless.

The funny thing is that we have bare plaster walls, brick dust, an old table, four odd chairs and a slight pong from a dodgy drain in this new kitchen space and yet everyone is congregating here to chat, eat, surf, etc. We've just got room for an island down the middle of the room and with four stools I think it's going to end up being our regular place for eating, chatting, homework, craft... Ping pong even!

I'm not sure this link will work but if you copy and paste's below the main picture.

It's a fabulous little video clip of how much use an island might get, including table tennis!

Ps. Thanks C for giving me a nudge back into blogland!