Saturday, 9 November 2013

Christmas preparation is underway!

This year it has worked out that we will be celebrating Christmas as the four of us, rather than the large groups of extended family which we are used to. DD and I have started planning - unsurprisingly there will be quite a simple homemade feel to our festivities. I was planning to make a lot of the presents myself; but time has run away with me. Maybe next year??

These are our achievements so far! The very flat parcels at the back are actually Christmas cards. We have made all our Christmas cards for the past three years and the design is getting progressively simpler. Our first design involved punching, stamping, glitter glue...never again! These were very easy to produce as DD had us organised into a production line and kept us in order.

The square pieces of card are going to be bunting. They are made from a pack of cards that have been hanging around for years. For some reason I keep forgetting to use them, so this year we are going to hang them up.

The cracker at the bottom is my first attempt at a homemade cracker! I got my idea from "Homemaker" magazine. (DH bought me a subscription for my birthday. No more guilt as I surreptitiously slip one into my shopping trolley.) However, the basic idea is very clearly explained in this blog here. Not a toilet roll in sight! My cracker is a lot simpler than Torie Jayne's; no pattern punches for me, thank you very much. I will probably stick some patterned paper around the middle of the finished articles. Now I just need to decide on the contents! I am thinking chocolate at the moment...

The red and gold theme of the different decorations is entirely coincidental. I am not that coordinated as a rule. Christmas is about the birth of a baby, family and love and NOT a beautifully decorated house!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Feeling proud...

I have been quite overwhelmed by all the positive comments and support shown to me since my last post on Autistic Spectrum Disorder within my family. As you can imagine, it has been quite a tricky time for DS. He knows he is being assessed for ASD, but it is a long process and in the meantime he is unsure what it all means for him. Part of the syndrome can be "obsessions", and at the moment DS is massively into wildlife photography. During the summer he entered a couple of local competitions, but we heard nothing.

Last week was the half term holiday for us, and I took both children to Warnham nature reserve, (see post here). DD spotted it first; not a lesser spotted woodpecker or a buzzard, (although we did see both of those), but one of DS's photos on the coffee shop wall! He was one of the runners up in the junior category of their competition! We all jumped up and down with the excitement, to the bemusement of the nature lovers trying to drink their coffee in peace.

This is the photo in question - it is of a bush cricket and was actually taken by Ardingly reservoir:

We really enjoyed our walk around the reserve and DS took a few more photos:

A Peacock butterfly making the most of the autumn sunshine
Common darter dragonfly
I am a very proud mum, and the success has lifted DS. He is now planning more competition entries!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Autistic Spectrum Disorder

This is normally a light and fluffy blog, more vanilla ice cream than steak and chips! Those of you who are kind enough to read my witterings regularly will notice that my output has slowed considerably since the summer. I have thought long and hard about writing this post as it involves others rather than myself. However, I have decided to open up a little.

In the summer my lovely husband was diagnosed with high functioning autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Most of you will know this as Asperger's syndrome. In a nutshell it means that he has problems with processing information; he can't filter out irrelevant information so occasionally it all gets a bit much. Social communication is difficult; he has had to learn how to pick up social cues etc. There are some positive aspects - he can be very focussed and is therefore very good at his job.

Partly on the back of this diagnosis, and partly because of struggles at school, DS, (age 10), has been referred by the school for an assessment for ASD. He is almost certainly borderline, but as he matures it is becoming more obvious that he needs some support. 

In one way my reality has not changed. You are born with ASD; you don't "catch" it. DH has always had ASD, and after seventeen years of marriage we have developed ways of coping. In fact, his diagnosis has enabled us to make sense of his struggles and find some external help. DS has always been a little "different" to other children. Despite knowing this in my head, for a while I felt really upset. I am finding it difficult to contact others who have partners with ASD - although I have found quite a few whose relationships didn't last. However, I do have friends who are being very supportive, and I have good friends who have children with ASD. Life continues, but the journey is different than we expected.

Coconut ice

When I was a teenager my Mum had a "Woman's Own Cook Book" which I found fascinating. It had been an engagement present. My Dad still has the book, complete with all the recipes Mum had stuck in the back. He's not allowed to throw it away!

Picture from Amazon
It had chapters on everything, including one on how to put on weight! (Not one I can imagine being written these days. If you are interested, it involved eating ice cream in bed!) One of my favourite sections was on making sweets and I often made peppermint creams (remember those?) and the like. I was very lucky that Mum was happy for me to make a mess of her kitchen, as long as I cleared up afterwards. 

A few days ago DD and I decided that we just had to make coconut ice. It is extremely easy to make and doesn't need any cooking. We used a recipe from a magazine, (more on that in another post), but there is a very similar recipe here. The recipe we used stipulated red food colouring - this is definitely not the best. Instead of pretty pink and white coconut ice we ended up with vaguely peachy/tomatoey and white coconut ice. It still tasted great though, although I must have grown up as I can only manage one piece these days!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Diddly squash

One of the things that I love about my veg box is enjoying the seasonal veg. Autumn is particularly interesting and a few weeks ago my veg box contained these little fellows:

The coin is a British 10p which is only a few centimetres across. These were seriously diddly squash. There was no way I was going to peel them! For a while they sat on my shelf looking decorative but eventually I decided to roast them whole and stuff them with bolognese.

I followed the instructions from my very helpful veg box people. I decapitated them and scooped out the innards with a melon-baller. Not as gruesome as it sounds! Then I brushed the inside with some olive oil and shoved them in a hot oven. These only took 15 minutes to cook. Then I filled them with some bolognese I'd had on the go in the slow cooker all day, topped with grated cheese and voila!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Scanning and shopping - moral dilemmas of our time!

I find shopping in a supermarket to be a minefield of ethical decisions. Fairtrade, organic, seasonal, local, high welfare? Should I be shopping there in the first place, when the high street is in trouble? And how do I balance ethics with my budget? Now there is a new moral quandary to add to the list - do I scan and shop?

In my area the battle for the high street has been lost; I have no local greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher or baker. It takes me 15 minutes to walk to a very busy T*sco Extra, which stocks just about anything you are likely to want to buy from tomatoes to televisions. In the last few weeks they have introduced a new system which I tried out this week. I was issued with a hand-held scanner, and as I did my shopping I scanned each item and packed it straight into a bag. When I had finished I used a self-service till to pay - no unpacking and repacking at the checkout.

I quite enjoyed it, the scanner beeped satisfyingly at each item and showed me how much it cost and my running total. I did a weekly shop for a family of four in just over an hour. So far, so good. Now for the moral quandary - there is obviously less need for staff with this system. An assistant poked around in my shopping to make sure I wasn't making off with a leg of lamb, but she was in charge of eight tills rather than one. So am I depriving people of work? Am I contributing to the dehumanizing of society? Or am I pining after a world of friendly shopkeepers which no longer exists, and should I bravely face the future, scanner in hand? Should I stop worrying so much?!

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Rescuing a bromeliad...

The bromeliad was in need of a good home. Unloved and uncared for, embarrassed by its yellow sticker and ashamed of a chipped vase, it lurked in the reduced section. Would anyone choose it? Was it forever condemned to life in a supermarket?

Suddenly it found itself lifted up, and unceremoniously thrust in among the potatoes and loaves of bread. Uncertain of its future, and hardly daring to hope, it waited as it was pitched around between trolley and car. Finally it came to rest. The dirt was brushed from its leaves, life-giving water was sprinkled over its compost and it was gently placed on a sunny dressing table. Life had begun...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

When the kids are quiet...

After church on Sunday the children disappeared upstairs into DD's room. All was quiet and calm. I would like to claim that this is the usual post-service atmosphere, but I would be lying! Every so often a child would appear, surreptitiously rummage in the craft box and disappear again. In view of my upcoming birthday I managed to contain my curiosity; instead I enjoyed the unaccustomed peace. Eventually all was revealed: 

This plastic cup had an upgrade.
Birthday cards from DD (left) and DS (right)!
I wonder what they will do next Sunday?!

Monday, 30 September 2013



I'm not sure what it is about autumn that I love so much. Maybe the colours, maybe the quality of the light, maybe the sense of completion. Whatever it is, it makes me very happy!

DS took the photos for this post.

Saturday, 28 September 2013


Slightly intimidated by the size of the apple harvest, and with a wary eye on the rapidly ripening pear crop, DH and I have invested in a juicer. We planted the pear tree when we moved in ten years ago, but it's only during the last few years it has started producing more than a few pears. 

Pears don't keep so well, and so although I stewed lots, we ate quite a few and I baked with some, we always felt that we wasted too many. Neither of us are very good at spending money, but after a lot of discussion we decided that we could justify a juicer.

It looks like it would be at home in a chemistry lab! Its gleaming chrome looks a bit out of place in my frankly homely but muddled kitchen. I was very surprised how easy it was to use. I started off by using up some of the smaller apples which are too fiddly to peel. It only took a few minutes to turn them into this:

Hmmm. Not really what I had envisaged. After a bit of brain-cudgelling my chemistry A-level kicked in and I filtered the murky liquid through a tea-towel. The filtrate (good word!) does actually look like apple juice:

Our apples are cooking apples so the juice is sharp, but mixing it with pear juice should sweeten it. In the meantime I am rapidly filling up the freezer with pots of golden juice.

Edited to add: Pear juice did indeed work really well with the sharp apple juice. 

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The apples are in!

In our garden we have an old, gnarled apple tree. I have no idea how old it is; our house was built in the 1950s on the site of an orchard, so it is quite a venerable specimen. I love it; it provides blossom in spring, shade in summer and apples in autumn. After last year's dire harvest due to bad weather I have been watching with anticipation as the apples have been swelling and growing. 

Yesterday was officially designated apple-picking day! This is a major event for our family. We all join in and take turns with the fruit-picker thingummy jig. Everyone else tries to catch any fallers, or sorts out the good from the bad. This year, maybe because of the late spring, the fruit is good quality but small. Between us we managed to pick 25kg of fruit and we left quite a lot for the birds.

So now the fun begins! During the week I bravely defrosted the freezer ready for the onslaught of stewed fruit. Some fruit has gone to our long-suffering neighbours, but there is only so much I can palm off onto other people. There is also only so much apple crumble that we can eat, so we have splashed out on a juicer. We thought about this long and hard, as they are not cheap. In the end I think it will be worth it; we also have a pear tree which will need harvesting soon. The pears don't keep so well, so at least this way I won't waste any.

Yesterday evening we had our first baked apples which I stuffed with sultanas, cinnamon and brown sugar. They were baked in an ovenproof dish with a little water at 180C for half an hour. Yum!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Tomato ketchup

Me: "I've made some tomato ketchup!"
DH (caught on the hop and incapable of lying): "Oh....(long pause)... should be interesting..."


Before - free with my veg box!
 The recipe is here!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Extreme crochet!

Back in August I embarked on a large crochet owl basket. What I didn't realise, was quite how large this particular bird would turn out to be! According to the pattern, it should take 500g of any super bulky yarn. Well, I am about half way through and I have already used more than that! Here is the beast, which I think will be challenging the European Eagle Owl for the title of largest owl:

There was no way I was going to lug that around on holiday, so I have been crocheting up a few snowflakes:

This one hasn't been blocked yet. It is from a free pattern available here, and I used a 2mm needle. From the sublime to the ridiculous!

I realise that blogging has been a little sparse lately. There has been a lot going on, both at home and at school, and I have been short of head space. I am adjusting to the new normal; service will resume shortly!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Going through the mincer...

Back in the January sales DH and I bought a mincer. I had fantasies about roasting a large joint, and producing delicious cottage or shepherds pies the next day. It all fitted in with the lifestyle I would like to lead. Unfortunately the reality is rather different!

On Sunday I slow-roasted a shoulder of lamb with garlic and rosemary. It was very tasty and went down very well. So far, so good. Yesterday I boiled up the bones to make stock. Very domesticated. Today I unpacked the mincer for the first time. It didn't have any instructions, but, hey, I am a modern woman and I fitted it all together:

The first problem was that it didn't clamp onto my work surface, so I faffed around finding a wooden-board it would fit onto. Then came the actual mincing. It was much harder work than I anticipated - I would develop biceps if I did it regularly. Eventually I ended up with what looked like a pile of mince on a plate. Result! I had enough for a small shepherds pie. So I made gravy with the lamb stock, and added it to the mince. 

Now, up to this point I was feeling very smug. Roll over Mrs Beeton! Unfortunately as soon as the gravy hit the mince it collapsed into a pile of what can only be described as mush. I did add the mashed potato and served it to my unsuspecting and long-suffering children. They are used to being experimented on, and are usually tactful in their responses. However, this time they didn't hold back. We abandoned it in favour of cheese sandwiches!

So before I consign my mincer to history or the top of a cupboard, does anyone have any suggestions on how to use it properly?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Eden Project

It's taken me longer than I anticipated to get around to this post; but it will take longer than a few weeks for the memories of the Eden Project to fade. We were all completely blown away by our time there; even my cynical engineer of a husband!

DH took a lot of the photos!
Pioneered by Tim Smit, who was also the visionary behind the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Eden is set in a disused clay pit. It has been transformed into a place which celebrates life on Earth and encourages visitors to think about sustainability. The two biomes each house mini-ecosystems, one of Mediterranean plants and one of the rainforest.

We went into the Mediterranean biome first, which is the smaller of the two. It still took our breath away!

This tiny little chap is a "Dorset Naga" - the one of the hottest chillies in the world. It is slightly strange to think that it was bred in a country once notorious for its bland cuisine!

This specimen was growing in an iron cage to protect passers by. Once we had finished strolling through the Mediterranean countryside, we wandered over to the rainforest.

The biomes are both impressive, but the Rainforest Biome is huge. It is large enough to contain the Tower of London, and holds around 16,000 different plants! When we first walked in we were hit by the heat and a wall of moist air. Huge trees towered above us and tropical butterflies flitted by. It was difficult to know what to look at first. There are amazing plants around every bend of the path:

A stream cascades through the middle of it all.

There is even a giant helium balloon, which the gardeners use to tend the tree-tops. What a cool job that would be!

Once we had dragged ourselves away from the biomes, it was lunch time! Eden has a large stage area, which was being used for den-building. While I trekked back to the car for the lunch, (half an hour round trip!), DH and the kids built us a den to eat it in! Tens of thousands of butterflies fluttered around the stage:

This collaborative piece of work, (which my children decided they were "too old" to contribute to), was designed to draw attention to the plight of butterflies.

After lunch we explored the Core building, which in an interactive education centre with loads of buttons to press!

The far wall is covered with fridge doors with the requisite fridge magnets. I couldn't resist!

One of things I really liked about Eden was the collaboration between art and science. At the centre of the Core building is a 70 tonne "Seed":

Made from a single block of Cornish granite, which took two years to find, it has 1800 hand-carved "bumps" and had to be lowered into place with one of the biggest cranes in the world. It is very tactile; we all ran our hands over it. I managed to restrain DS from climbing it!

We finished our visit by investigating the gardens. There was a lot for the children to do. They particularly enjoyed the "barefoot trail" which involved walking through lots of different textures such as bark chips and mud! There was a sensory garden which included my favourites, dahlias.

Eden is not a cheap day out, but we paid with supermarket loyalty vouchers and took a picnic. The canteen is worth a visit, it is not over-priced and is an adventure in itself. 

We all absolutely loved our day. It is a very inspiring place, and reminded me of the incredible diversity on this planet we have been entrusted with.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A spotty parcel!

I was fortunate enough recently to win a giveaway over at Dorothy's creative blog "Dorothy's Room". Dorothy must have put a lot of thought and care into her prize, because a fun-looking package arrived today:


I really like the bag it came in. It made me smile, and I am sure the postman was smiling too! DD was almost as excited as I was, but I managed to persuade her to pose with the package before we opened it. It did feel rather like Christmas...

Inside was a beautifully wrapped parcel. The rose is actually a clip! Inside the parcel was...

...this lovely bag. You can't see from the photo, but it is a "Dorothy special". She has lined it, embroidered the flowers and inserted a zip. I am very impressed. Zips appear to be a black art to me, which go in by some sort of unknown magic. Inside the bag was...

...this beautiful selection of fabrics, buttons, cotton and all manner of things. It really is a treasure trove. The dark blue spotty material is Cath Kidston, who I usually admire from afar as I have never actually bought anything by her. I really liked the beige material in the bottom left. It fits in well with our living room, so I am thinking of possibilities for it. The chocolates didn't last very long! Here is a close up of the rather sumptuous peacock material, with a sweet little scented dog who somehow missed the original line up:

He is now hanging up in my kitchen. So, thank you Dorothy for such a wonderful gift. I feel inspired to get out my sewing machine...

Monday, 26 August 2013

Finding the Lost Gardens of Heligan

One of the places we really wanted to revisit on our Cornish holiday was "The Lost Gardens of Heligan". DH and I visited in the 1990s. We had fantastic memories of it and we were keen to see what had changed.  

The original estate went into decline after the First World War when many of the staff went off to fight. The "big house" was eventually sold off in the 1970s. In 1990 the gardens were rediscovered under a tangle of laurel, and the restoration has been going on ever since. 

This friendly gentleman greets you as you arrive. I think he could do with a hair cut! Heligan is a very large garden, covering 200 acres, but we did our best to see as much as we could. In the morning we walked in the woodland and the "Jungle" and after our picnic lunch we explored the formal gardens and the kitchen garden.


The "jungle" looked almost prehistoric. Dragonflies zipped around the tree ferns and palm trees reached upwards. 

I felt much more comfortable in the large walled kitchen garden. This rather well-to-do scarecrow kept watch over orderly rows of vegetables and flowers.

I loved the way the rows of dahlias were nestled between the runner beans and cordon apple arches. I assume these were for cutting for the big house.

The pineapple pit was built in the early nineteenth century. The local gentry would compete to see who could grow the biggest fruit. They also grew melons, which were hung in little nets as they grew.

The formal gardens were spectacular, with well thought out colour schemes. There were lots of nooks and crannies to explore, far more than we could manage in one day. We were happy but tired by the end, and grateful to return to our cottage to recover!