Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pork, apple and mustard in cider

Having returned home to the freezer breaking down. I have spent most of the evening trying to rescue as much food as possible.

This is another very quick and simple make-it-the night-before-in-the-slow-cooker recipe that I do all the time. It also freezes well, if your freezer works, so I make loads. This does for 6 good sized portions. It also proved impossible to take a tasty looking photo of, so here is a nice Bramley:

800g Pork, I go for the cheaper cuts as they are going to be slow cooked.
400g Bramley apples. I'm not too fussy about the quantity here and go for 2 large ones or 3-4 small.
1 Onion
880ml cider.
2 tablespoons of wholegrain mustard.
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Chop the pork into cubes, a nice mouthful size, and brown them off in a frying pan. Place in the slow cooker or casserole dish.
2. Finely chop the onion and brown off in the frying pan using the fat from the pork. Plonk in the dish.
3. Peel, core and chop the apple and place in the dish with everything else.
4. Pour on the cider, ad the mustard and seasoning.
5. Leave cooking in the slow cooker overnight or while you are at work. If you don't have a slow cooker put it in the oven on 200C for 6 hours. (Keep an eye on it and add more cider if needed.)
6. If using the slow cooker pop in the oven on high for an hour to reduce the juices down and make that bit yummier. You don't have to do this but I find it makes a worthwhile difference.

This goes well with mashed, new or baked potatoes and crunchy green vegetables.

Cost: About £8.

Time taken: Around half an hour plus cooking time.

Monday, 25 February 2013

A weekend away with Winnie the Pooh

This weekend my Matey and I had a very rare weekend off so we went to Sussex. I grew up there so it was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.

We decided to splash out and head down there on the Friday night so we could make the most of the weekend. It may be an extra night to pay for but it does mean that you can get up and do something properly on the Saturday. (We might have sneaked a few sarnies into the hotel room with a bottle of wine. I love drinking wine out of water glasses in hotels. I think it's the combination of saving a few pennies, being slightly naughty and it has an edge of bohemian incorrectness. The better the wine the better the feeling!)

Saturday dawned to snow. This was not on the schedule but as it was fairly warm we headed off the Ashdown forest a.k.a Winnie The Pooh country. I haven't been there since I was a Girl Guide on an orienteering trip and my Matey had never ventured so far south.

The weather really was mad. We seemed to go through just about every season in course of our 4 hour walk.

Heading to 100 Acre wood we were in blizzard conditions:

What is wonderful about Ashdown forest is that it really does look like the illustrations in the book. Even though there are not many 'attractions' and they are a bit far apart to visit all of them in one wintery day you do feel that you are in Winnie the Pooh country. Traipsing across a blustery field I  felt a bit like this:

By the time we got to the Poohsticks Bridge it was positively spring.

My Matey won! This is not the original bridge which was a victim of it's own success and was damaged by too many Poohstickers. Replaced in 1999 with a bit of help from Disney it is a close reproduction. (I am quite pleased that I can claim to have have played Poohsticks on the original bridge when I was a nipper.)

We then headed back to the car via the Heffalump trap and The Enchanted Place:

With cold noses and toeses we felt we had earned our dinner.

Friday, 22 February 2013

My new bits and bobs box restoration- Part 3, a mini update

Don't worry! We are very nearly there. This is more of a reminder post while I wait for the materials to finish it all off.

A lot of grime has been removed and a lot of elbow wax has gone into the wood which is really starting to glow. I used a layer of Liberon wax to give it a nourishment and to help bring the colour back up. I was going to use a layer of Briwax on top to bring it all to a shine. Unfortunately when I opened the tin I discovered that the small amount I had left had almost totally dried out. I ended up melting it in an old bowl over a saucepan of boiling water and adding some equally old beeswax. The whole lot was then poured into an eggcup lined with clingfilm and left to harden. This left me with a rather handy crayon of wax which went on beautifully. A starter blast of polishing with a drill attachment did the lions work and a final hand polish did the tricky bit.

While all this was happening I was soaking the rusty lock in white vinegar. A few hours later and a bit of a scrub it went from this:
To this:

 (Note the shiny wood please!)

Having done all this, the tray which some clever person had carefully made was starting to look a bit rubbish next to the newly shiny wood.................. I bought a little matchpot and painted it:

 Next stop the fun fabric bits.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Me and my vintage Singer sewing machine.

Everybody assumes I have a fancy sewing machine. I don't. I have the oldest most basic sewing machine possible. It's the kind of sewing machine that gets used for props in vintage inspired events. Given to me by my Grandma for my 18th birthday I think it was it was her Mothers. I can't work out exactly how old it is. Instinct says it is 30s though so let's stick with that.

I had a dreadful accident with it the other day. I was taking the machine out from its cupboard when I missed the handle and it slipped. Being so heavy it crashed and broke it's box. I felt so bad. It's been around for at least 80+ years and I destroy it.

I decided to leave it for a bit before trying to fix. I felt so bad I was getting all emotional and I needed to be rational to fix it. Finally I sat down to sort out the mess. It really wasn't that bad in the end and a few carefully placed pins solved the problem.

Guilt mainly assuaged. I did discover that the hook on the faceplate had been bent in the accident and, although usable, is rather fragile so I need to keep an eye out for a replacement.

Excitingly I discovered that the box had a hidden compartment with a load of  attachments and the original manual. I am now on a mission to learn how to use the new bits and maybe reading the manual will help.....I will admit right now that I am rubbish with manuals and have a bad habit of jumping right in and using the manual to sort it out when I get into a total mess. I also blame the manual for my getting into a mess in the first place.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

An easy chickeny honey and mustard winter warmer

I may have already mentioned that the humble slow cooker is AMAZING! Few things beat coming in from the cold to a house full of warm cooking smells. I  usually prepare everything while cooking the night before to keep the work level down.

This chickeny, honey and mustard winter warmer is absurdly easy for something that tastes so good.It also freezes well so I always make loads. This is for 4 servings

First brown off the chicken in a frying pan with a small slug of oil. I always use legs and thighs. Cheap enough to be able to buy happy chickens and full of flavour. put in the slow cooker or casserole dish.

Then fry up some onions using the fat in the pan. I reckon on one ordinary sized onion per 3 servings. When they are nicely brown put them in the dish with the onions. Add a two tablespoonfuls of mustard and honey and enough chicken stock to cover everything. Season with black pepper.

I switch the slow cooker on before going to work, setting it for 9 hours. It can also go in the oven on a mid heat for around 4 hours.

I get home from work and it looks like this:

Beautifully cooked but a but watery so I shove it all in a casserole dish and put it on a high heat to reduce everything down. I usually put a few jacket potatoes in to make the most of the heat. When the potatoes are ready (about 90 minutes later) the chicken will look a bit like this:

Served with potatoes and some veggies (I like mange tout) it is flipping fantastic.

Time taken. About 20mins plus cooking time.

Cost: Around £5

Thursday, 14 February 2013

A DIY Valentine's card

I am a sentimental sausage about many things but Valentine's Day is not one of them. Somewhere along the lines the meaning of Valentines day has been lost. It used to be the day in which the single man or woman would pluck up the courage to tell their unsuspecting beloved that they loved them in the hope of their feelings being reciprocated. Instead it has turned into a day disliked by most single people as they are surrounded by couples being mushy at great expense just because they have been told they should every 14th February.

However I am still a sentimental sausage! My Matey and I spent our first Valentines Day together by accident. We had only been together a short time and agreed not to do Valentine's. However we were both in a play together, had agreed to do the mail out and it just so happened that the only day we could both get together to stuff programmes into envelopes was the 14th February. We watched 'Ratatouille' and ate pizza. The next year I was yet again in a play and yet again envelopes needed stuffing. We agreed that we would plump for 'Finding Nemo' and a takeaway Thai. Thus a tradition has evolved. A Disney/Pixar film and a takeaway. The envelope stuffing is optional! (I'll admit that a card and a small pressie to the value of £5 might have crept in....)

This year Valentine's has crept up on us out of nowhere. Neither of us have had the time to think about it. At the weekend we agreed to buy ourselves the 5th series of Mad Men instead of a pressie. (13 hours of Mad Men on the sofa with my Matey is better than any trinket.) But a card was still needed.

I don't like most Valentine's cards. But then inspiration struck! I spotted one of these:
Not quite my cup of tea to have out all the time.......but for a card.......perhaps of the places we went on our honeymoon seven months ago........Hooray!

Google maps provided the 5 locations. Canterbury, Matlock, Harrogate, Lake District and, because I really am a silly sentimental sausage, Home.

Publisher provided the heart shape.

A bit of card, some nifty snipping:

 Some mildly hair-raising gluing, a bit more snipping and Voila!

The heart at the back looked a little sparse so I attempted to hand draw an arrow going though where our house it. I'm not great at drawing.....

Cost: About 15p

Time taken: About half an hour.

Oh and the film we chose was Mary Poppins. 

A sentimental aside....Paperman

If you haven't seen this Oscar nominated short animation then you really should:

Go's 6.35 are doing Valentine's Day with your love? me and get them to watch it with you.................................................................................told you so!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Shrove Tuesday means Pancakes!

I adore pancakes! One of my early memories is of the whole family attempting to flip pancakes. To be accurate we did the 'Two cook, two eat and swap' method. As a family who always sat down to eat together the thrill of cooking and eating on the hoof was hard to beat. What is best? The fun of flipping or the joy of scoffing?

Today being Pancake day my Matey and I got cracking.....eggs. (Sorry. Terrible joke. I hesitate to call it a joke......)

I stand by Mrs. Beeton for a basic mix.

200g Plain Flour
2 eggs - The more egg yolks you put in the richer the batter. I find that pancakes are so rich anyway it's a bit over indulgent to go crazy with yolks.
250ml - milk
Pinch of salt

It may not be correct but I put the flour in the mixer, add the eggs, salt and half the milk and mix adding the rest of the milk as it goes. On the whole it doesn't come out lumpy. If it does I use this, seeming useless, whisk from Ikea to get rid of the lumps.

It is worth leaving the batter to stand for half an hour. But if you just can't then don't! (we didn't) Get frying

Use butter not oil in the pan. It's all about the taste. It's all about the heat. If you get the pan really hot your first pancake need not be rubbish.

After faffing with ladles for years I realised that using a jug to pour the mix into the pan is much easier.

Now for the touchy topic of pancake fillings. I am a purist and lemon and brown sugar is hard to beat. (Go for real lemons. Squeezy lemon is very handy but just doesn't cut it for pancakes.)

But! I've grown up, darn it, and have to have at least one savoury one before going for the sticky sugar fest that is true pancake day for me.

So I go for Spinach and blue or goats cheese. There is only one way to get this filling just right. Bung the spinach in a bowl, mix the cheese in, cover with cling film and shove in the microwave on high for about a minute. If the spinach isn't wilted yet put it back in the microwave until it is. Give it a good stir. Maybe add some walnuts if you like them and add to a perfectly flipped pancake. (Microwaving spinach is the easiest way to cook it. Very little water to drain endlessly and all the nutrients stay where they are. If you aren't adding anything to it you can even put it in the microwave in the bag it comes in.)

Finally. I have no top tips for flipping. I average 50% success and failure.

Cost: About £1 for the mix which gave two of us 3 huge pancakes each. Around £2 for a few good fillings.

Verdict: As if I need to convince you about this!

Finally: Don't forget that that pancake batter is practically identical to Yorkshire pudding batter. Just use less milk to make slightly thicker mix. No excuses for buying them ready made. 

My new bits and bobs box restoration- Part 2

As I said before, the box arrived when I away. This was truly frustrating. I knew that there would be a huge amount of work to do to get it looking fabulous before I could start using it. I also one of those people who just has to get stuck in.

I got home. I did pause briefly to say hello to my Matey before attacking the packaging with my scissors and fell in love all over again. This was lucky as it is is HEAVY! Quite a bit heavier than I had expected. Heavier in fact than chests I have that are two to three times it's size. I presumed it was pine I suspect now it may be oak. I am no wood expert so answers on a postcard if you know better.

A bit of a look at it and I can see that is it made out of something else. I have no idea what though. The joints are dovetailed and I am sure that they are original. The only thing I can guess at is that it may have housed something mechanical as there are three air holes in the bottom. Maybe a gramophone?

The tray clearly a later edition and is beautifully made out of plywood and stained to match the main wood of the box. I may paint this later. I think that a good contrast is better than an bad match.

The first job was to rip off the frankly revolting padded top. Under the nasty brown was a rather pretty (50s?) floral fabric. In the interests of waste not want not I rescued what I could.

Under the floral fabric was a decrepit eiderdown. Bit nasty if truth be told. I kept it to see if anything could be salvaged but realised 24 hours later it was truly horrible and I needed it to leave my house taking it's dead skin cells with it. (yuck!)

Taking the old nails off proved impossible in some cases. Even my Matey couldn't shift them, and has a nasty looking cut to prove it. In the end if they just wouldn't budge I hammered them in as far as possible. As I am going to re-cover it anyway the top doesn't have to look perfect.

Finally I removed all the fixings and it was sanding time! I am anti taking off the patina of anything old but the front had clearly had some water damage so was never going to look good with just a bit of polishing.  As a compromise I put a very fine sandpaper on my little sander and took the top layer of grime off. A bit of liberon wax and it went from this:

To this:

Just the rest of the box to sand and a lot of elbow grease and polishing to do.

Monday, 11 February 2013

My new bits and bobs box restoration - Part 1

Like most maker doers I have bits and bobs everywhere. Ribbons in cupboards, buttons exploding, glue guns elsewhere, even my new sewing box was a mess already. I have no idea where my sewing scissors have vanished to. I realised recently that I need a box to contain everything. But what? I am very fussy with these kind of things. I wanted something quite large but small enough to fit in the bottom of the wardrobe and carry around. Told you I was fussy!
While looking something quite different on gumtree I saw this:

 A nice size and I rather liked the padded top. I'm a fan of things that have a dual purpose and in a small house something that will serve as a seat at a party will always come in handy. Then I saw the inside:

First the tray, then the door did it for me. (The picture doesn't make it clear but the front section on the left opens to reveal a hidden part.)

Sold to the lady drooling slightly.

Minor problem. I'm in London and the box is in the Lake District. I wrote an email asking if they would be up for sending it to me. I heard nothing. Ah well I thought and moved back to eBay. NOTHING was right! I wrote another email asking if it had been sold and if not would they be up for handing it over to a courier if I booked one.

A reply! YES! Albeit at my risk if it arrived damaged. It looked pretty solid so I took the risk. I paid the nice man £25 for the box and £8.50 for the courier. Of course it arrived while I was away. I was itching it get home to get cracking on it.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

In praise of stuff...

I love STUFF! Minimalism is just not my thing. Way too much work to keep tidy! Stuff makes a house cosy, adds personality and can often bring back a memory. Sometimes rather nice, a forgotten theatre ticket used as a bookmark. Sometimes not so nice but that's life isn't it?

Of course tastes change. My little house has changed a lot since my Matey moved in. If anything it's quirkier. I rather like the fact that pictures I used to love as singleton feel out of place now and are slowly being replaced.

Equally some stuff grows old and gets replaced. I'm currently loving my shiny new ipad mini but I am also under no illusion that it will last forever or that I will love it forever.

Some STUFF though I know will be with me forever. Here are three.

My Great Grandma's carving knife. Almost certainly a wedding present it was made in Sheffield, no accident as apparently there was a family connection with the Sheffield cutlery industry. When my Matey and I got married we used it to cut the cake with. In the lead up to the wedding I looked up how best to clean it and found out that it is made of the same steel as swords were made of. I inherited it when Great Grandma had to move to a home in the final few years of her, very, long life. I also have her equally old cheese grater and a set of baking tins, all of which get used regularly and all of which give me a little moment whenever I use them.

Another Grandma! Grandma Dover, so called because she lived in Dover,  always had this chicken egg holder in her kitchen. Again I inherited this with a few other bits and bobs in the final few years of her life. To me it is a thing of beauty and holds eggs very nicely!

I went to an amazing prep school when I was a puppy. Back then it positivly encouraged danger. There was an assault course which had truly dangerous swings, overhead bridges and zip wires. Not a safety net in sight. Funnily enough there no accidents until H&S insisted on safety nets. Children are not stupid and won't mess around if it's not safe. I remember climbing up to the High Ropes, which really were high, and deciding that it would better to climb back down.

Best of all was the summer term. We spent wednesday afternoons in teams building camps in the school woods. Towards the end of term there was the promise of spending the whole day playing games in the woods in hope of being the victorious team. In the 6th form this was called Q day and it started off at 10pm and involved spending the night in the woods as well. Cue Banger Operation in the camp fires, lots of dirt and knackered 12-13 year old by 6pm the next day.

Apparently Q day still exists, though banger operation no longer involves the mini fireworks. Sadly the assault course is a feeble shadow of it's former glory. When the inventor moved on it could never be sustained.

All this nostagic rambling leads to my Librarian prize mug. No it is not cool to have a Librarian prize! In teams we had to ensure that the library was immaculate on our allotted day.  When I saw that this mug made by a local potter was the prize. I wanted it. I knew that I keep it forever. I worked for two terms keeping that library tidy. I should add that I was a bookish child and was in there quite a bit anyway.

I don't care how uncool it is, every time I see it a little bit of a very happy and muddy childhood comes back.

Friday, 8 February 2013

A few of my favorite things...and meeting new people.

I have spent the last week at the trade show Spring Fair in the company of a number of very lovely and talented designers. Towards the end of the show we all went on a bit of a shopping spree. I have to remind myself at these times that I do not have an unlimited budget but a few purchases may have been made.....

Tobyboo is a company I have known for a while. I first saw the Oranges and Lemons cushion in the Museum of London and thought it was fabulous! Then I met the designer Tina who is equally fabulous. But I still resisted. This time though I gave in. I've been looking for a new cushion anyway so why not? I ummed and aahed over the original design and the newer latte version before deciding that the original one was cheerier and so what if it clashes a bit with the other cushions. It can sit on it's own on the comfy chair.

I spotted these Dutch house cabinets from The Original Metal Box Company 18 months ago and nearly succumbed then. They are just too lovely and handy as well. The trouble is that I don't want one. I want all three....possibly an splendid streets worth. A few pennies to save.

I should say that they may not a cheap purchase but they are worth every penny. Beautifully made and designed in Britain.

Finally my next door neighbour at the show, fabric designer Jorja Wilkinson. Standing next to a designers beautiful work for five days it is inevitable that something becomes a must have. Being a clever woman she also hand-makes a range of lampshades and cushions with her fabric so you can buy some of the look without having to get your sewing machine out.

I spent so long trying to decide which pattern I liked most and where would I put it I was in danger of buying her whole stand and redoing the whole house to work with it all. In the end sense prevailed and I plumped for ordering some of her fabric for a purpose I will reveal another day......

....oh and I should say that she is a jolly nice person to stand next to for five days as well. Somebody with a 1930's Cricket pavilion for an office/workshop can hardly fail to be fun to chat with! (Tiny bit envious there....)

Sunday, 3 February 2013

A host of golden daffodils.

I would be the first to admit the title is not that original! But daffs really are one of my favorite flowers. Partly because they are one of the very few flowers I allow myself to buy for myself as they are cheap and cheerful. Partly because I love buying them tightly shut and watching them explode open. I swear I can see them moving sometimes. Partly because it means Spring is on the way.

I am away from home at my in laws this week and in my room there is a bunch of daffs in a pretty jug which have just exploded.

Oh and the other flowers I allow myself to buy are winter hyacinths in a pot. Again they are cheap and cheerful but they are an AMAZING smell, last ages and you can hear them growing creakily.

Cost: About a quid for a nice bunch from a supermarket. Unless you are given them by nice people of course!

Verdict: Fabulous!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Vintage celery vases.

Ebay is probably my number one website for just about anything. Whether I'm selling or hunting it is rare for a day to go by without a quick glance.It really is the most peculiar of places. If you are hunting for something specific it will certainly be there. Having spent months hunting props down for plays in the past ebay made the oddest of props a doddle to find.

BUT! I have rules. Number one. No looking at things you aren't looking for. Suddenly a previously unwanted item becomes a must have, especially if it's only 99p. Occasionally however things just pop up so I've just bought a Victorian celery vase!

Apparently in the the 19th Century celery was a delicacy as it took a lot of care and attention to grow. Having splashed out on the status symbol the only way to display was in a celery vase filled with water on the dining table.

I don't like celery!

But I thought that this rather pretty pressed glass celery vase would look splendid with a candle inside it.

And it does!

Cost: £12

Time taken: None worth mentioning!

Pretty darn good! It's quite a sturdy vase so could also be used for sweets or indeed as a flower vase.
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