Friday, 29 March 2013

Good Friday Goodies

When I came down to breakfast this morning it was snowing; the roofs and garden were white and it was drifting down quite heavily. By the time I'd finished breakfast, emails, checked my to-do list and written a couple of birthday cards the sun was shining and all the white stuff had disappeared! Feeling so much chirpier now!

I was just in the mood for baking and what could be better than Hot Cross Buns? As I was happily kneading away I spotted out of the widow a female blackbird collecting swathes of dried grasses for nest building, joined briefly by our resident robin. Drat! I couldn't un-dough my hands quickly enough to get a photo, but I did catch the resident squirrel making his way down the beech tree, across the garden and up and away over the garage roof.

On the Home Organisation Front, my new board is now in situ by the kitchen door, and is proving very handy, not least in sorting the freezer contents out.

Regular bread making is proving (oh come ON!) to be quite addictive, both in the doing and the eating! I'm enjoying ringing the changes with various flours and extras. This loaf is one of a pair I made with Einkorn flour - a bit like spelt, just as 'ancient', and tasty. I've thrown in a good handful of linseed and other ground seeds which have given it a wonderful colour and flavour.

We had the last of the freezer faggots - recipe care of Dc at Frugal in Norfolk - yesterday for dinner. They are so tasty, I shall certainly be making these again.

Right, back to the Hot Cross Buns. Erm ....... - well, I had no candied peel so I chopped some dried apricots very small, raisins I had, but no sultanas so I finely chopped some stoned dates (they were SO chilled out .......) and er ....I didn't have any milk powder so they were made with water not milk. And to be honest, as they are for private consumption only, I couldn't be faffed making the pastry crosses. So all in all, they turned out to be  ..... just Hot Buns (now there's an image to conjure with!) and blummim' gorgeous they are too.

Yes, they look more like scones, don't they, but they are definitely dough-ey. After lunch we both spent half an hour or so Jim at his fly-tying desk and me sorting my photos out. (oh the joys of retirement)

Next I popped into my sewing room and picked out the fabrics for my jacket. Some are from my friend Magie (one G) at The African Fabric Shop, and some I remember buying at a market stall in Caen on our way to the ferry home. Must be 12 years ago, blimey! Others I have picked up at various quilt fairs over the years.  I need to crack on and get started arranging the pieces onto the jacket.

Now we are both pottering about doing what we do, and what needs to be done. The sun is shining and  the day has a contented feel about itself. How have you spent Good Friday?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Boro -ing an Idea

I'm going to gloss over the awful weather, and the fact I have been laid low with some grim virus for the last 4 days. You will no doubt (if you are in dear old Blighty) be experiencing your own awful weather so let's not dwell on it.

Today I want to talk to you about adapting an ancient textile technique to embellish and totally transform a plain jacket. Long-time readers of this blog will remember a post I wrote last year about Boro, the antique Japanese working clothes repaired over and over by patching with more fabric, simply by long running stitches merging the new fabric with the old. No attempt is made to turn under hems, the fresh piece just 'melts' into the ground fabric. These old garments are much sought after - you can read about them in my post from May 23rd 2012 called Japanese Fabric Collection.

I first read about Boro from a blogger called Jude Hill (Spirit Cloth) who has gone on to present an online workshop utilising the technique to alter a garment. My blogging friend Els, from Holland (visit her lovely blog Fiberrainbow) is taking part in that workshop and has begun work on her garment - a good quality jacket she no longer wears. Els has kindly allowed me to use her photos on my post to show you.

I loved the idea from the start, and it was inspiring me to think about something I might do myself. I need a proper jacket for my Molly outfit. Currently I wear a bit of a French Tart theme with a long black cardigan .....but really could do with something warmer, and I may be changing the dress bit of the outfit as well. Something more was called for! I saw Els' jacket and was so excited! Don't you think this is going to be magnificent? This is the jacket I have....about 20 years old and counting! (and yes it does still fit!) About upper thigh length with a good swing to it.

However I have a dilemma. Should I go for the traditional Boro fabrics as Els has - and I do have some Japanese and Javanese indigo fabrics, and these fabrics on the right hand side are my own hand-dyed attempts at Shiborri; I made these years ago - I should really use them up!

 - or, bearing in mind the bright colours of my top-hat topper:

should I go for the brightly coloured African fabrics from my collection here?

Mmmmmm, think I know where I'm going with this one, don't you?

The other dilemma I have is this. Boro epitomises the ethos of the 'slow cloth movement'. All stitching is by hand. The item evolves slowly over time. This is the appeal and the wonder of slow cloth. However, I need my jacket fairly soon; I don't have time to hand stitch every small piece of cloth down into the black fabric of the jacket. So I will have to use my machine, which contravenes the slow cloth ethos totally. Well, in this case, I will have to live with that. Not for me the gradual realisation of the highly textured, lovingly hand-stitched, soft-to-the-hand garment. But I should be able to produce a wonderfully patterned jacket which should do the Mollys proud. Watch this space!

I wouldn't want you to think I have been neglecting my frugal-food-meal-planning-organisation drive, it's just that I've felt so grim the past few days that food has been the last thing on my mind -oh, after being organised, that is! But I want you to know that my new kitchen board arrived yesterday and I'm just waiting for Jim to return home as he is the only one between us with the energy to open the cardboard packaging! The worst thing about feeling so awful is that I had to cancel my melodeon workshop with John Spiers. Arrgh! Never mind, I know a few people who will be able to tell me all about it. Bye for now, I feel a Nanna Nap coming on!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Spring Flowers and Frugal Food.

With more snow apparently heading our way, it's good to have this colourful reminder that Spring has actually Sprung! These brave little blooms survived the last cold snap so I hope they come through the next one!

I am keeping a weather eye (no pun intended, but hope you noticed my little link there? Eh?) on my meal planning, and am already noticing I'm neither shopping nor spending so much. Quality is not being sacrificed and we are eating well. Here's me about to get cracking on last Sunday's Chicken Pot Roast.

Ooooops, missed out the garlic! Now that would NEVER do! This is the veggies  after sautéing.

And finally with chicken in situ, about to go into a nice slow oven. I do hanker after a gas hob but you can't beat my Rayburn for oven cooking, especially long slow cooking.

This lasted us three days in various guises. I didn't re-use the bones for stock but I do at times, and will be thinking ahead in future. A one pot meal, how economical and time saving is that? Also it meant that as Jim was out coaching all day I didn't have to worry about what time he was getting in. No spoilt dinners in our house!

I've also been bread-making regularly too and really, once you have got into your stride it doesn't take an age. Well, it does, but you work round the various stages. Obviously not a thing to embark on at the last minute when you have run out! I also love putting different bits and bobs in my mix; sometimes it will be very basic, other times I want to experiment. Here I've used spelt again, olive oil to soften, honey to sweeten, and a good handful of the seed mix for extra nutrient content. Tastes yummy!

Yes, I did add yeast and salt, not pictured here, and no, I don't usually use my precious - and pricey - Manuka honey in bread, but had run out of the bog standard variety.

And this is the result. And very nice too, if I say so myself! Oh! I must show you my kitchen freezer whiteboard in situ..........

Scrawly writing I'm afraid, done in a hurry. And still some sorting out between what goes in the garage freezer and what goes in this one. But it is all coming together, and makes it so much easier to meal plan. Even Jim is getting in on the act, and has bought me a large whiteboard to go on the kitchen wall by the door for  the garage freezer contents (as he said, having it in the garage defeats the object, I need it where I can see it here.) and also for jotting down things we've run out of, a rough shopping list.

It has been an interesting and salutary investigation of myriad frugal foods and organising blogs and youtube videos; I have been humbled by the hardship and adversity and sheer guts of some people who have dragged themselves out of debt by very careful frugal living, amazed at some of the wonderful meals created with a handful of cheap ingredients, embarrassed by how much I have in the way of resources compared with many, encouraged by the great ideas I've found to help me organise myself and my home, and frankly astonished and perturbed by some of the sites I visited describing extreme survival 'prepping'. These are the Doomsday Preppers who stock-pile for 20 or so years - food, water, and worryingly, guns and ammunition. I'm not talking about a couple of side-by-side shot-guns either!
But heigh-ho, that is their lives and philosophy, not mine. I'll make do with my freezers and a slim larder cupboard! One of the more daft ideas I came across - this in  a blog about saving money and the planet : crock-pot liners! Yep, it's true. Now you don't even have to wash up! Heaven only knows what cooking your food for 8 hours or so wrapped in clingfilm or similar does to you, but I wouldn't want to be using it near any food which gets heated! And how ecological is that, eh?

Anyway, ending on a high note ....Amanda from Mangle Prints inboxed me about her upcoming Lino Print Workshops so I am first on the list!! Whoo-hoo! More anon.

So, to continue the conversation, what's your best organising tip, and is there a favourite frugal recipe you and your family enjoy? Look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Pizza, Cupboards and Menu Plans

I love tulips! These are a gift from Victoria, one of my Stitch & Bitch friends. Thank you again Victoria, they are beautiful. We had a lovely relaxed day of it on Wednesday, it was great to see everyone again after missing the last two S&B meets on account of New Zealand. (My tan has almost faded away.)

I must show you our Tuesday evening's meal, the pizza and salad. Maggie commented she felt salad was too chilly a meal for winter, but we do like salad at least a couple of times a week all year round - and more often obviously in summer. I splashed out an bought an avocado because I love 'em in a salad. The pizza was the roasted cherry tomatoes and mixed peppers I wrote about last time, with some slicing mozzarella. Delish!

I must also show you my corner pantry cupboard after its clear-out! I know, it's really sad getting excited about pantry cupboards, isn't it? I should get a life. I must say this corner pull-out thingy is worth it's weight, no more scrambling about in the depths of a dark inaccessible corner. But my favourite is the tall larder cupboard (see last post) if my kitchen were larger I would have two of these.

Inside is for duplicate ingredients or large jars of things. The door shelves hold milk, tea, and plain /self raising/ and bread flours. Oh and porridge oats. In the corner of the inside you can see a collection of small containers ... you wouldn't believe how much bicarb of soda, baking soda and cream of tartar I had accumulated! All now out of date so it is sitting there to be used to clean my sink! And the up to date stuff is in my newly cleared out baking drawer, with the yeast, vanilla and almond essences and baking paraphernalia.

Yesterday started out beautifully. I had my box lesson with lovely Nick Wiseman-Ellis, who is doing a gig on Sunday (St Patrick's Day) at The Rumsey Wells in Norwich if you are handy, 3-7 pm appearing with Copperplate.  I love my lessons, they always unscramble my head of whatever has been bugging me, and despite giving me teeth-grittingly challenging moments I always drive home with a big grin on my face and music playing in my head. I'm so pleased I took advice and collared Nick for lessons - he came very well recommended - as I do feel I'm making progress; I should have done the same with my fiddle, but I fear I am beyond help with that! Anyway, after that I hopped across the city to Chapelfields, for my One-to -One at the Apple store, I am learning SO MUCH about my lap top! They've sorted out all my iphotos (erm ....12,000 and counting!) and shown me so many short cuts. Then I was done, ready for home ...and realised I had no idea where in the big, two-story car park I had left my little Ford Ka! Do you know how many blue cars there are these days? I have seen most of them while I wandered round and round getting increasingly more anxious ...would my ticket run out before I found it? Eventually I found an office near the exit and a lovely young lad came and helped me find it. Phew!! Sorta took the edge off my happy-feelings for a while there!

Just before I left Norwich I popped into Staples and made a purchase. D'you think this is a bit over the top?

It's a dry-wipe board for my weekly menus. It won't live here, it's going up on the wall next to the door under the book shelves. And I can jot down what ingredients I need to buy - not many as we are living out of the freezer and pantry at the moment, saving squids! And look! It's got a little pin-boardy bit at the bottom! ( Oh DO get a life, Lynne!!) Yes, it is a bit Martha Stewart isn't it? But anything that keeps me organised has got to be good.

Oh dear, if you've come to read about textiles you are fresh out of luck, again, I'm sorry. But if you care to scroll back through earlier posts there is LOADS of stitchy stuff. I tried to do that link thing with 3 previous posts pictured at the bottom of your post, but it doesn't seem to have worked. (Yeah, still the same old non-techie me, despite the Apple sessions!) If any of you use that facility, do let me know how it works.) Catch you next time, and hope if you haven't got warmth then at least you have some sunshine to brighten your day. For you lot in the Antipodes, I hope it pours down soon for you.

Monday, 11 March 2013

A day Indoors

Very cold here today, blizzards on and off, and snow laying from last night. An ideal day for cosying up inside, venturing out only to pick some sage and rosemary and to empty the compost caddy from the kitchen.

I spent the day largely in the kitchen, cooking and baking and organising my larder. Yep, the culling and cleaning up of the chaos continues. First I have to show you the results of a wardrobe cull - a '30 minute' job I did on Friday.

Sorry, you may have to stand on your head to see this properly! I bagged it up and took it to the re-cycling centre on Saturday morning. Can't tell you how virtuous I felt!

Yesterday I began purging my larder cupboard, cleaning up, chucking the out of date stuff - though to be fair there wasn't much - and re-arranging things more logically and usefully. This took me well into today too, and I still have the corner cupboard to do, but that can wait. Here are the finished shots.

                  Top two : sugars, cornflour, custard dried fruit; grains, rice, seeds nuts and lentils.

    Middle two : honeys, nut butters, marmite, coffee, breakfast oats. vinegars, mustards and sauces. Various pastas.  Gravy powders and stock.

      Bottom two : pesto and other pasta sauces. Beans of all varieties, peas. Tinned soups. Tinned fish, such as tuna, sardines, sild and salmon. Coconut milk, and tinned tomatoes. That's it.

Now this really did give a lot of satisfaction. It can be taken a bit too far though; I read one 'organising blogger' who confessed that her tinned foods were kept in a cupboard where she couldn't see them, as it would upset her to see all the different labels - this is a woman who Tupperwares as if her life depended upon it, and really could not deal with foods which were not in a plastic container which matched all the others. I'm not criticising. I'm just amazed at how some people take this organising to an extreme degree. There is a lot of OCD out there, folks! Now where are those wipe-clean boards I ordered the other day..............

In between sorting and wiping and re-arranging I was making a huge lamb stew with meat from the big freezer in the garage (I'm trying not to spend any money on main ingredients for as long as I can, to use up my back-log.) There was enough for supper tonight with herby dumplings (yummy), and enough for two very decent portions for the freezer.

While the stew was simmering in the slow oven I was roasting some peppers, cherry tomatoes and garlic for tomorrows pizza.

Also in the top oven was a large spelt loaf. I love this flour, it gives a soft, nutty flavoured loaf.

Very pleased with the way this turned out. There is a lump of dough in a bag in the fridge to make pizza with tomorrow. I did my menu plans on Sunday along with the shopping list for the week - a much reduced list because so many ingredients are already in the larder or freezer, and because I know exactly what I want so hopefully will not be diverted! Watch this space!

Monday : lamb stew and dumplings
Tuesday : Homemade pizza with roasted veggies, ham and mozzarella. (Just some salad to buy)
Wednesday : sausage bean-pot and green beans. (nothing to buy)
Thursday : Pork chops, mushrooms and rice. (just the mushrooms to buy)
Friday : plaice fillets, garden peas, home made chunky 'chips' (nothing to buy)
Saturday : pasta with meatballs in tomato sauce - from freezer.
Sunday : Chicken pot roast (chicken and some veggies to buy)

I'll probably get a butternut squash to make soup for lunch, and some for adding to pasta, some fruit, replenish the veg basket, some eggs, cheese...and that is probably it. I know from your comments that these posts are spurring some of you on to try and make a few plans around the home, it'd be good to hear how you get on. Sorry no textiles today, but Wednesday I look forward to having my Stitch and Bitch friends around so that will pull me up sharply on the sewing front! Til then, keep warm - unless you are enjoying sunshine and high temperatures, in which case I wish you coolth!

Friday, 8 March 2013

So, the plan is .........

                          A recent and regular visitor to the garden. Just before he hurried away!

Somewhere or other I likened trying to get - and keep - my life more organised, as like someone sitting atop a coach, driving a team of six independently-minded horses! As soon as I get one under control, one or more of the others breaks out and chaos reigns. (No pun on reins intended!)

Consequently stuff mounts up. Clutter proliferates (they don't call this Haemorrhoid House for nothing, there are so many piles about!) Food is wasted and gets thrown - despite freezing and planning ahead when THAT particular horse is in the lead. Sewing projects languish. Ironing mounts a protest from the TWO baskets in the utility room. Meals are scrappy and not very healthy when THAT particular horse isn't in the lead. The freezer is disorganised, which leads to disorganised shopping which in turn leads to unplanned meals and hence wasted food..... and so it continues. Meanwhile I am fed up with myself, wishing I could get stuck into some stitching but feeling I haven't got the time (or the inclination.)

Some of you are tutting to yourselves, never allowing this state of affairs to develop. Others will be nodding and saying"oh yes",  knowing only too well how easy it is to let things slip. I'm not apologising for it. I'm just fed up with it and determined to get things straight...and CONTINUE to keep on top of things.That is the salient point.

So, where have I gone with this so far? Well, lots of reading up and cherry-picking the bits that I felt applied to me and would be useful. Some of the more helpful blogs I will introduce to you as time goes on.

General Organisation:
I cracked and bought a little book (not as pretty as Penelope's, admittedly)to make my lists, menu planning, and so on.

                                         (Do you love those two little coloured pens??)

I've also made use of my MacBook's "Notes" facility to store my menu plans and ingredients lists.

Sorry, poor photo, forgot to take flash off. You can see how it works, the ingredients/shopping list continues as I scroll down. When I write a fresh note, the older one shoots to the left side until I need it again. It may be a 'belt and braces' kind of thing as I have my new note book and pens, those I can take anywhere,and will contain ideas and other spur of the moment thoughts.

I have also ordered 3 A4 wipe off boards and pens to hang on each freezer. Years ago, when we bought our first freezer (the 70's!) I was very organised, and colour coded everything, wrote everything down and crossed off things used.Sadly, that sensible behaviour fell by the wayside and eventually resulted in the disorganised mess that I lived with until this week. As things are put into the freezer they will be listed on the board, and wiped off when used up. Simple, isn't it? And it takes no time at all.

Another aid to organised living is "30 Minutes". I am going to apply this to those jobs which either I hate doing, or which have grown to such proportions that I feel too overwhelmed to deal with them. 30 minutes is not too long to set aside to clear a cupboard, whereas you may baulk at sorting out the entire kitchen/bedroom/bathroom etc cupboards in one go. Sorting one freezer took me about this long. Culling several bookshelves would take another 30 minute block. My sewing room, were I to attempt to clear it in one go, would take a couple of days, probably, and never likely to happen at that rate, but if I tell myself I will clear for just 30 minutes, I am more likely to start. I picked up this idea from Tawny over at The Frugal Hill Way - Simply Living a Richer Life. As a start I cleaned out my cooking oils tray, giving away a bottle I didn't need, washing greasy containers, organising the various oils into a sensible- use method. Not an essential piece of work, but useful, and my tray looks much nicer now!

Some of the blogs I've been checking out are about frugal cooking. Now I am in the fortunate position of not having to worry where the next meal is coming from, and able to decide where, if anywhere, I wish to economise. However, I do think it is thrifty to shop carefully, cook properly, and use up - one way or another - everything you bought. Because of my disorganised freezers, my food shopping was haphazard, we swung between well-planned, and hastily cobbled together meals, and I was throwing away too much spoiled/unused food.

So the menu planning will certainly help with that, as will the freezer routines. I've been making "freezer hash", that is chopping herbs, soup bases, grated cheese, bread crumbs etc and freezing in small pots, for some time now, since I read about it on Sue's wonderful blog"The Quince Tree". I shall be regularly, not just sporadically, batch baking, or cooking double meals, one to eat one to freeze. You know, I've been doing this for years, just not consistently. Here's what went in the freezer this week.

Two medium and one huge lamb pasties, with left over roast lamb and freshly sautéed carrot onion and swede.

Three portions for two of trout and spinach fish pie mix. We had the fourth portion yesterday.
Not into the freezer, but a good example of frugality, I thought, the remains of (sad to say) one shop-bought lemon drizzle and one chocolate brownie cake, bought for a visit from my brother-in-law and niece. I whipped up two 'use urgently' eggs, and milk, poured it over the broken up cake pieces, and cooked gently for an hour while I had the oven on for something else. It did us for pudding for 3 days!

And yes, I did get into my sewing room and get on with a few stitchy things. A few rows of quilting on the cuddle quilt:

And a wool cushion for someone-but-it's-a-secret!

The stitched wording is just for guidelines, this isn't how it ail look when finished. I may need to snip a bit at the front legs as it is meant to be a hare, and it looks suspiciously bunny-like! That is the moon below, BTW, not an exercise ball!

Phew, this is quite a long post, isn't it, again. Well, I wanted to get my plans for home organisation organised! There is still so much I wanted to say, but will leave it for another post. I'd like to thank those of you who write these helpful blogs; I may not be quite the person you write them for, I'm not in debt, trapped in a house full of rotting newspapers and mouldy food, or struggling to pay off a huge mortgage. But the very steps which help people who ARE in these situations can help all of us who just need a hand getting their houses in order, so to speak. I started by regularly reading DataCreator's posts on her blog Frugal in Norfolk. I also enjoy reading about Rhonda, in Down to Earth, she has LOADS of useful information. From their blogs you can find other bloggers in their side-bars.

Now I hope I haven't bored you silly, and that you will come back and read the next post. Catch you then!