Friday, 19 October 2018

Room Tour: The Living Room

I am so happy to be able to call the living room finished (for now!) and to show you some photos of how it all looks. It's come together really nicely and we love it. 

The main change we made was to change the flooring from a dark brown, high gloss laminate to something lighter and warmer. Engineered oak was sadly out of our budget but we are really happy with the laminate we chose. It is well made and textured underfoot and looks almost identical to the oak we have in the kitchen and, most importantly, very forgiving of dog hair. It's much easier to clean and bounces so much more light around the room without creating the horrible glare caused by the shiny surface of the old flooring.

We also painted the light grey walls white and swapped a few pieces of furniture around to different areas. Where the sideboard and gallery wall used to be, we now have bookcases in that corner. 

And where the bookcases used to be, the sideboard now sits. I had thought about hanging the same pictures back above it but decided to move them elsewhere and will keep that wall empty - it's plenty busy enough with all those candlesticks and plants.

Small chairs sit either side of the window next to an old trunk which holds games and jigsaws. It's a kind of reading corner, and the light is good there.

The mantel is as it was before, although it looks so much better for being freshly painted as the paint work was quite scuffed from the log basket.

Aside from the flooring, the only new things we bought were a chair and a lampshade, both to replace items which had really worn out.

The chair is this one and is so comfortable and springy. In the shop I took off my shoes and sat in it cross legged, and then with my legs tucked under me to one side, to check it was wide enough for my favourite ways to sit white crocheting and watching tv. It's perfect.  

We took advantage of the high ceiling in that part of the room and hung a new gallery wall above the chair and over the wall. 

I don't think the colour palate is that different; it's the wood tones and white and grey I love so much, with pops of colour through the books, pictures and accessories. It's funny, we didn't really intend to decorate this room, it was more a side effect of ripping out the old porch wall and changing the floor in the hall, but I am so glad we did. I'm really proud that we did so much of it ourselves too, with a lot of help from family. There's just the hall to finish now then I think I should invite everyone round for a party to say thank you. 

Monday, 15 October 2018

Autumn Feels

The weather has been cheerfully, unrelentingly, mild and sunny so far these last few weeks. I'm not complaining - it certainly saves on the heating bill - but I've had to work pretty hard to create any kind of autumn feeling at home, and it is mid-October. I have jumpers and scarves that would like to see the light of day before Christmas, and we haven't even lit the fire yet, so imagine my genuine delight when Sunday was cold and wet and we had to put our wellies on to go for a walk in the woods. Autumn, this is what I'm talking about!

At home I am celebrating the changing seasons in my usual way; faffing around with displays on mantels and shelves, hunting in the back of cupboards for handmade pumpkins and garlands, getting outside as much as possible. working on crochet projects like the sweater pictured above, and cooking. So much cooking.

The children and I made gingerbread. I had great fun cutting the dough into leaf shapes while Bella and Angus had just as much fun decorating gingerbread figures with some out of date icing pens they found in the back of the cupboard. 

I made the baked oatmeal with pears from Smitten Kitchen Every Day and enjoyed eating that for breakfast ever day last week, and last Saturday's waffles were elevated to a new level of deliciousness with the addition of cinnamon to the batter and stewed apples served on top. I love fresh fruit on my pancakes or waffles and usually buy soft fruits or berries, but as we move away from the summer fruit season I try not to buy the overpriced, imported, often tasteless berries and instead aim for locally grown apples, pears and plums instead. John picked up a recipe card for this apple, ginger and honey cake and I made it yesterday. We ate it warm with custard for dessert.

I have optimistically filled the log basket next to the wood burning stove and both John and I have invested in new welly boots. I have yet to buy any pumpkins, but I know it's only a matter of time before some pretty artisan squash fall into my shopping trolley to decorate the table over the coming weeks, before I remember that it would be quite good to cook with them too. 

Dog walks continue to be a necessary and welcome part of my day. I have started to walk Ziggy alone when I get in from work, leaving the children at home for a short time. It works out so much better this way; they are tired after a day at school (and Bella has already walked a couple of miles to and from her secondary school) and they just want to eat a snack and watch a bit of TV, not be dragged out for a walk, and I would rather walk alone with my thoughts or a podcast for company than listen to them moan. After a day surrounded by people, where I talk and am talked at almost non-stop, half an hour with my thoughts is bliss. 

I'll leave you with a photo from our walk yesterday, between the heavy rain showers. My little gang.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Almost a Living Room

Thank you very much for your suggestions and recipes for slow cooker meals. They all sound both delicious and practical, and really make me want to plan more meals cooked that way. We have a Crock Pot slow cooker, for those who asked, and it's a few years old now so I'm not sure of the exact model. I had never considered buying those packets of seasoning, that's such a good idea for when you are pushed for time, so thank you for that. Some of you mentioned using the timer on the oven. I have been meaning to figure this out for over two years and never seem to get around to it, isn't that awful? I'm not sure where the manual for our cooker is now, but I am determined to find it.

It's been a few weeks since I last shared any progress on our work on the house with you but we've been busy every weekend since then. I'm kind of over it now, if I'm honest, and there is still a lot to do, but it's good to step back and see what we've achieved. The living room has been freshly painted (all white) and the floor has been laid, then came the fiddly jobs like skirting, thresholds, and beading. I am in love with the look and feel of the floor though and very happy with it. The difference it makes to the light levels in the living room, combined with the white walls, is really amazing. Even in the evening the whole room is so much lighter and warmer, too.

We moved around some of our IKEA Billy bookcases so that they are in a run of four, wrapping around the corner where the sideboard used to be, rather than flanking the window. I had so much fun last week ordering the books before putting them on the shelves. I divided them into genres - fiction, military history (mostly John's), sport (John's too), poetry (all mine), lifestyle (also mine) - and then arranged them alphabetically. I even arranged my favourite crime fiction books into series order. Once a bookseller, always a bookseller. But I like the way this new arrangement of bookcases gives each corner of the room a different look and feel already, and gives me fresh inspiration about where to hang pictures. 

I thought about hanging the same ones in a similar arrangement to before above the sideboard in it's new position, but couldn't get it to work.

I decided instead to use a completely different wall, the one opposite the bookcases, which has a very high ceiling. I thought it would be fun to work with the height of the ceiling and hang pictures over the doorframe as well as all over the wall. It's not quite finished yet but I love it already. 

We bought a new lampshade to replace a few old, tired, marked one we'd had for years, and the pink velvet adds a little delicate warmth to a corner. 

I also faffed around making some new tie backs for our curtains from felt balls and wooden beads. I love little projects like this. 

We are just waiting on delivery of a new arm chair, which should come this weekend. Once that has arrived, and the last few pictures are hung, I will declare the room finished and take some photos to show you. I'm also hoping we can light our first fire of the season in the wood burning stove at some point soon - it's either been too mild, or the house too full of paint fumes to light it yet.

In the hall, the floor has been laid but there is still a lot to do.

Please excuse the grainy phone photos. We still need to do some plastering, filling and sanding on the walls before painting, attach the skirting boards, sand and paint the staircase, hang lights, fix shoe racks to's endless. But it will be wonderful when it's done and we already love the sense of space that greets you when you walk downstairs or open the front door. I know what I'll be doing this half term though...

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge: August and September

I have been getting to know my slow cooker over the last few weeks. Everyone I know who has a slow cooker swears by it and, while I've had mine for a few years, I've never really gotten to grips with using it regularly and felt like I was missing out. Since we went back to school and work in early September, and with my increased hours and busier schedule, I had resolved to make some evening meals easier for myself. After a couple of really stressful and disorganised evenings, where we all had to eat at different times (kids at swimming, me at yoga, John on a late shift) and where I seemed to cook four different meals, I decided that things were getting ridiculous and it was time to dust off the crock pot and see if it really did make a difference to my day.

I ask a lot of my slow cooker and slow cooker recipes. I do not have time to be browning meat and chopping vegetables before I go to work in the morning, so I either need meals I can prepare the night before, leave in the fridge overnight and switch on when I leave for work, or meals which can be thrown into the slow cooker dish at 7 am and left there happily until 6 pm. And they need to be affordable, nutritious and meals that everyone likes and eats. I mean, I'm not asking a lot. 

The first book is one I've had for some time, 200 Slow Cooker Recipes in the Hamlyn All Colour series (and how dated does that sound, as though "all colour" was still something to be shouted about in 2018?!) and I think I bought it in a supermarket when I bought our slow cooker. I have decided that I blame this book for my slow start with the crock pot. For a start, the recipes are not specific to slow cookers, but refer to slow cooking in general, ie, putting something in a pot in the oven for a few hours. Well, I already know how to do that! It's slow cooker recipes I want. 

My other issue is that almost every recipe began with the instruction "brown your meat/onions in a frying pan and transfer to the slow cooker". My friends who use their slow cookers regularly assure me that browning first is not essential and I am seeking an easy life here - the less pans I have to wash up, the better.

We tried Mustard Chicken and Bacon, where chicken thighs, bacon and leeks are cooked together in a sauce made from wholegrain mustard and stock. It was quite tasty, if a little salty, and tasted a lot better than it looked, but because the recipe required browning I made it at the weekend which didn't ease my weeknight workload one bit.

Then we tried Pork with Orange and Star Anise, in which pork steaks are cooked with the above ingredients in a sauce flavoured with soy, and I served it with rice and vegetables. Again, the recipe insisted I brown the pork so it was a weekend dinner, although it was nice. I find pork steaks can be very dry and this was a good way of cooking them while retaining their flavour and tenderness. 

Then I did a bit of research online and, based on the reviews, bought this book: The Slow Cooker Cookbook: Time-Saving Delicious Recipes for Busy Family Cooks, and what a gem it is. If you're thinking of buying a slow cooker recipe book this autumn, this one is brilliant. The chapters are organised ingeniously, with "All-dayers" (my personal favourite), "Chop and Chuck in" (no browning!), "Store Cupboard" and "Cheap Eats", plus a lovely "Weekender" section for recipes which require a little more planning, perhaps need marinating or which have a few stages. But the success of this book - for me - is that not only are the recipes solid and well written, but they are organised around how much time you have, which is surely why most of us use our slow cookers in the first place.

From the "All-dayers" chapter, we loved Sweet and Sour Chicken; you make your own sauce for this one and add chicken breast and vegetables, although you could easily use a bought jar of sauce, then add the pineapple and spring onions right at the end. Everyone liked it. I was happy.

From the "Chop and Chuck in" chapter we made Chilli Beef and Beans, with beef stewing steak rather than the minced beef we usually use for a chilli. Again, really easy, really tasty, everyone liked it and there were lots of leftovers to freeze too. 

 From the "Cheap Eats" chapter I made Chocolate Orange Rice Pudding which, while nice, was not as nice as normal, plain rice pudding. 

But this book has increased my confidence with the slow cooker so much, to the point where I feel I know what I can and can't cook in mine, and am building up a handful of recipes (if you can even call them that) which I know I can throw together easily, everyone will eat and aren't expensive. But the best thing about using the slow cooker - and it's not to be underestimated - is the overwhelming feeling of smugness that you have all day. It's the best feeling, just knowing that dinner is sorted and cooking while you're at work. No thinking about what to cook when you get home, but unlocking the front door to the smell of something delicious simmering in the kitchen. It's not often life let's us feel smug, so you've got to take it when you can, no?


Chicken and Chorizo Stew
You need: chicken thighs, chorizo, new potatoes, peppers, onion, a jar of passata and black olives. Chop everything except the potatoes (if you leave them whole in their skins they won't go so mushy) and add to the slow cooker. Cook on low for around 8 hours. 

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Buy ready made meatballs and put in the slow cooker with a jar or passata or pasta sauce. Cook all day on low. Boil spaghetti and serve with vegetables or salad. 

I am sure I will have more soon! Do you have any slow cooker meals that are super easy and you would recommend? I would love it if you would share them in the comments!