Friday, 25 July 2014

Friday Happies

 1. Weekend crafting.

Last Saturday afternoon, while it rained and thundered outside, I started what will become a wall hanging. It was wonderful, after a frenetic few weeks, to find some time for this sort of creative pottering. I'm loving this so far. Once the letters are stitched down, I will arrange the triangles around the quote.*

And on a lazy Sunday morning, I came downstairs early with the kids. They got the paints out while I crocheted little rainbow squares and drank lots of tea. (And a green smoothie too, by the look of it. Melon, spinach and pineapple, I think. Surprisingly nice.)

They just need their white borders now.

2. A gloriously scorching hot first day of the school holidays. John bravely went out in the heat to the shop for a tub of raspberry ripple, and made ice cream cones for us all.

3. Packing our holiday bags. It's a tradition of mine to fill a bag each for the kids full of bits and bobs to amuse them both during the journey, and when we get there. The appearance of the bag signals the start of the holidays for them.

Slightly over ambitiously, I've packed two sewing projects (for the evenings), two crochet projects (for the journey), two novels and four magazines. I clearly think I'm going to be getting quite a lot of free time over the next week! Ha. Not likely, but I live in hope.

4. A two night stay with our friends who moved to North Somerset, and a day spent in to Bristol. They live in the country now (with chickens and everything!) and this was the view from our guest bedroom:

We visited the harbour area, drank iced coffee, splashed in fountains and enjoyed the sun.

We picnicked by the Clifton suspension bridge, and then spent a very lazy afternoon in a lovely park in the middle of Clifton lounging on the grass in the shade, before heading off to a nearby cafe for milkshakes. 

It was so nice to explore a small part of this area in such beautiful weather, and it was even nicer to catch up with dear friends and watch the children slot back into old friendships so easily.

We are in Cornwall now for the next week, with my lovely friend Abigail and her family. We've all rented a house together in Gwithian, which is not far from St Ives. I am very, very excited. We all need a holiday.

See you next week!

* It's by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Colour Collaborative: July: Sail

The colours of sailing always have a faded, bleached quality to me. The bright shine of a freshly painted hull, the rich tones of teak decking, the bold colours on the sail - they are quickly diminished by sun, sea and salt. Sailing colours are all greys, whites and silvers in my mind, with the occasional pop of red from a Union Jack flag on the end of the boat or an orange buoy bobbing in the water. Add to that image the sound of seagulls and that particular whistling, clanking sound that rigging makes when it blows against a metal mast, and the smell of seaweed and the tight, sticky feeling that a day in the salty air leaves on your skin - and there you have my childhood.

Sailing was a big part of our life when I was little. My Dad, and his Dad and, thinking about it, quite a lot of the people we knew, sailed and our weekends revolved around tide times in the summer. We'd park at the sailing club, carry our bags onto the tender and row out to the mooring, neon orange life jackets tightly fastened, then climb aboard the boat. She was called Kittiwake and was painted brown and cream, really rubbish, boring colours to paint a boat, I remember thinking at the time. Then the outboard motor would get us out of the harbour until there was enough wind for the sails to go up, and then we'd be off. Sometimes just for a few hours, often all day.  A couple of times we slept on the boat overnight, that was brilliant fun (although possibly not for my poor parents who probably didn't get a wink of sleep, with three excitable girls on board too). I remember picnicking on little islands. If we ate on board, coffee would be made on the tiny stove in the kitchen area and drunk from dark green and red plastic mugs, I can see them now. There would be sandwiches and apples, and very often lardy cake. Once home, I would still be able to feel the motion of the water when I lay in bed at night. 

And so, given my coastal childhood and my slightly over the top love of the sea, it does rather pain me that the ONLY photograph I could find of a anything sailing related - both in albums and on my hard drive -  is the one above, which was not taken be me and is over thirty years old. The colours in this image are faded by time, but I don't know if my memories would be any more technicoloured. I remember grey skies more than blue, and white boats, white sails, water which looked greenish grey. I don't remember this photo being taken (I think I am perhaps four, and my sister Anna was two, which means that my youngest sister Katy was not yet born) but I do remember Anna's orange blanket-comforter which went everywhere with her, and how much I loved that red t-shirt with it's little red and blue boat on the pocket. 

And, given how unreliable memories can be, I now wonder if my recollections of those faded marine blues and greys, with the flashes of red and orange, are in fact informed by this photograph, rather than any actual events in my childhood.


Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below:

Annie at Annie Cholewa
Sandra at Cherry Heart
Jennifer at Thistlebear
Claire at Above The River

And July's guest poster, Leanne at Today's Stuff.

What is The Colour Collaborative? 

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Diary of a Diet

Today I am talking about that dreaded word, diet, and what lovely food I've been eating while on said diet. Skip on by if it's not your cup of tea, this is just a blip, I can assure you.

There are always times when I lose my cooking mojo, when the "What are we having for tea tonight..." question threatens to suck the very life blood out of me, but I have, however, never lost my eating mojo. I've been doing a lot of eating over these last few months and the long and short of it is that I could no longer do up my trousers and six weeks ago I joined Slimming World*. Oh, and my running buddy moved to Australia so it's not all my fault.

Now, a better person than me would simply cut back and make some sensible choices, but I lack the motivation and will power. I know from past experience that I need the threat of the "weigh in" every Tuesday morning, I need to hand over £5 each week, to kick me up the bum and help me lose a bit of weight. Now, I'll be clear - I was not overweight as such (my BMI was within the healthy range although it was very much at the top end) and my height means that I can carry some extra weight more comfortably than others might - but I refuse to go out and buy new clothes when I've got lots of perfectly good ones in the wardrobe.

And - I guess it comes as no surprise - I found that changing the way I eat reinvigorated my enthusiasm for cooking. Particularly for breakfast and lunch, when I can please myself and not worry about meeting everyone's preferences (impossible at the best of times). I've been keeping a food diary and today I thought I'd share some of the meals I've been eating over the last few weeks. To give you a rough idea, with Slimming World you can eat as much fruit, veg, pulses, eggs, pasta, rice, potato, lean meat and fish as you like. You can eat a limited amount of dairy and grains (bread, cereal etc) and everything else must be weighed, counted and limited. It is essentially a very low fat diet. These meals below all (pretty much) count as "free" which means no weighing or counting, just working on common sense portion control and making sure there is a good amount of fresh fruit or vegetables on the plate.


Lighter breakfasts:

1. Muesli with skimmed milk, chopped fruit and fat free yogurt. Quick and easy, this has become my usual breakfast on most school mornings. I have to remember to weigh the muesli as it counts as a grain.

2. Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and wilted spinach. Very good. The natural fish oils in the salmon gave the eggs a velvety texture.

3. Porridge (weighed) with chopped peach and a teaspoon of honey. This is my other school day staple. Any other soft fruits work well too.

4. Poached eggs with spinach and smoked salmon. Amazing, even with one of the eggs a bit overdone.

5. Pancakes topped with fat free vanilla yogurt, pureed strawberries and sliced banana. This is really nice once I got used to two things: the pancakes are heavier than my usual American style ones, and the whole meal is less sweet than my usual kind of pancake breakfast, which I like to eat swimming in maple syrup.

6. Tomato and basil omelette. That was good. It was just the right amount of runny in the middle and I got it to flip over neatly - that never usually happens. My omelettes usually look like scrambled eggs. 


Planning is everything for nice breakfasts. My default choices were usually cereal or toast, and that was because they are quick, convenient, filling and tasty. If I want to make an omelette on a school morning, and eat it without rushing, then I must get up ten minutes earlier. But then the upside of that is that I sit down at the table and eat in a more mindful way, rather than eating standing up while emptying the dishwasher, checking my phone and making packed lunches, and that is no bad thing.

Shopping habits change. We are getting through twice as many eggs and lots more fruit and vegetables, and I found that to do this properly I need to have the right food in the fridge. I think I'd really struggle to do Slimming World if I didn't like eggs as much as I do.


Lighter lunches:**

1. Baked potato with cottage cheese and chives. My number one favourite lunch, a baked potato - quick, easy, filling and versatile. 

2. Chicken (marinated in yogurt and harrissa paste and grilled, leftover from dinner) and couscous salad with coriander, avocado, pomegranate seeds and salad leaves.

3. Pea, potato and spring onion frittata.

4. Pasta salad with tuna, anchovies, green beans, cherry tomatoes, cannellini beans and parsley.

5. Nearly-nicoise salad: new potatoes, smoked salmon, eggs and salad leaves.

6. Salmon (baked with ginger, garlic, soy sauce and lime, leftover from dinner) with salad leaves, cucumber and sugar snap peas.

7.  Jacket potato with tinned mackerel in tomato sauce and a green salad.

8. Salad of watercress, roasted butternut squash, butter beans and pumpkin seeds.


Again, planning. I have to remember to put the potato in the oven an hour before I want to eat it. I have to remember to cook meals with leftovers in mind, but I always do that anyway. 

It's easy to eat like this when I'm based at home. If I was out at work, I'd have to prepare all this the night before so that it was ready to go in a tuppaware box first thing. Not impossible, but more of a chore than buying a sandwich.

It's very salad heavy, but that's fine with me, I love salad. If it was winter it would all be soups. Some fat free salad dressings I like are: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, lemon or lime juice, fat free yogurt mixed with mint. I'm sure there are more.

I could have bread here, if I counted it, but if I had bread I'd want butter, and cheese or peanut butter, and lots of other nice things that are higher in fat. So salads or jacket potatoes work for me. Also, it's hard to over-eat carbs when they aren't covered in butter or oil.


Lighter dinners:

Again, these meals are largely "free" with any extra bread measured and counted as one of my two "healthy choices". 

1. Smoked mackerel and sweet potato fishcakes with some veg and plain fat free yogurt for dipping, recipe from here. Very good leftover and reheated in the oven for lunch, too.

2. Spanish-style fish stew: cod, prawns and red peppers cooked with onions, chopped tomatoes and paprika, with couscous.

3. Veggie burgers with coriander relish in a wholemeal bun, with coleslaw, corn on the cob, and sweet potato fries. All very tasty apart from the coleslaw which was made with fat free yogurt and was horrible, frankly.

4. Chicken and pepper stir-fried with lime, garlic and chilli, with rice and sweet chilli sauce. (I found some of those packets of flavoured rice that you stick in the microwave on offer and thought I'd try them - this one was lime and sweet chilli flavour, and very nice it was too.) This was a meal when I was cooking just for myself and couldn't really be arsed.

5. Steak with homemade chips, corn on the cob and asparagus.

6. Salmon baked in lime, garlic, ginger and soy sauce, with noodles, spring onions, red pepper and sugar snap peas. Delicious. I'd eat salmon every night if I could but John doesn't like it as much as me.


You have to cook from scratch. I usually do, but the odd time when I've used a ready-made jar of curry or chinese-style sauce, because I was in a rush or whatever, you pay for it. I've found them to be much less healthy than cooking a curry sauce yourself.

Eating this way can be more expensive. All that extra meat and fish, and the huge amount of fruit and veg I am buying, does add up. Lately I am shopping at Aldi three weeks out of four, and going to my usual supermarket on the other week for everything Aldi doesn't stock. I'm also using my local greengrocer a lot, buying lots of lovely seasonal fruits that are temptingly displayed outside under the awning.


So, there we have it. It's gone well overall, and I really like all the extra energy I have and that fact that my clothes fit again. Mainly I've enjoyed eating so much extra fruit. I've lost on average about 2 pounds a week, over six weeks. I would definitely have lost more if I drank less wine...

I really thought I'd miss cake. But I don't, and that's been surprising to me. My times of day when I want sugar are mid morning, after lunch and late afternoon, with the post-school run cup of tea. Mid-morning, I have a banana with my coffee. After lunch I have some fruit and yogurt, with a teaspoon of jam or honey mixed in I want extra sweetness. In the afternoon I just stand over the sink, eating dripping peaches and nectarines until the craving for sweetness goes. But oh, I've missed butter! Butter on baked potatoes, on bread, on toast, in risottos...yes, I have missed butter. And cheese. My daily treat would always be a glass of wine over a chocolate bar (don't judge me) and that's what I use my "syns" points allowance for. I do not love everything about Slimming World (in particular their fondness for artificial sweeteners as a "healthier" choice) but overall I've found it very effective and much less painful than other diets that I've tried over the years.

Have you tried Slimming world? I'd love to hear any recipes you've found that are particularly tasty. 


*This is not a sponsored post, I'm just sharing my experiences here.

** I can't type those words without thinking of Light Lunch, that brilliant daytime TV cooking /chat programme with Mel and Sue years ago, which I used to watch when I was a student. Does anyone else remember it?

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Tiniest Spare Room There Ever Was

Do you remember our box room? That very small third bedroom, which was a nursery, then a bedroom, then an office? Well it's changed again. It's now a spare room, but still a kind of office of sorts. It's still small though, that hasn't changed.

We dismantled that lovely big, white desk and put it back in the garage. It will be used again, I am sure. In it's place we squeezed - and I do mean squeezed, we had to move the radiator - a single bed. But not just any single bed, a trundle bed. 

Look, it's like a double decker bed! 

It turns out that the sofa bed downstairs, which all our lovely house guests have always slept on, isn't that comfortable, and once they got wind of our spare third bedroom, hints were dropped about the possibility of putting a bed in this room. It's quite a clever contraption. Even I can manage it. You pull out the bed underneath, lower the legs and behold, you have either two single beds or one huge double bed.

When no-one is staying, the bed is covered over with a throw and, with the addition of a little clip-on lamp, makes a lovely reading spot. I mockingly call it a "day bed" and the kids love sitting up there people watching.

On the other wall, we had a chair (now in the loft) and an old IKEA bookcase. Now we have something here which I am ridiculously excited about, as space saving measures go - a drop down desk from IKEA!! Look, isn't it great?

We use it as a desk, as we still have the filing cabinet and all our paperwork in that room, and it can also be used as a dressing table too, or anything really.

And then, when we have people staying, the bed comes out and is made up (which is actually pretty hard work as it's sooo wide), and the chair is put on the landing and the desk lowered.

And there you have it, a very big bed in a very small room. It works, just, and has so far had very good reviews.

 It did mean that a curtain tie-back was needed though, as the position of the bed means the curtain must be pulled to one side. Really, a blind would be a lot better here now, but a curtain is what we have and so I made the best of it with a striped tie-back. 

The colours are supposed to echo what is in the room, with the mustard, teal, pink and grey. There is something summery about the stripes, they remind me of the beach, of deckchairs.

I don't mind losing our big desk as, to be honest, I never really used it. I still do any sewing or computer work downstairs, at the dining room table, as I always have done and probably always will. It was very handy for photographing things though! Luckily, the new little desk will do, for now.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Friday Happies

1. Pretty things that come in the post.

When I was young and carefree I worked in a bookshop in the centre of Leeds. Most lunchtimes I would pop to the shops, and often found my way into the branch of Accessorize just around the corner where I'd invariably leave with some kind of, well, accessory. Now, I just buy them from Etsy. I guess I haven't really changed all that much. Same fripperies, different shop.

That tablecloth does go in the wash, I promise!

 2. Flowers in the house. 

Whilst staying last weekend, my Mum accidentally snipped these hydrangeas from my neighbour's plant while cutting the hedge. Lucky me! Do you ever feel that some people just don't deserve the amazing plants or gardens they have? I mean, my neighbour, he's really nice, but I know that he NEVER does anything to his front garden, and yet this huge, amazing, abundant, glorious hydrangea blooms every year, and it's all I can do not to sneak round there after dark and liberate a few flowers. I have two, yes two, blooms on the weedy hydrangea in my garden. Maybe I should start neglecting it? Oh wait, I already do that.

Mum also bought me a bunch of sunflowers. I like sunflowers, and I love my Mum, and not just because she buys me flowers. She's a constant ally, giver of love and support, warmth and humour. I don't know if I tell her that enough.

3. Extra time.

But not in the football sense. I had anticipated that I'd be spending all day Wednesday baking in school. Instead, we were done by 11 am and I unexpectedly found myself with four hours all to myself, which felt like a reprieve in a busy week. I felt giddy when I drove away from the school. Right then, I thought, prioritise yourself here Gillian! So I went to my local yarn shop, bought some more cotton yarn and planned a little holiday project, then I rang the tax office, then I sat at the laptop and caught up on a huge amount of banking, admin and other boring stuff for two hours which was extremely satisfying. 

4. End of term.

Although, technically, we break up on Monday, so we are not quite there yet, but it feels like end of term. Teacher gifts (washcloths and soap) are finished and wrapped, cards are made.

I like teachers (we have a few in my family so I am biased) and I especially like the ones at our school. Now is not a fun time to be teaching, I think, given the current political climate, and I am more than happy to give them my support through beautifully exfoliated skin and scribbly felt pen cards. (Angus wrote: "Mrs C. I like you. Love from Angus.)

So, that's us, just bumbling along until end of term, counting down the days until we go on holiday. Is it warm where you are? Here, it's been perfect. Yesterday was especially gorgeous; sunshine, blue skies and really properly warm weather, in the high twenties. It feels good and right and how summer should be. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

My Local

Sometimes, when you live in a city as big as Leeds, you feel that you could be living anywhere. 

But one thing I really do appreciate about my corner of this city it how rural - how Yorkshire - it can feel, with it's horses and dry stone walls. I'm thankful that I feel safe enough to walk around my local area when it's dark, with my friends and my camera, chatting and snapping as I go, saying hello to runners, dog walkers or people just out for a stroll. Being friendly.

A couple of weeks ago, on a mild and overcast night not long after midsummer, my two very good friends and I walked to a nearby pub. We sat outside with our beers and food for as long as we could, until it started to rain a little, then we moved inside and ordered a bottle of red wine. When we left much, much later, the orange light from the streetlamp made the tall grasses glow and there was still a faint glimmering in the westernmost corner of the sky.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Kitchen Notes In Soft Fruit Season

There were strawberries from the field (and the supermarket).

And there was rhubarb from the garden.

And so there was strawberry and rhubarb jam.

In the rare event that I grow anything edible, it cannot be lost in a mere crumble or pie. It must be jammed, bottled or canned, so that I can gloat for as long as possible.

And, actually, this is a pretty fantastic flavour combination, not too sweet, not too tart.

There were two wrinkled peaches in the fruit bowl. Not so much on the turn as fully flipped. 

With strawberries, they formed the basis of a simple, delicious summer crumble. 

John ate his with cream, I had mine with fat free vanilla yogurt. I really wanted vanilla ice cream but I'm on a diet. It was still lush, though.

And then there was some basil in a jug, also on the kitchen windowsill.

I'd always wanted to try strawberry and basil jam, and so I did. Just a small amount, enough for two small jars, as I wasn't sure if I'd like it.

I like it a lot. It has a faintly anise flavour, a little grassy, if that makes sense. John and the kids are less enamoured, but I think it's a more grown-up version of strawberry jam. Also, the thought of strawberries and basil - two flavours that are so evocatively summery - together, pleases me no end. The only thing I don't like about it the way the leaves go in the jam; a bit brown and weathered, and you want to pick them out. Next time I might try and make a kind of basil bouquet garnis or something similar, so that I can infuse the fruit with the herby flavour but not include the leaves in the bottling process. Has anyone else experience of making strawberry and basil jam?

So that is what you can make throughout the week in soft fruits season, with a load of strawberries and whatever you can find languishing in the fruit bowl or on the kitchen windowsill.

Summer's great, isn't it?