Monday, 14 August 2017

Postcards from Brittany

Bonjour! How are you all? Thank you for all your lovely comments on our newly decorated bedroom, it was very nice to come home to that - the comments and the bedroom. There's nothing like your own bed after a trip away, is there, no matter how wonderful the trip.

We have just returned from a wonderful holiday in Carnac, on the south coast of Brittany. We've spent the weekend unpacking, food shopping, washing and ironing every single item of clothing we possess (well, almost), gardening (how did it get so wild over only two weeks?!), washing the car and just generally getting back into the swing of life at home, and I finally had time this afternoon to sit down and go through our holiday photos.

Our holiday was similar to last year in that we took the car ferry to France and stayed on a campsite in a mobile home/cabin type affair, and so we had our own car and bikes. These kinds of holidays are so familiar to us now that we all fall into our usual habits when we arrive; lots of swimming, cycling, pottering around pretty towns and villages, market visits, eating and drinking. There was also, as I'd hoped, lots of time for sewing, reading and sleeping. I think I slept nine hours a night for the first week there - clearly a much needed catch up! The weather was mixed and cooler than last year, and there were a few rainy days, but it didn't really stop us doing anything. Bella and Angus spent any time at the campsite cycling around on the bikes, visiting my parents and sisters with their families, who were also staying on the same campsite. With all those cousins, we had our own little kids club going on.

The campsite was very close to Carnac Plage with it's beautiful sandy beach. I loved that beach very much, and my sisters and I would meet early and run along it most mornings which was really glorious. 

The beach was sheltered with no surf to speak of, so ideal for swimming. It was also lovely to walk along in the evenings, which we did a few times.

Brittany is such a picturesque part of France, and with a very strong sense of regional pride. In many ways it reminds me of Cornwall, with it's grey slated-roofed cottages, the agapanthus flowers which grow everywhere, the fishing industry and the many bays and inlets that make up the wild coastline. It's also known for it's crepes and cider, which of course we felt obliged to sample. Frequently.

One particular highlight for me on holiday is food shopping. I just love foreign supermarkets, they fascinate me. I mean look at this jam section!

Food shopping is not exactly a favourite past time of mine at home, but on holiday I love it, whether it's a shop or the markets, which are amazing.  I also brought home a few souvenirs, including a few cotton throw/scarf/hammam towels from the shop pictured below.

Hydrangea bushes are abundant and grow outside most houses and many churches and other buildings. Against the stone walls and shuttered windows, they are really elegant and I became quite besotted with them.

This one was the most incredible - I've since learnt that it's a hydrangea paniculata  - and I've never seen anything like it, with the slightly conical, ombre blooms. Just stunning.

We explored the local region a lot, including a trip to the city of Vannes, which was so full of character with it's medieval half-timbered buildings and city walls.

One afternoon we took a little ferry over to Ile de Moines, the most charming island in the Gulf of Morbihan. There are hardly any cars and everyone gets around by walking or cycling around the narrow, winding roads. I always wonder what it's like to live on islands like this, what it's like in November when all the tourists have left. 

Another delightful - if cold and windy - trip was to the little village of St Cado, with it's stone houses hugging the coast and the tiny oyster-catcher's cottage sitting alone on an equally tiny island.

It was a brilliant holiday and we returned tanned, slightly heavier (that'll be those crepes...) and with full hearts after lots of cherished family time together. Sadly my parents had to leave earlier than planned as my Grandad has been quite unwell over the last week. But - incredibly (he really was very poorly) - he's doing well and we hope he will be home in a few weeks. So it's all been a bit emotional with that going on in the background, but we're very glad he's on the mend and all visiting him as much as we can.

I'll leave you with some family snaps.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Room Tour: Our Bedroom

My favourite room in our house is usually the one I have most recently decorated, and that is certainly so here. I adore this room and I am over the moon with how it has turned out, considering all we've done is decorate and move furniture around.

After painting the ceiling, walls and floorboards white, we moved the bed onto the wall under the picture ledge - previously it had been positioned so that you faced the window when sitting in bed - so that you see it as soon as you enter the room. I prefer it here, and it's easier to move around the bed. I changed a few pictures and moved ones from other parts of the house, and the bedside tables and lamps are as before.

When the lampshade on our overhead light fell apart when taken down, I bought a new one and love this rattan shade. It casts such a warm, filtered light around the room which really helps with all that white.

One thing we did buy is a new mirror. You can see what the old one was like here, and it was so small - we all irritated each other by trying to stand in front of it at the same time. I love this mirror for it's simplicity and the way it sits on the floor (although don't worry, it is very securely fixed to the wall) and bounces so much more light around the room. This bedroom - like all our bedrooms - is small and so you need all the decorating tricks.

Our other purchase was this little set of shelves. I really like the open quality of the design.

The chest of drawers used to live downstairs in our living room. I kept it as it was and just painted the handles white. It is larger than the one we previously had and gives us more much needed storage.

Grandma's planter looks lovely in here now. I like having some natural wood tones in the room, rather than everything white, as it warms is up a bit and provides a bit of interest.

The rugs are ones I made a couple of years ago and sit either side of the bed. They have some nice grey sheepskins in IKEA which may find their way into my trolley during a future visit.

You may remember I painted my dressing table two years ago. While I always liked the off-white colour I was really disappointed with how the chalk paint wore over time. So I sanded it all right back to the wood (that was a right job, let me tell you - my poor nails!) and painted it with two coats of undercoat and then two of white water based eggshell. I also repainted the handles the same grey as the chair.

It looks sharper and cleaner now. And do you see that gorgeous grey Robert's radio on top? It used to belong to my Grandma and sat on her dressing table. My mum recently passed it on to me. It crackles a little when you switch it on and off but is otherwise sound.

There are a lot of plants, eight I think. And I deliberately added black here and there as I think the room really needs a little black to add contrast and break up all the white, pink and grey.

I hope you like it. I enjoyed this project hugely, and John really likes it too (which is handy). I'm pleased with how much I was able to change just by repainting or moving things around, rather than buying new, and we tried as hard as possible to stick to a budget without being too strict about it. 

Useful links:

Wall paint - pure brilliant white emulsion by Valspar from B&Q
Lampshade - Homebase
Mirror - IKEA
Shelves - Skandium
Pink hanging planter and fairy lights around mirror - Tiger

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Cookery Calendar Challenge

One thing I have realised while taking part in Penny's Cookery Calendar Challenge is how important our Sunday evening family meals are to me. We try to eat together during the week but often, with after school commitments and depending on when John gets home from work, the children will eat earlier, between five and six, and John and I will eat later, usually after eight when Bella and Angus are in bed. The downside to that is cooking twice, unless it's something I can re-heat, and eating late. But the upside is the time John and I get together to chat over a meal. I like that.

But, Sunday evenings are for family meals. In the winter it's most likely to be a roast, stew, casserole or pie, something that takes a while to prepare. In the summer is can be anything, a barbecue, pasta, a salad, whatever takes our fancy. The children usually leave the table as soon as they're eaten dessert (if there is one) leaving John and I to sit at the table and chat, pour another glass of wine, put some music on. It's nice.

And so last Sunday, we ate Chicken Pilaf from Nigella Summer, my chosen book for July. Diced chicken breast is marinaded in yogurt, lemon juice and cinnamon before being fried then added to rice cooked in chicken stock flavoured with saffron and lemon zest.

It all cooks quickly and comes together in no time. At the last minute you add toasted almonds and pine nuts, chopped parsley and I added pomegrante seeds too because I thought they'd work, and they did.

Then you have that gratifying moment of carrying food to the table in a huge dish, and placing it in the middle with a spoon for everyone to help themselves. Although, it was just John and I as I'd kept aside Bella and Angus some of the chicken and rice before adding the nuts and herbs, as I knew these would not be well received.

It was ok. The flavours were good but I found it a little dry. I don't know if that was me overcooking it, but it needed a little something, olive oil maybe, to coat it all. It was very good cold the next day with some salad though. The kids found the lemony flavour a little strong but did eat it, mainly because they were hungry and there wasn't anything else.

My second recipe was lamb meatballs served with pitta bread, salad and hummous. I really enjoyed mixing all the ingredients together and rolling the little meatballs between my hands, watching them form pleasing rows on the baking tray.

Then they are pan fried before being served with salad (lettuce, tomatoes, red onion), lemon wedges, hummous and Greek yogurt. So it's a glorified sandwich really, but the benefit is that we could all add as much or as little of the different elements as we liked, which worked well.

However, despite containing four teaspoons of dried oregano and the same of dried mint, plus garlic and lemon zest, John and I both found the meatballs disappointingly bland. Lamb is a strong flavoured meat and goes so well with spices, so if I made these again I'd be tempted to add a lot of chilli, harissa or paprika, something with some heat, as well as all the other flavours, although I'd leave out the dried mint because I couldn't taste it at all, and it was a brand new bottle. It was a nice meal, but just ok. Not amazing. 

So, I remain ambivalent about this Nigella book, the only one - apart from Nigellissima - that I don't regularly use. The recipes all sound tempting and there's lots of things in here that I'd like to make but I feel a bit flat about the results of my cooking here. I'm going to keep it though - there is a whole chapter devoted to ice cream and a recipe for redcurrant sorbet, which I might make one day with the growing stash of redcurrants lurking in the bottom of my freezer.

Continuing with the summery there, August's book will be Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers.