Friday, 16 February 2018

Self Care

I have made a concerted effort to slow down this week, something I am truly terrible at. Self care, balance, me time - whatever you want to call it - that is what I have been trying to do. Mornings have been slow and relaxed where possible, with no alarms, cups of tea in bed and unhurried breakfasts. Time with family and friends has been planned, days out enjoyed. We've taken flasks of hot chocolate and packets of biscuits with us on freezing beach walks and enjoyed the sun when it's shone. I have made time to sit and read a book or magazine in the day, without my usual feelings of guilt, or stayed up late sewing or crocheting while binge watching Netflix (Altered Carbon - so good!) knowing I can sleep in a little later the next day. I've pottered and moved things around, rearranging and refreshing rooms a little. Instead of red roses, Valentine's Day brought me a bunch of eucalyptus and a little ivy from the local florist, and then I finally opened that tin of expensive fish soup I brought back from France purely to re-use it as a plant pot, and put the ivy in it. The soup was really good too.

We went to Brighton on Monday. I didn't make it to any yarn shops sadly, but we had such a nice day. It was really sunny and clear, so perfect weather for our trip up the i360 from which the views were really spectacular. We stayed on the seafront all day, eating fish and chips on the pier, stopping for tea or hot chocolate in little cafes and generally just enjoying the atmosphere that is so unique to Brighton. 

I've quietly gone about various domestic chores and tasks this week, taking satisfaction in doing some spring cleaning. I know that clearing out cupboards isn't what brings everyone joy and, if there was a choice, yes of course I'd rather be enjoying a spa break, but there is such a feeling of achievement, however small, from sorting old toys and clothes, dividing up piles of things for the charity shop or to recycle, and restoring order to a messy child's bedroom. Windows have been cleaned, floors mopped and bedding changed. The last two days have been beautifully sunny and a little milder too, with a whisper of spring in the air. Bella and Angus have been out in the garden for hours at a time, bouncing on the trampoline or playing with Ziggy. It's welcome. 

I feel like I've talked about cleaning quite a lot today, it must be on my mind a lot. I don't know if I can quite describe the level of filth that exists in our house when there are four people and a dog here every day; all that traipsing in and out of the garden, going on all those daily muddy or sandy walks, all those meals around the kitchen table, the wood burning stove being lit every day (plus a dog who loves to chew the fire wood) - all this means that our house is mucky. I could - and probably should - vacuum every day, but I stopped on Wednesday. This afternoon John took the children and dog to the beach for a walk and I, blissfully alone in the house, cleaned. I swept up such a pile of grit, sand, mud, wood, dog hair and crumbs today, and sucked it all into the vacuum cleaner and it felt so good. Then I opened all the windows and flew about with a damp cloth and steam cleaner, making everything nice again. Then they all came home. Ziggy had been in the sea and to say that he was sandy would be an understatement. I made the kids take their shoes off at the door and carried Ziggy straight to the bathroom to shower off that sand, and I don't think for a second that it really helped but oh, for about ten minutes, the house was glorious.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Seasonal Weather

Hello! Everyone ok? I'm enjoying the peace of a Sunday night with the extra good feeling that comes from not having to get up for work and school tomorrow. I love the February half term, and this one was welcome. I don't know about you, but I felt like it was the longest five week term ever. John is home this week and we have a few day trips planned but nothing major. No travelling, no decorating, just lots of taking it easy. Ok, obviously I have a list of jobs to do this week, the kinds of things I only get time to do in the holidays: spring cleaning, sorting out all the children's toys under their beds, admin. I made a start today and repotted all my house plants. I reckon I have a fifty/fifty success rate with my house plants; for every pilea peperomioides I propagate, I kill a succulent. Ziggy likes to chew the odd plant too, so I can't keep any on the floor at the moment and I fear that my poor Mother in Law's Tongue plant will never be the same again. I think I've got room for a few more though - I'd very much like a String of Hearts/Rosary Vine and a Calathea

It's been so cold this last week. We've had sleet, hail, frost and wind that makes your cheeks sting. I like it when the weather behaves in a seasonally appropriate way, and would always take cold and dry over wet and mild weather, but my skin is protesting. My hands and lips are chapped, and the skin around my eyes gets red and itchy when it's very cold. This never used to happen, and I can only think it's one of the delightful things that must happen as one gets older. Fantastic.

We walk and walk - the beach or the shore at the weekend, or I go down to the woods in the week before I go to work. It's good for me and tires out Ziggy who, if he's feeling energetic or mischievous and doesn't fancy the look of his various bones and toys, will chew shoes and furniture. He's pretty handsome though, isn't he? He's also a joy to walk, especially when we go somewhere where he can run off the lead. 

I've been cooking a lot. The cold weather makes me want to eat cake, so I make blondies and flapjacks and banana bread, and then broccoli and quinoa salad to make myself feel better. The cold also makes me want to crochet and knit, so I've been doing lots of both. The crochet socks are finished now, although I did have a soul crushing moment earlier in the week when I realised that I had somehow managed to crochet an entire second sock on a different sized hook, and didn't realise until they were almost done and I tried them on, and so I feel like I crocheted that sock about seven times, when in fact it was only twice. I am knitting away at my huge jumper when I can, and surprising myself by how much I'm enjoying the rows of garter stitch.

It was my Grandpa's funeral at the start of the week. I'd been dreading it, but is was about as lovely as a funeral could be. So many people came that they had to stand at the back of the church and the tributes and eulogies were beautiful. His wish was to be buried in a natural burial site and today my family and I all met down there to scatter wild flower seeds before going for a walk together. It's a nice spot, near the shore, and somewhere we walk a lot anyway, so it will be nice to pop back over the spring and summer and see if any flowers have grown and say hello. 

We're off to Brighton tomorrow and, while John tells me there won't be time for any shopping, I'm just going to quickly google "yarn shops in Brighton", just to have a look. It can't hurt, surely. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Cookery Calendar Challenge: January

I wasn't sure whether I wanted to do another Cookery Calendar Challenge this year but, in the last week of January, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, surrounded by half opened recipe books, a notepad and pen. I love cookery books almost as much as I love cooking; in fact, sometimes I think I might like them better, given as I am to reading cookery books in bed at night. And I decided there and then to take part in Penny of The Homemade Heart blog's Cookery Calendar Challenge for another year. It gives me a reason to use my less-thumbed recipe books more, it's encourages us as a family to cook and eat new meals, and most of all it's fun.

Also, this year cake is included.

My chosen book for January was Kitchen by Nigella Lawson, a book I have had on my shelf for about six years but only cooked from a handful of times, and I really don't know why that is because it's very good indeed (much better than her most recent one, shhh). The recipes are varied, generous, and suited to the kind of family cooking (one pot meals and tray bakes) we seem to do a lot of at the moment, and happily are all available on her website so I've linked to them individually.

This fab personalised jar was a birthday gift from a friend.

But my first recipe was an indulgence, something I've always wanted to try but could never persuade anyone else to eat: Marmite Spaghetti. Marmite, that most divisive of yeast extract spreads, is not loved by everyone in this house. John and Bella think it is revolting, and while Angus likes it on toast I'm not sure he could be persuaded to eat it on pasta. But one Friday night, with the kids fed and in bed and John out, I found myself alone for the evening and in need of a quick dinner that could be eaten on my lap on the sofa.

It's very easy to make: you boil spaghetti and when it's almost done, melt a little butter in a small saucepan with some Marmite, as much or as little as you like. Drain the pasta, reserving a little cooking water, and stir through the melted butter and Marmite, adding a little water if it needs it, before serving with grated parmesan. It's divine. Just the right amount of salty and savoury, and perfect with a glass of red wine in front of the fire with season two of The Crown on Netflix. In fact, John should go out more often.

Next was something everyone could enjoy: Braised Beef in Beer. We make a similar kind of beef stew a lot, so I was curious to see how this one would differ. The addition of lardons gives a salty depth to the sauce, and the beer flavour came through really well, but not so much so that the kids didn't like it. The colour of the sauce was incredible, the deepest dark brown, and it full of flavour. We ate is with baked potatoes and lots of vegetables, but I would like to try it with gnocchi some day.

Now for the cake, and what a lot of good cake and pudding recipes there are in this book. (You may remember that I made Marmalade Pudding Cake from this same book back in January, and ate it with custard and a chorus of angels singing, so good was it.) Loving as I do anything with a citrus flavour, I opted for Lemon Polenta Cake because I have never made a cake with polenta before and something told me I was going to like it.

I was right. It is a flourless cake and the polenta and ground almonds give a wonderful moist heaviness to the texture, and I think it's nicest slightly warm with the lemon drizzle topping soaking right through to the plate below.

A successful first month then, with recipes I will definitely make again. I have no idea which book I'll choose for February yet, but I'm going to have fun deciding.