Monday, 25 November 2019

Bathroom Renovation

Finally - and rather suddenly - after almost five years in this house, we are replacing the family bathroom. You can read here about how, four years ago, I tried to give it a bit of a tidy up and make it work a little better, but it was always doomed. It was poorly fitted, hard to clean, had no ventilation, no storage, and was always dark thanks to the tiny window and ground floor north-east aspect. 

Having the family bathroom on the ground floor would not be my preference, but we got used to it and accepted it as one of the many quirks of our 1960s chalet-style house. We also have a toilet and sink upstairs (what would usually be the cloakroom) so it's back to front really. The downside to having your family bathroom downstairs is that it is also your guest bathroom for visitors. This - for me, anyway - means that it needs to be a clean and welcoming room and that I don't want wet towels on the floor or unflushed toilets (Angus and his obsession with saving water....) The old bathroom never looked welcoming, with the gloom, the beige tiles, the mould and mess everywhere, it depressed me.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, we had two very old double glazed windows upstairs replaced and decided to also have the bathroom window enlarged while we were at it. We kept the width the same, but brought the window further down as you can see below.

I knew that this would make a bit of a mess, but hadn't really thought through quite how much mess it would make.

We are having family stay with us over Christmas and suddenly I looked at the bathroom and thought, right, we have to do something. There is brick dust falling into the bath on a daily basis. We'd planned to do this room in the new year, but the window mess was the prod I needed. I phoned some builders, got some quotes, and found one who, due to a cancellation, was able to start quickly, meaning that the bathroom would be done in time for Christmas. Hurrah!

It's 90% done now and I thought you might like to see some of the progress, although forgive the photos - it's always dark by the time I get home from work now.

First everything was stripped out - tiles, bath, sink and toilet.

Then there followed three very dusty days where it seemed like nothing was happening because it was all taking place under the floorboards or behind the walls, generating a huge amount of dust.

The old ceiling light fitting was removed and spotlights installed.

We opted not to have a bath as none of us are bathers. The children have long since outgrown bathtime (sob) and shower quite independently now.  Had we a bigger bathroom, I would have loved a bath and separate shower, but since this room is very small, we chose a large walk-in shower the same size as the bath that was there before.

Next the plastering began and all the wall mounted pipe work was recessed and hidden into the walls - less dust traps!

We made the decision to keep this funny recess under the window, giving us a few more precious centimetres of space. This is where the sink unit with it's drawers will be, and we didn't want them to be banging into the door.

Next tiles. The cheapest white square ones because I absolutely love them.

I realise this recess in the photo below looks really odd, but when the sink unit is in, the wall painted white and there are plants everywhere it will be lovely. And we will have storage!

The builder did not like my choice of black grout but he did begrudingly concede that it looked good, although he thought the tiles were "a bit retro". Fine by me! Today plastering was finished and the shower and screen fitted.

There's still plenty to do: lay the floor, decorate, install the sink and toilet, plus any other finishing off jobs I have not thought of, but I'm told it all comes together quite quickly at the end. I look forward to showing you the finished room. And using that shower!

Monday, 18 November 2019

Half a dress and other stories

I was going to sew a dress at the weekend. I'd been thinking about it all week, thinking that the Saturday and Sunday just gone was going to be the last quiet weekend before Christmas and that it would be my only chance. I have to psyche myself up to using my sewing machine, mentally warm up the idea - see it as something exciting and full of possibility, not terrifying. I also need to be able to give over the kitchen table to sewing, not an easy task when it's the most used surface in the house. 

I made sure the house was clean on Friday night so that I didn't have to spend Saturday cleaning. On Saturday morning I found myself blissfully - and unusually - alone in the house, and in daylight hours too. This is when I could do some sewing, I thought, and brought the sewing machine down from the loft. But then I made a coffee and read a bit of Nigel Slater's The Christmas Chronicles, drank the coffee hot and in peace. Then I started tackling the admin pile that builds up on the kitchen worktop next to the sink, under the shelves. 

Everything that needs to be looked at or dealt with gets dumped here, and I sorted and filed, filled out and hung up a new calendar, put some new book ends to good use, and stuck newly printed photos on the wall.

A small task, but one that I had been meaning to do for weeks, and I felt so much better when it was done.

Next, I indulged in some first class pottering. I swapped over the blanket on our bed for a warmer one, tidied up a bit, put things away that had built up during the week.

There is always a mountain of washing to do at the weekend, and I went to and from the washing machine all morning. In between that I dug out the sheepskin rug and woollen cushions and brought them down to the living room.

I recently bought a few sprigs (stalks?) of pampas grass and had a lot of fun faffing around with them, putting them in different pots and vases. I love their warm colour and how they add so much texture to a room.

While I was at it I dusted and faffed around with the mantel.

Then I went to pick up Bella and Angus (and also look at my sister's new house - very exciting!) before eating bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese for lunch. Later, I took the kids and dog for a walk.

After a gloriously sunny morning, it had clouded over, but it was still lovely to be out in the fresh air in one of our favourite places.

By the time we got back it was too dark to start sewing, so I poured a sherry and lit the fire.

First thing Sunday morning I put a chicken stew in the slow cooker and then felt good about it all day. I baked a batch of sticky ginger cake and did the ironing while listening to The Archers. At some point I made a coffee and sat down with a book. It was possibly the highlight of my whole weekend. I did a few rows on this baby blanket that I'm making for a friend.

That afternoon I met my other sister for a walk in the woods with her children and dog, and then they came back here for a cup of tea, and before I knew it, it was getting dark again. There was just time to pin and cut out the pieces before I had to pack it all away as we needed the table to eat.

But that's OK. My weekend wasn't quite as empty and quiet as I'd pictured it, but I made a start on the dress and did a lot more besides. I don't have to binge-sew the dress over a weekend, I am allowed to do it here and there, and I may not get time to do any more sewing until the Christmas holidays, and that's OK too. I am bursting with crafty things that I want to do at the moment, namely finish the baby blanket, make a Christmas jumper, make a wreath and do a little festive embroidery. And maybe make a dress. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

October's Cookery Book

This is the comfort food edition, in which I show you lots of photos of baked carbs taken in electric light and try to persuade you how delicious it all was, and it really was. 

My book this month is Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery Course. You'd be right in thinking it's not my usual taste, but it's a book John really rates and cooks from a lot. He got the book heavily discounted somewhere, possibly when he still worked in a bookshop years ago, and he likes it a lot and persuaded me to have another look at it. Favourite recipes include Easy Bollito Misto, which is a wonderful sausage and lentil dish, Pork and Prawn Meatballs in Aromatic Broth (amazing when you have a cold) and Sichuan Dan Dan Noodles, a spicy stir fry made with minced pork which we cooked so often that it became a weeknight staple, to the point where I was almost bored with it. The book itself is quite a comprehensive overview of cooking, with chapters dedicated to "Basic Skills" and "Classics with a Twist" but the chapters we go to again and again are "Spices", "Good Food for Less" and "Cooking in Advance".

We decided to try some new dishes in October, and started with Tomato Risotto. You begin the basic risotto, cooking the rice in stock, and while that's cooking saute lots of halved cherry tomatoes in some butter until they are collapsing juicily.

You tip the tomatoes into the cooked rice, and add marscapone and grated parmesan before giving it all a good stir.

I've never added marscapone to a risotto before, and it was heavenly. Don't be fooled by the insipid colour of this dish - the tomato flavour was through the roof.

Next we tried Farfalle with Ricotta, Pancetta and Peas. I've got to be honest here - I chose this because I knew it would be an easy weeknight dinner that everyone would eat, and it was. 

It couldn't be easier: cook the pasta, fry the pancetta, then tip the drained, cooked pasta and peas into the pancetta pan, adding the ricotta and some creme fraiche. Stir it all through and that's it. The best kind of cheap and easy dinner.

Finally, more pasta in the form of Macaroni and Cauliflower Bake with Three Cheeses. Now, I have to admit, I make my own version of this a lot, adding broccoli too, and baking it in the oven with breadcrumbs and cheese on top. Everyone likes it, it's easy and cheap and filling. But I was keen to see if the addition of three cheeses really made any difference.

I always use extra mature cheddar, with the reasoning that you don't need as much mature cheddar as mild to get the flavour, and if I'm going to have a meal made with cheese then I want to be able to taste it. This recipe uses cheddar, Lancashire and Cheshire in equal amounts. It was very nice, but I couldn't in all honesty taste the other cheeses in the sauce, but I did enjoy eating them in sandwiches with chutney.

Finally Blondies, which we have made so often that the book falls open at that splattered page. I just wanted a reason to make a batch, really. They are so easy and tasty, I often make them if baking is required for something at work as they do go down very well. They are just brownies really, but made with white chocolate and cranberries and I prefer them, not being a fan of a very chocolatey brownie myself.

If you search "Gordon Ramsay Blondies" lots of links to the recipe come up. They are really, really good.

I want to say that November's book will be more interesting, more colourful and contain more vegetables, but if it carries on raining like this, and if life continues to be this relentlessly busy, then I'll continue to cook cheesy pasta dishes which I can do in my sleep and everyone will eat. And I'll be happy. I'll just make sure we eat a lot of oranges too.