Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Visiting with the houseplants

Had a wander around the house on Sunday realising that over the years, without really intending to, I've become a houseplant keeper. For years and years I said I didn't really do houseplants - I always said I couldn't keep them alive - but if that's the case then where have all these appeared from?

In the Living Room

This purple orchid is on it's fourth re-flowering in the year or so since I was given it by a friend, I'm holding out hope it's white-flowered neighbour might try again soon

The weeping fig came in the same pack as Bob about 25 years ago, and despite years of neglect now thrives on the windowsill.

This peace lily was part of another gift a couple of years ago and seems to just keep growing - mind you it has only flowered once.

In the kitchen

A bit of a mixture on the kitchen table at the moment - a baby Bob and a selection of succulents waiting for their forever homes, a scented geranium ready to be overwintered, our last Aloe Vera and a pot of sage cuttings waiting to be potted up. The dark red chrysanthemum was given to as a gift last Christmas and turned out to be four little plants in one pot - we split them and they've spent the summer outside. I brought this one in at the weekend to see what would happen and look how beautiful it is.
And then there's the white flowered orchid that was given to us a few years ago by J's cousins and the little seemingly ever-lasting cyclamen that was given to me the first Christmas I came to Stratford by a new colleague and has flowered every winter since, it's a gorgeous scarlet colour and brightens the darkest days beautifully. 

And then there's upstairs residents...

You've met Bob before and he certainly seems to have recovered from the pruning and propagating at the beginning of the year. All bar the last one of those babies has been re-homed.

And after a year in their new homes the succulents are looking great and it's their babies we'll be re-homing next. 

And dotted on windowsills all round the house....

there's the super-hot skinny chillis that have come in for the winter and the violas that are getting ready to move out and the lupin, sweet rocket, geraniums, verbena, penstemons and pinks that will all need to be potted on and over-wintered indoors until the Spring now.

And it seems that not only do we have a house full of plant-shaped memories and family and friends and kindnesses but lots of potential kindnesses to return.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Stuffing Stew.

Yesterday morning the house inadvertantly smelled like Christmas as I decided my one mission for the day was to use up some of the store cupboard stuff to make a soupy stew for the quick meals for the next few weeks whilst J went to the Allotment Society AGM.

So pearl barley from the store cupboard has joined leeks and parsnips from the freezer, and lots of sage and thyme to make a soupy stew that I think will work on it's own or with a veggie sausage or similar as a more substantial meal.

Just be aware that my post-chemo taste-buds seem to only be responding to super-herby flavours at the moment that you might need a bit less flavouring than me if you play with this one but trust me it makes the house smell glorious.

Leek, Parsnip and Barley stew

  • c. 1 tablespoon oil
  • c. 250g leeks
  • c. 250g part-boiled parsnips
  • c, 100g pearl barley
  • 3 tablespoons dried sage
  • 2 tablespoons stock powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • black pepper to taste
  • c. 2 litres of boiling water

In large saucepan - makes at least 5 portions

  • Put oil parsnips and leeks and lightly fry until the veg softens and takes on a little bit of colour.
  • Add herbs, stock and enough water to cover to about 2 cms below the pan rim, bring to the boil.
  • Add the barley and simmer for c. 30mins. The barley will absorb the water so you need to keep a bit of an eye on it to make sure it doesn't catch. Top the pan back up with boiling stock to same level as previous and simmer until barley soft.
  • The final result is a thick brothy type soup that looks a bit beige but tastes great. I might add some peas or something else with a bit of colour to it when I warm up the portions.

All ready for freezing

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Getting things done

Yesterday, despite the soggy start to the day, we had an excursion before our trip to the hospital for chemo. We had been building up a list of bits and pieces we wanted to pick up in town and I needed a non-medical trip out even if it did mean starting at B&Q. The main purpose was to have a peek at the new Hobbycraft that has opened this week .so we got  dropped off at the shopping centre late morning and then J wheeled me round working our way through our list of things until we got to Hobbycraft itself- the shopping centre is a nice level outdoor one and is just on the edges of the town close to the hospital so once we were done we popped into the Marks food place on site and picked up a picnic lunch. Now a picnic in a hospital waiting room isn't everyone's idea of a good time but it made sense for us not to go home and come back out again and the Chemo suite at the hospital is lovely and modern with comfy chairs and free wi-fi and all very relaxed so no-one minded that we turned up an hour or so early (they were momentarily puzzled but they didn't mind!) and it gave me a chance to rest before the treatment began. We picked up some bits for me and bits to put aside for friend's children and family here and overseas ready for the C-word as well as giving me a chance to see what sort of paints and the like the shop stocks before the chaos that today's grand opening would not doubt have produced.
Chemo went ok and whilst tired last night the evening passed smoothly and I even went back to sleep for an extra hour or so after my usual early wake up so a gentler start to today.

When I eventually got up I put a double batch of dough on for lunchtime pizza and a stock of flat-breads for the freezer - reheating them frozen has worked well this week, the breads had a lot of flavour and it's definitely something I will be doing regularly from now on. When J made the lunchtime pizza he also made the flat-breads themselves so a good bit of team-work.

Then on to the next job on the "it's really bugging me and I must sort it list". After several weeks of working our way through the freezer stocks of veggies, sauces and bought in stuff that we'd accumulated earlier in the year I shuffled the remaining pots, packets and boxes around making sure that everything that needs using up in the next month is in the drawers that I can easily get to and revised the lists that tell me what we have and which freezer it's in. The food shop arrived this afternoon so now we're fully stocked for my brother's visit next week and the rest of November and should only need  to pick up the odd bit of fresh fruit and mushroomy type foodstuffs.

Really happy to have got the chores done but starting to flag a bit as the afternoon goes on so methinks more seed crackers and seedling potting on are going to have to wait. My feet are now firmly up watching an interesting Dr. Janina Ramirez documentary on Julian of Norwich on i-player whilst J plants the autumn onion sets into modules in the kitchen and yes, it's still raining...

verbena cuttings need pricking out but will just have to wait...

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Reading challenge

This month my local library service has launched a reading challenge for adults that has me intrigued. Now, I've always struggled with reading books because I have to - prize winners and the latest "best-thing-since-... " tend to pass me by until all the hype dies down and unlike many librarians I've never felt comfortable with joining a reading group for personal reading although I've helped launch and pick books for many in my time and know they bring a lot of joy and satisfaction to many people.

It's probably my own control freak tendencies kicking in but I also tend to think - so many books, so little time, why force yourself to finish something just because? Having said that, contrary creature that I am, I do like a recommendation, a "have you tried" or an "I like this and thought it might appeal". In fact some of my favourite reads of the year have come via your blogs, twitter recommendations and the like - so thank you to everyone who takes the time to list what they've read, review it or even just add a picture of their bookshelves to their posts.

So what's intriguing about this challenge? It doesn't give you a list of specific books but of themes or starting points - a book set somewhere you have never been, a book you've lied about reading, a book that starts with a crime and so on for 25 different possibilities including the super-odd, a book the cat would approve of!  As a down-side it looks like a lot of the chatty activity will be going on on Facebook and I don't play with Facebook but they have a blog and twitter too. So, as I seem to be reading a lot anyway at the moment I think I'm going to have a play. I'll keep track on here using the label "Library reading challenge 2019"and post links to anything shared on their site that I think others might like.

Watch this space....

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Back to basics

For various reasons over the last couple of months my trusty breadmaker has been decidedly unloved and the basic ingredients that we always keep in haven't been used as much as normal. Instead I've been buying in pitta bread and tortilla/wrap style breads which means not only spending money that I don't really need to spend but also bringing extra non-recyclable, non-reusable plastic wrappings in to the house that just end up in the bin. Lots of reasons for this, some days I'm just not very hungry or the taste buds are playing tricks but I know I need to eat so a single pitta straight out of the freezer and in the toaster plus some soup is perfect, other days my mouth is a bit sore or swallowing a bit difficult and that lovely loaf of crusty bread becomes a bit of a minefield. Just part and parcel of the cancer treatment and no doubt the same thing for lots of people living with other long term conditions too.

So time for an experiment - can I make a batch of my own flatbreads using what I have in the house without tiring myself out and still have the convenience of being able to just have a single piece if that's all my appetite demands...

well-thumbed but hopefully legible!
My usual meander around blog-land came up with various make your own tortilla type recipes and I soon twigged that our regular weekend pizza dough recipe was very similar - low yeast, oil based and easily adapted to whatever flavourings you have to hand. Time for a play.

So this morning into the bread machine went:
about 100g of mixed grain bread flour (tail end of the bag)
about 200g of white bread flour
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1.5 tablespoon of onion powder
about 1 tablespoon of dried mixed herbs (last of the jar)
1 teaspoon of salt
170ml of water

And out came 550g dough ball which then got divided into eight.

I popped a couple of raw dough balls in individual cases to see how well they freeze and cook later. These are just reusable silicon muffin cases - once frozen I'll take them out and leave them in the tub.

Next I rolled out a couple of the pieces as large tortilla-style breads and popped them in a hot dry pan to cook. 

I divided a couple of the other pieces into 2 to make small pitta type breads - a hot fry pan with a little water - may use a little oil next time as pan started to smell a bit as it got very hot.

So now we have a few cooked for my tea and J's supper then a few smaller ones that are in the freezer to see how they re-heat over the week.

So far the results look promising, just need to see what they are like out of the freezer and then that's another step back from pre-packed foods.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Book Review - Diane Setterfield - Once upon a river

"A dark midwinter’s night. The Swan, an ancient inn on the banks of the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger.

 In his arms is the corpse of a drowned child.
Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science?

And who exactly is the little girl? As news spreads of the child who drowned and lived again, three families come to claim her, and the stories of three lost girls (and a missing pig) come to light. In the background is the river itself: powerful, unknowable, lifegiving and lifetaking.

There is talk of a ferryman who appears to those who get into trouble on the river … But at the Swan Inn, is anything ever just a story?"


Yet again I can't remember where I saw this mentioned but I am so glad I added it to the wish-list. Once upon a river is a beautifully-crafted tale that weaves in and out of the lives of people living along the river and the mysterious tale of the girl who died but didn't that emerges over the course of a year. At turns fabulous and ethereal yet it also feels firmly rooted in the everyday lives of farmers, villagers and innkeepers, villains and gentlefolk. Re-counting both the cruelty and kindnesses that ordinary people visit on each other, it has been a wonderful read. There is blackmail, murder and kidnap here but there is also love, redemption and hope. The river is at the heart of everything and the story twists and turns along it, pulling you very willingly with it. It is most definitely set in the past and has that rooted feel of a story that could have been told around all manner of Winter firesides for a very long time. As you may have guessed, Once upon a river has really resonated with me and will be something I'll want to savour for a while before moving on to another story.

Borrowed as an e-book from the library app so no pretty cover pictures to share I'm afraid but a link to the author's website is here and the ISBNs for those that prefer to hunt that way: Ebook: ISBN 9781473555815; Paperback ISBN 9780857525659.

This is the author's third novel and I will definitely be looking at the other two - The thirteenth tale and Bellman & Black - but maybe not straightaway.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Tired but happy...

Starting to flag a bit now but today we've had a lovely morning of plant and pot shuffling as whilst chilly, it has stayed dry and given us a chance to get some of the winter preparation jobs done. Mind you I'm saying we, as usual J has done most of the actual work whilst I've pointed to where I want things to live!

Normally I loathe and detest all photos of me but J took this today and I actually love it so I'm going to share it here. This is me surrounded by my favourite things and very happy to be doing something productive, yes the hair is nearly gone but the smile says it all.

wallflowers for us and a friend and a great view of the garden

Our wallflowers are now in the ground and their final pots and the spares will be being picked up by a friend later in the week, she gave us some lovely hardy geraniums earlier in the summer so it's great to be able to offer something back. Last year's bulb pots have been weeded, sorted and shuffled ready for swapping with the autumn flowering ones when they finally give up in a few weeks time, the parsley pots are indoors ready for cutting and the chillis have come in too for overwintering. Splitting and keeping the lovely little chrysanthemum that we were given as a present last winter has worked really well and, as they are now budding up beautifully, we have brought one of the plants back indoors to add to the kitchen table garden, the others can stay outside for now just to see how long they will flower outside.

As with every garden there is still plenty more to do but it feels like we've made a good start on the list which is always a great feeling. I hope you've had a great weekend too...

Bulb pots cleaned and shuffled

Who needs peat when a simple garden bin produces compost like this?
Wallflowers and bulbs into the path bed

Chrysanthemum budding up well

Roses, verbena and asters delighting

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Six-on-Saturday 19th October 2019

Morning Blog-land today is my October link-up with The Propagator's Six on Saturday meme. Please check out The Propagator's post here for instructions on how to join in and take a look at his blog for links to lots of wonderful gardens from all around the world, they really bring a spark of joy to a weekend.  My previous posts can be found by clicking on the #SixOnSaturday label and if you are on Twitter, enter the #SixOnSaturday hashtag in the search bar and you'll see even more beautiful images from around the world.

All these photos were taken in our little back garden yesterday morning before it got too wet and I had to head off to chemo. It then hammered down with rain for most of the afternoon and evening so I'm very glad I got a head start on the pictures. No real rhyme nor reason to the photos this month - although "work to do"would probably sum up the collection!

1. Mint Corner - the recent rains have done wonders for all the potted mints lurking by the kitchen door. Nearly time to cut them again and freeze for using over the winter, well all except the apple mint as whilst, pretty, isn't a flavour I particularly like.

2. Achillea "Cerise Queen". These two were runts of the litter that I couldn't quite bear to compost and I'm so glad I didn't as they are now nice strong plants that will fit in the borders next year and fill the late summer garden (and vases) with their dark pink blooms.

3. Fabulous fuschia fairies - gifted to the hospice as tiny baby plants that a local nursery couldn't use, and offered to patients and volunteers for a donation earlier in the summer. I've no idea of the varieties but they have been flowering for weeks and show no sign of stopping yet.

4. Wallflowers and strawberry runners awaiting new homes on the outside shelves.
All ready for planting out when the rain eventually stops - new plants for free always raise a smile in this house!

5. Still a chance of a few more rose blooms - raised from cuttings from my late Gran's garden this beauty opens pink and fades to a beautiful peach and is proving to be very long flowering so well worth the effort.

6. And finally, weather permitting, the job for the weekend - start to sort out what needs bringing in, what needs re-potting and what needs cutting for use over the winter - herbs, welsh onions, chillis, strawberries and flowers all jostling for space on the mini patio.

Have a wonderful weekend all, and I'll "see" you next month. Tx

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Puzzlement - when action seems to fly in the face of logic

I'm having a confusing morning this morning as I sit in bed listening to the news of the latest Climate Action protests. By now I hope it's nice and clear where I stand on the need for change, the need for us all to do whatever we can to make changes and improve the future. As part of that need I obviously support the right to protest, demonstrate and march, to create beautiful protests like the one Jackie Morris and other artists and writers, poets and performers are coming together and using to remind us why we need to change, what we are trying to protect and the right to point out as effectively as we can that companies, corporates, government and all the individuals that make up society need to make changes. And yet today's targets for the Extinction Rebellion protests seem incongruous with the messages we are all trying to send to folk who have yet to come on board for whatever reason. And, terrifyingly to me, judging by a lot of the reactions I'm hearing and reading on social media they have the potential to have the exact opposite effect to the one we need. To alienate not to persuade, to close people's ears, minds and hearts and destroy the good work of thousands of small local groups and individuals who work tirelessly in their communities to demonstrate the changes that people CAN do..

An efficient, clean, reliable mass transport system has to be the cornerstone to any country's response to cleaning up the air and environment as a whole. People need to be able to get around and the need to do it consistently and safely and know they are going to get where they need to be, when they need to be there and if, by shutting down the very networks that currently do that (more or less) then what are all those folk going to do? They are going to shift to personal transport - to cars and vans that they feel they have control over, to planes that will get them to that meeting in Scotland when they have to be back in London or Manchester or Newcastle that evening, to going backwards and point blank refusing to make any changes to their behaviour. I'm also puzzled when those same protesters start to damage infrastructure and destroy things - things that will then need to use finite resources to fix. I fear a backlash from the current actions and that, in my view, should worry us all...

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

But what can little old me do....

I'm getting increasingly frustrated with the headlines and soundbites around the climate emergency and the attempt to paint small actions as inadequate, ineffective, "not enough". It makes people feel helpless, hopeless and dangerously, gives us permission to bury our heads in the sand and say what's the point? I might as well carry on as I am, after all "they" say it won't be enough and doing or not doing that thing will involve a change, a bit of effort, not doing something I like doing as often as I want to, learning or trying something new and could be a bit scary or different and I'm already busy/tired/poorly/struggling to make ends meet enough as it is....

After all one person not using peat in their gardens isn't going to save all the planet's peat bogs, one person not using herbicides and pesticides isn't going to protect all the soils and lives of all the creatures that depend on the micro-organisms that live within it, one person switching to a re-usable cup and water bottle isn't going to stop the production and dumping of plastics in our ocean, one person switching to the bus rather than driving to work isn't going to suddenly result in improved air quality in all our towns, one person taking the train from London to Scotland instead of flying isn't going to stop that plane taking off and... you get the picture.

But what, for me, is getting lost in all this is the multiplier effect - whether deliberately or just plain ignorantly our media and vested interests are feeding us a line that we just might not be able to make enough of a difference by our own behaviour, that dangerous implication that maybe just maybe we therefore shouldn't bother even trying. And yes, I know there is a danger here of my sounding like a completely paranoid conspiracy theorist but that doesn't change the facts that folk with money and livelihoods at stake will always try to influence the outcome of an argument in their immediate favour - apart from anything else that's human nature - what's in it for me? how will I benefit? immediate self-preservation - it's just what humans do.

However, all these "it's not enoughs" ignore a vital fact, no matter our creed, colour, gender, age, location, beliefs, education, income or any other characteristic we like to label and pigeon-hole each other with, we are a society, a collective of people who share this planet and hold the key to our own survival - the planet will exist whatever we do, it won't be the same but it will be here, it's our species and the other creatures that suffer from our choices and actions, it's our children who struggle to breathe on their way to school, our watercourses that are getting clogged up with poisons, soil run-off and rubbish of all kinds, our food-chain that has been contaminated with plastics and poisons... we have been and still are doing this to ourselves by our own small, cumulative actions and in-actions over centuries and now that we actually understand what is happening and can even see it with our own eyes, feel it with our own breath and know that things can be different if we want them to be, surely it just makes sense that we make whatever small choices or changes we can just on the off-chance that it starts to improve things for everyone...

Sunday, 13 October 2019

And the wet weekend continued...

Judging by the blogs I've peeked at this morning a lot of us have let the weather inspire us to play in the kitchen this week! The weekend pretty much followed Friday's pattern as it was pretty darn wet underfoot and grey throughout Saturday. This meant I ended up doing some more "let's use stuff up" cooking - this time with some of the veg in the freezer - Cauliflower & Pine-nut Macaroni Bake - before putting my feet up with my book and some music and a couple of episodes of Made in Bolton on the I-player whilst making some more cracker innards and J popped into town to run some errands. 

Sunday also ended up being a kitchen morning as I played with making some spicy apple muffins using the food processor. They worked out well so that's one more thing I can manage on good days. Lunch was easy as we had leftovers from Saturday's bake with some veggie sausages and of course, the muffins had to be taste tested too! The rest of Sunday has passed quietly watching TV and reading again. The sun did eventually break through mid-afternoon but by that time I was back in low power mode so no more chores for me.

So, for today's post another recipe and this one is even a vegan one - although you can grate a bit of cheese on top if you really want!

Cauliflower and pine-nut macaroni bake

Makes between 4 and 6 portions in a 2 pint casserole

About 250-300g cauliflower
4-6 mushrooms chopped
1 cup of wholemeal macaroni or other small pasta - cooked until just tender.
Approx. 500ml tomato sauce - made with passata or tin tomatoes, 1 medium onion, 2 dessertspoons mixed herbs, 1 dessertspoon sage and ground garlic and pepper to taste
100g bag of pine nuts - toasted dry in a fry pan.

Into a 2 pint casserole dish 
Stir all the veg, cooked pasta and pine-nuts together in the dish.
Pour the tomato sauce over the top making sure it gets all around all the veg
and pasta
Bake Gas 5 for about 30-40 minutes until piping hot and bubbling well.


Friday, 11 October 2019

Wet Friday in the kitchen

My first Friday without chemo for a month has arrived with a thoroughly autumnal start. It's steely grey and tipping down out there so no outside pottering for us today. Instead, a bit of kitchen time. The weather demands something warm, filling and hopefully tasty for lunch so bring on our Runner bean chilli.

Dried runner beans
Runner beans grow to be big, chunky and prettily speckled purple beans that, when left to form in their pods and dried, make a great base for burgers, bakes and other other tasty dishes as they take on herby and spicy flavours well.

Veggies in
This recipe not only uses our homegrown beans it is also great way of using up any veggies lurking in the fridge or drawer that might be a bit past their best so as usual play with whatever combination you have to hand if you haven't got something on my list. 

If you don't have dried beans any 400g tin of beans will be fine.

How and what - Makes at least 6 portions.

Soak 200g dried runner beans overnight and then cook them for about an hour until tender. Throw away the cooking water for these as you would for kidney beans.

Chop and lightly fry a medium onion plus c.150g mushrooms and a large courgette. Added crushed garlic or garlic powder to taste.

Add a washed and chopped medium carrot or two and a small splash of water if it looks in danger of sticking. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes

Add about 500ml of passata or a 400g can of tomatoes. Then stir in a tablespoon of vegetarian or vegan pesto plus about 2 tablespoons mixed herbs, chilli powder, pepper and salt to taste. Bring to bubble, stirring to mix all the flavours and then add the cooked beans. Cover and simmer for about 40 -45 minutes until everything tender and the flavours have had a chance to mingle.

If you have time it's worth leaving the cooked dish to stand for awhile to let the flavours develop and then bring back to bubbling before serving with wraps, tortillas or rice.

Bubbling away nicely
I quite like a bit of grated strong cheddar on my tortilla too but this is usually flavourful enough not to need it if you prefer to keep it Vegan. 

This is one of those things that works well made in a big batch and portioned out for freezing and using another day. This pot gave us lunch for two today and at least four more portions for the freezer. As with most chilli related things if you can make it the day before you want to eat it then the flavour will be even better. 

I've also made a variation in the slow cooker but you will have to play around a bit with quantities and liquid levels to suit your crockpot.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Wombling for a good cause

This week I'm channelling my inner womble and finally using up some of the stash of card, tissue paper, ribbons, cords and other bits and pieces from packaging and gifts that we've always known would come in useful one day. For the last few years the lovely folk at Transition Loughborough have taken part in the local church's Christmas Tree Festival to spread the message about low-impact living and offer practical hints and tips to folk who go along to enjoy the festivities. This year they are going for a giveaway of seeds as part of their display which means I can actually do something practical to help from here by making up some packages using our own saved seeds. So, dear reader I give you the cost-me-nothing and almost-completely-home-compostable seedy cracker!

1. Using quartered loo roll inners and tubes made from the card sheets that you get new clothes and similar stuff, I made little tubes.

2. A twist of newspaper is
filled with seed and short growing instructions written on a pretty label.
3. And then  popped inside the tube.

4. A wrap of paper soon becomes a cracker tied with cord, ribbon or oddments of embroidery thread.

4. A simple pretty little giveaway that, with the exception of some of the re-used ties and the little bit of sellotape is waste free but fun.

Obviously you can decorate them with all sorts and I did pop a button on one to make it pretty but then realised that the recipient would have to dispose of anything that couldn't be composted so went back to plain and simple.