Wednesday, 31 October 2012

My Halloween Ghost Story.

Last August I promised you a ghost story at Halloween. Not a made up ghost story but a real one that happened to me 10 years ago. Whether you believe it or not, or can find another explanation for what happened is up to you, but I swear that everything I tell you here happened to me.

So my story is set in Ely, in Cambridgeshire, a place that has been dubbed the most haunted town in the UK. It is a very old town, and for a year I lived there in a top floor flat in a very old building. The building was on St Mary's street, and is opposite Oliver Cromell's House, now the Ely Museum. Three of us lived there for a year and from the start everything was not exactly how it seemed.

The flat was large and occupied the whole top floor of the building, 3 bedrooms and a very large living room, kitchen and bathroom and a long dark corridor connecting all of these areas. Some of the events could perhaps be explained by other non supernatural means, but it is only when they are all put together that you will agree, all was not normal.

The Whispering.

The first thing to happen was the noises. I would often hear a whispering behind, me, especially in the corridor. My friends experienced this too, but we thought at first it was a strange acoustic affect of the building. The sound was like someone whispering quickly and constantly but no intelligible words. It would have the affect of making you turn around, a bit like you feel when you think someone is watching you. It could be extremely unnerving, especially when you were in the house completely alone at night.


People say that ghost noises can be explained by plumbing sometimes, but I ask, can plumbing also be affected by ghosts?  In my flat there was a combi boiler and it was positioned in a cupboard in my bedroom. Sometimes, I would hear it fire up, even when I was there alone. I would go into the kitchen to find the hot tap full on. Having turned it off, I would go back to my bedroom. A few minutes later, the boiler would fire up again and the tap would be on. This was a regular occurance. Obviously a ghost who wasn't bothered about gas and water bills.

The Haunted Statue.

I showed in an earlier post a photo of a bronze horse I was left in a will. It is very heavy and solid. I had it in this flat on one of the windowsills. One day, my friend and I were in the room with the statue and we were standing by the window talking. I asked him if he wanted a cup of tea and we both wandered together into the kitchen to put the kettle on. A few minutes passed and we made our tea and went back to the room with the statue to find it standing dead centre of the room, a good 3 metres from the window sill. No one else was in the flat and at no time were either of us left alone in the room. It felt like insects straight from the freezer ran up and down my spine that day.


The girl who was there with us had a shelf with lots of girly things on, perfumes, trinkets, jewelry and the like. Sometimes in the middle of the night, all of these things would be swept off the shelf onto the floor. A ghost that didn't like feminine trinkets, quite clearly.

Presence in my room.

One dark winter night, I was in the flat alone for the night. My friends had gone away and I was having a rare but wonderful me night. I watched some TV (tended not to watch anything scary when I was there alone) and then went to bed. I read for a bit and then turned out the light. The room was on the back of the building and was absolutely black as pitch. I was still awake (definitely) and I felt someone sit down on the bed next to me. It wasn't my imagination, I actually felt the bed go down on that side and felt a presence next to me and a very faint breathing. I was almost paralysed with fear but after a while managed to slowly get my hand out and turn on the light. The room was completely empty. I lay with the light on for a very long time after that.


I had a friend who had heard all these stories from me, but didn't believe me at all. We were doing a job together up in Wells, in Norfolk and he asked if he could come and stay that night. So we drove back to my house and I set up a fold away bed in the living room for him and wished him good night. When I awoke early the next morning it was to find him gone, no note. I didn't see him again for about a week and it was only then that he told me what had happened. It seems that every time he got into bed, the bed would shake. He would get out and it would stop, in again and it would shake, quite violently he said. He was so disturbed by this that he didn't sleep, but in the end just got up and left, very frightened by the experience. He was no longer skeptical of my stories. Other visitors I had, asked me who it was that was running up and down the corridors all night and complained of strange drafts that didn't seem to come from anywhere.

The truth is out there.

There are countless stories about my year in this place. Ely was a haunted city and there were stories of a ghostly figure that was seen regularly near the Cathedral, eventually, when some building work was done, a very anceint skeleton was found bricked up in the wall next to where the sightings were. You may well remain skeptical, that is up to you, but I know the things that happened to me in that flat, the constant feelings of being watched, the absolute knowledge that someone was behind you, but when you turn around there is no one there at all and the presence in my bedroom.

Sleep well, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhh

Monday, 29 October 2012

Let there be light

I have been indulging in a spot of DIY this weekend. I enjoy tinkering with things but I did SO much when I first moved in here that I took a well earned and much needed break from it. Now I am back and ready for more.

One place in my house that I never have explored really was the loft. I have poked my head through to look at the insulation and once crawled over joists to check the TV aerial but besides that it has remained completely shut as though Mrs Rochester was slowly going mad up there.

Now I have decided it is time to get to know this space properly.

With the help of my brother, this new project was begun this weekend by putting lighting up there.

I won't bore you with how we did it, but I was dead proud and very happy when 2 working lights were illuminating the gloomy corners. Total cost for the job £3.96.

There is plenty of potential storage space up there.

The loft is in 2 halves with the hatch in the centre.

I've attached this trailing wire to the beams now.

As you can see there is plenty of insulation up there and I have some extra that a friend wanted rid of which will add to some of the bald spots here and there.

Now that I can see up here the next job will be getting some flooring down, might do that this week, or at least prepare it. Loft flooring is pretty cheap and I will do it in stages, one half at a time. I don't need to do a particularly neat job, but I am quite neat and tidy and can't help myself trying to get it just right.

It will be great to be able to use this space to keep the things I want/need to keep, but don't need to use very often. Christmas decs, blow up beds, paperwork etc.

One day I will sort a permanent ladder out too, although for now, my ladder from the garage will do just fine.

It's good clip my tool belt back on and get my hands dirty.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Family holiday memories.

I woke up thinking about family holidays this morning, don’t ask me why, just one of those strange early morning reminiscences.

Once a year we would pack up the car with duvets and pillow and food and set off to exciting destinations where my parents had rented a holiday cottage for a week. I don’t suppose this was the cheapest way of holidaying, caravans and tents must have beaten that for a family of 5, but the hiring of a holiday cottage in those days was not quite like it is now, where peak season brings peak prices. My sister and I would often share a bed and it would be so exciting swapping scary tails over night, until my mum told us to shut up. I was always put in with my sister because my brother and I had a tendency to fight. After about an hour in the car on the way to these cottages we would begin to get unbearable in the back seat and start fighting and moaning and crying...... Poor parents the world over.

Our most common destination was Wales. As a family we had an interest in trailing around ruined castles and Wales certainly has its quota. My mum, to this day, says that her fear of heights came from having young children running up spiral staircases to the top of tall towers. I still love castles and have very fond memories of Caernarfon and Beaumaris Castle. We did go further afield, once to Seal Island in Scotland and once to Dorking in Surry, although for the life of me I don’t quite know why they chose Dorking of all places. Sounds like a pin in a map sort of destination.

For me, strangely, the exciting thing was to live in another house for a week, most exciting were those old cottages with latched doors, no streetlights and quirky features. These are some of my best and most memorable childhood days, even the awful bits now just make me laugh, like the time I threw up in Chatsworth House (not sure my parents ever quite forgave me for the embarrassment that caused). It is quite possible that I have very rose tinted glasses on for my memories of these days, but that is ok, they are good memories to me.

These days I feel a bit like I am living in one of those holiday cottages, that makes me a very lucky man.

The point of this post? I don’t think there is one, it was just reminiscence.

Thursday, 25 October 2012


Hello everyone,
First off a big thank you to all the nice words from people after my last, less than cheery post. Feeling a bit mournful sometimes comes out too much in my writing and it is nice to get such friendly kind responses.
So today is another day.
Lots of plans afoot.
I have been a bit stagnant of late. It comes from having finished a contract and finding myself with nothing to do except worry about the future. Do I take a 2013 contract? Do I want to be away from home so much as I was this year? What, in fact, do I want?
I think it is sometimes very easy to become bogged down with thoughts like these and if you are like me, become inactive rather than proactive because it is a bit overwhelming.
Anyway, occasionally something happens to give you new options.
My father is about to undertake a massive operation, which will leave him needing a lot of recovery time and my mum wants to free up her time in order to look after him as much as possible. My mum, though 70 years old, is still teaching piano and she has asked me to take on a day or two of her teaching, possibly as a temporary measure, or maybe with some of them on a permanent basis. This, as a solution to me present predicament is actually perfect. It gives me something to work at, certainly until Christmas, possibly beyond. It allows me to try something else (it is not exactly something new, as I have taught piano a lot over the years,  and have been qualified to do it since I was 17) and get a bit of perspective on my current situation, what I want to do.
In my particular line of work, diversification is a very good idea, a way of making sure that all your eggs are not in one basket. I was always a good piano teacher, comes from having a patient disposition and a love for the instrument and I think that I will enjoy getting back into it. Let's see where life takes me next.

Monday, 22 October 2012


Nothing much to report on in blogworld at the moment. The weather is grey and miserable, but I can't complain, the weekend weather was gorgeous. I have plans afoot to put a bench on my deck one of these days if I can either find a cheap one, or better still a free one. It would be nice to sit on a bench instead of currently having to drag out a dining room chair. Even on a cold day I get pleasure from sitting out, with a warm cup of something. Life is a bit of an up and down rollercoaster of emotions at the moment so I will keep this brief and promise to write something wholly more substantial very soon.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Why are people always trying to sell you things?

I had the rather unpleasant task of speaking with Santander yesterday. I rang just to double check that I am on the best mortgage deal for my circumstances right now and wanted any advice on the options available.

‘Sorry Mr Howard, we aren't allowed to give advice’.

Well, thanks, just tell me what the bloody options are then.

So, after 10 minutes of discovering that my options were limited and useless to me I decided that staying with what I had was the most useful thing I could do, as it costs £900 for me to change onto another deal (I’m not even locked in, that was the admin etc fee.)

Anyway this, done and dusted led my new good friend at the other end of the phone to decide I was ripe pickings for him to try hard sell. So they aren't allowed to give advice but they are allowed to try and sell you products that you don’t want. Go figure, to whose advantage are they working.

So amongst other things, he wanted to sell me a cash back credit card. The conversation goes something like this:

“So, how much do you spend in department stores each month, £100, £150?”


“You must spend something?”


“Well I’ll put you down for £30 a month”

“But I don’t spend that”

“Well if you did spend that, this is the cash back amount you would get”

After some time and some calculations later, in which I started making hummus:

“So would you like me to sign you up for the credit card?”

“No thanks”

“You make great cash back on things you buy”

“But I don’t really buy much”.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I had actually phoned up about that. Poor man, he should have quit while he was ahead with me as my answers became more and more monosyllabic. He gave up when I switched on the blender.

On another note, why oh why oh why does blogger keep on telling me that I have logged out at another location? I’M NOT LOGGED IN ANYWHERE ELSE!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A pile of old tomatoes.

My mum is terrible when it comes to letting things turn brown, mushy and unrecognisable in the fridge. She was going to throw some wrinkled old tomatoes away the other day, but I rescued them knowing that they would be perfect for my oven blush tomatoes!

I like this recipe for old tomatoes that are way past their best.

Take some tomatoes, cherry are best:

 Slice them in half across the middle and lay in a oven proof dish. sprinkle on some sea salt, a pinch of sugar, some herbs, anything you have that you may like and a sprinkling of olive oil. Today I used some herbs de Provence.

Next time you have put the oven on for something, when you have finished cooking whatever you were doing, get the temperature up to 220 and then pop in the tomatoes and immediately turn the oven off and just leave them in there over night.

I know, the before and after pictures are very similar but the taste is great. They are like a very cheaply made version of sunblush tomatoes and great to add to pasta, or salad or part of a buffet, love em and now I have a bowl full to last me a few days. You can experiment with adding other flavours of course, some garlic salt perhaps or different herbs, maybe even fresh garlic or fresh herbs would be good.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Southern Baked Chicken

Dear Reader, I promised you my recipe for Southern Baked Chicken and here it is. It is quite delicious and lower in possibly slightly healthier than a traditional fried chicken, I said slightly. It is still a treat and as such I don't have it very often, but I do love it when I do. Baked in the oven rather than fried has to count for a lot.
For the British bunch, sorry it is all in cups, obviously it is originally a good old American recipe but it can be irritating when you are used to grams or ounces. Note that it requires some overnight marinating.

Sorry, I seemed to be photographing the chips rather than the chicken for some reason!


12 pieces of chicken with bones in and skin on
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons hot sauce (i've used all sorts for this, sweet chilli sauce is something I usually have in)
1 ¼ cups buttermilk
¼ cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 sliced onion
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup dry unseasoned breadcrumbs (home made is what I usually use)
¼ cup of olive oil
½ teaspoon paprika
2 crushed cloves garlic
½ cup of grated parmesan
½ teaspoon of black pepper

Initially it looks like a lot of ingredients, but when you read carefully you realise that it is mostly stuff you would have in your cupboard anyway. I have used milk with a dash of lemon juice before instead of buttermilk as I didn't have any, and I think I have also used some yoghurt in the past as well. I rarely have buttermilk in the house by chance I must admit. Because the recipe doesn't require chicken breasts, it is much cheaper chicken wise than it would be.

Whisk together the hot sauce, garlic, buttermilk, mustard, oil, black pepper and half the salt in a big dish.
Stir in the sliced onion, then add the chicken and turn it a few times until it is evenly coated in the mixture.
Cover the dish and leave it overnight in the refrigerator, turning a chicken a few times.
Whisk the flour with the parmesan, thyme, breadcrumbs, cayenne, paprika and the rest of the salt in a baking dish.
Take the chicken pieces out of the buttermilk marinade and roll them in this breadcrumb mixture, turning them over until they are well coated.
Put racks over two rimmed baking sheets and put the chicken on the racks, skin side up.
Leave it to stand for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees c.
Pour the melted butter over the coated chicken and bake for 50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the coating is crispy and golden brown all over.
(Serves 6)
 It is a nice recipe and please let me know if any of you try it and like it.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Things aren't going quite to plan for Stoptober

Hello everyone,

Up until now I had been doing pretty damn well with Stoptober, eating up freezer stuff, tinned stuff and larder staples. In fact, all I had spent really was 95p on a sausage roll!

But nothing ever goes quite to plan. My simcard in my phone broke for some unknown reason so I had to replace that for £10, not an enormous deal, but unavoidable as I use my phone for work, anyway, because a very very very very good friend of mine gave me his old iphone (which I had just been using for a useful internet device when I was working away) I was able to get a sim that fitted the phone and now have that up and working as an actual phone. Thank you Matthew! It means that I haven't bad to buy a new phone for years and years (last one was held together with an elastic band, it is no wonder the sim stopped working really) and that, in turn, means that my sim only contract is tiny, coming out at well under £10 a month and that pretty much covers all phone calls and messages etc. Like I say, my phone is used for work purposes and is a very necessary expense, but to have such a small priced contract is brilliant, especially when I see what some people have to pay for an iphone on contract!

The other fly in the Stoptober ointment came yesterday, although I certainly cannot complain about this one. Sometimes bargains are too good to miss and it would be stupid to. I happened for once in my life, to go into ASDA at the right moment yesterday and they were selling all their meat off for very good prices. My freezer had some room in it thanks to Stoptober so I stocked up on as much as the cash in my pocket would allow. I bought chicken, lamb, lamb mince, beef mince, pork mince pork belly, pork fillet, beef stewing steak, sausages and more stuff than I can even remember, spending in total £27 but absolutely filling the freezer. Easily will last me for many weeks. So definitely worth every penny. So Stoptober took a hit, but I certainly can't complain about it, as this means spending less in November now! My freezer is so full now that I had to lay some bricks on the top to make sure the lid stayed down! Couldn't fit in the beef stewing steak so I cooked a sort of beef in red wine (beef bouguinon, without the burgandy) casserole yesterday and had it for my tea last night. I was given a bottle of red wine after one of my concerts and being not much of a wine drinker thought this would be a better use for it than wasting it on drinking (also my friend was given the same one and said it wasn't very nice to drink). It was delicious with some of the new potatoes I dug up from the garden last month. I will post the recipe on here sometime soon along with my super new recipe for Southern 'baked' chicken. A lower fat (well a bit lower) home cooked version of KFC! Good for that 'take out' treat.

Tonight I am being taken to the Dolly Parton based musical '9 to 5' in Manchester by some friend's (thank you again Matthew) who ended up with a spare ticket. Who knows what it will be like but it should be a nice trip out with good friends at the very least.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Some businesses don't deserve it.

Today I had to go to Rawtenstall for quite a depressing reason which I won't go in to right now and feeling low, I was tempted (rather like John here) to buy something comforting and wholly naughty to eat. Yes, you are right, feeling something negative (in this particular case, frustration) can make us reach for something we shouldn't. My temptation today took the form of a delicious, golden, pastry wrapped sausage roll! mmmm

Now I had two choices, on one side of the road was a Greggs (for those from other countries that don't know, Greggs is a successful chain of bakeries found on every high street) whilst on the other side of the road was a nice looking, quaint, independent bakery.

Now my first inclination was to just pop into Greggs, firstly because I was on that side of the road anyway and secondly because I knew what I would get, a sausage roll for 68p! BUT I ignored this inclination and thought I would go to the one on the other side, in order to help support local businesses and also in the hope that I may end up with a treat that was a little more special.

Hopping into the shop with a hopeful spring in my step I expected to see a lovely baker woman with a smile on her face and a selection of fine pastries for me to drool over.
The lady who served me must have been in her late 40's, certainly old enough to know better and with a face like a slapped arse. The sausage rolls did look delicious and I asked for one to relieve this craving, with my best Cameron Diaz smile. 95p, so more expensive than Greggs, but I would have been happy with this had their been any sort of customer service. Her face seemed incapable of cracking a smile and she could barely utter the price to me, so much loathing of me seemed to emanate off her. Not quite sure what I had done to warrant such dislike I tried the good old British thing of smiling even harder (maybe she thought I was demented by now). She snatched the money from my hot little hand and chucked it into the til, turning away without a backward glance. Nasty old cow.

Now, I am all for backing small independent shops complaining about customers turning away from them in favour of chains and supermarkets, but perhaps some of them need to learn a thing or two about customer service from the 'giants'. I have no inclination to ever return there and indeed would instantly choose Greggs next time; so does a shop like this deserve to thrive? There is nothing I loathe more than people who are unpleasant for no apparent reason. Maybe I am just turning into that grumpy old man? It is quite likely.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Questions answered.

I was offered a liebester blog award by Being Penny Wise, but as I already have one, it is not so fair that I get another. But I thought that I would answer her questions anyway, for a bit of fun.

1. Why did you start blogging?

Like most people, I started as a sort of diary for myself, logging all the progress I wanted to make on my quest for moving house and living a completely new and different lifestyle. It is a great great bonus that so many people have wanted to share the journey with me find my poor offerings interesting enough to want to share. Last count I had 94000 page views and 190 followers and yesterday I had 900 page views alone, although I think this must have been a one off as I am more used to about 400 a day. It is humbling that so many people like it.

2. What’s been the best thing about 2012?

Well I think you all know the answer to that, it was moving here and starting my new journey.

3. What are your hopes for 2013?

Sorting my life out! By that I mean deciding what I actually want to do with the rest of it.

4. What has been your greatest achievement thus far?

I suppose it has to be one moment in my career, when I got to sing a lead role at the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg and the Latvian State Opera. It was a great part to play and the most wonderful experience I have ever had. If I never sing again it will stay with me as my best moment in an up and down career.

5. Have you a favourite recipe/meal?

So many, I am a self confessed greedy man. I love food, I get great pleasure from it. I even try to always sit down at a laid table and make a real thing of it, even when I am by myself. If I have a most treasured meal/recipe, it is probably my granny's meat and potato pie. When I was a boy she used to make if for me as a special treat because she knew I loved it. The touching part of it was that when I was a teenager I asked her for the exact recipe, and she said that she had better give it straight away because she wouldn't be able to soon. Unknown to me she was to deteriorate with alzheimers very rapidly after that and lost all communicative abilities and I always thought that it was as if she knew.

6. Do you enjoy the rain?

Yes, I really do. The thing I don't like is the rain and the cold combined.

7. What’s the strangest thing about you?

My reclusive tendencies

8. If you could have a superpower?


9. Cats or Dogs (or neither)?


10. What web browser do you use?

Depends on what I am doing. Right now, I am using google chrome, but it is a pain in the arse with some things. So I use opera and sometimes Mozilla too. The one I never use is IE.

11. Are you a hot and spicy flavours or subtle country flavours person?

Oh, I am a hot and spicy man. Food wise, I like both.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Putting the garden to bed, and a surprise!

When I came back from my recent trip to France, it was to find a surprise: my fences had all been replaced! Ok so it wasn't a total surprise as I knew that it was on the cards. It was all part of the package when I had the decking done, but the man was going to fit it in at another time. Well, he came and did it without saying a word! It was quite necessary as every now and again I would be in the garden and hear a dull thump as another piece of the old rotten one would fall off. In a way I am sad because they old one had such character  (and the new one has none) but I suppose some new climbers, trellis and age will sort that out. Yes, I could have easily done this job myself but the man who did it as part of my decking costs, almost came out labour free, (and he got the fence panels cheaper than I could have done) he is a good sort and one of those people you trust straight away.

It has confused the neighbours cat dreadfully. He used to cut through my garden and disappear through a hole in the fence. Yesterday he sat there for ages looking at where the hole used to be quite as if waiting for someone to open it for him.

So my yesterdays lethargy is over. I am staring at the sky (rather like the cat) trying to decide if it will throw any rain down on me today. I want to oil the deck but won't if the rain is coming. It is very much colder today. If it warms a bit in the afternoon I will get on with it. besides that I have been getting the garden ready for winter. I did some weeding yesterday and put manure down on all the beds. There won't be much more planting this year although my mum did tell me that she picked me up a vine of some sort, a clematis and a yellow climbing rose at a garden centre near her which is closing down and had 50% off everything. They will be good for going up the new fence.

My rhubarb is finally nearly rotted away, it was quite a difficult task to leave all of it on there unused, but I know it was the right thing to do as next year it will give me a better crop. That is a passion flower in the background, it has been sitting in its pot all summer waiting for the fence to be done before putting in. Not sure how it will do in a cold Lancashire winter, but I'll give it a go.

Can't say that my cabbages look like they are thriving exactly.

My Tess of the d'Urbevilles rose has done brilliantly this year and is having a second flowering at the moment. It needs supporting because it has grown so much, will need to give it a good prune after christmas.

last month I put some alpine plants into the crevices of the dry stone wall, they look very cute, these hardly little things, clinging on for dear life.

My mildewed azalea has improved slightly, though  you may not tell so much from this photo. The rosemary is not looking so good though. Not expecting much else to happen here this year, although I did put some bulbs in. A friend sent me some Jersey Lily bulbs, which was a nice gift.

So today I will give the lawns their possibly last mowing of the year and do some general tidying up. It is a day to put on my aran sweater and some gloves and my hat I think. Still looking up deciding if it will rain.......

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Out of sorts

It is a beautiful day, the sort of Autumn day everyone loves (except maybe John). I even think I may manage to get my washing out and dry today -just maybe. Last night I was delighted (as I put the bins out) to enjoy one of those moments when the air is still but slightly crisp after a lovely sunny day, a slight mist was in the air making all the views look spectacular and there was a smell of wood burning stoves (which served to make me slightly jealous that I don't have one). We can't complain at the weather in Lancashire right now.

But I am out of sorts!

I woke with a headache, which is my own bloody fault, because I didn't really eat yesterday. I couldn't rouse myself to do so. So instead had a bag of crisps for my tea! I know, what has happened to the male answer to Rosemary Shrager? Well, all I can say is that he took a holiday for the day and took a leaf out of 'mums gone to Iceland' book instead. And what is a good life loving, frugal minded man doing with crisps in the house anyway, you may well ask?

So I need to rouse myself and get a bit of motivation today, I think the garden needs a good tidying up, and I definitely need to eat something wholesome. Actually I just feel like going back to bed and watching a re-run of the x-files.

The truth is out there.

Which reminds me, it turns out that I live in the middle of a UFO hotspot. There have been 44 sightings of unidentified flying objects in the skies around Bacup and Whitworth hills since 1977.

Will give me something else to look for during the long winter nights....

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Blackberry and Raspberry Jam

Today I went to pick some final blackberries of the season. I got completely wet feet having made the ridiculous decision not to wear my wellies and only about 250g of blackberries, but it was worth it. I combined them with 250g of raspberries and decided to make blackberry and raspberry jam from it. I had some preserving sugar that I really wanted to use up, because it had gone a bit wet and soggy to say the least.

A small hoard.

Some raspberries from the freezer.

Combine and soften in  a pan.

Add half a kilo of preserving sugar and the juice of a lemon and dissolve.

Added a couple of star anise

and brought to a rolling boil until at setting point.

Job done. 2 pots of blackberry and raspberry jam for my breakfast, mmmmmmmm. I'm off to France this afternoon with work, so I will be absent until next week. Have a fun weekend, one and all.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


Here are the completed pickled onions.

I decided in the end to boil the vinegar before pouring it over the onions, to soften them a bit (and to help with sterilization). This was just one kilo of onions, I still have another kilo to do, which I may give as some Christmas presents, as part of a hamper. Need some more pickling vinegar first though. When they have cooled I will put some labels on and pop them in my store cupboard until they are ready to use, 6 to 8 weeks. Delicious.

This morning I also gave my Christmas cake its weekly feed. I have no brandy, and don't feel inclined to buy another bottle unless I absolutely must. I do have some rum however, and so used a tablespoon of that. Has anyone ever used rum to feed a cake before? Or any of you horrified at the thought? Wouldn't want to ruin it. I have some vodka too, but not sure about that.

I fed it from the bottom this time and will store it upside down this week so that the juice can settle in the other direction.

My cauliflower cheese was gorgeous for dinner yesterday. Whenever I make a cauliflower cheese I wonder why I don't do it more often, such a lovely warm and comforting dish. Had it wish some kale, some chicken from the freezer and a miserable looking potato I found in the fridge, which was transformed by a bit of chopping and oil.

Watched Nigella shimmy around her kitchen on tv last night, made me laugh after my post last week. Still, she immaculately made a nice pasta with courgettes and spring onions. Her roast chicken looked good too, but ice-cream in a brioche sandwich? really? I prefer Nigel Slater as I find his approach of modifying recipes and encouraging you to change whatever you want is refreshing, so am looking forward to his new series in a couple of weeks. He drifts around the kitchen making things up rather than shimmying.

It is still cold here and I am still wrapped up warm, but i am feeling cosy. I am off to France at the end of the week, for my final performance of this particular opera, glad to see the back of it to be honest.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Frugal October

Hello All,

I am a bit broke and to be honest I am inspired by froogs to try and make some of the shortfall back by spending nowt in October except the essentials. It will certainly go a long way towards solving some money problems and it will be a good challenge to boot.

I am starting off with a freezer full of food and a well stocked cupboard. I have taken the cash out that I am to spend this month and it is in my safe cash place. If possible I am going to spend nothing more than this money. I'm even trying not to fill the car up with petrol. It is full now and I don't have any long journeys to make. I working in London and France later this week and over the weekend, but going on the train, booked well in advance and all my meals will be provided except on the actual travel days, so hopefully won't have to spend much while away.

Today found me a 39p cauliflower lingering at the back of Morrisons shelves, so I whipped up a quick cauliflower cheese for later. Will have that with some meat from the freezer for my dinner today and tomorrow.

I also wanted to pickle some onions. I absolutely love pickled onions and I like to pickle them myself, because I get top control the taste more. A kilo of pickling onions is only a pound in Morrisons at the moment so i grabbed 2 k of them. Very easy to do, took the skins off 1 kg and sprinkle salt over them in a bowl and leave over night.

Put 150g of sugar in with a litre of vinegar, heat the vinegar til boiling point then add spices. I added a cinnamon stick. 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds, some saffron, some allpice, some peppercorns, pink and black, and 2 dried chillies. Cover this vinegar and leave to infuse nicely over night.

Tomorrow I will wash the salt off the onions, pack them in jars and poor over the vinegar. I will get vinegar hot again before I pour it on as this helps the onions to be slightly softer, but if you like a nice crisp pickle, you don't have to do this.
These will last me all through winter, lovely with stews and hotpots. mmmmm

It has become very cold here on my hilltop. I have been trying so hard not to put the heating on and so far have succeeded, who wants to have to put the heating on in September. If I can manage til the end of October I will be happy. Meanwhile I am wrapping up in lots of throws in the evening, lighting candles (you may laugh, but I swear it takes the chill off a room in the evening!)
My mum gave me a proper real Aran jumper a few years ago, from the isle of aran itself so the real thing. It is warm as toast and has the added bonus of smelling slightly like wet sheep. I love it in the cold weather and it is brilliant at keeping me warm!

Here I am modelling it with my usual grumpy expression!

Because it is oiled wool it has the added advantage of being fairly waterproof (although I wouldn't test this too hard). It was, I think, probably the most expensive item of clothing I own but it is a really quality item and should last for ever if I look after it (which I do). Is it weird that I find that there is something very very comforting about smelling like wet sheep?