Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Driving Miss Daisy

The sun finally came out. It is amazing how much our spirits are lifted with a bit of bright sunshine. Even the road looks a bit clearer and I did venture out in my car this morning to the next town along. Now I have left my car at the bottom of the hill, so even if it does snow again I won't be quite so trapped.

It is funny isn't it, but as I drove in my car this morning (I did a careful 30 because there is still tons of snow and ice) it never ceases to amaze me that there are people out there pushing you to go faster, even in weather like this. 30 was the speed limit so it wasn't like I was totally dawdling like a maiden aunt, but really, to have someone driving right up to my bumper, lights blazing, in this weather, just makes me cross enough to want to slow down to 20 just to really p him off.

So I did :-)

Monday, 21 January 2013

It's very pretty but.......

.......I'm fed up to the back teeth of it now.

I'm getting grumpy and I'm getting stir crazy. Yes, I love looking out of the window onto such a pretty scene, but I can't go anywhere. I dug my car out just to try and keep on top of things, but it would be foolhardy to attempt to go down the hill in a little ford KA. I will go for a walk in a while to clear out the cobwebs, but oh I wish it would thaw. Tomorrow if it is no better I will have to take public transport to where I need to go, which I don't mind, but it is very very expensive around here (yeah, go figure) and involves that many changes and things that it will drive me mad. It is almost tempting me to walk the 6 miles that I need to travel.

Well, complaint over. It really is very pretty!

Sunday, 20 January 2013

My Inspiration.

I thought I would share with you some of the inspirational pictures I find on the web. I tend to copy and save a picture of a garden that I think is beautiful and save it to inspire me. These gardens are all very special and although my own is miles off being as wonderful as these are, with a little bit of help from their inspiration and many many years of hard work and growth I hope my own will one day come close.

I love the stepping stones set into the grass, I am planning something similar as a path to a bench.

More stepping stones and the lovely informality of lupins and hollyhocks.

A relaxing bench at the bottom of the garden (yet more stepping stones).

This beautiful climbing rose is called Piere de Ronsard or Eden Rose.

OK, the house is probably more inspiring than the garden, but the general mood the whole makes is the character I would love.

Some nice higgledy-piggledy planting.

Just wonderful

Dream garden.

A wonderful selection of flowers.

As you can see, there is a real theme in the type of gardens I love, the rambling nature of them, the way plants look as though they have grown wildly where they wanted to (which of course is not true as these have taken very careful planning). No corners, lots of curves. It is always a great idea to get inspiration from photos and I look at them carefully when I am planning something new in the garden. It's worth trying anything, because everything in a garden can be fairly easily reversed if it goes wrong.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Practice really does make perfect.

Those of you who have read my blog regularly for a while will know the ongoing battle I have had with my pastry skills. No one ever showed me how to do it and as a novice pastry maker my first tries were very poor and often I would have (in the past) resorted to shop bought. But I persevered and improved, listened to advice, read cookery books carefully, storing away little tricks and tidbits of information and got better.

Well it just goes to show that if you keep trying with cooking and experimenting you really do improve.

This morning I made this chicken and ham pie and I am very, very happy with the results, the pastry looks good and golden, tastes great and there are no soggy bottoms! Mary Berry would be proud.

I didn't follow a recipe, just made it up as I went along. I roasted a chicken a few days ago so I had plenty of chicken picked off in the fridge, I had slices of ham from my Christmas gammon in the freezer so I thawed out a couple of slices too, made the pastry and shoved it in the fridge, fried an onion, added the cooked chicken, sliced up gammon and some mixed veg from a bag in the freezer. Made a white sauce to bind it all, some sage that I had hanging about and seasoned, that was the filling done, after that I just rolled out the pastry base to fill the pie dish, added the filling and put on a lid, cutting out a couple of leaves with a knife from the excess pastry. 30 minutes in the oven and it is one delicious pie.

This will probably do me 3 or 4 more meals.

I am so glad that I kept on trying because I really feel that I know what I am doing now and will never have to resort to bought pastry again. It is so easy to give up after a few failures.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Vegetable Growing 2013.

I think a lot of us in Britain can quite safely say that 2012 was not a good year for vegetable growing. It was rather disheartening to nurture seedlings and then plants, watch them grow their first shoots and finally produce little or no edible content at all. It wasn't all bad, I had successful potatoes and my apple tree and rhubarb took nicely so that I will hopefully have something from them soon, fingers crossed. but tomatoes were disastrous giving me only about 20 tomatoes from 8 plants, my cucumbers all died before they grew a single one and even my rosemary looks like it lost the will to live.

So onward and upward, 2013 is another year and we can only hope that the weather is a bit better and the vegetables actually grow.

2012 was always going to be a bit hit and miss for me, to be fair. I had only just moved in to this garden when I should have been starting seedlings off and the garden needed tons doing to it before I could get stuff in the ground.
Now I have a raised bed solely for veg growing and plenty of mixed beds that have been inundated with organic matter, manure, soil improver etc. All this will hopefully give my veg a better chance.

So I have been browsing the catalogues that I get regularly. I like Suttons, Mr Fothergills and Parkers and there is no pleasure like browsing the various sections on a cold winters night. It is easy, however, to get swayed by the lovely pictures of veg and to want to grow everything, so this week I got my act together and made a list of what I actually want to grow and eat this year. The is no point at all in growing stuff that you never actually eat, so that gets rid of a certain amount. Also, when space is a premium, I only really want to grow stuff that is pricey to buy in the shops, so I am going for stuff that I enjoy eating but can be expensive to buy. I am sure home grown carrots are delicious, but I haven't got room to grow many and after all a massive bag is less than a pound.

In the end I have whittled my list down to:


Spring onions
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
Runner beans


Apples (eventually, may get one or two this year)
Red and black currants

I am going to divide my raised beds into sections - a bit like square foot gardening, but because of the dimensions of the bed the sizes may be slightly different. At the moment in the raised bed are some rather sad looking cabbages, that have been in there for an eternity. By the time other things want planting out I will eat what I can from the cabbages and ditch the rest as a poor job. I will try and get the spring onions, leeks, squash and more broccoli into there, and some cabbage if I can. In pots or growbags I will grow my tomatoes and I have some old windowboxes that will be perfect for the lettuce. I had good success with potatoes in potato bags last year so will try that again and everything else will go where it can.

On top of all of this veg I will plant up all those remnants of seeds I have from last year, I have a whole load that were not quite used up and which I carefully stored. Anything that comes from them will be a bonus, there are things like radish and beetroot among other things.

With the exception of raspberry canes, all the other fruit is already planted from last year so we will see what happens there.

If all of the above grow successfully I will be a happy man, but as half the pleasure is in the eating and the other half is in the growing, I will enjoy myself whatever comes of it all.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013


I wouldn't usually 'steal' someone elses blog post, but I loved this post from Weans Frugal World so much and it does say to pass it on so I'm sure she won't mind. Some of you may have read it already, but for those that haven't I thought it was just brilliant.

Obituary in the London Times

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense
,who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was,
since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will
be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: 

- Knowing when to come in out of the rain; 
- Why the early bird gets the worm; 
- Life isn't always fair; 
- And maybe it was my fault. 

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend
more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are
in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but
overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy
charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from
school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding
an unruly student, only worsened his condition. 

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing
the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly

He declined even further when schools were required to get parental
consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not
inform parents when a 
student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion. 

Common Sense lost the will to 
live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received
better treatment than their victims. 

Common Sense took a beating 
when you couldn't defend yourself from a burglar in your own home
and the burglar could sue you for assault. 

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed
to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in
her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement. 

Common Sense was preceded in death,
-by his parents, Truth and Trust,
-by his wife, Discretion,
-by his daughter, Responsibility,
-and by his son, Reason. 

He is survived by his 5 stepbrothers; 
- I Know My Rights 
- I Want It Now 
- Someone Else Is To Blame 
- I'm A Victim
- Pay me for Doing Nothing 

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. 

If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority
and do nothing.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Simple pleasures.

In winter everything seems to die off in the garden. Not really true, you just have to look harder and get pleasure from the tiny things.

My first snowdrop, aptly poking through the first snow of the year.

The twinkling lights of the solar powered fairy lights only make it on for about 10 minutes before the battery is dead at this time of year, but for 10 minutes it is very lovely, lighting up the snow.

The snow has it's very own beauty, I sat just looking at it with my morning cup of coffee.

Simple pleasures.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Making yoghurt

My sister gave me a wonderful and very thoughtful Christmas present this year, a yoghurt maker. Now I have made yoghurt lots of times before with various results. The method I used most often was to put the milk/yoghurt mixture in a flask for a few hours to maintain the temperature required. The downside of this method was that it was a little bit hit and miss. Sometimes it would come out very well, but other times I would end up with a grainy mixture that looked a little curdled and other times it would separate too much, leaving me a lot of buttermilk and not so much yoghurt. The other downside was that the flask got very smelly. Hard to clean out a flask with a small opening that has contained yoghurt.
Well this yoghurt maker that I was given is very simple. It works on the same principle as a slow cooker, maintaining a very low but constant temperature while the yoghurt is made. It is cheap to run, even cheaper than a slow cooker and the yoghurt it made was absolutely perfect.
The principle is an easy one. 2 teaspoons of live yoghurt and a litre of milk. I always use UHT milk because it saves the hassle of having to boil and sterilise ordinary milk. Put the milk and yoghurt in the maker, turn it on and in 8 hours lovely creamy yoghurt. It is really really good, very perfect.
I am sure it is possible to achieve equally good results without it, but I must admit, I sort of wandered away from making yoghurt because my results before were so hit and miss. This makes life much easier. 

And the best bit? 2 teaspoons of this yoghurt will go to make another litre of the stuff when I am running low. Eternal, cheap yoghurt if I organise myself. This will do breakfast every day and I am going to look up other things I can do with it now that I have such a large, cheap supply (about 80p for a litre of yoghurt)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Yes, still wet and foggy

Today is grey and miserable - again. I was planning on getting outside to do some BIG gardening today. You know, heavy stuff. Making a start on digging out what is to be a brand new bed. It is a big and long job because of the amount of stones I have to remove and I know that it will make the garden look much worse before it looks any better because I am cutting it out of the existing lawn. Can I be bothered? I'll let you know.

This is the (sort of) plan. Obviously, this is an appalling picture done with my not so steady hand, so wobbly lines, hopefully won't actually be wobbly. The strange red shape is going to be a beautifull curved flower bed leaving a pathway on the right of it (above in the picture) with stepping stones embedded into the grass. At the right end of the flower bed is going to be a rose arch which you can step through when stepping off the deck. I am in two minds about publishing the picture, because it looks dreadful, but in reality I think that it will work beautifully, especially when it is filled with plants. I don't like gardens to be squares with flower beds around grass, I much prefer a more natural look, organsied chaos let's say. I like to have little paths so that the garden looks different from all angles and some parts are hidden around corners.

The stepping stones will actually lead somewhere by the way, looks mighty odd in the picture I know, but there are more plans afoot. I am looking at the bigger picture of what I want the final look to be, probably take me another few years, but that's half the fun.

Monday, 7 January 2013

First garden update of 2013

That is: first garden update with photos!

If I wait for the weather to become nice then I will probably be waiting for months, so this weekend I got out there and did some work.
As I mentioned, in the sales I bought a miniature rhododendron and an azalea. Now my soil is fairly acidic, which these plants love, but no harm in helping them along, so I dug a whole and filled it with some ericaceous compost before putting in the rhododendron. I decided to keep the azalea in a pot for now, because I can't quite decide where it will go. It will be happy enough in a pot for a while.


I'm afraid the photos have come out a little blurry, well, I never claimed to be a good photographer!


I transplanted (yet again) the laurel I bought a year ago. I hope he survives this second move. It is a lesson in not buying things when you have made no gardening decisions. I first placed him where the deck now stands and then I put him out of the way at the bottom. I have now decided that when I get a greenhouse at some point it will go slap bang in the middle of where this poor laurel has been positioned. So now he is proudly at the back and I have promised not to move him again if he promises to survive.

I forgot to mention the new winter flowering jasmine that is on the right of the laurel there.

So here is the upper garden how it stands in the foggy wintery weather. It is still attractive, but very very dormant. I find this time of year to be full of possibilities in the garden and in that way it is exciting.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The Lord of the Hobbits.

As I wake up to another grey and foggy day, I realise just how much I am craving the sun. With our very poor British summer this year it seems an absolute age since I basked in a bit of warm sunlight and just a few days would lift the spirits in this dark month.

I was taken to the cinema last night to see The Hobbit. I have to admit that sometimes I find the cinema a weird experience, especially if it is very busy, people whispering and chatting in the dark (I am a sit in total silence sort of watcher) and others laughing at what seems to me to be totally inappropriate moments. Yesterday was mercifully quiet though, I suppose most people went to see films over Christmas instead. I must admit that I was a little bewildered as to why the director, Peter Jackson, felt the need to add a new sub-plot to an already action packed and interesting book and what was with the new, made up characters? The cynical side of me thought that maybe it was, indeed, to make the films longer so that he could get 2 films out of it and so increase the profit, but maybe I do him a huge injustice. But after 30 minutes of the film, when they had not yet left The Hobbit's house, there was a slight sense of drawing it out to epic proportions. Don't let it put you off, it is a jolly good watch, but with a sense of trying to make a more bucolic book into a drama the size of The Lord of the Rings.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Remember me?

Happy New Year everyone, I bet you've almost forgotten who I am. Sorry to be so remiss in my blogging, but I took a well earned computer break for a couple of weeks, have barely even checked my emails, was quite liberating really.

Anyway, a New Year and new challenges!

I am not really one for making resolutions: they are rarely kept and if I want to change something in my life I tend to just do it straight off, don't need a date change for it. That said, there is a certain feeling that comes with new year for setting new challenges, things you hope to achieve during this particular year.

I have once again turned my attention to the garden. New plans, which, happily, mostly involve planting and not so much of the big expensive work! Almost entirely stuff that I can do myself.

I did receive £20 gift from my god-parents, so I have used it to buy lots of seeds and a cheap miniature rhododendron and a cheap Azalea - my favourite plants and both being sold off in garden centre January sales. I have bought the following seeds:

Naturtium (Chinese Emperor)
Sweet peas
Forget me nots
Brazillian verbena
Night scented stock
Sweet William
Lobelia (Crystal palace)
Delphinium (Pacific Giants)

I also picked up a cheap packet of runner beans.

I think that I am going to have all my windowsills covered in seedlings for a very long time thanks to this little lot. I am hoping this year that I may 'aquire' a greenhouse, but we will see.

I would love to get in an archway (rose arch) or two in the garden this year too for my climbers but I may have to look into making one myself when the weather imporves (if indeed it does)

There are certain plants that I am a bit fed up with that I inherited. When you get someone elses garden it is good to leave all the plants for a year so that you can see what you like and what you don't. I have tons of  mombretia and although the flowers were arguably pretty, it is very invasive and I am not particularly fond of the grassy leaves it has for the other 10 months of the year when not in flower. I think I may remove this next time I am out there and replace it with something that I like better.

I will photograph my efforts as and when I make them, for now, I am going to watch the rain fall instead.