Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Books, Books Books..............

As I may have mentioned before, I have a love affair with books. I have hundreds of them, too many to count. Over the last 40 years I have collected many, many and although I buy very few these days unless they are 1p on Amazon or found in a charity shop, I still love browsing them.
Many people have a different attitude to books, reading them once and giving them to charity (for which I am eternally grateful), and much as I have nothing against this - each to their own - I am a collector of them and am happy to re-read most of them over and over again, which is why I don't throw them away (obvious exceptions are books that I didn't enjoy). In my youth, I had three bookcases crammed full in my bedroom, which I left there when I went away to Music College. The time came when my parents wanted to clear the room and because, being a student, I didn't have room for them, most of them went to charity - something I am still sad about 20 years later, as there were some gems that I have never had again. I have never made that mistake since.
I love the feel of them, all sitting together on a shelf - Stephen King, squashed up against Daphne du Maurier and Howard Spring, with the tiny Collins Gem Book of Card Games at the side, (I am not terribly organised with them, enjoying the higgledy-piggledy nature of them) - all containing their own stories, their own people, just waiting to be brought to life when I reach to get one down. For some reason that is why an e-reader doesn't appeal to me. Yes, they are useful and mean you don't have to store books, they are light, easy to take a whole library away with you, yes, there are plenty of advantages and I have tried reading a book on one (my mother's), but to me they don't have the soul of a book. I love turning the pages by hand, I love the paper with the nice font written on it, and the feel of a book. I even love the way they all look together on a shelf. If I ever have any money (unlikely) I would convert my garage into a library with floor to ceiling bookshelves on every wall.
As it is, I have books crammed into every space.

In the bedroom, here you will find a real mix, comedy, thriller, murder mystery, romance, horror.

By the bed, all the books I may reach for in the night if I can't sleep, usually short stories and ghost novels.

In the spare room, on the right is my collection of the complete Agatha Christie in beautiful hardback edition (£25 on e-bay - bargain) and classic novels, and on the left a real hotchpotch.

Oversized books are in the kitchen, mostly cooking and gardening, a bit of DIY and anything else too big to fit elsewhere.

Even one of the kitchen cupboards has recipe books crammed next to jars of pasta and rice.

Jane Austen stands behind the day's post.

So it was that the time had come for me to find a new place for the piles of books that had developed around the house that had no home yet. I decided to build a new, small bookcase yesterday, to slot nicely in the hall and hold small sized paperbacks.

Total cost - £12

Bought enough wood, measured it out to fit precisely and screwed it together and put a nice, decorative front onto it.

Stained it dark oak, so that it matched the other colours in the room, then polished with a good wax polish.

And problem solved.

I am delighted with it, very low cost, and now these poor souls have a home. What's more, they are in order (for now).
Of course there is still no room for any more books that may just find their way into my home. Oh well, I am sure I will find another spot when the time comes......

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

New purchase

I have been thinking about one of these for a very long time as it is recommended by so many of you, so I went to Argos today and got myself a Mini Oven. Seems perfect for heating a meal for one without wanting to put the big oven on. It was £40 but I had a £10 voucher from someone, so it cost me £30. I had a perfect spot for it above my large oven too.

So I tried it tonight, was a little worried that it might not come up to par, but no need to fear, I waited 5 minutes to heat up, but it was hot before that and I chopped up some potatoes to make wedges and put in a chicken breast. They were cooked beautifully and in slightly less time than the big oven. The power is 1300 as opposed to my large oven which is 2000 so it is uses about 40% less electricity which is good news. So now, when I am making a small meal just for me there is no need to wait for the big oven to heat up and to waste all that space. Hopefully the money I shelled out for the mini oven will come back to me in money I will save by using it.
I will look forward to trying other stuff in it now.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Chirstmas cake recipe

A couple of people have asked me for my Christmas cake recipe, there are lots of different versions kicking about but this is the one I do:

1 kg mixed dried fruit (cheapest of the cheap own supermarket brand in my case)
100g glacé cherries
100g chopped walnuts
400ml liquor (anything you want, brandy is traditional, but I didn't have any, so used some rum)
300g butter
180g dark brown sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons black treacle
300g plain flour
150g ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of ginger

23cm cake tin


1) put all the fruit and cherries in a bowl and pour over the liquor of your choice. Cover with cling film for as long as you can, up to a week, but certainly not less that 24 hours. You want the liquor to be absorbed.

2) preheat oven to 150 degrees C and prepare the cake tin, you want it greased and lined with greaseproof paper (double thickness) and have it coming up the sides at least twice as high as the cake tin.

3) Cream together the butter and the sugar, then add the eggs one at a time and mix them in then beat in the treacle.

4) Sift the dry ingredients together then mix the soaked fruit alternatively with the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, mixing thoroughly.

5) Fold in the walnuts.

6) Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for between 2 and three quarters and 3 and a quarter hours. put in a skewer to check it is cooked - it should come out clean (ish)

7) When the cake comes out, sprinkle on a couple of teaspoons of some liquor and wrap it up, in it's tin, in a clean tea towel - this helps keep the top moist.

8) When it is completely cold you can remove it from the tin and peel off the greaseproof paper. Double wrap in foil and store in an airtight tin or tupperware for at least 3 weeks before you do the next stage. I will not do the next stage on mine until December.

Feeding the cake.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of liquor on the cake once a week, turning it each time so you are alternately sprinkling both sides.

After it has 'matured' you want to wrap it in marzipan, using a jam glue and then ice it with Royal icing and decorate. I'll be doing this in December so you can check back how I get on.

Here it is for now.

If any of you try it, do let me know how you get on.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Christmas cake in.

Thank you all, I am sure I will be firing on all cylinders again soon.
The rain never stops in October. Did I once write a post on how wonderful I thought Autumn was? I think I was lying. All I want to do is get out in the garden and make a start on things, roses need pruning, weeding needs to be done, the veg patch needs to be cleared, fences need painting, deck needs oiling, greenhouse needs cleaning and clearing, beds need digging - never stops, but I don't especially want to get out there and get soaked for my troubles - call me a wuss. So I have a Christmas cake in the oven right now - it looks massive! I'm sure it is bigger than last year even though the recipe is identical. The smells wafting out of the kitchen are lovely - the smells are the best bit of Christmas I think.
I hope you are all okay and thanks for bearing with me.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Picking myself up.

As you may have noticed from my recent posts (or lack of) I'm struggling a bit at the moment and just going through the motions, I suppose it is inevitable at times for all of us and I'm not really used to feeling like this because most of the time I am quite self contained and content but I am a tad lonely right now and wondering quite what I am doing.
So I am trying to pick myself up and today I am going to soak some dried fruit to make a Christmas cake as successful as the one I made last year, hopefully. On top of that I am looking out at the garden and contemplating another large bed, the largest one. The problem I have is getting rid of the turf, it is heavy and annoying and I don't really know what to do with it. I have a big pile of it from the last beds that I did, dumped under the decking and it is a bit of a pain so adding to it doesn't sound like a great idea as, ultimately, I will still have to do something with it. I read once that if left long enough it does made good compost, but how long is long enough? Once the bed is made I would like some taller things in it so suggestions welcome, nothing too exotic as the whole feel of the garden is country traditional, but maybe a small conifer would be nice, one that goes up instead of out and doesn't get massive. A lot of my garden dies off in winter so it would be nice to have a few permanent things in there that look good all year. I like box too, but wish it wasn't so expensive as a small box hedge around the bed would be my ideal. Planning and more planning is my approach, as always.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Now what?

After 6 months of endless work, endlessly 'on the road', with all my spare seconds taken up with refitting the bathroom, I am suddenly at a loss. Days stretch out before me with nothing to do, no renovation project left (and not much work, sadly). Now, I hear you cry, what I would give for that problem! Well yes, on the one hand it is nice, but on the other I am finding a slight hole in my life where it was so full before and I know it won't last forever so I should probably cherish it, but it is easy to feel a bit lonely at a time like this and see days stretching ahead with only my own, dubious company.
So I have to pull it together and stop feeling sorry for myself and think of my next project. I am already thinking about next year's garden, next year's veg. I'm not going to be able to keep on putting off the front garden forever, but it is one place that I have not yet a plan, or in fact an idea. I think the general problem is that to get the front garden in any shape is going to take a bit of money. The paths are in a terribly state and really need widening (thanks to having 3 stupid wheelie bins that don't fit on my paths properly  - don't get me started) and as the entire garden is on a slope, landscaping of any description is something that takes careful consideration and is very very difficult to do by myself, especially without good equipment. yes, if money were no object I would have new paths in and walls built to make the lawn area flat, but that is well above and beyond.

As you can see it is rather flat and dull and the one border is in a terrible state.

I have enough to do in the back garden, so I want something low maintenance. So I have considered pulling everything out of the one, sad border and planting rhododendrons - I have good acidic soil for these, I love them and I have the space to let them grow big over the next few years. I am not allowed to have a fence or wall at the front (not entirely sure why that is, but it is in the house building regulation deeds) but I don't think anyone could stop me putting in, say, a lavender hedge along the front. But then I have to consider where to put beds.
When I did my back garden I took months doing drawings, making plans and doing more, updated drawings before I put spade to soil, so I think I will do the same for the front over the winter and then make it next year's project.
So any and all ideas are welcomed, As you know, I love cottage garden styles and am happy to do quite radical things, but budget budget budget (after all, I have no work right now and the money I have made this last 6 months won't last forever!!!)

Friday, 4 October 2013

Bathroom transformation - finally.

Yes, it is done, 9 weeks of toil and swearing but I have finally completed the bathroom transformation and this morning had my first shower in there for 9 weeks. I am proud that I did it, but I swear I would never attempt to do it by myself again, it is way beyond me really and although I will have a go at anything the reason it has taken me so long is because I have been learning on the job. Now just pray nothing leaks - ever.

So this is how my bathroom was before:

It's difficult to tell on this photo, but the bathroom suite was green, the carpet brown and the walls dirty. If you remember, last February I put my foot through the bath and rendered it useless for bathing, a bit of gaffa tape meant that I could, at least, shower.

First things first, strip off the nasty wallpaper.

Then all the tiles off the wall

And finally back to basics with the room emptied - this was a rather frightening moment.

It is very difficult to photograph a small room like a bathroom well to give you the full affect


here is how it looks now:

Nothing is left from before, new blind, new light, new floor, new tiles, new suite. It all looks so clean!

New shower was the final thing to go in.

The sink is now I pleasant place to brush my teeth.

So there you have it, the hardest transformation I have achieved but I am very proud of it. Nothing about a bathroom is particularly cheap and costs mounted up as I kept on havign to have another trip to B&Q for another bucket of tile adhesive, but in the end the cost for the complete bathroom has come in at well under £1000, which is not bad (is it?) considering how much it would have cost if I were to have got someone else to do it for me. Labour here, was free!