Because I can’t think of what to write…

The snow continues – eight inches of the horrible stuff this morning! Fortunately it’s not that deep generally but the wind has made it drift and thanks to the barrier formed by the rose border, it’s ended up settling on our garden path.

I should have been going to a friend’s lunch party today but, as heavy snow was forecast for today, she cancelled it yesterday morning which meant that I didn’t need to make the chocolate and lime cheesecake that I’d promised to take. This, in turn, meant that I didn’t need to go to the supermarket last night to buy the limes which I forgotten to get earlier in the week when I shopped for the other ingredients. I’d probably have popped into Asda as it’s the closest store, even though its not somewhere I shop regularly.

As I haven’t written a post for a week I thought that I should make the effort but subject matter eluded me. I decided to just make a start and see where it took me. Now I’ve mentioned Asda I think I’ll continue the shopping theme.

It’s rather unfashionable nowadays to say that one doesn’t like Aldi and every now and then when I feel pang of guilt for not trying to be more economical  I go to Aldi with the intention of doing my food shop there. I really do try to muster some enthusiasm but find it such a thoroughly dispiriting experience selecting items from cardboard boxes and negotiating the cabbage leaf-strewn floor that I invariable end up buying a couple items and quickly leave to resume shopping elsewhere. The aisles are narrow, the choice limited and the lighting harsh. The staff are conditioned to scan produce so quickly that customers are left with the choice of either throwing the whole lot into a bag with no thought of packing like with like, or dumping it all back into the trolley from whence it just came, to move three yards to another counter where it all comes out of the trolley again to be repacked.  And why do they insist on heaping the middle aisles with disparate odds and ends of dubious quality. From slippers to saucepans and bicycles to books, what a mish-mash. And as for the clothing – it looks like the church jumble sale after an hour’s rummaging. I’m not suggesting that there’s nothing there worth buying, I’m sure there is, but really, who has the time or inclination to plough through it all when they’ve come in to but something for tea? Most surprising of all is that several items that I regularly buy are priced are the same as, or in the case of the small eating apples I bought, more costly than in Tesco! As one might expect, those advertised comparison baskets are very carefully selected.

I expect there are nicer, tidier branches and I’m sure that Aldi sell perfectly nice lobster or champagne (or so various surveys tell me) but what I want is to be able to trust that the carrots I buy on Monday are still OK by Saturday. Unfortunately my (albeit infrequent) experience is that one needs to be very vigilant when choosing Aldi fruit and veg. The plain fat-free yogurt was good enough but I’m not prepared to endure another Aldi shopping trip just to save a few pence on yogurt.

Nearby we have Sainsburys which is a nice shop but there are too many items that I want to buy that it doesn’t stock, ditto Morrison. So most of my shopping is done in Tesco. Here I can get everything I want and our local branch is very spacious. I like space; I like Tesco.

From time to time, when I have enough of it (i.e. time),  I’ll drive further afield and do my shopping in Waitrose which is most definitely a favourite. Although more expensive, the quality is outstanding – similar to Marks & Spencer – and the fruit and veg last very well.  M&S is about to close my local store so we’ll have neither nearby. On holiday in the Lake District I shopped in Booths. Wow! You lucky Northerners.

If a large shop is required and I’m short on time I’ve occasionally ordered from Ocado and boy is it impressive! The delivery driver once texted to ask if he could come twenty minutes early, the quality of fresh food was superb with long ‘use-by’ dates and the packing was perfectly arranged like with like. The trouble is that I don’t want my shopping delivered reguarly. I’ve heard women say that they don’t like food shopping. I simply can’t identify with that because for me, choosing the food is the next best thing to eating it!

 

Weekend arrangements

It’s been an unremarkable weekend but filled with family, friends and food it’s been a good one. The photograph below has nothing to do with this post but I love the delicate snowdrops and wanted to post a picture before they are over. There are several clumps scattered over the rockery.

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Friday morning – 9.30am: the gym. I love going to the gym, but hasten to add that this is because I meet up with friends rather than because of the exercise!  The circuit takes 30 minutes and then it’s off to the coffee room for an hour and a half. As you can see, we have our priorities right!

Later husband and I met up with our friends K & M who we see about once a month for lunch. Our usual haunt is a local pub that does a great range of food and is hugely popular so I’d booked a table. The menu changes a couple of times a year and since the latest change I have chosen the same dish every time…Posh fish & chips. It’s actually lemon sole and it tastes absolutely wonderful.  As we pass our friends’ house on the way to the pub we always pick them up and then return to theirs for coffee after our meal. It’s an arrangement that works well and the word ‘arrangement’ has become a euphemism for the chocolates that always accompany coffee. It came about when I texted K one day whilst he was in town. He replied that he was just sorting out the arrangements for that afternoon. It’s one of those silly little exchanges that mean nothing to anyone other than those involved. But isn’t that exactly how it is with good friends?

Later in the afternoon husband and I popped to Iceland as I wanted some ice cream for Sunday (granddaughters coming for lunch). Its located on a small retail park (about half a dozen shops) not far from home and it’s so much quicker to nip in there than go to the supermarket. I rarely went in there for years but have done a few times since our local branch was revamped late last year. It’s an altogether nicer experience now.

Saturday had been designated a writing day but I’d fallen badly behind with the ironing. My rule of ‘just five things’ (an attempt to fool myself into thinking that it’s barely an onerous task) had fallen so far from the wayside that it was over an hour before I sat at the computer. Even then, it wasn’t a very productive day. The last few thousand words of the novel are proving the most difficult by far.  I felt very frustrated as I typed and deleted over and over but the day brightened when my daughter popped in. She was over from Shropshire to take my eldest granddaughter shopping for a birthday treat. At thirteen she has very definite ideas about what she likes!

Younger son and family, including the soon-to-be-birthday girl, came for lunch today.    Don’t you find it unusual for a child  to say that one of their favourite vegetables is the sprout! We had a Christmas gift left-over of Harrod’s  Christmas pudding and brandy butter so that was used to provide one of the desserts. Since Husband and Daughter-in-Law are the only two who like either item, they were well catered for.  It was pronounced ‘very good’.

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I’d made a fruit and nut cake (walnuts, hazelnuts,almonds, dates, sultanas and raisins) and some chocolate cookies. The latter were not terribly successful as they were slightly overdone and became a touch bitter, but husband doesn’t seem to mind them. Younger granddaughter, yet to learn the art of diplomacy, had a bite and said, “Yuck. It’s horrible.”

After lunch D.I.L. asked if she could look at some photos of when I was a young mum. I couldn’t believe that she’d never seen any, after all she’s been with my son for over fifteen years, but she was adamant. We spent a happy hour looking through the old albums. Funny that I only wrote about this very subject a couple of posts ago.

On Sunday evening I received a very heartening email.  A fellow blogger and friend who is a professional writer had offered to take a look at my book (ie manuscript yet to have a final edit) and to critique it. I had posted parts 1 & 2 (the third and final part will follow shortly) to her and was very touched that this lovely lady had taken the time to consider it in such detail. It was a detailed email with lots of fabulously constructive criticism that I can now consider. I lay awake last night re-working certain events in my head. Here are a few of the positive comments. You can imagine how very much I appreciate them:

To say I’ve enjoyed it is an understatement. I don’t wish to over-egg my praise, but I think what you have written is extremely good, and the more you wrote, the better your writing became.  

This is a very good story, and I just hope that some agent will see the quality of your writing.

It’s not often I stay awake at night reading something, but I did with this, and again this morning, I just had to finish it.  Surely that says it all?   

Comments like this from someone whose opinion I truly value makes the hard work worthwhile.

Eating for two

I use the phrase not in the usually accepted sense, but to remind myself that I no longer cook for a family. Too often I shop and cook as though we are more than two. A great achievement yesterday – I went to the shop for carrots and I bought ONLY carrots! I am the typical ‘go in for one thing and come out with half a dozen’ kind of shopper but I am really trying to rein this in.

January began with a lot of Christmas leftovers which can occasionally make for an odd dish, though not quite as odd as the one my friend J concocted when she was about to go off on holiday for five weeks… …Yorkshire pudding with prawns! She says it was surprisingly tasty but I won’t be trying it.

A few of the things we’ve been eating this month – lots of non-meat dishes included.

A baked frittata made from mushrooms, bacon and Stilton cheese. Simply put the ingredients in a dish, cover with three beaten eggs and bake until firm. We ate it with salad and it was  very good. Another frittata was made with potato, tomato, celery, ham and feta cheese. Again, very flavoursome.

A spinach and potato curry. Although this was made up from a combination of recipes, I'[ve been inspired by a great recipe website Potatoes – more than a bit on the side:   https://www.lovepotatoes.co.uk/

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It’s hard to make this kind of dish look really good. Why do my efforts (which taste absolutely fine) never look good in photographs? Here’s a similar one ready to cook. I added lots of onion this time and left out the peas.

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Potato & white onion soup with crispy bacon and basil. This was so delicious that I made it again a few days later.

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This stir fry topped with feta was lovely. red onion, red pepper, asparagus and courgette – lots of my favourite vegetables were used along with beansprouts and a few ripe tomatoes that needed using up.I used ginger and garlic with a few chilli flakes to give it a kick.

Bubble and squeak – it’s years since we ate it but served with some vegi sausages,  wholegrain mustard mash and some of the final batch of leeks from the garden, it was much enjoyed!

January cakes included coffee & walnut, apple & cherry and a lemon drizzle.  I also made a polenta and orange cake, trying to emulate one we ate in Madeira a couple of years ago. Mine was good but not as good as the Madeiran one. I think it’s to do with the oranges.

 

A Smart plan

My New Year resolution invariably has something to do with losing weight and it usually goes along the lines of the imaginative…’I’m going to lose weight’. Sometimes there’s a supplementary resolution to ‘eat more healthily’. I can’t say that I fail in the first because I do lose it. Unfortunately I also put it back on. The pattern of lose/gain/lose/gain repeats throughout the year and come January, I’m generally not far from where I started.  So far as the second resolution goes, I eat pretty healthily most of the time but whether it’s as healthy as it could be is questionable.

I had decided not to bother making a resolution at all, but then I got to thinking that perhaps the reason I don’t really achieve what I want is because my aims are too vague. Maybe I need to treat the issue as a work problem and make them SMART. I believe this acronym is now considered a little ‘old hat’ (meaning ‘out of date’ for my readers who are unfamiliar with our quaint English turns of phrase) but it’s fine for my needs.

Specific: I want to lose 28 pounds.

Measurable: I’ll weigh in at Slimming World every Monday at 5.30pm.

Achievable: Yes, if I plan my meals, shop accordingly and stay on the SW plan.

Realistic: I’d love to lose 5lb a week but that’s unrealistic. One pound per week is not.

Timebound: Six months i.e. by 30th June 2018.

Without going into the fine detail, Slimming World  advocates eating regular, balanced meals made from good sources of protein, unrefined carbohydrates, vegetables and fruit in reasonably unlimited quantities. The plan also includes two ‘healthy extras’ which ensure sufficient quantities of fibre and calcium, and allows from between five and fifteen ‘syns’ per day (each syn equating to roughly 20 calories though this is dependent on the fat and sugar content of the individual items which are ‘synned’).  When I’m in the right zone (i.e. on plan) I tend to use these to enhance meals rather than choose chocolate or biscuits, for example. I just need to be in that zone more often! The medical profession considers the Slimming World plan as one of the most sensible eating plans around.

At the group I attend there are around one hundred members including several life-members. These are people who have achieved their target weight and continue to say withing the range of 3lb either side of it. We have members who have lost six stones plus and continue to attend classes. The classes are termed IMAGE therapy (individual motivation and group experience) and they are key to staying motivated. Not everyone stays (usually around half) which is their loss, I reckon. A group may not be for everyone but Slimming World works, even though some people like myself are not very good at it. I know that when I really put my mind to it I can do well, but goodness, do I need that weekly shot of motivation! Our group also has a private Facebook page which is great for mutual support.

I weighed in on 1st January and had gained 3lb over Christmas.  I weighed in again today, and despite the cherry scone I ate when out with my daughter (which I counted as my syns for the whole day, I lost 4lb.

It’s a good start.

Raindrops and Raspberries

A Happy New Year you all. I do hope that you will be joining me often in 2018.

It’s the last day of my thirteen day Christmas break … not a nice feeling. We cleared away the Christmas decorations this morning and so, despite the fact that I don’t  put a great many out, the place is looking a little bare. I gained 3lb at Slimming World last night, not the worst gain of the group by any means, but something to sigh about, nevertheless. Outside it’s a rainy, grey day. Come March, we can at least look forward to spring but right now that seems an awfully long way off.

However, it is our wedding anniversary. We went out for lunch and I ate delicious lemon sole so that made it somewhat better. We had intended going further afield but given the dismal weather and the fact that Husband isn’t feeling great as he has a cough (the first I can ever recall him having) and cold, we stayed local. I don’t like this time of year.

BUT ……  there are many things in my life for which I am grateful which include my lovely family, great friends, general good health and a warm and comfortable home. Oh, and raspberries; I have an abundance of raspberries.

Son and grandson are coming for tea tomorrow so I made raspberry jelly

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And raspberry & apple crumble (with an extra one for my brother)

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And raspberry brownies. They are inclined to sink where the raspberries are, but they taste amazing! I say this only from past experience … that 3lb has to be gone by next Monday’s weigh-in!

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Best of all – I still have TEN 250g boxes left!  I just popped into Tesco to buy some flowers as a gift and there they were – a huge cage of them were being reduced. There must have been a couple of hundred boxes there! The shop was almost empty and not a single customer was looking at them…just me! From £3.25 to 32p.  Whoopee!

After the event

Well, it took its time coming (weeks of preparation), finally came and then went in the blink of an eye but we had a happy time. I had some fabulous presents from Husband, children and friends. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but here is one of the books I had specifically asked for. At almost 900 pages, it’s very heavy to hold and I’ve found the only way to cope comfortably is to rest it on the arm of the chair. Bedtime reading is an impossibility!  My fondness for hares prompted the gift of mug, coaster and small tray (perfect for a slice of cake).

 

I also had a pretty glass bowl containing money for pampering (a favourite activity), a pot of fabulous Filorga Time Filler face cream (which I am known to like a great deal but can’t always justify buying), a voucher for The Blue Lemon (for the foot balm I use)   https://www.thebluelemon.co.uk/ , Bare Minerals make up, Butler’s chocolate, Perfume, gift vouchers and lots of other lovely treats. From work we each received a very welcome £50 voucher from Love to Shop which can be used in several outlets including M&S,  Debenhams and other major stores.

I thought that the Christmas TV offerings were exceptionally poor. I watched Call the Midwife  which, although rather gloomy, I enjoyed, but I switched off the eagerly anticipated Little Women before the end of the first episode and didn’t even bother with The Miniaturist  despite the hype because I thought the book (aptly described by Margaret in her blog as ‘pretentious twaddle’) was boringly awful!

We were only four adults for Christmas day lunch and two little ones (29 and 15 months) who barely ate any of it (the elder one was far more interested in pulling crackers). Nevertheless I still bought and cooked too much, but not a single bit was wasted. The leftovers have been used thus:

Parsnip, potato and apple soup: Made extra thick (takes up less freezer space), it will need diluting before serving. These two containers will yield six generous portions. I usually add water, or if I have some left over from something else, perhaps coconut milk or even a drop of cider.

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Crustless quiche with ham, mushrooms and Stilton cheese. It made lunch today with plenty left for tomorrow.

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Also in the freezer now individually portioned:

  • several portions of thickly sliced ham which will be eaten with egg and chips or served with parsley sauce, mashed potato and peas.
  • a cheesecake from which only two slices were eaten – cut into wedges ready to be removed one at a time.
  • cherry & apple crumble
  • gammon and turkey pie filling complete with stuffing and gravy (mash or pastry topping required)
  • a large container of mixed grated cheeses suitable for making cheese & potato pies, quiches or sauces (and there’s still lots of cheese left in the fridge)
  • turkey & mushroom in peppercorn sauce – great as a jacket potato filling or topped with mashed potato

I haven’t bought a thing since Christmas eve (food or otherwise) and have no intention of going shopping over the weekend (though Husband will buy bread and milk when fetching his newspaper). It’s not often I go a whole week without even entering a shop! I reckon there’s enough in the cupboards and freezer to take us though January. I’ll buy fresh fruit and veg, of course, but I can’t imagine the need for a supermarket shop. (If I do, I’ve nowhere to put it anyway!)

For my final comment on Christmas 2017 – as requested by Theresa, here is the recipe for my Christmas cake. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t make a traditional one. This is a much used apple-cake recipe (more than 25 years old) which I tweak. The original is from the Bygones Museum (Babbacombe, Devon) recipe booklet. I’ve shown in brackets what I actually use

  • 10oz SR flour
  • 6oz butter/margarine
  • 6oz caster sugar (Billingtons golden)
  • 4oz sultanas and 2oz currants (6oz Whitworths mixed fruit. I like this one because it’s very moist and sticky)
  • 12oz cooking apples (red eating apples, cored and chopped but not peeled)
  • 3  standard eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk (3 tbs amaretto for Christmas version)
  • Pinch of salt (I never add this)
  • Half a tsp mixed spice (2 tsps cinnamon)

Rub fat into flour and cinnamon. Stir in sugar, fruit and apples. Add beaten eggs and milk/spirit. Baked in loose bottomed 8″ tin on 175c for …….here the recipe suggests one and three quarter hours but I find an hour maximum is ample time. Test with a skewer.

For the Christmas version, I spread top with icing sugar/water mixture and decorate with cherries, walnuts and almonds  but use whatever suits your tastes.

I have played around with this recipe using pears instead of apples or a mixture of cherries and pecans instead of the mixed fruit. I’ve made it with ginger instead of cinnamon and even thrown in a few halved grapes or blueberries when I’ve wanted to use them up. Experiment and enjoy!

And if you missed my earlier post – here’s what my Christmas version looked like.

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I do not like snow (but potatoes are good)

We’ve just made the national lunchtime news. Whilst gritters have been out in full force across the Midlands, in my local area snow ploughs have been deployed. I am not excited.

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It looks like a black & white photo. It’s not – it’s just the way my garden looked when I got  up this morning. There was already a light covering of snow left over from yesterday which didn’t stop us doing anything but last night’s snowfall topped it up, and getting the car out of the close today is a task not worth attempting. Thank goodness for our ample food stocks; I have no need to go anywhere. Even Tesco Express, a five minute walk away is too far for me, though husband has been to fetch his newspaper. So important is this to him that I can’t think of a weather situation which would actually stop him!

Unlike most small children, from as far back as I can recall, I did not like snow. I considered it as too cold, too wet and too dangerous and was always afraid when my Dad went out to work in it. Of what, I have no idea but I can recall exactly how I felt. As an adult I detest it.  It is, I concede, one of nature’s prettiest decorations and I do not underestimate the magical atmosphere created by a (very light) sprinkling on Christmas Eve, but thicker snow worries me. I hate the thought of my children driving in it, of my grandchildren being driven around in it, of accidents and damage to cars and the associated costs. Snow makes me feel unnerved. I hate the feeling of helplessness, that I can do nothing to prevent it falling and, irrationally, I hate that snow covers up reality – it feels sinister. Yes, I get it – that’s weird!

I hear that my grandchildren are out enjoying building snowmen. Somewhere there is a photo of my very young sons with a snowman who even sported a snow-made top hat. Unfortunately I can’t locate it.  When my own children were young one of the books we most enjoyed reading together was this one:

Isn’t it odd that I should enjoy it so much? Written very much in the style of Dr. Seuss, it was really fun. I love reading with children as much as I hate snow!

My daughter watched The Snowman animated film (from Raymond Briggs wonderful book) endlessly as a little girl. I still watch it every year at Christmas. The pictures in the book are so beautifully drawn and the adaptation to film has been wonderfully done.

Enough of snow –  I just hope it melts very soon.  OH NO! No sooner did I type those words that it’s started again. The flakes are bigger than ever.

Meanwhile … … … I had the following pop-up onto my Facebook page earlier and thought I’d share it.  With the headline Potatoes – more than a bit on the side it’s a selection of recipes which showcase the potato rather than relegate it to the bit that fills up the space on the plate.  How fabulous does this look? Cheap, filling and nutritious, I often think that potatoes are overlooked when they can be used very successfully (and tastily) as the main ingredient of a dish. I shall definitely be investigating the site further.   https://www.lovepotatoes.co.uk/recipes/spanish-tortilla-with-paprika-and-parsley/

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My blog-friend Bless always finishes her posts with a list of five things that she’s grateful for and today I am going to do the same.

Today I’m grateful for:

  • a warm home
  • well stocked food cupboards
  • that my family and I don’t have to drive anywhere
  • that my Christmas presents are all bought and wrapped
  • my cosy slippers