Finally gone crackers…

December 26, 2018

I’ve been intending to make my own crackers since about September. As I have done for many years, without ever actually getting around to it; somehow I’ve always ended up buying them instead, then getting cross with myself on a number of different levels. In no way are crackers actually necessary, so why I should I find myself stressing about them? They really are spectacularly wasteful items, in terms of money spent and resources used to very little effect. Because I like them, that’s why! And the festive photos just wouldn’t be the same without the silly hats…

If you don’t want crackers that look cheap & flimsy, you’ll end up spending a lot of money on something that’s just going to be torn apart & thrown away. The gifts inside are usually simply left on or under the table, no matter how genuinely useful or sturdy. Some of the hats always tear whilst being unfolded and never make it onto heads. The jokes are usually spectacularly unfunny, with the odd exception, and half the snaps – just don’t.

Anyway, for one reason or another, as we raced up towards the Big Day, crackers had totally failed to appear in our household. On Christmas Eve I braved a last-minute dash to our local, rather upmarket, supermarket, to acquire the last-minute necessities like cream & salad, and swung past the “seasonal” aisle, thinking I might just invest in a box of crackers after all. But somehow all the more-reasonably-priced lines had just vanished and all that was left was an entire wall of top-of-the-range £20 boxes of crackers. Beautifully presented in lavish gold-wrapped boxes with huge glittery bows, but – £20 for a box of crackers? Just – no! However, other shoppers were sighing and muttering, “I suppose I’ll have to…” The cynic in me couldn’t help wondering whether any remaining cheaper boxes had been whipped off the shelves, an impression that was strengthened by the smug little grin on the manager’s face as he stood by the stock-room door watching the boxes being hurled into trolleys. That may be completely unjust, though!

Luckily, for once I was well ahead (by my standards!) with present-buying & wrapping and had the evening earmarked for doing something relaxing. Yes, you’ve guessed it – cracker-making! And whilst they were far from the delightfully-artistic hand-made dainties I’d had visions of making back in September, they did the job and looked OK, and used mostly resources that had no other particular reason for existing – little bits of left-over stuff from many years of present-wrapping. Everyone was mightily relieved not to have to find room for yet another tape measure or bottle-opener, as I’d filled them with “posh” chocs instead, and the wrapping-paper hats were still being worn in the evening. At some point I’ll do a “how-to” page for quick-&-dirty crackers, should anyone else find themselves overcome with horror at the thought of paying ridiculous sums of money for such instantly-disposable items.

And in other news, I’ve decided to appropriate another Scandinavian tradition; Christmas breakfast will henceforth be cinnamon buns, now and for ever after! I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas, or whatever festival you are celebrating at this time of the turning of the year. And I wish you all a happy, peaceful, creative and above all healthy 2019…

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Harmless fun…

December 2, 2018

I’m still running a little below my full operating speed, though pretty well all things considered. I’m very happy to have been told that all of the problem has been safely removed, but not quite so happy to find out that a little “mopping-up” treatment is advisable, just to be on the safe side. However, the safe side is where I’d infinitely prefer to be, in this instance! So I shall be mostly at-home for the next few months; oooh, this is my chance to use up some of my enormous and wonderfully-varied crafting stash…

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Origami stars…

It seems that handmade is enjoying something of a resurgence; those of my friends who sell their lovely wares have been astonished & utterly delighted to have been mobbed at the various craft fairs & shows this year. People have finally realised that something unique and special is worth paying proper money for. I’m not disparaging the efforts of those who slave away in third-world sweatshops, many of whom are highly skilled and deserve much, much more than the pittance they’re getting under our “globalised” economy, but please do support your local craftspeople too, who can’t afford to match the prices of giant corporations but are usually offering something vastly superior, as they’re driven by the need to create something wonderful, rather than the need to produce identikit items at the lowest possible cost in order to cream off vast sums of money.

I’m happy enough reclaiming, recycling, & selling on resources for other crafters & artists to use; I can & have sold things I’ve created, sometimes even on commission, but I find that that seems to place a demand on me that suppresses my creativity. So now I tend to make for myself, my family and my friends only.

So… it’s going to be a handmade Christmas, chez nous. Again! And although we’re wading through a small tide of handmade origami stars already (instructions here) this is the effort that’s made me smile the most so far:

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… a doorway decoration made from the crocheted edging of an old, stained tablecloth, two broken necklaces, two pairs of earrings and some random reclaimed beads & bead-lacing from my stash. The “junk jewellery” came mostly from a jumble sale yesterday; 20p per item (or pair of) items. The tablecloth came in a £10 job-lot of old linen, some of which was saleable as is, and some even usable (6 high-quality, pristine linen & Egyptian cotton pillowcases) but much of which has seen better days. I like to think that the ladies (well, probably) who sat & painstakingly crocheted these lovely edgings so many years ago would much rather see them loved and used, even in pieces, than sat in drawers or worse still, landfill. Full credit to my darling elder daughter for this lovely idea!

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Off now to assess my considerable resources and come up with some other off-the-wall ideas!

This really matters…

November 13, 2018
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Allotment-grown goodies…

Get Food, Growing, Cooking & Nutrition on the School Curriculum

OK, I’m back! This little petition request (above) popped into my inbox this morning, and really lit a fuse under my still-somewhat-sluggish mind. It’s a subject dear to my heart and woven throughout the fabric of my life; food, and the production thereof, is THE most fundamental factor in our collective health after clean water. Even above sanitation & the miracles of modern medicine; if you are healthy & well-nourished, you stand a far better chance of fighting back effectively should misfortune strike.

But what people seem to lack today is the power to make sane & sensible food choices, because they have no basis to make those choices except advertising from the manufacturers & purveyors of junk foods. Thanks to the steady downgrading & elimination of Home Economics, Domestic Science and the like from our school curriculum (subjects that enabled people to stand on their own two feet at home and often went far beyond that) many people actually seem unaware that they do have choices apart from what’s in front of them on the supermarket shelf, no matter how devoid of actual goodness it may be. Not to mention the fact that they usually have no time to spend pursuing more sensible (and usually more delicious) choices, or actually cooking them, or experimenting to get the best out of them. And many people lack the space & time to grow their own.

How can small local food businesses, selling decent produce, survive in a marketplace dominated by giant supermarket chains unless people know there are other choices available? How can farmers stand up to the ever-growing pressure to reduce costs by cutting corners if we don’t care enough to reward them?

How can children appreciate good food if they’ve never tasted it? We all know the battles we’ve been through to get reluctant children to try something new, something that their friends perhaps don’t eat, but we also know that mostly, with persistence, that battle can eventually be won. I have fond memories of administering a “green box” scheme, where the farmer delivered to & the customers collected from my doorstep; one of my sons, then aged four, would prowl up & down surreptitiously to identify the customers who didn’t like kale, then happily inform them that, actually, he did. Nine times out of ten, thanks to his big blue eyes, we’d end up with extra kale to stir-fry to crispy with garlic & soy sauce. Naughty boy! But he still loves kale now, aged twenty-six and halfway through a PhD…

It doesn’t just come down to money, although time is definitely a big factor. We all know people who eat well & thrive on a tiny budget, and people who have plenty of money but are suffering from all the ills that modern society can inflict on them. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely do not have enough money or resources to eat well, or at all, much to our collective shame; there are far too many, for far too many different reasons, mostly not self-inflicted. But for the vast majority of people whose weekly trolleys are laden down with junk, it’s lack of awareness that there is another way that’s hammering them, from both the health and budgetary angles. Or lack of confidence to at least try… and that’s what could so easily be addressed at a young age, if the political will to act is there.

To put it in terms that even a politician could understand: people cannot make sensible choices if they are not aware that there are choices…

It’s no good insisting that this education should take place in the home, when many young parents have never learnt themselves to cook or budget. This is not necessarily a new problem; witness my poor mother‘s experience. (Luckily for us, my “aunt” Ethel was a good & dedicated cook…) The lack of importance given to this subject for many years, the downgrading of domestic knowledge and inspiration, the idea that domesticity equals drudgery have all played a part in crippling us. As has the idea that seeking to make the best of the resources available to you is somehow “cheapskating” rather than just plain sensible.

Personally I think the time has come to get angry about this; we are all, or have been, suffering because we don’t know any better, or we’re not confident enough to try – and we could be, so easily…

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Home-grown tomatoes, home-made preserves…

Aaargh…

October 27, 2018

Please forgive my absence for a while; I’ve had a bit of an unpleasant shock. Suffice it to say that a “routine” medical investigation revealed something rather nasty & I shall be having a little lie-down in hospital for a day or two next week. Apparently the signs are all good and I seem to be otherwise in good shape & should recover fast. I’m lucky enough to be supported by a very professional & helpful team, and even luckier to have lots of willing help & company at home, but still, it feels somewhat like a slap in the face with a wet fish.

Back when I’ve got my head around it and found my feet again! In the meantime, here’s a pic of a very cuddly & almost-fullgrown Poppy…

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A little bit of self-discipline…

September 22, 2018
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Making the most of the season!

…wouldn’t go amiss! Those of you who frequent the Old-Style MSE forum may have noticed that I’ve gone way over on my grocery budget this month, and I’m actually at a bit of a loss to explain it. That probably means it’s a combination of factors, starting with me not paying proper attention to what I’m buying/growing & cooking. There’s also definitely an element that basic foodstuffs have been steadily creeping upwards in price, downwards in quantity and in some cases vanishing altogether from the easily-available supermarket shelves.

Anyway, one of the best tools I have for keeping costs under control is the meal-plan. I used to plan the week’s meals on a Friday morning, when I did the main grocery shop at our local market, but things have changed; some stalls have gone altogether, and some no longer trade on a Friday but others only then, so most weekends I’ll need to pay more than one visit to the market. And of course I work a number of weekends, through the warmer months. So it’s all got a bit chaotic and I need to impose some self-discipline after we had a number of large bills to pay this summer, mostly on the motor & moggy maintenance front.

So I’m going to try to post my weekly meal-plans up here, along with my usual ramblings, and stick to them! Most of the time now I’m just feeding four adults; two omnivores and two pescatarians. The girls will often cook a “main” dish for themselves, though they’ll usually share our vegetables & any carbs, but I try to make sure there are resources available for them to make things with. “HG” stands for home-grown, “HM” stands for home-made, and I’m only planning to list the “mains” – puddings are mostly yogurt or fresh fruit, lunches are HM soup or salad, or poached eggs on toast (though our chickens are currently in the moult, so we’re getting one egg a day out of 10 birds) and breakfasts might be pancakes with fruit, porridge with HM apple butter or crab-apple jelly, or toast made with “good” bread – I’m working on a new & hopefully more palatable sourdough starter right now, thanks to Sharon of Learn Sourdough.

This week’s plan:

  • Saturday: lamb or sweet potato tagine (using leftover lamb) with bulgur wheat, HG beans, carrots & courgette.
  • Sunday: roast chicken/roasted veg with roast potatoes, broccoli and HG carrots
  • Monday: Macaroni & cauliflower cheese & baked beans – beans possibly HM., lots of HG tomatoes to use up!
  • Tuesday: Baked potatoes, sausages, eggs (if any!) & stir-fried HG veg
  • Wednesday: chicken curry/lentil dahl with rice – frozen veg? Depends…
  • Thursday: Sausage/bean casserole with any potatoes I can lay my hands on, HG or otherwise, hopefully HG beans & carrots.
  • Friday – fish dish of some kind, depending on what the market fishmonger’s got at a good price, and whether the boats have been out. Trout sounds good!

I’m hoping to do some more preserving, if the weather plays ball and I can get out for some more blackberries & crab apples. Looks to me like a few more jars of jelly/apple butter would come in handy to get us right through to next summer, but then I’ll move onto chutney. So – will I be able to keep to my self-imposed budget in October? Watch this space…

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Home-grown beans, courgette and two colours of carrot!

Some idiots, some good people…

September 4, 2018

End of the summer holidays & we can get out & about again without sitting in a traffic jam for half an hour! I’ve just been out blackberrying on the drove roads out to the north-west of our little town. I left my van in a convenient parking spot (its National Trust farmland; it really is a proper parking spot with plenty of room for working tractors to get past) and set off down the trail. Within a few yards of the parking spaces I was dismayed to find poo bags liberally scattered in the long grass either side of the path, all different colours, most of them not even tied shut. It’s not as if there isn’t a dog-waste bin down there; there is, and it’s a fox-proof one, so they hadn’t been dragged there, just thoughtlessly discarded by people who can’t bear to handle the inevitable by-products of pet ownership. It’s as if people just expect someone else to clean up after them, no matter where they are, and they clearly have no idea just how much damage those plastic bags can do to wildlife, or someone else’s dog, for that matter. It would be far better just to leave the poo where it’ll just rot down into the earth, as long as it’s not on the actual path. Sigh…

I got loads of berries, and found a hitherto-unsuspected crab apple too – yippee! I thought my imagination was running riot as I was thinking of blackberry & apple crumble, and could even smell the delicious tang of the apples, then I turned to see a little tree waving red-gold fruit gently at me above the hedgerow. They’re not quite ready yet, so that one’s “bookmarked” for a week or so’s time. There are a couple of others out there that I know of, one green, one yellow, and lots of elderberries and other goodies out there, free for the effort of picking them.

I only saw two other people out there on this lovely afternoon; a lone cyclist and a lady of much my own age, walking three very elderly retrievers. We exchanged a few pleasant words about being inappropriately dressed for the heat, me in my thorn-resisting denim & walking boots, her in a tweed skirt, cardigan & sensible-if-elderly knee-high country boots. I gathered blackberries for another ten minutes or so, until my tubs were full, then strolled back towards the van. And lo & behold, the poo bags were gone, all gone. There are good people out there too…

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Blackberries ripening in the garden…

The time has come…

August 30, 2018

… to pick up my long-neglected keyboard again. Life has started to calm down a little; the kittens are nearly 6 months old now and not quite so relentlessly cute and playful. My mother has moved, and despite other people’s worries about her leaving her lovely “sheltered” flat, is very much happier in her little bungalow, with a garden she can sit out in, and family & friends close by. I have come to the end of my summer shows, and am starting to move surplus stock on as most of my trading “dates” from now on until next spring are indoors, which means having not much more space than a tabletop. The allotment & garden are in full production and now I need to swing into action on the preserving front. It’s not been such a good year for apples & quinces, but the hedgerow fruits seem to have done rather well.

No. 2 son staggered through the door last night, having done a 12-mile training run whilst suffering from a raging cold, and begged for a lift back to the gym where he’d left his car. I wasn’t doing anything, and it was a chance to see him – he moved out (for the third time) a month or so ago – so gladly agreed. As I drove into the car park opposite the gym, my headlights lit up two little trees groaning under the weight of crab apples. So a good armful of those came home with me, whilst my son suddenly regained his athleticism and hurtled off into the night before anyone recognised him. This afternoon I went down to the old railway and liberated a tub of blackberries, and now a muslin full of boiled crab apples & blackberries, along with a sprig of rosemary from the garden, is dripping into one of my preserving pans to be jellied tomorrow. I must raid the stash of reclaimed jam-jars in the garage & clean them ready for use… Much though I’ll miss summer, and never want it to end, I do love this time of year!

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Crab apples & blackberries ready for boiling!

Just in case…

June 19, 2018

…you’ve been wondering where I’d got to, any spare time I’d imagined there might be has been well & truly usurped by these two cuties…

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Poppy & Dora

Not to mention this:

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Allotment, Spring 18

Or running my stall, or attempting to declutter via the local car boot sales, or helping my 92 y.o. mother prepare to move house, or preparing for the summer shows! Back in a little while, when things have calmed down and I can walk down the hallway without a kitten wrapped around my ankle…

And time has passed…

March 27, 2018

…again. Winter seems to have gone on forever, but at long last Spring really is in the air. I’ve been a bit quiet because there’s been a lot going on at home; my lovely mother has taken it into her head to move, aged 92. This is All Good, because although her “retirement” flat is lovely, and the on-site carers are absolute stars, she’s been so very lonely there since my stepfather passed away. Her new home is under 100 yards from the home of one of my brothers, and much closer to the other two as well, although further away from us. There are several other family members and friends also close by, so she will have people of all generations popping in all the time, which will be so very good for her. We’ll have to travel a little further, but we’ll get to see more family members when we go, so overall I’m well-pleased.

And – Him Indoors is running the London Marathon next month. This has obviously involved a lot of training, and a fair bit of fund-raising too, but more to the point, it’s been a huge learning curve for him in the field of social media. So I’ve spent a fair bit of any time that might otherwise have been “spare” mentoring him on his cyber-journey. He’d resisted all involvement up to now, but his “team” communicate & encourage each other via a Facebook group, so his time as a avowed technophobe has had to come to an end. I’m very proud of him; for tackling such an enormous thing in the first place, but also of the leaps forward he’s taken into cyberspace. (See Pete’s Marathon ReRun if you’re interested!)

I’ve also been clearing stuff out of my “work” shed, the garage and spare bedroom/sewing studio. Some has been sold, some given away and a few items, I’m afraid to say, actually did have to be dumped, as mice had got into the boxes. That does make me feel a little guilty; there’s not much point “rescuing” stuff if I only end up ruining it instead. It’s a little worrying to realise that though I’ve been working on it for weeks, I’ve probably only cleared about a quarter of what needs to be re-homed. And needless to say, I’ve somehow managed to acquire a fairly large rug/tapestry loom to replace the one that was too big to keep.

A decision has been reached to re-brand the remaining traders from the old Boscombe Vintage Market as the Velvet Magpies Vintage Market, as we don’t trade in Boscombe any longer. We haven’t done anything as a market over the past year, but we’ve all missed working together, so the time has come to start planning & moving forward again!

Anyway, the clocks moving forwards have brought one huge benefit; we can go for a stroll along the riverbank after tea! My seedlings are coming up, my allotment beds are being cleared; life is returning, and with it my writing mojo…

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Baffled again…

January 4, 2018
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Sweet old Christmas card

…not for the first time! I was intrigued to see all the posts on social media over the festive season about how a real Christmas tree is so much better for the environment than a fake tree. Well, of course it’s better that people should be encouraging the growing of trees rather than spinning copies up out of aldulterated oil & extruded metal that could certainly be put to better use. But most of the posts I read seemed to imply that a fake tree would only have been used once; i.e. you should have been buying a new fake tree every year… oh dear, I’m on the wrong planet again!

I’ve been getting quite cross with myself; surely it would be horribly patronising of me to think that real people actually do do just that? That they’ll spend serious amounts of money buying a fake tree & decorations in this year’s colourways that are just going to end up at the Tip as soon as it re-opens after the festive break? Of course, there will be those with good reasons for getting rid of a tree; they don’t last forever, they do get scruffy & fall apart eventually. People move or change their homes around and need a tree of a different size or shape. Some won’t have anywhere to keep stuff until next year, or their old decorations hold sad or bitter memories for them. But equally, there will be people out there next autumn who are wondering how they can afford to decorate; perhaps they could be given away rather than dumped? Which might restore the environmental balance a little?

And – things can be re-used in different ways, putting a new slant on old memories. I was amused & intrigued to find a number of our old floral candle-rings, once used as table decorations, now looking glorious in a starring role on this year’s tree. (We have two cats, one relatively young and very playful; the few surviving old glass decorations stayed safely in their boxes this Christmas!) Decorations do somehow hold memories; I often “rescue” vintage ones and you can almost feel the weight of stories accumulated over the years. Sometimes bittersweet, but mostly gentle and goodhearted. Somewhere I have some festive printed crepe paper that my grandfather treasured from his childhood, which was always wrapped around the bucket we had our tree in; he was born in 1883, and grew up, as did my father, then I myself in a close & happy, if sometimes far-flung, family. That piece of paper holds memories of well over a hundred festive Christmasses, though hardly any of them would have involved much money!

And in the meantime, I’ve come up with a different interpretation of the word “Epiphany” – the realisation that I will still be picking Christmas tree needles out of myself and our soft furnishings in July… Happy New Year to you all, and may the recycling/remaking/reusing/making-new-from-old Force be with you!

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A rescued vintage Santa…