Thursday, 31 December 2009

Duty done

It’s all over for another year!
The midnight was something we hadn’t done in years so was a bit of a treat in terms of a lie in on Christmas morning. Father Christmas had visited and we took it in turns to draw items from our stockings until we’d all run out. Very satisfying! Drinks with the neighbours were bubbly. Lunch went well despite the slightly fraught cook, and I managed to get the pudding properly alight for the first time ever (it needs much more alcohol than I thought necessary). The cracker jokes were even more dreadful than usual. We managed a few pressies before the Queen, and the rest with The Incredibles. We only drank tea, and couldn’t manage more than a few nibbles for supper.
Parents went home on the 27th saying they’d enjoyed themselves, and the in-laws started arriving. Another family tradition: 5 siblings with their 5 spouses and 2 children each, plus the patriarch and his wife. A healthy 22 to feed! A planned leftover turkey was turned into a Thai- and an Indian-style salad with various side dishes including the required vegetarian pastry for the veggie family. The dodgy Pavlova disappeared, as did half the brownies, but the mincemeat tart is loitering in the fridge. Tea was enjoyed by 16 of us after the others had departed. I later discovered that the youngest visitor (amongst those who missed tea) had managed to eat yet another cake under the table apparently noticed only by Eldest. Too much of her mother has clearly rubbed off as she remarked that his behaviour had been matched only by his parents’ inability to provide any form of discipline! He ate nothing but cake on the previous evening when 3 families sat down to bangers/cheese and baked potatoes with baked beans followed by fruit and had left the table before gingerbread muffins were produced. He came back for two. Eldest wondered why anyone would eat anything but cake if they were allowed to eat it without eating any of the other offerings. At least we were prepared for the non-partaking of the first course, followed by two puddings. Eldest didn’t mention the under the table incident until she caught me muttering about people who dropped cake papers on my cream carpet.
But we’re all done. It won’t be our turn to host for three years (don’t ask, I can’t do the maths either).
Now we look forward to dinner this evening, a different sort of entertaining. Happy New Year!

(The photo is of Eldests gift from her knitting grandmother.)

Monday, 21 December 2009

Almost there

The birthday is behind us, and all but two of the people we were expecting turned up at the leisure centre. I failed completely and made my Youngest cry by providing the wrong cake, (a difference of opinion about what a lemon drizzle cake is – apparently I said that was what you called Delia's lemon curd cake…). However no one else noticed it was incorrect, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. They were so worn out by the hour playing on the inflatable assault course in the pool that they were extremely well behaved over the birthday tea. They ate all the cake and almost everything else. We were all cleared away and home in time for the Latin dances in the Strictly final. Result!

We sang carols in church yesterday evening and it snowed over night so we're ready to be Christmasy. Cards are now all written so just need delivering. We’ve agreed the decorations can go up today so now we just need to agree who is going to do what. It was much simpler when it was assumed I would do it, now everyone wants a turn. I wonder if I can trust the girls to be kind to one another as they decorate the tree while I hide in the kitchen with the as yet unfinished Christmas cake?
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Perfect Christmas and Unknowns

I had an interesting conversation with my girls after my last post re perfect Christmases. Apparently I was nearly right about the need for pizza, chocolate and a few presents, but you also need some decorations. However none of this matters if we could have the heating on all day, as being cosy would make all the difference! I have warned Husband in advance of this requirement, having the heating on all day is something I only dream of: Husband is a firm believer in putting on another jumper. But this year I have hopes!

The lists remain long:
25 more cards
Birthday cake for Youngest
Soup for visiting vegetarians’ lunch on Saturday
Party tea for Saturday evening at swimming pool party including (another) cake for an unknown quantity of (pre)teens.*
Only after the ongoing celebrations can I think about decorations, cake icing, present wrapping…

*In fact the list of unknowns is great: school friends at secondary school are unknown, there parents more so. I have no means of contact except through the birthday girl, and no way of knowing whether the invitations were ever shown to a parent. From “They're all coming” to “No one’s coming” in a couple of weeks. No doubt somewhere between lies the number of girls attending. It is impossible to protect children from learning that giving a party is almost never stress free!

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Could it be perfect?

It’s that time of year when no matter how many things you get done there are always more things you could have done that you fear might be the difference between the Perfect Christmas and the OK variety. Why do we do it to ourselves? The family would no doubt be happier if their mother was less stressy; and, so long as there’s pizza and chocolate and presents, don’t much care what else is achieved.

I am in the throws of making the Christmas cards and have even written a few. (But I haven't cleaned the windows so there are shadows on my photo, in case you wondered.) Most presents are bought and some must be wrapped this weekend so they can be taken away by visitors attending Youngest’s birthday lunch on Sunday. This meal is the next on my list of to do’s and is slightly complicated by the wish to be gluten and dairy free for Great Friend to feel included. It’s not difficult, it just means I must think a bit harder about what to make or what not to add – Pavlova for instance can be produced in component parts so that only those who like cream need have some, and it’s one of Youngest’s favourite puddings… and it will use some of the excess of raspberries I have in the freezer courtesy of the allotment. (I had a plan to fill the freezer with meals for the holidays as instructed by all the magazines at this time of year, but had no room in it to do so even if I’d managed to be that organised!)
Less fuss, less stress should be my motto if I was even slightly sensible, instead I shall no doubt continue to rush about trying to get everything done. Better go and make another list.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


It's the first of December and the Advent calendars are up once more. It is gratifying that despite being 15 and almost 13 there were two girls hopping up and down in front of their trees when they saw them up and ready in the sitting-room! The calendars often feel like a rod to beat me with when I spend November hunting for items small enough (and inexpensive enough) to fill 48 pocket parcels in time for today, but it's well worth it for that reaction. 
They are silk trees, made a few years apart, the first, with its red pot, made for Husband when he was away in Northern Ireland. His tree, as a one off, was filled with a variety of silly or luxurious things to cheer him while away from home for his daughter's first Christmas. He was away the next year too, but by then the advent calendar had been commandeered for Eldest. Mind, in those days a balloon was the height of excitement as a pocket gift. I haven't tried that lately!
Must be time to start on the Christmas cards.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Prouder than a proud thing

It has been the dance school’s production of The Nutcracker this weekend. The tension and excitement has been building since Eldest was cast as Clara, and the relations and friends were primed and ready to attend so that someone would be watching her at each of three performances. We went to the last night last night. It wasn’t enough! Mother of Leading Boy14 had been on Saturday night as well, and I wished I’d done the same. Eldest was lovely; the whole school had gone up a notch since their show three years ago, and it was impossible to take it all in in one go. Miss Dance Teacher had done wonders with choreography so that all the children had the potential to look good even if all they could really do was ‘good toes, naughty toes’. The sweetness of four little angels helping the fair godmother pick stars from the sky! And the costumes were wonderful: tutus in all directions! From the smallest child who sat on the stage too struck by the presence of the audience to actually dance to the Sugar Plum Fairy in all her technical pointe shoe glory it was a delight.
Inevitably the 5 boys in the school were particularly noticeable: four of them doing a Russian dance were an absolute scream as the two little ones made a terrific stab at doing the leaps of Leading Boy14 and Leading Boy15. Wonderful! And their presence meant we were treated to pas de deux by both the Sugar Plum and her Prince, and Clara and the Nutcracker. They’re boys not men so their role was supportive rather that any sort of lifting or ‘real’ help, but what fun!
Now she is back down to earth with sore feet and a worry that it will be her last show – in three years time she will have left school.
We await the hideously expensive DVD.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Homemade is best, maybe!

As usual I’ve been thinking about my contribution to the family pot which as you know is not a financial one, despite the fact that it is me who spends the bulk of our income. This means I decide how best to spend our money, and make savings or economies where I see fit.

As a result it doesn’t matter how much I love all the folksy stuff in the shops right now I feel quite unable to buy it: I could make it myself! The problem, as Eldest points out regularly, is that I don’t! So I’m working on revising her view…
To that end I’ve had a lovely time cutting out squares and am in the throws of producing cushions and hearts for my girls: Santa’s Little Helpers are very busy!
It remains to be seen if this is a sensible use of my time. Past experience tells me that people are not always appreciative of things you make as presents. The year I gave our siblings home made hampers that included my chutney, mincemeat and fudge there were one or two distinctly underwhelmed thank-yous. It is hard to believe that someone else’s ‘home made’ produce would have been more appropriate, but I would have spent money (instead of time)…
To be fair the girls are usually pleased with homemade items. In their time they’ve received clothing, dressing-up clothes, curtains, quilts, cushions and bags. Husband has been given a waistcoat, cummerbund, bow tie and a tiny teddy all made by his wife. And he’s worn them! I have made wedding and bridesmaid dresses for several friends and relations; my labour being their wedding present. These are labours of love that people have been pleased with, but it is not always so!
An early gift of a garage for my younger brothers, suitable for their matchbox cars, and made in secret from a Weetabix box and a great deal of Copydex was, perhaps deservedly, looked upon with derision, although my kind mother made them thank me. I have no idea what the uncles did with their polystyrene boats, made the same year. Blue Peter has a lot to answer for.

Friday, 6 November 2009

A Dependant's Tale

There has always been a soldier in my life. When I left home, and before I was married, I was not strictly dependant upon one, but my ‘escape’ was relatively brief.
I was born in a British Military Hospital in M√ľnster when my parents were in Germany with the Royal Artillery (the Gunners). At the time they were living in a caravan because they were considered too young to be married (they were 22) and so the Army wouldn’t provide them with a married quarter. My imminent arrival resulted in two house-sitting arrangements until a quarter could be found. We later moved to Hanover and then Hildesheim, before moving to Larkhill on Salisbury Plain in time for me to go to school. We moved again as Father’s career took him through further training at Staff College, first at Shrivenham, then Camberley and on to Barton Stacey. I went to 4 schools before becoming a boarder in Kent when I was 10. I stayed at that school for 6 years, moving to another for the 6th form. My parents and ‘home’ continued to move, including another posting to Germany and one to Northern Ireland. By the time my parents bought a home of their own I had lived in 15 quarters, 2 schools (at 4 addresses) and 4 student addresses in London and Leeds. I was 21. This is not unusual in the services.
Husband was a soldier for 30 years; he left the Army last month. We were married as the first of the recent Gulf Wars came to an end in 1991; I was very glad he was in a desk job, as he has been during the current conflicts. We were separated soon after Eldest was born when he did a tour in Northern Ireland, and again when he served in Bosnia (he missed her first two Christmases). As a 'dependant' you have to expect this, it is their job after all, but none of us like it. Lucky Youngest has never been without him. Since we married we have lived at 9 addresses and this we plan will be our last.
My uncle and one of my brothers both missed our wedding as they were in the Gulf, one an RAF navigator and the other a Gunner, like Husband. Father did three tours in Northern Ireland in the 1970s when I was away at boarding school. I got all my friends to write to him!

Paternal Grandfather was in the Army Education Corps. He and his family were in Singapore when the Japanese attacked in WW2, and his wife and children were evacuated on the last ship out. He died in Changi. On my mother’s side, Great-Grandfather, commanded the 1st Battalion The Black Watch and was killed in early September 1914 at the Battle of The Aisne. He left a wife and four children. His only son was also in The Black Watch, and was killed in France in 1940.
I will count my blessings on Remembrance Sunday once again.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Circular skirts

From six of these!

Not as easy a trick as I might have hoped. Youngest considered the fabric 'so lush' she wanted something made for her, but it came from Miss Danceteacher with a request for circular skirts for the Liquorish Allsorts. Eldest is performing in The Nutcracker with her dance school and I had offered my sewing skills once more. Miss Danceteacher's mother had already made 6 and had lost the will to live, so would I finish the job? Polyester satin that will look stunning on the modern dancing Allsorts with matching leggings and black T-shirts, but the fabric was thin and slippery making level hems frankly impossible. They do not bear any sort of inspection but should hold together and look great on stage!
This weekend we have to report on Saturday to learn what hairstyles and make-up our children will require, and then on Sunday they get their photos taken so they can make a bit of extra money when we all see our darlings caught in costume! Of course we've already contributed to the cost of costumes and bought tickets to the shows, not to mention the families' commitment to all the rehearsals.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Half-term break

That's half-term over for another term then. The girls and I have been to our favorite other place: the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. We've had glorious weather, enjoyed a number of fine walks, eaten a scrumptious cream tea (well, strictly speaking only I ate a scrumptious cream tea. For some unknown reason Eldest doesn't like clotted cream, and Youngest prefers a toasted teacake. Foolishly they dared me to eat both portions of clotted cream, something that I'm able to report I had no difficulty in achieving.), read several novels, did lots of Times puzzles and generally chilled out. The cottage is petite and there is no TV so it is a great place for quality family time.
But the best laid plans can go awry! Husband came down after uni on Tuesday night and joined us for a walk and pub lunch the next day. I put him back on the train on Thursday at 6.20am and he stayed in a hotel overnight. Got a call on Friday saying he was on his way. The train broke down: it took him 2 1/2 hours to get from Bristol to Bath where he gave up and cadged a bed off the in-laws. On reflection it didn't seem worth his while to come south on Saturday since we needed to get back early on Sunday for Eldest's inevitable ballet. So we came home on Saturday afternoon so he wouldn't be alone and we wouldn't be under pressure on Sunday morning.

The girls are convinced I kiboshed British Rail so we could be home for Strictly......

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Crab Apple Jelly

Having just swapped a jar of my Crab Apple Jelly for one of Quince and Apple Jelly made by Cooking Neighbour it is time I reported on the making. Husband returned from the allotment with a bagful of windfalls from the hedgerow. Covered these with a pint of water per pound of crab apples, and boiled them up in my jam pan, simmering until they were mushy. Strain this through a jelly bag and then you can cook up the apple again with half the amount of liquid used on the first simmer. Once again this will need straining through your jelly bag. Measure your strained liquid.
For every pint of apple 'juice' you need a pound of sugar. Put them together in your jam pan and heat gently stirring regularly until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture up to a rolling boil and test for set. I find it worth using a jam thermometer to see if it's reached 'setting point' before it's worth testing for a set. You need to put a teaspoon of the mixture onto a cold plate and pop it in the fridge for a few minutes. If the jelly wrinkles when you push a finger across it it is ready, if you just get a wet finger it is not! Jelly usually needs skimming as it gets very frothy. The froth tastes OK but it doesn't look pretty. Pot the jelly in warm sterilised jars before it cools, add a wax circle and a lid. Label when cold (otherwise you'll find the label difficult to remove when you recycle the jars next time around).
You can throw in chopped herbs to make say, mint jelly, but you need a surprising amount to make a real impression, and there wasn't enough mint or sage worth using left in my garden. The advantage of not adding anything is that you can use this jelly as an accompaniment to any roast meat, but it is also delicious on a piece of bread and butter - or on a drop scone was how my granny served it!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate Change

According to the blogosphere today is the day to take action and write about climate change. To do this properly you have to sign up with e-mails and passwords and things. Since this space at the bottom of the bottom drawer in the filing cabinet belongs to me I didn’t want to sign, and I couldn’t make them give me a badge. I’m just not techi enough.
Thought I could think about what we do and don’t do all on my lonesome; I can confess without fear of ridicule.
It used to be that only hippies and earth mothers were into growing their own food and making things for themselves. Now the allotments have waiting lists, crafts (particularly knitting) are the thing to be seen to do, and the whole recycling movement is the fashion for all. The march away from free plastic bags has brought a revolution in alternative bags. So, in our bid to be fashionable, and maybe save the planet from climate change while we’re at it, this is what our family is doing:

  • Husband has an allotment and grows more and more of the family’s food. I use his produce for our meals but am also getting better at finding ways to prolong our use of those gluts. Lots of pickle, jelly and jam, but also best ways to freeze things for later.
  • We choose local in goods and services when possible, then Wiltshire, then England and so on.
  • We re-use plastic bags when we get them, and carry a hessian bag in order to turn down the offer of plastic as much as possible.
  • The girls go to and from school on a bus. Our rural idyll means my taxi service for after school clubs is busy most nights, but I try to save other errands to be done on the same outing. Sainsburys deliver my weekly groceries.
  • As they’ve needed replacing we’ve swapped to low energy light bulbs - despite their size and poor ambient light.
  • I’ve made a portion of my own clothes since I was eleven, and I mend too. I keep looking at the Re-Fashion and Make pledge and will investigate again.
  • I line dry in summer and tumble in poor weather. Love the smell of line dried laundry but get complaints from the family about softness. Tumble drying means I don’t need to use fabric softener, and I console myself that I rarely iron anything. Washing is sorted by colour and temperature and only washed when there is a full load.
  • We ought to save more water. There’s only one water butt, and though I save washing-up water, vegetable cleaning water and the condenser tumble dryer water for the garden in dry weather I haven’t yet found a use for grey water otherwise… Most of us bath or shower daily and we have no plans to stop. The water is softened so at least we don’t use much product to get things clean.
  • Wiltshire collects our paper, glass, clothes, shoes and tins. We compost food waste, cardboard and garden waste. We can’t fill our ordinary wheely bin. But we fail to save and recycle plastic. Could do better.
  • We save envelopes, cards, postage stamps, wrapping paper, string and ribbons and anything else we think might prove useful. I haven't yet turned into my grandmother: a clever woman of slender means and thrifty habits it was perfectly normal to receive on your birthday the front half of a used card with her greeting on the back sent in a re-used envelope that the postman must have enjoyed deciphering!

I'm off to see what other people have been writing about in the hope that someone will have succeeded in being funny. It may be important, but the post is dull!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Flower arranging

I was honored to once again be asked to 'do' a church window for the Harvest Festival service this weekend. This is the fifth year running that I've put a flower arrangement in the back window which seems to be my lot. I have ambitions to make it further 'up' the church, where mine makes the first impression when the congregation walk in, rather than being at the back, behind the door, where they may not even notice it on their way out. Mind, this year, because several people were away, I was allowed to do one behind the pillar on the other side...
In my former life, as a 'wife-of' I had a baptism of fire on the flower arranging front. I should tell you that while I love to be given flowers, and have no difficulty popping them in a vase, flower arranging isn't something that I'd particularly thought about beforehand. However, on giving up a perfectly respectable management job in order to follow Husband to Germany on a posting to a regiment, I discovered this was something of a failing on my part. Husband had been landed with the job of Mess Secretary, a role in which the officers take turns, it being their responsibility to organise functions of varying descriptions from lunch parties to full flung balls. Within a few short weeks of our arrival there was to be a parade with a lunch for luminaries from all over Germany, and 'our' regimental mess was to host the function. The Brigadier in charge insisted on a full rehearsal of table laying and menu tastings including table decorations. And you will guess that this is where they rely on those wives!

As the wife of the MC it was apparently my responsibility to purchase and arrange flowers, dragging in other wives to help - in budget of course. I'm reasonably artistic, and I like flowers so it wasn't that I wasn't prepared to have a go, but I can't express just how pressured I felt with this dry demanding Brigadier breathing down my husband's neck! All went well in the end, the Brigadier was satisfied, and my flower arranging is rather better since then. But I've never succeeded in doing the delicate little sprays that we were supposed to do on top of candlesticks, nor yet the genteel triangle of flowers of the traditional arrangement. Even church windows have an etiquette that I have not yet achieved. I expect, if others are away, I may be asked to help again next year.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Busy doing the 'wrong' things

I've been surfing again, and what I've discovered is that there are some seriously sophisticated bloggers out there doing wonderfully professional things with their space. I loved finding that you could search for recipes on a huge range of sites from the professional kitchens of chefs and authors, but actually I liked the ones where a recipe was almost coincidentally shared, rather in the way that you might share with a friend or neighbour what you'd been making, and then offer the method. It's rather the same with the sewing. Great to discover that someone in the blogosphere might have the solution to a sewing dilemma, but more fun to get a view of what they've been making and what it was for.

Part of the fun for me is finding something I didn't know I'd find interresting, or didn't know I had an opinion upon and being set running in an unexpected direction. I think I need a google search tool for 'domestic life' or 'have a cuppa and a chat'. Lovely to find that there's always someone to connect with - even if what you should really be doing is that pile of mending that is in danger of falling over or vacuuming the house - not to mention any of those maintenance jobs that I gather are something I should consider... Does anyone else clean out their kitchen drawers unless they're moving house? Me neither. Along with cleaning the windows I'm afraid this hausfrau is failing in her duties.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Chocolate Chip Shortbread

This is the shortbread dough, rolled out and ready to go. A view of the finished result later in this post, but first, the recipe! Thank-you to the lovely njhausfrau for putting it on her site for us to use, but for other uk types I've moderated for our different measurement system (and yes I know I should be metric, but they're not automatic for me at my age):

8 ounces softened butter
7 fluid ounces caster sugar
20 fluid ounces plain flour
4 ounces chocolate chips

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, beat in the flour and then the chocolate. Then (and here's the clever bit) put into a plastic bag and roll out to about 1/4 an inch thick and then chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. When you're ready, heat the oven to 180c and break open the bag. Cut the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares and bake for 15- 20 minutes until pale but not golden. I've made 15 using half the dough and put the rest back in the fridge for another day. Very pleased with the result though I might try adding a little vanilla or even branch out and purchase some espresso powder since that was what was originally called for and I didn't reckon freeze dried granules would do.
Husband has been away for a bonding weekend with his father and brothers, Youngest on a guiding trip. Eldest and I enjoyed the company of Schoolsoulmate and an evening of take away curry and Strictly. A rare treat in that combination!

That Pie

I'm afraid it was not a success! The Quorn and Mushroom Pie looked beautiful, but while Husband and I ate it with the resignation of people who had been brought up to eat whatever was put on our plates 'because children in Africa are starving' the girls pushed it around and barely made an impression. So the one made 'for real' in class yesterday is still sitting on the worktop while I summon the courage to abandon my principles and throw perfectly good food away - except it isn't. I don't know if I can re-freeze Quorn as I would meat now that it's cooked? Then I could serve it up to the next vegetarian who crosses my threshold - do they want to eat it any more than my family? I shan't be giving you the recipe.
Am very hopeful about some shortbread that is waiting to be baked having found a promising recipe at another hausfrau site (see my bloglist). It is all rolled out in its plastic bag chilled and ready for the next step. Have a vision of delighted children arriving home from school to find fresh home baking though I predict that one of them won't like it, and the other will devour the lot! There are a limited number of things I can make that they'll both eat as I've detailed before. Last weekend Youngest made Cornflake Chocolate Crispies and Eldest refused to eat them 'because Youngest made them' - although she didn't call her anything so friendly.
On a different note Husband has gone off to uni today after two days at home. At present the new life remains a rather fun novelty, though I suspect the need to provide lunch may take the shine off the whole thing. Lectures start properly next week so watch this space.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Not easier, just different

Last night I went shopping for Quorn. I have never bought it before, nor knowingly eaten it. Not being a vegetarian it hasn't occurred to me to try such things. I don't really understand why you would want to eat something pretending to be meat if you don't approve of eating meat. Prior to owning a husband I was as likely to eat a vegetarian meal as not, mostly because I'm too lazy to cook for just me. So I ate cheese salads, baked beans, fried eggs, lots of salad...

Actually, as a student in Leeds, where I had an electric oven in my room, and a metre to feed with coins (15p for a bathful of hot water), I reduced suppers to a helping of cottage cheese with mango chutney, and a portion of uncooked flapjack (why wait?), followed by fruit, a glass of milk and plenty of chocolate. I seemed to survive!

These days I prepare family meals. This is yet another new phase. It is true that life with children doesn't get easier, just different. I no longer make a separate meal for two little people who cannot wait until Husband gets home. In those days my freezer was full of fish fingers which was pretty much all Eldest ate from when she was about 3 until secondary school. At a meeting with a doctor inspecting her health aged about 4 I was told that while her diet might be boring, it was perfectly balanced and I wasn't to worry about it. I didn't, but it reduced the offer I was prepared to make to Youngest because there's a limit to how many evening meals I was going to make. But they're older now, and can wait for Husband's appearance on week nights. We're only gradually broadening the range of food that Youngest will try - she's very partial to a bowl of pasta with grated cheese, so it is possible to feed her simply when she refuses point blank to eat a roasted vegetable lasagne/veggie chilli/ fish pie or whatever.

It remains true that Youngest likes a roast dinner and no vegetables, Eldest likes fish and chips and lots of fruit, and Husband likes joined up meat. I like most things but won't cook things I don't like (prawns), and I'm not keen to make 4 different meals!

I haven't resolved whether we will actually eat the Quorn. Eldest is taking GCSE Home Economics and is doing a project on Textured Vegetable Protein. She is to make a balanced meal incorporating TVP in school on Thursday, and that means for homework she needs to make sure the cobbled together recipe works in the pie dish that I must buy specially - apparently those I own won't do. I didn't do HE so it's a bit of a learning curve for me too: every dish she makes has to include a psycho motor skill, which basically means anything they make must include pastry, bread (in an hour and a half long lesson), a 'proper' sauce or cake making. This makes savoury dishes quite difficult! So a Quorn savoury pie with a cheese crust is to be produced. They also have to present everything so she'll be designing a menu card, looking for suitable table cloth, napkin, vase and flowers and any other prop she thinks might help. Getting to school on Thursdays on the school bus can be a challenge.

The practice session is tonight so I'd better go and buy that pie dish.

Friday, 25 September 2009

End of an era

We have been to our last military 'do'. Husband leaves the army today after 30 years, 19 of which I have been with him. The end of an era as they say. Most of his uniform has been returned, and what is left he paid for and can thus keep but never wear. Apparently they have to return the uniform because ex-soldiers were going out on the streets begging in their uniforms giving the state a bad name! In the beautiful mess kit hinted at in my photo there's no chance anyone would put money in a begging bowl! The green is a Thai silk long frock made using a Vogue pattern to go to a dinner night in Dartmouth last year and with which I have been very pleased (despite the plunging neckline).

This parting meal was not a grand occasion by military standards, but we drank cocktails in one of the Mess bars, ate 3 courses served in the dining-room surrounded by portraits of military alumni and silver, drank the Queen's health in port, and ate cheese and biscuits and drank coffee back in the bar afterwards. He was one of 3 leaving the organisation and the boss gave a fluent and supportive speech to say farewell to them all. They each gave a short reply. A pleasant evening rather than a blast, but very kind of them to mark the 'end'.

Next week Husband becomes a student: a year in which he talks of growing his hair, living in casual clothes and perfecting his allotment. We'll see! Life looks like it may be very different.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Spiced Apple Chutney

Yesterday I made apple chutney in a successful effort to reduce the glut of windfalls. So, at last, a recipe to share!

Spiced Apple Chutney
5 red onions chopped
4lbs peeled and cored apples chopped
4 cloves of garlic finely chopped
4 green chillies finely chopped
6 oz raisins
1 tbsp Worcester Sauce
1 tbsp mustard seeds
1 1/2 pints vinegar
3 lbs sugar
I use my whizzy machine to do all the chopping. Put everything except the sugar in a jam pan or large saucepan and warm it as you give everything a good stir. Add the sugar and continue to stir occasionally until all the sugar has dissolved - do not let the mixture come to the boil until all the sugar crystals are gone! Then bring it to the boil and simmer gently until the chutney has changed colour and lost most of it's liquid - when you run your spoon through it the channel should not fill with liquid. Pack into sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place for at least 6 weeks. After that the chutney goes really well with cheese or cold meats, and is also a useful addition to such things as Shepherd's Pie.
I used a mixture of malt and white wine vinegar, and a mixture of caster and dark brown sugar on this occasion. What you use will effect the end result, but I enjoy the experiment!
But the picture is clearly of Raspberry Jam! Yes I know, but it is so much prettier than the jar of chutney, and I did make that yesterday too. Chutney always takes longer than I'm expecting, so on this occasion I rustled up some jam.
Raspberry Jam
I used 500g of raspberries from our allotment and 500g of preserving sugar (the sort that has pectin in it). Put them in a large bowl in the microwave. Cook on HIGH for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep going until all the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture to the boil and continue to cook until setting point is reached. This is surprisingly fast so be careful or you'll end up with jelly. Leave to stand for 10 minutes then stir and pot into warm sterilised jars. Eat it warm on fresh bread straight away!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Why blog?

Absolutely staggered this morning to find I have a comment: I've been found out in my bottom drawer in the cellar! Was carefully refraining from commenting on anyone else's blog so I wouldn't be discovered... Not that I don't want to be read, just thought that there would come a moment when I would be saying something beautifully and not just randomly rambling. I wonder how I'd know?

I've been surfing to see who else might be out there and was amused to find a kuche full of hausfraus! I've added the two I enjoyed most to my list of blogs to follow. Also went to look for seamstresses, but almost everyone seemed to embroider or knit. I've had my moments - embroidery as part of my O and A level Needlework, and a bit for pleasure, and knitting with everyone else when we went through a phase at school - but my ability doesn't really lie in that direction. I like the speed with which a garment can be produced from ready made fabric and am too lazy to knit the bits first.

The blog I fell in love with when I was following my nose is Gluten-Free Girl. Her writing style is lovely and I've decided to send her book to my wheat intolerant friend on the strength of her blog. Will let you know. I may have to loose one of the hausfraus as I was horrified to read that she had made coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache. It sounds just too sweet to me, I can't think why you'd make anything other than the classic almond mixture with just an almond on top. On that note I'm off to make an apricot and almond cake full of gluten and completely delicious!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

In business-ish..

Have got no further with a business plan and rather think I won't bother for the moment. I guess if I was going to go into a major life changing type living off my earnings project I would need to be professional and do the work, but it is more about finding a useful and interesting way to spend my time. I realise that makes me lucky, but since I'm still the chief cook and bottle washer, not to mention decorator, cleaner and taxi driver extraordinaire I don't think I need to feel too guilty.

I've been having a very stitchy summer - and if I was cleverer I'd be adding lovely photos - but you will have to imagine for the moment! I made a pair of curtains for Youngest from an old short pair trimmed with a duvet cover and am now engaged playing with matching scraps to make cushions for her bed. Then I created a curtain to cover a shelf of shoes, cushions, laundry bag and heart for H to go in her new student room in Cardiff in a beautiful grey/blue spotty classic cotton. Next I produced yet more curtains and cushions (baby blue with white spots) for the girls' 'playroom' which I have newly painted in a classic cream in a successful attempt to lighten their north facing room with dark blue carpet. Decorating with hearts and squares from co-ordinating scraps so very little money spent.

Have also done some mending for a friend for which I was paid actual money- not going to make my fortune, but enough to more than cover the cost of the girls' fabric. Two pairs of suit trousers shortened for her husband, and two skirts shortened for her so she might actually wear them!

My lovely hairdresser came yesterday and brought my hair under control. Turns out she has decided to marry her partner and father of her impending offspring, so I dropped in the fact that I might be able to help. She got all excited and insisted on seeing my wedding dress and then went through my scrap book of makes... She's on a tight budget, but that wouldn't necessarily be a problem if it got me some business would it?!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

What shall I do

Blogging is a secret, guilty addiction. At least, surfing them is. Writing them is something I think about but am never convinced I have something as interesting to say as that which I have read.. Did anyone else listen to Stephen Fry on pronunciation and correct English? (No one will answer because, as I said, this is a private space where no one else visits.) So long as I resist the temptation to comment on anyone's writing, no one will find me. So what's the point?

I'm not entirely sure, but it's partly about wanting to write something, anything, and partly a place to put ideas and think about whether they're any good. Like everyone I hope there's a book in me somewhere, but I've never got beyond a short story or two. I originally thought I could write something interesting about the life of an old fashioned sort of stay at home wife, but I find that I can't offer tips about housewifely chores because they're not something I get around to much. Not convinced about cooking tips either, though friends have suggested I could give chutney and jam lessons. Apparently there is the possibility of earning some money doing this? Or, more appealing to me (in that I at least have some qualifications in it), sewing lessons.

The next big thing, now that we're all growing our own food, ought to be making our own clothes, or at least mending the ones we've got. Make do and Mend. How to use your sewing machine. Mending for beginners.

I wonder where you would start? Business plan I guess...

Friday, 17 July 2009

And what do you do?

I'm reading a novel with that title, and it was particularly relevant last week as I attended a works do with Husband. Being a 'wife of' is something I'm used to, and throughout Husband's career has simply been part of military life: lots of military wives don't have paid work. We spend alot of time moving house and needing to establish the family wherever we end up. Some people manage it, but they seem to take manual type jobs, or they do something everyone needs: teachers, doctors, nurses.. the sort of thing that can be relatively easily transferred - 'though I still think they must be tremendously organised to get their families up and running AND work. But last night, because of the current job, there were lots of civilians, and they generally seem to lead much more settled lives, and not working is distinctly odd...

It's not that I don't do any work! We have a house, garden and alotment to maintain. I am not particularly house proud, but I do try to keep on top of the worst of the family's mess and to do minor repairs or organise to get a man in when neccessary. The alotments is Husband's project really, but produce doesn't know he can only do weekends, so when things are growing they need regular picking too, and that means me. Gardening is one of my favorite activities, but it is a guilty pleasure in that I have always preferred it to housework. Our two children get themselves to school and back on a bus, but they both have a number of after school clubs and commitments that require a taxi service 4 nights a week. Clearly it is my job to keep everyone in clean and mended clothes, and to know where everything they lose is. In my spare time I'm a school governor and I've been Chair for 2 years. I am on call throughout the week for the Headteacher, or anyone else with a school issue. I wonder how the world will continue to run when all the people who volunteer for things have proper jobs instead?

And I'm giving that one up: I've collected too many t-shirts and am getting more and more annoyed by the ammount of work the goverment thinks it can put in the way of schools. But I'm not going to ruin my mood by going there! I was just wondering what I'll say now to provide a suitable answer to the dreaded question...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Busy being idle

Counting down to the end of term; picking lovely fresh produce from our allotment; watching the buddleia coming into flower; looking forward to sports days, end of term productions, and final assemblies; thinking about the summer holidays and how to entertain the family. It's that time of year!

They're busy rehearsing in the primary schools so I'm off to sports day this afternoon. (Why is it sports day when it's generally just an afternoon?) And again tomorrow. Luckily parents aren't required to attend the equivalent event in the girls' secondary school. I am dutiful but not engaged! I will go to the dress rehearsals of the primary schools' plays, and this year I can support Youngest in her school play. They seem to always do a musical, and it is so popular that they end up having a huge gang of 'extra' children providing entertainment pre show, in the interval and then joining in with the finale. She seems pleased, but it sounds like an awful lot of hanging around to me. By Friday night she'll be exhausted - I picked her up when the show finished at 10pm last night...

Still got to get through my last governors meeting, and get our Financial Management in Schools forms into County, and write a last governors' newsletter; but I'm definitely counting down now! Thoughts are turning to how to entertain Eldest on her 15th birthday at the end of the month, and what on earth to give her - apparently she doesn't actually 'need' anything and therefore can't produce a list of things she might realistically expect anyone to get her!

Husband is back tonight so some tidying and cooking are in order to provide both a welcome home and evidence that I haven't idled away the last few days....

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

My Fete

Having been reading my favourite blogs, and generally mooching around the web I realise I'm going to have to work much harder to get something anyone else wants to read if they ever came across me...

That fete seems to be occupying everyone. I suspect we put too much work into it, but since that may be why it turns out to be a pretty good party I guess we'll have to keep it up. Everyone did brilliantly this year, and we did indeed break that record of 2 years ago, but then it was only just more! (And ,no we didn't put the entry prices up John.) I was put in charge of trinkets 5 years ago, (and it was a huge honour after being alowed to guess the number of sweets in the jar and name the chicks my first year), and I'd confess to a buzz when selling my collection each year, but sometimes I hanker after something more glamorous like cakes (which sells out early), or Pimms (which probably has other benefits) or even plants (which may also be grubby, but in a more earthy way). Trinkets is slightly less grubby than White Elephant, even in our lovely village and these greener times.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Negotiation, Negotiation, Negotiation

It's all about negotiation. Whether it's governing the village primary school, sitting on the church fete committee or just organising the family.

Half term is over and my life can return to normal. Both girls are now at the secondary school so at least their timings and days off coincide, and the bus deals with the journey so I don't even need to get dressed until they've gone - in fact it's a strategy I recommend to avoid the call to take them into school in the car.

Eldest has been ballet dancing throughout the holiday and then performing on stage. She loved it, and would do it all over again tomorrow, but it was tough on the rest of us: weekends committed to getting her to and from 6 hour days of lessons and rehearsals, and then ditto during half-term. Not much fun for Youngest, 'though she seemed to enjoy 'just chilling': largely prone in front of the telly. We also sorted her room and did a bit of cooking, but it was hardly holidaying in style.

In case you wondered the show was great fun: Coppelia, with a large cast of children - mostly girls - and 4 professional dancers to keep them in line. Colourful and humerous with hummable music... I saw it twice. Difficult to spot my apparently grown up daughter amongst the 3o on stage with her all in the same costumes!

Governing continues to take up quite alot of my time, and could take it all if I let it. It doesn't seem to matter how much time you give it because it is never enough and there's always more we should have done. And getting people on side seems to take up so much of the time that moving forward always takes longer than you expect (and my targets are pretty low to start with).

And we've had our first church fete committee meeting of the year, so that's another area of negotiation and gently gently don't upset anyone plans set in motion. I wonder if I dare abandon my planned stall and set to sorting out a different one...