Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Creating a Sanctuary and a Hat!

Its been too long Dear Reader, i know this and i apologise. Life has a funny habit of running away with you. Well, it does with me anyhow. In the last couple of months i seem to have been really busy doing all those things around the house that i never got to do whilst i was at work. The main thing that i needed to get done was a new roof. I cant get excited about having a new roof as its like paying A LOT of money for something which you dont really get any joy out of. That said, some months ago i was outside the house looking back at it and somehow the loft light had been left on by mistake. My roof looked a little like Heathrow's landing strip due to the light shining through the holes! So i had no choice really. It does make me feel somehow safer in the house, knowing that the roof isn't going to explode a load of rain on me at any given time though! Whilst the roof was being done i had a MAHOOOSIVE erection in the garden...(cue childish giggle....)

Ive also finally got around to painting my bedroom and having a carpet fitted, ive lived for 6 years with sanded floorboards, which although lovely in many houses were just draughty in my bedroom. Im about to have the curtains fitted this weekend and then the room is finished! Its really relaxing and im so in love with it at the moment that all i want to do is spend time in it.

The things that i am most proud of in my bedroom are my bargain hunting, charity shop finds. I popped to a small charity shop which sells furniture looking for a couple of pieces - i got there just as they were about to take some unsold items to the tip and they said that i could take what i wanted! I took a bookcase (you can see the finished article in the photo above) and a piano stool - both were old and battered but i knew id be able to do something with them. So i sanded them down (when i say "sanded" thats really an exaggeration as i hate preparation work for these things and i wanted them to look old and worn) and then painted the woodwork white. I decided to have a go at reupholstering the piano stool in the same fabric that my curtains will be in...i mean, how difficult can it be? So armed with some pliers (to get rid of the old trimming), a staple gun and a glue gun i got to work. It was SO easy. I just stapled the new material over the old cushion, pulling tightly, tucked the corners in nicely and then finished with some ribbon glued over the edge to hide the staples - Voila!

Another creative thing i did was to visit Hats From the Hall. My friend Gill rang me to ask if i wanted to go and make a hat - i think she had far more faith in my creative abilities than i did! Im not really a hat person - i dont do posh, girly, dress up and the thought of having to go to something like Ladies Day would have me running a mile, so i wasnt too sure about this. But i decided to step out of my comfort zone and go, and i was so glad i did! Louise runs the business from her amazing home near to Leicester - the house is so beautiful, i was most envious (in a nice way!) and almost wished that i could have hidden in a corner and stayed! The group of women on the course were all friends, so i was a bit of the odd one out as i only knew Gill, but they were all so lovely and welcoming, as was Louise. We got to look at the hats she was currently making as well as try on all manner of hats in the showroom. I particularly fell in love with a typical loud creation (i called it The Boy George hat!) but frankly i looked ridiculous in it.

We started by deciding what kind of hat we would make - i knew that i wanted to make a felt hat as i felt that i'd actually wear that more often, but other people made fancy hats for weddings as well as fascinators. Here are some of the various types of hat we could make:

With the felt hats we had to stretch the damp felt over a hat block which helps to creats the shape of the hat:

The Darth Vader looking item on the photo above is the hat bloakc that i used. i really enjoyed stretching and pinning the felt into place, it was very therapeutic except for stabbing myself with the pins all the time!

 The hats were then whisked away to dry and we ate some fabulous lunch made by Louise's husband. In the afternoon our creativity was encouraged greatly as we made adornments for our hats. I found a lovely turquise bead necklace and altered it to fit around my hat and also made some felt flowers to attach to the ribbon around the hat. Here is the result of my work:

Im really pleased with it and cant stop telling people how i made it all myself! If you ever want to have a fun day making something with friends then i can highly recommend Hats From The Hall - it was great fun and Louise and her team of merry helpers have the patience of saints!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Chicken & Chorizo Gumbo

Yesterday i was having a productive day. After deciding that i MUST go on a diet i sat down and decided upon food for the week.

Actually when i say diet i lie. Some of my friends recently have lent me WeightWatchers books, calculators etc as I've been moaning about how I'm really hating my body right now and need to desperately lose weight but I'm not sure about 'doing a diet'. They've never worked long-term for me before so i don't see why this time will be different. So am attacking this from a different perspective and will see how it goes. Am trying to eat good food and exercise more. To achieve this i have been out for a walk around Cannon Hill Park this week with my friend Christie from my counselling class at uni. We did 2 laps of the park but i think I'm going to build this up to more over the coming weeks. Christie has also given me a cross-trainer (which I'm using at home, gradually building up the number of minutes i spend on it...currently standing at a measly 5, but its better then nothing) and she has also given me a push bike. The push bike needs a little work doing on it as i cant get the tyres to stay inflated (the air rushes out when i remove the bike pump from the tyre - maybe a faulty valve??) but i cant wait to get out and about on it. After speaking to Birmingham Bike Foundry earlier today, I'm going to drop it in there for them to look at it and perform wonders....

Anyway, last night i made Chicken & Chorizo Gumbo. I started off by making a chicken stock - i roasted some chicken bones for 20 minutes and then put into a pan with carrots, celery, bulb of garlic, peppercorns, onion and simmered for 3 hours. I then strained it and let it cool before removing the layer of fat from the top.

To make the gumbo (which is adapted from a recipe in this amazing book which my wonderful friends, Alex and Katie got me for my birthday last year) i firstly fried off some diced onions, celery (i SERIOUSLY hate celery but i think it helps to make the base of a soup), chorizio (about50g, diced) with half a red and yellow pepper (also diced). I then added some garlic cloves, paprika and chilli and cooked for 5 minutes. The recipe called for sweet smoked paprika and cayenne pepper, neither of which were in stock in the Co-op so i improvised ;) The recipe also called for Bourbon....this is something that i don't have in my drinks cupboard so i didn't bother. I then added a diced potato, diced sweet potato, a load of the chicken stock id made (enough to cover), a bay leaf and some dried thyme...simmered for 20 minutes....had awesome gumbo! It was really sweet from the chicken stock and peppers (definitely worth making the proper stock) and hot from the chilli.

Now for this afternoons task - I'm going to the cinema. On my own. For the first time ever. Those of you that know me well will know that to me this represents a passage into adulthood (at the age of 41...) See you on the other side!!!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

NB: this course will change your life.....

Last week i went on one of the Back to Basics courses run by LOAF. Ive been looking forward to doing a course with them for some time so was very excited.

The course is run by Tom, one of the four directors of LOAF and the powerhouse behind the bread-making, in his home in Cotteridge, Birmingham. There were six of us on the course, none of us knew each other but a shared passion for wanting to make good bread soon got us chatting. The day started in a very civilised manner over the breakfast table with brioche, jam, tea, coffee, white bread and rye bread. Here are some leftovers after breakfast together with an artfully placed Stirchley Community Market mug...

I came to the course having had a go at making some of my own bread before but wanting to make sure that i was 'doing it right' and with the aim of ironing out a few problems. Id been trying to make wholemeal bread but found the mixture really wet and difficult to knead plus when baking my bread i found it hard to tell when it was cooked properly - tapping it on the bottom and identifying a hollow noise isn't as easy as it sounds. During the day Tom answered these questions and many others - I've now been taught the most amazing kneading method which i can easily use with all doughs and as for knowing when its cooked? Use a probe thermometer - its the only surefire way unless you are an experienced bread-maker!

The morning was spent doing all the 'hard work' ie making the dough so it had time to rise before baking it in the afternoon. We learnt about different ways to make the dough - i had never heard of the sponge method before and am actually trying that out currently (my sponge is downstairs doing its thang as i type). We then went onto is a link to the three kneading methods that Tom showed us...i absolutely loved the French kneading method as it really works and you can get up a good speed with it, as well as take your frustrations out on the dough. I then find it easier to finish off using the classic kneading method (2nd in the video clip) as i find it calms me down as i lovingly finish off the kneading process...and one day i may get good enough to do the 3rd example in the video but I'm not there yet! Its really interesting to see that Tom has NO flour on the work surface when kneading - this amazed me and has totally transformed the way i make bread....for the better.

The other thing i found out was that previously i hadn't been kneading the dough for long enough...Tom showed us a really good way of checking if the dough had been kneaded enough...its called the window pane test and it works really well!

During the day we made fougasse (look amazing and are so simple to do), a white loaf, some seeded wholemeal rolls, ciabatta (a really, really wet dough which was fun to work with) and pizzas for lunch. Tom had also mixed some brioche dough that we took home to cook the following day.

Brioche - i baked this the following day

Ciabatta - mine is the weirdly shaped one...i like to think of it as authentic...

Fougasse - stunning to look at (doesn't come up so well on this photo) but so easy to make

White loaf after proving but before putting in oven. note the slits which have been cut in the top - these help the bread to expand whilst baking

Lunch - homemade pizza. I'm obsessed with homemade pizza now - its so easy to make, you know exactly whats going into it, you can make your own Taste Sensation Topping and best of all, it tests SQUILLIONS better than those bought in supermarkets or pizza parlours

Wholemeal, seeded rolls

White rolls


The course was amazing and has demystified the art of bread-making for me. Ive realised that i just need to chill out and have a go...sometimes the dough takes longer to rise or to knead...that's because all flours act differently plus it depends on the warmth of the kitchen, the humidity, all sorts of just have to know what you are looking for and not be afraid. The day course cost £75 which i know has put some people off but i stress that this is a) much cheaper than other bread-making courses and b) will change your life as it will make you obsessed with making your own bread rather than shop-bought nastiness. Plus you can buy gift vouchers so why not ask people to get you those for your birthdays/Xmas etc...??

Following the course i took my spoils home where a hungry Mr A gave his thumbs up to all of my wares...i then went about ordering some equipment to help me in my new love of bread-making... I bought Dough by Richard Bertinet which has the most mouth watering photos and recipes in it. Ive already made the Spicy Moroccan rolls (containing ras-el-hanout, one of my favourite spices - i brought a load in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul) for my friend Tina's birthday - as well as getting her a copy of the book too. Ive also bought a probe thermometer and an oven thermometer, as well as a pizza stone and peel....but the best purchase was the dough scraper tool you can see in Toms kneading video - that is an essential tool, it makes the process so much easier and was the princely sum of £1.50. Bargain!

Here endeth my bread missive.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Relationships, honesty & male attitudes to pregnancy/abortion

This is a rather spontaneous entry coming out of the musings of my mind over the last few days...

Due to a situation I've found myself in with my ex-partner, Ive had reason to question how i behave in relationships and what i expect from my partner. As I've been going through various counselling courses and personal counselling myself i have changed. This has happened over the space of 3 1/2 years in which I've been with two different partners. I realise that i am incredibly honest about things I've done, experiences which have shaped me for good or bad and, although it can take a while for me to voice my feelings, i am honest about what I'm feeling and why i think I'm feeling that way. Because honesty is so important to me i expect my partner to be the same and I've kind of realised that that isn't always the case.

I was talking to my friend Gill (who i met through Cruse training and i feel is a kindred spirit who is on a similar journey to myself right now) and something she said made me stop and think. She said that to expect everyone else to have the same high values as you do is quite daunting. Or words to that effect. And she is right - i need to reflect on that as i know that i have very high expectations and values for myself and i need to really think about whether i put those thoughts onto those i love...but then there are things which i think go beyond values and come down to respect and love. If you love and respect someone and you know that something you have done will bring them immeasurable pain then you ensure that they find out about it in the kindest way possible..i guess that this isn't just about partners but about all our relationships with those we love.

In other, entirely unrelated thoughts, i was thinking about men's attitudes to abortion (this comes after watching Borgen and my brain spinning off into thinking about stuff). I am, and always have been a huge supporter of the woman's right to choose. I guess that many of us women have had pregnancy scares and these lead us to think about our options. I remember being 17 and my period being late. I hadn't had unprotected sex but then accidents can happen and i was really, really scared. In my logical mind i knew that i didn't want a baby - i was with someone i loved (who later became my husband, and then my ex-husband!) but i had my whole life ahead of me and i didn't want to be tied down. Plus, even at the age of 17 i knew that i didn't want to have children ever. Logically i knew all of these things but the minute that i thought that i could be pregnant my emotions ran riot. I began to consider what it would be like to have a baby and these were alien emotions to me. I guess I'm saying that i now believe that none of us know exactly how we feel until we are in the situation and that judging other women for making what is an extremely difficult decision is wrong. Ive never considered how the man would feel though. I'm not talking about when you are in a committed, loving relationship because i would *hope* that the man would support his partner. What if i slept with someone i didn't know that well and got pregnant? Would he want to know that i was having an abortion? How would he feel? Would it be right for him to express his desire  to keep the baby even if i wanted an abortion? These are things that i have never thought about before because I've never thought of abortion as a man's issue. I don't know how many male readers i have but id be interested in your thoughts.

On that note, and now that I'm in thoughtful mode, I'm going to begin my uni assignment. An essay of 3000 words....first essay I've written since i did my A Levels 23 years ago. Meep!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Renting v Buying, Government Cuts & Multiplex Hell...


My lovely friend Tania, who writes this blog about her food and beer adventures, has given me a friendly nudge to remind me that i haven't blogged for a while. Well, this is true and i apologise dear reader. I was hoping to post some photos from my lovely trip to Istanbul but i seem to have mislaid the cable for my camera...i will attempt to get this rectified soon.

Istanbul was fabulous in so many ways and i met some amazing people and went to awe-inspiring places. If you have never been then you should go - its quite unlike anywhere I've ever been before. but more on that when i post about it.

Since i left my job at the end of 2011 i have been really busy doing crafts, cooking and studying but since I've been back from holiday i seem to have lacked some structure to my life and have felt a little adrift. I'm not quite sure why this is but this week i have been trying to get a little more structured and have been  putting things in my diary and attempting to do them. Attempting being the operative word. Myself and Mr A have recently discovered the joy if Assassins Creed on the X-Box (i love computer games) and i am having to stay away from the game during the day as otherwise my hours just seem to disappear.

A slight blip on my journey to a new life has come in the guise of my friend, and lodger, deciding to move out and get her own place. Obviously I'm delighted for her but it leaves me in a bit of a quandary. i still have a mortgage to pay and my redundancy pay-out wont last forever so i will need to make a decision about what to do. Do i look for another lodger or sell up and rent somewhere? In an ideal world i wouldn't have a lodger but if i do have one then i much prefer it to be a friend however, most of my friends are now at the stage of having their own homes or are renting with partners. The plus side of keeping the house is that i have bricks and mortar but that comes with responsibilities - the roof needs replacing which i wont see much change out of £5k and if i have to sell in a years time (because the work that i want to do is paid far less well than what i have been used to) then i wont really see a return on that money. If i sell up and rent the monthly payments will be about the same but i wont have all the upkeep to pay for but then it worries me that i wont have a foot on the property ladder.... I'm someone who always worries about the future and if i rent then it concerns me about what i will do when i retire and have limited income for rent. When did life become so complicated??

Its my final training at Cruse this weekend and. following my tutorial a couple of weeks ago i am very confident about them taking me on as a counsellor/Bereavement Support Officer. That said in order to pass the course i need to do a stack load of work for my portfolio before Saturday...that, on top of a 3000 word essay i need to write for uni, is playing on my mind somewhat. My plan is to buckle down to some of that tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

Tomorrow morning I'm volunteering at St Martins Helpdesk. I'm concerned about the Helpdesk at the moment. Funding, as we all know, is being cut back and i know that this is bound to affect the Helpdesk and the services we provide. It angers me greatly that the cuts affect the poorest people in society. We deal with a lot of homeless people - now, I'm sure that many of you think that someone becomes homeless and the council will sort it out. You would think so as they have a duty of care to everyone living in the city, however this isn't the case. We recently had a family in who had been to ever government/council agency and other charity with no success until they came to us and we helped them to get housed - they actually said that without us they wouldn't have known where else to turn and would probably still be on the streets. And that's without the plethora of single men living on the streets who aren't seen as high priority. it breaks my heart that in this day and age people not only live on the streets but die. Yes, people DIE. every winter we say goodbye to someone. Its so, so sad.

In less important news i went to the cinema today (am making good use of Orange Wednesdays in an attempt to be a little more frugal) with Mr A and a couple of friends. We'd got tickets to see The Woman in Black   and i was really looking forward to it. First mistake of the day was that we didn't think about it being half-term! However we'd gone to Cineworld in Solihull so one would expect a better class of teenager (tic), how wrong we were.... The cinema was quite full when we arrived and we were sitting towards the back and the majority of the audience were teenagers. Now, i wont tar them all with the same brush as some of them were really well behaved but a large number were behaving appallingly - they were talking all the way through the film, laughing, shrieking, using their phones, kicking the backs of our chairs... one of my friends turned to the boys behind s and asked them to be quiet which they did...for a while but the general level of noise was just unacceptable. I could feel myself getting really irritated and angry - why on earth would someone pay to see a film and then talk all the way through it?? Anyway, after 20 minutes i realised that i wasn't going to be able to enjoy the film and left. The cinema were very good and gave me my money back but it did make me laugh when they asked if i had reported it to a member of staff upstairs - i pointed out that there were no members of staff around and this got me thinking about how cinemas have changed. I went to see Mark Kermode doing a talk at The Electric a few months ago where he discussed how cinemas are now just giant monopolies who don't really give us good customer service anymore. I have tried to be more selective as to what films i go and see following that talk - i don't want to give Hollywood my hard earned cash for the tripe they churn out - i want them to make films which make me think, i don't want to see Underworld 7 or whatever just because its marketed as the Must See Film... try it yourself, when watching trailers ask yourself "Does this look like a really good film or is it just the same old hogwash?" I really want to see A Dangerous Method but its not showing in Birmingham until TWO WEEKS after its release date and only the independent cinemas are showing it. This proved to me the importance of our independent cinemas - The Midlands Arts Centre (The MAC),

 the Electric

 and The Artrix in Bromsgrove

 really need our support and do a fabulous job plus you get excellent customer service! Wouldn't it be great if we could show the multi-nationals that we actually cared about our cinema-going experience by choosing to see films at the independents?

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Charity Shop-tastic and other assorted goodies!

This week i had a day charity shop shopping with my good friend Becki. I was really looking forward to it as we are both pretty busy and i don't get to see Becki as much as i would like. We did a counselling course together last year and have bonded over a love of crafts, food, counselling/therapies and a shared perverted sense of humour!

So we went into Shirley near Solihull...there were a couple of reasons for the choice of venue:

  1. Its not too far from where we live
  2. Being close to Solihull (which likes to think of itself as much posher than Birmingham....not hard i hear some of you cry...!) it usually has a better standard of charity shop items
  3. All of the charity shops are located along the main Stratford Rd which means you walk up one side , then down the other and visit all the shops on the way....efficient!
I'm pleased with my haul of bargains. Becki was telling me how you can how to turn woollen items into felt and i thought it sounded like something fun to try so, after lots of looking at labels for wool content, i bought 3 jumpers:

I'm not sure what I'm going to make with the black and green jumpers (maybe some felt, padded hearts) but I'm LOVING the grey and white jumper and think I'm going to attempt to make a bag. I think in total they cost me less than a tenner.

I also found a Union Jack beach towel for 99p...I'm either thinking some bunting for the Jubilee celebrations or id really like to try this from Stuff Mummy Makes although that will require finding a suitable stool first!

I found some cute little ceramic ramekin pots (4 for £1.50) which i will use to make container candles as well as a gorgeous stoneware pot for pasta (£2.95 - bargain!) and a small Kilner jar (£1.95 - i love to keep nuts in these as I'm obsessed with having nuts with my porridge in the mornings).

I couldn't resist a gorgeous pink, leopard-print bag with a skull and crossbones on it for £2.99 mainly for the reason that it matches my a craft book and a Mensa game (Mr A and i quite like board games and the like).

All in all a good haul!!

In other news I'm in Cruse training all weekend...the training is going really well and i love the other girls on the course. There are 8 of us in total; one had to drop out as there was a sudden bereavement in their family so they couldn't carry on and one has dropped out as she was struggling. We have had a really thought provoking session today on what would happened if we died suddenly today and what practicalities that would leave our loved ones having to perform. This has really made me think about the need to make a will as well as talk to my friends about what i would want them to do - there are diaries that i really wouldn't want my parents to find and read!! Plus all those things like where my bank accounts are, passwords to Facebook, Twitter (@emma_emily), Live Journal...there is so much to think about. Its a useful exercise and one that i would recommend doing as its quite eye-opening. And quite upsetting too.

So as I'm in training tomorrow, and as I'm flying to Istanbul on Monday morning (more on that in a moment!) i was delighted to see Loaf are doing a pop-up pizza takeaway tomorrow night. How cool does this look?? I am MOST excited and have ordered 2 pizzas and then realised that Mr A is unlikely to be around at my delivery slot which means that i will have more pizza than i know what to do with. Am sure it will get eaten somehow though!

Anyway, Istanbul. This is my treat for leaving work. Its been over 4 years since I've been able to afford a holiday abroad, or actually to be fair, I've been able to afford it but the boyfriends I've been with in the past 4 years (only two, its not like I'm a man-magnet or something!!) have been too busy or too skint or a combination of the two. I'm going with one of my best friends, the lovely Vix, who has had the year from hell in 2011 and totally needs a break. We are off for a week and my suitcase is staring at me whilst i write this reminding me that i need to pack tonight. Current plans are visits to the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sofia, the Palace and a boat trip down the river, other than that we are going to wing it and see where our fancy takes us - any suggestions are most welcome. Mostly I'm looking forward to drinking lots of Turkish coffee, eating nommy food and reading....the diet is being put on hold until i get back!

Talking about Istanbul reminds me that i signed on for the first time yesterday (stay with me here, its relevant!). Going to the Job Centre is something that i find quite daunting as its a whole new, strange world for me. Anyway, I told the chap at the Job Centre that i wasn't going to be in the country next week as i realised from reading the documents that they give you that you need to tell them when you are going to be away from home, even for a day (I'm not sure how that works - it seems ridiculous to tell them if i go to Cheshire to see my parents for one day!). He seemed really surprised and said that i wasn't eligible for benefits whilst out of the country and that they would have to close my claim down and id have to re-apply when i get home. Now, i understand this, albeit it seems a very long-winded way of doing things, but it was his look of surprise that got me thinking. I wonder how many people claiming Job Seekers Allowance say when they are going away? Being an ex auditor/fraud investigator/risk manager I'm aware of rules and the importance of following them (or at least assessing the risk of not doing so!) and always think that my bad luck would mean that id be found out if i didn't follow such rules. I get really frustrated when people don't follow the rules and get away with it - i think this may say more about me (i would say that as a trainee counsellor wouldn't i??).

Anyway, I'm signing off for a week now. Happy crafting, cooking and all that jazz!


Friday, 13 January 2012


So today i made bread helped by my glamorous assistant, Mr A (i wish id made him wear a pinny so i could have posted a really embarrassing photo...). I used this tutorial on You Tube. I was really excited about making bread but also nervous - I'm one of those people who place extremely high expectations on myself and frequently fall short.

I weighed out 1lb of strong white bread flour and added a packet of dried yeast. I then added 2 teaspoons of sugar, a teaspoon of salt flakes and mixed the ingredients together. I then added 1/2  pint of warm water and mixed with a kitchen knife. I got a little worried at this point as my dough didn't look as good as that on the video...there was lots of dry ingredients left in the bottom of the i added a tiny bit more water and worked this in.

At this point i put some flour onto the worktop and tipped out the dough to begin kneading. Kneading has always seemed to me to be some strange ritual that mothers and grandmothers do and, with my high expectations of doing it perfectly first time, i was a little worried. I was more worried when my dough was not looking like the soft, supple dough on the YouTube video after 10 minutes of kneading.

Mine seemed to be tearing a lot...i decided to leave it to rise anyway...perhaps i had been kneading it too hard?? I figured (my expectations slowly starting to crash upon the Rocks of DOOM) that it was my first attempt at breadmaking and it was good if i made some mistakes - plus never having made bread before i didn't have any idea of how the dough should feel, how hard i should be kneading etc etc. I put the dough back into the bowl, rubbed a little olive oil on the top of the dough, which was a tip from a follower on Twitter, and put some clingfilm over it.

So we left it an hour (just enough time to pop round to Mr As and make sure the cat got some food, love and attention). We got back about 75 minutes later to HUGE ball of dough. I was SO excited at this point that i was almost skipping around the (extremely small) kitchen. There's something magical about the yeast making the bread rise, don't you think?

I got the dough out of the bowl and kneaded it for a couple of minutes, the texture had gone beautifully soft. 

We then cut the dough into three pieces of equal size (picture above is one of the pieces - the photo really doesn't show how sensually soft the dough is at this point) and shaped into long sausage shapes and then plaited these and shaped into a round. 

The plaited dough mixture was placed on a greased baking sheet and left on top of a radiator for 30 minutes...until it grew and looked like this!! *points below*

I then brushed with some milk and popped it into a preheated oven (180C) for 20 minutes (normally i think you'd put in for 25 minutes but my fan oven seems to cook things quicker).  

After 20 minutes i checked that it sounded hollow on the bottom and left it on a wire rack for 10 minutes before devouring some for dinner, along with last nights leftovers...

Hmm I'm really not good at making food look good on photos....i cant begin to explain the nommyness of this meal. If you remember i had made Oven Roasted Sausage and Sweet Potato last night; id made enough for two meals so the remainder had been sitting in the fridge all day. The sugars from the onions and root vegetables had intensified in was really nice.

So i think that my initial foray into breadmaking has been a success. I will use a little less sugar next time as i found it a little sweet for my taste. I'm also going to use a loaf tin next time as a loaf is just more practical for cutting. I need to do some prep before using a loaf tin though - i know i have at least one in the cupboard but i have no idea what size it is (i know that they talk about 1lb or 2lb loaf tins but don't know how to measure this - am i being stupid??).

Tonight I'm going to prep dinner for Saturday night as I'm at university all day tomorrow. I'm going to make a hearty Polish stew and stick it in the slow cooker so it will be cooked by the time i get home.

I love my slow cooker - what do you cook in yours?


Soup, Curry, Sausages and Bread. Is that making you hungry??

OK this is my second attempt at writing this.....MUST REMEMBER TO KEEP SAVING DURING LONG BLOG POSTS!

Firstly, hello to everyone who read my blog in the last couple of days. It was really heartening to see comments from people, most of whom i dont know 'in real life', and i went to bed with a smile on my face last night :)

So i said that i would post photos of my leek and potato soup. I lied. It was in your best interests though as despite it tasting lovely it did look somewhat like baby vomit. Well, i havent had a baby so it was more like how i imagine baby vomit to be. I didnt want to put anyone off their food....anyway, it did taste nice so heres the recipe...

Fry a red onion and some garlic (to taste - i like lots of garlic!) in a bit of butter and then add sliced leeks and potatoes chopped into small-ish chunks. I used 3 leeks and about 4 or 5 potatoes because its what i had in the cupboard....i dont think you should make an exact science out of soup. I added enough vegetable stock* to cover, brought to the boil and then simmered until the potatoes were cooked. Then blitzed it with the hand blender. This made 6 portions so i froze the remainder - when you defrost and cook it, it somehow tastes nicer...especially if you fry a bit of chopped smoked bacon and add it to the pot! Nom.

*For the vegetable stock i used a Knorr Stock Pot. This is shameful i know and my dear Gran would be turning in her grave. I am ashamed to admit that i have reached the age of 41 without ever having made homemade chicken or vegetable stock and this will be remedied in the near future. I promise.

Last night i went to The Bay Leaf restaurant in The Custard Factory. I found their website the other day whilst meandering around various internet pages. I think the link came from Loaf .....when i looked at the site i saw that they were offering 50% off food bills in January and as the restaurant was highly recommended by Tom (and he knows good food) i gathered a group of friends together to try it out. I was a little worried about the group of friends as it was a little eclectic with people who didnt know each other. However, once the wine, cocktails and beer started flowing the atmosphere was lively with people chatting away. The first thing to mention was the excellent hard to please in this department as i think that a good standard of service is to be expected and (controversially) i wouldnt tip for good service as its what i expect to see. However, the waiters at The Bay Leaf were personable, friendly and fun which go that extra mile to making excellent service. The restaurant was quiet, probably due to it being mid-week, and we were pleased with the choice of background music - good 80s (i will blog someday about my love for good 80s music....but in the meantime please bear in mind that Rick Astley really was shit in the 80s and the passing of time has not altered this!).Living on the south side of Birmingham means that i know a good curry - one cannot live close to the Ladypool Road (birthplace of the Balti i believe) without becoming somewhat of a curry connoisseur but i always tend to have the same i decided to venture outside of my comfort zone and try something totally different. I had a Rosemary Sheek Kebab starter followed by a main of Lamb Shank Pumpkin and a side order of mushroom fried rice, The food was excellent, particularly the lamb shank which had been marinated in various spices; the meat just fell off the bone into the delicately spiced pumpkin. Oh my. It was really nice. My friends enjoyed their food too - a roaring success all in all. To top it off, when we asked for the bill (£91 for 7 of us including alcohol) the waiter also bought us some Millionaires Shortbread and mints. How nice! A thoroughly nice evening and i'd go back again - you cant really ask for anything better than that can you?

Today ive done food shopping. I need to get smarter at where to shop for things; i love the Co-op for all their ethical-ness (is that even a word??) but £58 for one weeks shopping is just ridiculous. I need to get all my fruit and veg from the markets in future - lesson learnt. This evening ive cooked Roasted Sausage and Sweet Potato based upon a recipe in Donal Skehan's Good Mood Food. I basically chopped up some sweet potato and carrots, quartered some red onions, sliced the top of a bulb of garlic and put all of this in a roasting pan with some sausages (i used pork and chilli sausages for extra bite). I then added dried sage, thyme and bay leaves (i couldnt find any of these fresh in the Co-Op), and then mixed up some red wine, honey and french mustard and poured over the top. I mixed everything together so all the food was coated in the liquid and stuck it in the oven (200°C for 55 minutes). When it came put i squeezed all the lovely gooey goodness out of the garlic bulb and mixed this in. Heaven. Excuse the photo below as my phone doesnt do brilliant pictures...this is what was left...and we will have this tomorrow night...

...we are going to have this with homemade bread..Yes im making a foray into the world of bread making. This fills me with equal amounts of excitement and nervousness as i have never made bread before. It may be a disaster but it may be amazing..... i was going to wait to make bread until id been on one of the courses at Loaf but they have a long waiting list, such is their popularity.  I tweeted Tom (@loafonline) to say that i was sad i wouldnt be making bread for a few months and he has infused me with words of, You Tube tutorials at the ready, i will commence bread-making on the morrow.

Has anyone else got experience of making bread and wants to share some best practice or let me know of pitfalls to avoid?

Night All,


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

2012: A New Me

After 22 years of working in the financial industry i took voluntary redundancy on 31st December 2011. It was a really hard decision to make as i loved my job but i knew that i had to make changes in my life.

So, what am i doing with my life? What are my plans? Well, im training to be a counsellor so attend university part-time and im also training to be a Bereavement Support  Volunteer with Cruse. I also do some voluntary work with St Martins helpdesk giving advice and support to homeless and vulnerable clients in Birmingham; im also about to start doing some mentoring work with clients at St Martins.

As well as this i have recently started doing some, im not the most adept at this kind of thing but i do find that i enjoy it. I made a lot of my Christmas presents in 2011; i made a laptop bag, candles, a purse and some mosaic coasters. Unfortunately i didnt take any photos of the usual time ran away with me...but they were gratefully received by my friends.

I also love cooking. I struggle with my weight, as many people do, and one of my goals for this year is to eat healthy, good food and i may share some of my cooking successes with you...i may even share some of the disasters!

This blog is going to be a journey into my new life, how im coping, what im doing etc. I dont know how it will end up and i will probably change things as i go along. Any thoughts as to what you want to see will be welcomed! My plans are to talk about what im doing craft and cookery-wise, the ups and downs of changing my life and suddenly living life with no income (!) and whatever else i think may be interesting.

Today im doing boring stuff...all those little jobs that i never got round to when doing stupid hours at work. Ive painted a gate this morning and am tidying up lots of bits and pieces and putting them in the loft. I then plan to write up my Cruse Learning Journal from this weekend (i had two full days of training on Saturday and Sunday which, whilst inspiring and brilliant, left me emotionally drained and tired) and then read this which is helping my training at Cruse as well as being on the recommended Reading list at uni. See that i have killed two birds with one stone here... yes, i can be lazy (im very good at it!)... this may become a recurring theme!!

So my tasks for the rest of the day include:

  1. Ring DWP (i dont think that i can claim any benefits due to receiving a generous redundancy payment but ive been advised that i need to call them so that they will continue to pay my NI contributions). I cant say that im looking forward to doing this - ive never had to deal with the DWP or Job Centres before. Well not for myself, i have had to deal with them when my ex-husband was made unemployed many years ago and the experience was not a good one. I felt like i was treated with disdain - i really dont know how people cope with going and signing on every week/fortnight (see i dont even know how how often you are supposed to do these things!)
  2. Finish putting stuff in the loft - again im not looking forward to this. I have a fear of spiders and bugs, stupid i know, but having to poke my head into a dark, dusty loft is my idea of hell. At this point i should say that i dont have a man who i can call upon to do such things. I own my own house and share it with one of my best friends who lodges with me. My boyfriend, whom we shall call Mr A, lives elsewhere and to be honest poking heads in lofts is probably not one of his strong points!
  3. I have some leeks in the fridge which need to be used up so im going to make Leek & Potato soup. One of the fabulous things about not working is being able to go to the market and buy good quality but cheap vegetables. They seem to taste much nicer than those in the supermarket and last much longer. On Friday i got huge bags of carrots, broccoli and potatoes for £1 each. £1!!! I will attempt to take photos of the soup and let you know how i made it later.
  4. Reading
  5. There may also be a brief sojourn into the world of Zelda:Skyward Sword. I love the Zelda games but if i start playing the day will pass by too quickly so i may reward myself with this later when all of the other things on my list are done.
So thats my first blog entry.  Its a bit strange as im not sure which audience im writing this for as yet so im just going to write it for myself :)