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 :)