Friday, 16 August 2019

Meat Free Friday

One of the major changes we can make as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our meat intake and change to a more plant based diet. There is plenty of information available  as to why this is  not only essential for reducing greenhouse gases but also if we are to continue to feed the ever growing world population. 
You can read articles here and here if you want to find out more.
In particular the biggest culprits are beef and lamb, because of the way they graze and the additional methane they produce. Obviously it follows that if we are reducing our beef consumption then we should also reduce our dairy intake, although dairy farming is not quite so intensive as raising cattle for beef.

I am aware that drastically changing your diet if you have always eaten meat is not easy so as someone who has eaten a largely vegetarian and pescatarian diet for the past 25 years I thought I would share some of my favourite veggie meals in regular "Meat Free Friday" posts.

One of my favourite books for simple, easy to make but really tasty vegetarian dishes is The River Cottage Veg everyday book. I think I especially like it as it is not intended as a vegetarian cookbook but as a book to encourage us all to eat more vegetables. It's not in the least bit preachy but just full of amazing food that you really want to eat

For anyone who grows their own veg getting a glut of courgettes at this time of year is a bit of a given and over the years I have become somewhat of an expert at creating courgette based meals. I could feed you for a week on courgettes without ever repeating a single dish! So one of my favourite recipes from the book is a Greek inspired Courgette and Rice filo pie. You can tell it's a favourite by the amount of splatters on the page!

Admittedly it does involve using filo pastry which can be a bit of a faff but it's really not that difficult and putting the filling together takes just a couple of minutes.  If using filo is a step too far you could always replace it with a couple of sheets of ready rolled puff pastry. My Greek daughter-in-law makes a fabulous Tyropita (cheese pie) using puff pastry

You can find the recipe by clicking on the link here: Courgette and Rice Filo Pie.

I made it this week but didn't have fresh dill. Well, I thought I had fresh dill but when I took it out to use it had gone slimy in the packet (well before it's sell by date)... all the more reason to ditch the plastic and find sources other than the supermarket. I think my new garden needs a herb patch. But I did have some chives so used those instead and it tasted just as good as ever.

It makes a delicious pie that feeds four generously. It is excellent hot as the centre of a main meal and I particularly like it with some steamed carrots on the side. But it is equally good cold with a salad or part of a picnic. Because the rice magically cooks by absorbing all the  liquid from the courgettes it stays lovely and crisp too... No soggy bottom!

Let me know if you give it a try or you have any tips of your own for reducing your meat consumption. Even if everyone started by replacing just one meal a week or maybe had one meat free day per week it could begin to make a difference. And the added benefit is that a plant based diet is better for your health too. Meat Free Friday anyone?

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Chihuly at Kew

A few weeks ago my friend Jude and I had a long overdue get together. Mostly we meet in central London and visit an exhibition and/or have a meal but this time we ventured west to Kew Gardens to wander, natter, catch up and see the fabulous glass installations of Dale Chihuly. The exhibition Reflections on Nature runs until October 27th and is well worth a visit. Actually Kew Gardens is well worth a visit never mind this wonderful exhibition. Who would thought that until two years ago I had never been, but since visiting for one of my sixty x sixty projects I have now been three times.

The exhibition is a wonderful partnership of art and nature, transforming the gardens into a fabulous outdoor gallery space. My favourite piece of the  installations we managed to spot was this glorious plant like sculpture comprising of wonderfully organic blown glass forms. Nestled in the pond in the newly refurbished Temperate House, against a background of ferns and trickling water, it was truly captivating.

There were several sculptures in the Temperate House, mostly well hidden in amongst the plants but one of the stars of the show was the "Temperate House Persians", large blue flower like forms specially designed for the exhibition and suspended 19m above the ground like a huge chandelier.

Two more stunning pieces were the matching pair of sculptures outside the Temperate House called "Opal and Amber Towers" perfectly reflecting the colours of the house.

"Sapphire Star" was quite breath taking, rising from the flower bed like a giant allium, again made of hundreds of individually blown forms.

And by the lakeside "Summer Sun" also built from individually blown forms... 1,483 to be precise! This one reminded me of writhing snakes just like Medusa's hair.

The Seattle based artist has said about the installations that he wants then "to appear like they come from nature, so if someone found them... they might think they belonged there". Mostly I think he has achieved this with spectacular art forms sitting together with one of the most amazing plant collections in the world. Definitely worth a visit... and we only saw a fraction of the 32 individual installations! That of course is the problem with meeting a friend to visit an exhibition, when you've not seen each other for a while. In fact Jude and I have been known to visit the V & A in the past and not get any further than lunch in the member's room... although if I remember correctly it was a very good lunch!

Monday, 12 August 2019

A Conversation About Climate

We continue to settle into our new home and village finding new ways to join in and become part of the community. Last Friday I dodged the showers and joined a group of like minded villagers for a three mile walk along the surrounding fields and footpaths. We started and finished at the newly refurbished pub, where we had an excellent cup of coffee and pastry at the end of our walk... undoing any good it might have done us. But it was about community, friendships and supporting a local business as well as walking. We are incredibly lucky to live somewhere surrounded by so much natural beauty and with so much to offer.

Another village group we have both joined is a collection of like minded individuals who have become increasingly concerned about climate change, because we cannot carry on thinking this is someone elses problem if we want to continue to enjoy our countryside and be able to leave it for future generations. None of us are experts but we have come together because we all want to learn more about climate change, ecological issues and most importantly to find out what we can actually do about it. We are hoping that by having conversations about it, learning more, spreading the word and leading by example then others will follow. And of course, the best place to start is at home.

We have started by taking some small pledges to ourselves about making changes in our lifestyle. One of these is to reduce our use of single use plastics. The recent programme The War on Plastic with Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall was quite an eye opener on this if you still need convincing. I stopped putting fruit and veg in plastic bags at the supermarket quite a while ago... yes I am that irritating woman in front of you trying to balance and weigh six loose apples as they roll off the scales. I stopped myself asking a man why he was putting his bananas in a plastic bag the last time I was there... but then afterwards I thought why didn't I say something. Probably because you never know how someone might react... You need to be brave to be an eco-warrior! 

But something I have continued to use is cling film. So when the last roll ran out I vowed never to buy another and instead I invested in some beeswax wraps. They are not especially cheap (This pack of three from Lakeland were almost £20) but they are re-usable, lasting for up to a year and when  eventually they cannot be used any more they are compostable. I know I probably could make my own but I really don't have the time, however I have found another supplier BeeBee Wraps who are a small local business (local to us in Cambridge) that I really like the look of, so I intend to order some more from them as they worked really well for wrapping Stewart's sandwiches. Apparently they are not good for wrapping meat but we don't eat meat at home at all so it's not a problem for us... and anyway reducing meat consumption is one of the biggest things you can to to reduce your carbon footprint. But that will be a subject for a whole other post.

The second pledge I have taken is to join in with Oxfam's Second Hand September, and not buy any new clothing for the whole of September. To be perfectly honest this isn't such a big deal as I don't really buy that many new clothes so to forgo for just 30 days is no great sacrifice. So instead, my friend and I have pledged to do it for a whole year starting on the 1st September. Given that the UK alone sends 11 million items of clothing to landfill every week this could make a real difference if enough people signed up. Are you willing to join us?

I will try to give regular updates here on how we are managing but the idea is no new clothing, except what we make ourselves (but that also means no new fabrics bought either in my case... just using what I have). Everything else will need to be sourced from charity shops, or altered and mended. Except underwear... I think I draw the line at second hand knickers!

I would love to know your hints and tips for what you are doing to live for a more sustainable future.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

The Aga Saga

I knew I was on dodgy ground when I said I wasn't sure about whether we would keep the Aga but I didn't expect quite the response I got both on here and on Facebook... there are some strong opinions out there! So just to put the record straight I didn't say it would definitely go and I did say there wouldn't be any rushed decision. Like the garden, we will live with it for a year, keep an eye on the electric bills and see how it goes. I like cooking with it well enough but probably no more or less than with my old fan oven.

Tonight I came in from a day working in London and it was good to put a baked potato in the already hot oven to have it ready in a little over an hour... although to be fair the fan oven only took five minutes to heat up. Of course, everyone was at pains to tell me I need an alternative cooking method for the summer months when the Aga can be turned off, but therein lies the problem. We don't have an alternative and the kitchen has been designed so that there is no obvious space for another oven and/or hob. And remodelling the kitchen is definitely not on the agenda.  I guess I don't really understand why anyone needs two separate cooking methods either... one for summer and another for winter feels a little extravagant! Our other problem is that if the Aga was replaced then we would also have to find alternative heating for the room in the winter. We first viewed the house in December and it was very cosy but without the Aga I think it would be rather cold. This week when the weather has been cooler it hasn't been too much of a problem to have it throwing out heat, at least nothing that can't be solved by keeping the windows open but last week it really was unbearable... although I guess there aren't really many days in the year that are that  hot. So like I say, there's lots to consider, for every arguement ther is a counter arguement and there won't be any rushed decisions, but thank you for your input!

On the positive side, I made my first cake in the Aga at the weekend and it was a resounding success. Just a simple jam sponge - four eggs (at room temperature) were weighed in their shells and then an equal weight of soft unsalted butter (butten softens very quickly near the Aga!) and sugar were beaten together with some vanilla paste until light and fluffy. The eggs were added, beaten in one at a time and the finally an equal amount of sifted self raising flour was folded into the batter taking cake not to over mix. It was divided between two 8" (20 cm) lightly greased and lined tins and baked for 23 mins in my baking oven (180 deg C or 160 fan). When cool, it was sandwiched together with jam, because I have a ridiculous number of pots of old jam that made the move with us, but other fillings are available.. buttercream, lemon curd, nutella would all work.

The result was a light, moist and very evenly risen cake so the Aga might well stay after all!

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Moving House

It is hard to believe after all the waiting but we have been in our new home for nearly four weeks. I could probably write about the move itself but we've all been there... and it's stressful. Trying to remember everything feels overwhelming, what to leave behind, what to pack in the last minute box, not to mention the several hours cleaning everything as we emptied each room. That was a complete waste of time as the new occupants of our old house haven't moved in but instead are gutting the place. Bathrooms, fitted wardrobes, carpets... you name it, it's all coming out. Wish they had told me... the place hadn't been that clean in years! Despite only being a mile and a quarter away from the last house, and us both having friends in this village, not to mention all the activities we already do in here, it does feel completely different... and we love it!

The view from our front door looks right across the road to the beautiful church and we love hearing the bells as well as the hourly clock chiming. It kept us awake the first night and we did wonder if it had been a mistake to move into a house right opposite a church, but we really haven't heard it since and I have already managed to get myself on the clock winding rota.

We're lucky that the house itself doesn't need anything doing to it. It's clean, well maintained and the decor is very neutral so we can take our time putting our own stamp on the place. However that doesn't mean that we are all unpacked and sorted... far from it! We thought we had done a really good job of clearing and getting rid of stuff, after all we were doing it for long enough. But we still have far too much stuff so the decluttering continues. And I no longer have a studio, so everything that was in my previously spacious studio is now in boxes scattered all over the house, which makes gathering things for teaching an interesting experience to say the least. The plan is to replace the rather tired looking garage at the end of the garden with a purpose built studio and shed, but all in good time. The garden also needs a complete overhaul but I have decided that waiting a year to see what comes up etc will be the sensible approach. Which of course is just a ploy to put it off for a year! At least it is looking a little greener today after all the rain than it does in the photo below.

One of the major changes I have had to adapt to is cooking on an Aga. I have never been one of these people who have longed for an Aga or the lifestyle it implies. I couldn't really see the appeal. I also happened to love my electric/gas range cooker and knew that would be the one thing that I would really miss in my old kitchen. But I admit, the Aga is a thing of beauty and I have started to get the hang of it.

Meals tend to be oven roasted combinations that all go into one pan and get cooked together.

Virtually anything goes and so far everything has been a resounding success (although I have yet to be brave enough to bake a cake). But... and it really is a big but... I just hate the fact that the thing is hot for twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, using electricity and pumping out heat when I might use the oven once a day if that, I boil the kettle a few times a day and sometimes make some toast. Maybe in the days of having four teenage sons at home when the oven always seemed to be on it would have been fantastic but with just two of us I am struggling to see how it can possibly be cost effective or in the least bit environmentally friendly. And so although it feels like heresy, I'm not sure the Aga will stay. The jury is out and there won't be a rushed decision, but I'm not convinced it's an asset.

Despite my doubts about the Aga I rather like the rest of the kitchen. There is a central island that has the sink, dishwasher and a fridge fitted along with some cupboard space. There is a free standing larder and these fitted shelves. I managed to find a real bargain in a closing down sale and bought this sideboard that fits snuggly underneath  the shelves. Except the cupboard is painted off white and the shelves were a sludgy looking green. Actually I'm guilty of heresy again... they were painted in Farrow and Ball "Vert de Terre" which I'm sure is very classy but just happened to look a bit dark and dingy! There is no before photo but I have spent the past three days painting them off white to match the cupboard and I think it's a big improvement. I might be over sharing here but it was so hot in the kitchen during the heat wave this week given that the Aga was also throwing out heat, that I was stripped down to my underwear to do the painting. Fortunately there was no-one but the dog to see me because it was not a pretty sight and there really was paint everywhere!

It has certainly brightened up this little corner.

The squashed bucket thing on the wall was left with the house and I was all for getting rid of it. It caused a bit of a debate on Instagram and suggestions were made that it could be used as a planter (too many holes), it could hold dried flowers (no way... dusty things), it could hold utensils (potential in that one) or it could be a magazine holder, which is what I have opted for... for now. The thing still doesn't really 'spark joy' as they say!

And so there we are... we have moved, we are happy, there are lots of changes we would like to make but we are also in no hurry. Just don't ask if we have unpacked yet!

In other news, I am off teaching at the Festival of Quilts next weekend (it has been a challenge finding all my resources to say the least) and with the move etc I complete forgot that I have some complimentary tickets to give away. If you are going to the FOQ and don't have a ticket please email me and let me know. If I post them on Monday you will still get them in time!

Monday, 15 July 2019

A Literary Festival

One of the best things about village life is the wonderful range of entertainment and activities that are on offer. There is everything from sport, live theatre and music to quizzes, films and social suppers. Last weekend saw the very first Literary Festival to be held in my now ex but neighbouring village which gave me the ideal excuse to escape the unpacking of boxes.

There was a fabulous programme of speakers and interviews, each with a local connection plus we were treated to a generous ploughman's lunch with wine.

The first speaker was Christine Adams who told the extraordinary story of her ex-husband's aunt, May Savidge, who following a demolition order, single handedly moved her medieval home, literally beam by beam, brick by brick and nail by nail, 100 miles from Ware in Hertfordshire , to rebuild it in Wells next to Sea in Norfolk. She worked on it for twenty three years but never completed the task. However she left the house to the family and Christine took on the task of finishing it. Christine's story is just as remarkable as May's and she is a natural story teller. I had been fortunate enough to meet Christine a few years ago and found her story so engaging I immediately bought her book "A Lifetime in the Building" (now renamed Miss Savidge Moves Her House) which I can thoroughly recommend.

After our excellent lunch we were treated to a recital of poetry by award winning poet Tom Weir who grew up in the village. (I remember him when he was a small boy.) In all honesty I don't really understand most poetry, it goes right over my head and especially I find it impossible to read. But listening to Tom explain the reasons for writing some of his verses, with his wry observation and gentle humour and then hearing his recitals from two of his collections, I feel I could be converted. It was powerful and at times emotional but made us laugh too.

Next followed a lively conversation between Sarah Harrison, Jenny Chapman and Jim Prothero. The festival was the brain child of Sarah Harrison, a successful local author. Jenny is an author and journalist and Jim has recently self published his first novel although he also has a children's book and several screenplays under his belt. He describes himself as an author in a bricklayer's body! They spoke about the trials and tribulations of getting published as well as the importance of setting aside regular and achievable chunks of time to write.

The day concluded with Sarah interviewing Sarah Shaw about her book. The Secret Diary of a 1970s Secretary. I have known Sarah a long time, as our sons were friends back in primary school and we were in the local Am Dram group together. When Sarah was packing up her house to move to Dorset she discovered a diary in her loft dating back to 1971 when she had started work for the BBC. She typed upthe diary and self published it as an ebook and although I had downloaded it to my Kindle I couldn't bring myself to read it immediately. What if I didn't like it... what would I say to Sarah? But after a lunch date Sarah asked me what I thought and  I decided that I really did need to bite the bullet and read it. I started that afternoon and two days later I'd finished it. I loved this book and by the time I got to the second half I couldn't put it down. Not only does it tell the story of 19 year old Sarah's time working as secretary for the BBC and living in a run down hostel in London, it also conveys the era perfectly giving a wonderful picture of the food we ate, the clothes we wore and the music we listened to at the time. But the book's success is largely down to the story woven against this backdrop, that of  the blossoming but unlikely romance between Sarah and the lift operator at the BBC's old Langham building. It is written with great humour and honesty, with a brilliant eye for detail that took me right back to 1971. And it is not only now available in hardback and paperback but there is due to be a dramatised TV programme too.

It really was a brilliant day and I love that it was called the first Steeple Morden Literary Festival with promise of more to come in future. Of course that remains to be seen as village events such as these rely so much on the hard work and good will of many volunteers and without support they cannot go ahead. And if there is a single negative comment to be made it was the lack of local support for this amazing Litfest. I didn't count the numbers in the audience but sadly it felt sparse, with several of those attending coming from afar. I'm not sure why more local people didn't turn up and give their support, maybe they thought it wasn't for them but all I can say is they missed a treat because it was a wonderful programme of speakers and conversations that was entertaining, uplifting and inspiring.

At the end, a friend asked if I ever think I would like to write, which I dismissed with a the comment that I don't think I have any stories in me. But when she suggested that my Instagram feed makes interesting reading it occurred to me that I have actually been writing for twelve years in this blog! Mostly stories with pictures, sometimes diary, sometimes general observations about life with a large dose of cake thrown in for good measure, but writing nonetheless. And that prompted me to write this post!

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

We've Moved

Have you missed me? I've missed you! Blog reading has been pretty low on my list of priorities the past few weeks (plus I broke my iPad on which I usually do blogging stuff, but that's a whole other story), however we have now actually moved and have already been in our new home a whole week. I may write a blog post about the experience... I may not. But just to say we love our new home and all the stresses of the past few weeks have disappeared. The night we moved in the lights were put on at the church to welcome us to the village which was lovely. This is literally the view from our front bedroom window... before I dropped the said iPad out the window smashing the screen to smithereens.Oh well, it's only stuff... and despite months of clearing out we still have far too much stuff!

Hector went into kennels for a few days while we packed and moved but he has now arrived at his new home and together we are exploring new footpaths (despite only being a mile and a half from where we were before!)

The previous occupiers had a black lab too and he has spent much of his time here sniffing out every nook and cranny, plus every square inch of the garden, quite determined to find the puppy we are obviously hiding from him. Silly dog!

Anyway, that's it for now but I just wanted to check in briefly to let you know I'm still here, still blogging. Will be back soon but there are a few boxes to unpack.