Friday, 21 November 2014

Trying to recreate a little bit of Leicester in Wiltshire...

There are no Afghan restaurants around here, so my trip to such an eating establishment in Leicester last week was an experience I won't forget in a hurry. Aubergines (eggplants) were a key feature of the menu - when I found one lingering in the cupboard back at home, it seemed fitting to give it the middle eastern treatment.

I'd never made it before but have always loved the name: Baba Ganoush.

It's simple to make this yummy dip. Roast two medium aubergines (or one large one in my case).

(I realised afterwards that although slicing the aubergine seemed a good idea, it does leave some dry edges when it comes to the mashing part of Baba Ganoush.) The roasting takes about half to one hour in a hot oven.

Baba Ganoush sprinkled with paprika

Peel and scoop out the flesh. The instructions in the recipe I used advised letting the flesh drain, but this would would have resulted in barely any aubergine, so I ignored that part.

I went straight to blending it in the food processor with 2 tablespoonfuls of olive oil, 2 tablespoonfuls of tahini, a tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 garlic clove with some parsley and mint (I used dried but fresh would have been better). I've always liked tahini but it might not be everyone's idea of a store cupboard staple - I guess you could use a spoonful of natural yogurt instead or a handful of sesame seeds. 

Serve with some flat breads. I make these A LOT. Especially when we've run out of other bread. I discovered I've saved lots of flat bread photos in my blog photo folder over the months. It's about time one of them reached the light of day at last. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe works every time for me:

250g plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp oil
150ml warm water

Mix together and briefly knead. I can get 8 small flat breads out of this amount. Divide dough into 8 balls and roll thinly. Cook for a couple of minutes on each side. I use a griddle frying pan.

Everyone enjoyed the Baba Ganoush but we decided it's probably not an everyday recipe - it takes an awful lot of aubergine to make a small amount of dip...

Aubergine facts:

  • Low in saturated fats and cholesterol
  • High in fibre, potassium, vitamin B1 and vitamin B6
  • Rich in antioxidants

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bicycle, bicycle...

This weekend Husband cycled over to Bradford-on-Avon to watch the film Bicycle which is described on its website as a "humorous, lyrical and warm reflection on the bicycle and its place in cycling and its place in the British national psyche". 

Here's the trailer for the film:

The reviews I've heard are good - Husband says it's an upbeat and inspirational film depicting all aspects of cycling from Britain's Olympic successes to ordinary people using bikes as everyday transport, and Richard from our local community bike project rates it highly too - you can read his review here.

The film looks at the history of cycling in the UK and considers why the enthusiasm for cycling waned in the 60s and 70s when cars became more affordable, train services were axed by Dr Beeching, and the first motorways were being built.

Britain was not alone in facing such transport changes but did not foresee or forestall the possible impact in the way that other European countries did - Holland, for example, continued to invest in infrastructure for bikes. Even today in the UK, spending is weighted heavily towards car drivers - £70 per head is invested in roads and only £2 per head on cycling, as opposed to £20 per head on cycling in Holland and £30 per head in Denmark.

It definitely feels as if there is a sea change at the moment. Cycling is gaining in popularity; when Husband spent a few days in London cycling from Hanwell into the city every day earlier this year he was overawed by the number of commuting cyclists - in places they are so many that they control the road.

And yet, despite all the environmental, social and health benefits of cycling there is still much to be done to make cycling feel like a safe option for everyone in the UK. The film supports those such as Chris Boardman, who are lobbying the Government to raise spending on cycling to £10 per head.

If you'd like to watch the film, it's showing at a few selected UK venues before the end of the year. Or you can purchase the DVD (it would make a great Christmas prezzie for the cyclist in your life!). Check out the Bicycle film website for more details here. 

I couldn't think about the title of the film without humming the Queen song in my head, but I'm told that obviously the film is of such quality that it would never feature such a glaringly obvious link on its soundtrack.

I still can't help humming it though...

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Crafting inspiration

One of our half term treats was a trip to the American Museum in Bath to see the Kaffe Fassett exhibition, just in the nick of time before it finished. (Thank you Jean at Shrimpton and Perfect whose blog post about the exhibition jogged my memory).

An American-born artist, Kaffe is known for his colourful designs. He started out as a traditional artist but after a trip to Scotland fell in love with yarns, learned to knit, and since then has worked across many crafts including knitting, patchwork and needlepoint. Kaffe is the primary knitwear designer for Rowan Yarns.

You couldn't not love this exhibition. 

Outside we were greeted by a tree of pom poms, decorative lampshade thingies and some yarn bombing.

A colourful medley of Kaffe's books, rugs, artwork, wool and cushions began the exhibition enticingly.

Need I say more? The photos speak for themselves...

This one's for my sister - she loves tatting!

Beautiful quilts

Even the beige section was fun 
A huge Hollyhock needlepoint

Gorgeous knitting
Although the Kaffe Fassett exhibition is over now, the museum and grounds are well worth a visit in themselves; they are in a fantastic location - high up on a hill at Claverton, on the edge of Bath, with views to die for. 

We last visited the museum when Daughter was in her Pocahontas phase as the museum has a good section on the Native American Indians but there are many interesting displays about the development of America and replica rooms from different periods of American history, featuring authentic furniture and artefacts. The museum also boasts a spectacular collection of quilts. 

My knitting mojo did resurface after this in the form of a purchase of a big ball of wool in Aldi (Kaffe probably doesn't source much of his yarn there but if he doesn't mind the high acrylic content he'd love their colourful yarns, I'm sure...) This is for knitting a present for my sister.

If she's lucky it may be completed in time for her 50th* birthday.

* She's currently in her early 40s

Friday, 14 November 2014

The kindness of bloggers

When I first started blogging two years ago, I really had no idea what it was all about. Most of the blogs I was reading were written by US bloggers and I decided that perhaps the world needed a UK frugal blogger. I soon realised that I was very late to the party, and that there are tons of UK bloggers out there. It has still been worth blogging - even if I have nothing much new to add, I've met lots of lovely like-minded people. Mostly just online, but a small handful in person too.

A while back, when I was searching for five nights accommodation in the Leicester area for a training course, I consulted with a Leicestershire local and one of those lovely like-minded people that I'd met on the interweb, Angela from Tracing Rainbows (whose blog I always enjoy), for some recommendations. She swiftly responded with an invitation to stay with her and husband Bob (who also has a not-very-recently-updated blog). I was bowled over - I know I'm always up for a frugal accommodation option but I never expected such a kind and generous offer. And really, if there was ever a handbook for 'How to turn a cyber blog friend into a real life blog friend' its advice would probably NOT suggest arriving at their house, having never met them before, expecting to be fed and to stay in their spare room for five nights. Especially when they're both very busy people. 

My kids were eager to point out that going to stay with someone you've only met online absolutely contravenes all 'cyber safety' lessons ever learned (meet on neutral territory in a public place... etc) I still went ahead and accepted the invitation. I've followed Angela's blog for a while and, as strangers go, my intuition was that she and Pastor Bob seemed the sort you can trust. Kids, if you're reading, do as I say, not as I do!

Ang Almond, from Tracing Rainbows, and me!

Regular readers of Angela's blog will be ahead of the game as our time together has already been blogged about on Tracing Rainbows, but this week, the course took place and I have had a fantastic week in Kirby Muxloe and surrounds!

No B&B could have provided such a warm welcome, good conversation, or a comfier bed and delicious home cooking. Nor would I have received a cup of tea in bed every morning. We even fitted in a quick whistle stop tour of Leicester one evening, and a meal in an Afghan restaurant (Al Mustafa's - astoundingly good value - if you're wondering). And the course (which I had also learned of via the internet) was pretty good too.

Angela and I both agreed that bringing people together has to be one of the most positive virtues of the internet.

Thank you so much Angela and Bob, truly the kindest of bloggers!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Half term holiday romance...

Firstly, many thanks for all the helpful comments on my last blog post about jam-making. I have only just caught up with blog business as I've been busy rekindling some old loves over the half term holiday...

Me and the Youth Hostel Association go back a long way - about 33 years in fact. I've blogged about my Youth Hostel love before, when we camped at a couple of Welsh Youth Hostels in summer 2013. When my sister bowed out of the long drive southwards to our house from Sunderland this half term and suggested we meet half way instead, for an aunties' and cousins' two night mini break, where better to stay than a Youth Hostel? Especially when you can book a 6 bed family room for all of us for £50 a night. That's cheaper per head than some campsites these days.

If it wasn't for the green YHA sign,
it could pass for a country hotel...

Hathersage Youth Hostel, in the Peak District, served all our needs. Comfy bunk beds, a large self catering kitchen, dining room and lounge. And lots of other friendly guests amenable to sharing tea/a bottle of wine/playing board games/cake (delete according to your age and the time of day). 

Our room did have a faint whiff of school changing rooms but we couldn't decide whether the smell was already embedded or if the trainers belonging to the runner in our party were to blame.

Stepping stones across the River Derwent

From Hathersage we were able to explore the local area without needing any transport other than our legs. We walked a couple of miles up the River Derwent for a flat walk when the weather was misty, and on the clearer day we walked up to Stanage Edge, the largest gritstone edge overlooking Hathersage. We made sure that one of our walks included a detour to see the grave of Little John (Robin Hood's fellow outlaw). Even legendary figures have graves you know.

Stanage Edge
Being able to do most of our exploring on foot was important, as the Wiltshire contingent had indulged another of our loves - trains. By booking in advance through with our Family and Friends railcard, it was just about affordable (twice the price of our room - eek) and made for a much more pleasant (and environmentally friendly) journey than the five hour drive would have been. The railway line across the Pennines between Sheffield and Manchester even stops at Hathersage itself, so we could walk to the Youth Hostel from the station.

My new love this half term is most definitely for Hathersage itself. A no nonsense village (unlike some of its touristy neighbours such as Castleton), in beautiful surroundings. I'd definitely visit again - for one thing I'd like a dip in the heated outdoor swimming pool (that is still open at this time of year, but only at weekends so we didn't get to try it out), and for another, the waffle menu at the Hathersage Social Club needs further investigation... 

(All my own opinions here - no sponsored links.)

Do you have any favourite Youth Hostels or places in the Peak District? Any suggestions for other good places to visit that are half way between Wiltshire and the North East?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Jam musings

I'm not a natural domestic goddess. Far from it. Enthusiastic maybe, but not always very successful. And definitely not a natural.

Over the last two and a half years of blogging about our attempts to live a more wholesome, sustainable life (which naturally includes lots of cooking from scratch) there have been lots of runny marmalade/runny chutney/runny yogurt/runny fudge incidents. 

Even my knitting turns out, if not runny, then the knitting equivalent of runny - loose. Don't mention the cardigan for the new born niece, who's now two, that never got finished. 

So it's good to celebrate when things go well. This year the jam actually set. And I mean, really set. Like, #canturnthejarupsidedownanditdoesn'tfallout set. Yay!

My random jam musings
  • If there's ever a time when I master jam-making, then it's sod's law that it will coincide with the time that sugar starts being outed as, not just tooth-rotting, but on a par with cocaine. Lighting up parts of the brain 'like a Christmas tree' on MRI scans, I read somewhere. And not in a good way. All around me neighbours and family members are giving up sugar whilst I'm buying kilos of the stuff to preserve fruit. I feel faintly guilty that I'm flying in the face of public health guidance every time I spread a bit of jam on my toast. :-( 
  • Why has it taken me this long to realise that buying 'preserving sugar' or 'jam sugar' will guarantee that jam or marmalade sets? Perhaps advanced jam makers can live dangerously with ordinary old granulated sugar, pectin, or pectin-rich fruits like lemons or apples. But not me, I'm sticking with jam sugar from now on. Every time.
  • The expensive Kilner jam thermometer that I bought a couple of years ago (to try and rectify some of my 'runny' issues) looks lovely but I don't think it is at all accurate. It gets to a certain point and then the needle just sticks, even when I can see that the jam must be getting hotter. Boiling the jam vigorously for ten or so minutes without testing with the thermometer seems to work fine.
  • The minute the damsons are ripe, is the time to make damson jam. This year they went from hard to ripe to mouldy really, really quickly and I was almost too late.
  • Once you've got the jam sugar and the boiling business sorted, you can pretty much make jam out of anything. It feels like cheating to buy a big bowl of plums from the market for £1 and make plum jam (like I did once I realised my jam was miraculously setting this year and I ought to make the most of it), but I guess it's not. And buying frozen fruit is not off limits either. Just simmer any old fruit with a sloosh of water until it's soft, then add an equal amount of jam sugar (did I already mention the jam sugar...) until the sugar is all dissolved. After that, boil the jam in a mad scientist kind of way for ten minutes or so, and that's all there is to it. Test to see whether it's setting by blobbing some on a saucer that you have already cooled in the freezer. If it's not setting readily, boil it madly for a bit longer. Fridge or freezer jam is made by the same process but using half the amount of sugar (less guilt) therefore needs to be kept in the fridge, or frozen once made, until use. 
  • Ladling the jam into a jug and then pouring it out is far less messy than trying to ladle it directly into the jars.
And I think that's possibly all there is to say about jam. Or is it? Any top jam-making tips or favourite recipes? Do you swear by a thermometer? Are you avoiding sugar or do you think fruit jam counts as one of your five-a-day...

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Life Changing Magic of Tidying book - giveaway winner!

All entries for the book giveaway were numbered in order of commenting, and Son drew number six as the winner, so the winner is the sixth commenter, Emma Croft!

As Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Waste Minimisation Officer, Emma is a truly deserving winner. Long term readers will have met Emma on the blog before. She was our mentor for the Slim Your Bin project we took part in last year. Check out her work in Wiltshire here. ( Note: We love Emma lots but the draw was definitely not a fix and her number was genuinely pulled at random!)

Emma Croft, Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's Waste
Minimisation Officer, leading a tour of our local recycling centre
in Calne.

Somehow it's a little bit reassuring to hear that even a recycling pro like Emma is still up for learning more about decluttering. 

I wonder what Emma would do with a bin bag FULL of cuddly toys?

You see we've been doing some enforced decluttering. Son has a new (new secondhand, of course) table in his room at which he will be spending long hours studying now he's in Year 7..., and the table had to take the place of a large wooden chest full of cuddly toys. 

Time for a cuddly toy cull. Those Teletubbies are not played with any more.

Soft toys have to be one of my least favourite things to declutter. There's a sentimental reason for keeping each and every one. 

I'm sure that Marie Kondo, author of the Life Changing Magic of Tidying, would have us ditch the lot, but we couldn't do it. Half have gone to the charity shop, the beanie babies have been downsized to a shoe box and those with the most sentimental value are in a box in the airing cupboard...

What do you struggle to declutter?