This blog is mainly a rambling kind of diary of the transition from smallholderwannabe to smallholder.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Cars, Cambridge and a celebration.

We've been away to Cambridge again for five days for my husband to go to meetings and for me to go pottering about. I do enjoy pottering around looking at all the old buildings and walking along the river. I always find something new to look at and enjoy. And if I head for the town centre, there is a street with eight charity shops in it, which means that I can potter through there very happily. I can usually manage to find a new top either for my husband or for me and sometimes something even more exciting. I find that having a good supply of tops means that I can wait a few days extra until there is a dry day so that I can dry the washing outside. I try very hard not to use the tumble dryer unless there is a very good reason for it.

We'll be going back to Cambridge for another stay before Christmas so I'm hoping to do a little Christmas shopping on that occasion. I might even find something for my husband without him being with me to see it and spoil the surprise.

Our car was eight years old when we bought it and we have had it for seven years now. The engine works fine but there are lots of the peripheral things which are not working well any longer or which have stopped working altogether. The driver's window no longer goes up and down, for example. It stopped working about 18 months ago and we had a new motor fitted but it has stopped again. It is very annoying as we frequently go through a barrier at a carpark entrance which means stopping the car, getting out and entering a code, getting back in and putting the seat belt on and then getting out on to a main road. Not fun if there is somebody on the main road wanting to turn in and stopping all the traffic whilst I am faffing around... There are lots of sensors not working properly too. So we are looking at new(er) cars. The thing is that the car sailed through the MOT with no problems at all in July. There are just so many makes and models of cars out there and prices have definitely gone up in the last seven years since we bought this one. Decisions, decisions. We want a larger car, probably an estate so that we can transport lots of wood, something very economical to run, very comfortable for longer journeys, and all for a very small sum of money. So we want the best compromise possible. Anybody got any recommendations?

And it was my birthday this week. My husband took me out for the day and cooked me a nice meal and my grandchildren all drew me beautiful cards. It was a lovely day : )

Labels: ,

Monday, September 24, 2018

Scary happenings and more besides

What a lot has happened since I last posted. The first memorable thing, which I won't forget in a hurry, was trouble with the church cooker. I was working at making extra cakes to put in the freezer, as well as keeping the coffee shop supplied. We had a coule of short stays away planned so I needed to build up supplies of cake. I had a cake in the oven and was leaning over the cooker to stir the soup in the 12 pint saucepan (a pan that size requires me to stand over it to stir right into the edges of the pan to keep the soup from sticking) when there was a big bang in the oven and the oven door blew open into my middle - which made me jump back quickly, I can tell you. There were big flames which hid the 12 pint saucepan from sight and the baking paper lining the cake tins all burned up. The flames all singed my hair and eyebrows and I lost lots of hair at the front of my head. Thankfully I had my glasses on so my eyes were protected. Had I not jumped back so promptly, it would probably have been worse. My skin was sore for the next day but my face was not burnt. After being made to sit down with a drink for a bit, I went back and finished the soup and cooled it and froze it. There were over 50 portions of soup in three pans and I wasn't losing that much work! The oven was electric but the hob was gas and had not reacted to the oven problems at all so I felt safe to continue with the soup.

When I took the cake tins out of the oven, I found a part (possibly the thermocouple??) in one of the cake tins. I have no idea what caused the problem. However I refused to use the cooker again and we have now bought a new one. this meant a lot of hours spent on the internet trying to whittle down the choices. A commercial cooker is not suitable for our situation but we need as large a domestic cooker as possible and preferably with two fan ovens. So now I have a new electric cooker with an induction hob so I need all new pans too. The old pans were a mix of aluminium and older stainless steel which does not work on induction hobs.

And as for pans - how do you choose pans from just a picture online? Not many shops stock the large size ones we need. We need something a bit substantial so that the food will not burn too readily. And the easiest way is to actually handle the pans. Not easy online! And the range of pans available is huge as is the range of prices. Still, we'll get there.

We used up all the cake in the freezer in the cooker free weeks. I also found lots of recipes for things that I could make with just the help of a microwave to eke out what was in the freezer. So now I've been trying to restock the freezer as well as keeping the coffee shop stocked. So I am spending my time either shopping for coffee shop or baking for coffee shop. Housework? Well, I remember that I used to do a bit of that from time to time when I had to, but that has totally gone by the board now : )

The rest of the stuff that has been happening has not been quite so dramatic and has not resulted in any more hair loss, thank goodness.

Two happier events were family picnics. The whole family got together at the end of August in the park at Bidford on Avon along with a few friends and we had a lovely day. There were swans on the Avon just a few feet from where we were sitting and a family of fluffy new moorhen chicks living in the bank beside us.. Lovely!

We enjoyed the first picnic so much that we all opted to have another one to celebrate three family birthdays in the same week in mid September. This time we went to a free concert in a park in Bromsgrove. The music was lovely and the weather stayed nice for us. There were also lots of stalls run by various local charities. There was also one run by the Love Food Hate Waste people. I did a game/quiz thing about recycling and got most of it right and came away with a nice hessian shopping bag which was an unexpected bonus.

I've also seen my new little grandson on four occasions since I last posted. He is five months old now and growing more capable every time I see him. I've had some good cuddles and I enjoy that lots.

We did have to call out the RAC when we had something partly come away from the underneath of the front of the car when we were travelling at 60mph along a dual carriageway. Turned out that it was not a crucial part but it still frightened us when it happened. You can imagine the noise of this thing suddenly coming partly adrift and banging along the road surface when we were travelling at speed. Not fun!

So I've baked and baked and baked some more and we are ready for our first trip away. It is back to Cambridge again for my husband to go to more meetings, but for me it is time off to wander along the river, or look at the old buildings, or look at the shops, or knit or do a crossword or read or whatever takes my fancy. And I am looking forward to it!!!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Burton Dassett

For our anniversary, my husband took me to Burton Dassett. It is a country park not far from junction 12 on the M40. It is 100 acres of land on what used to be an ironstone quarry. Apart from a "beacon" and some toilets, there is nothing else there - it is just a place to wander. And we did have a good wander round. It is a hill in the middle of a fairly flat area so there are very good views all around. Several hundred years ago, there was a windmill which blew down and was replaced by another which also blew down a couple of hundred years later. The "beacon" looks like the stone base of the last windmill which is now filled in with concrete and is a reminder that a beacon was lit there to warn people of approaching armies at the Battle of Edgehill (a couple of miles away) in 1642.

There is also an old church just outside the park. The original was built in 1086 but only lasted a couple of hundred years and was replaced by a bigger building. The bells for this were cast in 1286. The latest modern addition was added in 17 something...  The floor space in the church is about the same as our church so this one must have served quite a substantial community. The floor slopes upward from the bell tower to the high altar. Never been in a church where the floor sloped like that. There were also the remains of medieval paintings on the walls and all the pillars on one side of the church had stone carvings of animals and head and plants.

It was a lovely day out and we had a lovely picnic. I enjoyed it far more than going out for a meal in a restaurant and my husband knows this : )


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Celebration week

Last week at church we ran a holiday club for 3-10 year olds. We had over 80 kids signed up. I was working in the under 6 group and we had between 34 and 37 each day. That is a lot of small kids! They did great and we all had a good time. We were taking them through the story of Joseph with stories, crafts, drama,  action songs and lots of other little activities too. We also put on a bbq for the kids and their families on the Friday which was well attended. The last day of the holiday club was actually the Sunday which included the usual service. I'm not sure the normal congregation knew what had hit them! suffice to say that the adult leaders slept well last week...!

This week is celebration week in our family. My son's three children all have birthdays in August, exactly one week apart, so they are having a grand joint celebration on Saturday with all the family and all the children's friends invited to a bbq. That will be a busy day and I hope it remains dry because that number of excited kids are not going to fit inside the house... Also, it is our wedding anniversary tomorrow. Not a special one this year, but my husband is actually planning to take me out so that will make it special : )

At church, we have had a girl from Slovakia staying for the last month. She has been helping a lot in the coffee shop and has been making Marlenka - an Armenian honey cake. It is absolutely beautiful! She has written out the recipe for me so I shall have a go at making it.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Hot Summer!

Well, the heatwave has continued and I've only had a few nights when I could sleep without the fan on all night. What a hot summer we are having! I'm not very good with hot weather and think lovely thoughts about all those typical British summers we have had in the past when I needed to wear some sort of woolly every day. I must admit that I've been getting up early on the days when I've had to cook and bake for the church coffeeshop. I discovered that having the ovens and the hob on during this hot summer was not to my liking, to put it mildly.  Fortunately there are only a few soup diehards among our customers, so I've not had to have the hob on for soup very often. I've been packaging the soup in two portion containers and put lots of those in the freezer, in order to stretch the shelf life of a batch of soup. Seems to be working : )

The allotment has been suffering for the lack of water although we did have a deluge in the early hours of the morning a couple of days ago. Everybody's courgettes and cucumbers are coming on in droves after that bit of rain but we could do with a bit more.

I've been given three cucumbers and I've been looking to see where I put the bit of paper with my lovely cucumber relish recipe that was given by Tania at Frugal in Essex last summer on her blog. I made it and gave my family a jar each in their Christmas stockings and it went down really well. I thought it had a lovely flavour. My husband is not keen on any pickles other than onions or Branston Pickle although he will eat Lidl's version of Branston. So this batch of sweet cucumber relish will be mine, all mine : )

Sweet cucumber relish

• 2 lbs cucumbers, peeled, centre row of seeds removed, and finely diced
• 1 medium onion finely diced ( I used red for extra colour)
• 1 large red bell pepper, finely diced (I used half red, half yellow for colour)
• 1 stalk of finely diced celery (or heaped teaspoon of celery salt)
• 1oz salt
• 6oz white granulated sugar
• 400ml cider vinegar
• 1 tablespoon brown mustard seed
• 1 bay leaf (optional)

Place the diced cucumbers, onion, and red bell pepper in a large mixing bowl. Combine with the salt and pour water over the mixture until just covered. Let sit for at least 6 hours or overnight.
• Drain the cucumber mixture in a colander, rinse thoroughly with water, and drain well.
• In a large stock pot, add the sugar, vinegar, and mustard seed and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the drained cucumber mixture and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
• Ladle the hot relish into sterile jars, leaving ¼ inch of headspace. Wipe the rims of the jars clean and seal tightly with the lids.
• Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. (The 3 jars I made fitted  into my deep pressure cooker pan. Boiling water was added to the start of the neck of the jar)
• Sealed jars will store in a cool, dark place for a year. If the seal is broken, the relish will keep in the fridge for a month.

Note from Tania: This is a basic recipe found all over the internet, I did notice that some people add a teaspoon of cornflour near the end of the cooking process to produce a syrupy sauce.

Note from me: I left out the water bath bit as that is more for Americans and it kept just fine.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


It is heatwave weather and I don't like it one bit. In the winter, if it gets really cold then I don't like that much either. I am a temperate creature and would like the temperature to remain in the middle all the time. Mind you, I'd probably find something to complain about then, as well : )

I've been busy recently - no surprise there. I've been invigilating for GCSEs and A-levels and a few internal exams as well. I can cope with being paid for being bored occasionally. It would be soul destroying to do that job all the time. I liked when I invigilated for an art exam and was paid for watching paint dry...……

I've been trying to fit in shopping and cooking and baking for the church coffee shop around being in school for the exams.  As well as everything else. Some days I thought I would meet myself  coming back. The church kitchen is finished as regards getting the work done. It is not painted yet and we are going to leave that part of the job until after term ends and there will be fewer people needing access to the kitchen. I can't tell you how much easier the job of cooking and baking for the coffee shop is when you can turn on a tap and water comes out. And there are work surfaces too.

I came across some elderflowers so I made some elderflower champagne. It does not take long to get it going. I picked more elderflower than I needed and froze it in the hope of getting some gooseberries later or I can make elderflower cordial. The elderflowers go a horrible brown colour in the freezer but freezing does not impair the flavour and the elderflower is not left in the cordial, after all.

We've had a family bbq and everybody came and brought something to share. It is easier that way because some are veggie, some eat anything and some have diet restrictions such as lactose free and gluten free. I took along a bottle of my elderflower champagne, which pleased my son greatly as he loves it and he didn't know that I had made any. I bought some finger bread rolls (yellow stickered)for the sausages and made some round bread rolls for everything else. My contribution to the proceedings was to be some drinks, bread rolls and some sausages. It was fun and I loved watching the grandchildren playing. The youngest is 10 weeks now and I haven't seen him smile yet but I did get a good cuddle : )

My daughter's Italian inlaws have been over to meet their new grandson. Italian nona (grandmother) only let my daughter have the baby back to feed. My daughter was having baby withdrawal symptoms. Mind you, I can understand Nona's point of view. If I had to go all the way to Italy to see my new grandchild, I would not be willing to part with him much either. After all, next time she sees the baby, it will be a lot of months in the future and he will have changed so much.

This is my first day for weeks when I have nowhere that I have to go and nothing that MUST be done - so I'm having a day off. There are lots and lots of jobs that I could be doing but the housework will still all be there tomorrow      : )

Labels: ,

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Bank holiday weekend

We had a family picnic in a local park last Sunday. Happily, I was in the shade of a large tree because it was really hot. Being in the shade also meant I could have a really good cuddle with my new little grandson. It had been three weeks since I last saw him and he had changed so much in that time. I really enjoyed that ! : )

Then we went round the park for a walk around the "wildlife" section. Most of it was on a boardwalk to keep us out of the marsh - except for one stretch... And I was wearing my best sandals because I didn't have time to go home and change after church. Well, they will never be the same again : (      

They are slingbacks with a suede type insole which didn't like me having to walk through muddy water nearly up to my ankles. I gave them a good was in clean water when I got home but I don't think that the suede type insole appreciated my ministrations. Ah well...

My connections with the church coffee shop is ramping up by several notches. We are starting on next Tuesday, after the bank holiday, with a new regime. Our previous manager has left and we need to at least break even on costs. so I now get to do all the shopping as well as making the soup and doing most of the baking.  The newly revamped church kitchen is now six weeks behind schedule and baking is Extremely Difficult as is making soup.  It might be summer but we still have some customers who are soup diehards. I've bought some much smaller tubs so that the soup is frozen in smaller quantities in the hope of there being less waste. I am also doing all the baking at the moment because I can't ask others to work in the conditions under which I am producing goods. I have access to ingredients but I need to bring all equipment from home until the kitchen is finished. One of my helpful ladies is over 80 and bakes wonderful cakes but I can't ask her to carry all the equipment from home. There is also the problem that the kitchen need to be kept locked for health and safety and there are not many keys around.

On the subject of kitchen, don't get yours from Magnet! They will agree to anything to get your money out of your pocket. And nothing is their fault - they always have somebody else to blame.  It is not what I want from a company who now has so much of our money. You have to pay everything before they will deliver the units...

And so we come to bank holiday weekend. My bank holiday will be spent cooking in the coffeeshop. At least I will be able to use the coffeeshop and just trolley the things through to the cooker in the kitchen. I'm looking forward to not having to clean the kitchen before I can use it : )

Labels: , ,