Saturday, 25 April 2015

Sopicat has been hospitalised ...

Sopicat has had to be hospitalised this afternoon.  He is poorly.  He is 20 years old and is FIV positive so anything he gets wrong with him, he gets much worse than he should.  He has difficulty fighting off ill health.

I love this cat so much it hurts ..., we have been through a lot together, he's always at my side.

Not too bad a day after all ...

After my self indulgent post yesterday, I got off my **** and got some jobs done.

I got stuck into the housework and moved stuff around and vacuumed up the 'tumbleweeds' of dust !

I washed covers and throws, and the cats blankets and got them outside to dry.  I always dry my washing outside weather permitting and inside on a clothes horse in bad weather.  It makes me smile when younger bloggers recommend 'air drying' as if the have just discovered it and reinvented the wheel !  ha ha

11 days ago, I sowed some runner/French beans inside in the conservatory.  Even being given such a good start I think they have done very well, they're now 10" high and going outside to harden off during the day already.  I've started off another few for successional harvesting.  I've put them in here: - my upmarket mini-greenhouse/cloche !  an old fishtank from Freecycle.

I started the first lot in here:
My 'state-of-the-art' propagator !  another fishtank, with a crack in the glass it won't hold water but is perfect for starting off seeds.  I have a framed piece of mesh on top from an old rabbit hutch to stop the cats jumping in and stopping any growth before it gets a chance.  They're lurking here, ready to jump inside:
If you see any old fishtanks at boot sales I'd recommend you pick them up, they really do the job.  I have a heated metal 'pad' that I have used sometimes in the winter for some 'bottom heat'.
So pushing myself onwards and pushing the Gremlins out, I decided to make some 'scrap soup'.  On this occasion it consisted of the outside leaves from a cauliflower, one carrot, one onion, a stock cube and some spices from one of these:
A cute spice carousel.  Now the problem with this design is that when you have handled the small jars a few times and wiped them with a damp cloth, the writing disappears from the lids, so it's pot luck what goes into your dish !  This is what happened with my soup, a pinch of this, a sprinkle of that, a spoonful of something else because I like the colour, that sort of thing.  
Notice the drawer front missing from the kitchen unit ?  and the drawer !  this house is full of 'interesting' features like that !  Mr landlord thinks it's perfectly functional so that's the end of that.  Ready to start:
The result was delicious (and free).  Since my liquidiser packed up a couple of weeks ago I've been using my hand held mixer and I'm loving it.   Here is the result with a nice 'brick' of toasted home made bread:
There was enough to two portions, one was supposed to be for today, but it was so lovely I ate the second portion too !  It would have been even more delicious with  a sprinkling of grated cheese on top.  Perhaps next time.
Anyway, I made a step forward with my problem, hopefully another one today, little by little ....

Friday, 24 April 2015

Feeling overwhelmed ....

On this blog I've sometimes hinted at my personal situation - 'it's complicated' as they say.  I'm not going into details (yet) because it is personal.  I know there are bloggers that pour out their hearts on their blogs, if that helps, then good for them, but I don't subscribe to that approach.

However, I had a bad night, the Gremlins were in my head and I didn't sleep.  I have 'stuff' going on which is not going to go away on its own.  I'm continually working on it, but it gets tiring and draining.  I am making headroads.   It can and will be done, but it's not easy.
The sun is shining right now and I'm feeling brighter, I'll be clearing some of the garden again, I'll go for a walk, make some bread, sort out some craftwork and drive the Gremlins out.
So that's my little helping of self-pity for today - see you later.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Cooking 'in' the car to save energy ...

 Welcome to Tanya from 'Out Back' and Penny from 'Black Sheep Cottage'.


I've been delighted with my mini (oven) and already it is a firm favourite for cooking all sorts of things from main meals to bread and cakes, however, never one for being satisfied !  I've been looking for more ways to cook to save fuel.

Cooking under the bonnet (hood for American readers) seems to be very popular, there's even a couple of cookery books devoted to this method on Amazon.

I don't really like this idea, because even though the food is heavily wrapped in foil, I still think it's got to absorb some of the smells and tastes of the engine, i.e. oil/petrol/grease.  A nice pork chop basted in sump oil doesn't really fill me with enthusiasm.  Also, surely there is a danger of those little 'packages' of food slipping into the engine parts where they're not supposed to be and cause some damage, not to mention spillages ?

'Sorry Mr Mechanic, I'll clean the remains of my pasta meal off the engine before you start work' - !!

Also, this method is only suitable for those who do a lot of mileage, truckers perhaps or reps, the engine has to be very hot for a long time to cook something through thoroughly.  The cooking times are given in mileage!  also, there's always the possibility that when you pull over for lunch, you realise you've left it somewhere on the M25.

I do, however, like the idea of using heat that would otherwise go to waste.  I read somewhere that the heat that builds up inside the car can be used to cook food.  It gets very hot inside a closed car - 'like an oven', so yesterday I decided to give it a try as the sun was shining and the inside of the car was getting warmer.

I quickly made some sponge mixture and threw in a handful of dandelion flowers (they're free), then placed them on the parcel shelf in the car and made sure it was facing the full sun.

I checked throughout the day and there did seem to be signs of 'cooking' i.e. tiny bubbles appearing around the edges of the tins.  I was excited.
However, the sun decided to disappear half way through the afternoon and it was clear that no more cooking would take place, so I brought them in and finished them off in the mini, it took 5 minutes.

They didn't rise as much as cooked all the time in a conventional oven, but were fine and tasted good.

Conclusion:  it will work, but needs a hotter day, one of those days when it's so hot you can't touch the steering wheel.  Unfortunately we don't get many of those days here in UK, so it's a good job I don't have to rely on this method of cooking or I'd starve ! but it is a definite 'yes' to try again.

Also on the subject of  'in car cooking' I came across these:

A small oven that plugs into the cigarette lighter in the car, I think this is a brilliant idea for long distance drivers.  They've been around for some time, but I've never given them much thought in the past, however it occurred to me that they could be used in conjunction with a 12v battery ?  I'll give that some thought, it may be that the cost of buying a battery and the cooker will outweigh the savings made.

Thermos flasks and heated lunch boxes are also a consideration, but you have to cook the food first with those.
A solid fuel AGA would be perfect, but I'll never get another one of those (sigh).

I'm now looking at how to make a solar oven from cardboard boxes, foil and black paint or fabric - sounds good, but with our weather it probably won't get much use - ha ha.
Any ideas for cooking for free ?  I'd love to hear them.

Monday, 20 April 2015

I made bread in my mini - ( no not the car !) and some gardening gossip ...

I'm using my mini oven a lot now, getting more used to adjusting the temperature settings and length of cooking time.  I'm really glad I bought it, and am always surprised at  how quickly things cook in it.

I tried making bread, I used exactly the same ingredients as the recipe, but the first attempt, although edible (everything has to be here 'cos I can't afford to waste anything) wasn't what I expected.  The loaf rose so much that when it cooked it touched the top of the oven and the element making me more work in cleaning it up, also it was nice and crusty on the outside but a bit 'heavy' on the inside.

I tried again, this time I halved the dough and put it in two tins (had to be cooked separately of course) and this time it worked perfectly, a nice crusty top and soft inside without being 'doughy', so I'm well pleased with that, I will use that recipe again when I can't get bargain loaves at 10p or 20p, that's all I can bring myself to pay for bread !

Here is one of the loaves rising at the back of the cooker where it was warm.
Here is loaf one, cooled and ready to be wrapped for the freezer
Loaf two had provided me with breakfast and plenty more for the next couple of days.
I was surprised to see that a few sticks of rhubarb were ready for harvesting over the weekend, only thin ones but 3 of them provided a lovely treat with some plain yoghurt.
On the subject of garden fruit, when I was in PoundWorld the other day I saw these and couldn't walk past them - £1.00 each !  I got 2 x blackcurrants and 1 x blueberry.
I decided to check just  how much soft fruit I had in my tiny garden, and was surprised to find I have :
blackberries (the thornless kind)
honeyberry (honeysuckle with edible fruits)
goji berries
an 'unidentified' climbing fruit, it has bright green fruits which are very sweet, but I haven't been able to find out what it is.
I can't believe all this stuff is growing in my garden.  Not far away I can steal forage apples, pears, damsons and wild plums.  I'm well pleased with that lot.
My compost has failed for the second year running, it keeps getting full of what I call 'coconut matting' tight roots which seem to eat all the compost, so I've given up on that.  I put a sheet of black plastic over it and placed my shade-loving plants on top as it is out of the sun.
Hope you all had a nice weekend.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

A blast from the past ...

On one of my regular 4 mile walks, I walk through a new housing estate, (used to be fields) and the houses are unusual to say the least.  They have been painted pastel colours, pink, blue, pale green, cream etc.,  I can't help recalling this song everytime I see them.  It looks like Toytown to me.


I remember it when it first came out and it didn't register too much with me then, but now I am older I find it very profound and quite sad.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A cat clock, an upcycled fish tank, soft fruit, knobbly Hostas and eating weeds ...

I picked up such a pretty clock today from a charity shop.  I absolutely couldn't resist this :

The time when I took this picture was Ginger past Persian !!

The side of my house is a wind tunnel, plants, garden furniture etc., spend more time lying down after a strong wind than standing, so it's no good at all trying to sow seeds there, I've lost so many, it's disheartening.

I can't afford a greenhouse, I've tried those plastic covered ones but they just get blown away and torn.  I got a used fishtank last year from Freecycle, I bought it with the intention of using it as a mini greenhouse/cloche, to raise seeds and keep the wind from killing everything.

I put it in place today, there's just one or two pots of lettuce in there at the moment.  I've covered it with bubble wrap to keep in the warmth and keep out the cold.  I intend to make a wooden frame and staple the bubble wrap on when I get around to it.  I'm sure it will do the trick.

I have strawberry plants coming on in pots
Some raspberry plants are looking good
I have some healthy looking gooseberry plants that I dug up last year.  They self seeded from the main bush and have done very well.
I was pleased to see my Hostas shooting up a few days ago, and knowing how appetising they are to the slugs, dutifully applied slug pellets (I don't like doing this, but it's them or my plants!)
Anyway, I thought they looked strange, a little 'knobbly' like this
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted my mistake.  They're not Hosta's at all, they're Lily of the Valley !!  my friend gave them to me last year and I forgot I had them.
Last night, with my tea I had a serving of dandelion leaves, lightly steamed, then added to a pan of chopped onions and a little garlic, they were delicious, and couldn't get any fresher, straight from the garden to the pan.
Tonight, I had a serving from my 1p cauliflower, and before that a serving of nettle soup - again absolutely delicious, the fact that it's packed with iron and nutrients makes it even more delicious.  I don't like calling these 'weeds', they're 'edible wild plants'.  I think it's sad that they get a bad press from people who haven't even tried them, they are missing a treat.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Some of the cheapest bargains ever ... !

I left it quite late to go bargain hunting yesterday, I was busy with other things, I wasn't going to go because I thought at 9 pm all the reduced produce would be long gone.  However I was out of milk so had to go anyway, and was very surprised at what I got at that late hour.  Perhaps I will go later again next week ?

Here is my haul :

3 cauliflowers at 1p each  ! yes 1p each.  Now unless they're being given away, no one is going to do better than that are they ?  and as you can see, they are all lovely and fresh and firm, no brown bits to cut off, I feel cauliflower cheese coming on and spiced cauliflower, some will have to be cooked and frozen.

Two packs of vine tomatos for 5p each, a little soft but made lovely tomato salsa, one lot to eat and two for the freezer.  One pack of Mediteranean, Mediterarian, Medit nice vegetables for roasting for 5p.

Two packs of prepared carrots and peas for 5p each and a container of roasting veggies also for 5p, these have gone in the freezer too.
With all this excitement, I forgot to buy the milk, and called in at a small local shop on the way home (the milk is cheap there as well as the supermarket) and picked up these two packs for 25p each.
A pack of veggies, enough to make a small stew/casserole which will last me two days, I'll just add a few frozen peas or sprouts for something 'green', and a pack of mixed fruit which will do for two desserts with a blob of natural yoghurt.
I think it's very clever of a small shopkeeper to do this, the shop is in the middle of an estate and I can imagine single people buying these packs because they wouldn't want to buy a bag of potatos, carrots etc.,  I know these packs can be bought at the big supermarkets, but not for 25p.
So there you have it, I'm well pleased.
I also made an effort in the garden yesterday, which is why I was late going shopping.  I wasn't going to because my heart just isn't in it knowing I'm moving, but I feel better for it.

Monday, 13 April 2015

A little mini-cooking and a fail ...

The sun is shining here and it looks lovely right now, but it's ****** freezing ... !   typical Spring weather I suppose.

I've been playing with my new mini-oven and have realised there are some adjustments to be made i.e. because the heat is contained in such a small space, food cooks much quicker which is going to be a real money-saver when it comes to electricity, however, it's clear that because of this, temperature settings that would be appropriate in a large conventional oven, don't apply.

I made some lovely savoury pies, four fitted inside the mini with no difficulty:

You  can see the element glowing brightly here and it's set for just 140o which normally would not be hot enough to cook pastry.  They cooked in no time.  One was for my dinner, the other three are in the freezer.

I also made a sunflower cake, I had some sunflower seeds in the cupboard, I just ground them up and added them to a basic cake mixture with a little extra milk and it too turned out very well and fitted into the space without difficulty.

It tastes as good as it looks.  I cut it in half, and put one half in the freezer.

Now the only problem that I can see is the fact that the 'bottoms' of the pies and the cake were 'overcooked' still edible but not soft.  That's obviously because of the close proximity to the heating element, I'm going to have to remember that and try cooking them over a longer period of time on a lower setting.
Conclusion ... ?  excellent, quick to cook and a money saver, it will be well used.

I went foraging yesterday and got goose-grass.  I'm introducing new foraged foods every other day so my system can get used to them.
I gathered a lot because I'd read that it 'cooks down' like spinach.

Here it is straight from the field, I washed/soaked/washed/soaked it three times to make sure it was clean  (excuse the grotty looking sink, this house is rented so I have no say in the 'fittings')

Here it is chopped and ready to steam.  It did cook down to about one third of the starting amount.  It smells like freshly cut grass.  However, I didn't like it.  I decided this wouldn't be on my list of foraged foods, but then realised it was the texture I didn't like not the taste.  The taste was very pleasant.  So after I threw it away (duh!) it occurred to me that it would be very nice blitzed and added to other recipes, i.e. soups, stews, lasagne, pasta bakes etc.,  It's very high in vitamins A,B Complex, D and C, so I'm going to have to learn to enjoy it !
Lucy wasn't impressed and kept out of the way
and Sopicat and Itty the Kitty were so bored they decided to have a nap.
They are on the bed in the spare room, sometimes they have difficulty moving around so I feed them on the bed, hence the towel.  (underneath is an electric blanket !)
It's shopping today, I'm going out early to get the staples, and later tonight I hope to get some bargains.

Disgraceful Service ... !

Remember this ... ?

Well it's been almost 5 weeks now (yes FIVE WEEKS) since I posted this letter containing my driving licence to Austin, Texas, good 'ole USA.  I decided to check it's progress and went to the tracking facility on Royal Mail's site and found the letter has arrived in CHICAGO and is 'being processed' for delivery on to Austin - roughly translated means it's sitting in a pile of letters and probably being ignored or forgotten !

I'm furious, but can't do anything about it.  I mean, FIVE WEEKS and not even been delivered yet, strewth, I could have gone round the world in that time and delivered it myself ! I'm disgusted with this service which cost me £7.15.


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