Friday, 30 December 2011

Next Christmas...

One of our local garden centres has 50% off some really nice-quality products so I'm buying ahead for 2012.  So far I've got Royal Horticultural Society melamine sandwich tray for £3.50; some Clover coasters with a musical design for £2.50; and some Heathcote and Ivory 'festive flavour' hand cream for £3.50.  I'll store them away in the 'present cupboard' as they'll make great gifts for next year without 'breaking the bank'.
On the whole I felt that the cost of the festive season didn't spiral too far out of control this year.  One of my most successful presents for my husband was a 'cut glass style' champagne flute from one of the local charity shops filled with three Thornton's heart-shaped champagne truffles.  Total cost - £3.00!  Admittedly, the sparkling wine that found it's way into the glass later on was a bit more expensive but... it was Christmas!!!

I allowed myself one morning of sales shopping and a fixed budget of £100.00.  This worked brilliantly.  I got a gorgeous cream and blue cardigan from Monsoon; a navy blue straight skirt and black/red/russet dress from House of Frazer; a blue top from M+S and a really pretty blue cardigan from TKMax.  All these items will 'give a lift' to stuff that I've already got in my wardrobe.  I'm almost looking forward to going back to work so that I can start dressing up again!

Thursday, 29 December 2011

A Walk round "Archer's" Country..

Yesterday we went for a lovely long walk through the Worcestershire lanes that are home to the fictional 'Ambridge'.  It's an area called Hanbury - tucked away in the east of the county, on the border with Warwickshire.  Maybe it's a little strange to describe an real area as the 'home' of a radio 'soap' but Hanbury church has been used for all the recordings of the Archer's weddings.  There's a small display in the church all about it's links with the series, but people outside the area don't tend to know about the connections. 

Amyway, here's our walk...

We started off on the canal bank, near the little village of Stoke Priors. 

 We walked past a flight of locks then took a lane a towards the church.

 I couldn't get over how bright the fields appeared to be, given that it's mid-winter.

 The lane climbed gently.

And then we climbed the final steep section of hillside, up to the church. 

 The view from the east side of the churchyard - looking towards Warwickshire.  There's also a superb view of the Malvern Hills in the south-west, but the low sun prevented any pictures!

 We then walked down the hill and across some National Trust parkland - part of the Hanbury Hall estate.

Finally we picked up the canal bank again and walked back to the car - just as the sun was starting to set.

We think it must have been about 5 miles in total.  Fortunately I didn't have to worry about cooking last night.  My sister is back from Derbyshire and she made a meal for the whole family.  A really nice end to a fabulous day!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Best Wishes for a Happy Christmas!

A quick post before my Mother-in-law arrives..

A very Happy Christmas to all my blogging friends!
I hope that you have a lovely festive break.

As you can see, Tom is fascinated by the lights, but he has never, ever jumped into the tree..

Love and Best Wishes,

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Anyone for fuss?

My dearly beloved cat and general child replacement - Tom - loves the fact that I'm around for fuss, cuddles and company during the holiday.  He's not so keen on the upheaval of having guests and will do anything he can to get in the way.  This was his idea of being helpful while I was preparing the back bedroom for Mother-in-law this morning.  He knows that he's not supposed to be in this bedroom at all, which is why he was purring loudly while this photo was being taken.

Last night he was all over my Mum after my Sister and her family had left.  I think cats can be as sensitive as dogs when they want to be - and it was clear that Mum was feeling a bit down.  Christmas is always difficult to manage when there's family and in-laws all over the country.  This is the first time in three years that Sister's gone to Derbyshire, but Mum sets a lot of store in us all being together.  Tom could sense that she was working hard to maintain a 'stiff upper lip' and did his complete "I think you're marvellous routine".  Fortunately she's a cat lover and didn't mind being rolled all over, patted and licked for the best part of an hour.

I was quite proud of him, really!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Playing in the Kitchen..

I've prepared the house for Christmas today.  It's been such lovely mild weather that I could throw open all the windows while I dusted, hoovered and moved furniture around for this evening.  The house smells less 'stuffy' now and I feel very virtuous!

I also had time to have a little play in the kitchen at lunchtime.  I decided to make a few rather tired-looking cauliflower florets into a Cauliflower Cheese soup.  I was really quite pleased with the final result....

It was rich and very filling.  I couldn't resist the thin piece of raw cauliflower as a garnish!!

My next task this afternoon is to start sorting Husband's Christmas presents.  We have a tradition of giving each other a stocking first thing on the 25th.  The rule is that these stocking presents must be useful but as cheap as possible - 2nd hand books; jams; a special sauce that's difficult to get etc.  We collect things when we see them through the year then 'squirrel them away' to surprise each other on Christmas morning.  It's great fun. 

I think my "best" present for Husband's stocking this year is a book of Sausage and Mash recipies that I picked up for £1.50.  Sausage, mash and gravy is his all time favourite meal - so I can't wait to see his face when he opens the parcel.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A growing obsession with figs..!

The Kings Arms - Woodstock - Oxford

While Husband and his male relatives were consuming vast quantities of roast dinner on Sunday, I went for a lighter option and enjoyed it immensely.  My main course was a peppered chicken breast, served with pear, fresh figs, a green salad and hazelnuts.  The figs were incredible.. just warm and with a slight hint of an orange flavour.  I asked the waitress how they'd been cooked and she explained that they'd been pan fried in an orange and honey butter.

This sounds simple enough - so I'm going to try them out on my family on Wednesday evening.  There's going to be eight of us.  It's a sort of 'pre-Christmas meal' before my sister goes to her 'in-laws' for the weekend.  We'll do the whole festive thing with crackers and christmas napkins on the table.  It's a bit of work to get things organised, but I'm enjoying having the time to think and plan properly.  It's also the motivation I need to get on with a bit of housework.  The kitchen has a slightly 'end of term/neglected' air at the moment!!!!!

Liebster Award and other things..

Liebster Award

Thank you so much to Jo from Through the Keyhole who gave me the Leibster Blog Award last week.  I was 'chuffed to bits' to receive it - especially at the beginning of a week that had been filling me with dread! 

The Liebster award is awarded to blogs with less than one hundred followers, and comes with a few of rules.

1. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
2. Thank the giver(s) and link back to them.
3. Choose the five blogs which you would like to pass the award on to and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
I'm still something of a 'newbie' to the blogging world so I only follow a small number of blogs.  As a result  I'm breaking the rules a little and nominating just three lovely blogs.  I hope no-one minds...
I know that many people don't accept awards - and I wouldn't want to put anyone under any pressure at this busy time of year - but I hope that you will enjoy taking a look at the blogs I love reading.

Thanks again, Jo, for cheering me up with this award!

For those of you who have heard about my Mother-in-law, the x-ray has shown that her lungs and heart are clear of any symptoms of TB.  This is excellent news!  We just need to establish what it means to have shown TB in the original blood test.  It's all been a huge surprise and a shock.  We all thought that the human version of disease had disappeared completely from England.  It seems that this is not the case...  Mother-in-law's doctor told her that there are significant pockets of infection right across the country.  Lincolnshire is one of them!  

Reason number 44 why she should move closer to us in Worcestershire!  Grrrrr...

Monday, 19 December 2011

Let the holidays commence!

Well the Christmas holiday has started.  After the extreme hours of the play last week, it feels surreal to be blogging in my pyjamas at 8.30 on a Monday morning!!  The drop in temperature has made it feel more festive though.  These were the ice patterns I found on the roof of the car when I ventured out on Saturday morning.

We've been to a couple of Christmas meals as well.  The one on Saturday was at a lovely old pub in a village a few miles away.  The food was fantastic and the table (which my Mum had decorated with home-made floral arrangements for each of the ladies) looked great! 

The second meal took place in Woodstock (small town to the north of Oxford) yesterday lunchtime.  This was the "Christmas meal with male in-laws" which has developed into a bit of a tradition over the last 20 years since Husband's parents separated.  To be honest, it's lovely to see father-in-law but brother-in-law always "tries my festive spirit".....! 

Mother-in-law was supposed to be coming over from Lincolnshire for the Christmas weekend but this is looking uncertain at the moment.  Basically, following blood tests related to another health issue entirely, she has been told that she has Tuberculosis.  She has had an X-ray and this will give us more details later in the week.  At the moment I'm just encouraging everyone to "Stay Calm and Carry On"!

Anyway, in my on-going search for interesting things to make/eat over the festive season, I came across this simple recipie for 'Drunken Figs'.

180g of dried figs (about 12)
185ml of port
1/2 cinnamon stick.

Combine the figs, port, cinnamon stick and 60ml of water in a small saucepan.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low, then cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until the figs are soft and the liquid is soft and syupy.  Cool.

Serve with Chicken Liver Pate and thin slices of toasted crusty bread.

Another possibility for Christmas Day, I think.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Battling the Ice

Last Saturday afternoon we managed to get out for a decent length walk again - maybe 6 miles or so.  We started off along the canal bank and found that sections of the canal had frozen for the first time this year.  As we got close to the leisure centre we stopped to watch a family of swans.  The parents and one of the 'teenage' swans were making their way through clear water without difficulty.  The second 'teenage' swan just hadn't got it's brain round the idea that water could turn solid over night.  We could hear the ice squealing and cracking as the swan struggled against it.  Eventually a small piece cracked off and the swan launched itself towards the rest of the family.  Unfortunately it relaxed it's guard, lowered it's head below the water and immediately swam into the edge of the next sheet of ice.  Poor thing!

I've got to confess that this isn't one of my photos - I found it on one of those 'stock pictures' sites.  Nevertheless, it's pretty much as things were on Saturday.

I'm posting from school this afternoon.  The children have just gone and I'm about to tackle the second half of the Btec marking pile.  Last night went well and the 'stopover' at the hotel worked brilliantly.  The Heads of Music meeting was positive too - so I guess I'm making steady progress towards that holiday!!!  Am REALLY looking forward to getting home tonight and having a cuddle with Husband and Cat!

Monday, 12 December 2011

The end is nigh!

This week is going to be crazy....

There are dress rehearsals and performances of the school play ~ A Christmas Carol.  I am providing live music and moral support for the Drama team on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.  We're doing the RSC version but I'm not sure that we've achieved RSC quality yet!

I wanted to manage my energy levels so I decided to stay over-night on Tuesday in Solihull, rather than doing a late night drive back to Worcester.  As a result I have a room in a mildly posh hotel... a bargain from  Lovely husband is 'holding the fort' (and feeding the cat!!) in Worcester.

On Wednesday I'm attending a Heads of Music training session.  I also have to squeeze in a Btec Internal Verifier assessment with my Head of Faculty, c.45 Year 10 Btec coursework assessments and a departmental Health and Safety document before Friday.  Oh yes ... and a little bit of teaching!

HOWEVER... Friday is the end of term in Solihull. Woop, woop!!!!!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

I didn't believe this but...

Here's a 'top tip' from 'Helen Hair' (the wonderful lady who keeps my grey hairs at bay).  Moroccan Oil is more than a fantastic hair product...  it's also brilliant as a moisturiser for hands and face!  She first mentioned this a few weeks ago and I was really sceptical.  I had indestrutible skin when I was younger and could use pretty much anything without problems.  In the last few years areas of my face have become 'super-sensitive' and I didn't really want to suffer some kind of dramatic allergic reaction.  Anyway, she mentioned it again a couple of weeks ago while I was having my hair 'done' and I decided to try it out...

She's right.  It may have been designed as a hair product but it's amazing on your skin too.  I've been sponging my face with cold water then applying a very small amount over my face, neck and chest.  I do this just before bed and first thing in the morning.  Husband says that he can really see the difference - my skin tone is more even and the redness seems to be healing. 

All in time for the Christmas party season!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Syllabub - the Crabtree and Evelyn way!

Last night I was browsing my Crabtree and Evelyn cookbook (bought in Pershore a couple of weeks back) when this particularly rich version of syllabub caught my eye..

2 lemons
5 1/2 tablespoons white wine
1 to 2 tablespoons of brandy
5 1/2 tablespoons of castor sugar
250 ml of double cream

Carefully remove the zest from the lemons.  In a bowl, combine 4 tablespoons lemon juice with the zest, the wine, brandy and sugar and set aside for at least 3 hours.
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a larger bowl and discard the zest.  With a wire whisk or electric hand mixer set at low, beat the lemon mixture while slowly pouring in the cream and continue beating for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the syllabub is just thick enough to hold the marks of the whisk.  Divide the syllabub among four bowls or glasses, cover with cling film and refigerate.
Eat on day of making.

This is far superior to my previous syllabub recipies!  Apparently you can also substitute sherry for the white wine.  I'm not a big fan of Christmas pudding so this would be a lovely dessert for Christmas Day.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Frugal living

Since I started my blog I've been reading lots of blogs on frugal living and people's motivations for keeping control of their spending.  I was lucky enough to be brought up in a frugal - but amazingly happy - home and I think it's given me good spending habits that have lasted all my life.  I still joke with my mother about 'the great Rivita scam'... 
Basically Mum was fantastic at making simple things into 'events'.. a picnic of squash and a biscuit in the park on the way home from school;  cheap favourite foods that rarely appeared on the table so acquired cult status; and Rivitas and jam in Debenhams in Oxford!  This was Mum's skill - we rarely went shopping in the city so eating in Debenham's first floor cafeteria was way more exciting than buying clothes or the trip to the dentist.  I know now that the double pack of Rivitas and the single portion of jam was probably the only thing she could really afford, but we loved them!

The funny thing is that me and my sister still love Rivitas.  To everyone else in the world they are a boring, dry old cereal biscuit associated with diets.  To us, they are the delicious base to a world of toppings beyond jam!  You probably can't imagine our delight when they broadened the range beyond 'original' and 'wholemeal' in the 1990s!!!!

As I'm writing this I'm pondering the point that I'm really trying to make here.  I always seem to end up feeling more nostalgic than festive at this time of year. That's not necessarily a bad thing.. I guess I'm lucky enough to have fabulous memories to get nostalgic about!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

We've booked a holiday!

This is the little cottage above Crickhowell in the Brecon Beacons that we've booked for our next walking holiday in the Spring.  I finally managed to get my lovely husband to make a commitment to our holiday plans and he said that he wanted to do some more walking in the hills.  That suits me just fine!

There's a kitchen diner with an Aga, which is perfect for our long, boozy, cooking sessions..
There's also a nice deep bath to rest those aching muscles after some serious walking..

There's also a patio with an epic view if it doesn't rain... Perfect!!! 
I know it's a few months away - and the weather has to do some serious warming up - but I can't wait!

Monday, 5 December 2011

What housework?

I couldn't resist the call of the outdoors again this weekend and spent the best part of Saturday and Sunday walking.  OK - I didn't do half the housework that should have been done and my ironing pile is planning a bid for mountain staus.... but I do feel immensely better in myself.  We stayed locally on both days and on Sunday did a pretty epic hike round the area (a few country lanes, some field paths, a stretch on the path by the River Severn and home by the canal bank).  At the furtherest point this walk takes in the great little cafe at the Pump House Environment Centre.  They make the most amazing cakes - undoing any weight-loss properties of the walk - but who cares?

The Pump House

Eco Cafe/Environmental Displays

The best thing about all this walking is that is also kept us away from all the Christmas Madness in the shops!  Worcester had a Victorian Fayre on this weekend, which draws visitors to the area from miles around.  I know that it's an important part of the economy for this time of year but it does make the city even more chaotic than usual. 
The only problem is that I still haven't tackled the ironing... now I'm blogging instead!