Friday, 16 October 2020

Lightbulbs

Guess what one of the highlights has been for this week? 
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Any ideas?  I bet you won’t guess it.
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We had to change a lightbulb on Tuesday.  These days, it’s a big event.  Seriously.  It’s the first time in forever.  I can’t remember the last time a lightbulb went.  They all have low-energy bulbs that last for years.  This one has (probably) been in place for 5 or 6 years.  I’m trying to remember when we bought the light fitting it’s in.  It was bought specially for it.  (The light fitting only takes screw bulbs, instead of the more usual bayonet fastening.)

Unlike some of the older low-energy lightbulbs, it didn’t gradually brown out, getting slower and slower to obtain full brightness. It’s always stayed bright.  Instead, when I switched it on in the morning,  it started flickering really fast.   Naturally, I turned it off and put on a side light. (It’s dark when I get up.).  Tuesday evening when DH tested it, it flickered for a few seconds and then stabilised for an hour or so, before flickering again.  That was enough for him to dig out the spare lightbulbs and swap a new one for it.

When I think of how often we used to change the old, incandescent lightbulbs, this one was worth its money.  In six years, we’d have probably used 6 incandescent bulbs at £1-ish each, so this one has saved us at least as much money as it cost to purchase (£3-ish), as well as whatever it has saved in electricity.

The old one is now sitting in a box in the hall, along with other things that need to go to the local “recycling centre” (otherwise known as the tip or dump).  It’s going to be there a while.  Thanks to Lockdown, you can’t just drop in there on you way to somewhere else.  You have to book a slot in advance and each slot is only 10 minutes long.  When one of my colleagues booked her slot, she had a two week wait!  Imagine if you had a car full of stuff?

- Pam

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Looking for the silver lining

Something I don’t discuss often here is work.  You know I’ve had jobs that I’ve loved and made some fantastic friends in the process.  Well, I was expecting to be out of work right now.  I’m a contractor - not by choice - and I was told in July that my contract wouldn’t be  renewed when it expired at the end of September.  Looking the inevitable firmly in they eye, I polished up my CV, consulted a friend who wrote CV’s for a living, and started applying for jobs.  I even had an interview.

Then the unthinkable happened.  Over the August Bank Holiday Weekend, one of my Finance colleagues had a serious accident and spent three weeks on a ventilator in Intensive Care.  (She’s conscious now, thank God, and breathing on her own, but weak as a kitten with a long recovery ahead.).   When the news broke, I messaged our Financial Controller, “If you need another pair of hands, count me in”.  The rest is history.  I’m now responsible for the cashbook, credit control, cash flow reporting, work-in-progress reporting and trade debtor reporting, together with half-a-dozen balance sheet reconciliations.   With the help of some lovely colleagues, I’ve just survived my first month end. They’re talking about extending my contract to March.

I’m lucky.  I know that.  It doesn’t mean I haven’t faced tough times.  I’ve had to work hard to build a career and a good life.  “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst” has long been my philosophy.  It’s how you face the bad times that define you. You make your own luck.  When I was made redundant in 2016, I gave myself a week to wallow in self-pity - oh how it hurt - and then I deliberately chose to act positively. “Pick yourself up.  Dust yourself off, and start all over again.”    I choose to keep trying and keep seeking ways to do better.  

Everything life throws at you, gives you choices. You can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you react to it. You may be the victim of something horrible, an assault or long term bullying, but you can choose whether you define yourself as a victim or as a survivor.  You control the messages you feed to yourself; that’s what defines your self-worth, not something external.  Sure, people want to be liked and valued by their peers, but if they don’t like themselves then they’ll never be happy.  How many people do you know who are still beating themselves up over something that happened 10, 15, even 25 years ago?  I can name a few.  They haven’t forgiven themselves for an event that everyone else has forgotten.  It’s just another reason to hate themselves.

There are so many people who measure their self worth by Facebook or Instagram, needing the constant affirmation of “likes” to feel whole. The most self-obsessed people are usually the most insecure, too wrapped up in what is happening inside their own head to notice what is happening to the people around them.  A year ago, someone complained to me that their boss never spoke to them and how hurtful it was.  Knowing this person, I wondered how many times they’d actually initiated a conversation with their boss and asked the boss about themself.  (I occasionally give this person a lift to events.  They never ask me about myself or events in my life, and I’ve known them to sulk if they don’t get complimented on their outfit.)

You always have a choice.  You choose how you face the day.  Another thing I choose to do is to treat other people with kindness.  They may be really grumpy, but I’d rather think that they were having a bad day and treat them with civility and kindness.  No, I am not a doormat.   Anger and aggression are defence mechanisms born out of pain.  Sometimes just asking “are you ok?” can diffuse a situation and, if you are prepared to watch and listen, you’d be amazed what you can learn about someone.

- Pam

Saturday, 12 September 2020

What did you achieve during Lockdown?

What did you achieved during Lockdown, Pam?  This is a question I’ve asked myself a lot, recently.  We've both worked throughout Lockdown so, at best, have regained a couple of hours a day from our commutes.  As you know, at the start of 2020, I set myself 20 separate challenges (updated below), but what have I actually achieved in the six months since we were all told to go home and put our lives on hold?

Here's what I have achieved during Lockdown:-

  • Knitted three jumpers and started my fourth.
  • Completed 109 days straight of Duolingo French and learned more in those 108 days than I did in 4 years of high school French.
  • Decreased my podcast queue from 357 to under 180, even though between 12 and 15 new podcasts are added each week by the podcasts to which I'm subscribed.
  • Become a runner again.  In July, I dusted off the Couch to 5K app and started running most mornings.  I've had to repeat a couple of weeks because I was really unfit, but that's OK.  I'm now running more than I'm walking, and I'm happy with that.
  • Published 9 recipes.  At the start of Lockdown, I set myself the goal of putting my cheapest recipes online, so that those struggling financially could find and use them.  While some of my recipes were already on the blog, I've added others that are really cheap to make.  There's also been a couple of cake recipes.
  • Finally finished the sock I started knitting in February and am part of the way through it's pair.
  • Grown and harvested 8 bulbs of garlic, 3.2kg of potatoes (with more to follow), multiple courgettes, a dozen pak choi, a forest of mutant carrots and a handful of broad beans.  (What can I say?  We planted out 6 broad bean plants but they just didn't deliver.)  There are still 5 heavily laden tomato plants to harvest - the tomatoes are only just starting to turn red - and, maybe, a dozen red or yellow peppers to follow.
  • Harvested two huge batches of rose hips and made 10 jars of Rose Hip Jelly.
  • Harvested enough sloes - 541g - to make one bottle of sloe gin.  These are from one bush from the tangle of plants at the end of the street, which fell over in August's high winds but has managed to stay alive.  Until it collapsed onto the pavement, I never knew it was there.
Yes, there are things I’ve missed due to Lockdown: choir, meeting friends face to face, attending live sporting matches, the Osterley Park Farm Shop (closed due to Lockdown), the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, the sheer joy of just driving off into the sunrise and visiting new places...  But we’re healthy and solvent and happy, and that’s the best I can ask for right now.

Regarding my 20-in-2020 Goals, here’s the Sit-Rep:-

  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 28/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), completed the next one (finished on 13 balls), finished the third (8 balls), commenced the fourth (1 ball) and lined up the fifth.  Sadly, I have still only clocked up one complete pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. 16/20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. Walking 22 weeks, weight training 5 weeks, running 8 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 6/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right..
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  5/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?  I’ve made Chicken a la King, a chicken tray bake from New Idea and Lidl’s Mediterranean Meatball Bake, Slow-cooker barbecued pork, Lamb Moussaka. 
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   10 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 40/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 14/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  8/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once) 1 mile (started running again on 13.7.20 - doing couch-to-5K).
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £400/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  24/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  20/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps, 30.5.10 10,079 steps, 31.5.20 11,160 steps, 13.7.20 11.287 steps, 18.7.20 15,001 steps, 20.7.20 10,005 steps,  22.7.20 14,830 steps, 16.8.20 10,954 steps, 17.8.20 10,952 steps, 24.8.20 11,823 steps, 26.8.20 11,402 steps, 2.9.20 10,757 steps,  7.9.20 10,714 steps.
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends.  Do singing exercises for 20 weeks to rebuild my voice. 2/20.
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  11/20.
How about you?  What did you achieve during Lockdown?

- Pam

Saturday, 22 August 2020

The little things add up

As every knitter knows, it’s the little things we do that add up to something big.  In the case of knitting, the “little thing” is creating one stitch after another, which eventually add up to a jumper.  It’s incremental.  The British cycling coach, Sir Dave Brailsford, makes a big thing about incremental gains.  It was concentrating on the small things that took British cycling from mediocre to world class.

I was thinking about this incremental effect on Thursday morning, when I put another 700g of dried kidney beans on to soak.  We didn’t need the beans immediately for dinner, but since there were none left in the freezer, there was space available and I had a few seconds to spare, it seemed sensible to put them on to soak.  Thursday evening, I took a minute to drain the beans, spoon them into a recycled bread bag and shove them in the freezer.  I’ll probably cook them next week in the pressure cooker, use a third for dinner then box up the remaining 2/3 and freeze for two more meals.  (700g dried beans gives 3x500g boxes of cooked beans. Approximately the same as 2 cans of beans from the supermarket).

What does this have to do with incremental gains?  By planning ahead, not only do I save time but I also save money.  It costs the same to process one can’s worth of dried beans as it does to process 6; about a penny’s worth of gas for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker.  The cheapest tin of kidney beans is 30p in Tesco, whereas they sell 2kg of dried beans for £4, which gives me the equivalent of 17 cans-worth for 24p a can, a saving of 6p.  That 6p/can saved can be utilised elsewhere.  It adds up, quietly, in the background of day to day life*. 

Small things add up.  The principle of incremental gains works whether you’re trying to keep your living costs low or attempting to tread lightly on the earth by keep your petroleum pollution down.  Dried beans aren’t just cheaper, they need less energy to ship and store than the equivalent weight of cooked, canned beans.  Plus there’s the energy saved from not having to manufacture the cans or mine, ship and smelt the metal.  Remember the recycled bread bag?  It’ll be washed out, dried and reused until it starts to fall apart, when it’ll go into the recycling.  (It’s labelled “can be recycled with shopping bags at bigger stores”.  Our council recycles shopping bags, so will recycle the bread bag.).  

“What’s the cost of one bread bag?” you might ask. Not a lot, but that’s not the point.  It all adds up.  Just as you can’t learn and become fluent in a language in a day, so you can’t expect everything you do to create an immediate “Big Bang” impact.  You hear people muttering “why bother? It’s only...” but if everyone does it, then it’ll have a big impact.  

- Pam



* In the UK, there’s at least two, rival television programs that demonstrate how much of an impact these small savings have to your grocery bill,  Eat Well For Less and Eat Shop Save. The participants always look shocked when the savings are added up.  (Schadenfreude TV, I love it.)


Thursday, 13 August 2020

The Joy of Stash


One of the pluses of working from home during Lockdown is I’ve been listening to a lot* of podcasts while I work: some knitting-related, some not.  For the knitting podcasts, two of the recurring themes during Lockdown have been finishing WIPs (works-in-progress) and utilising stashed yarn.   Some have been furloughed; some have lost jobs or fallen between the cracks of economic support.  Some podcasters are open and up-front about it - there is one podcaster who only has her part-time wage coming in to support her family of four - while others are less so.  

Nobody knows what will happen to the economy before the COVID-19 Pandemic runs its course - I’m half expecting to go back into Lockdown in October - but the UK economy declined by 20.4% in Lockdown. It’s generated a lot of economic uncertainty and the knitting podcasters are worried.   Most won’t openly discuss their finances but the message is clear:  having a yarn stash is a bit like having a woolly insurance policy.  Finished your latest project and want to start something new?  No need to go shopping; just raid your stash.  Got a pile of WIP’s haunting you?  Either knit them/finish them or frog them (unravel) and use the yarn for something else.  Look at all that money yarn you’ve got tied up in something that you’re just not enjoying!  What a waste!

Since I’m on the sleeves of “It Cannot Fail To Please”, last week, I did my own bit of stash diving.   As you may be aware, most of my stash was acquired at yarn shows.  Because you can’t predict what will be sold there, I don’t usually go shopping with a project in mind.  Instead I’ll buy a sweater’s worth of whatever takes my fancy and find a project to fit it.  Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.   In July 2011, I scored 18 balls of “Palette Vintage Series 120/219” worsted weight yarn at a bargain price; nine balls in Red Bud and nine in Macadamia (white).  Hobbycraft were selling it off for £1/ball and I purchased everything they had in both colours.  (At that price, it would have been rude not to.)  However, it’s always been a problem.   It’s never had a viable project.  At 125m a ball, I have 1,125m of each colour which was never quite enough for what I wanted to make.  For years, I’ve fancied using the Red Bud to make Norah Gaughan’s Drift cardigan:


It’s lovely, but the smallest size calls for at least one ball more yarn than I have in either colour and my size probably needs two.  (I never had a plan for the Macadamia.). Finally, last week, I accepted that I would never make this cardigan in that yarn.  I did a pattern search on Ravelry: must be a sweater; in worsted weight yarn; require between 1,000m and 1,200m; and the pattern had to already be in my library.  It turned up Trott (aka Carmine) from issue 25 of The Knitter, which will be perfect for the Red Bud









Another search turned up something for the Macadamia:  the Interlacement Sweater, a free pattern from Universal Yarns.  I’ve never had a jumper lined up for that before.




On 4.5mm needles, both jumpers should go quite fast, much faster than the 4-ply jumpers I’ve knitted recently.  Hopefully, I’ll get both of them done by Christmas.  Finally, two solutions for yarn that has been hanging around in the stash since July 2011.

- Pam







* Prior to Lockdown, the podcast queue on my iPhone was 354.  As I type it’s down to 185.  I’ve finally reached episodes released at the start of June 2020.  Given that between 10 and 20 new episodes of shows are released every week, that means I’ve listened to 300+ episodes!.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

SitRep: June update


How was June for you?  Are you coping with Lockdown?  

I can’t remember where I first heard the sentence:  “Do three impossible things a day before breakfast”.  It may have been on an episode of Mr Ed, when I was a child - that’s what springs to mind.  Anyway, it’s the motto that I spent June trying to live by.  I think the point is to start your day having achieved something, so that the rest of the day doesn’t look like such a mountain to climb.  My 3 impossible things are muscle building exercises, learning French via Duolingo and singing exercises.  

You may notice that I’ve changed challenge 19 from having a party - not going to happen until after the current epidemic has run its course - to singing exercises.  I had a dreadfully sore throat in December and my voice hasn’t really recovered.  It gets hoarse after speaking for a couple of minutes.  A fellow chorister mentioned warm up exercises from Deborah Miles-Johnson, with whom we’ve done workshops.   I’ve downloaded them from Choraline and am working my way through those each morning.

  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 20/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), completed the next one (finished on 13 balls), started a third (currently 1 ball down)  and have still only clocked up one pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. 5/20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. Walking 15 weeks, weight training 4 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 5/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right.  The most recent books: This Golden Fleece, finished while sitting on the patio in the warm June sunshine and Not Quite Mastering the Art of French Living.
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  3/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?  I’ve made Chicken a la King, a chicken tray bake from New Idea and Lidl’s Mediterranean Meatball Bake. 
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   5 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 33/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 10/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  8/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £240/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  20/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  11/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps, 30.5.10 10,079 steps, 31.5.20 11,160 steps.  
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends.  Do singing exercises for 20 weeks to rebuild my voice. 1/20.
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  9/20.

- Pam

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Recipe Tuesday: Carrot Cake

It’s cake, Jim but not as we know it....

If there is one story about me in Lockdown, it’s that I seem to be baking cakes, tweaking a lot of recipes to get what I want.  Well, this is another one of those recipes.  You may remember back to April, when I talked about all the mutant carrots we’d unearthed?  At the time, I went looking for my carrot cake recipe card.  I’d made it several times before - but not recently - and it was a really great cake.  Do you think I could find it?  It wasn’t in the binder together with the rest of the set.  It wasn’t tucked inside any of the recipe books...  Thinking back, the last time I remember seeing it was in the old kitchen, pre 2013 makeover, when it was on the top of the bookcase that was tucked in beside the fridge.  All I can tell you is that it was for a carrot cake made with oil not butter and had a cream cheese frosting.

I never did find the recipe and, if 2012 was the last time I’d used it, there was no hope that I’d remember the quantities.  Eventually, I turned to Google.  This recipe from Rachel Allen turned out to be the closest to the one I remember, but the first time I made it, I combined the carrots and sugar in the food processor, turned around to measure out the other ingredients and turned back to find the carrots swimming in water.   The sugar either dehydrated the carrots or sucked moisture out of the air!  The mixture came out very wet, resulting in a cake that was more like fudge.  The next time, I left the sugar until the end and made a rather dry carrot cake.  A couple more experiments later, I’m happy with the results, so thought I’d share them with you.

I’ve changed a couple of other things, too.  Decreased the oil slightly, since I found the original quantity made the cake greasy.  Also, I tend to use sunflower seeds whenever a cake requires nuts. They’re cheaper and I always have some in stock.  (I add a tablespoon of sunflower seeds to my breakfast each morning for additional protein.). On the oil front, I use rapeseed oil, which is a) cheap and b) monounsaturated like olive oil.  Flour, in this house, is always Atta Flour aka Chapatti flour, which is a strong, light wholemeal, plain flour.  This recipe doubles up well or can be used to make carrot cake muffins (at step 5, divide the mixture between 12, lined, muffin pans and bake for 25 minutes at 180C).

Carrot Cake - makes 1

Ingredients

125ml/0.5 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
300g carrots, cut into chunks
200g soft, dark muscovardo sugar
75g sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts
100g raisins or sultanas
180g plain flour + 1 teaspoon baking powder (or use 180g self raising flour)
1/2 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a loaf pan with non-stick baking parchment.
  2. In the food processor, combine the oil, eggs and carrots.  Process until the carrot is chopped up small.
  3. Meanwhile, measure out all your remaining ingredients.  (You can put them all into the one bowl, if you want.)
  4. Add all the other ingredients, in one go, to the food processor and process until combined.  You should have a slightly lumpy batter.
  5. Pour into your lined loaf pan and bake at 180c for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. 
  6. Once cooked, remove from the loaf pan and cool on a cake rack.  When cool, you can ice it if you want. (I don’t.  I’m not a huge fan of icing.)



Enjoy!

- Pip




Monday, 15 June 2020

Finished jumper to show off

I will have to change the picture in the right side-bar.  I’ve finished that jumper!    It only took two months to make.  This is the Caradon Hill Sweater by Blacker Designs, knitted in Mithril DK, spun from Stansborough Grey sheep in New Zealand.  (The Stansborough Greys are a really rare bread of sheep.  Their yarn was used to make the Elven cloaks in Lord of the Rings.)



I modified the neckline.  I didn’t like the boatneck shown on the pattern.  I completed the shaping given in the pattern then added an additional 6 rounds to the neckline before knitting a ribbed collar.

- Pam



Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Carrot and Hazelnut Roast

Something for our continued series of Using Up Carrots.  Following on from the Carrot & Lentil Soup I made last month, one of the dishes I  planned to make with our mutants was the Carrot & Hazelnut Roast from Rose Elliott’s Cheap and Easy vegetarian cookbook.  Sadly, Lidl aren’t stocking hazelnuts, so I tried it with cashews and, you know what? It tastes even better.  This recipe doubles up well and copes if you need to vary the size/number of carrots or can’t get a large enough packet of nuts.  Serve with roast potatoes and peas or, in hot weather like today, cold with a green salad.  It’s delicious either way.

Price-wise, this should work out at less than £2 for one loaf.

Carrot & Nut Roast - serves 4

Ingredients
2 large carrots, sliced
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 slices bread, torn into strips
100g-200g hazelnuts or Cashew Nuts
2 teaspooons mixed herbs
2 eggs
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
  2. Place the hazelnuts, carrots, onion and bread into the food processor, hold it securely and process until chopped.  (It’ll bounce around a bit.) 
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and process until combined.  You want a grainy texture, not completely smooth.
  4. Spoon into a lined loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the middle feels firm to touch and it is browned on top.  
  5. Turn out of the pan, peel off the lining and cut into 4 to serve.

Note:  If you’re making roast potatoes to accompany this, parboil them for 15 minutes, baste with oil and put them in the oven at the same time as the roast.



Enjoy!

Pam

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Not Quite Gingerbread

It feels as if I have baked a cake every weekend recently.   Sometimes it’s my Banana Bread, sometimes it’s been Lemon Drizzle Cake and when we were overloaded with carrots, it was Carrot Cake.  (I’ll share those two recipes later - I’m still working to perfect my carrot cake, having lost my original, reliable recipe.) 

Today, I baked the closest recipe I’ve got to gingerbread.  This is inspired by a war time recipe for Fat Free Gingerbread that was posted on MSE.  I made the original and found it very tough and chewy.  Of course, it may have been different if I’d used it for gingerbread men, but in a loaf cake, it didn’t work.  The spicing, however, was amazing.  I’ve experimented a bit and this is the result.  While I’ve always made it using my food processor, uou can use a stand mixer, a hand held electric mixer or mix by hand in a large bowl with a whisk or wooden spoon. The recipe doubles up well.  (I normally bake two at a time and and freeze the second.)





Not Quite Gingerbread - makes 1 loaf cake or 12 muffins

Ingredients

1 cup of milk
1 teaspoon white wine or cider vinegar
1 egg
1 cup soft, dark, muscovardo sugar
1/2 cup rapeseed oil
1 cup plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons mixed spice

Method

  1. In the food processor, combine the milk with the vinegar.  It should curdle.  Leave it to rest for 5 minutes while you measure out the rest of your ingredients.  Put the flour and oats in one container, the sugar in another and the baking powder, bicarb soda, salt and spices in a third.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a loaf pan or muffin tins with paper liners.
  3. After 5 minutes, combine the sugar, oil and egg with the milk.  Whiz for at least 10 seconds.
  4. Add the baking powder/spice mixture and whiz until there are no visible lumps.
  5. Finally, pour in the flour and oats.  Process until all is combined.  The mixture will appear a bit grainy from the oats and that is perfectly OK.  The mixture will be runny.
  6. If making a loaf cake, pour your mixture into your lined loaf pan and bake at 180C for 55 minutes.
  7. If making muffins, use a quarter cup measure to ladle the mixture into individual muffin cases and bake 180C for 20-25 minutes.  One muffin case should equal one filled quarter cup measure.  If you have any mixture left over, distribute it evenly between the cases.
  8. Once cooked, remove your  cake or muffins from their tin and cool on a rack.  Don’t put in a cake tin until cold.
  9. If you are going to freeze the cake, ensure it is cold, keep the liner on and place in a bag or wrap in cling film before freezing.   Once defrosted, remove the paper liner before placing in your cake tin.  The liner will be soggy and a damp cake goes mouldy faster.
Enjoy!

- Pip

Sunday, 24 May 2020

SitRep: May update


Hello.  How are you doing in these strange times?  As you will have gathered from a certain car’s post, below, we’ve been on Leave this week.  While I wish we could have travelled, I must say that it has been nice to have a break and a change to the rhythm of our days.  Highlights have been a visit to Costco, a visit to the butcher and walking 2 miles to go to the bank.   Oh, and we ordered a takeaway one evening.  

Prior to the break, it felt like every day was the same!  DH and I are both working from home, so that’s 8 hours of the day taken care of.  It feels like a lot more Worktime is spent in calls and meetings than would normally happen in the office.  Most evenings after work we go for a half-hour walk, cook dinner then watch telly.  I’ll knit and sew, while watching.  (Not much change there.).  

Weekends, we garden a bit, watch more telly, listen to podcasts together... The Kermode & Mayo Film Review podcast is a regular “date”.  It comes out on a Friday evening and we’ll try to listen to it together by Monday.  (Before Lockdown, we’d both listen on our separate drives to work and then discuss it.). I have a lot of podcasts in my queue and will listen when pottering around the kitchen/cooking dinner/doing housework/gardening/doing a very boring, brainless task “at work” (literally something that doesn’t require thought or my ears would shut off). 

One evening on the weekend, DH will play a video game online with his mates and I’ll read or phone my friends.  I love to read and have far more books in my queue than I have time to read them.  In our borough, you can sign up on line to borrow e-books from the “library”, but there’s also the Bookbub mailing list which sends a daily email of free or cheap e-books to match your preferences (Kindles, Apple Books, etc).  The Kindle app is free and I read them on my phone/iPad.  Re the library service, you can also borrow audiobooks for free.

Human contact is important.  We have a couple of regular Skype calls set up, e.g. normally on a Tuesday we’d do a pub quiz, now our quiz team Skype at “quiz time”.  Every couple of weeks, I have a call with the girls from Head Office Finance (where I worked 20 years ago).   My department at work have “Virtual Pub” on a Friday, where we chat and play games.  My project team are now doing the same on a Thursday.   And my choir are having Zoom calls instead of rehearsals.  (You only need to set up a Zoom account if you are hosting the meeting.)

Here is my update on my 20:20’s:-
  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 15/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), started the next one (currently 9 balls down) and have still only clocked up one pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. Not started yet.  Modified to 20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. 5 weeks.
  4. Read 20 books. 3/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right.  I have two books on the go right now and am 70% through both of them.
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes.  1/20.  I am a cook!  How can this be so difficult to achieve?
  6. 20 gardening sessions.   4 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 29/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 8/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  6/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on given the “Covid Calories” everyone is eating.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400) £100/£400
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  15/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds).  9/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps, 3.5.20 11,196 steps, 4.5.20 13,956 steps, 17.5.20 14,066 steps, 18.5.20 15,046 steps, 19.5.20 11,567 steps.  
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  9/20.

- Pam

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Recipe Tuesday: Corn Pone (or what to do with leftover chilli)

Sunday, we had beef chilli for dinner.  When I cooked it, I followed the chilli variant of my recipe post from May 2007,  Minced Beef & Other Possibilities, adding grated carrots and a quarter cup of split red lentils to ensure we had leftovers.  There was enough chilli for dinner for two, two lunch boxes and to form the basis of dinner tonight.  

The idea behind this recipe comes from The Tightwad Gazette, where Amy Dacycyn talks about adding a tin of baked beans and a cornbread top to leftover chilli, in order to make Corn Pone.  Sadly, Amy doesn’t give more details. Maybe Americans are taught to make cornbread at school.  I certainly wasn’t.  The top is a Cornmeal Spoon Bread.  I haven’t priced up the leftover chilli but the additions come to 62p.

Corn Pone - Serves 4

Ingredients

2-4 portions of beef chilli
1x 420g can baked beans (22p)
150g/1 cup fine cornmeal (15p)
1 teaspoon baking powder (5p)
1 clove garlic, crushed (optional) (5p)
1 teaspoon lazy chilli (optional) (5p)
1 egg, beaten (10p)
250ml/1 cup water
Pinch of salt
5 grounds black pepper

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 220C.
  2. Combine the chilli and the baked beans and pour into a deep ovenproof dish.  Smooth over the top.
  3. In a bowl, combine the other ingredients and beat until smooth.  (This is the spoon bread top.)
  4. Pour the spoon bread over the over the chilli, carefully covering the top of the chilli.  (It will be runny and won’t pour out smoothly.)
  5. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until browned and crisp on top.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to look pretty on the plate, but it was yummy!



Enjoy.

- Pam

I Got Driven!!!

Is Pam looking?  No?  Good.  Hello, it’s Lucky Car here.  I’m borrowing the Blog.  I have to tell someone.  I am so excited!  I went for a DRIVE!!!  Yes!  Frank, the Boy’s car, doesn’t want to talk to me anymore because, in the last two days, I’ve been for two drives!  (Frank is sulking.  He’s jealous.). I haven’t been driven for ages.  Pam hasn’t been to the office in over 2 months.  I know she’s working - I can see her sitting at a computer most days - but we haven’t gone anywhere for a long time.  They say it’s because of Lockdown and the virus.

Yesterday, I went all the way to Costco.  Their car park was busy - I haven’t seen so many moving cars in ages!  The humans were queuing all the way down the side of the warehouse.  There were marks on the ground two metres apart.  Most people seemed to observe “Social Distancing” (whatever that means) but many don’t realise that the 2-metre-rule is in every direction, not just in front of them.  Unlike the time Pam took me to Tesco in April - she queued for over 45 minutes - it didn’t take Pam and the Boy long to get into Costco.   They were out again within 30 minutes. 

The Boy drove me today.   I had a bit of a workout.  We went to the butcher’s shop near the station, then drove the long way round the back of the RAF base to get home. A whole extra 2 miles!  It was lovely to feel the road under my tyres and to hear the radio playing.  (I haven’t listened to anything for ages.  There’s no cricket or football on the radio and Pam hasn’t played a podcast in me for months!)

I miss long drives.  We were meant to be in Normandy this week but nobody can travel.  I sit parked at the front of the house, dreaming of the day that Pam and the Boy throw a suitcase in my boot and we drive off, and keep driving until there is no road left.  I want to go through the Channel Tunnel and head for places we’ve never been together, maybe even as far as the Czech Republic where I was born.  I just want to experience the open road again.

- Lucky.

PS:  Don’t tell Frank but I get to go on holidays because I’m more fuel efficient.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

Carrot & Red Lentil Soup

Last year, we grew a small bed of carrots.  Beyond unearthing a couple, which were decidedly green  - the green bits are safe to eat but taste like eating carrot tops - we didn’t get around to unearthing more until earlier this month.  OMG, I have never seen so many deformed carrots!





They’re multi-coloured, which surprised us, until we found the label.  Turned out that we planted a rainbow packet of purple, yellow and white carrots as well as the traditional orange.   How anybody grows straight carrots is beyond me.  These were planted in a new, raised bed, which was filled with fresh compost, and they still turned out looking like mutants!  Seriously, this one looks like he’s got a lizard’s head.




Today, I turned some of the larger mutants into soup for lunch.  Four of them, including the beast above   This is inspired by a recipe from Leites Culinaria., (I just utilised their spicing.)


Ingredients

1-2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon grated ginger
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup/200g split red lentils
2 litres boiling water
2 chicken stock cubes
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste


Method
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion, garlic and ginger until the onion is soft.
  2. Stir in the coriander and cumin and fry until the aroma rises.
  3. Pour over the boiling water.  Add all the remaining ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes or until the carrot and lentils are soft.
  4. Blend in the saucepan with an electric stick blender. 
  5. Check the seasoning and serve with fresh bread.
Enjoy!




- Pam (As you can see from the photo above, I like my soups to have a bit of texture.)  

Friday, 24 April 2020

SitRep: April update

Hello.  How are you?  As you can see from the posts with the tag “Lockdown Diary”, I’ve been posting fairly regularly since my last Sit-Rep.  Admittedly, most posts are recipes but that is what I promised to you when I wrote this post on Monday 23rd March, setting out my worries for people’s finances during/after the Covid-19 induced economic crisis.  All the relevant recipes are tagged <£2Dinners.

We’re both still working from home.  I usually start work before 8am and finish around 4.30pm.  Lunch is timed to coincide with the auction stage of Bargain Hunt on BBC1, which DH and I watch together.  Most evenings, we go for a walk around the neighbourhood, before coming home to cook dinner and settle down with my knitting/the TV.  Every Tuesday evening, we have a SKYPE call with the other members of our pub quiz team.  (Tuesday was Quiz Night.).  I try to call friends on the weekend, because I’m spending half of every working day on the phone at present.

So many things that we were planning to do this year have been cancelled or postponed.  Did I tell you that I got lucky in this year’s draw for Wimbledon tickets?  Well, that’s been cancelled.  Rather than rolling the tickets over to 2021, Wimbledon are refunding everyone their ticket money.  < pout >. Hopefully, I’ll get lucky again next year.  We also had tickets for a recording of the Now Show at the BBC but that, too, was cancelled.  (The show was recorded without an audience and is available as a podcast.). 

Here is my update on my 20:20’s:-
  1. Knit 20 balls of yarn (that's between 3 & 5 jumpers worth). 7/20 - I finished the jumper I was knitting (5 balls), started the next one (currently 2 balls down) and have still only clocked up one pair of socks this year (ending a ball of yarn in the process).   
  2. 20 minutes a day learning French (via Duolingo and TinyCards) for 20 weeks. Not started yet.  Modified to 20 weeks.
  3. 20 minutes exercise a day for 20 weeks. 1 week.
  4. Read 20 books. 3/20.  These are listed In the sidebar on the right.  
  5. Try 20 new dinner recipes
  6. 20 gardening sessions.  2 proper ones so far plus a couple of minutes mucking around with seeds.
  7. Explore 20 new places 1/20 - the cathedral at Bayeux.
  8. Attend 20 "shows" (concerts/plays/films/BBC recordings/exhibitions) 3/20 - Frank Skinner’s “Showbiz”.  The News Quiz.  The Troy exhibition at the British Museum.
  9. Do the 2020 Fashion On The Ration Challenge and keep within the coupon count. 27/66 coupons used.  These are listed in the sidebar on the right.
  10. Phone family/friends to chat 20 times (I'm hopeless on the phone). 5/20.
  11. Lose 20lbs.  2/20.  (To be honest, I’m just glad I haven’t put any weight on.)
  12. Mend 20 items of clothing (yes, that includes sewing on buttons and taking up hems) 3/20 - hemmed trousers from a suit purchased in 2018 (I’d only worn the skirt and jacket, not the trousers).  Mended the pockets of a different suit jacket, bringing that suit back into rotation.  Repaired the pockets on DH’s shorts.
  13. Declutter 20 items.
  14. Run 20 miles (but not all at once)
  15. Save 20 x £20 out of my “allowance”(£400)
  16. Make 20 site visits for work, earning mileage 20 times (it goes to the car fund).  29/20.  
  17. Write 20 blog posts.  11/20 
  18. Log 10,000 steps on my Fitbit on 20 or more days (harder to do than it sounds). 4/20:  11.1.20 10505 steps, 22.2.20 10603 steps, 7.3.20 13527 steps, 21.4.20 10524 steps. 
  19. Have a party in the summer and invite at least 20 friends
  20. Watch at least 20 programs that have been on the DVR since 2018.  6/20.

- Pam