Tuesday, 27 January 2015

What a busy weekend

As usual we've had an exceptionally busy weekend. We really are on the home stretch with finishing the kitchen. We filled the chasing out that James did to put in some new sockets. We then started to tile the splash back with some metro tiles that we bought on sale at Wickes; January is really the best time to do DIY as all the sales are on and we like sale prices :-). James is busy tonight putting in some plinths so we can finish the last areas of tiling and tomorrow evening (hopefully) we'll grout the tiles. One evening last week we hung some wall units, we didn't get as many up as we'd hoped as the ceiling height meant that they just overhung the worktops too low making them feel overcrowded. When we get our final kitchen in a few years I'm not sure if we won't have to have some short wall units made to keep the kitchen usable. That's a worry for another day though. Excuse the mess as usual, I really have to learn to pose a room for pictures, but who's got time for that? I even got all of my cookbooks out and on the shelf for the first time since I moved in, yippee!

I put up my Christmas present from James, a beautiful outside clock. It found it's new home on my garage wall and isn't she looking pretty! Come summer this will be fantastic as we're always outside keeping busy with the garden. As a bonus I can see it from my sofa so I'll always know the time when I'm watching TV during the day (did I just admit I do that?!). The sun was just setting once I'd done and it's one of the most beautiful times of the day so I took a photo to try and catch the light.

I also made two batches of Seville orange marmalade. It was a bit of a squeeze to fit it all in to one weekend but the Seville orange season is only a few weeks in January and I have to make enough to last all year. My next post will be a few pictures and the recipe.

P.S. If you read my post the other day, my chicken Belle is feeling much better after her few days of pampering and vitamin drops so I'm much happier.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

My midnight wobble

Last night I had a bit of a wobble. I've not been sleeping well for the last week or so, the whole lack of planning permission for an extension is starting to bother me. We applied for planning a year ago and after a rejection and changing the plans and another rejection our planning consultant suggested an appeal. Our appeal letter said it would take 6-8 weeks. It's now been over 6 months with no communication from the planning inspectorate. I rang again last week and my answer was basically that they don't do appeals in chronological order. They said their average time is now less than last year which was 13 weeks. I'm feeling really dejected that we've waited over 26 weeks and they tell me they may look at our appeal in March. We just want to start insulating and damp proofing so we can make the house comfortable for us and the kids. From what I can gather from the planning inspectorate they do appeals where they can get the maximum number done most quickly, we are rural so we just don't seem to fit in to the easy to visit category.

Back to the wobble. You know when you can't switch your brain off? Then it starts to re-visit the same issues again and again. Problems are always magnified. I started to panic. I'm thinking 'what have we done? will we ever get what we want? how long will we have to wait?' I have found the whole planning process to be really stressful and find I go through periods of being accepting of the time it takes and times where I've had enough and just want someone to pull their finger out and make a decision. Any decision... no really, any decision so that I can move on with my life.
My final 3am decision? Let's sell the house, closely followed by 'what other mental person will buy it?'

When I woke up it didn't feel so bad but I still feel a bit down about it all. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that we have so much more than some people and I am grateful. I just need to move forward with our house to make it comfortable for our family.

After a long talk with my understanding husband we've decided to get a new planning consultant and start a fresh application with someone who knows the local council and who wants to work with us to achieve our goals. As we've been bitten once before by a planning consultant who doesn't know what they're doing it's so hard to choose another. There are just no reviews out there to help you choose and no one I know has any recommendations. My next step is to ask a few people we've shortlisted for details of recent planning applications they've submitted so we can see their work and ask for a recent testimonial. I don't think that's unreasonable when you're paying for a service?

We also lost another chicken last weekend which I think is what started my low mood. We've lost quite a few this year to various diseases and predators and I'm just too soft and miss every one of my girls when they go. One of my other girls stopped eating yesterday so I'm in full on panic mode. I went and got some advice from out local poultry breeder to see if she had any answers. I've got a pick me up for her and I've been giving her her favourite treats to entice her to eat, so fingers crossed it'll be good news. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Slow cooked white wine lamb recipe

I am still so in love with my oven that I can't stop trying new recipes. My best friend makes this for her husband and he loves it so I thought what the heck I'll give it a go. 

Well it went down a storm in my house and I've made it a few times in the 3 weeks. It's so good I thought I'd give making my own recipe card a go. I saw  the idea on Pinterest at Simm Works family blog. I've been thinking about making a folder with all of my favourite recipes in for just in case the internet goes down, like when we have a fallen telephone mast or end of the world apocalypse situations (I know my oven wouldn't work with no electricity but who says it has to make sense). So here's my recipe card shared, enjoy!

P.s. I meant to take a photo with it all served up with roast potatoes and veg and what not but I got so carried away with the excitement I only remembered once there were just bones left!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Kitchen update

We're still working in the kitchen in the evenings and today I thought I'd take some pictures of the work so far. We have all of the base units in and doors hung. Just one unit that needs the knob moved as it was originally a wall unit. The units have been filled with all my junk valuable cooking implements and considering there are more units than before I still only just fitted it all in, what's that all about? Well it may have something to do with the fact I can actually get at it all now it's been re-arranged. We also got the worktops on and finished. 

Next job is to hang some wall units. As you can see we've got a low cottage ceiling and the wooden beams interfere with where you would normally put units. We can put a few on the opposite wall and some over the sink which is in a bit of an odd add on extension and hence a bit taller.

Run of new units (sorry about dodgy angle,
I didn't want you to see the mess on the
kitchen table!)

We moved my narrow dresser to the opposite side of the Rayburn to free up a bit of space for our new units as the old kitchen only ran along the other side of the room. 

I tried some new coal out from a friend the other day on the woodburner and unlike the other bags I had before it actually burns! This has led me to think about trying to get the Rayburn working again. We had a go last year when we first moved in. I had the chimney swept and the Rayburn serviced and no matter what I did I couldn't get the cooker to stay even vaguely warm. After quite a few goes I gave up thinking I just didn't have the knack. I tried to burn the coal I bought for the Rayburn on the burner this winter and it pretty much smothered the fire. Anyway bringing the ramblings to a close I thought if the new coal burns well on the burner I may get it to burn well in the Rayburn. As you can see my Rayburn is somewhat of a decorative piece and I'm not sure where the knickknacks will go but if I can get it working I'll feel I've beaten an old foe.

We also need to put on the plinth to the base units and tile the splash back but then we'll be pretty much there.

Sounds easier than it'll be no doubt but I'm excited to get it done. 

I'm not sure how long the kitchen will be in as we're still waiting for our planning appeal to be looked at (after over 6 months when they said it would take 6 weeks!!!) but at least now it's clean and functional. Thanks to my fab husband for all his hard work xxx

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Raised Vegetable Beds Started!!

We had a year off from growing vegetables last year as we'd just moved and really ran out of time. Our garden has lots of plum, damson and a few apple trees so I was kept busy preserving those this summer. In the last house we just had a patch of land that we grew some different veg in and a few bags for spuds. The patch was pretty shady and the veg was pretty hit and miss. 
This time we've set aside an area of lawn that is between two concrete pads and is full of weeds, so it's not much use, what's more it's in the sun pretty much all day and with not too much shade.

With it being winter we've ordered some bareroot plants for the patch, some raspberry and strawberry plants. They come dormant without leaves so they're cheaper to buy and ship.

We've got a pretty limited budget for the raised beds so we used 6 inch gravel boards and we cut some 2x2" lengths of softwood into 12" lengths and used the chop saw to put a point on the bottom to aid in hammering the beds into the ground. We decided to make four beds at 3 x 18 foot each. I figured that 3 foot widths meant that I could reach into the centre of the bed without trampling any plants. We used nails to join the lengths to the posts, we could have used screws but we had so many nails lying about why not use them up! I'm hoping we can get a few seasons out of these beds, at least long enough to have a think about the final layout of the garden.

We placed them in their space and used the sledge to hammer them down. Next we dug up the turf and placed it to one side. I then dug down about a foot below ground level and placed the turf in upside down and covered it over with the soil I'd removed.  I'm hoping this will kill the grass and it'll rot down nicely. Next job involved finding soil from other places around the garden to fill up the remainder of the space up to the top of the gravel boards. The resident moles were lending a helping hand by creating huge molehills which I've put in the barrow and dumped in the beds. It is amazing how much soil you need to find. The first bed is finished and the raspberries are planted and the second is almost there so we can plant the strawberries. I'm not sure where I'm going to get the rest of the soil for the last two beds right now but I've got a few months to think about it before I'll need them.

Our next issue is going to be keeping the chickens from decimating the strawberry plants which are currently under cover. I think the best solution for the short term is going to be using temporary HERAS security/construction style fencing. It's 2 metres high so the girls will have to be pretty determined to get to the plants! Plus you can get gates with them so it should be (fingers crossed) easy to get in and out and the sun can get through and make my beautiful plants grow big and fruitful.

We've also been continuing to fit the kitchen so I'll post some photos of how we're getting on soon.

Beds all sited with the first filled
Update: Got the second bed filled today using the rest of the molehills. Like two mental people we then planted the strawberries in the dark while it was peeing down with rain and then rigged up an anti-chicken fortress using chicken wire, hosepipe and cable ties. if our neighbours saw us they'd have thought those people must have a screw loose. I'm sure all you lovely people with young kids know how much easier it is to get stuff done without them (even while half blind in the dark and soaked to the skin!). All I'll say is God help the chicken that's found inside the cover having devoured my new plants.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Easy Vanilla (or Chocolate) Sponge Recipe

I've been testing my new oven today with a recipe that my mother-in-law taught me, that she learnt from her mother, so it's a tried and tested classic. Although I've not quite got the settings perfect on the oven I was soooo pleased to be able to bake a cake! Our old oven had lost it's thermostat so cakes were black on the outside and runny in the middle.

So here's the recipe:-

8oz caster sugar

8oz margarine (spread suitable for baking)
8oz self raising flour (sieved)*
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder 
4 eggs
Vanilla essence

  1. Cream sugar and butter together until it's light and fluffy. The mixture should get lighter as you whisk it. It only takes 3-4 minutes using an electric whisk. Add the vanilla flavour here. I used some flavoured icing sugar but I've used vanilla essence in the past.
  2. Add one egg at a time to the mixture with a tablespoon of flour.
  3. Add the remainder of the flour and baking powder and mix. My mother-in-law doesn't believe in messing around with folding in flour etc so says just use the whisk to mix it all in. 
  4. Lastly add a splash of boiling water and mix in. MIL says this helps it rise! Pour into a greased cake tin.
  5. Bake at 170-180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or until a skewer come out clean.
In the oven, it doesn't cook any quicker when you watch!

I iced with butter icing and filled with butter icing and some jam I made last summer.

Butter icing is just 100g margarine with 200g icing sugar (powdered in the US) and I add a splash of vanilla essence here too. Mix with an electric whisk, it will take a while but keep going it will come together!

Sorry about the mix of metric and imperial measures. I'm used to metric myself but as it's an old recipe it's mostly imperial.

*for chocolate cake add two tablespoons of cocoa powder and make up to 8oz with flour

This takes literally 10 minutes to put together and tastes great. It also keeps well for a few days, unless you have a house with boys like me, then it disappears much quicker.

Enjoy x

Little helpers optional,
seen here aiding in icing cleanup

Update- Quick few pictures of the chocolate version (it was yummy!)

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Baby girls bedroom done!

It's been really cold here and it was so beautiful I had to take some photos. The frost was magical and made the garden seem so peaceful.

I also took some photos of the baby's room, they're not great as I don't have a very wide lens on the camera and I couldn't step back far enough. I'm going to try to find some before pictures to compare with.

Kitchen revamp

We’ve had a busy end to the year at the cottage. First we put most of the finishing touches to baby girls room and then as James had a week off between Christmas and new year we decided to fit our new kitchen. Whilst our kitchen is new to us, it’s a second hand one off ebay. As I’ve mentioned before we have spent 12 months trying to get planning permission for an extension but as there’s no sign of us getting it any time soon I just couldn’t live with the state of the current kitchen. 
It was filthy, greasy and knackered and I couldn’t get it clean with any amount of bleach and scrubbing. Drawers wouldn’t close, the cooker thermostat had broken and would cremate all the food and the handle had snapped so it had to be pried open. For my sanity we decided to get a cheap kitchen and use it for (hopefully) the short term. 

Old Kitchen 

We’ve saved some money and have bought a new oven and induction hob and when we get our proper kitchen in it’s final location we’ll move them there.

First James put in some more sockets, because you can never have too many in a kitchen! Then he removed the old carcasses with barely a push. We did it in two halves, the units to the left of the cooker were installed and levelled and then the units to the right with the sink. We had to keep our old sink as the waste was too high for the new sink without drilling through an external wall.

Wiring in new sockets
New units installed
After a lot of plumbing we got the sink carcass in and it was time to fit the worktops. James's best friend is a builder and he brought round some kit to put nice joins in the worktop. After cutting a hole for the sink and hob we started fitting the doors and drawers. My hob was wired in by James (who's an electrical engineer) and as if my magic we had pasta for tea cooked on the most amazing hob in the world. I have never seen water boil so quickly or such responsive controls. As you can tell I'm a bit excited by being able to use a nice cooker. The oven comes next week so I'll be deliriously happy then!

Sink unit installed

Over the next few days I'll give it a good clean and we'll put up a few wall units which we've never had so I'll have more storage. As the ceiling is so low we'll have very few but it'll be better than before so I'm happy.

Even without tiles and no doors on the units or oven it looks so much better. I'll post our progress and we go on.

Have a very happy new year!