2016: the year of spaciousness

Because there's more to life than work


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Summer paella

Ok, so I cursed the weather in planning to cook summer paella today – it’s been rainy, windy and cold too, but the flavours in this make you instantly think of holidays in Spain.

IMG_1232It’s a basic paella with onions, garlic, red pepper, saffron, olives, paprika, turmeric and rice, that you then top with asparagus, broad beans (both cooked) and tomatoes (raw) once it’s done and leave them all to steam together for 5 mins – then top with toasted almonds and fresh basil. Easy and quick to prepare in under 45 mins, just a bit of chopping – first made it last summer, think the recipe is from New Vegetarian Kitchen. Can highly recommend this book, made a lot of different things from it and they were all good.

Surely if I keep eating summery things the weather will catch up eventually???


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Recipe for a perfect afternoon

Turned into a beautiful afternoon, so we decided to go for a walk down to the nature reserve and then along the embankment that skirts it through to one of the local parks and back home – about 4 miles. The wind from the sea was still bitterly cold, but as soon as we turned onto the embankment it instantly felt warmer. Butterflies were everywhere, the air was full of the sound of skylarks and it was so clear we could see the hills about 30 miles away.

The park is a Victorian one, but it’s had a few revamps in recent years courtesy of Lottery funding, some of which paid for this fountain.

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Apparently it’s a copy of the original one there, but that must have gone a long time ago as I’ve lived here all my life and don’t remember it. There’s a lake beyond it with huge sprinkling fountains – all in all a rather nice place to be on a sunny Saturday. As the park’s such an old one, it has some fantastic trees and plants. The maples were just coming into flower…

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Some huge magnolias looked beautiful against the sky…

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…and had carpets of wood anemones underneath.

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Back home we had a cafetiere of freshly ground coffee while we sat in the garden, then did a bit of light weeding until it was time for tea. And tonight it was one of our favourite meals which always heralds the start of summer for us – jewelled couscous. We both love this, but it’s best with fresh mint and chives from the garden so it’s a no-no in the winter months: but then it really is the sort of meal you want to eat outside, in the sun, with a glass of chilled white wine close by. With no cooking apart from toasting the almonds (5 mins dry fry in a non-stick pan) and pouring boiling water on the couscous (5 mins), it’s just a question of chopping the herbs, feta, black olives, red pepper, adding some pomegrante seeds and sultanas and then mixing everything together with some olive oil and lemon juice.

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I love ingredients that look pretty!

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And the finished result!

IMG_1227Admittedly it then takes you half an hour to clean all the spatters of pomegranate juice off your face, glasses, kitchen cupboards and everywhere else – let me tell you now that I have never yet managed to free the seeds by tapping with a wooden spoon, nor have I met anyone who has. I think this recipe came originally from Jo Pratt’s ‘In the Mood for Food’ – great book.

Walk, gardening, coffee, great meal – and there’s a cake in the oven too. Happy weekend everyone!


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Evening wind-down

This morning, we were both fascinated by the sight of one of the hardest working blackbirds we’ve ever seen going backwards and forwards with his beak so full of nest material, it was a wonder he could fly! In and out of the pots, borders and lawn, he was collecting all the twigs, moss, grass and other bits and pieces that must surely have been destined for a real ‘Grand Designs’ nest. His other half must have been well impressed – at one point you couldn’t see him when he turned to face us he was carrying so much. I was dying to get a picture of him, but didn’t want to disturb him – so here instead is where the nest building is going on…

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The blackbird nest is in the ivy at the top, while the winter jasmine below is home to a whole colony of sparrows. It’s about 6 feet deep now – there’s never a time of year when we can safely cut it back as the birds are either raising young, or sheltering from the cold.

No sign of him later today on a beautiful evening, but there was certainly a lot of singing going on in the garden, so maybe they’re having a house warming party. Next door’s cat was certainly not going to do anything about it…

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So many flowers out today, and love the light at this time of evening – camellia…

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Japanese quince…

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And my favourite, forget-me-nots. We never planted any of these – one appeared one year, seeded itself and has gradually colonised much of the garden.

IMG_1208I really love self seeders in a garden – once you start to get those, that’s when the garden starts to design itself, as things grow naturally in the areas they’re best suited and look more natural like that. And the more plants you get, the less bare soil there is for weeds to grow in, so although our garden is crammed with flowers it’s much lower maintenance than if we planted out bedding each year. Which means more time for looking and enjoying 🙂


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Beautiful bean soup

IMG_1192My favourite kind of meal – loads of veggies (leek, onion, celery, tomatoes, garlic and cannellini beans) plus rosemary and tiny macaroni with a glug of olive oil and parmesan on top. Quick, easy, and more importantly, my other half can manage to heat it up one handed for his tea when I’m out on Thursday night. From ‘The Busy Mum’s Vegetarian Cookbook’ – I’m not a mum, but I’m certainly busy!


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Counting blessings

Well, this week has been a good one for life lessons. I came home on Thursday to find my other half in hospital, having fallen off the ladders while trying to fix some tiles on our roof. Thankfully he ‘just’ has a badly broken wrist, 2 dislocated fingers, a sprained ankle and a banged head, but it could have been so much worse. The last couple of days have been filled with us trying to adjust our normal routine – just getting dressed is full of new challenges as he can’t use his left hand at all. I have also discovered that I am the world’s worst nurse – I just seem to have no idea of how to do practical things for other people (perhaps because we don’t have kids and I was the youngest in my family), and we were both in hysterics at my pathetic attempts to help him get dry after a bath.

By yesterday afternoon though we’d both settled down a bit. He’d gone to meet some friends in town, and I’d collapsed with a book in the garden. The sun was hot enough to be in a t-shirt and everything around was really starting to blossom. This is the magnolia that just last week was bursting its buds:

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It’s even more amazing close up:

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And I sat there in these lovely surroundings and thought how incredibly lucky we were that we were both able to do those things on such a glorious day, and that we weren’t instead trying to confront all the much more serious ways that things could have turned out. And realising that this has been, despite it all, a blessing, will hopefully make it easier to adjust until he gets the use of his arm back.

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And by the time the green shoots of the day lilies at the back of this photo start to show their yellow flowers, things will hopefully be back to normal.


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And breathe out…

It’s been such a hectic few days – hectic in a good way but even so I was still feeling more than ready to take some time out today after a 5am start. By 3pm I was slumped over my laptop with my brain struggling to come up with anything creative, and then I suddenly remembered – I can take a break any time I want now I work for myself! And seeing as I’d just completed 10 hours solid graft, I headed for the kitchen, turned my playlist on Grooveshark up loud, and lost myself in the soothing process of rubbing butter into flour to make shortcrust pastry for tonight’s tea. Doing something with my hands other than typing was just what I needed, and I quickly found the pressure dissolving away as I just focussed on the task in hand.

My pastry never really turns out as I’d like it to, whatever recipe I use – it’s always a bit more flaky than I think it should be. I don’t know why that is – I seem to do the rubbing in Ok, keep everything cool, and rest the pastry before I roll it out, but there’s clearly something I’m missing – tips anyone? I was using it tonight to make the topping of a ‘Fantaffy Pie’, another one from Pieminister (fast becoming one of my favourite recipe books) – leeks, celery, onions, cream, caerphilly cheese, potatoes, wine and toasted hazelnuts.

IMG_1179And I want you all to note the smaller piece cut out in the pic below was mine – OH got the rest of the half. My self control knows no bounds. Or maybe the raspberry flapjack I had a bit earlier had taken the edge off 🙂

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Simple pleasures

I was thinking today how some of the things I most enjoy doing really don’t involve much money at all. We went for a walk round one of the local nature reserves by the beach this morning before doing the weekly shop, and were rewarded with the sight of the first swallow of the year and the sound of masses of skylarks in the air above us. Though there were few signs of growth, the willows were covered in various types of soft furry catkins.

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We also saw this little one on the ground just outside the reserve – I thought he might have been one of the rare natterjack toads that live on the reserve, but a bit of a Google makes me think he’s just a Common Toad (seems rude to call him that, we thought he was rather cute).

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It was a beautiful weekend morning, yet there wasn’t another soul around to see the birds, catkins and toads. Great for us, but shame there weren’t more people taking time to enjoy it – the supermarket, on the other hand, was packed out. Again – our shop didn’t cost much – we like to cook from scratch and find that we spend so much less these days now that we’re almost totally vegetarian with fish perhaps once a month. I couldn’t cook at all when I left home at 20 and ate no veg apart from potatoes, peas, onions and carrots. My ability to cook is now probably the skill I’m most proud of, but it’s only been acquired through many years of trial and error (learning the difference between a clove and a bulb of garlic was a biggy – none of our friends would come near us for days after I put an entire bulb in a meal!). I love being able to see an offer and buy it, knowing I can turn it into a delicious meal. Star buy today was a big bag of aubergines for just 30p!! That’ll make at least 4 days worth of meals (obviously with some other additions!), am thinking a coconut, mushroom and aubergine curry, and then perhaps a repeat of the aubergines parmigiana that I made last week.

Tonight was one of our few fish meals of the month – mediterranean fish crumble, an old recipe from Good Housekeeping that I’ve been making for years. For the two of us I halve all the ingredients except the topping, use a dessertspoon of pesto instead of basil, and bake it in one big dish. It’s really far too much for two of us, but we justify this by saying that it wouldn’t be as good reheated the next day…

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Lovely meal for a rainy evening followed up by the habit we’ve had over the last year of reading to each other a couple of chapters of classic novels – this week it’s ‘Kidnapped’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, lots of dialect in it that’s great for reading in the most exaggerated Scottish accent possible. Hoot toot, I cannae stop to fash with ye more!