Monday, 15 May 2017

The Vale of Eden

Vale of Eden North Pennines area of natural beauty View from the A686 North Pennines Alston Penrith Old Road Sign tree framed View Pennine AONB
When the return home journey offers views that make you stop and draw out the holiday just that little bit more. The rolling, green landscape of the Vale of Eden in Cumbria and fluffy clouds to match fluffy sheep. May trees, some still in leaf burst and lungs full of spring air, a sandwich and a bleat from beyond a drystone wall. A stretch of road where cars zoom past and I think please slow down a little, in fact just stop and look through this tree framed view of mine at this wonderful drumlin, a glacial deposit and there are lots of them here in groups known as a basket of eggs or a swarm.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Fluffy cloud reflections

Rudyard Lake Nestled in the Staffordshire Moorlands is a 2.5 mile long lake of fluffy cloud reflections and jetties of colourful boats moored in bobbing lines. This was the 'Blackpool of the Potteries' where the North Staffs train chugged in bringing 19th century day-trippers aplenty in their promenading best.

The Aquatic Fete was the Bank Holiday attraction, watched by spectators all bodiced and bustled or Dundeary whiskered and frock coated. Marching bands trumpeted by lakeside views and a tight rope walker triumphed across the ripples. He is still remembered in a carved 150 year old beech tree. 

Built as a reservoir for the Caldon canal system the lake is surrounded by wooded hillside and dotted with wondrous boat houses built by wealthy Victorian worthies. Through lake margins of reeds and the ivy that clambers oak and the silvers of the birches, a whisper of a cold breeze murmurs a little giggle of those fish jugglers and mermaids that wooed the crowds.

A bridge of love locks leads to a bench where I catch a new romance sat talking and parallels a love that started here in 1863 between the parents of a man all Jungle Book'd and Just So'd. Will they call their child Rudyard too?

Five miles of magic paths, speared green with spring bulbs through dark winter earth, booming with the squeaky wheelbarrow woodland of the Great Tit and oars slicing through skyscape water. Funambulism, fancy frocks and fish in the imagination for a little while.
Blondin on his type-rope yellow boat Rudyard Lake canal feeder boats on the lake spring love lock bench love colourful boats lake fun boat race Lade of the Lake boathouse boat house lake and clouds

Friday, 10 February 2017

Cheshire cheesy new potato pancakes

I'm thinking of springtime food now, light and fresh with vegetables and herbs, evening meals with perhaps a bit of light starting to creep in and slowly the winter disappearing. 

I was inspired by Tesco Cypriot New Potatoes to make a spring feeling dish. They are available in 750g or loose and will be available in Tesco stores until the end of March. With their earthy flavour I wanted to conjure a meal up that was reasonable quick and filling and thought of a pancake filling incorporating one of my local products, Cheshire cheese. 
Cyprus new potatoes

For the pancake

125g Plain Flour
2 medium eggs
350ml Semi-skimmed milk
1 tbsp of vegetable oil   

For the pancake filling:
Tesco Cypriot New Potatoes, about 500g chopped
1 medium white onion
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Sprinkle of paprika
1 tbsp plain flour
100g Cheshire cheese, 
100ml Semi-skimmed milk
200g Natural plain yoghurt
Spinach leaves, a handful
Chives and parsley garnish
Chilli flakes, just a sprinkle

Cut the new potatoes and boil until soft, around 20 minutes.
Fry the onion in the vegetable oil  and some paprika until golden.
Add a tablespoon of flour to create a thick pasty
Add the yoghurt and whisk, slowly adding the crumbly Cheshire cheese
Add the milk until sauce reaches a creamy consistency. 
Add the potatoes into the sauce and the spinach leaves too.

Make the pancakes by sieving the plain flour into a bowl and then make a well in the centre.
Add the two eggs and the milk, whisking into a batter.
Oil a frying pan and place a ladle full of the batter into the pan
Cook for a few minutes and of course practising flipping is necessary. 

To serve:
Place cheesy potato sauce onto the pancake and garnish with herbs and a sprinkle of chilli.

A delicious mid week dinner and we all love pancakes so there might have even been some sweet ones afterwards too. 

cheesy potato pancake

This is my entry into the Tesco and Foodies100 #CypriotNewPotatoes challenge.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Renovating an old house

As spring approaches I always expect to see homes popping up for sale on my usual routes, a popular time to get the house on the market with people keen to find their dream home. I like to keep an eye on the market, partly through sheer nosiness but also to see what's available and what the potential is, should I be in a position to move one day. My attention is always on older property, doer-uppers, a gem of a find with walls to be knocked down and a new impression to be made in old fabric. Anything from a Victorian house with dolls house style frontage or a terrace or a 1930's detached with bay windows (like my childhood home).

However, as much as old house are my preference, they do from experience with my current Victorian home have difficulties in comparison to new builds. For the generous room proportions and pretty facades, they are hard work and have some potential sources of headaches and tears......although worth it in the end. Here are some of my plans and pitfalls I've encountered and become aware of along the way.
period property

How I wish I had the foresight to have the house rewired before moving in. Several years later and electrics failing and being patched up and a great deal of head scratching from one electrician when some of the sockets started to be faulty. Even still, although work was completed, some sockets upstairs still don't work and the plan is for a complete rewire at some point and what a pain that will be with plaster having to be removed, dust everywhere and having to still live in the house whilst it's done. Next time I will have the electrics completely checked out and a survey done before moving in and bite the bullet then, a lot easier to get it over and done with in the first few months. 

Lots of fun and games with damp in my old house. In fact the damp proofing company had to come back about four times and I became friends with the plasterer as he was in my house that often, I think I learnt his whole life story. Old house and damp go hand in hand, my property has a single brick wall and the driving rain beats against it and the water causes salting on the inside walls so the paint starts to bubble and the plaster blows. I now have a membrane in the wall that helps but good ventilation is key too. 

In older houses there may be asbestos which brings about fear in everyone. It can lurk behind plasterboard, ceilings, insulation around pipes, boilers and also the dreaded artex may have asbestos fibres in it. Work on asbestos is dangerous, needs checking out and you need experts who have had asbestos awareness training that qualifies them to remove it safely. Asbestos fibres are a silicate mineral and were used to strengthen concrete among other things and fire resistant so became incredibly popular to use many years ago. There are different types - white, blue and brown asbestos with different degrees of hazard to human health. The fibres can get into the lungs causing cancer and lung related conditions - the Health and Safety Executive estimate that asbestos kills approximately 5000 workers every year and therefore it is something that only experienced tradespeople should deal with. Always get it tested and checked out if you are in doubt when renovating your home.   

Look at the brickwork of your home to see if any work needs to be done. Mortar weathers away a lot quicker than brick so water ingress can become a problem. The exposed side of my Victorian house needs re-pointing and as it is possibly the most boring job ever, finding somebody who will do this is very difficult as I have found. The old pointing needs to be removed, tedious and messy, then the correct mix of mortar used to re-point. Once its done though, many of the damp issues on my interior wall may be sorted out at long last.

Layout changes
Another element of my home I would like to change is the internal layout. Knocking down internal walls can create improved spaces for family life, which is what I would like and to increase light into the back rooms of the house. Improving the flow this way is a lot easier than an extension and you won't need planning permission you are living in a listed building but building regulations may be so consult your local council. My plans are for downstairs to be one space which we could have as open kitchen and living space for relaxing and for my son to play and learn.

Do you have any tales of renovating an older property? I would love to hear about your tales of accomplishment and of any snags you encountered.
open plan living
image source: Ideal Home

*collaborative post

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Treat yourself for Valentine's Day

So as we approach the end of January I'm thinking of what the month ahead has in store; snowdrops bursting forth from the chilly ground, buds appearing and those other little signs of spring like the songbirds singing their hearts out finding a mate. And yes of course it's Valentine's Day. Do you love it or hate it? If like me you've never had anything other than a bill arriving on that day from the posty you're probably cringing at the thought of all that sentimentality that will be splashed around every shop, magazine and blog post....ahem.....

But maybe it's time to embrace the day as some love for yourself. A day to treat yourself because you're great and even if no cards arrive, so what. Love yourself instead.

Have a Valentine shopping trip, I will be. Buy yourself some flowers but not roses that you'll be charged far too much for. There are usually some early daffodils out in the shops in February that will cheer the house up or maybe a fragrant hyacinth for the kitchen window ledge. Even some fresh herbs like basil and coriander in pretty pots to start thinking of the spring days ahead.
Valentine treats

Make yourself a cocktail or too in some classy glassware from House of Fraser, why save them for a special occasion, you're important and deserve a glass of something exciting. I love the champagne saucers, a great size to fill up with fizzy or make up a special drink. The coloured Martini glasses are gorgeous and would look so pretty on a shelf too. But for Valentines how about creating one of the pink Paloma cocktails: tequila, soda, zingy grapefruit juice and lime with a sugared edge to your glass. Make yourself your favourite meal for date night with yourself; lasagna with loads of garlic or a huge pizza all to yourself because who will complain. Indulge in the chocolate cake, pour yet another cocktail, leave the dishes for the morning and settle down on the sofa.

Light a gorgeous fragrant candle. I love Blush; The First Kiss of the Night! by Lily-Candle, it's one of my favourites and certainly the name has a Valentine feel, it's scent is very feminine and sultry. As the candle is flickering, time to watch a romantic film or read a girlie book. Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice or Cecilia Aherne's PS I Love You - both great as either film or book but let's be honest make it the Colin Firth version of Mr Darcy, OK!

Valentine's Day is so much better this way, no disappointments. Who needs a dozen red roses anyway......?

*collaborative post