One month, no buy.

Well the first half of the month was definitely more tricky than the second half. It is all about discovery and I have discovered that make up has become even more addictive than I thought it was. There is something that lifts the soul when wandering through a department store looking at all the jewel like offerings as their packages glitter in the light whilst singing in soft enchanting voices, ‘buy me, I am beautiful’.

There was that purchase at the beginning of the month and then and lets be honest, there was a make up palette that came home with me a couple of weeks ago, it was just too beautiful. But it is a learning curve on how best to curb those cravings for pleasure, or at least turn them into something other than a need to purchase pretty make up.

I’ve finished my favourite pot of evening moisturiser, which means I have opened a new brand in my stash. To be honest this one came in a beauty subscription box and is said to cost over £90.00. I’m not feeling the love and over the course of the last two weeks I feel like my skin is drying out slowly. I might start something else and finish it off as a body cream. At least that is the beauty of the subscription boxes, one can try expensive items without spending serious amounts of money. And because of that and in the name of transparency, my no buy year has become more of a reduced buy year, perhaps I should amend the title. I had intended on cancelling all of my beauty subscription boxes, which I actually did, but a few days ago I have just resubscribed to Cohorted, as the value and products are just too good to miss. I think I am deeming this a vital necessity for the good of my mental health and have chosen to embrace my inner spendthrift in this purchase and this purchase alone.

Clothes wise, no problems. I have plenty of jumpers and shoes, I bought new jeans a few months ago and I have recently sorted out my wardrobe so as to better appreciate its often hidden depths. I’m halfway through washing all of my jumpers, which makes one realise just how many one has and have sorted out my pyjama and lingerie draw, so as to better appraise its offerings.

Linens and towels we have plenty, after 30 years of marriage one does tend to accumulate a fair pile.

So the plan is that next month I am going to knuckle down a bit harder and see where that takes me.

The Tall Man’s Pâté

As we delved further into Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger we discovered more delicious treats. We saw this recipe and thought it would be both delicious and easy to make. It has been ages since I have made a pâté and I never buy them. Once you have made a chicken liver pâté at home, you would never buy one, shop bought are just too dreary by comparison, pale and flavourless and full of fat. Home made are robust, full of flavour and substantial. The sort of thing that one could happily munch on for lunch, or dinner, with just some good bread, butter and maybe a little sweet chutney for company.

So I gathered the ingredients a few days ago, fully intending to make this yesterday. But I had a rough day, aches and pains, headache, glands up, sort of thing. So I asked hubby if he would make it, he didn’t seem too keen, he’s not as keen a cook as he was, but because I was a bit poorly he made it for me.

And it was amazing, I staggered down stairs just because of the smell, it drew me to it, like a moth to the flame. A recipe definitely worth living for, as all Ella’s recipes so far have proven to be.

Now I know hubby will have followed the recipe to the letter, the fatty pork he used was from a shoulder, that being what we had at home at the time. But he won’t have deviated in any way, you can be sure of that.

I praised him to the rooftops, and I think he was a little impressed with himself as well.

The following day, I’m still headachy etc, better than I was but something is still grumbling away. Hubby on the other hand is pottering in the kitchen, making another batch of The Tallman’s Pâté, it has certainly caught his imagination.

Swimming

I always seem to come back to swimming. In good times and in bad. I remember having my babies and being really upset that I couldn’t go swimming when I wanted to, fortunately I had a hubby that had bought a time share before I met him, which had a lovely health club attached, we went swimming about three times a week, son no.2 was swimming widths at 18 months without arm bands! Then life got in the way and I was working lots and lost my hair and came down with a deep depression and lost my swimming bug. I found it again in London, it was great to go swimming and lose oneself in the pool, stretch and relax after a heavy day at Uni, and of course I didn’t have anyone to rush home to so could swim for as long as I wished.

Last autumn I started going swimming regularly again, I no longer care if people think I am a big fat thing, ‘I am, get over it’, ‘laughs’. I enjoy the solitude, hubby did come for a while, but he doesn’t enjoy it. And, with his heart condition I think it might be a bit dangerous as he gets so out of breath and I spend a lot of time panicking as to whether he is okay, all the time my anxiety rising. So when he decided he didn’t really like it, that was okay with me. The act of swimming length after length, focussing on my breathing and stroke, the stretch and the glide, the breath in and then out, the kick, the thrust, the pull, feeling the aches lessen as my body stretches out, the endorphins rise after twenty or so lengths, the ease of the next ten lengths as worries lessen and all I can focus on is my breathing as I am completely intone with myself, is simply wonderful. The hot shower afterwards whilst still in the zone is treasure, dressing is easier than in the morning as all my muscles are warm and supple. I am more pain free than I am at any other time of the day (I have fybro) and happier. If I could fit in a swim everyday I would. It’s cheap too, £25.00 a month I pay, all that pleasure for not much more than a quid a day.

I had lessons in January for a few months, it taught me how to swim like an olympian. Although this olympian can only do one length of a beautiful crawl before being totally winded, but I hope to build on that. It has also improved my breast stroke and I no longer suffer with a sore neck from a poor technique.

Since January I have been working hard, I was very pleased to be able to fit in forty lengths in an hour, slow but most standards, but good stamina for me. Since then I have been increasing my speed and at a recent session I could fit in 56 lengths in an hour. I wanted to do 64 because that seen as equivalent to a mile, but I just can’t fit it in the hour.

Then I went to a non lane swimming session which was longer and racked up forty, then fifty, then thought I might try for the 64, which I did then thought, oh well, might as well do 70, I might have gone for the 80 but the session was ending.

It had been a particularly tough day and I knew I was in need of a good swim, I find that, its like baking bread, if you need to let yourself go, pummel you’re dough, you’ll get great bread, swimming is the same. Lane after lane had zipped by and I wasn’t tiring. Try swimming, you never know, it might make you feel amazing.

Saturday Afternoon Charred Leek Lasagne.

As soon as I read this recipe in Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger I knew it was exactly the sort of dish that I love to eat and cook. As with all things food, firstly comes the wanting to eat it, then I learn to cook it. I’ve followed this philosophy for many years and all the greats have come out of my kitchen in fact I don’t think I have turned down a recipe based on its complexity.

I eagerly digested the ingredients list, all the autumn stars were there, charred leeks, butternut squash, kale. I often feel cheese lends itself to autumn/winter food as well. I decided I would definitely make it and photographed the recipe list with my phone, a far simpler way than finding pen and paper and writing a list. Gathered the ingredients at my local supermarket and planned my Saturday afternoon cooking. Ella extolls the virtues of Saturday afternoon cooking for such a complicated dish and I have to agree with her, it’s lovely to pootle around the cooker immersed in a little light stirring with savoury smells gently wafting from the oven.

The most difficult thing to do was to prepare the butternut squash. I do believe they sell it already prepared these days, but I always have at least one or two on the windowsill ready and willing to be prepared into a lovely risotto or roasted to have with salads or main courses. They are so versatile and will keep for weeks and in my mind, quite cheap to buy.

The butternut squash prepared with butter, thyme and black pepper and a slosh of white wine, along with a head of garlic to be roasted, that needed to come out at half time.

Some beautiful leeks,

that needed to be fried in two pans! With the benefit of hind sight I should have got my wok out.

The garlic retrieved at half time had roasted beautifully.

I prepared our home grown kale. Hubby had retrieved it for me from the allotment and although there was a lot, it was still less than the required 400g. And I only used about half of this, I don’t know whether my dish is too small or the amount is wrong. I think in this case go with your instincts.

I then made a cheese sauce which included leaving a bay leaf in (removed once cooked) and squeezed the roasted garlic into this, retrieved the bubbling, slightly scorched, slightly syrupy butternut squash from the oven and lightly mashed it in the baking tray. And set about assembling the lasagne, studiously following Ella’s layering technique.

Layered through with cheese sauce and enrobed on the top, finished with a fine layer of parmesan, a ball of mozzarella and a grating of nutmeg. it entered the oven for 45 minutes. Although I was worried about the raw kale not cooking enough as the lasagne dish was full to the brim, so left it for an extra ten minutes in the cooling oven, having first opened the door for a few seconds to release the blast of heat.

And just look at that! What a treat.

And it was lovely. The charred leeks shone, the butternut squash added comfort with the cheese sauce and pasta and the kale (which was so tender) added a touch of sprightliness and a touch of much needed bitterness to the whole dish. The nutmeg was inspired as was the roasted garlic and who doesn’t love the essence of a bayleaf and black pepper in a cheese sauce. We liked this a lot. Definitely on the list to do again.

The allotment in September.

It seems ages since I wrote about the allotment. There is not much to do in high summer apart from the odd bit of hoeing, some picking and lots of watering of tomatoes and to be honest being rather blue eyed and freckled (and bald!) I tend to become a bit of a hermit as more than twenty minutes in the sunshine and I start to glow. So hubby tends to do the watering early in the morning while walking the dogs and we just drop in and do a bit as and when. But autumn is here, hoorraah, my favourite time of the year, the stifling heat has gone and now we are into the warm and pleasant days of an Indian summer, the very best time of the year.

So let us have a little walk around.

You have to see my greenhouse, it is rammed full of tomatoes.

Picking tomatoes is like entering a rain forest of tomato plants, highly amusing and just wonderful.

We are growing a few varieties but slowly, year by year, the green house is being over taken by one variety. A small plum variety called Aviditas. According to Dobies it was the best tasting tomato from their last tomato trial out of 206 varieties and I would have to agree with them. I think this is the last year that we will grow a big slicing tomato, the flavour is just not anywhere near it. If you like piccolo’s, you’ll love these, the piccolo is slightly more acidic, this is much sweeter and slightly bigger in the mouth. They are perfect cut in half on an open sandwich or with some cheese on a cracker, they cook quickly, so say if one was doing eggs for breakfast and popped these in a pan with a little butter, wait a few moments before adding your eggs, they will be ready when your eggs are. The plants we buy are grafted onto a stronger root stock and are well worth the money, they are prolific and they don’t have a tendency to split.

If I could find them I would grow piccolos as well, but I have to say they are not as prolific, I think this is the second year we have grown Aviditas and everybody that we give them to loves them. I think if you grow them once, you’ll always grow them.

The runner beans and french beans have done well and are just coming towards as second flush as we head into autumn. I also planted a few more broad beans which have set fruit and should give us a final crop in a couple of weeks. Sadly the peas and mangtout are just about finished now.

Swede, carrots and parsnips are coming along. The swede took fine, the carrots are coming along for an autumn crop and had to be sowed three times before taking! and the parsnips have been sowed twice and we only have a few plants. You win some, you lose some.

The beetroot is still going well though, we have plenty coming through.

The corn is coming along, some of the cobs are ripe, I tested this one and the kernel produced a milky sap and I have to say it was delicious. I don’t know why the kernels don’t form right to the top.

And I sowed a second crop of sweetcorn, whether they will come good in time remains to be seen. Fingers crossed eh.

Pumpkins and butternut squash hide beneath big leaves as they quietly get on with their job of growing.

The brassicas do much better protected from the pigeons. We have rainbow chard, cabbages, kale, purple sprouting, broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. I need another cage really to space things out a bit.

The savoy’s are coming along, just starting to heart up,

And the kale has done amazing. That should last us all winter.

The apples have done really well and our fellow plot holder who knew the last owners tell me that this apple is a very good storer, which is good to know.

And the pears have done really well too.

And lastly my leeks, in a little late but doing well even so. We still have half a sack of charlottes, which are delicious when roasted, so if we have any left they will go really well with these leeks.

A little bounty to go home with after a little light weeding. I hope you enjoyed your ramble around our allotment.

Chilli Challah Salad by Midnight Chicken

I often end up with a large nub of sourdough that lingers in the bread bin, waiting to be transformed into cheese on toast or a bread and butter pudding or as has been happening most recently it turns a freckly green and ends up in the bin. I often feel guilty of the waste when that happens and try not to let it happen, even if it’s just bagged up as breadcrumbs and then tossed into the freezer. A good chef will use everything, I think I have been told, many times, while studying for my ‘O’ level in Home Economics, oh so many years ago. So it was with guilt increasing that I turned the page in Midnight Chicken whilst curled up in bed and knew immediately what I would make for lunch the next day.

We have tomatoes and cucumbers in abundance from the allotment, along with chilli’s and garlic and there are always a few onions from the shops knocking around in the bottom of the fridge. In fact the more I looked at this recipe, the more I wondered almost in awe as to how perfect a recipe it is for me, especially at this time of the year. And the alchemy of chilli, anchovy, garlic, balsamic vinegar and olives was magical.

I made a few amendments, I didn’t have red onions or kalamata olives and of course I didn’t have the Challah bread and I increased the level of anchovies, to just under a full tin, having taste tested a couple just to be certain they were okay. I also doubled the quantities, we really do have plenty of vegetables to get through at the moment.

I’m afraid you’ll have to get the full recipe from the book, but here is my version in all its glory.

We had it with long slices of cheddar, slow roasted butternut squash and home grown beetroot. It was absolutely delicious, perfection on a plate.

Some of the leftovers we had for supper and we finished it up as a lovely Sunday brunch with a couple of boiled eggs and the flavours had magnified over night. I do believe this recipe has made it to my salads for lunch list and very welcome it is too.

Midnight Chicken.

I have a stash of recipe books that I have never opened and I don’t mind it, because I know there will be jewels in these books whenever I choose to take them off the shelf on which they reside, stroke their hardback cover and crack open the spine and smell that divine smell only a freshly printed, even if stored for a while, book gives off. Out of all the pleasures that I have in my life, my biggest pleasure is one of a brand new book. It comes about from being a council kid who was an avid reader, all of my books were second hand or from the library to which I trudged to, carrying heavy books on a Saturday morning, bringing back brand new treasures for me to curl up with on a Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday. Brand new books are my most wicked of pleasures and I shall never give them up. Fortunately I probably have enough to last a year!

Do you remember when I attended the Food in Art talks at the Royal Academy of Art, which were fabulous, one of the talks mentioned https://atthetable.co.uk is a platform that explores and celebrates British food culture, and it’s fab. Next I joined the newsletter and they send me emails quite regularly and often its a list of recipe books, which for me is quite exciting. In April an email landed while I was feeling a bit flush, so I bought six out of the eight suggested books. They have been waiting patiently for me. I have been busy at the allotment and in the heat of the summer I’m quite minimalist in the kitchen. But the cool of autumn is creeping ever nearer and I am starting to feel refreshed and renewed, and am ready to enjoy both the results of our labours at the allotment and new recipes that will come from far and wide. Let us begin.

Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger has been keeping me company during my bedtime reading for the last week and I have to say I do love her way of writing. It feels genuine and passionate and raw and much later in the book one gets to realise why and it all becomes sad, but Ella, with strength from somewhere carries on with her book and I am so glad that she had such a strong support network around her, because this book is lovely. It is the sort of book that I would happily give to a student or young person that is still finding their way around a kitchen. It is Ella’s foray into her own education at learning to find her feet in the kitchen, but within that there are beautiful elements that illustrate oh so clearly that Ella has an excellent food memory and deep knowledge is already there that she is exploring and I for one can’t wait for her second book.

The other beautiful element of this book are that there are no photographs only illustrations. I love that. It really opens my mind to possibilities and I’m not just staring at a photograph of a plate of food. I did do Food in Art for ten weeks, so for me, this book is simply an extension of that course and the illustrator Elisa Cunningham has done a wonderful job of transferring Ella’s ideas into pictorial imagery. I will show you a few because I can’t not.

It simply makes me happy to read this book and I know we are going to have some fun with it. So my plan is to explore the recipes and share them with you for as long as I want to and then when the urge strikes I will crack open another one of my new recipe books that are waiting for their turn to shine.

One year, no buy, week 2.

This week has been much more difficult. Remember the eyeliner from last week, well as I went into deeper thought about this along with using this eyeliner a couple of times I noticed that it often broke. And one day it did it too many times and I then broke and so I wrote to Chanel. And they were lovely. They offered to replace it, but they were no longer producing that particular colour way. And I didn’t want another colour way, I wanted that colour way, that beautiful Fervent Blue with a tiny shimmer of sparkly silver in it, its exquisite.

And if I’m really, really careful, I can just about use it. But I know it will break and it really will be just for Christmas and New Year.

So I then started to explain my predicament to hubby, in context of the no buy year. I think at one stage he murmured ‘it must be difficult to be a Mandy’. But I brushed that aside, as I explained about having found that John Lewis still sell them and that they are no longer being produced, so they won’t be receiving any more and how very attached I am to this particular eye liner. But at the same time balancing my argument with how things like that happen all the time, mainly because of the marketing men and short shelf life of all things fashion and it will just give me another excuse to find a beautiful blue and sparkly eyeliner, but at the same time explaining that it simply takes years to find one that one truly loves.

I also explained that it takes 21 days to start a new habit and how important the no buy year is to me, as I simply have enough of nearly everything, apart from one blue eyeliner!

And then half an hour later I resurfaced from all of this self imposed anxiety and made a decision that I wasn’t going to repurchase, that this was exactly the sort of pain in the trial that I will undoubtedly experience many times, and is part of the process of the one year no buy.

The next day, hubby says, let’s go to Birmingham and we will buy that eyeliner for you. My heart leapt with joy, of course it did. And then a little while later, I thought, No, if I go into the store then it will reinforce all of my previous behaviours and before you know it I’ll be running amok in the aisles of Chanel and YSL, sniffing and poking and touching whilst having a lovely time!

And he left it, and then he said half an hour later, ‘Why don’t you go online, I want to buy you this, it will cheer you up’. (I’ve been a bit blue in other areas of my life of late) And I looked at him and I thought what can I do with a hubby like you! He knows what I’m doing so he is giving me a way out, with him buying it, not me. Then proceeds to tell me about his new found wealth from winning the lottery, all £134.00 of it and he wants me to spend it on makeup!

Apart from thinking ‘oh bless you’, I realised that I hadn’t stocked up on my essential (for me!) life affirming ingredients, and if it makes me happy and it will be going out of stock maybe I should. I popped in an eye shadow for good measure that I’ve been looking at for ages and I’m good to go.

I think he’s right, sometimes it is difficult being a Mandy.

Quilting.

At last I’ve sorted out my sewing room (aka spare bedroom) and can get back into it to do a spot of sewing. I’ve been twitching to make a quilt for ages and when I decided to do my no buy year, I came up with the idea that all Christmas presents had to be handmade from stash by me. I am finding the urge to knit and sew again quite strongly, which is pleasing.

I think I can safely show you what I am up to, it is a Christmas present for son no.1 and I am pretty sure that he never reads my blog. He also knows I am making a quilt for him, but just in case there will be other items that won’t be mentioned until after Christmas.

I made 12 squares of a log cabin design from a jelly roll from Moda called Gratitude that I had bought over two years ago. Actually I bought three jelly rolls at the same time as it was my intention to make a superking quilt, which is a good thing I did as when I asked Son no.1 what size he would like he wanted the superking size. So I am doing 36 squares and it will measure approx 6ft 9″ square. There are twenty strips left which will provide plenty for binding. I may have enough wadding, if I patchwork the wadding and I think I may have enough backing… I might have to patchwork that as well. And I have enough thread, so at the moment I am winning on my no spend.

It is coming together quite quickly at the moment as I decided that I would chain piece it, meaning that I am adding the same rectangle to each square and whizzing through it.

I haven’t decided on my layout but you can see how it works with the lights and darks.

The pattern came from Jordan Fabrics, I am really enjoying her tutorials on youtube at the moment.

One Year No Buy, week 1

1st week completed. It was quite an interesting week. I noticed I definitely have the urge to shop, or just wander around the shops when I want distraction therapy and I don’t consider myself that much of a shopper, but I clearly use it to self soothe.

I’ve already noticed that my favourite Chanel eyeliner in Fervent blue is perilously short, I have others of course, but that one is my favourite colour, it is gorgeous bright blue with a little bit of sparkle in it, which makes my eyes light up. I shall save it for going out, out. I have a plan to put my favourite items that run out in a little box as an aid memoir so as to be able to replace them in 12 months. It will be interesting as to what I do replace and what I decide is no longer deemed vital.

I will of course replace vital items for instance my moisturiser from Lancome contains a sun block and being fair of face and blue eyed, I need that and have nothing else that could do. So that will be replaced when it needs to be, although there is Christmas coming up, so I might ask for some from Santa.

So apart from the mental anguish on finding something else to self soothe, it has all gone really well. I must find some Autumn pursuits, I think chestnut hunting will be on my list to do very soon.