Thursday, 29 October 2015

British Wildlife

I've read no end of articles lately saying how endangered our wildlife is here. It's predicted that hedgehogs will be extinct within ten years which is quite scary. We had one visiting our garden every evening which we loved as they're funny to watch, listening to them sniffing around. Not only that but we have A LOT of slugs in our garden and they relished them! We always keep Barry away when we knew the hedgehog was in the garden as I know many hedgehogs are attacked by dogs (which ultimately is instinct for a dog). Sadly it's now been a month since our prickly friend visited us and I believe he/she has probably been run over in the village. Our village is quiet in terms of traffic but I've seen a number of poor hedgehogs by the side of the road (sadly they're not very road-savvy in rural places).
There are lots of other British wildlife species that suffer too so hopefully a few of my photos will help refresh our memories on why British wildlife is so important. If ever I get a smallholding I'd like to dedicate an area of land just to wildlife. It doesn't take much (most of us already have feeders, wildflowers etc. in the garden to give wildlife a helping hand) and it's nice to know you're doing something for nature. I always buy my wild bird feed from RSPB too as all profits go straight back into conservation of British bird species. They also have a fantastic shop if anyone gets a chance to pop by, they have some brilliant Christmas present ideas and their prices are reasonable. A link to the shop is here.
Anyway, here's a few photos I've taken over the years in various places around the country. There's still lots of wildlife I'd love to see, to name a few;
  • Deer - especially during rutting season, the stags' antlers are so impressive
  • Red squirrel - I'm yet to see one in the wild!
  • Golden Eagle - planning a trip to Scotland next year to see these magnificent birds
  • Water Vole - I find these little creatures fascinating and have seen them before in the wild but sadly not to get a photo
I must get out with the camera more :-)
This is still one of my favourite photos - I took this at RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes, Cambridgeshire. I'm sure the Kestrel is gesturing her warning with that mouse!
This took a lot of patience and a lot of sitting very still!
I love this frosty photo
Coming in to land
Encouraging my photo subjects with some tasty mealworms!
Not fantastic photo but these Hares were quite a long way off in the field behind our house
Beautiful Red Admiral Butterfly
Scandinavian visitors; Waxwings. The first time I've ever seen these beautiful birds and they were perched in our front tree!
What is your favourite British wildlife species?
What wildlife visitors do you get to your garden?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Family Visits

We had a nice weekend back in Cambridgeshire going here there and everywhere (or that's what it felt like!), though I wasn't particularly well with a nasty throat infection. Jack's parents have a new log burner in their new house and I have to say I loved snuggling up in front of it with the dog on my lap. I wish we had a real fire! We spent some time with Jack's parents as well as visiting some friends for a meal out in Ely on Saturday night. Jack also played rugby on Saturday afternoon and I took Barry to watch; he kept licking the backs of the rugby players legs as they stood on the side-line (Barry that is, not Jack!) and he got a lot of attention. He was very happy when Jack limped over to see us at the end of the match (he played front row, somewhere he doesn't usually play and now has the shoulder bruises to prove it).

Not a lot has happened just recently hence the lack of blog posts. The clocks have gone back which now means Barry's morning walkies are just as the sun is rising, but his evening walkies are in the dark. I invested in a little LED light that fits on his collar so I can see him bouncing around ahead of me on a walk and I also arm myself with a good torch when walking around our village as there are only three streetlamps. It's lovely wrapping up warm in gloves and a hat though and my signature pink cheeks and nose are back with a vengeance for these colder months (apparently means you're healthy, or so my mum always says?). I hope we get a crisp fresh Autumn and Winter as opposed to a mild and miserable one, I love frosty mornings. I've also enjoyed cooking more pies, stews and soups now that Autumn is here. I love comforting and warming food and you can't beat a good stew and dumplings, with a dollop of mash and cabbage on the side.

A recent chicken pie I made
We visited my grandparents in Bedfordshire on our way home on Sunday and my Nan did a wonderful (and huge) roast dinner. Her Yorkshire Puddings are famed, as are her roasts as she always does far too much but always warns us not to eat breakfast that day so believes it is justified (I think it's more she's never heard of the term 'portion control')! We had lovely roast beef and she sent us home with half the contents of her freezer (frozen runner beans from her garden, a beef joint, gammon joint, whole chicken and a sirloin steak for Jack. Should keep us going for a while). I always try and refuse and tell her to use what she buys but she buys for the purpose of giving it away to family and if that's what makes her happy in her old age then so be it. We'll have some lovely dinners out of what she has given us and she always asks me to email a photo of our food when we cook it! At the age of 81 she's mastered the Ipad and is fantastic at sending emails and taking photos. It's lovely to be able to stay in touch and send photos to each other when I don't get to visit much anymore. They certainly enjoyed seeing Barry too and he got a lot of fuss. He also had all successful car journeys this weekend too which is a result, happy travelling puppy = relieved owners.
My wonderful Nan (I'm on the right, my brother's girlfriend Jenna on the left)
Nan's famous super-size Yorkshire Pudding!

Another busy week ahead in terms of work, which is causing me a lot of headaches at the moment. I'm not all that happy at the moment with changes happening due to the recent acquisition of our small company by a global giant PLC company. My boss is now leaving and it means a lot of worry about who (if anyone) will replace him, what my role will be like when the new person comes in etc. I'm in a total tizz as to what to do which means my brain spends most of the time at work or at home in a total spin. I've always been very happy at this company for the past 3 years so I'm not enjoying all the uncertainty of what's going to happen, what do I want to do (do I stay or do I go I sing quietly...). Life is never simple, I know that, but work is such a major part of your life surely being happy doing what you do and where you do it is the biggest priority?

I think I need a choccy bar at lunch!

Em x

Monday, 19 October 2015

Weekend; So Many Jobs, So Little Time...

I love weekends when we don't have any 'going out and about' plans, so that we can make the most of time at home. We usually look forward to that as it means a bit of relaxing after we've both had long weeks at work, but the jobs at home seem to be mounting up so it feels like we didn't actually sit down all weekend!

I was glad the weather was dry at the weekend and the sun did pop out and say hello a couple of times over the last two days too. We drove Barry to the next village and up to a big car park where the Ridgeway is (it's about a twenty minute walk to the Ridgeway from our house and we were keen to explore another part of it), he wasn't best pleased on the short ten minute car journey but seemed to think it wasn't so bad when rewarded with a nice long walk, muddy puddles and meeting lots of new dogs. It was windy up on the Ridgeway but lovely to see so many people walking, cycling and even in pony traps! We met a lovely couple walking their two Irish Wolfhounds, they really are gorgeous dogs. Having just met a couple of ponies Barry wasn't sure if these Wolfhounds were too equine-related and he hung back while one came and leaned his head against my chest (they're so tall!). We continued through an underpass (under the A34) where lovely paintings and rhymes about The Ridgeway can be found on the walls.

We met a few cyclists and a bouncy Beagle puppy and his owner too and then Barry found the muddiest puddles possible to run and splash through.

Part Jack Russell, part Gazelle? Barry bounds everywhere! Proven in slo-mo!
Eventually we headed back to the car after a good few miles walk with a happy puppy in tow. Barry was much happier on the short car journey home and realises the car isn't so bad when he gets an exciting walk at the other end. As soon as we were home I decided to give Barry a bath. The 'Bath' word is worse than the 'Walk' word in our house, Barry goes mental at the mention of a bath, not running the other way but in excitement! He must be one of very few dogs that cries in excitement for a bath or shower. A short while later we had one clean dog and one soaking wet owner (he's a wriggler when I'm trying to dry him).
Barry excited for a bath!
I spent the rest of Saturday helping Jack with the shed building. This is the first weekend in a while that Jack hasn't been working and I think he's pleased with what he's managed to achieve with the shed. I was on painting duty and also did some gardening once I was done. By the end of the day we were flagging from all the fresh air and hard work so rewarded ourselves with dinner out at Nandos - I had a free whole chicken that we shared with some sides courtesy of my loyalty card after nearly a year of saving the rewards up so it was a very cheap and satisfying meal out.
Painting the sides before they were fixed together
Yesterday I just seemed to have a million things to do and not enough time. I planned to get started with doing my pickled onions for this year (got a 4kg sack of pickling onions from the farm shop for £6, pretty good value and cheaper than on our local market), also have some apples to cook up and make into crumbles, I wanted to make a nice pasta sauce for Jack's lunch at work this week and I also wanted to make myself another soup for the week. In the end I only managed to do the pasta sauce and make a soup as I got side-tracked tidying the kitchen cupboards and cooking a joint of pork and a whole chicken that were in the freezer and needed using up. That's our dinners sorted all of this week; tonight we're having one of my favourite 'sloppy' dinners: sliced pork warmed up in my homemade pork and apple gravy with mash and lots of veg (I'm veg obsessed, I'd eat a plate of veg with gravy any day!). The crackling on the pork was really good (I'd get the sack if it wasn't!) and we devoured that yesterday with some lovely veg and little Yorkshire puds, but in my haste at doing so many things at once I forgot to cook potatoes (silly woman).
Next task is to get pickling...!
I made a nice vegetable soup; pretty much made the recipe up though I did take some inspiration from my new soup book but had to work with the veg I had:
2 carrots
2 parsnips
1/4 portion of a large swede
1 white onion
1 leek
White wine vinegar
A few small fresh snips of rosemary
1 1/2 pints vegetable stock
I fried the diced onion and leek in a dash of white wine vinegar first to soften them and then added the rest of the ingredients (all chopped up) along with stock and left to bubble away. I fished out the rosemary stalks, seasoned and then blended the soup. It's really tasty, I think it's the parsnip that I can taste the most and it's a lovely yellowy orange colour. I bought a cheap pumpkin at the weekend too so I can try and make a pumpkin soup next. For the last few years I've always cooked a sausage, sage and pumpkin casserole at Halloween and it's delicious, the recipe is here if anyone is interested.
I had planned on doing some Christmas card making again this weekend but ran out of time. I did manage to make a start on decorating an old notice board; it's going to be hung in the spare room where I've got a bit of a sewing/knitting theme going on anyway so decided to decorate the edge of the notice boards with two old tape measures. They might actually come in handy for measuring things. I'm in the process of making some little heart shaped pin cushions to hang on the board too, made with some vintage-inspired and sewing-themed fabric. Hopefully I'll have a finished photo to show you soon.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Weekend in Manchester

I can safely say I've had enough of car journeys for a while; it seems I spent a large portion of my weekend sat in a car! I left work for home on Friday evening and got stuck in traffic for 3 hours! We were all totally stuck while the road was closed and so until it reopened there was nowhere to go; cue a bit of dusting in the car while I waited for 3 hours to do my usual 9 mile journey home (yes just nine miles and it took 3 hours, did I mention that?), thankfully everyone involved in the accident seems to be ok according to the news. We then spent 3.5 hours driving up to Manchester and the roads were kind to us which was nice, though the journey back from Manchester yesterday wasn't so nice and it took us 5 hours, mainly just due to the sheer volume of traffic on the motorways it seems.

Anyway, enough moaning about Britain's roads! We had a great time in Manchester and it was nice to visit a new place even though I feel like we only saw a very small part of the city as it's so huge. The England Vs Uruguay rugby game at the Etihad Stadium was good, great atmosphere despite the fact we're already out of the World Cup and we had fantastic seats too (should be for the price - honestly, I'm setting Jack a budget next year as he's spent a fortune on rugby tickets this year!). After the game it was a 1 1/2 mile walk into Manchester's city centre but felt nice to stretch our legs anyway and we rewarded ourselves with drinks in a bar before getting a taxi back to our hotel later on.

Yesterday morning we decided to check out of the hotel and drive back into Manchester for an early lunch and the boys had fun being big kids in the England Rugby fan zone (bungee cords, virtual kicking, you name it). It was also nice to see more of the city centre in the daylight as it has some impressive architecture. We then had our nightmare journey home on the busy motorways but eventually made it home by 6pm where our excited puppy was waiting for us having been baby-sat all weekend by my brother and his girlfriend. I'm not sure who had more fun, my brother or Barry! Sadly despite warnings of Barry's latest 'trick' the new doormat did not survive and a big chunk from the corner has now been chewed with bits of rubber and bristle hiding underneath the now-frayed mat (was that Barry attempting to hide the evidence or my brother?), so I have yet again purchased a new door mat and I've threatened to duct-tape Barry into it and roll him down a big hill should he dare to chew this new one! He's never been a chewer (I think Jack Russell Terriers have enough going on without adding 'chief chewer' to their job descriptions), but he's reaching his adolescent stage and is testing his boundaries (or the quality of my mat purchases?) at the moment. He's like a teenager on walks; listening to commands after the third repetition and only needing us for lifts to see his mates (walkies) and food! We can't complain though, he really has been a good puppy (most of the time!).
Cute when he's asleep!
My brother's girlfriend bought me a beautiful vegetable crate, I've been after one for ages and Jack won't let me buy any because he says he'll make some for me. Jenna also bought me an orchid, my first ever orchid. I've heard they're not easy to look after so I do hope I don't kill it! I have a very good relationship with my house plants and haven't yet managed to kill one (except one that blew off the windowsill), so I hope I can keep the orchid happy too.
Finally, a photo of Barry this morning as happy as ever racing around the field on our morning walk, with the sun rising in the distance. It's a beautiful day here today, chilly but sunny, which is just how I like Autumn days to be. Best dig out my gloves and hat.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Thursday's Thoughts

Thought 1: Today's Ramblings
It's Thursday and I'm on the countdown to the weekend; we're off to Manchester to watch England Vs Uruguay Rugby match at the Etihad Stadium. Despite England's demise in this world cup we're still there to cheer them on and have a good time. It's my first time visiting Manchester, actually my first time visiting Northwest England in fact. Whitby on the Northeast coast is the furthest North I've ever been in the UK and that more than proves to myself that I must do more exploring in Great Britain! I keep nagging Jack to take me on holiday to Scotland; I'd love to see Edinburgh and then head West out to the Isle of Mull etc. Scotland looks beautiful. I've also never been to the Lake District despite my Dad raving about his walking holidays there every year. Now we have a dog we have no excuse but to go on some lovely walking holidays and explore the beautiful British countryside :-) Have you all got nice plans for the weekend? Weather looks much brighter and drier, yippee!

Thought 2: Communication
Barry loves a conversation, which is good news because Jack will more than vouch for the fact that I can natter away at times (I blame a very quiet working environment, therefore it's not my fault I come home and rabbit on for a good hour to get it out of my system). Barry listens attentively to our every word as if he's trying his hardest to understand what we're saying. He's perfected the art of the 'head tilt' when listening to ensure he looks extra cute, sneezing and nodding occasionally if I go on a bit (I think in the hope that the conversation will end sooner and end with a tasty treat). I chat away to him when I'm busy cooking dinner or hanging up the washing and he's always sat by my feet staring intently at my face. Sometimes I'm not even talking and he's still staring intently as if trying to communicate some message to me telepathically; the other day I sat on the sofa watching the news and he sat on my lap with his face inches from my own and then he just stares...and stares... and stares. I look around him and so he biffs me in the face with his paw to get my attention. Anyone else's dogs stare you out at times? He's such a funny character and very entertaining; he had us in stitches the other night when I came down the stairs in my new waterproof trousers (for dog walks on these cold wet days). Despite buying the smallest pair I could find they still look more like dungarees on me and Barry thought I was some sort of alien as I made my way into the living room. He then proceeded to chase me around the room barking at said swishy-noised trousers. Anyway, here's a snap of him sat on Jack's lap and again Barry is trying his utmost to understand what Jack is saying!

Thought 3: Sunrise
I've never been one to stay in bed, always choosing to get up nice and early so as not to waste the day. Now we have a dog lie-ins are a thing of the past (Barry yawns loudly downstairs to ensure we don't forget he's there), but there's nothing like an extra early Sunday morning walk in the countryside, so that when you return you still have the whole day ahead of you. We have some beautiful sunrises where we live as our back garden faces Northeast-ish (has its good and bad points), but with the recent rain we've woken to either rainy skies or thick fog. This morning was the exception of the week and after a very chilly night it was beautifully clear and still. I managed to get a photo of the sunrise, what lovely colours it was :-)

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Autumnal Feeling; This Calls For Soup!

Hello from a rainy West Berkshire!

Autumn is definitely here and I'm amazed at just how quickly the leaves are changing colour and falling here. I do think Autumn is a very pretty season, it's probably my favourite season actually for the fact that it's acceptable to wrap up in jumpers and boots, and eat comforting homemade soups and stews. I'm a big lover of proper British food and relish coming home to the smells of the slow-cooker creating a tasty tender stew for us.

I also love making warming soups with all manner of different veg (usually I buy one main ingredient and the rest is leftover veg in the fridge so they work out cheap to make). I got a soup book the other day and it has some great recipes, all very easy to follow too. I didn't own any soup books so this was my splurge this month! It was only £8 when I got it to the tills too, so I'm pleased at that :-)

I love celeriac and it's now in season so I decided I wanted to make a celeriac and leek soup yesterday. Here were the ingredients I used;

  • Celeriac £1.30 (when did celeriac get so pricey!?)
  • Leek (reduced to £0.30 in the supermarket)
  • Carrot (leftover in fridge)
  • Onion (£0.60 for a giant one at the local farm shop - half went in soup and half went in a cottage pie I made last night too)
  • Fresh thyme (from the garden)
  • 2 Bay Leaves (my bay plant in the garden isn't quite big enough to start stealing leaves yet)
  • Salt & cracked black pepper (lots of pepper, I love it in soups!)
  • 1 1/2 pints chicken stock

When I say a giant onion, I really do mean a giant onion - I'd never seen one this size!

Anyway, I loosely followed one of the celeriac soup recipes I found in my new book but I like making it up as I go along too. I think the recipe wanted me to fry the onions and leek in butter first but I was trying to make this soup as healthy as possible so just chopped everything up and let it cook away in the stock for half hour on a medium heat. It probably didn't even need that long but I was busy making cottage pie portions too.

Everything chopped up and thrown in
I removed the Thyme stalks and bay leaves once it had finished cooking and then blended the soup. It's quite thick but that's the way I like my soups. It tastes lovely and I've got a flask of it today at work.
Celeriac has a nice creamy flavour as it is but I can see why people like adding cream to these kind of soups. I'm lactose intolerant however so no cream for me! I'm looking forward to making some more soups now that soup weather is here. I'd like to try a pumpkin soup next, but can't decide what else to cook it with... carrot? Any suggestions welcome! I made a lovely parsnip and apple soup last year which was really tasty and froze well too, so I must have a go at that seeing as I have tonnes of apples in the cold cupboard from Jack's Parent's trees.
Em x

Monday, 5 October 2015

Crafting Weekend

Morning All,

Hope everyone is ok on this dreary Monday morning, looks like there's a lot of rain on the way over the next couple of days but at least the sun shone for us on Saturday.

Jack headed back to Cambridge this weekend with his friend, so that they could go and play rugby. It had been a while since Jack had played (he's only played a couple of times since fracturing his ankle last season!) but they had fun (no injuries, hurrah) and won 56-0, a lot LOT better than England managed on Saturday night. I am gutted that England are out of the world cup, especially as we're off to watch them play Uruguay in Manchester this coming weekend, but fingers crossed they'll still play a good game and give a good fight. Go England! :-)

My friend stayed for the weekend and we enjoyed a girly weekend that mostly consisted of a lot of nattering, some crafting and diving into a box of Milk Tray while watching Strictly and the Rugby(without the boys there to steal the chocs!). Rosie brought bags full of craft supplies and along with mine we were a little overrun on our small dining table. I just upgraded my phone and the new one is so slippery, so my first crafting project of the weekend was to crochet a simple sleeve for said slippery phone. It fits nice and snugly and it was good for me to practice trying to keep much better tension when crocheting (something I've not been very good at). I'm happy with it anyway and it does the job, especially when my phone is rattling around next to keys in my handbag. The new phone is brilliant too, the camera is amazing which is what I tend to be after in a phone these days because I can't lug my SLR camera everywhere. I was due an upgrade and managed to get a fantastic deal through my network (proves that you should always cancel first and they'll come begging for your custom) and so upgraded to the iPhone 6S. I used to hate iPhones and swear I wouldn't jump on the bandwagon but eventually did and I have to admit they are fantastic phones and so easy to use. Dad's happy as I'm giving him my old iPhone!

My finished phone sleeve
We next moved onto making some Christmas cards (sorry for mentioning that word but I'm secretly excited and trying to be organised) and I had fun with some glitter too. I've got lots more cards to try and make and I'm determined not to buy any this year to try and use some of my craft supplies up - I've banned myself from buying anymore at the moment (how long will that last...?). I also want to make some gift tags when I get a chance.
Christmas card making

A couple of cards I made
It was a lovely weekend anyway and flew past (how is it Monday already?). Jack arrived back from his Parents' Sunday afternoon and got straight into shed building, weather and light is now against him so he needs to get it built fast.
I did some gardening late afternoon on Sunday to tidy up plants that have almost finished flowering and give the beds a bit of a weed. I harvested the rest of our potatoes - not brilliant but hopefully they'll taste ok. I picked lots of sage leaves too and I'm going to try drying them in the airing cupboard; has anyone tried this? I hear it works well, but advice is welcome!
Sage is my favourite herb :-)
I also took some cuttings from my Rosemary plant. Hopefully they'll root, I've taken plenty just in case and read in one of my new books that it takes about two months for them to root.
Decorating plant labels just because I think they look nice in the ground!
It was so chilly last night as the wind picked up and brought this rain over us. Barry is a fantastic hot water bottle though and I took him upstairs with me while I watched Downton (he fell straight asleep so he's obviously not a fan!). Jack came to hook him out of our bed a couple of hours later though and took him back downstairs to his own bed much to Barry's dismay! He'd love to stay upstairs with us but he also loves his bed downstairs and is usually found sprawled out in a tangled mess of blanket and little Jack Russell legs with a toy close by!

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Throwback Thursday: Photos From Previous France Holidays

Just a few photos from previous trips to France showing what a beautiful place it is. Sadly the camera hasn't come out much since, must make more time for photography!

Cathedral Saint-Julien, Le Mans
Sunset over the house
Chateau, Saumur
Sunflower field next door
Chateau & Loire River, Saumur (this time in winter)
Cadre Noir Performance, Saumur