Friday 30 September 2011


Fennel is very popular in our house.  We seem to go through the seeds (or fruit if I'm being pedantic) at a rate of knots. Whenever I see a bulb, I'll buy it with great intentions for recipes. However, the temptation is always too great and it is inevitably eaten raw in slices stolen from the fridge during illicit raids.

I decided that it would make sense to try & grow some fennel but as you can see I've had limited success...

So we continue to buy it on a fairly regular basis instead. In the past week we have not only eaten handfuls of seeds straight from the jar but also...

made fennel tea by adding hot water to crushed seeds,

mixed fennel with garlic & salt & sprinkled on roast potatoes 10 minutes before the end of their cooking time

& baked flat breads with olive oil and fennel seeds.

As well as being delicious, fennel is also meant to be good for the digestion so drinking fennel liqueur is, of course, purely medicinal...

Fennel is also rumoured to be an aphrodisiac...(When I mentioned this to Mr TH he laughed & said he hadn't noticed it was.)

I also discovered that fennel is related to Hemlock...maybe we should cut down on our fennel intake next week!

Thursday 29 September 2011

Jelly Bag

To my great relief, it is Quince Jelly making time again (although much earlier this year). Relief because we are on the very last jar from 2010...

Having sourced a new supply of quinces (Japanese), I was ready to start making. (BIG thank you to the lovely man round the corner at Number 3 for letting me raid his garden in return for a few jars of the jelly).

One quarter of my haul which I'll leave on the table as long as possible because we love the smell of them...

Unfortunately my jelly bag had seen better days, I looked in some shops & baulked at the price. I'd made the previous bag from an old pillowcase, so I looked around for some suitable fabric.

Whilst looking for books in a local charity shop I spotted these, erm, not so attractive items...

...but at 25p each, there was a bargain to be had.

At home, radio on, tea poured, I snipped & sewed & created a new & rather lacy jelly bag. Mr TH pointed out that it looked a bit like some strange, new-fangled form of ladies underwear... I could see what he meant... I washed it & gingerly hung it on the line to dry- what would the neighbours think?!

But I can fit lots of quinces in it & at 50p it's a bargain! When it's full of cooked quinces, I'll hang it on a piece of wood (bit of old shelf) between 2 chairs. I've used this piece of wood as a jelly bag hanger for over 10 years now, it has strict instructions scrawled on it.

Let the jelly making begin!

Monday 26 September 2011

Peanut Butter

We'd run out of peanut butter. It's not something that I often eat but yesterday I really fancied some toast with peanut butter. Mr TH quite likes peanut butter too.

So we had no peanut butter but we did have 2 packets of salted peanuts.

We decided to make our own.

Stage One consisted of locating, cleaning, then trying to remember how to put all the bits of the food processor back together again.

Stage Two, one packet of peanuts in & blitz to crumbs

Stage Three, carry on blitzing (the mixture was now clumping in to a ball)

Stage Four, after what seemed like ages (a few minutes) the mixture seemed much smoother and had a sheen to it. We had smooth peanut butter. I like my peanut butter really crunchy, so...

Stage Five, remove mix from machine then add second packet of peanuts to food processor- reduce to crumbs

Stage Six, mix both lots together.

We had about 2 jars of crunchy peanut butter.

It looked like peanut butter, it tasted like peanut butter but knowing that it had cost us less than £1 made it somehow taste even better...

Knowing how easy & cheap it is to make, I won't feel guilty if I need to use it to remove oil/tar from clothing. (Massage in to the stain, rinse and repeat until oil/tar has gone, then wash as usual- it's brilliant!)

Next time we're going to splash out & do a mix of almonds, cashews & peanuts (this won't be used for stain removal though!)

Sunday 25 September 2011

Unexpected Happy Moment

Walking to the end of the road to get more milk, I was greeted by a glorious blaze of autumn colour...

 Autumn is here & winter is on the way...

...the list of 'Wintery things to look forward to' grows.

Friday 23 September 2011

Lemon Guilt

Lemons are wonderful things, I’ve tried to grow my own but haven’t the patience, the sun or enough indoor space to do them justice.  

So lemons will always appear on my shopping list but I still feel incredibly guilty about the fact that they are far from local. To make up for this air-mile-guilt I try hard to use every last bit of them.

I prefer to buy unwaxed lemons but if there is no choice I soak them in a bowl of warm water with about 1-2 teaspoons of lemon juice or vinegar then scrub to remove the wax. 
If I’m in a hurry I zap them in the microwave on medium heat for about 10-30 seconds to soften the wax & then scrub. (I know that you can also scrub with detergent but that seems sort of wrong as I’m going to be eating it later)

Next I remove the rind, either with a vegetable peeler, zinger or grater. I freeze this in a twist of cling film so that I always have access to ready prepared lemon rind which I use straight from the freezer. I tend to do this with limes and oranges too as recipes rarely seem to use both the rind & juice.  

Then I extract the juice which should be plentiful having been warmed by either the water or microwave. If the lemon is cold I either roll it around in my hands to soften it or zap it in the microwave. The juice can also be frozen, ice cube trays are great for this (I have 4 trays, one for lemon juice, one for egg whites, one for dregs of wine & one for ice cubes!)

If I’m left with half a lemon & the ice cube tray is full, I’ll just slice the lemon & freeze the slices for use in drinks. (To avoid the slices freezing stuck together in one lump, I freeze them flat on a tray & then transfer to a bag)

Finally I’m left with the pithy hulled halves which I tear up & wipe over the sink & taps for an instant descale (we live in a hard water area so seem to spend our lives descaling everything...) I often leave the lemon hulls on for a bit to do their work whilst I do something else then return later to rinse off. 

washing up from lemon cake...

They’re also good if you sprinkle salt over them & use as a scouring pad for really dirty copper or brass (always test a small area first if unsure)

One of my friends always rubs her nails with the hulls as she says that it helps to whiten her nails...

My lemon guilt is still deep so I’d love to know if there are any other uses for the leftover pith?

Thursday 22 September 2011

Last Minute Escape

Emma from Silverpebble rang, she needed to escape, she wanted to try out Pomona's Little Cottage Comforts B&B did I want to go too?

We spent a few hours in Whitstable being tempted by the shops.

The sun shone so Emma stoically but gingerly, put one foot in the sea- I declined.

For lunch we ate fish & chips, liberally salted & dripping with vinegar.

The thunder clouds gathered so we quickly headed for Rifleman's Cottage.

There we met the lovely Pomona. (It was good to put a face to a name- also my first blog meet up!)

We sat by the fire & talked & talked...

We drank wine & talked some more.

We read.

We ate far too much gorgeous food.

We relaxed...(so much so that this out of focus photo sums up the evening)

The accommodation was great.

The next morning after a delicious breakfast (fantastic bacon!) Mr P gave us a tour of the permaculture system in the garden & attached land. As ever, I had 'garden envy'.

We even came home with a tray of apples, pears & plums from their garden.

It was pure escapism- Thank you Pomona & Mr P! (& Emma for suggesting it)

Saturday 17 September 2011

After the storm...the harvest

The blusteriness of the past few days has subsided & left everything in the garden battered. Today we had torrential rain, brilliant sunshine & then hail. The Japanese Anemones were horizontal so, dodging the raindrops, I brought some inside.

Nipping out to get some milk, I spotted these precious windfalls (Japanese Quince- Chaenomeles) strewn across the pavement.

I shall follow Sue's advice to grate them, add sugar & vodka & then just sit tight & wait until Christmas to sample...

Messy Multi-Tasking

I once tried to teach myself to juggle but was rubbish at it. I like to do one thing at a time and do it well.  This afternoon was set aside for dealing with the bag of apples I'd been given last week. They have been sitting in the corner of the kitchen ever since then attracting very annoying little flies that Mr TH chases round the house trying to squash or hoover up.  Both the flies & Mr TH were driving me nutty, the apples had to be dealt with!

Half were lightly stewed with sultanas & lemon to be added to the freezer so that I can rustle up pies, crumbles, etc with very little effort (I always make about 3 times the amount of crumble mix needed & freeze some so that I can just sprinkle the frozen crumbs onto the frozen fruit & put in the oven- the ultimate lazy pudding!)

The rest of the apples were destined to become chutney.  (We're on the last jar of the 2010 chutney, autumn is nearly here, there will be jacket potatoes & baked hams & so Spiced Apple Chutney is vital) I've made a variety of chutneys (isn't it an odd word?) in my time but keep coming back to this one time and time again- Spiced Apple Chutney from Nigella's Domestic Goddess Book.

I did not feel like a Domestic Goddess whilst making it...for some insane reason I chose to be very green & use the oven for other projects too...

-I sterilised the jars then...

-kneaded some bread dough ready to prove & put in the oven as soon as the jars had been sterilised

-Whilst the bread was in the oven I put the chutney in the jars

-Then noticed that some lemons needing using up so I made 2 lemon cakes

-Weighed out ingredients in to bowl ready to mix & answered the phone a few times before I realised I was 2 eggs short

-Found a small pot of frozen egg whites in the freezer, zapped them in the microwave & added them

 -Cake in oven, pesky flies now collecting around crab apples

-Quick wash of jam pan & shoved crab apples in wet pan to begin crab apple jelly


My afternoon of domestic bliss had turned into a multi-tasking mess, a sink full of washing up, a jelly straining to be set up, complete with 2 more loads of ironing to be done...but at least there is cake to be eaten & the delayed gratification of chutney to be enjoyed by Christmas.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

A Blustery Weekend

One of the many reasons for procrastinating and not finishing September Niece's doll was the weather...

When the weather is sunny as well as blustery (or there's a sparkly sunny frosty day) I feel a great, overly enthusiastic need to get a White Wash on.

My Mum boiled her 'whites' in a large urn on the draining board.  My Grandma boiled & used Reckitts Blue bags but always called them Dolly Blues.  (Even then I loved the packaging-I was a bit ahead of my time!) I wanted to try some again but couldn't find any in the shops.

Whilst reading a Wendyl Nissen book, I discovered that she had experimented with bicarbonate of soda and blue pigment to recreate a 'blue' agent for laundry.  I followed her advice. I've been using the 'Blue' recipe for about 6 months now & still have years worth of blue powder left. I put about a teaspoon of the mix in my fabric conditioner drawer & dilute with water.

I stopped using fabric conditioner a while ago to see what the difference was. Sometimes I'll put a cup of white vinegar in the conditioner drawer to soften clothes but on the whole I usually forget. Putting the vinegar and bicarbonate/blue mix together creates instant excitement- foaming, fizzing bubbles!

Unfortunately I wasn't particularly scientific in my approach so I don't know how much whiter the laundry now is.

The only problem with getting over excited by the laundry is the ironing...

One load on the board , two more to go...

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Sore Throat

I woke up in the middle of the night with a sore throat, then the ears joined in too. I lay there optimistically wondering if it would miraculously clear up all by itself. It didn’t so in the early hours of the morning I padded downstairs to seek out some easy, instant remedies that would provide some relief.  

We were totally out of Echinacea...

I considered a soluble aspirin or paracetamol but then figured that I probably had a pretty empty stomach...

So I reached for the salt.  I dissolved one teaspoon in about an inch of warm water, gargled, swilled & to my relief the edge had been taken off the pain.

Then I considered my ears.  We have a bit of a current oil shortage here at the moment, the only options were chilli oil or Mr TH’s very expensive mega virgin olive oil picked on the fourth Friday of a month with a ‘z’ in it or something. Then I remembered lavender oil which I use for almost everything: burns, spots, rashes, stings, insect bites, headaches, insomnia, etc... I put 1 drop of Lavender oil on a bit of cotton wool & popped it in my ear.

I figure that both remedies were pretty good as I nodded off again pretty quickly.

Today, I still have a sore throat so I’ve been saltwater gargling alternating with Manuka honey eating.

If I still have the sore throat tomorrow I have threatened to try a James Wong recipe that involves drinking the strained juice of a blitzed mixture of a raw onion, ½ chilli, juice of 2 lemons & 1 teaspoon of salt.

Any other instant remedies that might not be quite so anti-social would be much appreciated!

Monday 12 September 2011

Trying to be the very best Auntie I can be...

From reading between the lines, you may have realised that Mr TH & I do not have children... However, on Sunday mornings especially, I can see the positive side. In the meantime I see my role as being the very best Auntie I can possibly be.

Next week it is September Niece’s 7th birthday.  She has dropped some totally unsubtle hints about wanting a rag doll (with sandy blond hair that can be constantly re-styled by her & green eyes & brown eyelashes & a fancy silk dress & another dress for spare & underwear & petticoats with lots of lace, oh & she was to look pretty but she was not to have a ‘silly grin’...) I got the message!

I started work.  I haven’t made a doll for at least 25 years; I dug out a pattern from the back of the box & read the instructions.  I calculated some short cuts...

An hour later I was surrounded by various stuffed limbs, it felt like a cross between Pinocchio and the Hammer House of Horrors.  

I had a cuppa, sewed the limbs together, attached the head (a child’s sock) & thought about the face.
I decided to fast forward to the hair, which looked fun.  

It was a nightmare!  In the end Mr TH silently, patiently de-tangled the knot of wool that I had flung to the floor during my strop.  Then he found a piece of wood from the shed for me to wind the newly de-tangled wool around. Subdued, I sewed the doll wig together then attached it to her head. 

I ignored her for a few days but began to feel sorry for the faceless doll before me.  I found the required green cotton & began to sew...

All in all, I find some doll’s faces pretty scary. I considered many different options & got to work trying hard to follow the strict instructions I’d been given by September Niece.

Her face was finished, she looked very serious (but there was ‘no silly grin’...) I celebrated with more tea then made clothes for her.

Monetary cost- about £5 for the stuffing and wool (I already had all the other materials)

Time Cost- about a day and a half

Emotional Cost...will be eclipsed if September Niece likes the doll

Friday 9 September 2011

Cleaning... one of my least favourite activities. Ok, it is sometimes very satisfying when something is very grubby but it's the never-ending day-to-day stuff that I dislike.

I used to have a very good excuse for avoiding it; each time I donned the rubber gloves & armed myself with the spray cleaner it wouldn't be long before I started wheezing (& no, it was not the sheer volume of physical effort being put into the cleaning!) I'd also get a bit headachy. It began to dawn on me that maybe it was the contents of the spray bottles that were the problem.  

So I began to look for a solution, literally! I consulted some old fashioned books & pondered. I tried a variety of different things but the best for me is one scribbled down on the back of an old envelope whilst watching Kim & Aggie on TV some time ago...

General Cleaning Fluid
Add the following to a spray bottle and shake thoroughly...

500ml water

1 tablespoon of Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda in USA)

½ teaspoon of Washing-up-Liquid (very hard to measure so I guess)

2 tablespoons of Lemon Juice

5-10 drops of Essential Oil for fragrance if wanted (at the moment I am using Lavender and Rosemary but I have added Lemon, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Orange)
I used to add a teaspoon of Borax but you can't buy it anymore.  The Borax substitute seems to be Bicarbonate of Soda...

Shake before using (added sneaky exercise!) 

I label the bottle with the recipe so that it’s really easy to make up a new batch when needed.  

I’ve been doing this for at least 8 years now & it works for me. Here’s what I like about it...

It’s good at getting everyday gunk off surfaces especially sinks, basins & the hob. If I want to clean wood with it I dilute with an additional 500ml of water & wring the cloth out very thoroughly. To wash floors,  I splosh some into a bucket with water (& add extra lemon juice if the floor is as sticky as it was after some of this year’s Elderflower Champagne made a bid for freedom.. .)  I wouldn’t stand up & declare that I could eat my dinner off the surfaces or floor but then who does?  (I prefer a plate!)

I love the fact that this cleaning fluid is really easy to make as most of the ingredients are already lurking in the kitchen anyway. 

It smells much better than the spray cleaners I used to use. (& I'm in total control of the fragrance)

It makes me smug to think how much money I’ve saved over the last 8 years. 

Best of all, no more wheezing or headaches! 

So no more excuses for me...

Thursday 8 September 2011

Grandma's Buttons

Spoiler alert- Please do not read this post if you suffer from Koumpounophobia! (button phobia)

When I was a little girl (oh so many years ago...) I used to love going round to my Grandma’s house.  One of things I’d do was to gleefully rummage in the cupboards to find her button tin...

Once found, I’d open the lid & run my fingers through the buttons.  Then I’d tip them all out on to her 1950s swirly carpet & sort them.  There were so many ways to sort; colour, size, type of material, like/don’t like, what they might have come from, how old they were...I’d imagine the clothes they’d come from & my Grandma would describe the clothes and people she remembered. 

That tin amused me for many a long rainy afternoon, the gas fire hissing in the background & the promise of potato cakes with butter for tea.

Thirty years on and the tin and all its contents are now mine.  I’ve added more buttons to them; my other Grandma’s, mine, my mother-in-law’s, boot-sale and charity shop finds. 

One rainy afternoon in a fit of nostalgia, I sorted them into colours...

Then I started to create...

I decorated lavender bags I’d made from thrifted fabrics.

I did some trading to get a ‘garden’ necklace from silverpebble.  I wanted to include a transparent flowery button from the tin and a shell given to me by my (then) tiny niece. I was particularly thrilled by the addition of a tiny pewter bee and a silver clay pomegranate.

Winter arrived, Mr TH complained about a draught under his office door, I made him a sunny yellow draught excluder to warm him and cheer him up as he hates winter. I finished off the end with buttons. Mr TH raised an eyebrow but he does seem to use it.

I had a separate pile of favourite buttons, they were the quite special, unusual, very beautiful buttons.  Another rainy afternoon arrived, it was a Sunday. There was a good film on TV, I settled down & began to sew a few buttons on to an old duvet cover.

I got a bit carried away...

It’s nearly finished but not quite.  Despite that I’ve put it on our bed.  Each time I see those buttons I remember the afternoons with Grandma & I smile.

This winter I will sew around the edges with coloured thread to pick out some of my favourite button colours.

I'm also stock piling woollen fabric and tweed to make a wintery quilt held together by tufted quilting through buttons.

A friend told me how he’d made hair bobbles for his daughter by threading colourful buttons on to thin ribbons & tying them round a pony tail band so that there were 2 strands of buttons that jangled each time she moved.  I’m planning some of these for September Niece who has long hair.

But I’ll still have lots of buttons left...
Any other ideas for creative ways to use buttons?

Tuesday 6 September 2011


I'm always one to try out new foods (this is a polite way to say 'greedy') I've eaten a range of flowers including nasturtiums. They look pretty in salads but they do remind me of eating peppery polyester sheeting (or what it might be like to eat it. I haven't actually tried it!)

Anyway, earlier on this spring, I'd seen some interesting ideas for nasturtiums in a favourite book, Domestic Goddess on a Budget by Wendyl Nissen, & had promised myself to try them out.

First up was Nasturtium Pesto, I didn't have the right amounts of ingredients that Wendyl suggested.  I winged it.  Into the blender went about 2 handfuls of roughly chopped nasturtium leaves, about half a handful of walnuts, a big clove of squashed garlic, 1 red chilli finely chopped (Thank you to Mr Pebble for the trading, 12 of our Victorian Cambridge White bricks for a chilli plant) & about half a cup of oil (I mixed olive & sunflower).  I whizzed it up, it looked green, very green.

I tasted it & promptly re-named it 'Flamin' Nasturtium Pesto'.  I added about a cup of parsley, my tongue calmed down.  The pesto was lurid green, peppery, earthy, watercressy, leafy & had real attitude!
Emma from silverpebble came round, she thought it looked green too.

We ate it with spaghetti & lots of fancy local cheese.  It was spicy, it was good.

I'm going to put it in the freezer in tiny pots so that I can get it out in the depths of winter & be reminded of summer.

... and still the nasturtiums kept growing.

So I collected the fallen seeds because the next recipe was for pickled nasturtium seeds.  I have heard them likened to capers & we like capers a lot so I followed Wendyl's instructions as best I could...

Instruction Number One
leave ripe seeds outside in the sun to dry for 2 days (this could be tricky...) I put them on the windowsill to soak up the grey clouds & reflected light from raindrops

Instruction Number Two
dust with a little salt- I did that but worried that Wendyl and I might have different ideas of 'little'?

Instruction Number Three  put in a sterilised jar & cover with hot vinegar, cool then seal.  (I managed that bit!)

I called Mr TH in to admire my handiwork.  We contemplated them as they floated around the jar, suspended in vinegar...

There was a pause, Mr TH cleared his throat,

'erm, they look a bit like mini brains don't they?' he said nervously.

We both turned to look at them again,

Mr TH looked at me, I looked at Mr TH...

There was an air of unspoken horror as we contemplated his statement.

I hid them in the cupboard.

I'll report back when we're brave enough to try them, probably sometime in the new year. We might have forgotten by then.

Monday 5 September 2011

My Etsy shop opens for business...

Another day at the computer,  the sewing machine is sulking but, at long last...(drum roll)

I have opened my Etsy shop! 

I've been making quilts since I was a teenager. Over the last 20 or so years I've tried traditional quilts, hand sewn quilts, appliqued quilts, simple quilts, complicated quilts and random quilts. I like making the random ones, maybe because I like an instant result more than a hand sewn masterpiece. Then again, I could just get straight to the point & admit that I'm impatient!

Every member of my family has at least one, if not two, quilts. I've started to give them away as presents and yet still I make them...Mr TH has lost track of them, our laundry cupboard is groaning!

This is my current favourite as it's full of promise for the upcoming season...

Then I was inspired by a pile of tea towels so I created a striped one...

Then I spotted some chicken material & couldn't resist...

Nor could my sister, she snaffled it before it got to Etsy...

In total, I have listed 4 quilts on Etsy in my Thrifty Household shop.  I'm pretty new to this so have been fretting over pricing & posting & policies & everything...  What do you think?
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