Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Strawberry Jam

This year, much to my disappointment, our strawberry plants did not provide us with a bountiful harvest. We only managed to pick five!
Thankfully, our local greengrocer has had a plentiful supply of tasty Scottish strawberries at a very reasonable price which have provided us with some fruity deliciousness over the Summer months.
Is it just me or have this year's strawberries been particularly flavoursome? Tasting like strawberries should taste. Maybe it's been down to the extra sunshine we've been having. I'd like to think so.
The strawberry season is now coming to an end, so in order for us to be able to enjoy them for just a little while longer I decided to turn some into jam.
I used to think jam making was some kind of magical art, created in farmhouse kitchens and involving lots of specialist equipment, but I've recently discovered it is far more straight forward than I first thought. In fact it really isn't complicated at all. Just as long as you don't spill it over the kitchen work surface - that's when things can get very sticky!
To make this jam you need 950g strawberries, 800g granulated sugar and the juice of one lemon. This makes approximately three jars.
Hull and slice the strawberries and then crush them in the bottom of a large stockpot or heavy based saucepan using a potato masher.
Add the lemon juice and sugar then transfer to the stove top gradually increasing the temperature and stirring regularly until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a rolling boil.
Allow to boil for around ten minutes then transfer (carefully) into sterilised jars.
Just delicious served with freshly baked buttered scones and even better outdoors in the sunshine.
J. X

Friday, 14 July 2017

Time Out

The general chaos of the last week of term is fast approaching, so in an attempt to create some sense of equilibrium before the forthcoming onslaught of the year end party, sports day, pyjama day and graduation (yes, really!) we have been spending time doing what we love most - getting outdoors.
We've grasped at every opportunity to get out and about and enjoy the sunny days and have been rewarded with some beautiful places and gorgeous views.
Some days were planned for and others were on the spur of the moment ideas. Work and some other mundane aspects of daily life have been taking their toll lately so a change of scenery was just the tonic we needed.
We juggled work, finishing off some outside chores and pre-school, scrabbled picnics together at short notice and off we went.
I am trying really hard not to think about the state the house is in due to a lack of cleaning and tidying. I've been doing the bare minimum to see us through and it shows. Never mind, unless the housework fairies have been to call it will still be there waiting for me. I'm letting the dust settle, literally, because for now the sky is blue and the sea is warm and we're busy having fun.
J. X

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sunny Saturday

Last Saturday I was all set for a relaxing morning. No rushing about, just a few chores needed completing to be followed by a quick trip into the local town in order to buy a new swimsuit for Lily, when out of the blue came a request for a trip into Liverpool.  Within the hour I had a picnic lunch made up and we were on our way.
Of course, being a weekend it was bustling with activity. It was a beautiful day and it seemed like the whole city was out enjoying the sunshine just as we were.
Errands quickly out of the way, we ate our lunch and wandered up to the cathedral. At first glance, from our approach, it wasn't overly impressive to look at but inside it is such an amazing building with the most stunning stained glass windows. I was so glad we had taken the opportunity to have a look around for once.
Next stop was Keel Wharf and the Albert Dock. It was the busiest I have ever seen it. Lots of tourists  and a continuous stream of open top bus tours. 
We decided it would be a great opportunity to take a ride on the Wheel of Liverpool. I'm not a fan of heights but it was such a clear day and we were able to see some really lovely views of the city that I was soon able to relax and enjoy it.
A quick turn on the Victorian carousel by the Pump House followed by coffee and the obligatory  browse around John Lewis and we were on our way home again, barely having stopped for breath. It had been a very enjoyable, albeit impromptu, day out.
Oh! And if you're wondering if, after all that, we managed to get a new swimsuit, Lily was given a choice between a rather tasteful blue and white striped number and a lurid pink one depicting two flamingos wearing sunglasses! Guess which one came home with us? 
 J. X

Friday, 30 June 2017

This And That

It's been an ordinary old week here. I've been keeping busy with this and that but I don't appear to have an awful lot to show for it. Summer has made a swift retreat for the time being, which means I am, once again, reaching for my jeans and sweaters.                             
Thankfully, unless the weather has been far too wet, we've still managed to get out and about.
The start of the week was lovely and bright, so to make the most of it we went to the beach. I hadn't counted on it being so windy though, which made it feel quite chilly at times. The cold did not stop Lily going for a paddle, however. I'm now finding sand in all sorts of places and seashells in random pockets of various jackets and bags.
I've been out running along the country lanes. A familiar route which I love. With just the cows, sheep, horses and wildlife for company it felt so invigorating. A large Heron took off from the stream as I ran past. Not a bad way to spend a morning, I just wish I had the opportunity to enjoy it more regularly.
I made some very tasty flapjack using my favourite recipe which was well received and is now all gone! I still haven't got back into baking as often as I should. In fact I've become a bit lazy in that department. I do get that way from time to time, then before I know it I'm back at it, struggling to find enough storage tins for all the cakes and biscuits I've made - not that they ever last long in this house.
Midweek, I went out for tapas with my closest friend. It was the quirkiest little restaurant I have ever been to. I would like to say it was authentic but authentic to what? I'm not quite sure. The d├ęcor was nothing I have ever previously experienced and included plastic grapes, coloured lights and artificial Christmas tree branches! The food, however, was absolutely delicious and conversation flowed as only it can with such good friends. We don't get to meet up as often as we would like so really appreciate it when we do.
I finished the cushion cover which I was part way through making in my previous post. It was so simple but I really like it. I think it's the colour. I do love a dusky pink. I might even make a couple more.
To round off the week, and the month I suppose, we went for a short walk. The Meadowsweet are now in flower here and line the pathway alongside the stream. The elderberries are starting to grow, any flowers left being past their best and to Lily's delight the raspberries are beginning to ripen.
So that's it. That's been my week. Now it's all written down I guess there has been more going on than I first thought.
J. X

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Bright Sunshiny Days

Oh, I'm so easily pleased. Sunshine and balmy hot days make me very, very happy indeed. Hasn't it been glorious? From waking up in the morning with a room flooded with sunlight, to long days spent outdoors ending with evenings relaxing in the garden. 
Naturally, we have been making the most of every moment as, of course, this beautiful weather is likely to change any day now.
We've been at the beach, enjoyed a picnic, explored the rock pools and idled the day away. Having heard how busy some beaches were at the weekend I was pleasantly surprised by just how quiet it was.
We ventured slightly further afield and enjoyed a walk somewhere we would never have thought to visit before, through the fields, along country lanes and old canal towpaths. Beautiful scenery.
Mostly, however, we have been spending time in the garden. We've had the paddling pool out which, incidentally, is THE best way of keeping cool in this weather, especially as most of the water gets splashed over anyone within close range. Any left over by the evening is used to water the plants.
Our tent has been checked over, aired and tent pegs replaced in hopeful anticipation of enjoying the occasional camping trip during the summer break.
Sitting in the garden has also enabled me to pick up my crochet hook again. I'm not creating anything exciting, just a cushion cover, but it's a lovely way to unwind.
To avoid too much time cooking and having the oven unnecessarily warming the house, I've been keeping meals simple. We've eaten pasta, quick paella and this evening we'll be eating mushroom and spinach omelette with salad. I do love how this weather lends itself to eating healthily without any real effort. I'm drinking lots of water too. I'm hoping my body will thank me for it.
I have so many things I need to be getting on with - hedge cutting, painting the front door and sweeping the drive to name but a few, but they will have to wait. I'm enjoying this weather while it lasts. After all this could be the only Summer we get!
J. X

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Elderflower Cordial

I'm not sure where the lovely Summer weather has disappeared to this week but I would really, really, very much like it back please. It has turned grey and cool here once again, so I am very happy that I was able to make this year's elderflower cordial while the sun was shining.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we walked through the fields gathering the elderflowers from the hedgerows.  We, of course, being me and Lily - my partner in crime. I love that she enjoys being outdoors and is more than happy to walk by my side and listen as I ramble on with my very limited plant knowledge.  
The gorgeous elderflowers are in abundance at the moment and are so easy to spot with their frothy, creamy-white flower heads. To make cordial they are best freshly picked on a dry day and when the buds have just opened.
Just as I thought, it didn't take long to collect the twenty five flower heads we needed but we continued on our walk regardless, embracing the warm weather, blue skies and fields filled with Buttercups.
On our return home I rinsed the elderflowers to remove any little insects and set about making the cordial. This recipe is my favourite and makes about 1½ litres of cordial. It is so simple to make and once diluted makes for a refreshing drink with, I think, just the perfect balance of citrus and floral flavours.
You will need :
1.2 kg granulated sugar
1 unwaxed lemon (zest and slice)
25 freshly picked elderflower heads
40g citric acid
Put the sugar and 750mls water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil then immediately remove from the heat.
Add the citric acid, sliced lemon, zest and elderflower heads and give it a good stir. Leave to infuse for 24hrs.
Line a colander or large sieve with muslin, strain the mixture through, discarding the bits and decant into a sterilised bottle.
It is very concentrated so you don't need much. I find it is most delicious mixed with sparkling spring water but it has been recommended I try it with Prosecco so I will definitely be trying that- thank you Selma.
It is a delightful taste of Summer in a glass. A little bit of bottled sunshine.
J. X

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Easedale Tarn

Last week we were on a break from pre-school and  I was more than ready for this respite from the usual hurrying around in a morning. We were a little indulgent in our laziness and unashamedly Lily even spent a whole day in her pyjamas.
On Wednesday, however, we were up and out of the house early once again. It was a beautiful blue sky day (don't you just love it when those kind of days coincide with being off work?), perfect for a much longed for return visit to Easedale Tarn.
Easedale Tarn lies West of the small village of Grasmere and at the end of a very scenic yet gentle climb alongside it's outflow, Sourmilk Gill.
We set off from Grasmere just after 9am and I was so glad we did as it was still lovely and quiet. It was a sunny and bright morning with stunning clear views, not too hot for walking. Lily led the way and at times it was an effort to keep up! Except, of course, when there was the obligatory stop for flapjack.
Our walk was also a good excuse for trying out my new walking boots. Unexpectedly, my last boots had given up on me the previous week. I'd had them for over six years, although I was hoping they would last longer. Goodness knows how many miles they must have covered in that time. The trouble was they had been incredibly comfortable, so naturally I was a bit concerned about wearing in some new ones. There was no need, however. They are just fine and surprisingly much lighter on my feet, which makes keeping up with Lily that little bit easier.
Following a picnic beside the Tarn and taking in the views we set about our return to the village via Far Easedale Gill. The way back was rather boggy in places but was easily avoided by walking on the stones, so no need for wet feet.  (Lily take note!)
The stony track then led us back alongside Helm Crag towards Grasmere where I was rewarded with a nice cup of coffee and a sit down in the Wordsworth Memorial Garden. A really enjoyable day out.
J. X

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Garden Progress

Since this post about the garden at the beginning of April there have been a few small changes.
Until recently I have always thought of gardening as a bit of  chore. The intention was to move house anyway, so as long as the grass was trimmed, weeds kept under control and it looked OK with minimum effort it was fine by me.
All well and good but lately I have been bitten by the bug. This gardening malarkey that people get excited about. Maybe it's because we are staying put in this house for now, I'm getting older, the weather is more favourable to being outside, I don't know, but I'm actually enjoying it! Getting my hands dirty and being able to grow things is very satisfying and a wonderful way to unwind.
I have given the planters, shed and garden furniture a coat (or two) of paint - Wild Thyme was my colour of choice - and it's made such a difference. They look almost new again and it's given a new lease of life to what was otherwise looking faded and tired.
The vegetables in the small raised bed are coming on a treat and I have used lots of the spinach in my cooking already.
The stony flower bed has been planted with Mint, Thyme, Rosemary and Lavendula. At the back there is a Clematis and Lily's sunflower for her pre-school growing competition.
To add a splash of colour I filled the large planter with Pansies. I've used the smaller planter in front of the shed for our strawberries, which have since been moved to an area which gets the sun for longer.
The pot on the table contains our tiny oak sapling. We have grown it from one of the acorns we collected on our walks last Autumn. It is growing quickly so it wont be long before I put it in a larger container.
The grass is now home to Lily's swing and on sunny days the large paddling pool.
It is only a small garden and is therefore, thankfully, quite low maintenance (I am aware my new found enthusiasm is likely to wane once the weather turns). It's not a lot but it is ours and now we have a pleasant and relaxing place to spend our time.
J. X