Dashing, dancing and prancing before Christmas.

The week leading up to Christmas was a busy one for me, as I’m sure it was for most people. I was working as normal on the Monday and Tuesday and had to cover my colleague who was off on the Thursday and Friday. This meant I had just the Wednesday to get everything done that needed sorting before the big day – last bits of shopping, stocking fillers, baking, wrapping, etc. I also got myself back to the gym as I didn’t want to leave it until after the New Year, so was in there before work on Monday morning to get the routine started again.

As it turned out, my one “day off” (I’m a woman, what’s a day off?! πŸ˜‰ ) got sacrificed in aid of Billy’s job interview just outside Newcastle that afternoon. I ended up having to pick up a tie and shoe-shine for him, look up how to get there, dig out some paperwork and then drive him in and figure my way back before the sat-nav battery died. (I just made it back to a familiar road before it did. Phew!) As well as this I managed to pick up a few top-up bits we needed from Tesco, go to the gym and get the stocking fillers. Happily we now have a Poundland in town so I could go on a spending spree in there and consequently the kids’ stockings would be overflowing πŸ˜‰

Thursday and Friday ended up being quite busy at work as I wanted all loose ends tied up before the break and needed to make sure patients and wards were sorted in anticipation of the 2-week break our suppliers take at this time of year. By 1.30pm on the Friday, I felt I had done everything humanly possible to accommodate them, including, to my enormous satisfaction, a terminally ill patient whom we wanted to make more comfortable over Christmas. I had spent a lot of energy and time – as well as initiative – liaising with GP, Occ therapists, physios, hospice carers and family and was immensely pleased to be able to provide something in time for the holiday period. I hope it helped a little. I remembered to change the answer phone message, put a note on the office door, e-mail other hospital departments and finally turn on my out of office message and then that was it – I could do no more. The madness at work was over, now just the madness at home to go. But first, I treated myself to a gym session, a bit of time for me, and I enjoyed it.

I had planned to bake on Friday afternoon but by the time I got home, I changed my mind and did the ironing instead. After this chore, it was time for a night out with the darts team – we had no game but had arranged a pre-Christmas drink and throw-about at the club. We had a good evening, and I gave everyone their little present – a set of Christmas flights and a scratch card. Junior’s wife Steph won £1 but alas, no-one else won a thing. Everyone played with their new flights – and were rubbish, me included! πŸ˜€ Good job it isn’t Christmas every darts night πŸ˜‰ The evening was made all the more hilarious by Roger senior being absolutely plastered – something I’ve never seen before and apparently is a 1-2 times a year event πŸ˜€ Senior is excellent both at playing darts and marking but the drink made him hopeless at both – which was very funny indeed. He couldn’t get his new flights on his darts so Graham and Junior had to do it for him. He couldn’t add up what we’d thrown, never mind deduct it from the score (not that I can even sober, but he is usually a whiz at this and impatient with other markers who make mistakes) In our throw-about game, the last game was between me and Paul and Senior got it into his head to run a book. You’ve never seen anything like it! He wrote the odds above our scores and changed the odds after every throw, only he got so caught up in doing this that he was neglecting the actual scoring and got himself (and us) very confused πŸ˜€ (Paul beat me very comfortably btw!)

The last things to do before Christmas were the last of the wrapping so the presents could go under the tree and the baking. I did these on Saturday and by the afternoon had cooked the turkey (complete with home-made stuffing with home-grown sage) , baked mince pies, sausage rolls, gingerbread men, and iced a spiced apple cake (in lieu of Christmas cake.)

OK. Now I was ready πŸ™‚

0-60 in a week :)

I always used to prepare for Christmas weeks in advance – and yet looking back through my blog entries for 2008, 2009 and 2010 I’ve been pretty late lately – and this year is no exception. This time last week I was panicking that I hadn’t really done anything – and now, a week later, I’ve finished! πŸ™‚

Again, as in previous years, we’ve had to cut down even more so it does make Christmas more manageable in one sense, but also presents its own challenges. However, I think I have managed to choose inexpensive presents that will still be appreciated – I’m pleased with my choices anyway. (One day, when/if we have money again, I have promised myself that I am going to thoroughly spoil my poor children who seem to get less and less each year and on whom I have never been able to splash the cash as much as I’d like (it’s natural I think, isn’t it? Even when they’re not babies any more, they’re still MY babies and I want to make Christmas magical for them.))

I was even pleased with finding something for some of the more challenging menfolk having been struggling for days. I popped in to Dillies on the way home one evening and did the lot in one go πŸ™‚ I love this shop and highly recommend you try popping in or even ordering online. All their products are the highest quality, often locally sourced or from small suppliers and are affordable. Whilst browsing, Andrew treated me to a sample of rosé port – I’d never heard of this before but it was beautifully smooth and tasted divine.

On Wednesday I was in Tesco at 7am (the best time to go, especially at this time of year) and got all the food shopping – though again, much less than in previous years. The postman brought the last of the presents and over the week I’ve wrapped presents a few at a time – and suddenly this morning, they were all done! πŸ™‚ I just about wrote and posted the cards in time for the last 2nd class posting date and this, as so often, was probably the most stressful thing so far. It’s such a time consuming job and I have even less time than usual this year with working so much – but I love it when they’re done and do enjoy thinking of friends and family this time of year and wishing them a good time. Nel put up the decorations this year so that was one less job to do, but sadly I couldn’t find anything I trusted Stephen to do well, so thus far he’s got away with it.

Today I have cooked the pork and will freeze it for us to have cold over Christmas, I’ve made mince pies (though they’ll soon be gone and I’ll have to bake more πŸ˜‰ ) and I’ve made a spiced apple cake to have instead of Christmas cake this year as we always have Christmas cake over and the apple cake is a bit lighter.

So now I feel ready for Christmas, which is just as well as I’m working most of the week – and having played Christmas music today whilst baking I’m starting to feel Christmassy too – where’s the sherry…..? πŸ™‚

Return to Langley Castle

Last Friday night was Billy’s cricket club’s annual dinner and awards night – and as in previous years, it was held at Langley Castle (and why not? It’s a gorgeous setting, with excellent food and service.) The thing was, we haven’t been for a couple of years as we’ve had illness and conflicting engagements so I had sort of forgotten about its existence and was therefore unprepared when Billy said he had tickets for us to go. Usually I take rather a long time to track down the perfect dress (it’s very much a dress-up occasion) and build the outfit I plan to wear. There was no chance of that this year so I ended up going with the good old LBD and some killer heels.

We decided to go on the coach which was picking up from the cricket club (i.e 100m from our front door πŸ™‚ ) and then bringing us back at midnight. This meant we could relax and enjoy the evening (and the booze!) without the expense of either a room there for the night, or taxis. We wandered across when Billy got back from Berwick (were he’d been working all week) – it’s not fair that men just have to have a quick shower and put on the old faithful suit to look good is it? We had one drink there and then boarded the coach, and on the journey we took part in a sweepstake, guessing how long the guest speaker’s speech would last πŸ˜€

When it came to the meal, we were sitting on a table in lovely company so it was a good evening. The food was perfect – tomato & basil soup with a grilled tomato stuffed with goats cheese; roast beef with all the accompaniments; Eaton mess; and coffee. All washed down with wine, of course – though I also drank 3 glasses of water with my 3 glasses of wine.

The speeches were entertaining and as in previous years, the wonderful togetherness of the club’s members shone through. The club boasts a 1st, 2nd, ladies, and juniors team and are well respected and liked in the sport locally.

The midnight finish was about right for me (I don’t like late nights, plus I was driving to the match the next day) and despite jokes that all the Newcastle fans there were going to stop speaking to me at midnight as I would then be “the enemy” it was a merry coach ride back. The only annoying thing was that for some bizarre reason the coach didn’t drop off where it should have done, but in town – so Billy and I got a taxi back since my heels wouldn’t allow me to hike home again. He wanted to join his friends in extending the evening in town pubs, and I was happy for him to do so as long as he dropped me home to go to bed first. We ended up bringing back other people’s awards and prizes so they could stay out unencumbered – which I didn’t mind, but I DO mind that they are STILL here cluttering up the hallway!

I’d had a really pleasant evening in a wonderful venue with some very lovely people – but as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light!

Play first – then work!

Last weekend, we had no darts game on the Friday night as we’d had a bye in a cup competition, and there was no football at the weekend, giving a rare entire weekend in which to be productive.

You may recall that the previous week at darts, I felt I needed some practise as I was so rusty and my team-mates volunteered to help. So it was that on the Friday night, Paul escorted me to the cricket club (as Billy had only just got home from work and wanted a shower and change before joining us) and we were joined by both the Rogers, Graham, Raji and Billy. We played a couple of team games and since we were a man short, I played twice – thus giving me extra practise. I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening with some of my favourite people – and we were even provided with food – which is usually only done for league games – and we certainly hadn’t pre-arranged any. It’s one of the reasons we so enjoy playing at the club – we feel so welcome there and can relax in a pleasant atmosphere.

Whilst playing, we were also able to keep an eye on the Montenegro v England Euro 2012 qualifying match. I’m rather glad we had the distraction of playing our darts as the football looked less than inspiring to say the least. A couple of times I was amazed we didn’t concede, so much space was given to Montenegro’s attacking players! In the end the 2-2 was a lucky escape for England I thought, and fair play to Montenegro. England were poor, and Rooney’s red card incident mind-numbingly stupid! There was no red mist, no heat of the moment – his face showed clearly how deliberate his actions were and he deserved the red card. Stupid, stupid, STUPID man! (And for the record, I would be saying exactly the same were he a City player (heaven forbid!)

After playing Friday night, the rest of the weekend was hard work – but satisfying.

On Saturday I spent the day, in the rain, tidying the garden ready for winter. Having been caught out by the early snow last year, I was determined not to have it happen again this year. So I cleared away all the dead foliage and the weeds, emptied the smaller, bare pots of earth and stacked them for over-winter storage in the shed. I arranged for a friend to have the two 5 ft+ fir trees as they’ve outgrown their pots and need to go in the ground now. I put the garden furniture away and sorted the shed so that our 20 5L bottles of water are to hand in case of need (we’ve been caught out a few times with no water supply). I then collected up all the rubbish and swept up the worst of the dead leaves, spilled earth, bits of cat litter and thick moss, and finally took it all down to the tip. On the way back I treated myself to a tray of winter flowering pansies for £3, and then planted them in the remaining pots and wall planters. I don’t expect them to do much over winter, but it’s always nice to have a little splash of colour as things get milder, but before spring is properly here. The only thing that remains is to jet wash the concrete but I think I need to apply common sense this time and get Billy to do it – the work really is to heavy for me and I’ve always regretted it when I’ve pushed myself to do it in the past.

For the rest of the weekend I did the usual chores, plus some baking – Millionaire’s shortbread and an apple crumble πŸ™‚

Amazingly, at the end of it all, I didn’t ache as much as I expected – must be the gym sessions paying off (yes I’m still going and am gradually increasing my limits.) πŸ™‚

A degree in toastology – and other things.

We like our toast in this house, and with five of us, we get through a lot of bread – and not a few toasters. Last time I had to replace this important piece of kitchen equipment – without which we cannot manage – we didn’t have much money at all so we had to make do with a very cheap and cheerful one. IT may have been cheerful, but we weren’t as it was rubbish! For a 4-slice toaster, we were lucky if we could squeeze in 3 slices, and bagels had to be flattened to get them in, and it was 50:50 whether you’d get them out again πŸ™ So when this one died, we didn’t even mourn it, but I was determined that we weren’t going to repeat past mistakes and carefully researched our next mechanical member of the family. I finally settled on on which was the right style – a long, thin toaster, not a wide one as it had to fit in a specific gap. Four slices a must, variable thickness a must, and preferably not a garish colour as our kitchen is white and grey/silver. I found just the thing in Argos, bought it, and we immediately tested it out. Now we don’t have a degree in toastology but we do like our toast! We give this toaster 10/10. Several perfect slices later, we declared ourselves in love and looking forward to a long and happy relationship πŸ™‚

Also in the kitchen, I harvested all the tomatoes which were never going to ripen after the “summer” we’ve had and made another batch of green tomato chutney – but decided to add a little more ginger, less sugar, and a few home-grown chillis which I’d previously blanched and frozen. It’s divine! πŸ™‚

Also as last year, I’ve been doing plenty of apple baking again – pies, crumbles and spiced apple cake. Thanks mum πŸ™‚

As there were plenty of self-seeded feverfew plants growing in cracks in the concrete in the garden, I harvested them as it seemed a shame to waste them. This a herb best used fresh rather than dried, so I decided to make a tincture with it and chose brandy as the base, so it is now happily brewing in a jar on the kitchen windowsill. The daft thing is that I’m not sure who is going to use it as its main indication is migraine prevention, but I don’t have this tendency. Anyone want some inexpensive home-brewed feverfew brandy? πŸ˜‰

Lastly, I’ve started making my home-made veg soup again now the weather has gone cold. I happened to make the first batch not long after making a goulash so I saved a bowlful of the gravy from that and added it to the vegetables – resulting in a deliciously warming, satisfying soup πŸ™‚

I do love pottering in the kitchen.

A much needed short break.

At last Thursday morning came round and I set off for Mum’s to stay for a couple of days. I really enjoyed my drive down, having some time alone – an ever rarer commodity for me these days, but sorely needed.

I made good time, left my bags in my room at mum’s house and then drove in to town to meet mum for lunch as she was working. The timings couldn’t have been better and we went to a really lovely little sandwich shop mum had found and we had the most delicious beef sandwiches (mine a baguette, mum’s granary bread) with salad, nachos and a dip. We then treated ourselves to a slice of cake with our cuppas, and the very friendly service complimented the wonderful food very nicely. When mum went back to work, I had a little browse round the shops, but was disappointed to see so many old favourites gone – victims of the financial climate presumably πŸ™ I then did mum’s shopping which I had volunteered to do as it meant that killing a couple of birds with one stone – car-parking in Tesco’s car park is free if you spend a certain amount of money in the store; the shopping would be done, saving a job at the weekend; and having the car, I could buy all the heavy stuff in bulk. Since staying with mum when she had her hip replacement, I have a pretty good idea of what she likes so although she had to write out a list for me, it didn’t need to be overly idiot-proof πŸ˜‰ Being a good little shopping-fairy, I unpacked it all when I got back, and had just finished when mum arrived home from work. We rewarded ourselves for our respective productive afternoons with a drink whilst we waited for the casserole mum had made finished heating through πŸ™‚ Of course, when we’d eaten said casserole, we needed a little something with which to wash it down πŸ˜‰

On Friday, Mum was working again, of course, so I’d suggested I do a couple of things during the day that would help mum, so she left me a list of things from which to choose. So, as well as having a look in the shops at the retail park, I took some stuff to the charity shop for which the friendly staff were very grateful. I also picked all the apples from the tree – with the help of the step-ladder so I was right up inside the branches imagining all the earwigs climbing in my hair, and I gently threw the apples down to the grass to retrieve later, belatedly realising the neighbours were sitting in their conservatory and possibly wondering why it was raining apples! The good apples I put in an empty crate (and later I separated a bagful to bring home, at mum’s invitation) and the ones that were no good for cooking I took to the compost bin. Of course, before adding them it seemed only right to give the compost a good poke, prod, stir and general mix, which took a bit of effort but there’s some lovely compost developing in there now, courtesy of all the beasties doing their thing πŸ™‚ Lastly, garden-wise, I folded down the furniture and put it neatly in the garage for winter, ready for next year. (Watch the forecast heatwave actually appear and mum wanting her furniture now!) I didn’t work solidly though and spent a pleasant hour just reading my book, the 5th in an excellent series, which I seem to have been “reading” for ages, never getting time to finish it. When mum came home, we had our chicken Kiev dinner accompanied by a bottle of wine, and enjoyed relaxing for the evening.

It was somewhat disappointing that City were playing at lunchtime next day as it meant our time together on Saturday was cut short, but nevertheless I had really enjoyed my couple of days away from it all, and mum and I managed to have fun and enjoy each other’s company regardless.

Meanwhile in the kitchen…

Over the last few weeks, partly in an effort to save money and partly to fill lunch boxes I have rediscovered my love of baking. I’ve baked cakes, biscuits, scones, puddings and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve loved just fancying something and going in the kitchen and making it.

For some strange reason (possibly hormone related) I had the very rare (for me) craving for chocolate and cream at the weekend. (I don’t usually go much on either!) So I made a chocolate cream cake and it was gorgeous – it hit the spot nicely. πŸ™‚

Today I harvested some of the sage from the garden (which has grown really well this year) ready for the Christmas dinner stuffing, and got Billy to hang it up to dry for me. I kept a little sprig and decided to use it to do something with our pork steaks which I had planned for dinner. So I came up with this little idea:

2 slices bread, chopped into breadcrumbs
A handful of chopped sage (you could use any herb)
Salt & pepper to season
A tablespoonful of mango chutney

Mix the lot together and put a generous coating on top of 4 – 6 pork steaks. Place in a baking tin and bake for 40 minutes at gas mark 5.

I served ours with new potatoes and ratatouille and some fresh homemade French bread (still warm from the bread maker) Divine! πŸ™‚

I reckon even the mango chutney could be substituted with various other sauces – and even if using dryer flavourings, an egg could be added to bind it together. Go and experiment and see what variations you come up with – and let me know (or invite me to taste even πŸ˜‰ )

Happy Birthday Billy.

34 years young today! (Mind you, he acts as though he’s 9 years OLDER than me with the way he hobbles and moans, but I s’pose his birthday isn’t the time to rub that in πŸ˜‰ )

Not having much money, we had a small family celebration courtesy of party food from Iceland, a DVD, and a birthday cake lovingly made by yours truly πŸ™‚

This morning I took him coffee and bacon sandwich, along with his cards to open in bed. At his request, he mainly received money which he is putting towards replacing his now defunct laptop, so when he got up, he popped in to town to collect his new toy. He also got a very clever “gift voucher” from mum so that he could go to a Newcastle match on her. πŸ™‚

This afternoon, all five of us sat together and watched Iron Man 2 which we enjoyed (I can’t believe it was 2008 when Billy, the kids and I watched Iron Man 1 at the cinema!) and we munched party food and drink. The Iceland range of nibbles was rather nice and we all particularly liked the chicken skewers, and then we finished with the coffee and walnut cake I’d made this morning:


Photobucket

Raji and Stephen were both working this evening hence the early gathering, but it worked out quite well as it has left time for Billy to pack for his forthcoming week away (working) and to play with his new laptop.

Happy Birthday Billy, hope you have enjoyed your day. πŸ™‚

This time last year.

Sublime Salmon.

When I did the shopping this week, there was a pack of three decent sized salmon fillets reduced from £5.75 to just over £2 – so I grabbed it. I’m not a huge fish fan, though I don’t mind it now and then if it’s got a bit of taste to it, and I know Nel loves fish and thought she’d enjoy.

We looked online to see the various ways of cooking it and barring the rule that it’s better to under rather than over cook it, found that the ways of doing so are many and various. In the end, I took an idea from one of the recipes and customised it to suit us. (Yes, OK, I made it up as I went along according to what seemed right at the time, using a basic idea with which to start. πŸ˜› )

It was absolutely DIVINE and just melted in the mouth! If you fancy a try, this is what you do, though of course you too can adapt it as you please:

Mix together: the juice of one lemon; a tablespoon of olive oil; 3 crushed garlic cloves; a few fresh chives, snipped into little pieces; and a teaspoon of dried basil.

Place the salmon fillets in a casserole dish and pour over the marinade and leave to soak for a couple of hours (or overnight in the fridge if you need, but no longer than that.)

Cook in the casserole dish in a pre-heated oven Gas mark 4 for about 25 minutes – until the fish is JUST cooked so it’s still slightly soft.

Serve with whatever grabs your fancy – potatoes, rice, salad… and enjoy. πŸ™‚

Mother’s Day – both sides.

On the Wednesday before Mother’s Day, Nel spoiled me as I was going to be away for the actual day. I am often away as I obviously like to see my own mum on the day, but this year, it mattered to Nel as she had been planning her treat to me for months, so we settled on a day to have as OUR Mother’s Day together. She hired a DVD for us to watch together – Mulan (the 2009 Chinese film, not the Disney cartoon!) which we both really enjoyed, and she bought us takeaway to eat whilst we watched it. She even got some sweet nibbles too, though we didn’t actually have room for them. She also bought me a beautiful card with a cute kitten on it, and some lovely soft, fluffy slipper boots which I sat stroking all evening πŸ™‚


Photobucket

The whole evening was very special because I often feel I struggle as to be a good mum to Nel – she and I are so different in many ways and she can be very needy at times, giving me doubts about my ability to provide fr her needs. The fact that she went to so much trouble and expense made me feel that maybe I do get somethings right, and that she does know how much I love her.

On the day itself, I was at Mum’s, having driven down on the Saturday so that I could spoil her. We had a nice morning and then at lunchtime, I finished cooking the dinner I’d prepared at home and brought with me. I set the table, with a card outlining the menu: starter (prawn cocktailsπŸ˜‰ main course (goulash, new potatoes, broccoli and garlic breadπŸ˜‰ dessert (apple crumble Angelique*, with cream); and coffee. Since I was driving afterwards, we had a bottle of Elderflower and white grape fizz with our meal. (Photos courtesy of mum who had the foresight to take them πŸ™‚ )


Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket

(* Apple Crumble Angelique was a basic crumble recipe which I played with by adding a tin of Nestle Caramel on top of the apple, and rubbed in some cinnamon with the crumb mix.)

We took our coffee to the armchairs afterwards and mum took a photo of me/her cards on the mantelpiece/her new fire – which we had on so we could admire it πŸ™‚


Photobucket

I then went off to my football match and then drove home. At the last services, I sent my usual “At last services, will be about an hour” text to Billy, Nel and Stephen, and Stephen replied (I have copied exactly):

Okies, happy mothers day! I was going to make you breakfast but forgot you weren’t here, so tomorrow? or dinner so i’m awake…Or lunch on wed/thurs x

That was sweet – he usually just mumbles “Happy Mother’s Day” and maybe makes me a cup of tea. So, the Wednesday after the day itself, Stephen cooked me my dinner – having left the choice of what it was to me, as long as it had instructions πŸ™‚ So I chose fishcakes and chips with bread and butter, and he cooked those perfectly at the time I requested. He set the table/tray including condiments, buttered my bread, and even cleared away afterwards. That was really nice. πŸ™‚

I felt very honoured to be treated by both children and to know that they love me enough to have wanted to do so. I also feel very lucky to have my mum to spoil and love doing so. I think this was my first year of really having the very best of both worlds.

%d bloggers like this: