Monday 30 December 2013

Chorizo and clearing out the cupboards

This is daughter Tam's Chorizo and Chick Pea Stew, which she made up to feed the freezer for me, and use up the last of the Christmas chorizo.  She also made a panful of chorizo and tomato pasta sauce for our lunch.

Meanwhile, I have been clearing out the store cupboards, which were looking a right mess. A couple of photos to show the before and afterwards of the bottom cupboard, where all the tins live:

Before (above), and after (below):

And a work in progress with all the dried beans, seeds, sugars etc:


1/2 a small ring of Chorizo (about 2.5cm/6") sliced into rings, and then halved
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 medium courgette, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Tin chopped tomatoes
Tin chick peas
1/2 pint chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Sprinkle oregano
Salt and pepper

Fry diced Chorizo over a low heat until it releases its oils.  Add onion, garlic, courgette, & pepper and sweat until soft.  Add  drained chickpeas, the tin of tomatoes and chicken stock, and sprinkle with seasonings.  Simmer until cooked through - about 40 mins.  You can add all sorts of extras to this - chicken leftovers (or other meat), chopped potatoes, carrots, other veg - whatever you need to use up.  Serve with crusty bread.


1/2 small ring Chorizo (approx 2.5 cm/6") diced
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 courgette, chopped
2 cloes garlic, crushed
Tin chopped tomatoes (arrabiata ones from Lidls brilliant for this)
Sprinkling each of oregano and basil
Small 1" cube of cheddar cheese, chopped small.

Fry off cubed Chorizo until oil released, and then add onion, garlic, and courgette and sweat until soft.  Add tinned tomatoes and herbs and seasoning.  Add a tiny pinch of sugar and simmer for 5 - 10 mins.  When cooked, add cheese, stir till melted and serve over pasta, or mix cooked pasta into sauce and combine.

Moving on

I think today is a good day to de-Christmas the house.  The tree only went up the weekend before the Big Day, and the decorations at much the same time, but I feel a need to move on, to look forward to what the New Year will bring and to Get Organized.

I have added keeping count of the pennies daily, rather than weekly, to my other ritual of meter reading.  I also want to liberate myself by having LESS although I know this is going to include books, which makes things difficult.  I still love archaeology, but I must confess I do not NEED quite a few of the Archaeology books on the shelf behind me, or many of the history books we have acquired over the years.  Mind you, books don't sell well on eBay and our sort of books are hard to find buyers for at a car boot sale, as I know their 2nd hand value in a bookshop and am reluctant to take just a pound for them (most people buying at car boot sales have two prices in mind - 50p a paperback (or less) and £1 a hardback).  Second hand bookshops offer a pittance and then sell for 10 or 20 times what they paid you.

As the house will be going back on the market on 1st March, with a new agent, and they will be coming mid-February to take photos and a video, we have much to do to get the house perfect.  Whilst the weather is preventing me doing anything much in the garden (bar feed the birds), I can at least concentrate on the interior.

I am trying to take my health in hand too and spent a small fortune in Waverley Stores on Saturday (one of our local Health Food shops), including buying some immune-system boosting pills.  I have only had three, so it's early days yet, but I have ENERGY today.  I cannot remember the last time I had energy and wanted to DO things.  

By the way, the weather forecasters have now deemed that instead of having three months of Arctic weather, we are now having a month of torrential rain and gales.  So there will be more of the flooding pictures.  I had to go out the top way this morning, to take my son to work, and avoided the bottom river lane on the way back when I discovered the river running VERY high and up and over the big rock which is the warning sign for it being across the road round the next bend.  One good reason for keeping a good storecupboard, which I think I need to tidy up and sort out - having had my daughter discover a bottle of special ketchup dating back to 2003 . . .

Sunday 29 December 2013

It's all over . . .

. . . bar the taking down of the decorations.

Here are a few photos in memory of the occasion.

The Christmas Eve walk up to Paxton's Tower, overlooking the flooding in the Towy Valley.

A wet and sombre view, downstream . . .

. . . and upstream.

Home-made Arctic roll, with sieved home-made Raspberry Jam.  Divine.

Home-made chocolate roulade - a Christmas tradition.  Traditon has it that breakfast on Boxing Day is a slice of this with Raspberry couli . . .

The finished Christmas wall-hanging, everything hand-stitched in the end.  The central panel got a bit too wrinkled for my liking, but I was sewing it on my lap, without an embroidery hoop (couldn't find my big one), so it is what it is.

Close up of one of the panels.

My three lovely children, who - just this once - I shall name: Danny, Tamzin and Gabby.  Next Christmas will be different as Danny is off to Australia for a year to work, with his best friend from school days, Joe, and then they are intent on travelling the Far East, so Christmas for them will be a BBQ on the beach!

I am hoping that my husband and I will be living in an easy-to-warm cottage somewhere in the Welsh Marches.  We shall have to see what 2014 brings.

In the meantime, thank you for all being such good blogging friends and visitors.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas . . .

. . . and we've had a bit of rain.

This is the Towy Valley looking Eastwards towards Black Mountain.  As you can see, the flood plain is awash . . .

If you ever wondered why castles are on hills, Dryslwyn Castle gives you one good reason today!

I took about 30 photos whilst we were out, and will share them with you later on.

Meanwhile, we have been busy in the kitchen, and I made a good Arctic Roll with home made raspberry jam, and some mince pies, which were rescued just as they were looking just like they'd been on holiday to Barbados.  T made preserved orange peel so the kitchen smells really Christmassy.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and an enjoyable festive period.

Monday 23 December 2013

Christmas cheer and those flooding pictures

We finally bought the tree on Friday, and when T arrived on Saturday, we dressed it.  When we used to get our tree from a Christmas Tree farm, they always had some fabulous Christmas tree decorations for sale and the children would choose one each.  These are the rather OTT ones you can see.  The little flat x-stitch decorations are ones I stitched years ago when the children were smaller.  I keep meaning to sew a few more, but get distracted by other projects.

This little fairy teddy came from the same source and is a far cry from the little plastic fairy of my youth, with her stiff glittery paper skirt.  We used to have little painted tin candle holders which had a crocodile clip to attach it to the branch, and then you LIT the little candles.  OMG, 'elf and safety would have a field day with those nowadays, as well as the GLASS baubles we used to have and which shattered into dagger like pieces when dropped.

Quite what a dragonfly has to do with Christmas I don't know, or the little handbag on the branch above, but the children tought they were lovely and they are now part of Christmas.

Even Good King Wenceslas on the mirror over the sideboard gets a little bit of tinsel come Christmas, although I think I should have dusted him first . . .

The tinsel bag is irresistable to cats . . .  Theo in residence.

I can finally share some of the blocks for T's quilt.  Purple is her favourite colour . . .

 photo 2008_01145thJuly20070009.jpg

 I have also found some of the flooding photos I wanted in my Photobucket account.  Here is what normally passes as a stream, beside Monachdy, Pontargothi.

 photo 2008_01145thJuly20070013.jpg

When it reaches the Cothi, it helps bring levels up until the pub at Pontargothi  is nearly awash . . .

 photo 2009_11142009Septcarewcastle0032.jpg

Further downstream, the Cothi has joined forces with the Towy and spread across the flood plain.

 photo 2009_11142009Septcarewcastle0048.jpg

Our own River Cothi, with an autumn spate.

   photo 2010_11302009Septcarewcastle0008.jpg

Sometimes it freezes (it was minus 17 in our river valley that year.)

Anyway, it's blowing a gale and lashing down with rain out there, so somehow I don't think we will be having a White Christmas in our neck of the woods.

Keep safe everyone, and have a wonderful Christmas.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Grocery Shopping at Christmas and some old flooding pics

 When the river comes up across the lane at the bottom of the hill . . .  This was about a year ago.

We did our main shop yesterday. We'd got the meat in prior to this as we like Game at Christmas and bought early and froze it.  We split our shopping between Lidl and Morrisons.  The latter have been offering £40 voucher off Christmas shopping if you spent £40 a week with them in the previous 9 out of 10 weeks, which we did.  It made the final amount seem rather more bearable! Anyway, this really amounts to a double shop so we shouldn't need anything fresh (apart from some veg perhaps) until the New Year now, and the freezer and storecupboard mean we could go on for quite a while, using up what we have.

It was chocabloc in Morrisons, but if we thought THAT was bad, they were queuing to get into T*sco as we drove past on our way to Abergwili, to get our fruit and vegetables for the week (at very much reduced prices!) We got a box with about 8 lbs fruit in - mainly big Russet Apples, a few Granny Smiths and 3 lemons in a corner.  I needed lemons too.  That was £1.   For another £1, we got a box of remaindered Manderins or Satsumas.    Then I bought a bag of onions and a bag of carrots - 50p each.  A stalk of Brussel Sprouts, another pound.  2 lettuce hearts 60p.  I don't know how we will manage when we move away - I will miss my bargains - but I guess we will have to use Lidl instead, as their produce is good and competitively priced.  We also bought our tree from Abergwili for just £10.  It's a beauty.  Someone had been selling lovely blue spruces outside Morrisons a couple of weeks back - £35 a hit - all the way from Scotland too.  I think ours yesterday was almost certainly local.

I had to take D into work this morning for 8 a.m. so I went in search of some jute string in T*sco.  The car park was already half full.  The aisles are piled with stock, everything you could conceivably need but I think we must be considered a very staid sort of shopper as we aren't tempted by ready-made anything in the food department.  I've always said, I buy ingredients . . .  But for purchasers of practical things like string.  Well, you leave empty-handed!  Our eldest daughter T is arriving this afternoon, so we will go to the garden centre of Wilkos and get string there.

An old scanned photo showing the flooding at the bottom of the hill across our lane, joining the river which you can just see in the middle right.

As I said, I buy ingredients.  This morning I am going to be making raspberry jam, to be part of the filling for a home made Arctic Roll (recipe in the current (Winter) edition of Baking Heaven magazine.)  This is as good as buying a book and so for £4.99 a good buy.  101 recipes to make your mouth water and your waistline expand.  I will be careful not to overindulge.  Though I LOVE to bake, I do try not to eat too much of it, though my shape might make you think otherwise!

Just outside our house - the runoff from the fields can't get away fast enough . . .

Today is warm and windy - the wind is from the West, so a wet one.  Last night was WILD here, and the river high as a consequence, but still within its banks here.  Only when the Cothi joins forces with the Towy does is spread across the fields of the flood plain.  There are more gales and heavy rain forecast for Monday, when we still have to be out and about early.  I shall be glad when we can pull up the drawbridge on Christmas Eve and just heave a sigh of relief.

This afternoon T and I will dress the tree and fling some more tinsel about, and tomorrow we shall go and gather the ingredients for the bigger wreath and some greenery to go on top of the pictures.  I hope we have a dry window in the weather.

Finally, the previous scene from head on, looking down the hill.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Phone lines swing, are you listening?

. . . in the lane, water's glistening,
a worrying sight, we may be phoneless tonight,
wading in a winter wonderland . . .

Good morning.  Yesterday's storm has brought the river up across the lane at the bottom of the hill, and my son had to walk the last half mile home last night because it wasn't worth his friend risking his car by driving into it and finding out he was floating! 

It has dropped significantly overnight, but I am worried to find that our phone line (well, the one that supplies all our hamlet) has come down off the pole and is swinging very low across the road (car roof height).  It is only a matter of time before someone snags it and we are phoneless - possibly over Christmas, thus threatening a re-run of last year.  I thought I'd post this in case it suddenly goes, and then phone BT to report it.

The Towy has broken its banks and is across the flood plain between here and Carmarthen, and the fields at Abergwili are well under water.  I could see it glinting in the moonlight as I drove my son to work for 7 a.m. this morning. 

I was obviously hungry when I got to the supermarket to get teabags and a newspaper, as I succombed to a cookery magazine with some fabulous Christmas and special occasion recipes.  It's a cheap alternative to a cookery book, in my eyes.

I hope everyone has survived yesterday's storm but they tell us there is more on the way.  I'll be glad when we have picked D up on Christmas Eve, and then we can batten down the hatches and not have to go anywhere for a few days.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

A touch of winter colour

I've just been for a wander up the hill, and though I didn't push myself, I managed quite well.  It was lovely to see Black mountain with a little flock of clouds drifting above it, and I could just make out the Bronze Age cairns along the ridge stretching back towards the Amman valley.

On the way back down, I picked the above.  From left to right - some lichen from a branch, such a pretty jadecolour though it doesn't show up well here.  Its name escapes me - Em, Ragged Robin?  Below it, amazingly, a Celendine leaf!  Picked at the side of the lane by our paddock and demonstrating it is still quite mild for winter.  Then what must be the last Red Campion of the year.  Then a lemon and lime Ivy leaf with a rosehip at its shoulder, 2 little oak leaves still clinging on to a vestige of green and above them the rosy leaf of Tutsan.  Then two colourful bramble leaves.

A slightly closer picture showing the gorgeous ruby and lemon of the bramble leaf.

A close up of the litchen.

Anyway, I have a dental check up today so I had better make the most of my toothbrush . . .

Sunday 15 December 2013

Spicy Meat Pie Recipe and today's boot sale bargains



350g/12 oz plain flour
150g/5 oz butter or margarine, cut into flakes
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons lukewarm water
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten toglaze


1 bread roll
6 tablespoons hot milk
1 onion
50g/2 oz streaky bacon
350g/12 oz minced pork and veal (I normally just use the pork mince)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
6 tablespoons single cream
pinch each of salt, white pepper, cayenne pepper, ground allspice, ground cardamom and dried basil
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind.

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and dot with the butter.  Form a well in the centre and add the egg yolk, water and salt.  Starting at the centre, knead all the ingredients quickly together to form a pastry dough. Wrap in foil or cling film and leave for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Crumble the bread roll into a basin and spoon the milk over it.  Finely chop the onion, Dice the bacon and fry with the onion until golden brown, turning continuously.  In a bowl, mix the minced meats with the squeezed breadcrumbs, the bacon and onion mixture, parsley, cream, seasoning, spices and lemon rind.  The mixture should be highly spiced.  (Note: I find this tasty, rather than hot.)

Preheat the oven to hot (220 deg. C, 425 deg. F, Gas mark 7).  Roll out 2/3 of the dough on a floured board to line a 20cm/8" sandwich cake tin, leaving a border of about 3mm/ 1/8" above the tin.  Prick the pastry base in several places and spread the filling smoothly over it.  Roll out the rest of the dough to the size of the tin, place over the filling and seal the edges well.  Make a small hole in the centre.  Brush the surface with beaten egg and pierce in several places with a skewer. From the remains of the pastry cut out flowers, leaves and stalks, and use to decorate the pie.  Brush with beaten egg and bake the pie for about 1 hour.  Cover with foil after 45 mins.  Place on a serving dish and serve hot.  (Note: this is equally good cold.)  It's a really good pie for a Christmas feast or equally obliging for a summer picnic . . .

The weather here, however, hasn't been terribly obliging.  After yesterday's strong winds and heavy rain, it cleared long enough this morning for us to have a wander round the boot sale, though there weren't many people selling (hardly surprising given the weather and the proximity of Christmas).  The usual house clearance people were there and you never know what turns up.  I idly looked at some 1950s or 60s recipes that the (presumably late) Miss E Lewis, formerly of Nottinghamshire, had saved.  I asked the price of her sewing box and contents, but at £25, too pricey.  I - stupidly - picked up a bag and examined the vintage garment within.  Well, vintage or not, it absolutely REEKED in the way that only something much worn and never washed for many years (and the body wearing it) can reek.  - ych a fi as they say in our neck of the woods!  I couldn't wait to wash my hands after that!

Anyway, on another stall  two lovely old jugs caught my eye, and reader, know that I bought them!

This is a lovely little Gaudy Welsh jug, with what the trade calls a caterpillar handle (see link).  It ends in a little - Chinese? - face.  Update:  research has shown this is actually a Hydra (hence the face).  This design can be found on Mason's ironstone jugs c. 1820.

It's going on my dresser and I shall enjoy it - normally I couldn't afford to buy one of these, but at £3 I splashed out!  HERE is a link to a Gaudy specialist.

 This is the other jug, which cost me £5, but I loved the jade green colouring and the hand painted flowers.  I would date this towards the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign.  I'll try and find out a little bit more about it when I have time to sit down with one of our collectables or antiques books.

Yesterday I had a busy morning in the kitchen, and made a Cheese Loaf, and Apple Yeastbread.

Sorry about the flash being pointed too low.  Not that it affected the flavour of the bread!

Basically it is a standard bread dough, rolled out, then sprinkled with chopped apples, sugar, and cinnamon, rolled up and cooked in a square cake tin.  Then you brush it with melted syrup when it comes out of the oven. . Just the thing for a winter's day . . .

Saturday 14 December 2013

Chocolate Orange Cookies

We had friends round for coffee and cake this week, so after I'd made my favourite Lemon Drizzle Cake, I thought I'd make a few biscuits for our son D too, and I have to say these are yummy.  The recipe is from an old book of mine - The Best of Baking, from 1979.  Some cookery books stand the test of time and I have made a number of the recipes - it is primarily a cakes and cookies type book - over the years and never had a failure.  It has a very good selection of Christmas baking from around the world, from American Ginger Slices to Swedish Yule Biscuits, Norwegian Christmas Rings to Viennese Vanilla Crescents. From this book came the recipe for the Spicy Meat Pie, which I made both for our Wedding feast, back in 1988, various Christmas feasts, and also for the Wake after my mum's funeral.  I may make it again for Christmas this year, as we have G's boyfriend here.

 I make this pie with all the leafy embellishments on the top too (that's the fun part) and it is a very tasty cold pie to offer at any time of the year.

Anyway, here's the recipe for the biscuits:

100g/4 oz plain chocolate (I used a bar of the 70% orange chocolate from Lidl for extra orange effect)
125g/4 1/2 oz. butter or margarine
125g/4 1/2 oz castor sugar
pinch of salt
1 egg
grated rind of 1 orange (well washed first to remove pesticides)
200g/7 oz plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Icing (I didn't bother with this)

100g/4 oz icing sugar
1-2 tablespoons orange juice

Coarsely grate the chocolate (this took forever, even using my little ancient Moulinex grater with a handle.  Note: glad I hung on to this throughout my marriage as they are £13+ in T*sco now!)  Beat the butter or margarine with the sugar, salt, egg and orange rind.  Sift in the flour with the baking powder, add the grated chocolate and quickly knead all the ingredients to a workable dough.  Form into a ball, wrap in foil or cling film and leave for 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to moderately hot (200 deg. C, 400 deg. F, Gas mark 6).  Roll out the dough on a floured board to 5mm (1/4 inch thick and cut out rounds 5cm/2 inches in diameter.  Place on greased baking trays, allowing room for spreading, and bake for 10 - 15 mins.  Carefully remove fro the baking trays with a palette knife and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Sift the icing sugar and stir in the orange juice until smooth. Spread this icin over the top of the cookies and leave to set.

These are lovely biscuits with a real orangey flavour, and not too sweet.

I spent most of yesterday sewing stuff by hand, a fact NOT appreciated by my ageing knuckles come bed time, and I was glad to push my quilting needle into the Christmas wallhanging and head to bed.

Last weekend I bought some lovely vintage Laura Ashley curtains (c.1983).  They were obviously made up in a Posh Shop, as they have a thermal lining and weights. It was the fleecy thermal lining which made my hand sore as I had to really push the needle through and had to wear my thimble.  Ideally they could do with new linings, as the original ones are a bit tanned in stripes by years of sunlight, but having discovered they don't fit my kitchen window (too big for once) I am going to list them on ebay  as they are.  I would never get back the expense and effort of buying the lining, ripping out the old ones and refitting the new ones, plus restitching the heading tape.  I'll leave that job for whoever buys them.  I'm now trying to find the name of the pattern, as it's not one on the tip of my tongue.  Does anyone recognize it?

Finally, here's the Christmas wall hanging.  I was working on the central panel yesterday, but had to unpick some of the pears because it had got puckered from the lettering.  I am enjoying stitching this so much (being a hand stitcher by inclination) and quilting is something I have always enjoyed.

I've also been making home-made spice mixes - you know the sort of thing "Steak Seasoning", "Chicken Seasoning", "BBQ seasoning", using recipes from this brilliant book which I found for just £4.99 in the selection of books at Town and Country when we were in there last week pricing bird seed.  They always carry a good range of books much reduced from cover prices.  This one had my name written all over it, and I am looking forward to making some preserves as Christmas gifts using some of the recipes in it.

If anyone would like any of the seasoning recipes, or the recipe for the Spicy Meat Pie, just shout out.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

The spirit of midwinter . . .

Just a quick effort - heart shapes are SO difficult to do!

 UPDATE:  As you can see, I had a little play around with some willow twigs and strands of ivy, both of which were growing by my front gate, so I didn't have to walk far.  I hadn't a CLUE how to fashion the heart shape - I had seen it in a magazine and then lost the magazine (my OH probably started the fire with it).  Anyway, I found I had to bend the central twigs at the top, breaking some, and then tieing together with string.  Ditto on the bottom "angle", which is hidden by the gold ribbon.  That came with a gift of home-made boozy fruits a few years back, and I saved it for just such an occasion . . .  The red cord at the top is the handle of a gift bag, which is out in the Back Place with seeds in . . .  Waste not, want not.

Below:  The 2008 Christmas wreath with ivy leaves and seedheads, some yellow oak leaves and a garland of twists of Christmas fabric.

At this time of year there is very little colour in the landscape, and it is drab and monochrome from the low light levels.  Here in Wales we have so many ash trees - they predominate in the woodland mix - that once they have dropped their leaves, winter colours arrive early.

In the hedgerows there are splashes of colour from the last hawthorn berries and rose hips, bramble leaves which are still holding yellows and cranberry reds, and even the deep deep green of the holly and ivy leaves shows as colour against the drained browns and greys of twigs and bark.  How different from just over a month ago in the photo below, taken in Somerset, when there were still plenty of colourful leaves on the trees - think these yellower ones are field maples, but too far away to identify properly.

It is about this time of year I normally go and collect the twigs and greenery for the Christmas wreath.  This has become a tradition in our family over the years, and normally T would go with me to gather the greenery, but she won't be home until just before Christmas Eve, so I will make a start, today or tomorrow. She's asked me to wait until she's home so we can make the main wreath, so I will gather some bits to try and make a heart-shaped one . . .  (See photos added to top).  There is something absolutely magical about walking along by the river (as we nearly always do) in the depths of winter, looking for Alder catkins and or cones, and bits of greenery which can be incorporated in this year's creation.  It isn't a tradition I grew up with, although our family never had money for a "proper" tree when I was little, and I can remember going out with my mum and cutting down a branch of gorse or else a small branch of Silver Birch (we had a big tree growing in the back garden hedge.)  We would then make up a flour and water paste and paint the branches with it ("snow!") and then, whilst it was still wet, sprinkle it with glitter and later hanging it with little glass baubles.  So I guess there is the tradition of bringing in something from the wild and "domesticating" it!

The base is always woven willow, and I have a bush by the gate which needs trimming back, and has some lovely long wands on it.  This forms a circle and is then embellished with long ropes of ivy (usually found hanging from the trees down by the river), little sprigs of ivy flowers/berries, whatever catkins I can find (Alder are pretty as they are a deep beetroot red), and one year some sprigs of gorse in flower, which lifted the wreath with its colour.

Here's one I made earlier (MUCH earlier - 2009 in fact!)

 The basic wreath - woven willow, held in place with string (which gets hidden).

Dressed with lots of strands of ivy, and oven dried slices of orange.

Tempararily in place on the Hergom.

 Our eldest daughter studding an orange with cloves.  It is then dusted with orris root and hung in the kitchen.

Drab and drear the landscape.   You have to search for the little miracles hidden in the dead grass and leaves.

Like this Navalwort, which clings to the slate rock which forms a little canyon as you climb the hill.

But with just a little bit of sunshine, you have amazing tree-sculptures . . .

Mind you, it isn't REALLY Christmas unless it snows . . .