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Writing Challenge – 31st July ’18.

What are you most looking forward to next month?

This is an easy write. I’m looking forward to our house move, which we hope will happen before September hits.

There’s excitement about moving but with a tinge of sadness. Having to move because your house is no longer suitable for you is not a good thing. There’s blood, sweat and tears in this 300 year old, exceptionally special building.

As a grey, dilapidated wreck it had a unique and special feel about it from the minute we first viewed it in late October 2009. Since August 2010 we’ve restored it, then decorated it, using traditional materials – lime plaster, chalk or breathable paints. It breathes (I say purrs) now. It already purred with the love deeply stored in the fabric from eons earlier, and we simply added to it.

What this experience gave us is as much as we returned – a reciprocal relationship. We restored the tired and sad areas, learning as we went; replacing dull corners with new plaster, new beams, solid oak floors, light and new joy, as the space between the 4 walls was once again filled to the brim with the echoes of the laughter, love and caress only a family can give.

It’s not all been happiness- when do you ever experience 365 days a year of unbridled joy? We had anger, malice, sadness, heartbreak here too, but like the bumpy-edged aesthetics the smooth is never too far away.

Our new home is about as far away as you can get from a characterful country cottage. Built in the 1980s, it’s a fairly basic bungalow. Off the main living space are 2 bedrooms – 1 either side, so it’s fairly symmetrical. Our plans are to put our own stamp on it with the addition of a large orangery. The kitchen wall and back wall will then be demolished to give a large, open-plan living area. Living on 1 level will hopefully make my days and nights more comfortable – the cottage has steps up and down throughout the building and both sets of stairs don’t help my disability or the chronic pain I suffer with because of it.

I’m excited too that I’ll have my own studio where I can write or sew to my hearts content.

So August is full of potential. Bring it on!

Until next time =)

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Writing Challenge- What are some of your family’s favourite dishes?

I can list a few favourites which I know hubby and son love me to make, plus I have my own favourites.

I’ve been cooking since I was 16 and made some awful meals while I was experimenting – I think they should be saved for another post though!

I think I’ll list them first and then write about how they came to be, evolve, etc

Hubby’s list reads as follows: Steak Pie, Stew & Dumplings, Steak, Stir-fry, Beef and Bean ‘bake’, Enchiladas, Roast Dinner, Fish Pie, Pork Kebabs.

Most of his choices are red meat heavy. He was brought up with post-war, traditionally British fare. He doesn’t eat vegetables; (they were boiled until they were almost transparent, to within a millimeter of their life), rice, pasta, couscous, etc as he doesnt like the texture or taste). It took me years to get used to dishing up just the meat and potato parts of a meal for him when I was used to dishing up half a plate of veg before the meat, potatoes, or anything else. I tried extremely hard to educate my son’s palate from a very early age, to enjoy all or most of the things I enjoyed – one of my favourite memories is Christmas 2001 when my son ate all the Brussels sprouts from his plate before touching anything else from his Christmas dinner! Thankfully, there’s very little my son dislikes.

Steak Pie is the number 1 favourite and I usually try to make one when our son comes home. The ingredients have been trialled over 26 years and not many people know the exact recipe but it is one of the most traditional meals I cook. A kilo of good quality chuck steak goes into a standard sized pie dish. Any less chunky and I get moaned at! I’ve made these pies for friends and have taken them as far North as North Yorkshire (I currently live on the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk border), when I made 3 huge (and I mean huge) pies. I’m talking 3 x 3kg pies! I’ve looked longingly at the pie section in the supermarket chilled cabinets but I’ve been threatened with divorce proceedings if I dish anything up which is less superior to my homemade pie!

Stew and Dumplings is more like the Irish stew I knew as a recipe and I make it like my mother-in-law did with the addition of a tin of Heinz Tomato Soup – no other tomato soup has quite the right taste. Dumplings are something I struggled with for years. I finally realised that not everything traditionally made was made with Plain flour! Duh! Now I know to make dumplings with Self-Raising flour they’re fine! Haha! Mum (in-law) always dished them up with warmly spiced mashed potato and tinned process peas. The other veg (carrot) was sliced into the stew. I make mine with Swede, carrot and turnip in and use tinned processed peas just cause it works with those ingredients.

Steaks – hubby likes a good rib-eye. I prefer a sirloin or rump, especially if they’re Aberdeen Angus beef. I dry fry them for 4 minutes each side on maximum temperature for a reasonably thick steak. We prefer medium-rare. I just have to ensure I’ve remembered to switch the hood on first, although there are a lot worse smells for a house to be full of than what is effectively griddled steak. I serve with oven cooked steak cut chips, sliced mushrooms, battered onion rings and Birds Eye Frozen peas.

Whilst the theme here is beef here’s the last meal in the list I make with Chuck steak – Beef & Bean ‘bake’. Braising steak is ok though, especially if cooking in a slow cooker. This started life as an actual bake. I used to start it in a pan, let it simmer for 2 or 3 hours then tip into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle breadcrumbs and grated cheese over the top and finish with an hour in the oven. Hubby has his with mashed potato but I usually steam some rice for myself.

Stir fries are eaten at home regularly. I come up with my own combinations of flavours every time I.e. ginger and soy, ginger and spring onion, soy and sesame seeds. We love bamboo shoots and water chestnuts and wish we could source them fresh, but I usually keep a tin of at least one of either in the larder at all times. Hubs would prefer beef or pork- I do give in sometimes – but I do really prefer chicken.

Enchiladas. Hubby fell hook, line and sinker for the cheesy enchilada meal pack from Old El Paso. Of course he prefers it done with pork (!) but I prefer chicken. I quite often just dish up the sauce and meat and have the flour or corn tortilla plain. I have an aversion to soggy bread and I discovered this included flour tortillas! 🤮

Fish Pie. It’s my own recipe. I think it’s a combination of fisherman’s pie and mariner’s pie. I’ve never gone to look at a recipe book to see what the actual recipe is. I buy cod, smoked haddock and salmon for mine and I pop a few prawns in to my section as I think they add something to the overall taste. I butter a Pyrex, chop the fish and spread the 3 types of fish, evenly throughout the dish. I make a homemade cheese sauce and let it cool and spoon this over. I top with mashed potato and bake for 40 minutes. I sprinkle fresh parsley over the pie before dishing up. I usually serve with steamed broccoli, cauliflower or both as they go so we’ll with the cheese sauce and this then makes for a light but satisfying meal.

We Brits all love a good roast dinner, traditionally on a Sunday, but why wait if that’s what you’re wanting, especially on a winter evening. Hubby prefers a roast pork leg or shoulder whereas I’m happy with roast beef and Yorkshire puddings or roast chicken with home made sage and onion stuffing. Yorkshire puddings were another thing I struggled with. They used to be more like pancakes! I used to watch ‘Saturday Kitchen’ on BBC1 on Saturday mornings. James Martin, as a Yorkshire man made a point of teaching people the proper recipe – which he gave as 8oz plain flour, 8 eggs and 1 pint full fat milk. I tried it the next day and they took over the oven – the Yorkshire pudding equivalent of a Triffid! I found them to taste too eggy so I made them the following week with only 4 eggs and thankfully that loss made no difference to the look of them – I still had Triffids in the oven! So James Martin, thank you, thank you, thank you for the recipe!

My favourite meals are Spaghetti Bolognese, curry, chilli con carne, a bacon sarnie, gammon steak with pineapple, or a jacket potato with cheese and coleslaw. I also love a good salad – the more ingredients the better. I think I could just write this post all night as there are also desserts/puddings/afters (depending on which area of the UK you come from). I think that’s for a post another time too. Maybe I should have a separate foodie blog…until next time…NN

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Writing Challenges – July 24th

Whereabouts in the world do you want to grow old?

I have never given any consideration to growing older anywhere other than in the U.K, in the house where I am sitting now. This is because this house (cottage) is our dream home and we always thought we would stay here until retiring properly to the coast.

Properly meant in our late 60s or early 70s. The coast meant South coast – Dorset’s Jurassic coast, Somerset, Devon or Cornwall.

The ocean has always instilled a deep sense of calm for me and the idea of being able to leave my home and be at the beach within a very short walking distance was a romantic notion; there aren’t many people who dislike the sound of the waves and seagull calls.

Now though, we’re leaving our dream cottage having marketed it a couple of months ago. I’m unable to comfortably live in my home. There are several steps throughout the property; a step down to enter from the front porch, a step up to walk along a passage and step down in to the kitchen, and a step down to enter the utility room. Two staircases; one with every step of a different depth, angle and width, or an early 20th century staircase with treads no longer than half the length of an adult foot length – safer to come down sideways! Neither ideal when both hips and lumbar spine aren’t great.

We’re now moving a ten minute drive away from three beaches on the Norfolk coast. There were properties closer, but too close and there’s a risk that your property could be lost to the sea within 50 to 100 years. Others also came with little or no garden. With 2 active dogs outdoor space was a necessity, despite there being great areas to exercise them out of the garden.

So now we await exchange of contracts. There’s a delay due to an issue one end of our very easy chain (it’s always us these things happen to – sods law!), so we’re living in a half empty house with a stack of packed cardboard boxes.

So, whilst I’d never given much thought to where I wanted to grow old – other than extremely over-romantic notions of somewhere like Hawaii, life threw a curve ball where I/we had to think about it.

The South coast was considered, and we did look on Rightmove – the national property search website most UK estate agents sign up to, but when we found some properties we realised that it’d be difficult to drive down to go and view them. It’d be a minimum of 6 hours each way, making for extremely long days or at least an overnight stay to allow for 2-3 shorter viewing days.

Hubby decided to see what was available closer so we looked at Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and a little in to Kent but found three bungalows we wanted to view in Norfolk. Property there is much cheaper than here in Cambridgeshire, which allows for money left to ensure the property could be adapted in order to be a forever home for us both.

The bungalow we found has a stunning 360° garden, has living accommodation which is easily adaptable for my restricted mobility and a lovely feel. The best thing for me is that there is a garden/sun room literally a few steps, or very short wheel from the main doors, which can be my writing studio – I’ll have no excuse not to be blogging and writing then! There’s also a workshop and brick outbuildings, both of which keep hubby happy with craft-based hobbies.

So it’s onwards to the coast in a few weeks. I’ll be sure to share our adventures!

Image at https://geoguessr.com/maps/world