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    Garden

    To call a spade a spade

    My Grandad’s old spade hangs on the wall, to remind me that greenfingers do run in my family, that gardening is a huge legacy and I really want to learn more about it. Watching my Dad, another keen gardener, with my kids, or seeing the way my brother grows chillis and tomatoes on his London balcony, I always thought the green fingers had bypassed me. Then, in my typical bull in a china shop, Gemini fashion, I decided to attack the garden one day.

    This is what it looks like in the Estate Agents documents, from when we nearly sold it last year. Neat and tidy but a bit bare. Glad we didn’t sell it, but we need to ‘reown’ it.

    I decided we were having a veg patch. Mr G was put to work on hosing the turf, while I dug. Each time I dug it got a little easier, instinct and Mr G’s excited shrieks kicked in. I’ve watched my Dad digging enough times over the years. We even found an old horseshoe which sent Mr G on a fabulous journey of the imagination and had history mad Miss L speculating.

    We added the old boat shaped sandpit as a raised bed

    We stuck canes in as we had seen my Dad do, to keep the neighbours cats off. Then we forgot about it (told you, I am a Gemini, master of unfinished projects).

    Until my Dad gave us a Kew Gardens seed and soil test kit. We tested the soil in a series of test tubes and realised it was perfect for growing stuff. So we filled the old sandpit with the wild flowers that came with the kit and added the broken old watering can and the old horseshoe for decoration. I hope it brings our crops luck!

    Then Mr G and I found some pea seeds in a tin in the shed. As I was planting the peas I could see my Grandad in my mind, hear him, telling me how to do it. I could see his big hands, the dirt permanently engrained in the creases, gently pointing where to go. And the peas, they only went and grew!

    See, all that information I’ve absorbed from watching the professionals in action is there, just a bit buried. I’ve had two rather fast growing little ones to look after and there hasn’t been much time for plants in my life.

    We bought some more seeds, and me and Miss l went for it.

    We thought some windmills would brighten it up and some log roll edging to keep little feet from jumping onto the seeds as they grew.

    It still felt a bit flat, so what we needed was a scarecrow. I looked around for some ideas and discovered hessian ones last longer. You can see how I did it in my how to make a scarecrow post.

    Costings

    Seeds – £17 (bumblebee wild flower mix, peas, carrots, broccoli, beetroot, lettuce)

    Tomato plants  – £3 in the sale

    Scarecrow materials – £10 online/petshop

    Log roll edging – £10 Asda

    Windmills – £4 for 8 mini ones Asda, larger ones National Trust £6 for 2.

    Creativity, Garden

    How to make a scarecrow

    You need – 2 Hessian sacks (I bought mine online) Straw (from the pet shop), garden twine, an old plastic milk bottle, scissors, a darning needle, an old broom handle, a garden cane, marker pen, hat and props.

    1. Cut one sack in half, from the bottom, to about two thirds of the way up to the top to make the legs. Cut the other sack in half, but all the way, this will be the arms and head covering.

    2. Sew the legs, I used garden twine, leaving room to now stuff the broom handle between the legs. Stuff with straw.

    3. Take  one half of the other sack and cut a head hole in the long edge, put this over the broom. Sew along the the open length of the sack, first creating the left arm, then sewing around the body to attach to the legs. You will need to scrunch up the fabric of the ‘leg’ sack to ensure there is room left to sew along the length on the other side to make the right arm.

    4. Stick a cane through the length of the arms and stuff the body and arms and then tie the ends with string.

    5. Using the leftover half sack, cover the milk bottle in sack with the excess length under what will be the scarecrow’s chin.  Stuff in some straw. You can either sew the head to the body, or just tie using the excess sack around the pole with string which gives a less Frankenstein like appearance!

    6. Kids can add features with marker pen or with props. Excess sack bits can be used to make a nose, or perhaps a scarf.

    Education, Food, Kids stuff, Play, Residence

    Chocolate Soreen Baked Alaska

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    I have been wanting to make Baked Alaska since I got chatting to Emma at Science Sparks about science in cooking. I’ve been meaning to follow lovely Kerry of Science Spark’s recipe, the picture of her holding beaten egg whites over her head makes me smile. Then I found this recipe for Chocolate Soreen baked Alaska, I had to give it a go. But do check out Science Sparks for the Science bit, as this is such a genius recipe to cook with kids!

    Chocolate Soreen is only available for a limited time. Chocolate Loaf is in Asda now, in Morrisons from 20th May for 3 weeks and Sainsbury’s from 23rd May for 3 weeks. Continue reading

    Creativity

    5 easy forest craft activities

    Since we moved to Nottingham 6 years ago, I have been trying to work out where the forest that Robin Hood roamed in could be. Sadly much of it has been chopped down, you can see the 800 year old Major Oak, but it doesn’t quite give you the feeling of being an outlaw I was looking for, because the forest no longer feels boundless.

    I did get something of that awe inspiring outlaw feeling however, when we were invited to a blogger forest activities day out at Sherwood Pines, the East Midlands largest forest open to the public. It must be something to do with the sheer size and number of the trees, but the feeling of being overpowered by nature hits you the minute you leave the car. Continue reading

    Food

    Simnel Cake, perfect for ailing souls

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    Bunny Burner. Still tastes awesome, even though I somehow read 6 minutes instead of 3 under the grill.

    Good Friday I was feeling, ‘meh’, burnt out, tired and unable to face the mess from a busy week or even worse the prospect of building even more mess over the Easter holidays. But Mr A volunteered to take the kids food and ingredient shopping, so I cleaned the kitchen and prepared for some baking therapy.

    Simnel cakes have been around since medieval times as a sweet treat, it was the Victorians who decided to decorate them with 11 balls to represent the disciples minus Judas. My interpretation, as a ‘heathen’, as Mr A affectionately refers to me, is all about Spring. I am a firm believer we need festivals to see us through the seasons.
    Continue reading

    Food, Kids stuff, Play, Residence

    Easy Chocolate Brownies

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    These went down really well as Christmas presents for teachers, and we also took some as presents when we went to stay with my brother’s family. This recipe which I picked up from one of my visits to the Panasonic Ideas Kitchen, makes loads, at least 30 small squares, and is so easy. We make them in our Panasonic Combination oven which cuts the cooking time, but I have included conventional oven timings too.

    Ingredients

    • 250 g plain chocolate
    • 250 g unsalted butter
    • 4 large eggs
    • 310 g caster sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla essence
    • 180 g plain flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 75 g hazelnuts
    • 75 g white chocolate chips
    • 75 g milk chocolate chips

    1. Put the plain chocolate and butter in a large bowl. Place on glass turntable and cook on HIGH MICROWAVE for 3 mins. Leave to cool slightly.

    2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and set aside.

    3. Stir the sugar into the Chocolate. Add the eggs and vanilla essence.
    Fold in the flour, nuts and Chocolate.

    4. Pour the Chocolate mixture into the prepared cake tin. Place on tray and cook on COMBINATION: CONVECTION 180°C and SIMMER MICROWAVE for 18 mins. Or Gas 4/180 C for 25-30 minutes.

    The middle should feel soft when cooked. Allow to cool in the tin. Remove the brownies from the tin and cut into squares.

    blogging, Photography, Residence, Travel, Vlogging

    Baking and Learning #goodwork

    Photographing Mummy Barrow and Mammasaurus taking photos of Davina, taking photos of a 3year old boy whose mum has worked at the Virtutious Women’s Bakery for 7 years and trains other women how to make and hawk bread.

    Today’s visits to projects here in Ghana has been amazing, inspiring, exhausting, hot, but more than anything full of stories I am bursting to tell, from talking to Davina about motherhood and women’s rights, to experiencing first hand some of the amazing ways projects funded by Comic Relief help to change lives and empower people.

    Here is a little video I made to unpack my day, it talks through the pictures I have included below it:

    Children singing in the creche as their mothers work in the bakery across the courtyard

    Dough arrives carried in by Veronica, who featured in the Comic Relief Great British Bake Off

    Inspiring and caring teachers

    Preparing to grease 200 tins

    Expert hands get to work on the dough

    Production Line

    Proudly showing off her chalk board

    Watching mum at work, while looking after the little ones

    Blowing bubbles at the end of our visit

    Assante, project worker in Agbogbloshie Slum takes us on a tour, he tells me of the challenges of lack of sanitation, running water, drugs, prostitution, HIV and the amazing opportunities created by Comic Relief funded projects.

    Ground floor of the school in the midst of the slum, originally a shack with 20 students, it now educates over 200.

    Older children learning more formally upstairs in the school

    View over Agbogbloshie slum from the school building

    Assante introduces Aishetu who came to the city slum from a small village after her parents died. Training as a hairdresser has brought her financial security and pays for her younger sister to attend school.

    Mercy set up her bead making business with support from Comic Relief funded projects.

    Tuesday 4th February was Comic Relief’s 25th birthday, so much to celebrate, believe me today I saw it first hand.

    For the past 25 years the money raised through Red Nose Day has been changing the lives of the poorest and most disadvantaged people in the UK and Africa. Please share this post. Let’s Keep Up the #GoodWork.

    Find out how at rednoseday.com and click on the badge to find out more about how bloggers can help.

    GoodWork
    Food

    My favourite Nut Roast recipe and Vegetarian Gravy recipe

    This is the gorgeous nut roast we have pretty much always had at Christmas, but it is lovely for Sunday lunch or any special occasion. It has a layer of tomatoes and parsley in the middle which makes it attractive, extra special and a little bit festive too. The meat eaters always have some as stuffing and since I discovered this gravy it has been the only one we ever make, for veggies and meat eaters alike. Continue reading

    Home, Memory Book, Nostalgic, Reviews

    Creating the perfect spot in the garden

    perfect spot in the garden

    Creating the perfect spot in the garden, photo by Arno Smit

    Do you have a favourite spot in the garden? What makes it special?  Is it the furniture you sit on ? The view? The plants that surround you?  The feeling of escaping?

    My attitude to gardens was shaped hugely by my grandparent’s garden.  They lived in a two up two down semi-detached pebble-dashed house in Staffordshire, but the garden was huge. It was long and sloped, the first section rows of rose bushes and chrysanthemums which my Granddad would enter in shows, surrounded by three neat paths through the edges and middle of the garden.

    A washing pole marked the start of a lawned section of garden where there was a bench under some trees and next to this some giant rhubarb leaves.  I think you could look out over the greenhouse at the bottom of the lawn to see the fields beyond.  It was always a peaceful spot where we would play as kids, and the grown ups would join us to drink tea while taking a break from the garden.

    More moss lined paths wound round the greenhouse and shed, past our secret den to an apple tree you could climb in, another big black shed we weren’t allowed in and a huge vegetable patch where we planted peas, carrots, potatoes.

    The house I did most of my growing up in had a small yard, but the most stunning view of the Peak District. At the end of the yard Dad placed a sea worn plank he found on the beach at Harlech and that was our garden bench.  I can see Mum sitting on it in the Summer, laughing with the neighbours who went to Italy every year, as they handed round Limencello and Amaretto.

    Years ago, the Summer when Mr A and I bumped into each each other again in town while visiting our parents, we would stagger back from the pub and sit on that bench talking into the night. That bench has memories.

    We had a garden table and chairs, now we have 3 chairs.. But I can’t settle on them. I come out of the back door, step on the decking, shuffle them and sit maybe for a minute at a time. So I guess I am coming to the conclusion that what my next garden needs is a bench. I like the idea of a fixed spot I can keep coming back to.

    I also remember lying in a hammock with my mum, strung between two apple trees, the smell of lavender wafting by at my mum’s college friend’s house in a Cotswolds village. My brother must have been about three and he was pretending to be a dentist and inspecting mum’s teeth. Sigh. A hammock would be amazing.

    What garden furniture do you have or lust after?

    Creativity, Residence

    My day of photography tuition

    I love looking back at this post, I think I’ve learnt so much since 2011! The picture above is 2017…I wrote this is 2011.

    When my son was born we bought a Nikon SLR camera to try to keep up to speed with our children.  It’s been on autofocus since we bought it, brought out on occasions when we feel we should have a photo. The first shot is of me on the operating table, about to have a c-section.  There’s about 700 more shots, all of them lovely memories, but none of them particularly stunning photographs.
    Hopefully that is set to change.  Back in May my dad bought me a day’s photography tuition with Jon Cruttenden for my birthday. Dad, who takes great photos himself, stumbled upon Jon and his stunning photographs at the local market.

    I finally redeemed my voucher this week.  The morning was spent gently filling my brain with theory and familiarising myself with the creative zone of my camera, the world beyond autofocus. Jon is a really patient tutor and had some great analogies to explain the technical bits.  He also provided me with an excellent set of notes to refer to afterwards.

    After lunch Jon, a herd of cows, and I spent a sunny afternoon photographing White Nancy.  This strange bottle shaped summer house was built to commemorate victory at the Battle of Waterloo. I can’t tell you how lovely it is to spend time on a proper hill (how I miss Cheshire) in the realms of my youth (I could see a handful of old school friends houses from this vantage point) without kids (I’m tired/hungry/bored) and armed with a camera (creative me time).

    I had no idea how many decisions go into taking one shot.  As we climbed up the steep hill and I focussed on not losing my flip flops or landing in a cow pat, Jon was already narrating me through his thought processes as a photographer.  Would you like to be let in on some of mine?

    So this is me procrastinating, taking pictures of Jon taking pictures, that old photograph the photographer cliche.

    Jon pointed out that there’s a kind of moody rock band look about a herd of cows which I came close to capturing here.  Would they co-operate and all look at the camera though?  I’m most annoyed with that grey one looking at the other one’s bottom.

    Turns out individual cows are easier subjects to practice on, they don’t giggle, run off or blink.

    I just love the way they stare at each other.  If White Nancy was just a bit more to the right, and the half a cow behind it pushed off.  Of course what I really wanted was a comedy shot with one cow’s bottom and another’s head poking out, but would they cooperate?

    I got the head poking out, now would the other two push off?  I was starting to feel like they were talking about me now.

    I like the cow curving round White Nancy.   The light is almost Mediterranean, and this is the 3rd of October.  But… the ahem ‘white balance’ isn’t right, White Nancy is a bit pink.

    ‘Yeah I know the rule of thirds’, she said, ‘I used to teach film’.  So why did I keep shoving White Nancy bang in the middle?  It would look so much better a third of the way over.

    But, someone wasn’t letting me retake that shot.  But do you notice how the shadow, on the right of White Nancy, emphasises its curve?

    As a media teacher, I’m still more comfortable de constructing shots than constructing them.  There is an incredible amount you can ponder in every shot and I’m still juggling all that theory with controlling the camera itself and reacting to my surroundings.  But I can’t recommend doing this enough.  I’m really excited about photography, the day totally changed the way I see it.

    It’s no longer just a case of dutifully documenting our lives.  I want to make time to create some great photographs.  Photographing something other than my children was very liberating, but still gave me plenty of ideas to practice on them. Although I kind of like the idea of hanging out on hillsides with cows.

    Jon covers Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire and offers tuition as well as photography. Spending a day with someone who is passionate about their art, able to explain it and willing to let others into their artistic processes is a rare and inspiring treat.

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