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January 2015
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March 2015

February 2015

One pot andouille sausage skillet pasta

This may be a strange fasting recipe to share but please bare with me! I found this recipe on Pinterest while I was looking for one of those 'throw it all in a pot and Voila it's done' type meals, you know the ones you need when you just don't feel like cooking. And it's delicious!!

The recipe can be found here, along with a huge library of great one pot/pan meals.

My original plan was to make two versions side by side, one following the original recipe and then an adapted recipe for me.

One pot pasta ingredients

Stuart came home before I had started cooking and said he didn't mind the soya milk so I decided to make the vegan version and just add the sausage and cheese to his bowl.

So to turn this into a vegan meal, simply replace three items:
Sausage = courgette
Milk = soya milk
Chicken broth = vegetable stock
and leave one off:

I sliced the courgette thinly and fried it with the onions until they were just softening, then add the vegetable stock, carton of chopped tomatoes, half a cup of soya milk and the raw pasta to the pot and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, pop on the lid and allow to cook for 12 to 14 minutes stiring occasionally.

One pot pasta all in the pot

I love both versions of this recipe and it's one I will make often over the next 6 weeks.

One pot pasta two bowls

It's such an easy and very tasty meal, give it a try. Well that's week 1 almost done, just 6 left!

Ciao xx

Rowan Brushed Fleece

There are a few things I love about this lovely Brushed Fleece yarn. Firstly it is SO super soft and squishy, I could wrap myself in it like an Egypian mummy! Secondly, it is knitted on size 6 needles so works up lighting fast. And third, the colours! I could make something out of each and every one of them.

I have made two items, and both turned out great!

I started Dee in October last year but stopped having finished the back and two sleeves so I could make Nina's Retro Flower Blanket. I picked it up again just after New Year and was finished by mid January.


^^It was a bit windy when I was trying to take my photo!^^

I am always a bit nervous making items of clothing in case they don't fit and all that time and effort is wasted. And I was super nervous with this yarn as I wasn't sure how it would undo. You see, as you knit, the fibres seem to gel in a way that I guess fleece forms. Does that make sense? I didn't think it would unwind.

Dee close up

I mastered picking up stitches for the front and collar band and making button holes which is something I have always battled with. I am still looking for the perfect buttons though! I want military style buttons in an antique silver colour.

This cardi is a wardrobe essential and I have worn it so much already.

I fell in love with the Cosy Jacket pattern one Saturday in November when I was visiting the lovely ladies at Jolie in Walkern. A customer came in to show it off as she had just finished (she had a broken shoulder but still managed to make it in a week!), and WOW it was stunning. She had chosen the red (Nook it's called) and I thought it would be just wonderful to wear during the festive season. But alas I didn't have the time to make it then so I asked Linda to add the pattern book and yarn to the wish list book. The wish list book is very busy at Christmas time as this is where the ladies note down all their customers wishes, so when our husbands visit for gifts, we get just what we want! They are clever ;)

Cosy jacket

My preference was either the red (nook) or black (peat), but I would have liked the grey (crag) or green (heath) too.

It took just under a month to make, with a few stops to make birthday beanies.

Cosy jacket close up

Do you think it needs a light press? I don't want to flatten the fibres but the front edges are curling. Maybe i'll wait and see if it settles down.

I would also love to make this Cosy jumper and this Swale jumper.

Crochet is my first love but the more I knit and learn the skill the more I love it. One day I want to do the whole process of sheep to garment, a bit like Adam Henson did with his wool suit.

I'm on a mission to finish off some half done projects as I seem to have so many of them just now. If I could get into the habit of not having so many WIPs on the go at once I would be much happier! Two or three is fine but yikes I have lots.

Ciao xx

Clean Monday and fasting

Today is Clean Monday. It is the start of Lent, 7 weeks before Greek Easter.

I must explain that I am South African born to a Greek father and Scottish mother. I was baptised in the Greek Orthodox church at the age of 13. The motivation was Greek citizenship and a passport. I went to church every Sunday but understood nothing. I don't speak or understand any Greek, well except a few words, like hello, goodbye, thank you and I can swear. I love that I have a mixed heritage!

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

For years my aunt had encouraged us to fast for Holy week, the week preceding Easter, but somehow I would always remember half way through a pizza!

In 2013 following a small health scare that my husband had we fasted for Holy week, just 6 days, and enjoyed it. It was also a little kick start to change some of our eating habits. Last year I decided we should fast for the full 7 weeks. We did it, and it was hard and at the end of it I vowed never to do it again, ever!!

And here I sit on Clean Monday 2015 in anticipation for the next 7 weeks of meals that contain no meat, no fish with a backbone (- prawns, mussels and octopus are allowed), no dairy, no eggs, no olive oil or fats derived from animals and no wine.

In addition to the official list, I'm also giving up all alcohol, crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks (except tonic water).
In modern times olive oil can used in cooking and all other fats excluded. However you can't use raw olive oil as a dressing. I will do this as I prefer to cook with olive oil and if you use it to roast vegetables you can use what's left in the dish to drizzle over food.

You may think it's impossible and honestly I thought that too. But over the past year the internet (and Pinterest) has opened my eyes to a huge library of vegan recipes. If you're an adventurous eater you will find lots that you can and will enjoy. And some that you won't, lol.
My aim this lent is to find and cook more Greek recipes, I have a few, but I would like to learn more.

Although I am all set and keen to start, my husband is not and I would never force him. We have agreed that he will eat my vegan offering with a piece of meat in the evenings and I have encouraged him to eat a healthier option for breakfast and lunch. You see, last year we had a little weight loss bet that I won by .5kg. It was a close call and I thought he might be up to steal the title.

I must just say that I have no intention of becoming a vegan, I like meat too much!

So why am I doing it? Well, I like the challenge of completing the 7 weeks and stepping outside of my comfort zone. I like food, too much, and this makes me think about what I put into my body each day. I need to think about each meal and every ingredient in it.
It also reminds me that vegetables can be exciting and delicious and different each time you prepare them if you just experiment a little bit.
Of course there is the spiritual side to lent, giving up so much that is taken for granted. And it is to cleanse the body in preparation of the acceptance of the resurrection at Easter.

I have started a fasting recipe board on Pinterest for easy reference and I'm looking forward to trying some new ones. I thought that I would share a recipe/meal, maybe two, a week for the duration of my fast. These will be recipes I have tried and will give an honest opinion on ease of cooking and taste.

Check back soon for a knitting update too. I have two completed projects to share.

Ciao xx

Menu planning - week three, lets shop

Do you shop online? I have found online shopping works best for me. I do the shop on the Sainsburys app on my phone using my usuals list so everything I need is in one place and I am in my home so I can check the cupboards if I need to.

Going into the grocery store holds too many distractions and if you want to use this menu planning tool to keep costs down you don't need any distractions. But if you are going to the store make sure your shopping list is accurate. And don't forget it at home!

So, lets get on with the next step. Lets do the shop.

Taking into account any nights out and take away nights and if like me you super size some meals (macc cheese, lasagne, pork casserole) for a left overs dinner night you don't need to shop for 30 or 31 meals. Using your full meal list, make a smaller list of 20 to 25 meals. They don't need to be in any order, just pick the meals you want to eat for the next month.

And now from that monthly meal list you can prepare your shopping list. Don't forget to check your store cupboard for oil, spices, herbs etc. breakfast cereals, sandwich spreads, tea and coffee. I keep a magnetic note pad to write down these non meal specific essentials as they finish.

I don't like to have a surplus of food as I only have a small kitchen and space is limited. At this point I would usually check what I already have in the cupboard. Although my kitchen is small I still like to take advantage of specials so I will often have left over rice or pasta from the month before. Simply cross any items you don't need off your shopping list.

I buy fresh and frozen veg and cook meals with the fresh veg at the beginning of the month and use the frozen veg towards the end.
In the summer we go to Hitchin fruit and veg market on a Saturday so I won't buy fresh from the grocery store and keep a small bag of frozen for emergencies.

Now you are ready to shop :)

**If you are standing in front of the meat counter and there is an amazing special on chicken but you have only added one chicken dish to your monthly meal plan, don't dispair. Just add more and take something else off. You will get into a rhythm of adjusting your list to get the most out of your money. Don't forget to update your monthly meal list with the changes you've made.**

I keep my monthly meal list on a small magnetic board in the kitchen. Each morning I check the list and decide what's for dinner, taking any meat products out of the freezer. Once the meal is cooked I tick it off the list.

Kitchen notice board

All my menu planning notes are pinned with a bulldog clip and hang on the inside of my pantry cupboard door. Once a month I take it all to the dining room table with a cup of tea and it takes an hour to prepare my monthly meal list and do the grocery shop and that hour once a month has saved me loads of time and unnecessary trips to the shops.

MP Keep it simple

^^Please excuse the state of my pantry door. I would love to replace it with a nice wooden door that I can paint and distress. Maybe in the summer^^

I have been using this menu planning tool for 6 months now and only ever stop at the shops for bread and treats and I coincide these with my fuel stops.

If you decided to use this menu planning tool, please let me know how it works out for you and if you have any tips to share please leave me a comment.

Ciao xx

Taking Stock

I was having a little roam around the internet when I happened upon this lovely blog, and loved the taking stock post. And then had to go look at this taking stock post, and how about this one.

I love these little glimpses into bloggers everyday. Things they wouldn't necessarily blog about that make them more human.

So i'm joining in :)

Making : Knitting a cosy jacket in Rowan brushed fleece yarn
Cooking : Steak, ribs and wedges
Drinking : Apple and blackcurrent squash
Reading: I'm off then: Losing and finding myself on the Camino de Santiago
Wanting: 5 extra crafting hours a day
Looking: For a good solution to our herb/spice/seasoning storage problem in a small kitchen
Playing: Candy crush (I have been stuck on a level for about 4 months)
Deciding: What project to start complete when I finish my cosy jacket
Wishing: For those 5 extra crafting hours a day
Enjoying: The sunlight hours lengthening as the winter season draws to a close
Waiting: For a delivery from Moleskine
Liking: My new Cath Kidston bag
Wondering: If the world can learn to be more forgiving and tolerant
Loving: Quiet Sunday evenings at home
Pondering: If I should swop the spare bedroom and craft room around
Considering: Removing the facebook app from my phone
Watching: Brothers & Sisters on Amazon Prime, obsessively
Marvelling: At the talent of some crafters
Needing: A holiday in the sunshine
Smelling: My French lavender candle
Wearing: Pajamas
Following: Lots of inspiring blogs
Noticing: The snow drops in the garden
Knowing: I am loved
Thinking: Of those who I have lost
Feeling: Warm and content
Admiring: The happy hookers and their charitable offerings
Sorting: Yarn into project bags and expedit Drona boxes
Buying: Paper copy books (as apposed to iBooks books)
Getting: Nervous for my 40 day fast (i'll explain soon)
Bookmarking: This cool shop for unusual gifts
Disliking: Negative comments/opinions on facebook
Opening: My mind to a refreshing way of approaching new challenges
Giggling: At the FB video of the little Irish girl on the phone (It's the 'stop calling me' one which I can't find to post a link but she is just too cute)
Snacking: Full on flavour salt and vinegar twists from M&S
Wishing: For one more day with my dad
Hearing: The gentle purr from a happy Josh

Can you believe we are a month and a half into 2015? No me neither

Ciao xx

Menu planning - week two, gathering recipes and lists of ingredients

Welcome to week two of menu planning. Have you got your meals lists? Good, lets start step two.

This week you're going to familiarise yourself with the ingredients you need to make each of your meals. At this point I went into dither mode. Should I write all the recipes out on index cards? Did I need a new recipe book/folder? Should I spend another few (hundred) hours on pinterest researching this? NO! All you need to do is get a few sheets of A4 paper, a pen, your receipe books and access to your pinned recipes.

I worked through my meal list and wrote all the ingredients down for each one.
I wrote out my ingredients on two lists, one for the raw ingredients, like potatoes, meat, tinned tomatoes, eggs etc, and one list for the flavourings, like olive oil, harissa paste, vinegar, basil, and paprika.
I found this bit challenging. Not because it was time consuming but because there were some meals that I made without thinking, and out of my head, and now I really had to try hard to remember every ingredient that goes into it. And when I say every, I mean right down to the sprinkle of paprika that goes on the top before popping it in the oven.

MP Shopping list

^^look at my spelling of chorizo^^ It's one of those words I just can't remember.
(If two meals use sausages, just write a x2 next to sausages, you don't need to repeat yourself.)

Just a note about my 'flavouring' list: I decided to put all of these ingredients on a seperate list because I wanted to have a reference of all the things that I won't necessarily buy every month but I need to check that I have enough of it to get through the next month. These are the essentials that you would always have in your store cupboard, and can include things like olives and pickles too.

You will now have a shopping list to cook every meal on your meal list! It's huge right?

You may wonder what the benefit of writing a full shopping list is. Well, there are two:
1) Getting into a midset of writing a shopping list. Write it all down and you won't forget anything!
2) Highlighting any unusual ingredients. Maybe your recipe comes from the US and you need to find an alternative for your country (this happens a lot!), or perhaps it's a specialist food item and you need to check that your usual grocery store stocks it.

I still have my original ingredient list and even though my meal list has grown and evolved it reminds me of how well i've done.

See you next week for week three and happy list writing.

Ciao C xx

Photo book update

I'm really chuffed to bits with the photo books!

PB cover

I wish I could have managed better photos of them but it is very wet outside and very dark inside!

So let's review...

Cover: I chose the linen cover in red for our Cape Town trip and black for 2010/2011 year book. With no sticky fingers handling the books I think the linen covers will survive. I do want to try the hard custom cover too, and I think this would look amazing for my Kruger book with an Elephant or Lion on the cover. With that option you also get to customise the back and spine of the book. I'm not keen on the dust jacket option as they just get scrunched and bent.

Background themes: There are hundreds of free background themes to choose from, from simple to very colourful. For the year in review book I chose the free 'papers' as the topics of each page are so varied, from Christmas to a summer holiday in Crete. You can mix and match between free themes too. For the Cape Town book I chose a £5.00 Hallmark travel theme.

PB page 1

The papers are fantastic and vibrant! You can't mix these with the free papers but you do see all the papers in the collection before you choose it and of course you can change your mind if you decide they don't work. PS that pan of seafood was for two!

PB page 2

Print quality: Most of the photos I have uploaded to snapfish are iPhone photos and my iPhone 4 had a seriously bad camera! I am so impressed with the quality of the book and the photos.

PB page 3

PB page 4

^^ Especially these ^^

My Kruger photos were taken with my DSLR and uploaded to my iPad through iTunes then uploaded to snapfish. Unfortunatly the PC with the original upload on is in PC heaven so this is the only copy I have. I'm interested to see how they print.

Price: A 20 page 8x11 linen cover, free theme book is £19.99. Add £5.00 for a hard custom or dust jacket cover and £10.00 for a leather cover. Add £5.00 for a hallmark theme. Add £1.49 for 2 extra pages. The page layouts range from 1 photo to 7 photos so potentially you can really load the book with photos.

Overall impression: For a scrapbooker this is a great way to document those photos that you probably wouldn't scrap but would still want in an album. I haven't scrapped in a few years but now don't feel guilty about it! And if I feel inspired I can still go back and print any of these photos that I do want to scrap because I have them saved. It's a win win :)
For a non scrapper in the digital age this is a great way of putting your photos in an 'album'. It's great having them at the touch of a phone button but who doesn't love getting the albums out?

I signed up at a great time as there was a January sale going on and if your order was £35.00 and over you received 50% off your goods price. My order was £49.99 (2 linen books with the hallmark extra), so I received a discount of £22.48. Postage was on top. That means that my basic book was free!

By the end of this year I would like to have done the 2012, 2013 and 2014 years in review, Stuarts 50th and birthday trip to Morocco and my 40th birthday books. And hopefully there will be more sales during the year! Better crack on.

(FYI, this review is my personal opinion and not a sponsored post.)

Ciao C xx

Menu planning - week one, getting started

I've decided to document the process of menu planning that I used at the end of last year to help ensure I had the right ingredients in my kitchen to cook meals for a full month.

MP list of meals

When I worked at John Lewis head office in Stevenage I passed Sainsburys on my way home and more often then not I had to stop to pick up something that was missing for that night's dinner. It felt like a waste of time. And it was.
I needed and wanted to be more organised but the idea of meal planning always seemed like such a huge task to me. I had been looking on the internet at these super organised woman who have planners and folders and recipe cards and I didn't know where to start!

Now I will admit that it took me 4 years of contemplation and research to actually get around to doing this. Moving jobs where I finished work at 4 and have a relatively short commute meant that being able to stop at the shops on my way home was a serious posibility and I was not going to get into that bad habit again! I had other plans for my time.

It doesn't matter if you work or don't work, have kids or don't have kids, we all want a little extra time in our day or week to indulge in a hobby, or meet up with friends, or simply have nothing to do. So I figured that if I can save even an hour a week it would be a bonus.

I'm going to post a step each Friday for the next few weeks and if you would like to join in please do so. By the end of February you will have a menu and shopping list ready for the month of March. And a new way of thinking about the dreaded grocery shop.

Getting started:
Step one is to list all the meals you eat. I simply grabbed a piece of A4 paper and wrote them down. Here are a few of mine:
Macaroni cheese
Chickpea chicken
Roast veg and cous cous
Pork chops, veg and rice
Sweet and sour chicken with rice
Pasta bake
Mushroom and onion stifado
Toad in the hole
Mediterranean wraps
Prawn pilaf

I also spent a few (a hundred at least) hours on Pinterest looking for new recipes to add to my growing list. You want at least 40 meals and some dishes that can be made in a larger portion to either freeze half or have enough for a leftovers dinner. It took about 4 or 5 days until I was happy that I had a varied list.
Then split your list into groups: vegetarian, meat, pasta, fish etc. I found that this helped when planning the meals for the month as I make sure I get some from each 'category'.

Your meal list isn't set in stone, and this is what we're eating from now to forever. Our list has evolved over the months where I have tried something new and loved it so it's been added and a meal has even been crossed off as it sounded better than it was, or maybe I just did it wrong!
We're also doing this in February (I did mine in September so the same factors apply) and for us in the northern hemisphere it's winter and the meals we're thinking about are meant to warm us. So as the weather warms you will look for something different and you'll want to add more outdoorsy meals.

I made sure that I have some real easy meals on the list. The type of meal that you just put everything (raw) in one pot and leave to cook. Take a look at my pinterest for ideas.
I have three food and drink boards. The first Food And Drinks is where I pin ideas to, Cocktails Made And Loved is for drinks we have tried and liked loved, and Tried And Tasted is for recipes that I have used and trust. These are good for those days when you just don't feel like slaving over a hot stove.
I also like to have an 'in case of emergency' meal on the list, which is usually something that is cooked from frozen for that day when I forget to take dinner out the freezer!!

So get those lists written up and don't forget to come back for week two next Friday :)

Ciao C xx

Edited to add a link to week two and week three

Seasonal cloche

Cloche from the French for bell. I first discovered the glass cloche dome in the Country Living magazine when they were used to cover and protect plants from the frost in early spring. I loved the idea of placing these glass 'bells' over my tomato seedlings on the allotment, so I went on the hunt for a selection of styles and sizes.

Now I don't want to begrudge my seedings the protection they require but I decided that they were better off on the window sill in the kitchen and my cloche was better used as decor!

I am amassing a collection of seasonal treasures that will fill my cloche all year round as I aim to have it on display 365 and a quarter days a year.

Cloche easter

Easter: I found this gorgeous bunny at Etcetera in Hitchin and just loved his little fluffy yellow tail. The eggs came from a John Lewis silly sale (I have hundreds!!) and the tissue grass was an eBay find. I bought lots of different colours. The bunting was made with skewer sticks, cotton and patterned paper off cuts. This is why I keep all my scraps! The bunting stands thanks to glue gun blobs on the glass base.

Cloche halloween

Halloween: My little haunted house came from  John Lewis silly sale, and it did light up but the battery is flat (must replace it this year!). I cut the bats from cardstock, suspended by glue gun dots with cotton.

Cloche christmas

Christmas: I think this could be my favourite! The trees were an eBay find and they came as a pack of various sizes. The snow was also from eBay and has silver snowflake punch shapes in it that sparkle in the candle light. The deer were from Kenmore Interiors in Hitchin, and are/were Christmas tree decorations.

Pinterest have so many great ideas! I could almost change my cloche every week, but imagine the storage I would need to keep the decorating treasures. I plan to also use natural items like pinecones and willow branches and moss and holly. Oh the possibilities are just endless!

Do you have cloche ideas to share? Please do :)

Ciao C xx

Retro flower inspired blanket

Is there a better way to keep warm in the winter other than being snuggled under a hand made blanket? No, there isn't. And as yarn crafters we want to keep all our loved ones warm and cosy.

Nina blanket 2

Please excuse my too dark iPhone photo, but I was so glad that my little sister loved her blanket I just had to record it. It was part of her Christmas 2014 gift and this photo was taken on boxing day.

This pattern is gorgeous but be warned it does like to eat yarn with it's lovely fat cluster stitches.
It's another easy to grasp pattern that is described beautifully on my hooker friend Maria's blog, 50 shades of 4 ply. And please take note of the gorgeous edging she has done on her blanket!!

Nina blanket

I used Debbie Bliss Rialto DK which is super soft and snuggly. Again I chose to plan the colours and layout of this blanket, please  Download Ninas blanket plan if you would like to use it.

Although I started this blanket in plenty time to be finished for Christmas, a distributor issue with the light grey meant that I had to do all the inside circles in anticipation of the yarn reaching my local yarn store for the marathon sprint of squaring off each circle, joining then together and edging it. My fingers were smokin' hot in December as I was hooking every possible minute.
I'm not sure what I would have done if the yarn didn't arrive in time. No other colour was going to work and I would have been so dissapointed.

I feel a huge amount of pressure when I make blankets for people, from the colour selection to the expectation of how they will receive it. Blanket making and crochet is such an old fashioned idea and I worry that people just won't get it and the blanket will be shoved in a cupboard and not used.
That would be awful wouldn't it? All that hard work, time and money hidden away for the moths to eat.
However I am very lucky that I am surrounded by people who get me, and my hobby, and my blankets have all be well received and loved and for that I am grateful. Oh happy days

Ciao C xx

edited to amend the blanket plan link.