Monday, 18 October 2010

My Twist on Lancashire Hotpot

2 years ago I attended Matthew’s family firework party. His large family fill his grandmother’s house and they all come together once a year to catch up and have a good time. It was the kind of gathering I am not familiar with as our family is very small. Instead, on Bonfire Night my family would go to a local pub/park/anywhere with a bonfire and stand outside in the cold with our hats and scarves on and enjoy the flames dance in front of us.
But there was one thing about this family gathering that was even more unfamiliar to me: the food. There was no hotpot in sight. Not a single bowl of mashed carrot and swede or bright purple beetroot and not a single slice of parkin. What kind of fireworks party is this?

Each and every year, these foods were the staple of Bonfire night. Hot and comforting – the perfect food to warm you up whilst you stand in the crisp, cold night. I mentioned the lack of ‘traditional’ food when I stared at the buffet table and saw lasagne and curry and I was laughed at. “You’re in the South now!”

So, as you do, I googled the traditional dishes that Lancashire has to offer and found that these meals were made due to their relatively low cost – perfect for serving at large events. With the North of England being one of the poorer areas of the country, our traditions have been formed by those who had no other choice but to budget.

And I quite like that a meal I associate with Autumn is one that costs next to nothing. A perfect homely pick-me-up that I can serve to the masses and not feel the pinch. And one that I can whip up for an evening meal and freeze the leftovers.

While this is not a traditional Lancashire Hotpot, it is a variation that is even cheaper and can be prepared with minimal effort (giving you time to play with the kids or sit down and watch a bit of telly while it’s cooking).

500g minced beef or lamb
1 large onion
2-3 large carrots (or more smaller ones)
5(ish) large potatoes
Worcestershire Sauce
Tin of baked beans
Peas (just chuck them in)
Beef gravy granules

Fry the onion and meat in a large deep pan (if not using lean meat, drain off most of the fat once it is cooked). Add the vegetables (you can use more veg if you have it – I think it might be nice with parsnips or mushrooms) and pour hot water into the pan until it covers everything. Add enough gravy granules to make a thin gravy (however you prefer), season to taste and turn the heat down to a simmer. It should take 1-2 hours to reduce and the vegetables will be lovely and tender. Once there is not a lot of liquid, add the tin of baked beans and stir to heat through. Splash in as much Worcester sauce as you like (or whatever sauce you wish – if you like a bit of heat add some tobasco) and give it a good stir. Chop up some parsley if you have any fresh stuff lying about (I wouldn’t go running to the shops to buy any especially for this) and add them to the pot.

Serve in pasta-style bowls for a really comfy dinner.

This dish is amazing on it’s own, but if you want to add a bit more on the veg front, it’s even better with pickled beetroot. Matthew isn’t a fan, but I really am and it’s gorgeous! Or add some carrot and swede mash (you can never get too much carrot in an Autumn dish, I think!)

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Decorate With Shelves

It can be hard to make rented accommodation reflect your personality. You can’t add wallpaper, or paint and you can’t rip out those awful tiles in the kitchen or pull up the carpet and replace it with something of a better quality.

You can, however, put up pictures and paintings and fill bookcases full of colour. You can try and match kitchen appliances to the colour of the tiles, or (if they are truly hideous) cover them with stickers as I did in my student flat. You can lay down a giant rug if the carpet is getting thin and if you ask really, really nicely, you might even get away with putting up a few shelves.

My landlord is super nice. It’s worth getting on your landlords good books as the better they think of you, the more likely they’ll agree to things like this. I make regular contact with my landlord to keep her updated on bits of things; the progress on the damp patch in the living room, what I should do if I needed to adopt a cat (long story) and when I’m going on holiday for two weeks. Regular polite contact shows that I’m a good tenant who wants to keep the property in good working order, and is willing to talk about problems instead of hiding behind them. It also helps that my rent is paid without fail every month.

By emailing my landlord, I have written proof of any changes that I might have done so they can’t be used against me when I finally leave. I will want my deposit back in full!

So, back to the original topic: my shelves. The walls in my flat are massive. 3 metres high and empty. Giant canvases are great for huge spaces but I wanted something a little different in my bedroom. To be honest, I saw this picture on your wishcake and fell in love a little bit – so I decided to make one for myself.

I bought two mega cheap i-need-some-help-if-i’m-going-to-look-pretty shelves from Argos. Less than £10 for two, and I had some black and white paint handy to jazz them up a little. Once painted they looked so much better than plain pine (yuck – so cheap looking) and I put them up! All by myself!

This is my bedroom before. Nice enough, but lacking in something.

And after! Complete with a new bedside lamp for reading and the shelf. Which just adds something to the room, doesn't it?

Here is a bit more of a close-up.

And even more close up

This shelf was decorated with some picture frames which I had hanging around in a drawer. I added some fancy wrapping paper and instant pictures achieved! The lotus candle stick (which I doubt will ever be used as a candle stick) and the ‘Dream’ lettering were bought in the sale at Cargo Home and the pebbles were a Christmas Gift from Matt’s mum which I hadn’t been able to find a place for.. until now!

The white shelf in the dining area isn't completely finished yet. It's up, but not really home to anything. It might play home to my herbs now that the sunshine is disappearing. We'll see.

Friday, 15 October 2010

How To Make Me Happy

If you could ask me what one thing makes me beam with happiness these days, I wouldn’t say “walks along the beach” or “buying new clothes for the winter” or even “sitting in a wonderful cafĂ© that sells gluten free cakes that I can eat until I explode”. Although all of those things would make me very happy, none make me happier than when I hear these words:

“Oh wow, this place is gorgeous!”

You see, Matt has a fair few people round every now and again who he records in his studio and most of them have never stepped foot in this place. And let’s face it; most people who come round are either students or young professionals living with friends in shared houses.

So not only do we live in a beautiful flat, but we’re the same age as them! Probably with the same amount of money as them, too, but we spend it in all the right places. I’ve heard some say “Bloody hell, you two must be doing well for yourselves!” and last night the girl who came round even said “so I take it this place came furnished then?” Nope! This was all me, baby!

As much as Matthew likes the place, he’s not as enthusiastic as others are. Probably because he’s gradually seen it improve over the 6 and a half months that we’ve lived here. And possibly because he’s a boy. So when a stranger compliments my home, I am over the moon. My hard work has paid off and we actually live in a place that other people are envious of.

Hello beautiful front room. I think you’re looking even happier with your new chair and lamp.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Hello Autumn

The summer has died and now I have to remember to pick my coat up when I leave the house in the mornings. I wake up and check the weather forecast to see if rain is scheduled for the day – this way I can decide if I need to wear boots or shoes – essential to planning my outfit.

But there is something so cosy about the Autumn and I am glad it has arrived. Our summer has been a mix of hot and cold, rain and sunshine and at least now I can be happy knowing that I am to expect the rain, instead of being out in it wearing a dress and sandals because two hours earlier I had been baking in the heat.

The thing I love the most about Autumn, aside from the clothes I wear, is the food. As a woman trying to stay slim, it can be difficult living with a fella who likes his carbs and would insist on eating curry each and every day – regardless of the temperature outside. In summer, this can be increasingly difficult as the last thing I wish to eat is a hot, carbohydrate filled meal. But in Autumn and Winter, it is so much easier.

Autumn and Winter are cheap. Gone are the salads and vegetables that must be eaten within 3 days before they spoil, the fruits that cost an arm and a leg and are best eaten fresh. Replacing them are soups and stews, batches of cooking that can then be frozen, filled with all the veg you need to keep you going strong. Frozen and tinned fruit still tastes good when cooked in puddings and crumbles. Spending far too much money on drinks in beer gardens is pushed aside for staying at home, curled up watching TV and spending two thirds less on wine from the supermarket.

I’ve been reading my new Nigella Kitchen book and she has an entire chapter dedicated to store cupboard (and freezer) food so I plan to spend some time giving them a try and checking to see how budget friendly they really are (I imagine they are – she has great recipes for leftover meat that can be thrown in the freezer).

I think it is also the time to take up making chutneys, mincemeat, and sloe gin to enjoy both as the days turn into winter, and to give as Christmas presents to unexpected guests who arrive over the festive period. I have a lot of ideas buzzing around my head of how I'm going to make this a decadent but cheap winter and I hope I can pass some inspiration on to you.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Reading Nook

I think the key to making small rooms look bigger is to create mini sections within them for different purposes.

In my living room I have my craft area, the dining area, the seating area, and now my very special reading area.

Just over a month ago, this area was empty. This area, and indeed the area where my craft table now is, was where all our leftover bits of stuff were stored. Chairs we needed to get rid of, the ironing board that I didn’t have room for, paintings that hadn’t yet been put on the wall..

Slowly but surely, these things were sold, found a home and hung on the wall and the area had become the empty space you see in that picture. But then the craft table was put up and the charity shop chair had been given a makeover and the empty spaces began to become cosy little nooks within this room. So cosy, in fact, that I felt I just needed one little thing to make it perfect. A floor lamp.

I chose the colour ‘blackcurrant’ because, as Matt rightly pointed out “you always see home magazines with big statement lamps and I think this is more statement than white.” Also, it adds another punch of colour in a white walled, beige carpeted, brown and grey seating filled room.

The lamp isn’t so bright as to fill the entire room with light when it’s on (I like dim light as it’s cosy, and I never put the main light on) but bright enough to fill the chair with light, making it an excellent spot to read. Perfect in these darkening evenings.

It has now become my favourite spot to sit and read my cookery books. I think it might also become my spot to listen to the radio on a Saturday morning and start on the scarf that I will so desperately need as the days become colder.

Little reading nook. You have made me livingroom appear that little bit bigger and a lot more comfortable.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Second Bedroom

When I moved 300 miles to a brand new area, one of the requirements of a new apartment was that it had two bedrooms.

I do not have any children. No babies or toddlers that require another room to sleep in. Nor do I have a lot of friends visiting who need a proper bed to stay in for the night. In fact, I do not have an extra room that I can decorate and make look pretty because this second bedroom is not my requirement. It is very greatly needed by my other half. You see, my beloved is a musician... and has a lot of... how should I say it..? ...Stuff.

This added room makes us appear so much wealthier than we actually are. Not only does he have a Studio to work from, but the rest of the house stays pristine and less like a college dorm.

His friends and colleagues say I'm very kind to have allowed him to have his Studio but let's face it... can you imagine me allowing him to keep all that in any other room? I think not!

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Craft Nook

The second bedroom in my apartment belongs to Matthew. It is his studio and a room he spends a lot of time in. When we moved into this place we had an agreement – he could have his room however he wanted and I got to decorate the rest.
The bedroom is pretty. The living room has splashes of colour and the kitchen is full of quirky girly items. But it wasn’t enough. I needed a space of my own. A space that Matt didn’t use in the slightest, and a place where I could have all my crafty things sitting happily together.

With our apartment being in an old Victorian mansion, the rooms are a little oddly shaped. We have an ‘entrance’, so to speak, into the living room. A square of nothingness before the living room begins and I found a table that fit perfectly between the door and the wall in that nook.

It has become my craft table. Home to buttons, rolls of paper, scraps of paper, material and thread. I want my collection to grow so that in time, I can make things without having to go out to buy what is needed. This way, I am sure, I’ll be able to cut down on spending even more. That is something I am very excited about.

I did some hunting for my table. It had to be cheap, but couldn’t look cheap. I was willing to spend up to £70 on one, but not any more, as that is what I had saved for it. When I say this table fits perfectly, I mean it fits perfectly. With a single cm between the two walls and the radiator and the door. It was meant to go there, and so with that, I went on a hunt for the right price.

Luckily, the table I had found was a Corona table and quite a lot of them are sold on eBay. It took me a few weeks to see the high and low prices and to know a good deal if I saw one. I called one guy who offered free shipping, but I was just out of his zone and the additional tenner would have made it more expensive than his competitors. But eventually I struck gold. A ‘best offer’ seller, and I put in my bid. £55 and free shipping (which I could even be told of an arrival time so I knew when to be in) – a hands down winner.

It is so worth doing a hunt before buying something that costs a fair whack – every penny really does count.

And after hours of hard work (and very red and sore palms) I had put up the table before Matthew got home and could show him the fruit of my labour. He was impressed. But immediately put his keys on it. No – no keys. You get your mitts off it.

This is the table after all of that effort. As you can see, this was a couple of weeks ago, before the new chair was put in its place. I am now spending my time decorating my area and shall show you when it is complete. That lovely, lovely craft section of my livingroom. Oh how I will pretty you up so.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A Much Needed Chair

As the past few weeks have had me concentrating on my new dietary requirements, I have been putting a crafting on a back seat – but this week I am back.

For over a month now I have been hunting for a chair. I saw a beautiful one on the Argos website back in August – half price but currently out of stock. I waited 6 weeks before seeing it reduced again on the website (but still out of stock) so I called to see what the deal was. Apparently it’s no long available and the Argos website made a mistake.

I was a bit annoyed. I searched high and low for a chair and couldn’t find anything under £100. I couldn’t even find a bench for under £50 and this really wasn’t good enough.

Not only do I not have the money to blow on an expensive chair, but its main purpose is only to provide extra seating when guests come over. Although our sofa does fit 4 – it’s a bit of a squeeze and not exactly the most sociable way to sit (all facing the telly).

So I ditched the online shopping and headed to my local furniture charity shop. I wasn’t holding my breath – I have been looking in this shop for months for a suitable chair and can never find anything that fits what I am looking for but this time I struck gold. An old brown chair – easy enough for a novice like me to upholster, and light enough for the other half to carry home! (thanks Matt!) And to make matters even better, it cost me only £10.

Look at it. It’s screaming out for a makeover.

But let me tell you now that I really am a novice. I have never even attempted anything like this before so I just had to guess. And I was also told that I wasn’t allowed to use ‘really girlie fabric’, so with both those things in mind, I got a plain(ish) fabric. That was textured enough to feel like a chair should, plain enough to not annoy the male who also lives with me, coloured enough as to not show bits of dirt that may happen upon it (it has flecks of bright colour running all the way through) and thick enough to not show through any of the previous fabric (I decided to keep the original fabric on there as the cushion was disintegrating inside, and the soft brown fabric also added extra cushioning.)

I couldn’t wait until morning to get some nice pictures in the day light so I spent my Friday night getting down to business with my sewing machine. It worked very, very well.

And it worked first time! It actually fit. I couldn’t believe it and started to annoy Matthew by interrupting him constantly to say *it’s really working!!!*

Because the new fabric was grey, I had to half assemble the chair to tell myself it didn’t look the same as it did before. And I was right.

But it still needed a bit more work and a bit more colour. So as I didn’t have any more fabric to make a bright new cushion I thought I’d just use one I already had.

The result? Ta da!

Okay, so not the most incredible chair you’ve ever seen in your life, and definitely not the most complicated but I quite like that I’ve just proven to myself that you don’t need to be a craft genius to get a new chair for a few quid.

All in all, that chair cost me £18. Less than a fifth of what I could find in the shops, and 10 times more comfortable than a stool. It sits happily in its corner, and I think I might just treat it to a floor lamp and turn it into a little reading area.

So there you have it. A beginner's chair that was really not difficult in the slightest and took a mere 4 hours.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...