Sunday, 18 June 2017

Alnmouth


I mentioned in my last post that we'd just come back from a week away in beautiful Northumberland. Well, it's actually three weeks ago now and I'm only just getting around to writing about it.  I have several posts to share of the things we saw, though not necessarily in the order we saw them!

After our holiday last year I couldn't wait to go back as I'd loved Northumberland so much: all that rolling countryside and spectacular coastline. We chose to stay in exactly the same cottage in Alnwick and the weather gods blessed us again with bright, sunny conditions for most of the week.


First up is Alnmouth which is only a 15 minute drive from Alnwick and with plenty of parking for only £1.50 next to the beach.


John Wesley is reported to have described it as a 'small seaport town, famous for all kinds of wickedness'! Thankfully, none of that was in evidence on the day of our visit! Instead, it's a picturesque little place bordered by the sea and the estuary of the river Aln.


After a walk on the beach, we headed up to the main street to explore.


Lots of lovely, old stone buildings dating mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries.







This is a former school and is now home to an art gallery.


Time for some lunch at the Village Tearooms and I couldn't resist trying a ham stottie which turned out to be a large bread roll. Here in Lancashire, the nearest equivalent is what we would call an oven bottom.


Back outside and we headed down towards the harbour. The small hill is known as Church Hill and was once the site of the village church, now marked only with a cross. Originally the hill was part of the village but a violent storm in 1806 changed the course of the river, cutting it off.


We were mesmerised by the masses of poppies, the most I'd ever seen up to that point, though we were to see more later in the week.



There used to be fishing boats here but now it's mainly pleasure boats.


The Ferry Hut is actually a small heritage centre and gallery! It's about 100 years old.


The beach was calling so we headed back down, passing the golf course on the way which, as you can see, claims to be the oldest nine hole links course in England. Golf, yawn.


Beautiful beach.


In the distance is Coquet Island which is an RSPB reserve and home to thousands of nesting birds, mostly puffins, terns and eider ducks.


I loved all the patterns on this pebble though I've no idea what creature caused them. Is it bird poo or something more interesting? In any case, it came home with me, as did the crab claw.


This one, which reminded me of an alien, stayed behind.

We really loved Alnmouth with its pretty buildings and gorgeous coastline. So much so that, desperate to see the sea before we headed back to our landlocked home, we drove out on our final evening as the sun was starting to go down.



The tide was out this time.



Sigh, I wish I was standing on that beach today. Alnmouth was definitely one of our favouite places and somewhere I'd go back to in a heartbeat.

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Hope you're enjoying the glorious weather this weekend in the UK. Yesterday we met up with some friends in Wrenbury, a small village in Cheshire. This farm was opposite the pub where we had lunch.


My favourite thing though was this book swap in an old telephone box!

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. x

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Cookery Calendar challenge: May


This year I'm taking part in the Cookery Calendar Challenge organised by Penny. The idea is simple: the first week of every month, choose a cookery book from your shelf and, over the course of a month, make two recipes from it that you've never made before. You can choose to take part each month or as the mood takes you!

My pick for May was Hemsley and Hemsley's Good and Simple. One of my work colleagues is a big fan of the Hemsleys and was always saying how good their recipes are. When I saw their latest book in the supermarket, I decided to take a look and was intrigued by the interesting sounding dishes and the colourful food on every page. They are part of the healthy eating brigade so there's lots of spiralised and riced veg, and ingredients which might be tricky to get hold of. However, I've already made a couple of the recipes and found them to be really simple and tasty so I had high hopes of finding more. As it turned out, I actually ended up making four during May!


First up was Spicy miso salmon with broccoli rice. We chose this one because it looked super healthy and low-calorie. The latter was particularly important as we had a mega-portion of cheesecake to follow! (bought at the restaurant we went to for Chickpea's birthday)

This one would be great for a workday evening meal as it only takes about 15 minutes to cook and couldn't be simpler. For two people, cook 2 salmon fillets in a frying pan and put to one side, covered to keep warm. Blitz a head of broccoli in a food processor and add to the frying pan with 2 tablespoons of water. Put a lid on and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring halfway through. Put both on a plate and pour over the miso sauce.

With only salmon and broccoli, I thought it might be a bit bland and boring but it was anything but. The sauce was delicious and added a lovely salty sweet flavour. I'd only quibble with the title of the recipe as it definitely wasn't spicy. Surprisingly, we also found that we liked broccoli served as a 'rice' and will serve it like that with other dishes in future. This is definitely a recipe I'll be making again.


Next was Marinated butterbean Greek salad. I used to think butterbeans were the work of the devil and would avoid them at all costs (it probably had something to do with school dinners). However, over the years my tastes have matured and I've grown to accept them. So, although the Hemsleys did say I could substitute another kind of bean, I stuck with the original recipe. Well...it was ok. Not something to rave about and, I don't know if I over-compensated for the blandness of the beans, but a bit too garlicky.


The third recipe was Sunshine eggs with turmeric and lime. Chickpea already says that I make the best scrambled eggs but, oh my, this recipe takes them to a whole other level. It's amazing what just some onion, garlic, turmeric and a pinch of chilli can do. Gently spicy, full of flavour and that touch of lime - whatever you do, don't miss out the lime - wow! Really delicious and one of my go-to egg recipes from now on.


Last up was  Mum's Philippine beef sinigang which is flavoured with ginger, tamarind paste, fish sauce and chilli. I thought the paste and sauce might make it salty but it wasn't. If anything, I could have been more generous with the spices. Other than that, neither of us can remember much about it other than we both liked it and the beef was lovely and tender. Good then but not memorable.


Next up is Mary Berry's Foolproof Cooking which was a birthday present last year.

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I'm just nearing the end of two weeks leave from work. The first was spent in beautiful Northumberland and I have lots to share. It was a week of mixed emotions, however, as the above photo was taken in Alnmouth on the day of the Manchester terrorist attack. We felt very far from home and full of concern for our friends and family. Thankfully, as far as I know, all are safe. My heart goes out to all those affected.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and stay safe. x

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Reading progress: January-April


Although I'm not officially taking part in Year in Books this time, I did set myself a very modest target of reading at least a book a month. I'm doing much better than that though as I've already managed 6. What I haven't been so good at is reducing my stash which continues to grow and grow. I've also not been very good at keeping you updated with my progress so here goes with my first read of 2017.

I've read several of Carol Shield's books before, with Republic of Love being my favourite, and this meant I had high hopes for the Box Garden. Like most of her books, it's very much character-driven. Charlene - bored and dissatisfied with her life - is on her way to the wedding of her 70 year old mother with whom she has a difficult relationship.

The characters are strong and as well-drawn as always and I particularly enjoyed the 70s setting: her mother was getting married in cocoa-brown crimpeline! However, I found it less absorbing than her later novels and some of the plot lines felt far-fetched. This one will be going back to the charity shop. Don't let that put you off Carol Shields though: it was one of her first novels and I know she gets much better.


My next choice was Hold back the stars by Katie Khan. I saw a review in the newspaper and was intrigued. Max and Carys are floating in space with only 90 minutes of air left in their tanks. The story flits between their attempts to save themselves and flashbacks to their relationship in the future society of Europia.

I found the descriptions of Europia interesting: the continent is divided into vovoides and citizens rotate between them until their 30s when they're allowed to settle in one place and marry. It's a shame then that these aspects aren't explored in more depth as the book could have been so much more. Instead it all felt rather superficial and read very much like a Young Adult novel. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it - I did - but I just wasn't gripped.


After a couple of novels, I moved onto some non-fiction with Knickers Model's Own by Caroline Jones. After her mother died of cancer, she decided to raise money to support the charity that she and her mother had been involved with for several years, volunteering in one of their shops. For a year, she dressed only in clothes sourced from Cancer Research (and other charity) shops (apart from those knickers!) and the book documents the outfits she wore each day. She has a good eye and natural sense of style. Mind you, it does help that she clearly lives in an affluent area where there's a better class of donations. I particularly loved all the colourful shoes she wore! I do enjoy mooching around in charity shops for books and jigsaws but rarely give the clothes a glance. This did make me think I should give them more of a go and, in fact, I've since bought a dress, with original sales tag still on, for £2.49! Caroline still posts her outfits on Facebook if you want to learn more.


Crow Lake is the story of 7-year-old Kate Morrison who lives with her 2 teenage brothers and younger sister in a remote community in northern Canada. Early on in the novel, the family are orphaned and the boys take on the care of their sisters. The older Kate looks back on their struggles and the intense relationships and tragedies which continue to affect her life. It's a slow-burner of a novel which, for me, usually means boring but this is one I could barely put down. I couldn't even really say why except that the characters are so well-drawn you want to know what happens to them. I'll be looking out for more of Mary Lawson's books.


Broken Sky by LA Weatherly has been shortlisted for Lancashire Book of the Year. It's an award for Young Adult fiction, voted for completely by young people, and now in it's 31st year. When I heard about the shortlist, I decided to read a few of the titles.

Broken Sky is set in a future America but not a sci-fi kind of future. Instead, after much of the world was destroyed in a nuclear war, society has had to rebuild itself and is now more reminiscent of the 1940s. Armed conflict has been banned and disputes between countries are contested by aerial dogfights: the heroine, Amity, is one of the best pilots. Gradually, she uncovers a plot by the leader of the neighbouring country, a leader who believes his destiny comes from the power of astrology. There are clear echoes of Nazi Germany as Discordants, born under the wrong planetary alignments, are rounded up and sent to correction camps.

It's the first part of a trilogy which may explain why it's a bit slow to get going. Once it does though, it's tense and intriguing with twists and turns. I only wish there'd been more of a proper ending as even books in a series should be able to stand alone. However, I'll have to look out for the next in the trilogy to find out what happens next.


Another title shortlisted for Book of the Year is The Deepest Cut by Natalie Flynn.

Adam blames himself for his best friend's death. After attempting suicide, he is put in the care of a local mental facility. There, too traumatized to speak, he begins to write notebooks detailing the events leading up to Jake's murder.

It isn't often that I cry when reading a book but this one moved me to tears several times. If I had to be picky, the parts which are meant to be his diary are written more like a novel than how someone would actually write. However, it's still beautifully written and the confusion and pain that Adam goes through is incredibly moving. A wonderful book.


Not a book but grebes! I had my first good look at the new babies today and there are three little grebelings. I sat for ages on the side of the lake watching them, usually tucked up on their parents' backs. There are a pair of moorhens nest building nearby so it looks like more babies are on the way. Oh, I just love spring!

Enjoy the remainder of your Sunday. Next time, I think I might share my latest crafty make. x

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Cookery calendar challenge: April


This year I'm taking part in the Cookery Calendar Challenge organised by Penny. The idea is simple: the first week of every month, choose a cookery book from your shelf and, over the course of a month, make two recipes from it that you've never made before. You can choose to take part each month or as the mood takes you!

My April pick was Diana Henry's Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons. I've already made several recipes from it and the recipe for prawn and feta pilaf is one of our favourites (this link is the closest I can get to that recipe). I generally find her recipes pretty reliable and with plenty of flavour.


My first choice was Chermoula-marinated tuna with pomegranate couscous which I  served with butternut squash slices using the same marinade. The chermoula itself is made from cumin, paprika, cinnamon, chilli, lime and garlic so you'd think there would be plenty of flavour. Well, Chickpea liked it more than me as I would have preferred more of the spice to come through. To be honest, I'm also not really keen on tuna steaks as I find them a bit dry, no matter how hard I try not to overcook them (and in this case they were still slightly pink). The butternut squash was lovely though so I might use the marinade again for other things. We really enjoyed the pomegranate couscous too.


Next was Chicken marinated in yoghurt with a Georgian plum sauce. This is definitely a weekend dish as the sauce needs making in advance and the chicken needs to marinate for a couple of hours. My sauce wasn't the glossy vibrant pink shown in the book but a rather unattractive sludge brown. Given that it included prunes and dark brown sugar, I think my version is probably a more accurate representation of what you should end up with. It definitely had a kick  but I may have been a little heavy-handed with the garlic and cayenne! I'm not sure I'd make the sauce again but the chicken was lovely and juicy and flavourful. Also, what you can't see here is the green salad on the side which breaks up the otherwise sea of brown!


Overall then, a couple of decent recipes to add to my repertoire, albeit with a few amendments. One thing I did enjoy about the challenge this month was looking back to see what I'd made from Crazy Water during my own challenge 3 years ago and rediscovering other recipes. On the same post which featured this book, I was reminded of a Nigel Slater recipe for chicken with mushrooms and lemongrass and just had to make it. It proved to be just as good as last time :) In fact, I think Chickpea's boyfriend would have licked the plate if we hadn't been in the room!


Next up is Hemsley and Hemsley's Good and Simple.


In other news, it was Chickpea's birthday yesterday. We went out for dinner and just look at the dessert counter! Applewood Farm is renowned for its desserts which is why she chose it. We were so full after the main course though that we had to bring home cakeaways.


And finally, the grebelings have hatched! I haven't been able to get a photo of the new babies yet so here's one from last year. I actually posted it on day 22 of 30 Days Wild which shows just how much earlier they are this year. I'll report back on how many of these stripey beauties there are when I get a better look :)

Have a lovely weekend everyone. xx

Monday, 1 May 2017

Bank Holiday weekend


Ah, bank holidays! Why can't every weekend have one? Ours has been a good mix of home and away, practical and pleasure.


It started on Friday evening with a charity belly dancing event. I wore this tunic which I found in a charity shop this week for a bargain £3! A lovely evening though maybe not what I was expecting. I definitely didn't expect to find that the only drinks were mint tea and water!


Saturday, I went to the theatre with two friends to see I capture the castle. It was a musical production and very good. Later, Chickpea and I watched the film as she'd missed the play because she was out being fitted for a bridesmaid dress. Yes she's being a bridesmaid for her best friend whose getting married in October.


Bank holidays usually mean baking and this one was no exception. One of my all-time favourite recipes, Delia's ginger cake with lemon icing. Yum! And even better the day after when the ginger has had more time to develop.


Less successful were the waffles made in my new cast iron pans. The mixture stuck and burned. Back to the drawing board and the internet to find out how to use the pans properly as the instructions on the box were clearly no help.


This seems to be one of my most common positions on bank holidays: constantly washing up! All that baking and scrubbing of burnt pans. And yes, I still use the old-fashioned method. No dishwashers here.


Water of a different kind in my latest jigsaw. Not my usual subject but I enjoyed this one with all the patterns and colours. I always have a jigsaw on the go and have already started the next one - with a picture of ice cream!


More water and the grebes are back! I was really hoping they'd return after raising two beautiful stripey babies last summer. They're much earlier this year though as it was towards the end of 30 days wild in June when the babies hatched last year. She's been on the nest a couple of weeks now so it looks like we'll be having grebelings before long. So exciting!


There are already babies on the lake though - the first ducklings of the year born earlier this week. Eight here but she only had seven yesterday. I never get tired of watching ducklings.


And so to today and a walk in the woods. Carpets of wild garlic...


...and bluebells.


And smaller patches of wood anemones. My favourite time of year to be in the woods.


Especially when being entertained by water-loving dogs bounding around and chasing sticks.


Back home, I've put up a hanging basket bracket this afternoon from which I'll be hanging bird feeders. I only had a fat ball to hand until I can get a feeder. If you look closely you might be able to see a yellow daffodil in the background. That's also a feeder but the birds have steadfastly refused to have anything to do with it. There are sparrows nesting in next door's eaves and they pop by each evening for a dust bath before bed, squabbling over the best spots. So cute!


And that was our weekend. The cherry blossom has almost blown away now but it's been absolutely glorious this spring.

Hope you had a lovely weekend too. Not long until the next one! xx