Saturday, August 31, 2013

A walk in the woods

These photos were taken in the woods at the end of the village that I grew up in, in Somerset. They're a very special place; I used to walk almost everyday in the wood with my parents and the dog (not the dog in the photo - he's far too young!) For my degree dissertation, I wrote a collection of poetry about the wood, and I just wanted to share some of its secrets on here too.

This handsome canine is my parents' dog, Gussie. He's a nine-year-old lurcher-collie cross, but he still acts like a puppy, and he's really clumsy. He's also the most good-natured dog I've ever met. And he can't do the same thing with both ears - one sticks up and one falls to the side, all the time.

This round stone structure covered in moss and ivy through the trees here is called a Buddle House. I believe it used to be used in the production of lime from limestone, but I'm not exactly sure how or when this was. When I was younger it always felt really dangerous walking around the top because it was stony and uneven and it felt like a long way to fall. The doorway was never a problem for us when I was a child, but now I realise how small it is - I have to duck and I'm only 5'3".

There's something sad about seeing these branches piled on the floor and still green, but actually there's been a lot of felling and clearing in the last year or two and you can see the benefit of it. New plants are starting to grow where the trees would have shaded them too much from the sun, and the trees that are left have space to grow and flourish.

Song of the day: 'It Could Be Sweet' - Portishead

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Instant map art

A little while ago, when I was sorting through all my things before moving out of my university house, I came across an Ordnance Survey map of Truro and the surrounding area (I went to uni in Falmouth, about 20 minutes from Truro). I seem to remember my Dad bought it hoping to come and visit me and do a lot of long coastal walks. We never got around to that, but I didn't want to throw the map away, so I kept it. I love maps (although I cannot for the life of me actually use one - it is a big failing of mine, this inability to navigate), and on my degree course we talked a lot about mapping, and how writers attempt to map places with words. Jorge Luis Borges wrote a very short story about a place where the people's desire for exactitude in mapping meant that only a map with the scale 1 mile : 1 mile would suffice. It's kind of a joke (and also, having just Googled it, has some deeper Postmodernist meaning that obviously passed me by) but it does raise questions about what cartographers emphasise and leave out. Old mapmakers used to literally make more important places bigger, and little-explored places became just vague outlines. Plus, I love that another name for the Key of a map is a Legend. I think it's a nice link back to human history and the oral tradition of storytelling.

Anyway, I decided to cut my map up and frame the area of Falmouth, including the road where I lived for three years, and put it up in my new house as a little reminder of my time there. I had an old frame, so I just cut the map down, positioned it how I wanted it and folded the edges so it fitted snugly in the frame. Then I strengthened it with a piece of cardboard at the back and attached a piece of wire so that it could be hung up.

And voilĂ ! An easy way of turning a map into a piece of artwork, and making use of it at the same time. I don't like pictures behind glass because the reflections get in the way for me, so I just left this open. I also like the textures from where the map is supposed to be folded.

Song of the day: 'Suddenly I See' - KT Tunstall

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Birthday cookies

After a week of eating heathily, I have well and truly indulged today, after a visit from my parents, an Italian meal out, apple and blackberry crumble and a chocolate fudge cake my mum brought us! Still, I think after all my effort painting the living room and tidying these last few days, a treat was in order. Although that thought isn't really making me feel any less bloated.

A week or so ago, I made these cookies for Shane's birthday, as he's not a huge fan of cake (but he is a huge fan of chocolate). I'm not much of a baker, and whenever I've made cookies before they haven't worked out very well, but these I was pretty pleased with; they were the right balance between chewy but not undercooked.

I got the recipe from the BBC GoodFood website here, but I changed it by making up the mixture without the cocoa powder first, baking come chocolate chip ones, then adding the cocoa (halving the amount as it was only half the mixture) and baking the double chocolate chip ones after, so I had two different types of cookie. I also used chocolate chips and chunks, just to make it a bit more interesting and so that some bites were chocolate-ier than others. Also, I would say the recipe definitely makes more than 15, as it says on the website. If I remember rightly, there were at least 25, but they didn't really hang around long enough for me to count them!

I put the cookies, along with a few other little presents, in a picnic basket we have in the kitchen. Then I wrote out clues which were Radiohead lyrics with words missing and hid them around our flat, so he had to know the word and that would lead him to the next part of the flat and the next clue, like an Easter egg hunt, but with a basket of cookies at the end instead of an egg. I think mostly he was annoyed that I woke him up too early, but he seemed to like it in the end :-)

Song of the day: 'The Rip Tide' - Beirut 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Urban birdwatching

We've gone crazy and painted everything possible in our living room white. The space looks much better and the windows look incredible now, but I am nursing a gloss-paint-induced headache and an aching arm. I love painting, but I hate the stage about two thirds through when you really want to stop but you can't because all of your belongings are piled up in odd places and the sofa has all your books on it so you can't sit down anyway. And so you tell yourself that if you keep going it won't really take that much longer, just a few more hours...

Anyway, on an entirely different note, a few days ago I thought it would be interesting to see how many different bird species I could find purely by looking on the rooftops directly behind my back garden, here:

Sadly, any birds that linger long enough for me to actually take a picture are the most ordinary birds ever: one grumpy crow, some angsty baby seagulls that can't fly and their mother who seems to feel obliged to stay with them but is growing more and more frustrated by their lack of flying ability.

Maybe the next couple of days will prove more fruitful...

Song of the day: 'One Life Stand' - Hot Chip

Monday, August 19, 2013

Simple supper: chicken with beans and greens

Shane and I are on a health kick. Not for any great reason and (probably) not for very long, but we thought it would be a little challenge to see who can lose the most weight in a week. Yep, very responsible adult behaviour. Although it's unlikely I will lose anything more than a couple of pounds, and despite being pretty ravenous most of the time, it has been nice making a few different meals from usual and not relying quite so much on pasta.

Here's a quick example of a typical evening meal (two point to note: I am not really much of a recipe-follower, and I am also a big fan of the one-pan-meal):

chicken leg or 2 thighs per person
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 courgette, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
225g tin butter beans
approx 200ml passata
approx 200ml vegetable stock
salt and pepper
generous pinch of oregano
pinch of thyme
4 cabbage leaves, shredded

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Rub the chicken with a little oil or butter and season well. Place on a baking tray and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through (to be honest I didn't time it exactly). You may need to baste the chicken in its cooking juices every so often to keep it moist. Fry the onions and garlic on a low heat, and add the other vegetables when the onions start to soften. After about 10 minutes, pour in the stock and passata, season and add herbs. Let this simmer for a while, then add the cabbage and, a couple of minutes before serving, the butter beans. Add more stock if the liquid is reducing too quickly.

Serve into bowls and add the cooked chicken on top.

The great thing about this meal is that you can substitute pretty much all of the ingredients for whatever you have in the fridge/cupboard. Perfect for using up past-its-best veg or the old tin of beans hiding on the back shelf. Use borlotti or kidney beans instead of butter beans, add kale or chard instead of cabbage, throw in some potatoes to bulk it out, shred some basil in at the end... Endless possibilities. These are the kind of meals I like.

And for dessert...

...natural yoghurt with vanilla and a swirl of our homemade blackberry coulis. 

Song of the day: 'Human' - Goldfrapp

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Rainy grey weekend

After a pretty damn good day with my friend Jai yesterday, and then a beautiful sunny evening, today is grey and drizzly. Shane is glued to the TV as the new football season starts and I have taken to my bed with a book and a cup of chai tea where I will probably stay for a good couple of hours. 

One of my favourite parts about our new flat is the mantelpiece directly opposite our bed (the house is Victorian so there are fireplaces everywhere). On it, we've put: a string of fairy lights my parents gave me last Christmas; two frames of embroidery threads and buttons that my mum put together a while ago and donated to me as she didn't want them any longer; two traditional Swedish Dala horses that my aunt gave me when I visited her in Sweden; a jar of honeysuckle I picked from a hedge two days ago; an old IKEA clock that I love and have had for years and years and a small stone Buddha head that my old boss gave me as a leaving present.

Today I've switched the fairy lights on in an attempt to banish the gloom and from my position curled up on the bed I can see all these little things that remind me of various people, trips and events. I don't tend to hang on to possessions too much, but there is something comforting about having a few things that relate to specific times and places, especially when those things feel miles away or ages ago. Plus, of course, honeysuckle smells amazing :-)

Song of the day: 'Wildest Moments' - Jessie Ware

P.S. I really like the way the words 'rainy grey' sound together. Similar to a book I read once when I was about ten about a girl with a dog call Moody Blue.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Mini adventures in the garden

I've had a busy weekend: we had a housewarming on Saturday, so the house has been full of people for the last few nights. We had a barbecue, ice creams at the quay, drinks in a pub garden, far too much to drink in the evening, football and cricket at the park (I was too hungover to participate), watched a lot of Planet Earth on Sunday and played a very long stocks and shares board game. A pretty good weekend on the whole, but now I am knackered and will probably end up curling up with a cup of tea and some terrible TV very soon.

Because of all our houseguests, I haven't had a chance to do much in the garden since moving in, but I have planted some herbs: coriander, basil and parsley to begin with. They've been sunning themselves outside for a while and today I noticed the first tiny shoots poking through. Can't wait for a few curries with coriander in a few weeks time, and maybe even some basil pesto! I've planted a bed of cornflowers too, which are also just starting out on their journeys. They won't bloom until the spring, but it'll be lovely to open the back door to a mass of blue and purple flowers when the time comes.

The courgettes that the previous tenants planted have gone crazy, despite me totally ignoring them. I picked these two enormous ones this morning, so I think it will have to be stuffed courgettes for dinner (or are they marrows by this point?) From the looks of the plants there are a few more to come too, so I will be whipping up my favourite creamy, garlicky, cheesy pasta with courgette ribbons in the next few days too. As this rate I'll have to start being far more imaginative with my courgette recipes!

Finally, this seems to be the year's last blossoming on our rose bush. I haven't the heart to pick it.

Song of the day: 'Fire' - Kasabian

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Unofficial moving day

So today we go the keys for our new flat, although out tenancy doesn't start until Saturday. I was really looking forward to seeing it without the previous tenant's things in it, but actually without their furniture covering a lot of the walls and floor, I realised just how tatty the flat really is. It really needs a coat of paint and there's quite a lot of damp/mould in the bathroom and it just generally needs a lot of tidying. But after feeling a bit down about it for an hour or two, Shane has convinced me that we can make it nice and that it won't be forever, and so I'm going off to Wilkinsons in a second to get some white emulsion to make a start on some of the worst walls.

I snapped a few quick pictures while we were there. It's a very oddly laid out flat (it used to be two apparently, they must each have been tiny!) so we have a pointless sink in the bedroom and the shower is in the utility room next to the (non-existent as yet) washing machine. Luckily the horrible and enormous red leather three piece suite in the living room is being sold, so we will have room for our desks and our own smaller sofa.

The best thing is the outside area. The previous tenants put in some raised beds, so we can grow some veg (we have their onions and courgettes to harvest first) and there's plenty of space for pots and maybe a barbecue at some point. We took the flat mainly because of this space: the two places I lived before were second storey, and while they were both nice flats, it's so good to think that we've now got our own private patch of outside-ness whenever we want it. Hopefully it'll make up for some of the other annoyances (it seems as though our landlord will be forever popping in - never a good thing) especially if the sunny weather continues for a while longer.

I should have a few more pictures to show over the next couple of weeks or so, I have plenty of things I want to paint and sew to make it all a bit nicer. Wish me luck with the decorating!

Song of the day: 'Take Another Little Piece of My Heart' - Dusty Springfield