Monday, September 24, 2018

Stock in trade

Today I realised two mini life goals in one - to cook my mother a proper Sunday roast; and to cook with game. I roasted a couple of partridges and did proper roast potatoes in goose fat - the kind that you boil first and then shake around in the pan. I felt all grown up and my mum said all the right things (whatever she secretly thought of my cooking!)

And with the leftover veg and carcass, I found another first - first time making stock. I had somehow always thought this was a mystical process and yet here I have my first batch of around 1.2L stock. I have probably made all kinds of rookie errors and the proof of the pudding is in the eating... so I will be making soup/stew in the week and I will let you know how it goes.

It's an appealing golden yellow colour (it looks darker in the photo than real life) and reassuringly clear - I passed it through a cheesecloth. It should last 3-4 days in the fridge or 2-3 months in the freezer. I am keeping back half for soups this week and half for the freezer. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

My first crop!

A few months ago, I was in a gorgeous private garden opened to the public for charity. It was absolutely stunning and, inspired, I went to buy a plant in the little tent they had set up. I ended up walking out having been given a small chilli plant by the lovely people inside - and last week I harvested my first crop! I used them in a soup - they are very gentle in flavour which I am relieved by!

Small but perfect!

It is a very small step towards home grown produce - but a step it is and an infinite improvement on last year's nil produce!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sloe poke

Bottling sloe gin is normally done in the winter - preferably in time to enjoy the fruits of your not-labour at Christmas. But better late than never - I've been periodically looking at, gently agitating and thinking of these beautiful jewel-coloured jars since October when I picked the fruit and had my first go at liqueurs.

Tonight I had a first go at bottling two of the three and I learned the following:
  • Logically, to the initial alcohol you have added sugar and fruitness, both of which increase the volume - I have been astonished at how much gin came out of the jar, given how much went in. Note to self - get more bottles than you think you need.
  • Bottling fruit liqueurs is best not started at 10PM on a weeknight. It takes time for the drip-drip-drip slow separation of alcohol from fruit (as though they are only parting reluctantly, having had such a great roadtrip together these crazy months from clear, transparent liquid through faintly pink to deep amethyst.)
  • Straining the fruit is easier if you can support the fruit and go away and leave it - standing holding the muslin full of fruit with your nose full of the smell is both tantalising and boring.
  • In view of both of the above points, it is better to bottle one liqueur at a time and not attempt two or three at the same time.
However, don't let this put you off. Standing at 11.30PM watching a slightly mesmeric process still beats the leather pants off watching Strictly Come Dancing, so I'm still pretty pleased with my evening's work. And ultimately, this will be a rich harvest for a pleasant autumn walk and a couple of brief kitchen sessions. You could genuinely spend more time designing a label for your gin than actually making it. Though I will invest in some more bottles and consider how to construct a means to hang the bag overnight in the future. (As well as design some proper labels).

I can't wait for the tasting. In the meantime, I think I need to find a better place than under the kitchen sink so I can frequently look on and admire this store cupboard staple!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Bicycles. Who knew?

I feel like I'm the last person to discover that bicycles unlock super powers. I was under the misconception that they are simply a means of getting from A to B.

I have read often and often of the exponential benefits of riding a bike. Mr Money Mustache and The Escape Artist in particular are vocal on this subject. I have always loved the idea of cycling, but the thought of actually getting on a bike was still pretty scary - especially in London.

So I talked about getting a bike but never actually did anything about it. And lo! My boyfriend observed this, and decided to act - he bought me a bike for my birthday present. This was an awesome idea, but until last week still a slightly theoretical one.

Since last week, I have been cycling to work and back most days - and it's transformed so much more than my commute.

Benefits of bikes - the obvious:

1. Free commuting. Duh. This was one of my main motivations - smashing my Oyster card (aka public transport network) spending to smithereens.

2. More exercise and more free time. Hard to fit into the average day. Why not use the commute instead? Especially as cycling gets me to work and back faster than the bus.

Benefits of bikes - the unexpected:

1. Determination and improved problem solving. Screw you, rain, I'm not letting you get in the way of my lovely commute. Flat tyre? Internet plus bike shop equals restored speed.

2. Skills. Gradually getting the hang of pumping a tyre, and wanting to understand how the gear thingummybob works. Feeling less ignorant and more smug each time I 'unlock' another function. (And no need to defeat a boss to level up!)

3. Energy. My morning cycle is the equivalent of a triple espresso shot when it comes to waking me up and getting my blood pumping. (But also has much better impact on both wallet and health than a daily triple espresso...)

4. Better separation between home and work. During my cycle home, I focus on the road, the bike, the burn going up hill and the sense of flying as I coast down the other side. By the time I get home, I have completely unplugged from work. 

5. Independence. It sounds silly, but now I hate waiting at the bus stop. Why do I have to wait for someone else to come and collect me - when the bike means my departure and arrival time are entirely down to my choice and my leg muscles?

Any more unexpected benefits of cycling that you've discovered?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Introducing Future You

You come home from a long day at work. A busy day - the phone didn't stop ringing. A stressful commute - the platform more crowded than usual, the train ride bumpier and slower. You work hard, and you deserve to put your feed up and chill.

The last thing you feel like doing is prepping for the next day at work. Why start tomorrow's workload before you have to? This is when you always intend to prepare a packed lunch for the next day, or plan the weekly meals, but this window between workdays is precious. You don't want to let the stresses of the world invade, or the to-do list take over your last bit of free time. You'll do it tomorrow - after all, you can get up a bit earlier and make a salad before leaving that will taste that bit fresher. And no one ever finishes their to-do list, do they?

Does this feel familiar?

Current You is about to open a bottle of beer and sink into the comfy sofa. Current You defers the urgent bank transfer/tax return/meal planning/clothes mending/food prep to tomorrow morning, the weekend, next month. In other words, Current You is delegating the task to Future You.

So meet Future You. Future You Tomorrow Morning is tired. Her Past Self Last Night went to bed later than she ought to because Game of Thrones. Future You Tomorrow Morning tries to pull some clothes out of the cupboard, hopefully not too crumpled. She rushes into the kitchen - no time for coffee or making lunch - and grabs a banana as an on-the-go breakfast (it's fruit, it must be healthy). She runs out the door, realises halfway to work that she forgot an essential document and her socks don't match, and soon caves to the need for caffeine and sugar at the cafe in the train station on the way through - after all, a cappucino and a croissant won't make much of a difference to anything.

So before you crack open the beer and sink into that sofa, do Future You Tomorrow Morning a favour. Get your bag ready to go and by the door. Get out clothes and check they are clean and presentable. (And matching). Prep the coffee machine. Put water in the kettle and a teabag in a mug. Future You is stressed - give her a break. Give her a helping hand.

Coffee all ready to go for the morning. Just add heat.

This is a deceptively simple idea. Once I started spotting ways to give Future Me a headstart or a helping hand, I kept finding them. There are two stages I've observed of this mental trick:

At first, you focus on short time gaps, but there's a pretty immediate feedback loop. When Present You this morning finds that Past You Last Night laid out some clothes and got the coffee ready to go, it's a small but awesome feeling. Everything is a bit easier, a bit less stressful. And you're more likely to pay the favour forwards, to make the bed and clear the breakfast things away and check there's something for supper for Future You When You Get Home Tonight. 

The gradually you start visualising yourself further into the future and making better decisions more frequently. Flossing your teeth is boring and annoying, but I think of Future Me in the Dentist Waiting Room in a few months' time - I bet she'll be glad Past Her flossed. (Most of the time).

Where does it end? All the bigger life goals I have for Future Me Twenty Years Down The Line - a life focused on producing rather than consuming, with time and space and energy to dedicate to people and projects and causes I care about - start to feel more real with this trick. I'm not completing a boring chore or crossing something off the to-do list - I'm giving all these Future Mes a gift, and I can't wait to see what they do with it.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Weather 0 - Me 1

Today was the first time I've been tempted to take the bus home instead of walking. For reasons that will I think be mostly self-evident, but I should add that my 'to and from work' clothes today were jeans and a thin t-shirt as the morning was so warm and sunny.

To mitigate the wet and the cold, I jogged part of the way home. I felt like I'd really won a battle - haha! Yes! The weather thought it had me beat, but no! Not even the British weather can stop me getting my walks.

(It's strangely addictive, this walking to work stuff. I promise I'm not normally like this!)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The value of being able to say no

I've been reminded this week of the importace of something referred to on some blogs as "FU money". It's pretty self-explanatory - it's about not living paycheck to paycheck, but having an emergency fund that means you are able to step back from a job when you need to.

A friend of mine is struggling at work. The long hours and unreasonable demands are pushing them to their limits, leaving them stressed, sleep deprived and utterly drained. It's a vaguely familiar spectre, reminding me of my time in consultancy where - however interesting the work and fun the colleagues - I felt like work had to take precedence over everything else. This is not ideal. Work is good for us, but no job is worth getting burn out.

I am extremely lucky to work where I do. I adore my job - I wake up and I look forward to getting into the office. Some of that is because the work I do is so interesting, varied and challenging - but a lot is because I work for a supportive employer who wants me to do well. My boss tells me to go home when I'm in late, instead of reprimanding me for coming in late. My extra hours are logged and I can take them as time off in lieu. I get a good day's work done and then I go home, and then I repeat the cycle. When something happens - my mother's surgery, for instance - my team recognise that anyone can answer the email, but only I can sit in A&E, so they tell me to be where I need to be, and not to worry about papers and deadlines. This is worth more than a top-drawer salary to me.

But I do remember - and see - what it is like to work somewhere that has to squeeze you like a lemon for the business model to function. I don't want to take my current circumstances for granted - I want the choice to be able to say "FU" if I find myself there again. I already have the comfort of a good savings cushion, and the confidence of being able to live on a low income. This gives me a peace of mind, and today I am really valuing that.


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