A new way of life – a peaceful day

I simply love the days when everything feels peaceful.  
Today is one of those days, where you can sot back and relax.
Given everything that’s happening in the world right now, and what we have all endured over the last few months, I bet everyone has gone through a few conversations, or range of emotions and feelings that you didn’t anticipate you would have in this lifetime…or maybe we did?


Our days have varied so much and with one thing and another we’ve had to react differently to certain things that are out of our control and in some cases, we have to just accept that we can’t control things.  However all of that is leaving me feel very peaceful.  Right now anyway, ask me in a day 😉
Early this morning, Friday, whilst most people were still in bed, Steven and I woke up and went straight outside to let the animals out, feed and water them and do a check of everything.  It was such a beautiful morning.  Rodney came with us as always.  We then managed to get an exercise session done whilst it is still cool.  Neither of us would want to after work, especially as it is meant to be SO hot today (hot for the North East of England anyway!)
I also managed to get a few jobs done in the veg plot, starting with weeding the onion bed which I swear was weed free a couple of days ago!  It’s all done now and things are looking very healthy in there.  A couple of onions decided they wanted to go to seed though, so I snapped off the hard seed shoot that was forming in the hope that they change their minds.  We need all the food we can get after all.
Once the bed was weeded and watered, which took 20 minutes or so, I went in to the greenhouse.  Incidentally, I don’t normally water onions but I noticed the soil was dry quite far down when I was weeding and as we aren’t due any rain for days or more, the heat that we are due may make them bolt, so I gave them a good water.
In the greenhouse, I sowed 4 different beans, 1 purple climber, 2 drawf (green and yellow) and soy.  I’ll sow some more in 2/3 weeks which I will maybe put in the polytunnel for as late cropping as we can.  I don’t have more soy though, so I hope this lot work and we can save some seed from them.  They are now watered and outside enjoying the heat of the sun and hopefully considering germinating pretty quickly.  I’m generally always amazed at how quickly beans germinate.  I also have some pinto beans in the greenhouse which I have now moved out to the cold frame to harden off.  These will be kept for the winter pantry and also to grow next year. I’m going to try and save as much seed as I can this year.  

Does anyone know if growing lots of beans near each other will cause me issues with seed saving?  

Rodney stayed with me whilst I was weeding, perfect start to the day for both of us.  My favourite time of day.

I harvested a small amount of kale too.  We have more kale plants than any family would ever need, however I plan on preserving enough to last a year for the house.  Kale is also very good for chickens which is one of the reasons I have grown so much, after all, we have a lot of chickens!  Our pigs too have it, but not the sheep right now as they are due to lamb and I am hesitant to change their diet before lambing in case it’s toxic for the unborn lambs.  Call me Mrs Cautious if you like, but we only have a small number of ewes (4) and each lamb is vital to the success of the smallholding.

After a lovely, peaceful start to the day I have work to complete.  Working from home now means the commute is ideal 😉 I shall update you with the weekends antics next week.  In the mean time I’ve been having lots of fun in the kitchen, as always!  Trying a variety of bread items in our weekly menu plan.  Below are the naan breads I made from a recipe on bbc.co.uk/food – they were great!  I rolled them pretty thin to cook quickly and we preferred them that way.  They are not authentic naans which I believe use yoghurt (tell me if I am wrong?) but for us, they are perfect and my new go to for naan type breads.  I’ll pop the recipe on my recipes page.  All new recipes go out on the Friday night that I have used them.

Another quick, almost cheat meal that I have done a couple of times are these pin wheels. They are great for a light lunch for me and the kids during the week or I can add a huge salad and do it for the 4 of us on a weekend lunch time.  Disclaimer – I use shop bought puff pastry for these 😛 !  I bought 3 puff pastry in the Aldi shop on the 25th, so I will do these every other week to use them us during the 6 week challenge.  The recipe is here if anyone wants a bash. 

It’s been hot, hot, hot here lately, during the days at least.  Rodney often finds shade where he can.
The pigs are given water every day and we often make them a water hole which they take a little interest in, but not as much as we hoped! 
Grace gets the hose pipe over in to the pig pen and sits and has cuddles with them whilst the water fills up.  It takes a while as the pressure there is not great. 

Did I tell you the electricity had a planned outage for 6 hours?  Well, as we don’t yet have a generator, what else could we do except pop the quail on the Aga on a towel to hopefully regulate the heat?  I hope they hatch still! They are due Monday I think. 

That’s me for a few days, stay safe everyone 🙂


Bank holidays always throw me, even in lockdown & the next challenge!

With Steven starting a new job this year, combined with lockdown, I don’t know what day of the week it is sometimes.  Every day is organised and planned but I still couldn’t tell you the date or the day without looking some weeks!  This Monday was a Bank Holiday and Steven would normally be at home, however the new job doesn’t work like that so he took the Friday off with me and then was at work Monday.  Needless to say, with me having time off and Ste not being here, I still didn’t know what day it was!  So when I started with a migraine on Monday which lasted all night through to Tuesday morning, it has taken me until today to come round and feel somewhat normal again.  I think today has been Wednesday, right?  We have other things going on with family and health which I won’t go in to here, so it’s already been a right old week.  
I did manage to go shopping Monday (maybe that’s why I got a migraine!) and got our first supermarket shop in 4 weeks, so that’s all put away and the menu plan for the week is finally done too.  Better late than never.  It’s all a bit backside first right now, I mean when isn’t it?  Mostly menu plans “should” be done by looking at what you have in and making meals from there.  Well we have started a different challenge which left me doing things in a round about way this time.
The challenge is not to go back to the supermarket for 6 weeks!  As you may know, we have a monthly grocery budget of £300.  This is regardless of whether it is a 4 or 5 week month.  An average of £75 a week.  Now for us, that’s actually way more than we should be spending right now.  Bearing in mind we grow a lot of our own things, so we should see this reduce over the next few months as the garden starts to pay for itself.  
We’ve also had another curve ball thrown in that we are taking a hit on our income as a result of the virus.  Presently this should be for 4 months, June 1st until the end of September, so it is massively important that we keep our outgoings down.
Having said that we do still have milk delivered and buy a top up veg box weekly.  We will continue to support these local businesses unless something drastically changes, or when we start growing everything we need.  We’re not there yet but are working on it.
So straight in to it.  Every week I am making bread, treats, soups, scones, pies and quiches/fritatas.  These are for lunches, main meals, snacks and the freezer.  9 times out of 10 the pies are using left overs as I don’t tend to make pie fillings specifically for pies for us (though I do sell some which I made specifically for customers), with the exception of corned beef and potato.  I also hardboil any eggs which are not sold or for incubating.  At the moment this is quail only as ALL of the hens eggs are selling, much to my disappointment 😉 sometimes I find a cracked one which I get to use!  The quiches and fritatas are using whatever we have in abundance such as the kale and asparagus.  Scones vary from week to week and bread is something we no longer consider a throw away item as we may have done in the past.  It’s amazing how making your own makes you value everything so much more.
I spent £147.62 on Monday and our next veg box is coming on Saturday which will be £11.  I’ll let you know once the milk man invoices us as we changed the order this week.
I planned on making bone broth/stock once every 6 weeks when I planned the challenge, however when I made some in my 6 litre slow cooker, it only yielded 2 litres.  Now I used 3 carcasses, so I am wondering if it’ll be quite concentrated and maybe I can eek 500ml out to 750 for example.  I can just season more if needed.
A few other points to note – I’ll be making ALL of our own bread products, we have NO pork left in the freezer and have made the decision to not buy any joints or chops, only sausages and bacon, until we have our own later this year or early next year.  We have joints of beef which we will dice and mince once we run out of those.  WE have also ran out of whole chickens.  Again, we will not be buying chicken, we will wait until our meat birds are ready in around 8 weeks or so!  We do however have the luxury of thigh/drumstick, carcass and wings of one bird a week.  As you will know if you read our blog, my parents buy an organic whole bird each week as it’s not much difference in cost for 2 breasts which is what they started to get (from the farm shop).  They take the breasts and give us the rest which they don’t like.  So the only chicken we will have during this challenge is that.
It’s really exciting, I think setting challenges keeps you focused and energised.  Well it does for us at least!  I did a bit of a YouTube video on it which would be great if you could watch and subscribe to.  Eventually we hope the channel will be enjoyed by many, you have to start somewhere right?
Stay safe everyone.

Our opinion – Discount Supermarkets

I was chatting with Lou over on Living the Good Life in Wales and I was telling her about a couple of conversations I had and have overheard recently about shopping, specifically at the cheaper supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl.  It reminded me how far we have come on the journey we wanted and how many people have a very different mind set to us.  
We are also underway with our Food Challenge (see previous post) so it feels like a good time to talk about where we shop and why.  
Now before I get in to this, I want to put a disclaimer out there – we have 2 children in school, both work full time, have good incomes, 2 cars, a house that has a central heating option (note the operative word) and have clothes on our backs.  We are lucky enough to not claim to be poverty struck nor to compare ourselves to people AT ALL.  We can talk from our experience and opinions only.  We are not proposing what we choose to do is right for anyone other than us, we only want to share and hopefully help provoke thoughts that lead to helping in some way, shape or form.
Back to it.
We converted to using a discount supermarket, specifically Aldi, many years ago and looking back I do remember it being a big change.  Truthfully we picked Aldi as it was closet.  If Lidl was, I would have probably used them.  
Like we were, if you are used to going in to a shop like Tesco and enjoy being able to buy a vast assortment ready made, branded or world foods for example, then converting to a discount supermarket like Aldi or Lidl is a bit of a shock to the system and does require planning and adjusting.  We found we needed to be flexible and able to adapt, but if you are considering shopping in the cheaper supermarkets anyway, then maybe you are financially trying to cut back and feel you have to make that compromise.  
We have found the interior of Aldi to be very similar throughout the UK, they keep things in the same place and stores that we have visited seem to have the same layout which although doesn’t impact us very often, sits well with me as I hate it when you go in to Tesco/Asda/Sainsburys etc and they have changed everything round.  Yes this is meant to make you see other things you hadn’t thought of buying, but when you are adamant on buying that one item you went in for, it’s just frustrating!
I found that I came to prefer not being given a wide variety of options to choose from – if I have mayo on my list, I don’t get the 4/5/6 whatever options the big supermarkets offer, I get trusty Bramwells and move on.  Personally, I like the taste.  If I didn’t, we probably wouldn’t bother, it’s not a staple part of the diet.
We use their shampoo, cleaning products, dog food, frozen and fresh food.  I’d say we get 95% of our items from Aldi.  There are some things which we choose not to buy from there which is soap and they don’t do a Ready Brek or equivalent which my kids have frequently, so we do go to Tesco for these, but rarely anything else.
The tills are crazy though, when I first started shopping there the till operators used to remember the codes for each item and type them in manually, no bar code scanning then.  It still didn’t give you much time to get your items put back in to your trolley though, they fly through scanning and you’re expected to put the items in your trolley and bag them at the separate counter.  When Ste and I go, we have the bags ready in the trolley and do it together so we do manage to keep up.  Took us a few times to master the art!
Aldi offers a wide variety of food that we feel has actually increased our family’s healthy eating options as by removing some of the crap, you can get to focus on what’s important.  We cook 95% of our meals from scratch, even more now I think about it.  There’s the odd chicken kiev makes it in to the basket as the kids love those and on a Friday night, they get to pick their meals.
A lot of people seem to comment that Aldi’s fresh fruit and veg doesn’t stay fresh for very long.  I would say we have had maybe 15% of ours go off sooner than I would like, however planning our meals and prepping appropriately mitigates this if really needed.  As we cook from scratch we buy a lot of fresh things, plus frozen fruit and veg which I have never had a problem with and it makes life so much easier sometimes.
Does it make our money go further – hell yes is my answer to that.  Our grocery budget is £300 a month for the 4 of us and we eat healthily with a few treats, such as alcohol or the odd Chicken Kiev (if you can call that a treat).
So when people snub Aldi as a sub standard or lower class supermarket, I don’t agree, it gives us a healthy, nutritional diet and saves us spending money every month and whatever your situation in life is, surely that isn’t a bad thing.

The Food Challenge

This title has come from a variety of recent ideas I’ve had!  I find that happens, a little ideas forms a bigger one which grows and adapts.  It started off as a freezer challenge eating what’s in the freezer as the freezer was fit to burst.  Given its bulging sides, apparently that will take months (which is a good thing, as that was and is the point of filling it!) and then it turned in to a pantry challenge of using up the tinned and dried goods that were bought and since sat there with just a partial amount used.  Finally it’s turned in to a use up the jars in the fridge challenge.  I think they are breeding in there!  There’s 2 shelves full of bits of mustard or pickle or cranberry sauce and other items I am not too sure as to what they even are!  So combined with my weight loss challenge I’ve set myself for this year, you can see the predicament that we have a bit of a mutation of challenges going on.

Essentially I find myself in a position where I want to step back and assess what we are trying to achieve before my head becomes too full and I give up on it all.  Do you ever get that feeling?  Sometimes it can manifest itself as feeling overwhelmed?  Life is so busy for us all and personally, I feel that without planning, things don’t always happen.

This whole Corona virus thing has got us all thinking too.  I don’t want to be in a position where we have eaten everything down to the bare minimum and end up self isolating for a period of time.  It seems there’s going to be a bit of scaremongering in the next few days, which naturally may result in people panic buying.  Given we are normally stocked up for 3 months plus with food etc, this is probably the worst time this could have happened.  We still have a good amount of food in though, so I am not worried, it’s just typical and shows it’s always good to be prepared, or have a plan A and B at least.  Anyway, I’m not spending time worrying about that until we know more.

Generally, even though we are working our way through what is in stock in the said areas, generally there’s left overs from those and I will reuse them in something else.  Eg if we roast a (raw) chicken for a Sunday lunch, I will reuse left overs in a pie and eat one for another meal, then freeze one, so the pie goes back in the freezer in a differed “state” (ie cooked chicken, not raw) to how it came out, which is fine.  

That takes me to the title of the post, The Food Challenge.  What are we trying to achieve? An organised, prepared, useable stock of short term and long term food items which are adaptable, healthy and budget friendly.  Easy right?  I will do a separate post on supermarkets and why I believe you should have a menu plan, shopping list and shop efficiently to help you lower your outgoings.  Given everything we have in stock, there’s absolutely no reason we should be maxing our grocery budget, or even coming close, for a month or two at least.  For the record, our budget it £300 a month, which is reduced from around £600 from when we first moved in 4 years ago. 

I didn’t choose my words without giving this a fair bit of thought.  

Organised:  this is a task that can be fairly quickly achieved and is tangible.  Physically organising the freezer, fridge and pantry which are they key elements in this challenge, is something I can be getting on with.  It doesn’t stop there though, once they are organised, how do they stay organised and how do we benefit from them being organised?  Keeping an inventory is key here.  That makes this task a little bit more time consuming and if you can get a helping hand to either write the list as you go through the items, or vice versa then that will save you a bit of time.  I’ll set myself aside some time to do this and report back.
Prepared:  this is a reference to a few different things.  I need to be prepared (and organised) with regards to menu planning, writing shopping lists, doing the weekly shop etc.  Also it means preparing ahead, getting up on a morning and taking tea out of the freezer, batch cooking, taking time to prepare meals ahead.
Useable stock:  what is the point of having a tub of quinoia, pearl barley, blue food colouring and eastern spices if I am never going to use them?  Over the years I have been pulled in to advertising, expensive recipes, following the ideal and impulse buying.  Not any more.  Everything we have in stock needs to be useable.  That may mean I have to be inventive with recipes, avoid others, think differently and so on.  That’s fine, bring it on.  I like the idea of having almost a capsule wardrobe pantry, does that make sense?
Short term and long term:  to me, there’s a obvious need to have fresh and non fresh items.  Dried, frozen, pickled, preserved, whatever it may be.  What is the ideal amount and what benefits can we get from both?  Time will tell.
Adaptable:  Something that will not work for us as a family is restrictions.  We eat at 6:30 on an evening, after we have done the jobs outside and caught up with each other.  Sometimes though, something happens, chickens escape, the wind has blown down a fence, the greenhouse takes longer to water and then everything gets shunted along time wise.  Tea needs to go from a 45 minute Aga time to 15 minutes.  Instead of making lasagne with the ragu, I’m going to heat the ragu and throw it on top of some quick cook spaghetti or penne with a garlic bread.  See what I mean?  I may have some dump bags (idea adapted per The Batch Lady slow cooker) that I can use as a stir fry, or to add to longer cook rice or short cook noodles.  So for my family, adaptability is key.  
Healthy:  I guess this speaks for itself.  One thing that was important to us when we moved here was moving to a more healthy lifestyle, food and drink included, where I cook as much as possible from scratch.  That doesn’t mean we won’t eat fatty food or drink red wine, far from it!  It about a balance and as long as the scales tip in favour of the healthy, I’m happy with that.
Budget friendly:  2020 is about minimising our outgoings and I can not see that ever changing.  Why would you want to spend more than you needed to?  For us, it’s to allow us to pay our mortgage off early, other people will have their reasons.  All to the same goal though. 

I told you I had given it some thought 😂.

So over the coming days and weeks I will add updates as to where I am in The Food Challenge journey.  I will share my inventories, subsequent menu plans and shopping lists, where I shop to get them and recipes for making the meals.  Please join us on this journey, we would love to hear how these things work for you guys and learn from how you do things too.  I’m planning on doing a YouTube video or two on this for anyone who is interested – I will let you know when it’s ready.

In the mean time, I’m off to start the inventory lists, which will inevitably result in a cleaning session too!  I’ll grab some pics of before and after.

Summer holidays and exciting news!

We are in the midst of our summer break here. I’ve taken 2 weeks off work to catch up on the smallholding and start to prep for winter 2018.  I also have some exciting news to share with you.

The veg plot and friends:
Taking the 2 weeks off work, before the August bank holiday every year, is proving to be a really good time to have off from a smallholding point of view.  There’s so many things to harvest and preserve.  I spent the first few days weeding.  After the prolonged dry weather, then the burst of rain, the weeds have been forcing their way through and bringing their friends.  I managed to weed the potato bed, the squash bed, peas and beans, outdoor tomatoes and the roots beds.  My daughter also helped put some hay (it was too dusty for the horses, perfect for the veg patch so didn’t go to waste) under the squash to protect them from the wet soil.  

This year the plum are non existent but last year was a super year and the branches were snapping from the trees, so we aren’t surprised but it’s a shame.  The damsons are doing ok though and are almost ready.  I’ve spotted a few wild plums along the lane so we will pick them this week and use them.

Apples on the other hand are doing AMAZINGLY well this year!  This variety is Discovery, which we got from Kev over on An English Homestead and they are the nicest eaters ever, I was pleasantly surprised.  Look at the size of them!
More apples on the back trellace as cordons from Kev, doing very well too but later varieties.
 Outdoor tomatoes are loving the long, hot summer weather so far, though the muggy weather we have now is ripe for blight, so we are on blight watch daily.  I can’t recommend this variety highly enough, it’s called “Outdoor Girl”.
This is the second harvest we have had from these and there’s another couple of the same again to come.
 Every year we grow a pumpkin or large squash of some variety and this isn’t huge yet, but we’re pleased with it.  There’s a local county show we go to, for some fun competition where we will show this.  We won first place last year!
 This variety is called Sibley squash and I got the seeds from real seed.  They are supposed to keep very well through winter, becoming noticeably sweeter after New Year apparently.  The plants have been prolific this year.
 The indoor tomatoes are doing beautifully.  After a rubbish crop last year, where I didn’t even get to bottle any, I’m pleased they are coming along nicely.  I’ve never seen so many tomatoes on one vine as this variety.  The variety if Ildi.
Next year we must do more against the cabbage white butterfly.  This year seems to have been horrendous for them!  To be double sure, I intend to grow the young plants undercover and then when I plant out, put them straight under enviromesh.  It’s not cheap but apparently is worth it.
Two of my favourite summer veg, broad beans and courgettes.  Just as well as there’s loads!  Only 1 variety of courgette this year, I prefer the yellow and will stick with that each year now.   
 The kids have been brilliant during our time off and very helpful.  I’ll explain more in a moment, but here they are in my potting (or plotting as Jack calls it) shed enjoying some treats after a morning of hard graft.
 The damsons I mentioned.
 Old apple trees in the orchard, doing well this year.
On the smallholding:

We’re getting the outside jobs done.  Some nice and some not so nice.  There’s not only weeding to be done in the veg plot, but there’s plenty around the smallholding too.  Nettles are everywhere and boy are they stingers.  The car park looks more like a field, so we’ve hand weeded part of it, with the rest to be done.  We have trees to fell to give us Winter 2019 heat as they will need to season for a year or so.  We’re picking up 20 Ross Cobb day old chicks from our supplier tomorrow.  They will be slow raised to a decent weight when they will go in the freezer for 2019 chicken.  They are to be housed for the first few weeks in the poultry shed which is (hopefully) fox proof as we still have a fox issue.  
Additionally we’re picking up some Rhode Island Red day old chicks too, which will start off 2019 laying hens.  Cockerels will go to the freezer too, bar 1.
With all this in mind, we needed a processing area for when the time comes.  Ste has built this small shelter at the back of the smallholding for that purpose.  It’s great isn’t it and will last for years at a small cost to us financially.
Ryan, our female goose as some of you may remember, has decided she wants to sit on her eggs again.  The previous lot that were sat on this year didn’t hatch, so I don’t know if Neville, our gander, is performing or not.  

 Below is the small paddock.  The fenced, nettled area is where we ran the pigs on in 2017.  There is a small wooded area at the back and the rest of the paddock is currently laid to grass.  At the moment we need the grass for the sheep as the horses have the big field, but we just can’t decide what to do for the best with this area in the long run.  The pig area will be brilliant for growing in once it is clear, given the muck they produced.


In the kitchen:
The rhubarb vodka is ready, so I have decanted it into bottles and oh my it is nice.

We decided to sell our kitchen table even though I love it, as I wanted a bigger one.  We were all set until we realised we already have the perfect size table in the dining room which we never use except at Christmas. 

 With a lovely farmhouse tablecloth over it, it really suits the kitchen and is the perfect size for us.

So now we’re reevaluating what to do with the other table and the space we’ve created in the dining room (which was a snug).
The kids have been baking, but I forgot to take photos as I was playing negotiator.  Brownies, scones and millionaire shortbread!  No diets in this house for now!  The kids and Annie had plenty of cuddle time too!  

She simply is the kindest natured dog with them.  She is the perfect guard dog too, you won’t get in the house without being barked at followed by a warm welcome if we tell her it’s ok.  Can’t wish for a better dog.
I also made a tomato soup which turned out to be very bland.  Unsure what to do, the next day I made “half the garden soup” from Hugh’s River Cottage book and when it called for a kilo of toms and stock I decided to just use the tomato soup instead, plus a bit of my ‘souper mix’ from Pam Corbin’s book and goodness me, it worked out well.  
I’ve also been making slow cooker stews, pulled ham, pork and roasting chickens.  A lot will be returned to the freezer once made ready to reheat as evening meals once we are back to work.

The next plan….
So now for the exciting part.  The next plan.  It’s been forming for a year or so, but we’ve taken the time to formalise it whilst we have been off work.  Starting now and until end of May 2019, we are stockpiling a years worth of long life or non perishable goods. 
Come June 1st, we’re embarking on living off one wage and saving the other.  This will allow us to have a years worth of savings in the bank, which leads on to phase 2 of the plan, for another day.
From June 1st we will have an annual grocery budget that equates to £25 a week.  This is only for the likes of milk, butter, flour, cheese, kids lunch items.  Everything else, literally, will come from our ‘stores’ as we refer to it, the years worth of supplies we have stockpiled prior to June.
That means we also need to find an additional £1300 cash to have to hand from June 01st, which is the annual budget.  Any income after June 01st is being saved.  As we’re stockpiling, our outgoings are already going to increase so we need to have this cash as additional to what we have now.  Time to sell what we don’t need and make money where we can.
It’s all part of the lifestyle shift that we have bought in to and I can’t wait to get started.