Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Coop

I'm sure by now that you know that The Coop  has come to an end. Before I joined the writers there, it was one of my favourite internet haunts, along with its founder Rhonda's own Down to Earth. Both of these blogs and the individual blogs of the writers offered me a wealth of knowledge, inspiration and encouragement to go my own way, to pay down debts and grow a garden, to prepare for the very worst whilst trying to create the very best.

I think that I started blogging in part to track my own journey and to tap in to the huge communities that have sprung up around these blogs and I suspect that that has been the case for many others too. It has also given me a steady writing goal over the last few months when I may have given up completely, for which I am truly grateful. I will try to channel my energies here instead.

The archive will remain online until the interwebs breaks down and the zombies are running among after us. There is a dazzling amount of information on there, much of which I realise I still haven't explored. I hope you continue to use it and pass the secret on to others who may just be starting out on this path.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Wombling again.

I hate buying things new when there is a whole world of other people's cast offs to furnish my home and life with. I pull things out of skips, friends know to give me first dibs on their unloved belongings and I love trawling eBay and charity shops for bargains, but I rarely get the time to do it these days. My children's tolerance for shopping is quite rightfully low in the best of circumstances (toy shops), they appreciate trawling around looking at old furniture and bric-a-brac even less.

Usually I have to stay close to home, the only charity shop within quick walking distance. I dropped in on saturday and returned home with a set of bright cheerful curtains and some dining plates. The curtains cost  £3.50 and are handmade linen blend fabric, fit my windows perfectly and replace the horrible thin nylon drapes (£20 in a sale and not worth a fraction of that) that I bought in desperation from Wilkos last year. One of those curtains now temporarily covers a nursing chair that I acquired from a friend and am looking for time to reupholster, so has not gone entirely to waste. At some point I will add a lining to these new curtains in preparation for the winter, until then they are a huge improvement on the old.

My womble nature does need to be reigned in. Following the great declutter of 2011, new rules apply. I have a list of things that we need and buy only from that list. At the moment, the list does include room for some pretty, decorative items, though my preference is that they are functional too. Our nice decluttered house needs to be turned into a home. As it is my birthday today, my request was that we went a little further afield and looked around secondhand shops - wild thing, I know. My day was a success, though I am still looking for a 4mm crochet hook and a cutlery drainer, I did tick off a few items of clothing from the list. 

Occasionally I come across something that I only realise I need in the moment I find it:

Gus is off for his first ever solo trip away from home with Gran and Grandad in a few days. It was only when I stumbled upon this I realized we don't have suitably sized luggage for him. It should be adequate for all the adventures he will have in the next few years; and in between trips can store out of season clothing. A sprinkle of bicarb to freshen it and a rub with some oil and it will be as good as new. I didn't think I could top my delight at the curtains, but this is one of my favorite finds ever and Gus seems pretty happy with it too.

What thrifted treasures have you found recently?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Rhubarb ketchup

So...that was a long week. Instead of periodically dropping in and promising posts, I figured I might as well actually write one and post it.

Rhubarb, rhubarb rhubarb...I am having mixed results with rhubarb plants. For a hardy, easy going perennial I really have managed to balls it up. Of the two expensive fancy variety crowns that we planted on the allotment last year, one died and rotted within the month and the other did very little all year and hadn't emerged by the end of March this year (which is late around these balmy parts). I bought two more crowns, cheap common variety ones this time, and dug new holes close to the first two. In the process I discovered one budding crown deep under the surface - I say one, I had turned it into four with my fork by the time I realized what it was. The two new crowns remain on the plot and appear to be doing well and two of the four bits of root that I managed to split are now growing incredibly well in large pots in the yard, in complete shade. Who knew?

So, no personal harvest this year. However, our allotment neighbours have abandoned their plot, and the path separating us from them. They have a huge rhubarb patch that has gradually encroached across the paths and into our broad beans. So call this a contractor's fee for freeing up the overgrown paths on their behalf:

I may have a terrible track record at cultivating it, but I can pilfer it with the best of them. I love it! It's pink! And really, really tart and slightly poisonous tasting, which adds a little thrill to the eating experience. We brought back a lot of rhubarb, the back seat of the car was stuffed too. We gave some away which made barely a dent in it. The last two weeks have consequently been rhubarb appreciation fortnight in this house. Some was dipped in sugar and munched raw, but there is only so much you can eat like that before you succumb to kidney failure. To the preserving pan!

Rhubarb ketchup

Makes approximately 2 pints

6 cups rhubarb, coarsely diced
2 onions, diced,
I clove garlic
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
2 cups white sugar
1 cup spirit vinegar*
1 cup water
1 rounded tsp ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
1 rounded tsp sea salt

*I confess I used wine vinegar, as that's all I had. In my professional opinion as a first time ketchup maker, spirit vinegar would have tasted better. Use that.

Bring all of the ingredients to the boil then simmer for about one hour:

When everything has softened and the rhubarb has disintegrated to goo, remove the bay leaves. Remove the pan from the heat and use a stick blender to puree the pulp. Return the pan to the heat (if necessary) and simmer gently until the puree reaches a ketchup consistency. The bubbles and stirring will leave a trace on the surface when it reaches the right consistency. 

Bottle into hot sterilized jars (bottles if you have them...we don't).

Run out and buy chips to test as a matter of urgency...

It's good. Two pints of ketchup should get us through to autumn, when I will probably have another tomato failure with which to whip up another batch of  Ugly Tom's. I am actually kind of hoping for a failure, if I am being honest, with just half a jar left and a whole lot of summer to get through.

Other stuff was done with rhubarb in this house. Those tales of rhubarb are for another day. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the pink stuff before its season is completely over. 


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