Taking stock

It’s all too easy to stay on repeat and just grow the same things and make the same jams and preserves year after year.  But a minor mishap meant I needed to clear off the garage shelf where I keep our stock of preserves, and as I put it all back I realised several things that I need to act on this year.  I’ve made a note to self to remember this next year (and the year after, and the year after that).

  • I have way too much crab apple jelly.  Delicious though it is, we still have jars that date back to 2016.  It’s still fine to use, but really I shouldn’t make any more until we’ve used all this lot up.  Likewise grape jelly from 2015.  Whereas the grape juice I made last year was delicious and we could have used far more.  Lesson learned.
  • I only need to make marmalade every couple of years.  It keeps well, and I prefer to make a larger quantity to last longer than several smaller amounts.
  • We actually don’t eat a huge amount of jam.  Our sons and their partners enjoy it, and I enjoy it, but there’s only so much we can eat.  Malcolm eats very little jam (unless I make blackcurrant jam or cherry jam).  Making smaller quantities of our soft fruit jams is sensible.
  • Labels are VITAL!!  Occasionally I have filled small jars and been certain that I would know what was in them.  How foolish.  Now I know to cut labels into smaller pieces to fit the tiniest of jars.  Thus avoiding the surprise when a train picnic results in a roll with chutney not a roll with marmalade.  Not that there’s anything wrong with chutney, you know, in its place…
  • I love drinking elderflower cordial, but it is just flavoured sugar syrup.  And therefore not something someone keeping an eye on their weight should drink too much of.   I have several years supply sitting on the shelf.
  • Likewise sloe gin.

One of the most sensible things I’ve read about fruit and vegetable growing is that the only crops worth growing are the ones you actually pick and eat.  Of course this comes into the ‘bleeding obvious’ category, and yet how often I’ve found that I’ve carefully grown something and then don’t get out there in time to pick and use it.  Likewise, I often find myself coming to the end of March and finding that I still have lots of potatoes left and they’re getting soft and sprouting.  Not sensible.  To avoid this I need to:

  • only grow what we enjoy eating
  • only grow what we will eat, preserve, or give away
  • eat what I’ve grown (ie remember it’s there and use it)
  • give away anything we can’t / won’t use ourselves.

I wrote this on Monday, and went straight out to the allotment to get started on this year’s season.  Such an exciting prospect!

Posted in Allotment, Do what you can with what you have, Food, Frugal, Growing, Local food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2019 goals: lose weight

I am not overweight.  On the contrary, I am officially ‘slim’ (according to the recent letter from the consultant I saw about my lymphoedema).

Using the NHS BMI calculator, I am ‘a healthy weight’, and my BMI is about 24.  This is towards the upper end of the healthy weight band.  For much of my adult life (until I had children, in my early 30s), my BMI was just under 20 – towards the lower end of the healthy weight band.  And that is where I would prefer it to be now.

Interestingly, the NHS BMI calculator says that I am ‘in the healthy weight range, but at the higher end’ and advises me to ‘keep an eye on your weight and to try to stay in the healthy range’.

I’ve been hoping to lose this weight and trying to lose this weight for many years, with varying degrees of success.  All I had lost crept back on during last year, when I was struggling with the bad leg (and not being able to be as active as usual).

If I lose a stone, this will bring me to pretty much the middle of the healthy weight range.

I believe that losing this weight will assist my general health, and in particular help my leg to continue to improve.  Hence my decision that I will lose a stone this year.

Note that this time I am not aiming to lose it, or hoping to lose it.  I have decided that I will lose it.  Will that mindset make it easier, or harder, or make no difference?  We’ll see, but my belief is that when I tell myself I will do something, I allow myself fewer excuses and get-out clauses.

My plan is not to ‘go on a diet’, nor to exercise madly.  My plan is to simply eat thoughtfully and carefully, in moderation, and exercise regularly and frequently.

In January I lost 1.5k.  Which is not a lot, but nor is it nothing.  If I carry on like that for the whole year I will have lost far more than the stone (and more than would be good for me).  At that rate, to reach my ideal weight (which would mean losing about 2 stone) would only take me 8-9 months.   So I know that I can achieve my goal of 1 stone, which should take just 4-5 months.  The only question is, will I stick at it?

Just doing those calculations, I persuaded myself that I can lose not just the stone, but go on to lose the two stone – not something I believed at the beginning of January when I decided on this goal.

A few weeks ago I walked into town to buy the ingredients for making marmalade.  I carried home a bag with 1k of oranges and 2k of sugar.  It felt really heavy.  I’m carrying 4 times that lot around with me all day every day, that I really don’t need.  Something to remember…..

I’m hoping that by telling you lot I’m going to do it, I’ll be more careful to stick at it and won’t let myself off the hook quite so readily.  I plan to report back once a month.

Want to join me?

 

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Marmalade time (2019)

It’s been a few years since I made marmalade, mainly because I made far too much last time around and in the meantime several kind friends and relatives gave me some of theirs (a special mention for the grapefruit marmalade made and given by my sister, which was just The Best).

And now I’ve taken stock of the stocks and see that, in a very timely way, I have no more marmalade left.

I’ve used the same recipe for the past decade or two.  You can tell because the recipe card is so dirty obviously well used.

It couldn’t be more simple.  1K of seville oranges, (= 9 oranges), 2k of sugar, 1 lemon, some water.  Use the stash of jars I have squirrelled away in our garage (note to self: there are way too many there: I must sort them through and give some away).  I prefer to use smaller jars rather than larger ones, as we don’t eat a huge amount of marmalade, and it takes a while to get through a jar.

In fact, let’s be clear, I’m the only one here who likes it, and really, I shouldn’t be eating my way through 2k of sugar.  Especially not when I’ve decided I need to lose a stone.  I’ll give quite a bit away to friends and relatives, and the rest will probably last me a couple of years.  (Or not – time will tell).

So – this uses the last of the 8 lemons I bought last weekend, plus the 9 seville oranges I bought a couple of days ago.

One evening I squeezed the oranges and the lemon and added the juice to the 2 litres of water I had already put in the saucepan.  I collected the pith and pips from the oranges, including scraping the pulp away from the orange peels, into a piece of thin cotton muslin, which I then tied up into a ball with some kitchen twine and tied to the saucepan handle (for ease of removal later in the process).

The recipe called for me to discard the lemon peel.  So before squeezing it I removed the zest and set this aside for using(maybe in salads – it really zings them up).

The most time-consuming part of the whole process is slicing the orange peel before adding it to the liquids.  You could regard this as either tedious or meditative, depending on your disposition.  I choose the latter.  I have some real areas of fussiness, and one of them is that I like the peel in my marmalade to be sliced thin and even.

Once that’s done, I brought it all to the boil and left it to simmer for 2 hours.  This softens the peel, reduces down the liquid, and releases the pectin from the pips and the flavour from the pulp.

I then covered it overnight to finish off the next day.  When I’ve been more pressed for time, I’ve sometimes left it at this stage for several days, with no bad effects.  I think you could probably also freeze it to finish off later.

The next step, making the marmalade, is quick to do (about half an hour, all told), if as I did you have already assembled and washed clean all the jars you’ll need for bottling the marmalade (and a few extras just in case).  I simply added the sugar, brought it gently all to the boil stirring, and then when it came to the boil let it boil vigorously until my jam thermometer showed that it had got to the right temperature.  I skimmed a bit of foa,y stuff from the top (using a slotted spoon).  Then I ladled it into my jars, put the lids on tight, and left it to cool.

These ingredients made 11 jars plus a tiny jar plus a bit left over that I’ve kept to use first.  I also kept the foamy stuff from the top, which I plan to use in some kind of orangey sauce for something some time (duck breast?).  Once you start to think about zero waste, ideas keep coming.

Don’t forget to label (including the month and year you made it – you think you’ll remember, but you really won’t).

I like to use the tiny jars, they’re nice to use on a picnic (eg as part of a picnic breakfast on an early morning train).  If you want some, try asking a local b and b or hotel for some of their throw-outs.


Useful things to have for marmalade making:

  • Clean jars with lids, and plenty of them.  I always keep and wash any that are a good size and shape.  I’m not above ‘rescuing’ them from neighbours’ recycling boxes, if they look nice.
  • Some clean muslin (or I guess any thin, open weave cotton cloth that won’t fray and will hold your pips etc)
  • A large saucepan or jam making pan – I use a very large heavy-duty pasta pan Malcolm gave me many years ago, he found it in IKEA.   Use a larger pan than you think you’ll need – you really don’t want to mess with very hot rolling-boil sugary-ness
  • A preserving thermometer – not essential, but definitely useful, and worth buying (or adding to your wish list) if you plan to do lots of preserving.
  • A very large wooden spoon (or similar, for stirring)
  • A ladle – for, you know, ladling into the jars
  • A jam funnel – this is really useful for clean pouring into jars.  Mine is a stainless steel one, and has a relatively narrow bottom, which makes it useful for both large and small jars
  • Waxed paper circles to sit on the top of the jam / marmalade, to help prevent any mould growing.  Probably not essential.  I buy these from Lakeland.  I have two sizes.
  • Sticky labels or similar to label the jars

A tip: wash and clean everything as soon as possible after you finish.  If you don’t some of the residue will dry hard and be tough to remove.  Do it quickly and it will be easy.

 

Posted in Do what you can with what you have, Food, Frugal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

When life gives you lemons: addendum

Continue reading

Posted in Climate change, Food, Frugal, Local food, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When life gives you lemons

Just a very quick pop-in post today, telling you about a very quick (and timely) preserve I made this morning.

It’s citrus time, so the perfect time to be thinking about making marmalade and other citrusy preserves.  I shopped for lemons this weekend.  Bought 8, used 1.  Used another 6 today making a jar of preserved lemons.

Youngest son started me on this.  I love eating these in salads, cut up into small pieces.  Contrary to what all the recipe books, I eat the whole thing – can’t see the point of wasting the flesh and just eating the skins.  Youngest son made me a massive jar of these a few years ago as my Christmas present.  They were delicious.  When (eventually….) they ran out, I made myself some more.  In a smaller jar.  They were equally delicious.

All gone now though, so this morning I spent all of 10 minutes making some more.   This could not be more simple.  I used Claudia Roden’s Middle Eastern Cookery Book as a guide, but instead of leaving the lemons whole, I cut mine up into eighths.  I remove any pips that are apparent and easy to get to, then dip the cut edges into some salt.  I then squash them hard down into a clip-top jar.  Keep on going until the jar is full with all the lemons pushed well down.  Seal and leave for at least a month.

And that, honestly, is all there is to it.  Could. Not. Be. More. Simple.

In case you want to try this, I used 6 unwaxed lemons, which I washed in cold water and dried with a tea towel.  I had seven, but only 6 would fit in the jar.  I used about 100g of Maldon salt flakes.  There was some left, I guess that I actually used about 80g in all.  I’ve kept the leftovers in a small jar to use next time I make kraut.

This will probably be enough to last me until this time next year.  It cost a fraction of what it would cost to buy this quantity of preserved lemons.  It adds a delicious zing to all sorts of dishes.

I’ve taken to writing on the jar label what I’ve used, for future reference.  Because even though I’m always certain I’ll remember, I don’t.  This way I can make adjustments next time where needed.

Later this week – marmalade (inspired by Gillian at Tales from a Happy House).

Added 24.1.19 – see also ‘When life gives you lemons : addendum’

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Making this year’s diary: do what you can with what you have

Even though I do lots of my planning online, including a share online appointments diary with Malcolm, I always love to have and use a paper diary for the year.  I use it for making lists (to do lists, lists for the week, lists for the month), and latterly for tracking progress on my goals (including last year’s 100 day challenge).

Over the past few years I’ve bought and used several diaries that have given me a disproportionate amount of pleasure.  There was the 18 month beauty bought cheaply in Barnes and Noble in Brooklyn.  There was the (very expensive!) Leitchturm one bought on a whim in Bethnal Green.  Last year there was a ring bound one from Paperchase that I completely loved for it’s layout.  For 2019 I really wanted to just get another the same, but was thwarted because they don’t seem to have one.  I could find the same layout in other versions, but nothing that pleased me as much as that one did.

All of which was to the good, because it forced me to look at alternatives.  As it happened there turned out to be a very good alternative, made clear by my recent Clearing of the Desk of Doom.  It reminded me that I have a rather beautiful orange notebook, received by youngest son several years ago when he was working on a production.  He had no use for it and gave it to me.  He knew I would love that pop of colour.  It sat under heaps on the desk ever since.

No more.  The heaps are gone, and the orange notebook has been retrieved.  I went all the way through marking the pages as I wanted them.  I retrieved a pen holder from the Leichturm diary of old, and stuck it into the back of the orange notebook.  It’s now good to go.  My list-making for this year has begun.

♥ ♥ ♥  Do what you can with what you have  ♥♥♥

 

Posted in 100 day challenge, 2019 goals, Do what you can with what you have, Frugal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The 100 day challenge: what I learned

I finished the 100 day challenge in the middle of October, the day before we left for a visit to our friends in Denmark.  I’m so sorry not to have got round to writing this up sooner.

To recap, this was a challenge I set myself as part of my (self-designed) programme to improve the condition of my leg affected by lymphoedema.

The background is that my leg became much worse in February when Malcolm and I were away on holiday and walking around  (just exploring a city new to us) a lot every day.  My leg swelled, became red and uncomfortable, and nothing I did seemed to help.  The stocking I had been prescribed seemed not to help at all, in fact if anything it was making my upper leg worse. This deterioration sparked my return to my GP when I got home.  I needed a course of antibiotics to deal with an infection in the leg, and the deterioration left me feeling quite despondent about my future health.

This though turned out to be A Good Thing, because it forced me to question the treatment I had received and to read up for myself about lymphoedema – something that until then I had neglected to do.  What I learnt shocked and worried me – the ‘treatment’ prescribed thus far was inappropriate, ineffective, and not recommended; further ‘treatment’ with a prescription of diuretics could have been positively harmful had I followed it.

The upshot of all of this was that, supported by everything I read on the excellent website provided by the Lymphoedema Support Network and other information I found on the internet, I was able to return to my GP and ask for a referral to the specialist community clinic in our area.  And thank goodness for this – the GP was very helpful and receptive, and once I had the clinic appointment I received excellent advice and  treatment from a wonderful, knowledgeable and experienced specialist nurse, who measured and fitted me with a made-to-measure full leg pressure garment.  I also found someone local qualified to provide a specialist form of massage (Manual Lymphatic Drainage).  And I have learnt the importance of regular exercise, in combination with wearing the correct pressure garment.

So – the challenge was to make sure that exercise is an integral part of my everyday life.  I decided on at least 1 hour a day of something reasonably demanding.  Things I have read encouraged me to think that if I could follow this regime for 100 days, it would become a normal habitual part of my life, and something I would just do without thinking too hard about it.

I chose a range of exercise: walking, running, swimming and cycling.  I set up an off-peak membership of our local (municipal) swimming pool, which brought with it the benefit of gym membership.  Each visit to the swimming pool/gym entails a 50 minute round walk, so before I’ve even set foot in the pool I’ve already done most of my hour.

What I found was that:

  • I pushed myself to do at least an hour of some kind of exercise every day.  I only missed 14 days in all.  I was satisfied with that – there were plenty of days when I did far more than just an hour, so I more than compensated for the missed days
  • I’ve learnt what works for me and what doesn’t.  When I’m at home, walking and swimming are usually my go-to activities.  When I’m away, I walk so much every day that clocking up an hour is rarely a challenge
  • I can do more than I imagine I can – I swam a mile for the first time in my life.  Yay me!
  • When most days are days when I’m active for at least an hour, occasional missed days really don’t matter too much

The pressure stocking has had a fantastic effect – my affected leg started at 60% larger than the unaffected one.  In just 6 months the swelling has reduced to 42%.  As the swelling has reduced, I’ve been prescribed smaller stockings.  I’m on to my 4th different prescription now.  Best of all, instead of walking making it worse, it now seems positively beneficial.  Exercise is a crucial part of the healing/maintenance regime.  I try to treat it as I would a prescription of some kind of magic medicine – that is, I make sure I don’t miss.

I’m convinced that setting myself this challenge has been a really effective way of getting into the way of it.  It’s definitely an approach I will use in future, if the need arises.

Posted in 100 day challenge, Do what you can with what you have, Reflections on life (and death), Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments