Tuesday, 9 September 2014

The slow cooker does it again

We've had a slow cooker in the Crafty Blueberry household for several years and have made good use of it, but it was so big that it had to live in the cellar as it wouldn't fit in the kitchen, and was really too large for making meals for two.  A couple of weeks ago we bought this small, basic slow cooker from Wilkinsons for £8 and it's just right for making meals for one or two people.  It's also small enough to fit in our tiny kitchen, and because it's out on the worktop all the time we use it more.

The latest slow cooker concoction was pigs cheeks braised in cider, which I made by tweaking this recipe.

It turned out a little too sweet because of the apples and the caramalised onions, s when I make it again I'll use a cooking apple as it will be a bit more tart, and dryer cider.  The pig cheeks were AMAZING and so cheap.  Rich, full of flavour and incredibly tender. My only concern is that trendy chefs will hijack them ,then the prices will bump up; go try them while they're cheap!

We're going on a self-catering holiday in Wales soon and will actually be bringing our little slow cooker away with us.  I don't make a habit of travelling with my household appliances but I reckon it will be lovely to come home after a day out knowing that all we have to do in terms of meal preparation is open a bottle of wine...that's frugal cooking at it's best.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Why I left...and why I'm back

There's a whole load of articles on the internet saying why, if you take a break from blogging, you shouldn't come back with a post drawing attention to it.  Well sod the internet; I want to write about it because it's part of my journey, which is what blogging's all about.

I last blogged here in April before shifting my whole blog to a new one (Destination Nutshell).  I blogged there for a couple of months but havn't done anything there since June.  I've always enjoyed blogging, albeit sporadically at times, but I felt a strong need for change.  Part of this was due to being able to craft a lot less than I used to because of hand pains; when your blog's mainly about making stuff this puts a spanner in the works!  This had an unexpected benefit though; when I wasn't able to distract myself with crafty stuff any more I started working on things that I'd been putting off.  Number one is career change, and since early Summer I've been working through a 'Free Range Human' course by Marianne Cantwell.  It's transformed how I think about making a living, and if it hadn't been for parking my interest in all things Crafty Blueberry I would have been too absorbed to even go looking for anything like it in the first place.  I won't go into detail here as it's a big subject for another time, but if you're the kind of person who wants to get out of your boring job and do what makes you come alive, get over to that website right now.

That's why I went away from my blog:  What brought me back here today?  Well mainly it was because I missed having somewhere to record all the little things that make me happy, like a pile of colourful granny squares, a batch of home brew bubbling away or an unexpected gorgeous view on the walk to work.  It occurred to me that more than anything else this blog has been for me; there are many posts here that will never be read by anyone else, but I love having a record of all the things that have made me happy, especially when times have been at their hardest.

Another factor was that I've started a new blog over on Wordpress called Mind Body Network as part of a project I've started during my Free Range Human course.  I've built up a Twitter account for it, set the blog up and started posting...but something's been missing.  I woke up this morning and it hit me like a big ball of obviousness:  Mind Body Network is what I need for writing about Reiki, nutrition, coaching and all the other things I hope to build into my career.  I need Crafty Blueberry for all the other stuff that makes me me but that I don't necessarily want to link in to how I make a living.  

Both blogs are important to me and of course there's no hard line between them;  the point of the career I'm working on building is to blur the line between work and play, not score it in deeper!  But when I look at my priorities I realise that it's very important for me to keep on loving the small things and recording the small but precious experiences that make life living.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Gym 'n' Spam

Here are some new things I've been doing/have tried this week.  It's been a week that got off to wobbly start (it's called 'Monday morning') but I'm proud to say that I roped it back in and made it a good one.  Onto the new things:

New Thing 1) I've started learning website design at www.codecademy.com:  Out of the blue I decided this would be interesting to learn and potentially useful.  I couldn't figure out where to start as a book didn't seem to be the answer - no opportunity for hands on learning.  So I Googled 'how to learn web design' and ended up at Codecademy.  It's free and it takes you through coding step by step with the opportunity to try out each bit as you go.  I'm in the very first lessons but I'm glad I got on and made a start.  I'm a complete novice by the way, so if I can follow it it must be good.

New Thing 2) My first full week at the gym:  Actually momentous for me as I have always loathed getting fit but I'm sticking to it, working hard, huffing, puffing and enjoying it.  I'm particularly enjoying the flexibility of building my own workout.  At the moment this is stretching-cardio-resistance-cardio-resistance-yoga.  I come out feeling all mmmmm.

New Thing 3) Finding www.Free-Range-Humans.com:  This site is amazing.  It's all about becoming self-employed but in a different way that suits you specifically and builds around the life you want to live.  There's too much to explain here so please go have a look.  I'm working through the four week course (charged for but worth every penny) and it's really having an impact on how I think.

New Thing 4) Spam fritter:  Does a new thing have to be big to be amazing?  No, not if it's a Spam fritter!  I've always thought they sound like deep-fried horror but tried it and, my word, it is crispy, juicy deep fried wonder meat.  Happy days.

What new things have you been getting excited about?  If nothing then what new thing will you do this week to get you feeling lively?

P.S. - If in doubt start with a Spam fritter.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Getting started again

I've just realised something about a story I've been writing that has totally taken me by surprise.  I havn't added to it for a couple of weeks as I got stuck on it at an early point, where the story had gone a bit lame before it had really got going and I felt bored by the storyline; not a good sign of a gripping read, right?  I've written writing prompt snippets every few days since then before coming back to it tonight and it jumped out at me:  my main character, a supernatural spirit/woman, who I thought I'd find interesting is actually shockingly dull and two dimensional.  I just can't get a handle on her, there's nothing there, she's made of fluff and air.  On the other hand I find myself thinking and wondering about the other primary character, a fairly intelligent but otherwise average,  withdrawn, middle-aged man with a washed up career.

I went back into my story tonight planning on adding bits here and there to what I already had in order to flesh it out.  Now I understand that it's all the wrong way around.  I'm going to pull out all the bits about the man and see where he goes without the other character.  Will she come into it at all?  Will it be the same story from a different point of view?  I don't know.  Maybe I'll end up abandoning it altogether.  Initially I was appalled by the prospect - oh, my efforts! - but I'm excited again now.  Here's a chance to get my story back on track/write a new one and grow.  Funny, but it seems so obvious now.  I guess sometimes you have to get some distance from something then take it by surprise so you can see what's really going on, because I really was blind to it before.

Friday, 30 May 2014

The Gym

As I mentioned on Monday I've joined a gym. I've tried working out at gyms before and not at all enjoyed the experience, but I want to get fit and healthy so I've swallowed my doubts and given gyms a second chance.  The gym I've joined, with Colin and a friend, is The Gym in the centre of Leeds, just a couple of minutes from where we all work (too close to avoid on a lazy day!).  We visited it two weeks ago and they offered us a tour.  It had lots of equipment, was spacious and had a good atmosphere.  It also helped that the guy who showed us around didn't try to sell us membership!  He gave us a discount code to get the joining fee for £10 instead of £20 and let us go without any pestering.

I'm two visits in now and finding it to be a different experience from the other gyms I've tried.    I like the fuss-free atmosphere and not feeling cramped up.  The staff are very helpful, everything's clean and in good condition and there's enough variety of equipment to keep me interested.  The biggest difference is that I'm enjoying it!  It feels good to be challenging myself and to know that I'm doing something positive for myself.  I was surprised at how much it's helped me wind down after work; after 15 mins of cycling hard I'd left the day's stress behind, and by the time I got home and showered I felt more relaxed than I have in months.

We've agreed to nag each other to go if our motivation flags, and I've promised myself that if I really can't be bothered at any point I'll go anyway, do something gentle and that will probably get me in the mood.  I want to feel fit and healthy for once in my life, and to know I'm building myself up stronger than before.  I'm forever getting aches and pains, feeling sluggish and ill so I need this boost and I've finally decided it's worth putting in the effort in to do it.

Monday, 26 May 2014


I've got half a 'tah da' today because I've finished the 49 granny squares for a blanket I'm making...

...and today I've started joining them together with rich red yarn.  It's going to be fairly large, I'm aiming for generous throw sized.  I like to have a granny square project and some sock knitting in progress at any given time because they're both straightforward and I don't need patterns for them.  With this project I've enjoyed using up scraps from my stash of DK acrylic yarn and making some unlikely colour combinations which should work when they're all pulled together in one blanket.  Something I like about this sort of project is that the squares themselves can be way out in their colours but all the squares balance each other out when they're joined.  Each of these granny squares is 5 rounds and three colours.  Joining them is a big task but I love getting stuck in.

The second square thing is a typewriter I bought in a charity shop for £5 yesterday.

It's a Silver Reed Leader Two and is in very good condition.  It needs cleaning because there are crumbs and hairs under the keys but it's well oiled and works well.  Most of the ribbon is still moist because it was wound up and kept in a case.  I want to clean the platen, which is the only really grubby bit (blobs of white out), give the case a wipe down and get the dust out of the inside of the machine.  This is my second typewriter.  My other one is an Olivetti Lettera 32 and was my Dad's.  I'll write more about both of them soon because I think they deserve a (loving, adoring) blog post of their own.

A third third thing which is suspiciously un-square for me is that I've joined a gym and will be starting with an induction tomorrow.  It's a budget gym in the centre of Leeds and I was impressed when I had a tour of the place so I'm going to give it a whirl as I want to improve my overall fitness and flexibility.  I'll report back on it over the next few days!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Thursday and Miss Alcott

Here we are at Thursday, plenty of week behind us and lots of weekend a little way ahead.  Work's been eventful with a bit of accidental team bonding, a suspected heart attack (all was ok in the end), a project looking fit to collapse but pulling through and the usual smattering of things breaking unexpectedly and general headless chickenry.

I've done hardly any writing or making this week, I've mostly been reading; an input week rather than an output week.  After a weekend when I pushed my own nerves to the limit it's been a welcome come down, and talking to a couple of friends who are absolute bricks has helped a great deal.  I've been reading letters and journals of Louisa May Alcott and some of her shorter stories.  I've loved 'Little Women' for years so it's interesting reading some of her other work.  Her 'pot boilers' are dramatic and over the top but with cunning twists.  I prefer the stories she wrote about everyday people and everyday things and believe that's where her humour and wisdom came out most strongly.  Such a shame that she lived in an age when as a single, childless woman she had to continually justifying herself.  Has much changed though?  We still live in a culture focussed on pairing off and having children and I think the stigma of being an 'old maid' is, unfortunately, alive and prospering, as is disbelief at a woman choosing not to have children.  It would be good to see things move on from these Victorian values!  If you like 'Little Women' I highly recommend 'Work' and 'Hospital Sketches' as both are based on her own experiences and are full of the flavour of real life, with a lively sense of fun as well as touching sadness.  They're both available to read for free online here or to download to Kindle for free on Amazon ('Work' is here and 'Hospital Sketches' is here).

Reading, eating strawberries, watching the rain and letting my imagination wander...ah, wonderful, wonderful laziness, and a happy Thursday evening.