My 2014 continued (Part 2)

I had a busy and fun-filled first six months of the year and I'm not expecting anything less for the rest of the year, so grab a cup of tea and join me for a whistle stop look at July to December. 

July started spotty - MOH caught chicken pox, and not being the spring chicken he once was, he got it bad and was really quite ill with it. I'm not sure it was helped by the weather either as it was so warm he couldn't get comfortable, it was stuffy in the house and too hot in the garden. He was signed off work for three weeks in the end and would much rather have had this horrible disease when he was much younger.  

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I didn't let his spottiness curtail my activities though, in fact I was probably glad to get out for a bit. There was a fun evening of softball in Regents Park to remember a friend and former colleague (and despite the trophy we didn't win!) 

I managed to cram in visits to Borough Market, Smithfields and St Barts and found a park I'd never discovered before - Postman's Park - despite working about ten minutes away for the past thirty years. 

When the chicken pox were no longer contagious we managed a weekend in Devon and visited the National Trust properties Tintinhull Garden and Killerton, both of which were new to us and beautiful but we weren't quite expecting the Bear House at Killerton!  

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Back home, albeit briefly and my tomatoes were starting to form which was as exciting as it always is - I mean, real food growing in your garden, how cool is that. Yes, I should get out more... I also spotted that tree with humongous leaves and started following it each month - I've been to visit it recently, it's still there, still bare and not so much to say about it right now. I also finished knitting my wooly hat - yes, just what was needed in a hot month! 

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It was also my dad's 80th birthday and we had a family weekend at Centre Parcs, Elvedon Forest. It was a great weekend and we had fun times cycling through the grounds, geocaching and in the hot tub! My dad celebrated his birthday by zip wiring, as you do! And no, I didn't. But we did sneak in a visit to Ickworth on our way home!

Oh and yes, I completed my 500 miles challenge clocking up a total of 554.78 miles. 

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Thankfully August was a bit quieter and mostly home-based - we emptied our compost bin, and I finally hung my new sign in the garden. I joined Instagram and immediately took part in #31daysofpaper and #augustbreak and enjoyed them both immensely. There was some DIY too where I was reminded of our DIY-incompatibility as we put up our new front light I had sympathies for the Statue of Liberty. Health-wise my long time overactive thyroid finally calmed down and I was able to stop taking daily medication for the first time in a year and a half. So in just another twelve to eighteen months I might, just might be able to give blood again...

As the weather was still nice we decided to book a week away in September. As soon as we booked our week in Cornwall typically the weather changed and there was a real danger we'd be rained out. Thankfully though it changed again and we had a great, if not busy week away. I've shared some posts  already from our trip but there's still more to come - I'll be sharing these soon as part of my new Sun on Saturday series of posts, so watch out for those. 

Later that month we headed up to Norfolk where I was roped into some flower arranging, I took some photos of my dad's garden and visited Bircham windmill. And then the decorating started in our bedroom - finally. 

In October we started to unpack our clothes into real wardrobes - such a treat! - and the tree with humongous leaves was identified as a Paulownia Tomentosa, yes indeed. I also shared some sweet pea love which had flowered late but kept going and going...

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By November I was putting my blog move plans into action and moved here, I was glad to move as I think my new site shows my photos much better and I had some great photos of the Tower of London poppies to share, including some from our time volunteering in the moat planting poppies

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At home we had our troublesome sycamore trees pollarded, the falling branches earlier in the year were caused by squirrel damage so it made sense to remedy this as soon as we were able to. I'm glad we did, especially with the winds picking up right now as I'm pretty sure more branches would be down by now. After the work finished they really did look like Twiglet trees

In our run up to Christmas we popped over to Syon Park to see the Enchanted Woodland and was blown away by the trees and the laser show. It was a great way to kick off Christmas. Having time this year my Christmas preparations were in full swing with Christmas wreaths, Poinsettias and Christmas trees as well as Christmas cards. 

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So all in all it's been a busy year - looking back I'm surprised at just how much I've packed in and I know one thing, I wouldn't have changed any of it. Now I've finished looking back at 2014, it's time to start looking forward to 2015 and everything that it'll bring. I know one thing, it'll have to go someway to topping 2014 but it's already off to a good start as we're heading off to Dorset for a few days at the end of the month, well you know how much I like some time away!

This was my 2014 (Part 1)

Well last January almost seems a lifetime ago, I've done so much and made so many changes this year. It's been fun to look back over the year and see what goals I planned and how they've worked out. Looking back at that list, there's two I haven't managed at all, one's still in progress but I've managed the others which I'm happy about. And let's just say the 5:2 diet is no longer on my radar and I still have that second fridge freezer too!

I did better with my word of the year which was Active and chosen when I anticipated the change in my lifestyle, the one where after thirty years I stopped commuting into the City and took some time out. I also started my #52Cookbooks challenge and hopefully you'll have read that I completed that and cooked 52 new recipes in 2014.

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February was pretty dreary weather-wise but I was keen to get myself out and about.  I started by going off to a Lino printing class in Islington and by the middle of the month I decided to set myself a challenge to walk 500 miles by the end of July.  That was the start of my Exploring London trips, and where better to start than the V&A?   

When I wasn't relishing in the lie ins and pottering about in those early weeks at home I was trying to get the storm damage (caused by the storm the previous Christmas Eve) resolved. Our new garden fence went up, yeap just before the next storm but thankfully it stayed put and we didn't have any further damage.  I celebrated by making some pumpkin marmalade!

In March I was able to declare our new kitchen finished - there'd been a few niggles outstanding, but those were finally resolved and I paid the amount I'd retained.  And we sorted out some storage for our wedding present wine glasses by adding some bar-style racks to our new unit - I'm still inordinately proud of those little metal racks!

We grabbed some time away in Norfolk too where we visited the National Trust's Blickling estate and Oxburgh Hall, walked around Castle Rising and MOH experienced his first Spa break (thankfully it was a success). 

Clockwise: Staying at Congham Hall, Oxburgh Hall and the Orangery at Blickling Estate

Clockwise: Staying at Congham Hall, Oxburgh Hall and the Orangery at Blickling Estate

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By April I'd clocked up 136 of my 500 miles and there were yet more new things; I started Pilates and enjoyed it so much I was even there at 9am on Good Friday after an evening out with friends. I also posted my first Word of the Week - I chose Pollution, do you remember that Saharan sandstorm that left everything covered in dust?

And I got brave and shared my What Stephanie did next post on my personal Facebook page, with people I knew and everything. And I can't not share that photo of a sixteen year old me again...

It was time for a holiday, so we headed off to a cottage in Beeley, Derbyshire for more walking and eating and general relaxing. And lots of sheep!

We visited more National Trust properties and land, ticking Biddulph Grange and its magnificent Stumpery, Little Moreton Hall and Dovedale off our list. We also spent a day at Chatsworth - it's a fabulous place and despite having already been twice, I'd still go again. 

Clockwise: Biddulph Grange, Little Moreton Hall, Dovedale and Chatsworth

Clockwise: Biddulph Grange, Little Moreton Hall, Dovedale and Chatsworth

Back home and it was the start of the Alphabet Photography Project, which was great fun but some letters were more challenging than others, and I cheated a bit with X! I discovered that Greenwich Park was one of my happy places and there was progress and some falling branches in our garden too. 

At the end of May it was my birthday and we celebrated with a huge steak at Gaucho.  And another holiday - well, it had been a while - a whole month! We spent a week in the Alentejo region of Portugal and had a great time. I still haven't shared the photos yet, but I plan to in a new series of posts under the banner of Sun On Saturday, so watch out for those. 

Back home and the weather was warming up again, I spent an afternoon scrubbing and had a lovely clean patio table and then we spent the longest day sealing our patio. The day finished with cocktails though, so it wasn't all bad.  

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I was still getting out and about too and spent a day at the Wimbledon qualifying tournament and watched some great tennis. It was a lovely sunny day so I may just have topped up my tan (again). We drove over to Essex and had a wander around Marks Hall Arboretum and their fabulous walled garden, I went to a couple of local gardens as part of the Open Garden Scheme, and these were great because they were real gardens. The added bonus was I discovered the name of a plant - Cistus - we'd seen a lot of in Portugal and had also spotted at Marks Hall. I tell you I'm easily pleased!

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Well, that takes us to the end of June - I told you it'd been a busy year. And I'm going to pause there and bring you July onwards in another post, so until then I'm off to put the kettle on...

52 Cookbooks: 52 new recipes in 2014

A year ago I read of a challenge to cook a new recipe from a different cookbook each week throughout the year. Having one or two cookbooks hanging around that I was sure I wasn't making the most of, it seemed a good challenge for me. I didn't know how many cookbooks I had, but it turns out that I have more than fifty two as at the end of the year and the challenge I still have quite a few that I haven't used yet.

A few of the cookbooks that didn't feature in #52Cookbooks

A few of the cookbooks that didn't feature in #52Cookbooks

Over the year I've cooked curries and cakes, bread and biscuits, vegetarian dishes, fish dishes and meat dishes. And in all of the dishes there was only one that failed - some of you may remember the polenta pizza (#34), it was truly awful but bless MOH was soldiering on, saying it wasn't too bad. But it was and it went straight into the green waste bin. But I guess one failure out of fifty two wasn't so bad. 

Actually I only used fifty one cookbooks as I missed a week in September while we were in Cornwall. But I cooked two new recipes from the same book a week or so later and decided that as both recipes were new and paired together in the book it was fine, as by this time the challenge had become my own so I felt able to bend the rules just a bit. 

Other highlights from the year were when Gok Wan retweeted my attempt at his Easy beef in tomato sauce (#36) and the views of that post and my Twitter feed went a bit barmy for a while; and there's been some lovely and encouraging tweets from Nigel Slater too. I fell out with Rick Stein too when I cooked his Cod in red wine sauce (#44) not that he ever knew, and I decided next time I eat that recipe he can cook it, as he owes me! 

I was surprised by how easy cookies are to make (although I haven't made them since - I really should) and at how much nicer than shop bought ones they were. They were incredibly more-ish too, which is a definite downside. I was also surprised looking back at how few bread recipes I chose - I love to make (and eat) bread and like the cookies it has a habit of disappearing... 

So overall it's been a great experience and it's taught me that those cookbooks I have are really worth looking at - they've got some great recipes in them! I know that's a shocking revelation, hey?! And as for those books I haven't used yet, well I'll carry on cooking from them, but the #52 cookbooks challenge is over.  I've got a new challenge in mind though, one that makes use of my stash of cookery magazines which date back to November 2002. I plan to use an old magazine a month and revisit its recipes, whether they're ones I've cooked before or not. I plan to start with January 2003's Good Food magazine, and will share a post later in the month to let you know how I got on. 

Finally, this wouldn't be much of a review post without links to the 52 recipes, so here they are:

1.  Sweet & sour duck 

2.  Lamb Dopiaza 

3.  Cauliflower & broccoli cheese 

4.  Pheasant, bacon & prunes 

5.  Panini Lunghi al Pepe Nero

6.  Cheese & sun-dried tomato scones 

7.  Fish & artichoke pilaf

8.  Gingerbread  

9.  Chilli con sausage  

10. Choc chip cookies 

11. Veal & mushroom pie

12. Chocolate & cranberry brownies  

13. Lemon surprise pudding 

14. Thai fish curry with mango 

15. Hot cross buns

16. Slow-cooked shoulder of lamb

17. Coffee & walnut layer cake 

18. Ho Fan beef noodles 

19. Yogurt-marinated chicken & spiced green lentils 

20. Cod Saltimbocca 

21. Paella de esparragos y queso manchego 

22. Yogurt & blueberry ice cream

23. White bean & artichoke salad 

24. Leon Moroccan meatballs 

25. Frosted marmalade cake

26. French onion tart

27. Pasta with chicken, sage and onion butter 

28. Salted chocolate lime mousse

29. Botham burgers

30. Pineapple chicken skewers

31. Summer chickpea salad 

32. Grilled mushroom risotto  

33. Coq au Riesling

34. Polenta pizza fail! 

35. Carrot cake

36. Beef in easy tomato sauce 

37. Apple & Walnut crumble

38. Spiced Blackberry jam

39. Chard gratin

40. Sardine 'rillettes' with parsley & lemon

41. Sopa de Castañas 

42. Chicken liver pâté 

43. A simple stew of onions, beef & beer

44. Cod in red wine sauce 

45. Quince & ginger chutney

46 & 47.  Roast pork belly with broccoli, red onions & capers

48. Celeriac & bacon soup

49. Beef stock 

50: Venison pie

51.  Almond Kringle wreath

52: Onion & olive bread