Scents of Childhood

Fragrance is evocative. It transports you to places you have been, or reminds you of people you knew. How many times have we heard that if you are selling your home, have some freshly baked bread or a pot of coffee in your kitchen as it makes a good impression on buyers?

When I get a whiff of Pettigrain, I am reminded of my paternal Grandmother who wore Eau de Cologne. I can still remember the bottle with its old-fashioned gold and turquoise label. My Grandfather slicked his hair with Brylcreem and I have a recollection of not being too keen.

The scents of my childhood are varied. My father smoked cigars, and I learned the difference between the smell of a cheap everyday cigar, and one which was much more expensive. My paternal Grandfather was a pipe smoker, and rare though it is, I still love to get a whiff of pipe smoke (odd, when you think that I am a rabid anti-smoker). It reminds me of the all the times we went blackberry picking, not that many of the plump, juicy berries made it home; or sitting at his feet while he told me stories of the derring-do adventures of Robin Hood, or about the exploits of two farmers, Brown and Jones living on adjacent farms in Wales. I wish that I remembered more of these stories. They may have given me clues about my family tree. Many years after Granddad died, Dad told me that a lady cousin of Granddad’s was farmer near Amwlch on Anglesey.

Most mornings, I take the dog to the park for a run. It is a beautiful place all year round and is teeming with wildlife and packed with beautiful plants. There is a certain spot by some steps where I am sure I can smell wild garlic. It is a smell I love, and reminds me of my childhood and trips to Wales.

In the town in North Wales where Mum was born and grew up, there is a lane up a hill with pockets of woodland on both sides. At this time of year, the beautiful, soft garlic fragrance hangs in the air as the flowers bloom. Whenever we went to visit family, and drove up the lane, I would wind down the windows of the car and inhale. I loved it, partly because it is such a gorgeous scent but also because, for me, it meant that winter was over, spring was here and summer on its way.

When we were children, we used to go to France for our summer holidays. We would pack up the car and get the ferry, having booked the first couple of nights, but having no idea where we would head. If we liked a town or village we arrived in, we stayed for a few days, if we didn’t then we moved on. We stayed in B&Bs and Pensions, and it was a cheap way of getting a fabulous holiday, staying off the beaten track and away from major tourist sites.

I recently created a blend of essential oils, to fragrance soap with, which reminds me of these family holidays. It was not intentional to create something which reminded me of France, but that is what I ended up with. It contains an amount of Ylang Ylang, so perhaps this is a particularly French scent, or perhaps it is a false memory.

Coffee, freshly baked bread, the smell of the ground after a heavy shower of rain on a hot day, all these are scents which either remind me of something or just make me feel extraordinarily happy. More than anything else, the sense of smell evokes a memory, good or bad, so it is worth while taking some time to store smells in your memory banks for future use.

I may be gone sometime

I am having an “interesting” day. Last night one of my cats kindly killed my laptop. I am still trying to work out which of the little darlings managed to remove the mouse, pulling the laptop onto the floor and breaking the screen. Thankfully, the machine itself still seems to be working, but you can imagine the panic when I realised what had happened. It is times like this, you wish you had backed up more often! Off to the computer shop I had to go. Admittedly, my old laptop was beginning to slow a little, but I was not ready to ditch it (partly because I could do with not spending the money at the moment). What I had forgotten is how long it takes to set up, so I may be gone some time. Part of the problem is remembering what I need to install, and then digging out the disks which have not been seen for some time. Then there is the battle with Windows 8, which if I am anything to go by, involves a great deal of shouting, and with which I am unimpressed. I understand the need to develop an operating system which works with touch screen computers, but not everyone has, or wants a touch screen. There is no way I would be able to cope with Windows 8 if I was using the laptop integrated mouse, it is far too frustrating. The only survival method I have discovered is to plug in an external mouse and then the silly tiles don’t keep appearing, tiles for which, incidentally, I have uninstalled most of the associated programs. Why were there a stack of apps I did not want, or ask to be installed? Rather presumptuous. A lovely sight greeted me in the park today. Not only did we have a chilly but gorgeously sunny day, but in the owl box near the park gate was a lovely, large owl just sitting sunbathing. I had my mobile with me and took a quick snap, but tomorrow I will take my “proper” camera with me and try to take a decent photo.   owl I am not exactly up on British birds, apart from Robins and Wrens, but I think this is a Tawny Owl. He was stunning and was a fabulous start to the day.

Looking up.

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Things appear to be looking up.

Over the last week or so, spring has been making a tentative and fleeting appearance, bringing sunshine, a lack of rain and slightly milder temperatures. There are carpets of snowdrops in the park, the birdsong is more insistent and we have daylight until about 5.30pm. It is definitely heading in the right direction.

This has, so far, been a good news week. On Monday I received a job offer, and my gas and electricity bill is so much in credit that I am getting a refund. Some of the money will be spent on labels for new products, and the rest will be spent on, well, me. I deserve a treat. I have no idea what I am going to treat myself to though but I hope it will be something completely frivolous and unnecessary. Does that sound terribly naughty? It has been so long since I have been able to treat myself to something, I am not sure if I care if it is naughty or not.

The downside of the new job is that I don’t have anything to wear and I hate buying clothes. The last two jobs I have had have been jeans and t-shirt type places, and although I don’t need to be suited and booted, I still need to dress smartly. Poking about in the wardrobe yesterday, I realised that I only own one pair of smart trousers and those are a little bit tight, I have had them so long. I have been on the internet and there are a pair of trousers on sale at my favourite shop so I will send for them and hope they fit.

The upshot of all this, is that I have to unpack my brain and brush off the cobwebs, the dog will have to learn to live without me for a couple of days a week, and I will have to get organised and remember to sort out a “picnic” to take to work with me. The things we do to pay a mortgage!

Autumn in Ireland

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A number of years ago, I spent a week on holiday in the west of Ireland.

I arrived at my destination as dusk was falling, enveloping me in a feeling of peace. Travelling here had been the usual fun. The flight had taken off 40 minutes late, in part because a couple of passengers had got “lost” in an airport the size of a postage stamp. I collected the hire car at Dublin Airport and headed west on what was an uneventful journey until I hit football traffic in Carrick-on-Shannon. This hold-up, together with the slightly duff directions I had been given meant that I did not arrive until 7.30pm. The cottage keys had been left at a post office I could not find, and that no-one had heard of. Finally, after a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing and plenty of scuttling about I was making myself comfortable in the cottage I had rented for the week.

The following morning, the tops of the hills across the lake were blanketed in cloud. Queen Maeve was shrouded too, and there was an air of mystery about the place. I had just the sounds of the birds, and the breeze rustling in the trees for company.

The cottage was perched up a hill, and had wonderful views over Glencar Lake, and up and down the valley. It was a lovely secluded spot, which needed only a touch of sunshine to be perfect. The lake was laid out below like a blanket, and although I could not see him, I sensed the sentinel presence of Ben Bulben at my back.

The following day, I decided to drive to the Lough Rynn Estate east of Carrick-on-Shannon. I arrived after almost getting myself killed down one particularly narrow country lane, to find that the estate was closed for the season. I returned to Carrick for a coffee and a Danish, and a visit to a nice little supermarket to stock up.

Instead of driving straight back, I took the bread and butter I had bought to Rosses Point for a picnic. Rosses Point is a pretty little town which boasts wonderful views towards Ben Bulben. The Yeats brothers used to spend much of their summers there.

I took my groceries back to the cottage, and drove to Drumcliffe to see the grave of W.B. Yeats and the High Cross in the Churchyard there. Drumcliffe is a tiny place lying in the protective shadow of Ben Bulben. In the year 574 AD, St Columba founded a monastery there which become one of the most important centres of religion in the northwest of Ireland. The only remains of the original monastery is a round tower across the road from the church. In the church yard, is a fine 11th century high cross.

Drumcliffe is most famous as the final resting place of W.B. Yeats. Although Dublin born, Yeats spent many holidays with his maternal grandparents in Sligo and Ballisdare, and he never lost his love of the area. He died in the South of France in 1939. His body was finally laid to rest in Drumcliffe, where his grandfather had been rector, in 1948. The outbreak of World War II had prevented his remains being moved any earlier.

The cottage was warm, cosy and comfortable. The view was magnificent with Glencar Lake below like a pool of molten pewter, and framed by brooding, wooded mountains. The mist was so dense that I could not see where the land ended and the sky began. As dusk fell, a beautiful red fox trotted past the window and down the lane as though on a mission.

The following day there was still no sign of Queen Maeve. She was hidden in the mists high on Knockarea. I spent the morning in Sligo, pottering about and buying some books. All the while, the warm rain fell softly.

I visited Sligo Abbey, the only surviving medieval building in the city, which was actually a Dominican Friary. The Friary was founded in 1252/3 by Maurice Fizgerald, Chief Justice of Ireland, and has been the burial place of many chieftans of Connaught. In 1642, when Sligo was loyal to Charles I, the city was sacked by Frederick Hamilton and his Puritan soldiers. The Friars were massacred and the Friary left in ruins. A legend persists that the silver bell of the Abbey lies at the bottom of Lough Gill and that only the purest of souls can hear it when it rings.

After a light lunch, I took a drive to Lissadell House, home to the Gore-Booths, although it is no longer in the family. Little of the house was open at the time, but the drive out of the estate towards the shore was fabulous. The Gore-Booths had lived near Drumcliffe since the early 16th Century and the present Lissadell House was built in the 1830′s by Sir Robert Gore-Booth.

I drove from Lissadel House to Streedagh to see the Spanish Armada Memorial. Following defeat, the remains of the Spanish Armada were forced to sail north around Scotland to try to reach the safety of home. Three large ships ran aground and a thousand sailors either drowned of were marched to the gallows in Galway. The remains of the ships were discovered in 1985.

It had been a beautiful sunny day, but in the evening, the clouds started to roll back and the mountains vanished. The following morning, in glorious sunshine, and I drove to Galway, where the clouds hung low and it was dull and overcast.

Galway, is a happy bustling city with a bohemian flavour and winding medieval streets. The Spanish Arch, Galway Cathedral, Kirwans Lane, Norah Barnacle House and the University there is plenty to see.  I found the Cafe du Journal for a lunch of tortilla pizza and a cappuccino before heading off to shop. After a wander around Brown Thomas, I bought some chocolates in a little shop to munch on the way back.

Gilligan’s World in Ballysadare was billed as being designed to “create a world which would take us back to our childhood.” Still in its infancy, it was a small theme with faeries and gnomes in various settings, which I am sure children would enjoy.  It was not for me, until I reached their pets corner. They had a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, guinea pigs, a duck and rabbits. They had baby, grey rabbits that I was able to cuddle, and they allowed me to go into one of the rabbit pens to see some newborn bunnies. Now, that is my idea of heaven.

On a beautiful sunny morning with clear blue skies and fluffy white clouds, I went to look for the Gleniff Horseshoe, but got distracted by Mullaghmore. The sea looked so beautifully calm and blue that it drew me like a magnet. I drove in the sunshine to the harbour where the small, colourful fishing boats were moored. Then, after a brief walk, I drove to the otherside of the peninsula, to Mullaghmore Head. It was easy to see why Lord Mountbatten and his family so loved this place. The house they owned Classiebawn Castle, dominates the skyline, grey against the blue. The sea, which from a distance had looked like a millpond, was broiling and slapping against the cliffs, foaming waves enveloping the red-fringed coast with white horses.

I carried on down a road which I thought would take me to the Horseshoe, but didn’t. I gave up the hunt and obeyed my grumbling stomach and went to Sligo for lunch, and to buy a carving of Oisin I had seen a couple of days before, in a shop in Wine Street. Then I lost a castle.

Manorhamilton, in County Leitrim, was easy to find, straight along the N16, but when I got there I could not find the castle. In 1607, the Irish Nobles were defeated by the Crown marking the overthrow of the old Gaelic aristocracy and many of the chieftans fled to Europe to avoid capture by the English. The English took the opportunity to excercise control over the land. The area of Manorhamilton was granted to Sir Frederick Hamilton and the castle was constructed.

I certainly would not have been very good at infiltrating enemy strongholds, as I would not have been able to find them, and I gave up castle hunting, and having a touch of Romany (or perhaps something resembling madness) in me, I drove down a road not knowing where it would take me.

Whether I am in the car, or on foot, there is nothing better than turning down a road not knowing where it will lead. The journey into the unknown is a journey of discovery, good and sometimes not so good, but discovery none the less.

I came, after a while, to a lake, and then just as I began to wonder where I was, a drove past a sign which read “Welcome to County Fermanagh.” Somewhere, I had crossed the border from the south to the north, and looking at the map, it appeared to run through the lake, so unless I had been driving a submarine, I would never have found that either.

It did make me think about the question of a united Ireland. I am not sure whether I thought that when the Republic of Ireland gained independance, hundreds of men were sent out with miles of barbed wire and told to separate the two countries and not to miss an inch. I think that the point is, I have not thought about it. I grew up with news of The Troubles on an almost daily basis. It never occured to me that the border was, in places, just a line on a map and not a physical barrier, which is incredibly stupid of me.

I drove back via Belleek, stopping to see the famous pottery. By now, there had been a change in the weather, and grey clouds were appearing, promising more rain. On the way, I noticed a signpost for the Gleniff Horseshoe, so off I went. The valley is protected by three mountains: Tievebaun, Truskmore and Benwisken. Under the shadow of Tievebaun you will find the Magic Hill. Why magic? Well, if you park your car and release the handbrake, it will move uphill! Drive along the single lane road marvelling at the beautiful views of the Dartry Mountains. As you drive and turn left along the bottom of Benwisken you come to a high cliff where you will find the cave in which Dairmuid and Graine spent their last night together. It is impossible to describe what the horseshoe looks like. The mountains tower over you. The size of these sheer rock faces makes you feel tiny and insignificant and lost in a giant landscape.

I stopped again at Drumcliffe for coffee and a muffin. Then I had a look around the lovely gift shop, buying my nephew a book about the legend of Finn McCool. As I left, the heavens opened dropping curtains of heavy rain the like of which I had not seen in a long time.

Parke’s Castle is on the banks of Lough Gill and I went via Deerpark. This is not now as the name might suggest a park of deer, although it was originally a hunting area, but a fine example of a court tomb. The get there I had to walk up the mountain on an often disapperaing cinder path, squelching through soggy ground. The walk through the pine trees, blackberry bushes and rhodedendrons was peaceful and lovely, disturbed by nothing more than birdsong, the barking of a dog and the distant lowing of cattle.

The Tomb dates from 3000BC and has three, two chambered burial galleries leading from an oval, central court and is constructed of rough, limestones slabs  The views from the tomb are stunning, and it is well worth stopping to take in the view. Whether or not you are interested in ancient history, this is a beautiful place to visit.

A short drive from Deerpark is Parke’s Castle. Built in 1609, at the eastern end of Lough Gill by Robert Parke, the castle is one of the few Planters Castles in Ireland. It was built on the site of a 16th century tower house which had belonged to the O’Rourkes, a powerful local clan. Brian O’Rourke was executed for treason for giving aid to Captain Francisco de Cuellar of the Spanish Armada, enabling him to return to Spain. The castle has been beautifully restored by local craftsmen using native Irish Oak and 17th century building techniques.

Back to Sligo for petrol and a last wander around. I went to the Winding Stair bookshop for lunch of pasta salad and a coffee, and then to Sligo Museum. It is small and perfectly formed and has a room dedicated to W.B. Yeats and paintings by Jacks Yeats, plus items that belonged to Countess Constance Markievicz and her sister Eva Gore-Booth.

I could not go home without taking a look at the waterfall which Yeats mentioned in his poem “The Stolen Child”. Tumbling 50 feet from the hill above into the river, this is an enchanting waterfall, in a magical setting sending plumes of water into the air

The following morning, was time to go home. I drove back to Dublin Airport, dropped off the car and boarded a ‘plane home. I was relaxed after my week in Ireland, and already plotting my return.

Signs of Life

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There are signs that winter is on the wane. A couple of weeks ago, I “rang” my first snowdrop and daylight lingers longer. It makes me more positive and outward looking, and although there are times when the alarm clock goes off and I want to stay a while in bed, those days are few.

The difference this year, is that I have to get out and walk the dog. I can’t just stay in the house, vegging out in front of the television. This is her first winter with me, and one of the reasons for getting a dog was that it would force me out. I am not a lover of the cold and the wet, and although this winter has been pretty mild, it has been grey and miserable. In the past I would have stayed in my pyjamas. Now I have to get dressed and go out into the fresh air.

Dogs, of course, don’t care what the weather is like, and with the exception of the odd day when the rain was dropping like a curtain, we have been out every morning so that she can have a run, and boy can she run. She starts off slowly enough, just a bit of a potter, and then she’s off like her tail is on fire.  I spend the rest of the day picking twigs and brambles our of her tail, and she has been known to pierce her ear with a thorn. Oh the joys!

This wandering in the park has done me the world of good, mentally and physically. I have lost some weight and have not felt the mental heaviness that is usual for me in the winter. Dogs are the best therapy I can think of, and she makes me laugh in the process. (Unless she has just rolled in fox poo. That is not remotely funny).

So, with the birds singing, the daffodils beginning to poke their swords above the soil, snowdrops just waiting to have their bells rung and longer days, it really does feel like there are signs of life everywhere and that Spring is on the way.

Happy New Year!

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Well, that is it, 2013 has hurtled to its conclusion and we are now in a brand new year. So, was your year a damp squib or was it a fiery comet blazing a trail through the night sky? I can’t say that I set the world alight this year, but there were changes.

In March, I brought home a rather silly Border Collie; a nervous little girl of around 12 months old who has accompanied me to fairs, chewed my Mum’s duvet and frankly made herself extremely comfortable. She has also made many friends who would probably lynch me if I dared attend a Craft Fair without her, and who feed her their lunch and generally spoil her rotten.

We had a horribly cold spring followed by a fabulous summer. The weather was glorious and warm and when I was made redundant in mid-July I made the most of it, sitting in the garden with the aforementioned dog and my cats, who love nothing more than lazing in the sunshine. They really do live the life of Riley!

With redundancy comes the chance of new beginnings. I have been working on a business plan for my soap business and I will grow it this year. I am gathering information on trade and consumer shows for the next 12 months, and am working on new products and reviewing the current range. My Pet sitting will also be given a bit of a push, and with luck I may not have to go back and work for someone else. It will take a lot of hard work, but it will be worth it to stay off the hamster wheel. I really find it hard to play well with others!

At this time of year, people tend to make resolutions which they break in a couple of weeks. I gave up doing that a few years ago, but a few things I do intend to at least try to achieve are:

  • To be more organised.
  • To be tidier.
  • Decorate the house.
  • Eat more healthily and walk more.
  • Take more photographs.
  • Grow both businesses.

I have just tiled the kitchen and bathroom, and although they are clearly not professional jobs, I am pretty pleased with the results, although while I was doing them there was a fair bit of yelling. The light bounces off the tiles making the rooms look brighter. There is more work required to get both rooms finished – painting the walls, fit a windowsill in the kitchen and a shelf at the back of the bath, re-seal the slate floor in the kitchen and a general spring clean of the bathroom, oh and I need a new linen basket and a small storage unit in the kitchen.

Of course, the goalposts will move as the year progresses, but at least I have some things to aim for, particularly in terms of earning a living. So onwards I treck into 2014 with some idea of the direction I am heading in. Trouble is, I am not terribly good at following directions!

All that remains for now, is to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!

Rainbows and Tiles

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But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white—then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.— Robert Burns

I was reminded of this passage from Tam O’Shanter this morning. Shining from an otherwise dull, grey sky was a beautiful rainbow arching over the rooftops.

As we hurtle towards the end of the year and the start of 2014, it is time to reflect on the year that has been and make plans for the next. This year has seen some changes for me. At the start of the year, who could have foreseen that I would now be out of work, and trying to build my own business and that I would now have a remarkably silly Collie. Certainly not me.

I am currently (and very happily) off the great, monotonous hamster wheel and am no longer peddling frantically just to stand still; no longer am I under huge amounts of stress for very little money, wondering what I will be told I have got wrong next; no longer is my mental wellbeing at the whim of someone else, my every move scruitinised, only able to leave the office when someone else is ready to.

The downside, of course, is that I don’t have an income. I am surviving on benefits which is not easy. The past 6 months though have been relaxed and I have had a sense of freedom that I have not felt in a long time and that is worth far more than money. However, I can’t live on fresh air so not only have I been looking for a new job so that I can pay the bills, but I am making plans for my own business.

I don’t consider redundancy to be the end of all things, but rather the start of new ones. Someone said to me that it was karma telling me that I needed to give the business a push and I think that they are right.

At this time of year, I seem to decide to do work on the house. I went to the sales today (not something I usually do on the first day, I generally have more sense) and bought tiles for my kitchen and bathroom. A simple task, tiling, except in my house where not only are there lots of strange shapes, but the tap end of the bath has a small, wiggly splashback which is going to be a complete nightmare to tile around. There will be either a loud hurrah, or a great deal of swearing and my money is on the swearing.

Edible Gifts

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A few days from now the madness of Christmas will be over. On the one hand, it will be a relief and on the other, I am nowhere near ready.

It is not a time of year that I particularly like. I tend to come over all bah humbug and feel the need to retreat to bed, which of course I can’t do. Money, this year, is tighter than the grip of a vice, so there has been pretty much no Christmas shopping from me. The upside of that is that I don’t have to battle around the shops. The downside, I feel awful not being able to give presents to people. So, my thinking cap went on and I raided my store cupboard.

I decided that I would give some home-made goodies. There is a spiced apple chutney in the cupboard, I have the ingredients to make fudge, and I am going to have a try at making some nougat but have been struggling to get hold of ricepaper. Typically it used to be easy to get and I used it when I made macaroons, now because I need it in a hurry it is somewhat elusive and I don’t really have time to go running around looking for it. Sod’s law I suppose. Luckily, my brother managed to pick some up for me yesterday so it is all systems go.

The fudge was done yesterday, and put into bags tied with pretty Christmas ribbon. Today has been nougat day. This is a simple recipe of egg white, sugar and glucose but it nearly killed my mixer and if I am to make more, I may look for another recipe which takes less beating. I have added pistachio nuts (my favourites not just for taste but for their lovely green colour) and it tastes lovely. This will go into glassine bags and will be foisted on any poor unexpecting fool who crosses my path.

I have eggs left, and if I can find the macaroon recipe I used to make …… Off to find the book.

Ginger Wine and Fudge

My grandmother was a pretty good cook. She was of her time, a plain cook born during the early part of the reign of Edward VII. She excelled in pastry, pickled onions of which she made umpteen, huge jars once a year, she used to cook semi-hard boiled eggs for me to eat with toast “soldiers” and she made wonderful ginger wine.

I think that the ginger wine recipe is an old family one and I recently came across it tucked, forgotten, into the back of a book, and have started the hunt for the ingredients. I remember well, the intense taste of ginger, almost hot, bright and refreshing.

The recipe calls for: essence of ginger, burnt sugar, tincture of capsicum, tartaric acid, lump sugar and water. Now, I think that I have found the ginger and capsicum but what on earth is burnt sugar? I try my best not to burn things, and I assume that it for colour purposes. What is a real pain about this recipe is that the ingredients are listed in all sorts of different measurements. Some are in drams, some pints and some pounds. I think that this is going to be “interesting.”

Ginger wine is just the sort of drink that would be perfect during the winter, and particularly at Christmas, sitting by the fire supping this lovely warming beverage and perhaps a piece of fudge.

I have not made fudge for many years, and yesterday decided that I would have a go. It is pretty simple,  made with simple ingredients (condensed milk, sugar, butter and milk) but boy, is it moreish! Every time I go in the kitchen, I take another slice and this could be fatal. I am trying to convince myself that it does not contain calories, but I am deluding myself. Still, we are coming up to Christmas and I have had a stressful few months so I think that I deserve a treat.

I am also going to make a batch of nougat, something we always had at Christmas when I was a child. It came wrapped in silver paper and had nuts and cherries in and was, for me the taste of the festive season.

In a week or so, I will make another batch of fudge to give away as Christmas gifts with the nougat. I think that there is nothing nicer than giving something you have made yourself. I have some boxes I have made and will tie them with pretty ribbon et voila!

December Comfort Food

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The animals are hogging the fire, sleeping the sleep of the blessed with not a care in their furry little world. On the other hand, I have to contend with questions of how I pay the mortgage and bills this month.

I have a little cash which I have to try to eek out to feed me and the furry contingent for the next month. I will have to put on my thinking cap to come up with healthy, nutritious and cheap meals preferably with a comfort food element. I don’t like the winter, although the fact that I am not working helps me to cope as it means I see daylight, and I am not leaving the house and arriving back in the dark.

A couple of months ago, I made a lovely vegetarian cottage pie (actually I made two rather large ones, one of which I froze) so I am going to make another one (two) this week.

It is really simple to make. In a heavy based pan, fry a couple of leeks and a couple of cloves of garlic. Add sliced carrots, puy lentils and kidney beans, a tin of tomatoes, mushrooms if you are not going to freeze it, some stock, a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme and some chilli flakes (optional). Once it is cooked allow it to cool, put it in a dish and cover with mashed potato. You could also use sweet potato instead of normal spuds, or perhaps a mixture of mashed potato and turnip (ponch mipe).

Ponch Mipe is a traditional dish from north Wales and takes me back to my childhood. We used to have it with our Sunday roast, and I loved to tuck in to a large mound of creamy, smooth mashed potato and turnip. It is comfort food at its best, although for me it has to have absolutely no lumps, plenty of pepper and has to be mashed with butter. I have a potato ricer which takes the hard work out of the preparation and if you want to fancy it up a little you could scatter some chives on the top, but I love it just as it is.

If anyone has any suggestions about tasty vegetarian comfort food let me know.

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