I’m still here…keeping the Home Fires Burning

It’s been a while, I’m sorry. But I’m sure you understand. We’re trying to crack on with some work in our own little home before Christmas, and I thought you might like to see what we’ve done ready for Santa’s arrival.

A new fireplace! Well, it’s going to be our first Christmas here, so we felt he deserved to arrive in style.

Remember this monstrosity back in January 2013…the flat wasn’t even ours at this point.

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Then we were gifted this gorgeous cast iron fireplace.

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Sadly, the measurements didn’t quite work with our house and the chimney breast. But then, as if it was meant to be, we came across another one in an antique shop and Big Man got to work. He removed the old one, measured up …

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Then the chimney was swept…

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And now it’s ready!

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Come on Santa, we’re ready for you.

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The Kitchen’s Nearly In…

It’s been a very busy few days here. Extra people in the flat like carpenters and plumbers…

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Tools everywhere…

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But now we have a kitchen worktop…

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There’s no cooking being done yet in the new kitchen, but no one’s going hungry!

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Chinese Spiced Aubergines & Cast Iron Excitement

Don’t you just love it when something you want falls into your lap? Well, sort of. Best buddy Ria had been raving about a book she had recently bought by Gok Wan. It seems he makes programmes about making women look and feel good about themselves but as I had not been in the UK (previously at least) and seen his programmes, he was unknown to me. Then, it seems, he bought out a cookbook. As you do. I was very doubtful about the whole thing but got to look at her book which he had written based on his experiences as a young man working in his father’s Chinese Take Away Restaurant. Home cooking made speedy, and Ria had successfully cooked and  thoroughly enjoyed several recipes so I threw away my scepticism.

5 Spice Aubergines MAin

A few days later I was wandering round a Car Boot Sale, a particularly British institution I think, and someone was selling a brand new copy of the book for a couple of pounds. Cleary a sceptic like me (but unconverted) so I snapped it up. Well…I’ve already cooked several recipes from this book and every one has been tasty and easy. Even Big Man, who is not a particular fan of Chinese Food, has commented on the wonderful flavours each dish has. A result!

Here’s a vegetable dish that I made (inspired by a recipe for Braised Aubergine with Pork from the book) and served with noodles, no meat needed, the texture of the aubergines is wonderful and filling too.

Ingredients (per person as a main course or for two as a side dish)

  • 1 aubergine cut into cubes
  • Half a pepper, cut into slices
  • Half an onion sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice
  • Water (about 200ml)
  • Sesame or vegetable oil for frying
  • Fresh chili (optional) I used dried as that’s what I had available
  • Finely sliced spring onion to garnish

Add a little oil to a wok or large frying pan and fry the onions on a medium heat until softened then add the aubergine, peppers and garlic. Turn up the heat and cook until the aubergines start to char at the edges.  Add the 5 spice, soy sauces (and chili if using) and then pour over water until the vegetables are about half covered. Stir gently, turn the heat down, cover with a lid or foil and simmer until the aubergines start to turn pulpy and the peppers are soft. Stir once or twice during cooking (about 10 minutes). Most of the liquid will evaporate and the sauce will be slightly sticky.

Sprinkle the spring onion over the aubergines to serve.  Wonderful with rice or noodles. Who needs a book to tell you how to dress to feel good about yourself when you can eat food like this and feel amazing?!

If you’re still craving Asian aubergine dishes, take a look at Rosemary’s beautiful Spicy Aubergine with Beef.

And before I wish you all a beautiful rest of the weekend, what do you think of the fabulous cast iron fire surround some pals gave to us? They of the lace and fabric are now giving us an amazing Victorian original which came out of their home during a refurb. Love that we’re using so much beautiful “preloved” stuff in our Down By The Sea Home.

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Finally, a gratuitous pup shot. Well…it is the weekend.

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Save water…bath with a friend

Or, you could just install a very large shower. At least, that’s our plan.

Remember this quaint vile bathroom?

Scary, scary, scary...

This how it looks now.

17 Feb 2013 (3)

We’ve cut a hole in the wall up high as it’s an internal room with no natural light, so we’re putting in a long window panel which will give us light from the room next door which leads onto the garden. Clever eh?

It’s all getting very messy, but exciting. More to come soon…

Edwardian Style Standard Lamp

Isn’t it always the same…when you’re looking to buy something you can never find it in quite the right style, shape colour? And then, when you least expect it, something perfect throws itself at your feet?!

Ugly sofa too - don't worry, it's not permament!
Ugly sofa too – don’t worry, it’s not permament!

One of the exciting things about our new project here in Bexhill is that we get to furnish it too! When we set up our home in Spain it was relatively easy as we both already had furniture and we merged, purged and started making new memories. Here we had nothing. Starting from scratch is fun. Not starting anew though as we are both agreed that we like buying second hand, preloved, vintage, antique and car boot bargains. Clearly car boot bargains cost less than antiques, but they give us just as much pleasure. Half the fun is restoring, cleaning, seeing the potential.

Grubby Feet
Grubby Feet

The property is part of what would have been an Edwardian Family “Villa”. This means it was built around 1903, from what we can tell, and whilst we don’t intend to live in the past completely….we need a decent oven, tv and internet for goodness sake…some older touches will also work well.

Dashing around the other day I popped into a local shop which deals with House Clearances. Some of the stuff they have is junk, some is clearly high quality and very much loved (and priced) antique furniture. And some of it falls between the two. I spotted a wrought iron standard lamp with a very ugly pink lampshade. It spoke to me. Really, it did. I could hear a most refined Edwardian Lady reclining in the bay window of her drawing room on a chaise longue saying “Pray, take this lamp stand home. Clean it, love it and it will add some much needed elegance to your home. Oh, and your hair could do with a brush…standards are slipping”.

Clean Feet!
Clean Feet!

So we haggled a little and the bemused owner helped me put it into the car with the back window down so that it would fit and off to House Number 2 I drove where Big Man was impatiently waiting for me to arrive with a bag of masonry nails.

Looking much better now
Looking much better now

It was dingy brown and I had planned to clean it and paint it black and then buy a new lampshade. So I cleaned it and underneath all the grease and grime it was a beautiful cream colour. Then I popped out to the supermarket and was waylaid in another House Clearance shop (I know now where all the good ones are) and found a perfect sized lampshade in a gold colour and once more turned up at House Number 2 with nothing for dinner but an unexpected  bargain that I wore on my head for extra effect.

Dressed to impress
Dressed to impress

Then I rummaged in a bag of goodies given to me my Best Friend’s sister who is downsizing and used to make costumes for shows, curtains, clothes and found some beautiful lace and a strip of beading. Two evenings later it was done and I heard my Edwardian Lady murmur in approval “Beautiful my dear, very elegant indeed. But your hair could still do with a good brush”.