Another House Renovation Finished – Breathe In, Breathe Out…

Oh it’s been a long, long road with this one. But like the very first project we undertook together, we love this house. Little secrets emerged from behind layers of wardrobes, original flooring came back to life and today our lovely new tenants moved in.

For those of you who are interested, I’ll let the photos tell the story of a little 2 bedroomed (it was 3 bed when it was originally built but with only an outside loo and no indoor bathroom) Victorian mid terraced house.

Feb 2014 (19)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (23)

The previous owners had lived there for 60 years, the lady (her daughter) who sold it to us told us that her parents had originally rented it then managed to buy it with a mortgage. She (the daughter) was born and bought up there, her mother lived out her final years as a widow in  the house and the daughter’s son and his children all had strong memories of spending time with their grandparents (and great grandparents) there.

Feb 2014 (30)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (30)

Yesterday the previous family came to look over the house before the tenants moved in. I was anxious. We bring properties up to a modern standard (putting in central heating, efficient plumbing and decent kitchens and bathrooms).

Feb 2014 (10)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (11)

We try to revive old floorboards if we can and replace them if we can’t. We paint our houses white so that whoever buys or rents them can make them their own. But they look very different from when we start and I was worried it might upset the previous family.

Feb 2014 (16)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (1)

Fortunately there were tears of joy and smiles of relief as they saw fireplaces uncovered and restored that they had previosuly forgotten existed. Admiration for the floors and chuckles at the improved outside loo.

Feb 2014 (5)41 Red Rd Completed 22 Nov 2014 (15)

Time now to rest and focus on ourselves. Time for good food, and sleep and long walks on the beach.

 

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Roast Chicken

Yes, a delicious chicken rubbed in za’atar, stuffed with a lemon and roasted with onion and perfect potatoes cooked in goose fat. So what? I hear you say, nothing special about that. Well, a roast chicken can mean only one thing – AN OVEN!!

Sunday Roast 007

Yes, although the full refurb of our new home is still only in the planning stages, the dismal cooking arrangements have moved into the slightly more modern era with the purchase of a very nice, temporary, second-hand oven.

Hurrah, almost normal service will be resumed. If I don’t smoke us out (no extractor) in the meantime…

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.

Bonfires, Building, Beach Huts, Ballet and a Very Big Wind

Well, there was cooking too, but that doesn’t begin with “B”, although I could have added “Baking”, I suppose.

A recipe coming up soon, but a quick tour of the last 10 days in Bexhill. Oh, there you go, anther “B”.

Meetings with previously unmet, long distant cousins from New Zealand, gave us some happy meals together and a night out in Hastings to celebrate their annual Bonfire Festival (which has nothing to do with Firework Night, or Guy Fawkes Night).

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Lots of loud noises, an enormous bonfire, spectacular fireworks and a very good evening with mulled wine.

Walks on the beach with the pups past the very typical seaside beach huts.

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Building works continue with wallpaper stripping being my current job.

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Time too for a little fun, and also some culture. Last night we went to watch the Moscow Ballet perform Swan Lake at the De La Warr Pavilion. It was Big Man’s first time at the ballet, so I was excited for him to see something spectacular, to have his breath taken away. Alas, it was not to be. A rather lacklustre performance with some seriously out of time ballet.

Some of the swans looked suspiciously duck-like with their thick thighs and broad shoulders and the White Swan and Black Swan were so very different I felt like yelling out to the Prince “Oi Mate, you need to get to Specsavers…she’s The Wrong Bird”.

All the way through I was distracted with thoughts of a very funny sketch by two female comedians French & Saunders and the world famous ballet dancer, Darcey Bussell…or Barcey Dussell as they call her. If you have 15 minutes to spare, pour yourself a glass of wine or make a cup of coffee and have a giggle with me.

And then over the weekend, the forecast of great winds in the south of England. Time to batten down the hatches and prepare. An enormous tree in a neighbour’s garden has been slowly pushing down our back garden wall.

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Finally the local council gave permission for it to come down and fortunately the tree surgeons saw how dangerous it was and came round to start work before the “Great Storm” hit.

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So, it’s been a busy time for us. We have been cooking up some good food too, and I promise you a lovely recipe of Chicken Cacciatore (sort of) next.

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What I am sure of though, is that Ballerinas don’t eat food like this and that Builders like Big Man and Chica (whilst unlikely to ever sport tights with a cod piece or a sticky out tutu) need hearty dishes to see them through the hard work and the gale force winds.

Still Here…and wearing my “Lady Builder” hat again!

Yes, we’re back Down by the Sea, and taking on another mad building project. Sorry, we’ve only been here since last weekend and have already settled back into our little home and started work. It’s been manic, but am trying to keep up with you all. Please excuse me if I’ve missed a few posts, or my comments have been a little short. You do know I miss you all…don’t you?

And because I know some of you like to see those “before” and “after” shots….here are a few “oh my god, what on earth are we doing this again for?” shots!

You all know I like a good bathroom challenge…..

A hip bath - always handy for washing your hips!
A hip bath – always handy for washing your hips!

An overgrown garden…bring it on!

2 Ago 2013 (11)

Hey, an original feature….let’s keep that one.

The rubble on the floor is part of the ceiling which has fallen down - hey, you can't have everything!
The rubble on the floor is part of the ceiling which has fallen down – hey, you can’t have everything!

Normal service will be resumed shortly….sort of.

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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Popping Home Pimentón Pork Pot

Yes, I mentioned the “H” word. Home! Big Man and I arrived back Up our beloved Mountain in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Only for a week mind you. This weekend is our village fiesta, and it was time to touch base with family and friends and to pick up some warmer clothes for the English autumn weather.

Our last night in very rainy Bexhill was spent pulling staples out of floorboards, hammering in nails and preparing the floor downstairs in House Number One to be sanded and varnished in our absence. Well, it was easier than trying to varnish around two excited pups (who are staying with my parents this week and creating havoc in their home). We had also spent time at House Number Two knocking down an outside loo, dealing with most of the kitchen ceiling falling in and leaving things ready for the plasterer to do his stuff while we are in Spain. Hectic times.

Before the ceiling fell in…

To get us in the mood for being home again I cooked a delicious one pot (what else) pork dish, reminiscent of Spain with the flavours of smoky pimentón, olives and peppers. I made sure to make double so that when we get back, tired and hungry (as we inevitably are after a day of travelling) we´ll have dinner sorted.

Ingredients (to serve 4)

  • 500g of cubed pork shoulder
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of smoked pimentón/paprika
  • 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Approx 150g olives (I used anchovy stuffed olives) sliced or halved
  • 1 ½ cups of your favourite or home made tomato sauce (yes, I made it!)
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato purée
  • A glass of red wine (optional, but of course I added!)
  • Water
  • Olive oil for shallow frying
  • Salt and pepper

Start by frying the pork until browned and remove from the pan. Then add the onions, garlic and pepper and cook gently until softened. Add the pork back into the pan and sprinkle over the pimentón. Now stir in the olives, the tomato sauce, the purée and the wine and season lightly. Bring to a simmer, cover (or half cover) with a lid and cook gently for about 45 minutes while you continue to pull staples out of floorboards (the stapling bit is optional).

If it starts to dry out too much, add a little water, depending on how saucy you like your dish.

When the sauce is rich and thick, and the pork tender and delicious, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Serve with rice or boiled potatoes or simply crusty bread. Pour yourself a glass of wine from that bottle you opened, pull the staple out that has embedded itself in your knee and relax.

And what did we do with our first day back? Take it easy? Heck no!

We dealt with the last tomatoes in our Huerto.

We met up with a cousin of Big Man´s to pick plums.

Then we went to a wine tasting last night.

Today we planned to attack our very overgrown garden and enjoy some sunshine, but it´s not to be. The weather here is as cold and rainy as Bexhill on Sea.

Time to dig out the winter woolies I think.

Sometimes Life Isn´t Too Short to Stuff a Mushroom

Now that I have some semblance of normality cooking back into my cooking life, it´s fun to start enjoying foods that are not so readily available to us in Spain. Stilton cheese (that beautiful, pungent English blue cheese) for one. And bizarrely flat mushrooms – we don´t get much mushroom choice available locally Up the Mountain unless we go foraging.

To go with an amazing T-Bone steak for Big Man (what else) and a fillet steak for me, I made some delicious mushrooms stuffed with spring onion, stilton and dolcelatte. Another simple dish, but oh so good with the beautiful local beef available here in East Sussex.

Ingredients (to stuff 2-4 flat mushrooms, depending on the size of your mushrooms)

  • About half a cup of coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (I made mine from day old ciabatta)
  • The finely chopped stems of the mushrooms
  • About 75g of cheese (I used a mixture of stilton and dolcelatte)
  • 2 medium spring onions finely sliced
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, crushed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Start by drizzling a little olive oil into each mushroom. Mix all the other ingredients together, season to taste and divide it between the mushrooms. Press the filling down a little and then drizzle a little more oil over the top.

Bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes until the mushrooms are soft and the stuffing starts to crisp. Delicious as a side dish or a starter.

And for anyone feeling brave..take a look at the old kitchen/bathroom in house number two. Eek!

Fingers Crossed

Fingers Crossed…

So, I am typing away in the dusty, and as yet untouched, sitting room of our Victorian House in Bexhill. I´ve missed you all and I´m sorry I can´t comment on your blogs. Internet access here is via a dongle and after about 5 days I was told that I had “exceeded my data allowance”. Oh dear, naughty Chica. This may mean that I won´t be able to download some photos I want to show you of what we have been doing.

The kitchen was ripped out.

A damp proof course was put in, the floor was leveled and a quick coat of paint followed, although it will eventually be tiled.

Then Big Man put down some oak flooring. It was meant to be a cheaper floor, but it was a bargain and we couldn´t resist.

Next up is fitting the kitchen, the appliances and tiling. But hopefully more of that next week.

And the dogs? Of course, they still manage to find a quiet spot amid the chaos and are enjoying long walks on the beach when the working day is over.

I´ll stop now as I don´t want the internet police hauling me in for further “excesses”, but I do send you all the best from a wet, grey and rainy Bexhill on Sea (well, it is a Bank Holiday Weekend here in the UK, so it´s to be expected!) and cross your fingers that this works!