Monday, 28 November 2011

St Fagans

On Sunday we went to the National History Museum at St Fagans, near Cardiff for our annual family Christmas present swap. This has become a habit in recent years; Brian's sister and her partner always fly off somewhere hot for Christmas so the present swap and get together has to happen in advance.

St Fagans is about half way between them and us, in fact it's half way to so many places we go to that we often use it as a stopping off point on journeys east (instead of the motorway services which are expensive and soul-destroying). Here you just pay £3.50 to park and the museum is yours to explore.

We generally wander around houses and indoor displays according to the weather, in between scoffing a roast dinner in the Vale Restaurant (of locally produced meat) and topping up our caffeine levels in cafe Bardi.

This is Kennixton, a typcial Gower farmhouse. The glorious red colour was thought to protect against evil spirits.

I love the shape of Kennixton's roof trusses. 

These lovely bronze turkeys were in the farm yard. The farm is the only original building at St Fagans, the others - and there are more than 40 - were painstaking moved there stone by stone.

Who would eat this handsome chap? I wouldn't! We'll be having chicken so he's safe from us (but I suspect he's destined for the restaurant).

The mill was grinding wheat after lunch. H9, R7 and grandmother are waiting for the flour to arrive down at the bottom of the watermill from the stone above. St Fagans is very much a living museum and you can buy the produce from the craftsmen who demonstrate their skills.

The resulting flour ready to be bagged and sold in the gift shop.

So many traditional Welsh cottages were thatched - but there's only one left in Pembrokeshire which is Penrhos, near Maenclochog. Like this one at St Fagans it was a ty unnos, a house built in one night. If you could build a house in one night on common land, you owned the freehold of that land. Tai unnos are single storey and have tiny windows.

The cottages have their own productive gardens.

There's also a Celtic village with a collection of roundhouses to give a taste of Iron Age life in Wales. We warmed ourselves by the fire in the comforting gloom of the biggest roundhouse and emerged smelling like kippers.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Scenes from a long run day #2

Today's route is my absolute favourite - over the cattle grid and along the feet of the Preselis. The pictures are taken with my mobile phone, so excuse the quality. Today's conditions were grey and windy but there was good visibility right along the hill range.

Carn Bica with a lone walker (one third down on the right. I could see him/her anyway!)

No sheep for company today. I've chased hundreds along here in the past. They always run on ahead assuming I'm rounding them up.

On the main road, once I've run through a corner of Mynachlogddu. These signs are sprouting at the end of farm lanes. I need one too. The scrap dealers call and ask for "the boss" meaning a man. They ask for scrap while surveying your farmyard with greedy eyes. If you're not in they help themselves if they think they can get away with it. Parasites.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


I had a nice blog post lined up about all the lovely things I have been making recently for Christmas presents, complete with pictures and everything.

Then I realised that bunging the aforementioned on the blog would rather defeat the element of surprise should any of the recipients happen to read it.


You see Christmas this year is rather on the home made side on account of us being cash poor since the cars ate our savings. This left us being in the position of being skint but with access to raw materials. Recipients of home made things have been complimentary in the past (more fool them!) so I've been preserving, sewing and generally crafting my little cotton socks off for the past few weeks.

Even H9 and R7(nearly 8) have requested home made items, as has mum. Others are having them sprung upon them, not that our gift giving list is that huge (fortunately).

Santa examines R7's list
There is one small cloud on the horizon, however. The offspring have sent their letters to Santa by the medium of smoke and R7 is confident that Santa will be able to get her a Nintendo 3DS and Mario 3D game to go with it because (I quote): "Santa makes all of his presents so he doesn't need money to buy them".


I gently explained that even Santa has to get his Nintendo 3DS from Nintendo and that Santa is strapped for cash this year too on account of the global economic situation. I would have gone on to explain the about the crisis in Europe and the plight of the Euro but her eyes had glazed over.

"You won't be disappointed if he doesn't bring you one?" I asked (gingerly).

"Oh no," said R7. "But he DOES make them so you never know..." (Exit R7 stage left with a confident skip.)


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Good things

As it's the dark and dismal days of November I thought I'd share with you some of the things I think are useful and good (and you never know, they might make nice presents). NB: This is not a sponsored or paid for post, these are just things I own, like and recommend.

Ten minute solution ultimate kettlebell

I have a few of the Ten minute solution DVDs and they are all good but this is the one I use the most because it's fun and it gets results fast. I tend to be a bit half-arsed about using fitness DVDs - mainly because they take ages to get results. Kettlebells are like nothing I've ever tried before. Because of my back injury and post-natal diastasis I can't do sit-ups but I can do Turkish curls with a kettlebell and I've now got abs for the first time. Kettlebell work outs make you strong quickly. You'll notice the results within a month - if you do use the thing (but only two 10 minute workouts, three times a week). I rarely do the recommended hour per week (as I said, I'm a bit hit and miss) but the results are still obvious. I do more if I can't run for any reason (if it's snowing, for example).


Metal kettlebells are smaller and easier to hold. Vinyl ones tend to be bigger, full of rattly bits (annoying) and the handles are too fat and slippery. I use a 1kg dumbell and this 5kg kettlebell. I'd probably get a lighter kettlebell too if I could afford it, perhaps 2.5kg. Some of the over the head exercises are a bit too challenging with a 5kg bell (at first). If you want a stronger core, get a kettlebell and swing it. See Kettleworx for inspiration.

R and B hair moisturiser

This is from Lush. I chuck a big handful of this onto wet hair and it turns straw into silk. It smells divine (orange flower and jasmine) too.

I'm a big fan of Lush - their solid deodorants are good too and I love the It's raining men shower gel. I'm not such a big fan of the pushy sales people in the shops though. I like to be left alone to make my own decisions.

River Cottage Everyday and Veg Everyday

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday is well-named as I use it almost every day. It's full of simple, tasty ideas for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and treats. My children like to cook from it too.

We often make the apple and almond pudding cake and the ten miniute chocolate chip cookies (to which I add 75g dessciated coconut and 75g porridge oats and cook like flapjacks). We've got into a Sunday morning drop scones habit and there are some good fish ideas and some excellent soups. I tend to dip into it for inspiration and then adapt recipes according to what I have got in the fridge.

Veg Everyday is the newer one of the two and full of lovely ideas for making veg the star of the meal. As a family of fussy meat-eaters this is a godsend for good non-meat ideas.

So far we've tried and enjoyed Raid-the-larder bean and spelt broth; pasta with greens, garlic and chilli; vegetable biriyani; curried sweet potato soup; Brussels sprouts, apple and cheddar salad and the Kale speltotto (but made with pearl barley). The biriyani was the biggest hit so far.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The humiliation of the school PE lesson

There's an interesting article on the BBC website today by Dr Andrew Franklin-Miller about the 'Missed Olympic opportunity' to get children exercising.

Dr Franklin-Miller, an expert in sport and exercise medicine says: "Teachers and parents need support with training and a curriculum that builds on the lessons learnt in athlete development, and sport talent identification, not to build potential superstars but to change a lifestyle."

Children are fat and don't exercise enough, we are constantly told, and the finger of blame is variously pointed at parents, schools, junk food manufacturers, the government and computer games.

I'm not sure who is to blame (probably all of the above and more) but I agree with Dr Franklin-Miller that PE is not properly taught at schools. The focus seems to be on achievement of certain skills, not how to be fit. Where are the lessons, at the beginning of term, that suss out who is fit enough to run a cross country race and who needs a bit of training first? Just telling a class of kids to run a mile long cross country course serves only to establish who is already fit and put right off those who are not. Everyone is different - some can sprint, others better at endurance. (Just because a girl is tall doesn't mean she can throw a shot putt or discus Mrs Richards, she might prefer - and be better at - running.)

I would hope PE has changed since I was at school. I remember being terrified of my first cross country run. There had been talk about people fainting and coughing up blood (you know how dramatic kids can be!) There was no training in how to do it nor any preparation like running shorter bits first. There seemed to be the basic assumption that children were fit and able to do it and had been born with the knowledge of how to do it. No wonder so many people grow up hating running, particularly of the cross country variety. (Although I loved cross country running there was no way I would have admitted it at school. I wasn't considered a 'runner' then and I wouldn't have put myself forward for the school team. I just have the satisfaction of knowing that the last time I ran cross country at school I came back first.)

Perhaps schools should take a look at the resurgence of running among women in their 40s and older. This has been encouraged by the Race for Life series, non-competitive 5k runs raising money for Cancer Research. I and so many other women like me started off that way. We read Running made easy by Susie Whalley and Lisa Jackson and followed their six week plan to go from walking to running for 20 minutes. (This is probably the most inspirational book I had read - the fact I have now run three half marathons is testament to its efficacy!) It breaks training down into achievable bite-sized chunks, makes it fun and tops it with a liberal sprinkling of motivation and inspiration. At the end (presuming you do the 5k Race for Life) you get a goodie bag and a medal. It's fun, it's addictive and its contagious.

Back to school days though and the weekly popularity contest of netball or hockey team selection (chosen in order from prettiest to fattest and lamest) and the humiliation of the changing rooms and showers. Why was it vital for a fully clothed female teacher to stand in front of the showers and take a register of who was showering and who was not? If you couldn't shower you had to shout across the changing rooms that you had your period. That was in addition to the naked scrutiny of your peers. Who wants to be unclothed in front of bitches and bullies? You had to have a thick skin and a lot of body confidence to survive that unscathed.

I look at my own children and wonder if they are to be put off sport at school as I was. Not yet, but then they are at primary school in Wales where sport is the second religion. I suspect the rot might set in at of secondary school so I plan to teach them what I have learned about being fit first. They are both rather envious of my running medals and have ambitions to get their own. That, funnily enough, has been the plan all along.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Long run day

I always have my mobile phone with me on my runs and I thought I'd share some of the things I see as I'm plodding around the roads.

Today's run was just six and a half miles. This is an easy week in my Smartcoach running plan designed, I think, to give tired muscles a rest.

I took these at the top of the long straight upward slope, past Elizabeth Haines' gallery, before I turned right to continue my clockwise circuit past the forestry. There's nothing but sheep and fields between this road and the top of the Preselis and it has lovely sweeping views of the hills on a clear day. Today though, the hills had stayed in bed.

Who's pinched Foel Cwmcerwyn then?

I'm sure the road must have gone straight on here in days gone by (before tarmac). My mobile isn't so good at showing it but this gate has a twin along a pretty much straight green lane. It's a footpath and theoretically goes up on to the hill but I've never walked it.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Spoilt for choice

There were Christmas craft fairs everywhere today. We went to the one at Colby Woodland Gardens which gave us free entry and Claire of Cake Carousel was there with her delicious cupcakes which H9 and R7 are quite fond of sampling.

But we could have gone to two in Narberth - one foodie one vintage - or one at the Steiner School or another at the hall in Clynderwen.

Colby though is one we've been to before and after you've perused the stalls you can wander the pretty walled garden.

The fuchsias are still in full bloom, despite the fact it's only five weeks to Christmas.

The rill looks pretty all year round. The octagonal house at the top hasn't been open to the public before this year and all we've done previously is peer in through the windows.

Now though, they let you inside. It's a real sun trap and has clever trompe l'oeil pictures on the wall. You can hire it now for fully catered functions. I just have to work out some sort of a function I might need fully catering. It would be lovely here.

H9 and R7 had raspberry and white chocolate cupcakes and then bought bug catching pots from the National Trust shop. I bought beads and other sparkly bits and bobs for Christmas decorations from Carole at Begelly Beads. All the while the sun shone and it felt more like March than November.

Friday, 18 November 2011

In defence of food

Yum. Food (she says sounding like Homer Simpson). I love food so much I carry it as a spare tyre around my middle. Just the one though, since I'm now back at the weight I've always been. I'm the same now as I was when I was 20 and I wanted to lose that extra bit then too.

I've been reading Jane's blog posts about dropping four stone (not four actual stones, 56lb) and it reminded me of Michael Pollan's rules in his book In Defence of Food.

I read it and then gave up dieting (apart from a brief and foolish foray in to the Dukan diet which was awful. I just don't like meat enough to do that one). Pollan says (on an ad for the book I clipped from a magazine and stuck to my fridge):


The ad also conveniently lists his The Rules of the Real Food Revolution. My comments in italics:

 1. Don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognise as food. Quorn, for example. What the heck is Quorn anyway? Ugh. 

 2. Eat a wide diversity of species. Pizza is NOT a species. Don't eat anything that's on the 'at risk of extinction' list though.

 3. Pay more, eat less. This absolutely applies to ALL types of meat. Eat good meat or none at all. Free range chicken is more expensive but it's worth it.

4. Avoid foods containing ingredients you can't pronounce. I don't think this means avoiding Szechuan pepper and chorizo. It means things like butylated hydroxytoluene.

5. Shop at the peripheries of the supermarket; stay out of the middle. The cakes, chocolate and junk are in the middle. Run in, grab some Green and Black's 85% plain chocolate, run back out to the vegetables, pulses and nuts.

6. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. This means the likes of Twinkies. Sugar doesn't rot (except your teeth). Honey doesn't rot either but I think that's an exception to the rule (in my world). Does chocolate rot? I've never managed to keep it long enough to find out...

7. Avoid food products that carry health claims. I can't think of any examples -  slimming tea? In the UK this sort of thing is quite strictly regulated. I assume it doesn't include blueberries and other such fruit although I'm deeply suspicious of goji berries...

8. Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does. Or, in other words, you don't need chocolate just because the car needs petrol and sandwiches from that sort of a place are just plain wrong.

Grow your own if you can. This year's winter salads (half of them) pictured today.

9. Cook and, if you can, grow some of your own food.  Cook from scratch. Cheap, easy, more delicious. Home made doesn't require additives to keep it 'fresh'. If you've made it you know what's in it (and you've only got yourself to blame!)

10. Eat meals only at tables, with other people and always with pleasure. The BEST bit. Families that eat together stay together. The table in front of the TV doesn't count (except on Saturdays with home made pizza and the X Factor - or is that just us?!)

Sound advice from Mr Pollan. Eat good food, not rubbish. Simple. (Oh and move more - run! - but that's a whole other blog post.)

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reflections on duty

Should you, as a parent, force your child to do something they don't want to do? H9 has a thing this weekend which basically involves singing a song in a group of children to entertain adults at a meeting.

She doesn't want to go.

"It will be boring," she says.

Well perhaps it will, perhaps it won't but should she give up her Sunday afternoon for it? We had a similar dilemma over Remembrance Sunday. We bought poppies and she went (in torrential rain) with the school to the village war memorial on the 11th and on Sunday could have gone to a service with her Brownies pack.

But she has a father who works every other weekend and does shifts during the week so they spend time together when they can. For the past two years their Sunday swimming treat has coincided with Remembrance Sunday and she's gone swimming instead. Should we feel guilty?

I try not to. Perhaps life sometimes is set up for those who work nine to five on weekdays and have every weekend free. Perhaps it's set up for people who don't have a longish commute and who don't work night shifts which mean that for half of each month they don't get to say goodnight to their children.

Sometimes we have to do what is best for us so I don't plan to force H9 to go and sing on Sunday if she doesn't want to. Then I'm going to do my very best not to feel guilty about it.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The ridiculous and the sublime

I found something in the River Cottage Bread book that I didn't like. Vetkoek (pronounced 'fet cook' meaning fat cake in Afrikaans) are basically deep fried bread rolls. Nothing fancy about the dough, just fried not baked.

I hate deep frying - it makes your house, clothes and hair smell like a chippy - but I was willing to try in the name of the Big Bread Bakeathon.

Fresh out of the pan they were almost acceptable - crispy on the outside, soft bread within.

Vetkoek. Hot, crispy, glistening with vet.

Two minutes later, once they were cool enough to eat, they had the taste and consistency of a squash ball. I cooked seven and we all tried one each (with three spare for the hens). I used the rest of the dough to make some very nice white rolls. Never again. The vetkoek were odd, like a tasteless doughnut, and as chewy as a car tyre. There are doughnuts and churros later in the book and for them I will have to contrive some method of cooking that does not require hot oil.

Next in the book was Flatbread, a Turkish bread a little like pitta made with yoghurt in the dough and cooked in a dry pan and then under the grill.

They were divine. We tried the first hot from the pan sprinkled with cheddar cheese and the rest (seen here) we ate with a Moroccan-inspired veggie stew the following day having kept the dough overnight in the fridge (which, if anything, made it taste even better). These were soft pillowy breads with a useful pocket like a pitta but fluffy like a naan. They are really intended to be eaten with taramsalata and hummus and I can see me making more of these in the future.

Next should be pizza, which I make most Saturdays (so that one is done) and then barbecue breads. I thought about barbecuing in November and postponed that one to next summer. Instead it's full speed into the Bread Made with Wild yeast chapter and sourdough.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Half term sucked

I was looking forward to half term. A rest from making packed lunches at 6.30am, a rest from "where on earth are all the school socks?" and a rest from the school run, fraught with "have you got your lunch/clarinet/sports kit/my marbles?" angst. Instead we would do fun things and go on nice autumnal trips wouldn't we?


On day one H9 was sick. On day three R7 was scratching her scalp. On investigation I found some rather grown up head lice and many, many babies. Bugger. Oops.We haven't had head lice for ages (years) but I constantly check because there's the threat you will be asked to remove your child from school should they be found to be infested. The week I ran the Cardiff half marathon I forgot to check. Bugger. Oops.

They're all dead now (not the children, the head lice) but I'm paranoid they'll come back. I chase, brandishing comb, while my offspring run away shrieking "no mummy I have NOT got head lice," with me in hot pursuit (and gaining because I can still outrun my children...ha ha) wailing "but that's what you said last time and you DID!"

Meanwhile it rained. Biblically. Everywhere is ankle deep in slippery mud. The small dog goes out, absorbs it all in his wiry fur and shakes it all over the kitchen floor. Then he wipes his face on the dining room carpet drawing big muddy stripes. The carpet is Scotchguarded but I'm not sure this sort of treatment is entirely good for it. Perhaps I should put down canvasses and sell the results as canine art?

This Monday it was a school inset day (and payday - yippee!) so we went to Tesco. When we arrived the CR-V was doing an excellent impression of being on fire. I sniffed at the smoke - it was steam. A broken radiator. I left it simmering while we shopped and it calmed down enough to be topped up with coolant and driven home. Another bloody big bill. Sigh.

What can a woman do in the face of such (relatively minor really) adversity? Bake, that's what.

What we have here is brioche (bread bakeathon #15), Halloween cupcakes, bagels (bread bakeathon #16), naan bread (so easy to make and heaps cheaper than bought) and green tomato chutney.