Sunday, 29 November 2015

November things

November is always a busy month for us. Not only do both of my girls have birthdays this month, but they are only one day apart on the 12th and 13th.

When they were little they used to share a party, but not anymore, so the celebrations seem to last over an entire week with their various birthday meals, parties or sleepovers taking place before everything's all over for another year.

This year we celebrated The Teenager's 19th birthday, and Tall Daughter's 16th. I still struggle to believe that they're both so grown up now, and that this is the last year The Teenager will actually be a teenager. How can she be 20 next year? Surely she was only watching the Teletubbies a couple of years ago? 

And as Tall Daughter reliably informs me, now she's turned the magic 16, she's old enough to join the army, drive a tractor and buy a lottery ticket.  There is also the matter of her being old enough to do ...erm...other stuff but we'll gloss over that for now.

We went into Manchester on their birthday weekend for a meal, and then onto the Christmas market next to the Lowry centre.  This chocolate brownie stall was very popular - your choice of brownie with hot chocolate sauce and cream poured over, very naughty but totally irresistible!

Lowry centre Christmas market

Lowry centre Christmas market

Tall Daughter and I went into town last week to see the Weeping Window poppy installation at St. George's Hall.  We didn't get the chance to see the installation at the Tower of London last year, so we were keen to see this smaller but no less moving display. It was pouring with rain when we got there, and fenced off (open during the daytime though) so we viewed it from several feet away but it was still beautiful and probably easier to see because of the lack of crowds.  Each poppy represents a life lost from one of the Liverpool regiments during the first world war.

Weeping Window poppy installation

Weeping Window poppy installation

Weeping Window poppy installation

I love Liverpool at night time, it's such a beautiful city and very European looking. If you get the train into Lime Street station the first thing you see on exiting the front entrance is the huge neo-classical St. George's Hall building.

It forms part of the cultural quarter with the adjacent (and equally impressive) buildings in William Brown Street which include the Central Library, Walker Art Gallery and World Museum. I love walking around this part of the city, and at night with the old fashioned street lights, illuminated buildings and cobbled streets, it's just gorgeous.

Liverpool at night

Since subscribing to an unlimited cinema ticket at the beginning of the year I've been trying to go to the cinema at least once a week. Some months the choices have been dire, so I haven't always managed it but at this time of year there's usually a lot to choose from.

This month I've seen The Lady in the Van (loved it, Maggie Smith is an absolute joy), The Dressmaker (a quirky black comedy) and Black Mass (Johnny Depp is brilliant in it). I also wanted to see Brooklyn and Carol, but neither of them were showing in the local area, which is a shame.

And now we're already on the countdown to Christmas. At the risk of sounding like Scrooge - bah Humbug! - I think the whole festive period starts way too early each year. By the time the big day comes everything seems to have run out of steam, we're fed up of seeing the same ads on telly and the real meaning of Christmas seems to get lost in a commercialised haze.  I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that, am I?

And finally, this month I started working full-time for the first time in 12 years! I'm still getting used to it, but it seems okay so far. Actually, tell the truth, I did try full-time a couple of years ago when I started working for a charity but combined with a very long commute it all added up to a very tiring working week so after a few months I cut back to four days a week. Now I work close to home which means I can get back quickly at the end of the day, and with one daughter at uni and the other old enough to drive her own tractor, I'm not needed as much at home anymore. I think we'll be okay.

What have you been up to this month?

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Making some changes in the bedroom and getting a better night's sleep

Getting a better night's sleep

As mentioned in my previous post, I've been making some changes as recommended by a sleep expert in an effort to improve the quality of my sleep.

It's taken me a little longer than I expected, mainly because I've been having awful lower back problems which have been going on for weeks now (inflammation of the facet joints, very painful).

One of the recommendations was to clear the bedroom of clutter, technology and anything that doesn't belong in there.  I hate having an untidy bedroom, but I'd noticed a gradual build of of clutter which had been driving me mad! So, a couple of weekends ago, I decided to bite the bullet and sort it all out.

Decluttering the bedroom

I'd been wanting to paint the bedside cabinets for a while, so they were the first things to be emptied. I've had them for years, and they're in good nick but were looking a

Then I cleared everything from under the bed.  For some reason there were several of those large 'under bed storage' bags full of things we either didn't use, need or want anymore. I also went through all my shoes and clothes, and along with the stuff from under the bed it was either donated to a charity shop or taken to the tip.  I was pretty ruthless, you would have been proud.

Painting the bedside cabinets

Then I painted the bedside cabinets (using this Apartment Therapy guide) which took longer than I expected due to my dodgy back. But, eventually they were done and ready to go back into the bedroom, which by now was looking a lot less cluttered.

Next on the list was replacing the mattress, which was at least 8 years old - possibly even older. Silentnight very kindly offered me one of their prize-winning Classic 1200 Pocket Deluxe mattresses to try, and their Just Like Down pillows and duvet.  Seriously, the duvet is so soft it's like sleeping under a cloud.

Silentnight mattress

Silentnight mattress

Then it was time to make the bed, and add some finishing touches.

Tidy bedroom

Tidy bedroom

Tidy bedroom
I think my bed needs more cushions!

It's a much more pleasant room to be in, it feels much more inviting and it's lovely to be able to walk in without seeing mounds of laundry or having to think about tidying up.

It's no coincidence that I've been spending more time in there, pottering around in the evenings (I love a good old potter) and going to bed early so I can read in bed before turning off the light.

I'm already noticing a difference. I feel more rested in the mornings, my back pain has reduced significantly and the quality of sleep is improving, although it's still something I'm working on.

Do you get a decent night's sleep?

Disclosure:  this is a collaboration with Silentnight, but the words, opinions and bedroom are my own.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Making it my way: Giovanni Rana butter and sage sauce

Simply Italian Butter and Sage sauce

Well, it definitely feels like proper autumn now that our Indian summer is over and the chill has set in.  This is the time of year when we want comfort food, and I'm always on the look out for tasty filling meals that require minimum amount of faffing, so I was happy to take up the challenge from Giovanni Rana to make three different dishes with their new Butter and Sage sauce.

As you might expect, it's perfect as a pasta sauce, but the creamy sauce has a lovely sage flavour which goes particularly well with mushrooms, and as we are still not eating meat I thought we would see how versatile it could be.

Mushroom risotto

The first thing I tried was mushroom risotto. I love a risotto, it's probably my favourite TV dinner, and it's so easy to make.   I know some people are put off by the amount of stirring required, but I don't mind if the result is so tasty.  I'm afraid that in my haste to eat it this is the only photo I took of the risotto, and it looks a bit anaemic because it's before the pepper and cheese were added.  Sorry!

I added two big spoonfuls of the Butter and Sage sauce towards the end of cooking, around the time I would normally add butter to the pan to finish off the dish. It added a lovely creamy, subtle flavour to the risotto. 

Butter and sage sauce

Next day I decided to have an old favourite for lunch: mushrooms on toast. A variety of mushrooms gently fried for a few minutes then the butter and sage sauce added to make a creamy sauce, and poured over a big slice of toasted crusty bread.  SO good, and could it be any easier?

Mushrooms on toast with Giovanni Rana Butter and Sage sauce

We're eating a lot of fish at the moment, and the sauce was perfect with some smoked haddock we had the following night, I just warmed in the microwave for 30 seconds and poured it over the fish and veg. Sometimes fish dishes can be a bit dry, so this was a lovely way to enjoy it. I'd definitely have this again.

Smoked haddock with butter and sage sauce

So, three different ways to use the sauce and none of them using pasta.  We enjoyed all three meals, but the sauce lends itself very well to a variety of dishes, we'll definitely have it again.