you can’t make yoghurt in a caravan…

My family and I have recently moved into our newly built house from the caravans we lived in for a year and a half while our house was being built. My husband, me, my large dogs (and my son and his girlfriend during university holidays and some weekends) lived in one caravan and my daughter and her partner lived in another.

The caravans were “retired” holiday park models, probably about 20 years old. They were each around 11 metres long by 3.5 metres wide and one ran entirely off electricity whilst the other had hot water, cooking and fire running off bottled gas. We connected the vans to mains electricity which already served the derelict house on the site and also to mains water which was available in the corner of the field we parked them in.

My husband works mostly from home and needs internet access. The mobile signal here is pretty poor so, although we had to rely on it for ‘phone, this often involved wandering around the site trying to get a signal and certainly isn’t good enough to carry internet. So we had to get satellite internet. This was a pig to set up, super expensive and only worked intermittently and not at all in certain weather conditions. Every time we had a high wind (pretty frequent here on our blustery hillside) we had to recalibrate the bloody thing.

Sewage was the biggest issue. One of the biggest lessons we learned, and it was a salutary one, was how much water even a frugal and environmentally responsible family uses and how much “waste” they produce. For sewage we had to rent very expensive 500 litre temporary septic tanks. We were astonished how often these needed emptying…. I have a minor (ok, a pretty major) obsession with “waste” and how it is dealt with which will become very evident elsewhere in this blog as time goes by! If I was going to do this again I would definitely build a composting toilet …. it would have saved us a fortune.

Space, or lack of it, is probably the first thing people would expect to be a problem in a caravan, especially when you are used to living in a house. I know that I found the lack of space challenging in some ways but unexpectedly liberating in others – so little housework!

Lack of space in the kitchen drove me crazy at times. Another obsession which will become very obvious on this blog is with making food from scratch rather than buying it….partly because it’s usually cheaper, better for the environment and tastier and partly because I’m a weird obsessive! Making bread and cheese in a tiny space is awkward, not to mention dressing the odd pheasant or duck. By the way, making yoghurt in a caravan is impossible because it wobbles too much and won’t “yog”.

I like having friends to stay and feeding people and there isn’t a lot of room for that in a caravan, but we did it anyway. People’s expectations of your hospitality are pretty low when you live in a caravan so they are pleasantly surprised. We had 15 family over for a Christmas party and it was fine as long as everybody didn’t decide to get up and move around at the same time! In fact, we had some great times with family and friends all through the year which will be some of my best memories of this time in our lives.

You can’t keep a washing machine in a caravan because there just isn’t room but the nearest laundrette is 5 miles away. Caravans suffer very badly from damp and condensation so you absolutely can’t dry clothes in them. Also, there is really no space for all the muddy boots and coats that we have. We got around these problems by parking the vans parallel to each other and building a deck between them which we covered over with heavy duty, translucent, weather-proof plastic. This gave us an area to keep the washing machine and the muddy coats and boots. It also gave us a sheltered seating area. I dried a lot of our stuff in the polytunnel too.

There was very little storage for clothes, but that isn’t a huge problem for me as I don’t have a great many but I can imagine it would drive many women crazy. I would have happily traded some wardrobe space for a bookcase. I missed my books. Most of them had to go into store. I also missed having somewhere quiet to read or write in the evenings when the rest of the family were watching tv.

Keeping warm was not as much of a problem as I thought it might be. We are used to living in big old houses which were impossible to heat adequately so at least we didn’t have such a volume of space to heat. We prevented the pipes from freezing and kept out some of the cold by closing off the gap under the caravans with straw bales. We used dehumidifiers to help deal with the damp. We kept our feet up off the floors, which were freezing, when we were relaxing in the evenings and I had a selection of throws to wrap ourselves up in.

One of the biggest problems with bad weather was the sheer noise! Even a light shower sounded like thunder and in a gale the whole caravan felt as if it might lift off.

The biggest advantage for us was being able to live here on site with all our family and animals while our house was being built. We were able to supervise every step of the process, troubleshooting any problems as they arose and it was such a privilege to watch it go up. I feel a greater intimacy with every detail of this place having watched its progress so closely.

If I had the time over, I wouldn’t change the choice to live in the caravan. I wouldn’t want to do it my entire life but it was the greatest fun while it lasted.

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tasty thursday #4: festive mac &cheese

Today the weather was nasty; chilly, damp and grey.  To cheer myself up, and because this might be the last meal I cook in the caravan, I decided to have some fun with an old favourite.

sprout.jpgThe British are famous for being a bit strange about food. Except for my family, the British universally loathe Brussels sprouts. And yet they are a traditional part of every Christmas dinner up and down the land.  They are overcooked to an offensive grey mush and weeping children are forced to try them.  No wonder we grow up to hate them. Yet cooked lightly they are vibrant green, sweet and wonderful with butter and lots of pepper.

Brussels sprouts grow really well in cool temperate climates but they taste much better after a frost or two as it makes them sweeter.

Another traditional part of the British Christmas feast is Blue Stilton cheese. It is creamy with a strong taste and smell and can only be called Stilton if it comes from a certain part of England.

So here’s what I did.  I trimmed about 300g of sprouts of their outer leaves and stems then I cut them into quarters and steamed them until only just cooked.  I cooked 4 handfuls of macaroni until al dente and fried 3 rashers of smoked bacon and chopped it finely. I crumbled 150g of blue Stilton.  I mixed together everything except the Stilton and seasoned it then I mixed through a big dollop of reduced fat crème fraiche and 2/3 of the Stilton.  I put the mixture into a greased dish and sprinkled the rest of the Stilton on top then put the dish into a hot oven for about 20-25 minutes until it was browned and bubbling.

I served it with a tomato and red onion salad  and it tasted great!

vegan trolls and why i’m not a vegetarian

My daughter Amy has quite a Twitter and Instagram following. I don’t “do” either so I was surprised when she mentioned the other day that she is being trolled by a militant vegan…no, really! She often blogs and tweets about food and had mentioned a goat dish she had prepared and posted a photo. This provoked a torrent of abuse and seriously unpleasant images from some character who calls herself Freelee the Banana Girl. The lovely Freelee (aka Leanne Ratcliffe) has a colourful vocabulary and some interesting notions about healthy eating and, if you think I’m making this stuff up, do Google her.

We clearly eat too much meat in developed countries especially processed, fatty, poor quality meat full of antibiotics and nitrites from animals who have been factory farmed. Factory farming has been made possible by cheap oil which has made it cost effective to crowd poor creatures into feed lots and feed them grain-based concentrates instead of grass. This poor quality meat is relatively cheap so we eat far too much of it and the rest ends up in pet food or landfill.

I eat meat. We rear our own poultry, pork and goats on our holding and we eat our own animals. It is hard to eat an animal you are fond of and I am very fond of all our animals but it also makes you very respectful of their welfare and mindful to use every last scrap. I understand that we are very fortunate to be able to rear our own meat and that this is not an option available to everybody. I also realise that pasture fed meat is expensive but it would do us all good to eat less meat.

So, if I care so much about animal welfare, why am I not a vegetarian? Well, the easy answer is that I like meat! The better answer is that I believe vegetarianism is logically inconsistent. Vegetarians eat milk and milk products and eggs. All of these are produced by female animals. However, roughly equal numbers of female and male animals are born. What are we to do with the male animals if we do not eat them?

Veganism, on the other hand, is a logical choice as far as I can see, but it is one I choose not to make although I completely respect it in others (as long as they don’t persecute me or my family on social media!)

Animals are a crucial part of the cycle of fertility on our little farm. They convert grass and scrub into meat, milk and eggs whilst fertilising our land. We have shallow, poor and eroded soil on our holding. Our animals are helping us to rebuild fertility and biomass and will therefore enable us to grow a greater variety and number of plants here which will, in turn, attract a greater variety of insects, helping us to grow biodiversity.

tasty thursday #3:chickpea, halloumi and caper casserole

Now this one sounds quite strange but it’s very popular in our house…I mean caravan!

cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or a can

a can of tomatoes

a large onionchickpeas.jpg

garlic

pinch of chilli (optional)

zest and juice of a lime

a handful of black olives

a tbsp of capers

diced halloumi

fresh coriander to serve

Cook chopped onion and  finely chopped garlic gently in a little oil until soft add chilli then all the rest of the ingredients except halloumi and coriander.  Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 mins. Add diced halloumi and cook for a minute or two more. Serve, sprinkled with chopped coriander, over rice, couscous or polenta.

 

 

 

…blushing modestly

Thank you to Mama Monkey over at The Monkey’s Jungle for nominating me for the Real(ly) Neat Blog Award!

real-neat-blog-award

The rules:

  • Thank and link the blogger who nominated you.
  • Answer the questions the person who nominated you provided.
  • Nominate other bloggers. Try to nominate 7 if possible. (I’ve just done my 4 newest “follows”)
  • Create new questions for the people you nominate
  • Display the logo somewhere on your blog – only if you want to. It’s an award

The questions for me:

  1. If you could erase one of your personality traits which would you pick and why?  absent mindedness…it stops me being effective
  2. If someone offered to hand you all the required supplies and tools for any new hobby which hobby would you pick? hot air ballooning!
  3. What is your favorite song to listen to when you’re really angry? Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan…such a bitter song
  4. What is one bad habit you currently have that you wouldn’t want to give up? Definitely red wine
  5. What are your top five favorite games? (Any kind, board, video, card, sport, etc..)  Monkey Island (any), Carcassonne, Dingbats, Cards against Humanity, Mah Jong.

My nominees:

Time for Kimchi

Don’t know what to do with my Hands

Dare Greatly

Family Yields

Questions for them:

  • What’s your favourite thing in your kitchen cupboards?
  • What would you like to be famous for?
  • Which animal would you like to be reincarnated as?
  • What’s your idea of perfect weather?
  • If you had a day off work tomorrow, how would you spend it?

tasty thursday #2 christmas pudding

christmas pudding.jpgI believe Christmas pudding in its current form is a Victorian invention like most of our Christmas traditions.  But its  origins go back to the middle ages when a thing called “frumenty” was eaten at Christmas, which was a sloppy mixture of beef suet, mutton, fruit, wine and spices.

Last Sunday was Stir Up Sunday when one is supposed to make the Christmas pudding.  All the family stir the pudding and make a wish which is a tradition my kids still insist on.

I think most people buy a pudding these days and some don’t like Christmas pudding at all but it is very popular in my house, really easy to make and the women in my family have always made our own. This is the recipe I use based on the ingredients we like best.

Put the following ingredients into a big bowl:

110g shredded suet

110g white breadcrumbs

1 level teaspoon ground mixed spice

pinch freshly grated nutmeg good pinch ground cinnamon

225g soft dark brown sugar 

500g dried fruit (I use a mixture of raisins, sultanas, cranberries and chopped prunes)

a handful of chopped nuts, if liked

a finely chopped  cooking apple or a quince if you can get hold of one

grated zest of an orange

2 tbs brandy

150ml Guinness (put the rest of the bottle in a casserole or down your throat!)

Mix all the above together, cover the bowl and leave for a few hours before adding:

2 large eggs

50 grams self raising flour

Now you get everyone in the house to stir the mixture and make a wish before packing it into a greased 2 pint pudding basin. Cover the basin with a double layer of pleated baking parchment tied tightly round the rim of the basin with string.  Now steam the pudding for 8 hours making sure the water doesn’t boil dry.   When it is cooked, replace the baking parchment with fresh and store the pudding in a cool dry place until Christmas day when it’ll need steaming for a further 3 hours.

 

the versatile blogger award

award.jpg

Thank you to the lovely lady at Being Me Presently, who writes so thoughtfully and movingly about parenthood and mindfulness, who has nominated me for The Versatile Blogger Award.

the rules
○Thank the person who gave you this award.
○Include a link to their blog.
○Next, select 15 blogs that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly.
○Nominate those  bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.
○Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

my nominees

These are the blogs I follow which inspire me as well as reassuring me that there are others out there with similar preoccupations.

what sandra thinks

stuffhomemade

Katy Had a Little Farm

Home Grown Heaven

The Monkey’s Jungle

Live Lived Simply

UMass Centre for Microbiome Research

Thrive

scienceandfooducla

Life with Nature

Moor Wholesome

OCTOPUS ALCHEMY

Pfund memories

myminimalistbaby

Family Yields

….and finally: 7 things you really didn’t need to know about me

  • I’m really tall for a girl; 185cm or 6ft1
  • I don’t like fast food
  • I drive an ancient orange Landrover Defender called Marigold
  • My favourite Spotify playlist is The Far-North Folk
  • I like red wine and fresh coffee
  • I wish I could sing and draw
  • Did I mention I’m really tall….?

Victory is problematic…

I chose to respond to a random prompt for a post today. I’ll confess that my heart sank a little when I saw that the prompt was “Victory” and it sank a little further when I saw the suggestion that I forget about sad times and “revel in a win”.

I was slightly puzzled by my reaction and thought at length about it while I did my chores this evening and learned something about my approach to life which I will try to articulate.

Now “Victory” and “Winning” seem to me to be zero sum concepts. That is to say that if there is a victor or a winner there must also be a loser. This is the vocabulary of war and the pursuit of victory has led, and continues to lead, to all kinds of destruction and human pain. I prefer to think in terms of cooperation and creativity.  This is how we humans learn and grow … by working together not by beating each other into submission.

I’m really looking forward to reading other people’s thoughts about this…

why do scary stuff now if I can do the ironing instead?

I find both insight and inspiration in reading other people’s blogs

This week I found posts on a similar topic in two of the blogs I enjoy reading, and this was the thorny and eternal tension between putting stuff off and getting stuff done.

Now, I am pretty good about getting the everyday chores done.  My family and my animals always get fed in a more or less timely fashion, the caravan we live in at the moment is usually pretty clean and tidy (there isn’t really room to be messy!) and I was never once late to collect my kids from school but, reading these entertaining and thought provoking posts by busy younger women about organising tasks and procrastination, I realised something about myself I that I hadn’t fully appreciated before: I use these everyday chores and commitments to avoid getting started on new and exciting projects that I maybe feel a little anxious about, even if they’re something I would rather be doing.

Now, I think this blog is the perfect example of that.  I had been thinking about it for ages; writing posts in my head while I mucked out animal pens or did the ironing…I had a name for my blog and had got as far as creating my account on WordPress and giving the blog a name – but that was as far as I got for a long time.

So, having had this important if unpalatable truth about myself revealed to me by my peers,  next time I’m mucking out or ironing I shall be thinking  about strategies for moving on to those tasks that are altogether more interesting but perhaps a little scary….