Monday, 18 January 2016

Renovation update: decisions, decisions, decisions...

Our beautiful home...
To say this weekend was a learning curve would be an understatement. I've learned to chisel out mortar, insert steel rods and then point cement back in. We've also plumbed in a new shower and ripped off doors to reveal the original oak doors from 1901. Good progress was made.

We also had our architect visit to help us with the phasing of our renovation. He's suggested building in a little entrance hall, helped us realise that we can remove the whole chimney breast to create a open plan living area, and he's also helping us design our dream kitchen extension opening out onto the garden. He will also help design the loft extension in the future. This means, by the end of it, we will have a much larger four bedroom family home.

Our next step is to decide whether we actually want to knock through the chimney or whether we knock down either side of the breast and keep a snug room at the front of the house with the dining room opening out into the kitchen. Then we need to agree on how the kitchen extension will work best, whether to do the entrance hall, and what to start first.

Lots of choices to be made. Lots of ideas to be discussed. Lots of budget to be earned.

On that point, I may have a little business adventure to make a little bit of extra money on the side. Think pearls...rose gold...and beautiful, pretty, delicate, this space!

ZP x

Monday, 4 January 2016

The first day of renovation - patience is a virtue

All brown for the 70s Christmas house
Happy new year! Christmas has gone and the bloated bellies are all around. Gym memberships will go through the roof and then half cancelled by March. But let's be positive and make this the year to be an unforgettable one. It certainly will be at number 35.

The first day of renovating our house began on the 30th December 2015. Our future bedroom has been stripped back to it's bare plaster bones and we're now going to fix the crack from the old walls and then start to rebuild it back together again, making it our own.

Mess? What mess?!
It's a wonderful thing to be doing, re-designing and building our own house, being our own
project managers and designing your own time-frame. There's so much to do...strip wood-chip, strip wallpaper, carpets, board up polystyrene tiles, and much much more. A perfect project for when it's rainy, cold and dark - to cosy up inside and work hard on the house becoming home.

Onto a more foodie wavelength, a 4 course extravaganza was made yesterday evening by the gang. For a special birthday, we made seafood vol-au-vents, tarka dahl and haddock, then lamb - three ways, followed by a rum and raisin creme brulee. What a feast!

Rack of lamb | braised lamb shoulder | lamb bon-bon |
pea puree | rosti | roasted shallot | jus
My New Year's Resolution is to improve my patience. I've seen a lot of interesting posts but one I've seen that's great is here. Thanks for the inspiration, Henrik.

ZP x

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

A new chapter forms

This new house of ours –
starting again – the patience of love
I’m learning.

Be patient with me
until I bloom into full life and burst –
spring-like and open.

Then enjoy me
while we nourish each other into fullness –
enriching each day.

You complete me.
Stay by my side and I’ll love you forever
if you want me to.

Life really is great –
if you allow yourself to be true to it –
express your inner design.

I have days of sudden gloom –
I panic like we all do and I wonder why me, here, now?
It’s creation and progression.

Creative minds wait –
for a period of uneasiness that opens a door
to newly found spirit.

This period of maturing
frees the individual to grow and allows
a new chapter to form.

ZP x

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Human Design

I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of everything getting on top of you and not being able to deal with it. I bought my first house and moved back to my hometown, with a new partner, and started a new job all at the same time. I panicked. It was all too much. By speaking to a few women I know, they have had the strange experience of it being so good that you worry when it’s all going to go wrong. It was almost too much change at once. Pathetic it may seem and some people may wonder why I can’t appreciate the great when it’s great but when some women are used to being disappointed then it’s what you get used to. You get used to being hurt, let down or being a disappointment to others. You feel you aren’t good enough. I had to push my way through this emotional barrier in order to feel more stable. I still feel na├»ve and almost like I don’t deserve the true blessings I have in this life. But I've come to realise that those feelings are there because I'm scared. Scared of the only thing I've wanted to vanish into thin air. This time I'm holding onto it with both hands.

Then I met Susan*. And another half a dozen women that all feel what I feel too. Susan is an acupuncturist and has opened my eyes to the part of me that was hiding away. Through my life long fear of needles, the day I went to her was a day where I would have done anything to stop me worrying. The needles aren’t even needles – they’re small pins and they’re placed in certain parts of the body to heal and calm. Just seeing her twice a week to talk to was just what I needed. She listens and soothes. She is a blessing. She told me about my genetic makeup and that I openly pick up other people’s emotions very easily. That’s why my brain gets swamped because I absorb so much that I confuse myself with what I actually feel/think/want. The people around me now need to ask questions to initiate my ideas, not fill me with their thoughts on what they think is right. I can decide this now. I think it’s a turning point in understanding the adult brain and moving to a place where I’m comfortable with my decisions.

The other women that feel the same made me realise that I’m not alone. We all suffer from these periods of weakness where there may seem like there’s no way out. But there is. You have to find it. Find your way of gently calming and healing yourself. Whether that is by walking, knitting, visiting old friends, making a cake, raking the garden - making a small difference. These small differences add up and soon you’ll be back on track. Being back on track means you may not be on the same track as before. Things may change; I realized that my life was taking a turn in a new direction. Periods of panic equals periods of change. We all have to adapt and embrace the new found form we find ourselves creating.

The constant awareness we have to put on in order to stand up to correctness of today’s fast-pace living can be overwhelming. I would sometimes feel bad about taking a rest, that if I wasn’t busying myself with housework then I wasn’t doing a proper job. Underneath it all, I was petrified that if I didn’t do everything perfectly then my partner would leave me, like what happened before. However, I’ve obviously just not been with the right man and I wasn’t thinking in the right way to respect myself. Finding someone who understands who I am and knows that I’m not a perfect housewife is important. However, finding out who you are, how you act (and accepting that) is even more important. You can then respond and understand your human design. Understanding that you are you and finding out how you emotionally operate is key to giving yourself a break and accepting who you are.

ZP x

*I've removed Susan's real name for privacy reasons.

Monday, 21 September 2015

When the chef came to dinner: The Plough at Eastbury

There's a pub near Newbury that is my partner and I's go-to place for treating ourselves gastronomically. One evening, he surprised me again and off we went through some Berkshire villages to our favourite spot. I had scallop, lobster, and crab Thermidor which was a dream. I may have licked the plate but don't judge me - you would too. It was so good that I couldn't manage all of my surf and turf of Rib-eye steak and giant prawns. I rolled home, happy as pie. This pub is called The Plough at Eastbury and we love it. Graham and Louise do a great job and it's a pleasure to spread the word about it.

The most important thing we saw that evening was the board in the bar about a gourmet quiz night. It was happening in a few weeks time so I messaged round the foodie crew and the 5 of us went along on a warm Tuesday evening to see what it was like. It was a very reasonably priced 5 course tasting menu with matching wine. As each course and wine would come round, we'd have a question and answer sheet about how it was cooked, what ingredients were used, what year and what grape the wine was etc. At first, it was going well, we guessed that the amuse bouche was a green veloute but guessed that it was broad bean and not asparagus. Fatal error. Most of the answers we got wrong were discussed amongst us but we all somehow convinced each other of another answer. We regained points on the cold-smoked trout (chef was impressed that we were the only ones to get the technique of the trout down - go Budgie!).

Fish course was fried monkfish but we guessed crayfish, but we regained points again with the finer details with the ingredients in the sauce. Meat course was pulled pork and goat with a crunchy salad and sweet potato mash. We did ok here. Don't think anyone guessed the goat. The cheese course is where it all went wrong. We hadn't even heard of the cheese, Chaource, but trust us to be in competition with a french cheese specialist. Shame they knew nothing apart from cheese though (haha). We gained almost no points for that course, but then the desert came. There were small black seeds in a mouse like fool and I said there is only one fruit with seeds like this and that's a dragon fruit. We put it down in vague hopefulness and chef nearly ate his hat. He thought that that was a definite that no-one would know but then how did he know that one of the quizzers had it every morning in a smoothie from a stall in Thailand?! Our knowledge on the finer detailed ingredients put us ahead of the pack and we won by a strong margin. Beginners luck was no way a part of it, we just love our food.

With regards to the wine, I don't actually remember much about it and I didn't really know any of them - that was Katie's department. We did well and got a sauvignon blanc spot on. That reminds me, I do want to do some sort of wine tasting course so I can taste and judge wine with more of an expert nose and palate. Perhaps a vineyard visit when we go to Spain next week.
At the end - chef Graham announced that the winners (yes, us!) would receive a meal cooked by him at our home...our mouthed dropped open (and Katie screamed). We thought we'd get a bottle of wine. So, after a mission to get everyone's calendars together, we picked a Monday evening when his kitchen at the pub was quiet, and he came to cook two beautiful courses for us lucky people. We'd get one of our favourite chefs cook us dinner? At home? What a night.

That Monday night arrived and we were treated to scallops, hogs pudding, pork belly, blackberry, cold smoked venison and trout for starter followed by venison, pigeon, and crab in a Vietnamese nasi goreng style sauce. The roasted radishes were a delight. Until that night, I've only ever sliced a raw radish in a salad. We absolutely loved it. All of us who ate at the meal work hard every week night to put yummy dishes on our own tables but for this special evening, we were the ones who got cooked for and we dined like kings and queens.

Here's to more foodie memories and the reigning gourmet quiz champions maintaining their new title! Thanks Graham.

ZP x

P.s. Please note that the The Plough didn't ask me to write this - we genuinely just love the place.

It's all about a balanced life: tarts and sport

I've had the most relaxing weekend in a long time and it's been time to reflect, see friends and family, but also to get things done. Dot the i's and cross the t's as my Nanny used to say.

We attended the Newbury Show, had some tapas to celebrate friends leaving to Spain, washed the cars, filled in legal house forms and relaxed. You always need weekends away from the hustle and bustle, and I can safely say that I didn't think of work once! Recharging of batteries complete.

Lacrosse training began last week. I didn't realise how much I missed it. A new lacrosse season begins but I shall only be training (and not match playing) due to the house needing more of my attention once we move in. My pink stick that I got for my birthday was brilliant - not much wearing in required. Hopefully next season I can pick up the stick for matches.

My yoga teacher is back after a few weeks off and teaching class again, thank goodness. I've been practicing with her now for about 10 months and she's the one. It's taken a long time to find the right yoga teacher. It's my favourite way to restore, energise, and strengthen. It's almost magical. It has this peaceful-japenese-zen-garden quality that you can't get anywhere else.

Nutritionally speaking, I'm known for a few cakes and chocolate based treats but it all has to be balanced. You mentally feel better after eating well, not just physically. The biggest treat this week was a shortcrust pastry plum and frangipani tart I made. It was amazing. Fresh buttery pastry and an almond centre with sharp plums cutting through. To be honest, I watched 10 minutes of Bake Off and had to get up and make pastry. There a few people I know who get an urge to make pastry but when it happens, it happens fast. That pastry has got to be made and it's got be made now. A butter and eggs shopping trip followed immediately.

Apart from the odd pastry craving, we eat really healthily. A lot of fresh fish and steamed veg. We're both very keen cooks and love to keep it interesting. On Friday, I made a cute little two course dinner: prawns and salmon with charred lettuce and a fresh tomato dressing, followed by pork medallions and camembert mash served with a risky peach and rosemary sauce. Who knew pork, peaches and rosemary would go so well? I thought of the pork/sweet apple combo and as we had peaches left to use, I simmered them with some white wine and finished with a little cream. Got to love a new sauce discovery.

It's important to get that nourishment when we're both training. The kitchen in the new house will be a challenge...with an extension and a whole new kitchen being required so that will be interesting. Baked beans out of the tin anyone?!

ZP x

Monday, 14 September 2015

Autumn is here

The 13.5 tog duvet went on the other evening. Then it was swapped straight back to the summer one. My winter boots even had their first outing and now they're back in the cupboard. The weather can't seem to decide whether it's warm or cold. We're coming into autumn and you can tell by the smell in the air. I even got excited about Christmas presents this morning (sad, I know). I definitely haven't made a list on my phone about what presents to buy whom...

Anyway, enough of the seasonal talk and onto more pressing news. The dream man and I have bought a house. Not renting, not living at the 'rents - we're buying a house. I'm finally back where I belong, in my hometown, and back with my nearest and dearest people who I love the most. Nothing has ever felt so right. We've bought the house down the road from where we both went to school and down from the village we grew up in as children. A proper home. And it's all ours. To live in and that.

So following on from my skin-pinching moment, I've been thinking of ways to record our restoration/extension developments. Instagram? Pinterest? Blogging? I just couldn't decide. The house is Edwardian and the old lady who lived there before has done no interior work since the 60's. We have 'some' work to do. Let's just say that the bathroom suite is black with pink tiles and pink carpet...

We will be discovering and restoring the original features such as the doors, stripping back the flooring to it's wooden boards, and knocking through the covered up fireplaces. It's an absolute dream to think we can make it our own and create a family home.

Seeing the amount of work we need to do, and how much I like to document things, I thought of this little place I call my blog. It's been underused this year, with me not really knowing what to do with it. I now have a project and something to record. This shall be my house diary. All the ups and downs of a house renovation project will be recorded. I could even print it all at the end and make it into a little book to keep as a momento when the house is complete.

That reminds me, I have some other minor news...I have a new job! I'll be making books for a living. Couldn't get much better than that for a little English grad. One step closer to my dream magazine publishing job.

Anyway, must dash; I have colours to match, sofas to browse, and reclamation yards to explore!

Enjoy the changing seasons and don't forget to savour that wet rain smell.

ZP x