At the beginning of this journey I was like most new converts an evangelist and an extremist.  There are some who would say I still am (most notably the teenagers who are, I suspect, stockpiling plastic as I type).  How ever I have clearly mellowed for yesterday I did something that I would never have done back in June.

I bought a magazine.  To be fair I did um and ah for a while, I did go off and do some other shopping before I finally handed over cash for a disposable item.  I finally justified it by reminding myself that all our magazines go to the local dentist or doctor.  Their waiting room reading matter is prehistoric or ghastly rags written by a spirocheate on a bad day and attempting to be a poor copy of a 1960s edition of Readers’ Digest.

So I bought this.


A bit of a contradiction in terms no?  A magazine about Simple Things.  But I have read the entire magazine.  There was no article in which I wasn’t interested.  I have book marked some recipes and some events, I even saw a photograph of the first flat I ever owned (94 Landor Road, London SW9 just in case you are interested 🙂 ) in a wonderful article about The Edible Bus Stop,  it is amazing (the story not my flat) go and read it and maybe even plant one yourself.   As a final added bonus it feels good, the cover is just a little heavier than most magazines, the photographs and the LO just a little less in your face.  The only thing that grated was the standard bit at the beginning of every lifestyle magazine, two double page spreads on “beautiful things for your home”.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if  instead there was a double page spread of “beautiful things you probably already  have in your home”.

So in that vein, here are some of the simple things around my house that make me happy, make me smile and make me glad to be who I am.


The first cup of tea of the day.  I drink a lot of tea, I like it strong and black.  I am not a very nice person until I have had at least one cup.  The teenagers go so fed up of me asking for cups of tea when I was working upstairs that they bought me my own kettle and tea caddy for the bedroom.


Fresh roses from my garden.  Their perfume is heady and goes beautifully with my first cup of tea.  One of my greatest thrills is to be able to fill the house with flowers and foliage from the garden.  You just have to be inventive, it doesn’t have to look like a bouquet.  In winter I bring in armfuls of redberried holly, winter jasmine, bare branches, anything that catches my eye.


Clementime curd.  I made this yesterday after repeated requests from the Dancer.  The recipe comes from the amazing Karen at Widehaugh House. It is sublime and is a family favourite but never lasts long.  It is best eaten with a teaspoon out of the jar 🙂  The result of any curd is a bucketload of egg whites.  We are a bit bored with meringue and I am the only person who likes Angel Food Cake so I made  Nami Nami’s Egg White Cake instead.  Next time I will reduce the sugar content, but it was good to use up the ingredients in something I knew would be eaten.



My favourite bookcase, or rather the bookcase with my favourite books.  Foraging, gardening, the Desert Fathers, meditation, living off the grid.


Freshly made bed.  I cannot understand, particularly in these days of duvets (though I can still make a pretty mean hospital corner thanks to 11 years at boarding school) why so many people don’t make the bed.  I can’t bear getting into an unmade bed and will make it before I get in if I have to!


Open windows.  I can’t wait for the icy winds to pass so that I can throw open the windows and the doors.  Sadly I am alone in this.  The Boss doesn’t really notice and the teenagers must have some kind of cold blooded reptilian DNA as they close windows and doors as fast as I can open them.  I am winning 🙂



The Floor of Singer 2’s bedroom.  You will notice that there is nothing on it.  Singer 2 is the one child who has my tidy gene.  It makes me as happy to see her room as it terrifies me to see those of Singer 1 and the Dancer.



Finally my Inuit bear.  My father spent many years in Toronto and Montreal and collected a lot of Inuit Art, both carvings and prints.  I have much of that collection, but this bear is  my favourite.  She has been with me since I was at university, travelling from London to Yorkshire, back to London to Scotland and finally to Durham.  I don’t know if she is the first thing I would grab in a fire, but she is pretty close to the top of the list.




diving off the pedestal

Usually when we come back from holiday we have about 48 hours, at most, before the girls have to be back at school.  We have a hundredweight of washing to do, last minute school panics and the dogs to pick up from the kennels.  Consequently I plan to within an inch of everyone’s lives.  I do not want to come back to chaos, I want to hit the ground running.

We may not have been minimalist in the past but I was organised.

How the mighty are fallen.

We are going to Australia next year.  The Boss is doing a lecture tour and I am chief bag carrier.  The lovely lady who is planning our flights needs scans of our passports.  My passport runs out in March but we are going to Padua in October (another lecture, I could get used to this).  Never mind, said the lovely lady, just send a scan of the current one and then the new one when you get it.

So I go to the passport box.  Reader, you are ahead of me.  They were not there.

I have a momentary panic that in my supercharged decluttering I have given our passports to the local charity shop.  Somewhere this is another Smellie family complete with identical twins doing nefarious things in the far east…..

I am cheered when the Dancer informs me that the current cost of a lost passport is £150 each.  A grand total of £750.  £750 I do not have to spare.

I start to think laterally, I look in the pantry, in the laundry.

This year we came back from holiday faced with another five weeks of school holidays.  There was no panic, no rush and I DIDN’T PUT THE PASSPORTS AWAY!  Because I had all the time in the world, and there were so many other things that I wanted to get on with.

I was convinced I had taken them out of my travelling tote.  That they had been “put” somewhere.  Finally I conceded that perhaps I hadn’t.  But where the heck was the tote I took on holiday?  It wasn’t where it ought to be (another failure to put something in its rightful place due to the lacksidaisical attitude).

I stood in the kitchen and wondered if it was worth weeping, when out of the corner of my eye I espied the tote in question.  It was hanging on the back of the pantry door with the spare shopping bags.  And it it….. the passports.

Lesson learned?  Just because you are not working to a deadline does not mean that you can “leave it till tomorrow”.  Because tomorrow you will forget and by day three total amnesia will have set in.

Everything has its place and it should be in it now, not when you get around to it.


My children often tell me that I am the most immature mother they know.  It is meant kindly and whilst possibly not a direct compliment I know that given the choice between dead normal and me, they will probably opt for me (although that could be more to do with my open wallet policy…..)  It is however, a fine line and one I have been known to cross without realising.   Bringing up teenagers is never mentioned in the ante natal classes; presumably because the population would plummet in two generations if it were.

We have never been entirely normal on the general scale of things.  Personally I think we are perfectly ordinary, but I have been told that we are just a little bit weird sometimes.  We like to forage, we make our own cleaners and toiletries, I reuse obsessively and I make coffee from acorns (I think that is usually the tipping point).  On the other hand we drive cars, we have televisions and Sky and I have yet to convert to washing my hair in vinegar.

Today I was having my feet pummelled by the wonderful Nichola , if you have never had reflexology then book your ticket to Durham and book in with Nichola.  It also helps that she is from Carnoustie and she can talk even more than me 🙂  I asked her if she had seen any particular difference in my feet over the past few months.  During the conversation that followed we deduced that I was bonkers, bonkers in a good way (is there any other way to be bonkers?) but bonkers nevertheless.

I like being bonkers.  I like thinking outside the box.  I like asking stupid questions.  I like making it myself.  I like refusing to follow the crowd.  I like making up silly songs ( I would have been brilliant on Who’s line is it anyway).  I like it when my daughters roll their eyes at me and ask what next?  If they didn’t care they wouldn’t notice.  We rub along, I buy the occasionally pappy brown loaf that purports to be wholemeal, they eat the raspberry jam but make faces at the strawberry jam.  They make their own beauty concoctions and are devoted to my rosewater and witch hazel toner and then spend ages drooling over the MAC counter.  They poo poo my reflexology sessions but beg endlessly for back and feet massages.  They eat seaweed and all sorts of other things but prefer not to know precisely what they are.  They are willing to try anything but are equally willing to say no.  They think it is hysterical that our recycling box is plastic (they have every right to laugh) but are religious about sorting out the rubbish into chicken food, compost, fire and recycling.

For all our jokes about being embarrassing being the last perk of parenthood it is worth remembering that one’s parents can be excruciating.  I am not so old as to be able to forget the time my mother made me wear some dreadful tartan trousers to visit a friend (who had BROTHERS!) because she was packing my jeans for the holidays.  I hope that my daughters pick up some of my bonkersness and develop their own strain.  Bonkers people need to stick together, we are the glue that holds the rest of the “normal” world together.


Leftovers have played a large role in my life.  Perhaps because my parents had the war fresh in their minds they ensured that no food ever went to waste.  There were times when I would open the fridge door and stare at rows of little bowls of tiny amounts of food and despair, but on the leftover front I turned into my mother at a very early age.  I am particularly proud that I can feed a family of five on a decent lamb roast for three days and still have leftover cold meat for lunch/sandwiches (plus the bone for the dogs).  Roast on Sunday, shepherd’s pie on Monday and Stovies on Tuesday.

However, this post is about a different kind of leftover altogether.  The Boss makes his own beer.  It is lovely, although the smell can be a bit overpowering at times if you don’t like that kind of thing.  It also produces copious amounts of this as a side product.


Brewer’s yeast.  This time, before pouring it away it occurred to us that I could use it for breadmaking.  It was still rather runny so I ran it through a muslin.


Next time I wouldn’t bother.  First almost all of the yeast goes through in the liquid, you do get a tiny brick of yeast at the end but it seemed an awful waste of the rest.  I did try an put it through a second time but the same thing happened.  Secondly, if you have teenagers in the house they will make endless comments about the unspeakable things taking place in the kitchen and compare you unfavourably with parents who are normal.

So I just put it all in a small container, left it to settle and whoppee, a couple of hours later there was a lovely thick sludge at the bottom and I could pour off the excess liquid from the top.

The best recipes suggested using the yeast to make a sour dough starter.  I used this one from Ko-bo.   Here is the starter on day one.


Gorgeous isn’t it?

The addition of honey is inspired because it adds some richness and takes away any potential bitterness from the brewers yeast (a common complaint from many of the bakers I researched).  I didn’t have any malt barley and added some rye flour and crushed mixed seeds. Here is the finished result.


It rose a vast amount on the first rise, but less so on the second.  I am tempted to cook it without beating it down next time, just to compare the difference.  It is a very tasty loaf with a dense but crumbly crumb.  Also Ko-bo makes a small starter and uses all of it.  In more traditional soughdough style I have made double the amount and am going to keep it going.  Which does of course mean I have rather a lot of brewers yeast going if anyone is interested.


  Breakfast this morning.  One slice with just butter and one with marmite.  The latter may seem a bit of overkill if I am taste testing, but I love it so much and anyway, it’s practically a first cousin to the bread!


I don’t do regrets.  I can’t see the point in looking back and getting upset about something that has already been and gone.  Today I am going to make an exception.

Why on earth did I go public about trying to go plastic free.  The more observant readers will notice the introduction of a new word.  Yup “trying”  because as the 1st September fast approaches I am starting to panic that it is all going to go belly up pretty fast.  There is so much plastic around us.

The project is not helped by the fact that I have three teenage daughters.  Three perfectly formed modern consumers who like stuff.  Not masses of stuff to be fair and they are discriminating about on what they spend their money.  But much of the stuff they like tends to come with plastic: toiletries, Haribou tangfastic; soft plastic bread for toast; cotton wool pads; fresh strawberries in plastic punnets.

They already think I am bonkers, the mention of the plastic free month was met with  much eye rolling, sighing and pleas to be a bit more normal.  They are fairly well resigned to the fact that all jams and jellies for example are homemade, but still look longingly at the jars of pap on the shop shelves.  I did suggest (as a joke) that we made our own Nutella (which as a plastic lid by the way), you would have thought I was suggesting they eat raw tripe for a month!

But I cannot put all the blame on them.  I have spent this month looking at everything I buy and how much plastic is involved.  Oh boy, there is so much and some is going to be very hard to avoid.

One area that I am really struggling with is cleaners and toiletries.  Not buying them, I can do that quite easily and make my own instead.  But the ingredients I need to make them come in plastic bottles!  Vinegar, surgical spirit, rosewater, witch hazel, beeswax, glycerine, oils.  They all come in plastic bottles.  I have to buy in bulk because I use so much so I have to buy over the internet and nobody is going to send glass bottles through the post if they can avoid it.  I’m wondering if I can send them back but I suspect the answer will be “no it’s too much fuss”.  Grrr

penny bun

It has been raining, it is now warm and a little muggy.  The time of year when a girl’s thoughts turn to fungi.  After a couple of false starts things looked up a bit when we collected plenty of jelly ear and milk caps.  The former are a bit of an acquired taste and I know some people put them in spicy casseroles and soups.  Personally I like them dried as a snack.  But I do appreciate I am someone of a loner on that front.

Plenty of LBT  (little brown things that nobody can be bothered to identify)  loads of stinkhorn (shame we can’t find a use for it but even if you can overcome the physical appearance the smell would put you off).




Some inidentifiable Agaricus and then, just as we were on our way back we stopped to let some horses past and I spotted this.



In all my year I have never managed to get a cep as big and as fresh as this.  Not a mark on it, not an insect visible.  A perfect example of why they are called Penny Buns. This is up there with the 18lb salmon I caught on my honeymoon (and has pride of place in the wedding album!).  Now we just have to decide which of our recipes to use, or whether to just have it lightly fried on toast.  I’m hankering after Papadelle with cep, sage and pancetta.  I even have durum flour for the pasta.

i have a secret weapon

I have run out of window cleaner.  It is at these moments when you are prompted to look at a viable home made alternative.  Yes I can all hear you shouting vinegar and newspaper, but we have a lot of glass in our house and we are none too keen to live in  something that smells like a pickle jar and we are trying to reduce our newspaper purchases.

However, I am nothing if not resourceful, for that read enjoy research, otherwise known as nosey.  Prior to the arrival of the internet I began collecting recipes and books for homemade toiletries.  I collected rather a lot, far more than I would ever need.  Yes, I did pass some of them on in the Great Book Cull of 2013.  Who knows you might even have one of them now.

Post WWW I began to collate websites and links to recipes.   I have made a scientific, evidenced based discovery.  I cannot be faulted for the breadth of my research, the number of (unwitting) trial runs into thousands and are spread throughout the world.  Granted there was an element of self selection but in any trial you chose participants who actually suffer from the ailment if you are looking for a treatment.  No point putting Mrs Bloggs through a long trial for prostate cancer is there?

So drum roll…. big, prestigious scientific boffiny prize ……

Result: For any one homemade toiletry or cleaner required there will be no more than four ingredients using practically identical recipes.


  1. Vinegar, alcohol, lemon juice form the core of every cleaner.  Beeswax and oil form the basis of every toiletry.  Amounts vary depending on recipe and product required.
  2. The stuff we buy off the shelves must have some pretty expensive and quite probably unsavoury ingredients to justify the cost.
  3. I have been wasting money for donkeys’ years.
  4. I have a secret non-vinegar smelling solution.

So back to the windows.

The recipe that gets the most stars is vinegar, alcohol, water and cornflour.  As we can’t get rubbing alcohol (isopropanol – your useless fact for the day) my options would be surgical spirit, or if I fancied a change from the pickle jar smell, meths, which has the added advantage of giving it a gentle purple glow.

I am opting for the surgical spirit.  Not sure I am going to like the smell.  However as the Boss is currently bubbling vats of beer in the kitchen it might mask the hoppy yeasty aroma that is seeping out of every pore….

Now, the bit you have all been waiting for, the recipes:

Top Rated Window Cleaner from Crunchy Betty

  • 1/4 c. rubbing alcohol (or in my case surgical spirit)
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 c. warm water

Shake up and spray.  This is still going to smell of vinegar so I have a secret weapon.

Orange all purpose cleaner

  • Orange peel
  • Vinegar
  • Water

Yup that’s it.  You will need a large jar, I have a 2 litre kilner jar.  Fill it with orange peel.  I bought several bags of past their sell by date oranges, made copious quantities of orange juice (earning Mum of the year award to add to my scientific boffin award), shoved the peels in the jar and covered with white vinegar (or brewed condiment as it was quaintly called on the bottle).  Leave to soak for 4-6 weeks.  During this time the orange oil will seep into the vinegar and the vinegar smell completely goes (or so I hope).  Dilute with water and pour into spray bottle.  Hey presto.  I have at least 3 weeks to go before I can report back.

It strikes me that if I substitute my lovely orange smelling vinegar for pure vinegar in the various cleaning concoctions we will live not in a pickle jar but an orange grove …. where would you prefer to live?!

breaking rules

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.  Burns knew of what he spoke.  If one is to ship out the entire contents of a large Gin Gan (have you looked it up yet?) then one must empty the car of the 4454  envelopes currently residing there.

Quick advert break for The Durham Shopping Extravaganza (I know it seems very counterintuitive for a minimalist blog but stay with me).  We have been going for 25 years and have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charities in and around County Durham.  For my sins I am joint chair this year and it fell to me to deliver the 4454 envelopes that we had stuffed with invitations and stamped with addresses to the the offices of the lovely Brewin Dolphin who are going to frank and post them for us.

But first I had to wait for the Singers to get ready so that I could drop them off at the station and then finally set forth to Teesside.  Reader Teesside is a very confusing place.  Even my sat nav was getting confused “Exit at the next junction, take the first left, keep right, turn left”.  How does one keep right and turn left without inducing the ire of every white van man in the North East?

Stage one complete and thence to Spennymoor to pick up the Dancer who is working in a GP surgery.  There are a surprising number of GP surgeries in Spennymoor, particularly bearing in mind it is really not very big.  They must be a poorly lot.  Four surgeries later I found her.  I returned home at 2.45pm  Clearly not a lot of clearing out was going to get done before I had to pick up the Singers…..

I am completely against multitasking.  I have done my fair share and I am pretty good at it, but as part of my mission to slow down I now ONLY DO ONE JOB AT A TIME (sorry about the shouting).  I do get interrupted, but that’s life.  If I must then I stop job one and complete the more important interruption, if not the second job waits until the first job is done.  Life has become much less stressful and I am getting more and not less done.

Today was a day to break the rules, for what are rules for if not to be broken?  I cleaned the kitchen and made the latest batch of rosehip jelly.  I cleared out the fridge and chopped up roast chicken for sandwiches.  I sorted out the clean washing and  cleared a “dumping corner” in the hall.  I sorted and wiped all the jellies, preserves and salves we have made recently whilst doing the washing up.

Sometimes needs must.  I will not be doing it again in a hurry though.  I have zero appetite tonight, I couldn’t eat supper if you paid me.  A sure sign of stress for me.  Tomorrow normal slow service will resume

the door that wouldn’t close

There has been so much to gather and harvest and bring in to the house that I have neglected taking stuff out of it.

Every single guide to decluttering will tell you that it is vital that you get the stuff out of the house AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  Otherwise there is a risk that people will start to wander up to the pile and retrieve first one item, and then another.  Then, what was once a towering tribute to thrift and minimalism becomes a molehill.  While that is a very real concern, it is not one I have to worry about.  On the other hand I have a big problem with out of sight out of mind.

The flood that prompted this journey began in the Gin Gan (go on google it – you need to learn at least one useless fact a day).  This is right at the end of the house just off The Barn.  Consequently this is where all the stuff that needs to go has been put.  So far so good.  I have  done four trips to various charities with items to go.  This has made only a small dent in the pile.  Then we went away on holiday, and on our return I have been harvesting and gathering.

The result?  I have shut the Gin Gan door.  The Gin Gan is a big room (if you have googled it you will know why).  It is full.  I can look at my increasingly minimalist and ordered house and forget the chaos behind the Gin Gan door.

Until yesterday.  Singer Two brought down five bin bags of clothes and toys to go to charity.  I couldn’t be bothered to clamber round the boxes by the door so I lobbed them over the top.  One got stuck and now the door won’t shut.  Well it would if I went inside the Gin Gan and got on with packing up and dispatching all our unwanted stuff.

Making jellies, and lotions is great fun and I love that we are filling our larder and medicine cabinet with wild food.  But there comes a time when the fun has to stop and some work needs to be done.

UGH!  I am not looking forward to it.  But I have a great playlist on my phone, endless cups of tea and industrial quantities of boxes and bags.  Packing up time.

all hands on deck

It is that time of year when it’s all hands on deck to pick, pickle, jelly, jam, syrup, or preserve in some other way.

There is so much free food out in the hedgerows and indeed your garden, and I don’t mean the vegetable patch.  In the past I have been overwhelmed, unable to do everything and then become exhausted and slightly resentful that I missed out on something.

There is nothing different this year.  In fact I should be more busy as I am taking my turn to chair The Durham Shopping Extravaganza, I am President of our village WI and this is the first full year that Liz and I have been running Messy Church.  But I’m much more in control.  I think I may have Mother Nature on my side.  The late spring and summer has meant that the harvests are just a little bit later and sit nicely in the school holidays.  Furthermore as I am not going back to work in September I don’t have to panic to get everything in before term starts.

Today I picked the rosehips.  Our front garden (actually probably the side garden, but it’s a bit hard to explain) is surrounded by rugosa and dog roses.  And the rosehips are looking splendid.  I stuck to the rugosa today



and boiled them up for rosehip jelly.





As they are notoriously low in pectin I boiled up some bramleys which have conveniently ripened at the same time.



Now they just have to drip away overnight and jelly making tomorrow.

We never really use the rosehip syrup all that much so I may pass on that this year, although I will dry some and whizz them up to make rosehip tea.

Back to my old favourite lavender.  I was going to make plum cobbler last night (not my plums, they are still green, but British ones nonetheless) but nobody was in the mood for something quite so heavy.  Poached plums were requested for tonight and we thought we would experiment with serving them with lavender syrup.

They dehydrator is working overtime (currently filled with past their sell by date raspberries) but I managed to squeeze in a tray of lavender and as I type it is seeping away in sugar syrup.



I’ll let you know whether poached pears and lavender are divine or disgusting.



On the no plastic front, my stainless steel atomisers arrived today.  I couldn’t find any without a plastic atomiser head.  Do they exist?  The next job will be to make up the cleaning fluids and fill them up 🙂