2020 A Year in Review

2020 may have been the oddest year of most of our lives but it’s done now, and we have to have hope that 2021 will be better. I have, for the most part, managed to stay mentally sound throughout most of the year, which I know isn’t the same for everyone. I thank my lucky stars that this happened now and not a couple of decades ago when we would have been far more isolated that we have been thanks to Zoom, FaceTime and Teams.

I also massively appreciate the fact that we have outside space which, although at the moment isn’t at all enticing due to the inclement weather, got us through the warmer months of the year with relative ease, especially so when we were allowed to have people in our garden.

Here are some of my favourite garden photos of last year.

The garden was reasonably productive in terms of fruit and veg in 2020 …

… and we had quite a few visitors of the fauna variety!

Inside the house, we made a few home improvements. The first was pre-lockdown when, with the help of my Dad, we transformed our bathroom from dingy to sparkly clean safari wonderland.

During lockdown when I was furloughed and hubby’s workplace was demonstrating exactly how a zero hours contract benefits the employer (they still are!) we tackled first our spare bedroom/my home office making it a homage to all things Harry Potter …

… then when I was unfurloughed but hubby was still unbusy with zero hours, he decided to tackle the woodchip in our living room and we completely redecorated including wallpapering, laying laminate flooring, opening out the fireplace and hanging the TV on the wall.

Outside we built a catio on the side of the kitchen so our furry girls can get some air safely.

Away from home, amazingly we did manage to squeeze in three holidays. The first was, to paraphrase Craig Revel-Horwood A-May-zing!! A week long cruise round the Caribbean preceded by a two night stop in Orlando and a trip to Universal to go on the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures coaster. This was pre-COVID, in fact I remember the first I heard about it was by scanning the Sky news app whilst I was sunbathing on deck, and I assumed it would be like the previous SARS disease. I never even entertained the thought that it could turn into what it has! Blissful ignorance, eh?

In between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0 we managed a short break to Norfolk which was a game of two halves – lovely to get away and see the sea, but I got bitten by a dog, we had to come home early because hubby had a job interview (which he didn’t get!) and I got a flat tyre!

In September we went to Edinburgh for my birthday. This had been booked pre-pandemic and we didn’t know until the last minute whether we’d be able to go, but I’m so glad we could because we had a fantastic time. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

We had a few great days out – we walked alpacas, visited confetti fields, played with meerkats, met gorillas at Twycross Zoo and we walked and cycled many times in Sutton Park and Kingsbury Water Park …

… and we also had a couple of great days in making up for things that we should have been doing. We had a non-Jamaica party for two on the day we were supposed to be flying out and we had a tennis afternoon tea on the day Dad and I were supposed to be going to watch the ATP tour finals in London.

I also did a lot of crafts – mainly crochet, but also knitting, baking, jigsaws (do they count as crafts?) model making, felting and, obviously, mask making!

So, all in all, although it certainly didn’t feel like it at times, 2020 was actually a pretty full year and I achieved quite a lot. Amongst all this, I was also working full time (apart from being furloughed for nine weeks in the summer) in a job that I only started six weeks before we were plunged into lockdown and home working, and I feel that I managed very well to learn the new job (although this is an on-going process) under challenging circumstances. It turns out that home working, while it doesn’t suit everyone or every job, works pretty well for me, and for my team. As I mentioned before, thank goodness for technology!

Now it’s time to look forward to 2021 and I’ll finish with a quote that I recently read in a fiction book, the sixth in the Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley but that is based in fact (the first book I didn’t enjoy as much, but I’m so glad I persevered because they got better and better and one thing to look forward to in 2021 is the release of the final in the series).Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards – Soren Kierkegaard.

Non-Jamaica Party

Anyone who read my Six on Saturday post yesterday will know that we were due to fly out to Jamaica yesterday. Plans got thwarted by Corona Virus and the holiday was cancelled, the same as thousands of other people during this time.

We should’ve been waking up this morning in paradise, but hey, we’ve woken up at home, safe and well and with our fur babies, and the sun’s shining so things could be a lot worse. Perspective is a great thing.

Still, I would love to see this place another time …

… and wake up in one of these cute beach bungalows.

We decided to embrace our non-Jamaica holiday with a Jamaican themed party for two at home. One of the major pros of lockdown, and in particular, being furloughed, is time. I find myself with lots of time to do things that I wouldn’t otherwise manage to fit in. In many ways, this is a good trial run for retirement! I spent some of my extra time over the past week planning and preparing our Jamaican party. I made and coloured in Jamaican flags, I researched Jamaican food and added it to our online shop, I made a Jamaican playlist on Spotify and I ordered Jamaican themed props!

Here we are channeling our inner Usain Bolts in the garden, modelling our Jamaican flag and Rasta hat complete with dreadlocks. No idea if the neighbours saw us, but I bet they were a bit confused if they did!

After this I set about preparing our exotic fruit platter for lunch. I had no idea that you heat up a coconut before preparing it (thank you Google!) It makes the shell come away from the flesh so you can separate them easily. This was followed by a protracted sit in the bistro (which, coincidentally I’m pointing to in my Usain photo) whilst listening to the aforementioned playlist in the sun.

When lunchtime came around I prepared beer can (bacon) sandwiches for lunch and we enjoyed them with Old Jamaica drinks and the fruit platter.

I know Nando’s Peri Peri sauce isn’t Jamaican (Portuguese I think) but I’m sure Peri Peri is popular in Jamaica and this is the only one I could get! I had the grape soda and it really got me in the holiday mood because the only time I’ve had grade soda before is in Orlando which, whilst not exactly on Jamaica’s doorstep, is a lot closer than we are here! Everytime I have it I can’t decide if I actually like it or not! It’s a very unusual taste which doesn’t resemble grapes in the slightest!

I really didn’t know if the Jamaican fruit flag would work, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

After lunch we whiled away the hours sitting in the sun, listening to Bob Marley and reading or playing swingball (another perk of lockdown – who knew how much fun swingball is?)

The menu for dinner was Jamaican jerk chicken with rice and peas and coleslaw followed by banana and rum cake. I found the recipe for the jerk chicken on the BBC Good Food website, but I have to admit that the rice and peas was from a packet. We didn’t have quite all the ingredients for the jerk chicken marinade but I cobbled it together. I blended a couple of spring onions, a small onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a splash of olive oil, a pinch of dried thyme, a splash of soy sauce, some lazy ginger, a couple of chillis, a sprinkle of brown sugar and a tiny pinch of Chinese five spice (it was supposed to be all spice but we didn’t have any) and then put a few slits in some chicken breasts and slathered them in the paste. It was supposed to have lime juice in too but we didn’t have any limes. Could’ve tried lemon juice I suppose. I left it in the fridge for twenty four hours to do its magic and then just bunged it in the oven for forty minutes yesterday. Et voila …

I made the banana and rum cake on Friday after I managed to finally get self raising flour – whoop! This was also a BBC Good Food recipe and it turned out pretty well. It didn’t taste loads of rum but there was a definite hint of the Caribbean about it.

Here it is just out of the oven …

… and nicely presented. I just shaved a few bits of coconut over the top, added the chopped banana and whipped up some sweet cream cheese ‘cream’ to go with it. Delicious!

You may have noticed the cocktails behind the jerk chicken. Well, you can’t really have a Jamaican party (even a non-Jamaican party) without rum! I had lots of fun pimping up our cocktail glasses (jam jars because we were jammin’!!!) with fruit, umbrellas, stirrers and little flags that I made.

Here’s the ensemble.

So there we have it. Our non-Jamaican party! It was lots of fun and now I’m going to attempt to spend the next week not thinking about what we would be doing in an alternate universe where we had got on that plane yesterday! I’m especially not going to think about that from Wednesday on when the weather’s going to take a turn for the worst. For now, I shall bid thee farewell and traverse to the garden for some sun while I can, and I may even take a cheeky slice of banana and rum cake with me. Happy Sunday all!

Lockdown Expansion

AKA baking frenzy! They were discussing one day on Loose Women (which I’m now watching daily as I’m furloughed!) the trend for women reverting to 1950s house wives during lockdown. Now, I’m certainly not doing that in all its glory – I haven’t touched the hoover any more than normal (never!) and as for ironing, well, I’m pretty sure we own one, but whether it works or not – who knows! However, I have felt an almost uncontrollable urge to bake!

This is not good for several reasons, most importantly, my waistline, but also because the rest of the world also seems to have decided to bake, so getting hold of self raising flour and caster sugar is not an easy feat! I managed to get caster sugar in our local shop but I still haven’t managed to get self raising flour.

This was my first cake of the lockdown which I made for our wedding anniversary on 16th April.

This is the king of cakes in my humble opinion. You can’t beat a simple Victoria sponge, filled with butter icing and strawberry jam and finished with a dusting of icing sugar and edible glitter. It didn’t last long!

The Victoria sponge used up all the self raising flour that I had in the house pre-lockdown so I had to be creative and make something flourless next, so I tried flapjacks. This was my first attempt at flapjacks and they tasted really good, but I think they had too much golden syrup in them so it was pretty much impossible to cut them into individual pieces. Better luck next time.

Next I realised I had plain flour in the cupboard so I searched for recipes using plain flour and stumbled upon a recipe for vintage chocolate chip cookies on the BBC Good Food website. I didn’t measure the salt and I think I probably put more in than I should have but they tasted amazing, so mental note – always put salt in cookie mix!

Ah, the classic Rice Krispie cake but made with Coco Pops instead. I still had no flour at this point, having used all the plain flour in the cookies. I did manageto get a click and collect slot from Asda, they didn’t have any flour of any kind! They did provide me with Coco Pops and marshmallows so these were the next to be made. I don’t know if these count as baking since the only cooking involves melting the butter and marshmallow. I’ve reminded myself that there are several of these left so that’s dessert sorted for later then!

I completely forgot to take a photo of this before I’d cut it! This was a lime drizzle cake made using my Aunt’s recipe and plain flour (with baking powder) that my brother-in-law managed to find for me. It should have been lemon drizzle, but I didn’t have lemons and did have a surplus of limes due to Asda giving me a pack of four in my click and collect instead of just the one I asked for. I think one of the good things to come out of the awful circumstances in which we find ourselves, is that I’m much more conscious of not wasting food. The shock of certain items not being readily available at the beginning of lockdown certainly had an impact on me, hence I didn’t want to waste the limes.

I spread the joy with this cake and dropped off slices to my best friend for her birthday and to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law (only fair as they provided the flour). Fear not, social distancing was maintained at all times (in fact I didn’t actually see any of them) and I was legitimately out and about because I was dropping off food to my Dad (who also had a slice of cake).

Oooh, this one was gooooood (even if I do say so myself!) Basically a chocolate Victoria sponge filled and topped with chocolate butter icing. The raspberries needed eating so this saved wasting them, and the giant buttons, well, that’s just good sense!

Just looking at this one is making me want to make another, but I really mustn’t, for the sake of my circumference! Honestly I’ll be able to roll down the motorway when we can finally go back to work!

This doesn’t look very pretty, does it? Again this one was to use up food that was on its way out – in this case, very ripe bananas. It was another BBC Good Food recipe, this time for chocolate and banana cake. It was supposed to use self raising flour, which, as you know, I don’t have, so I substituted plain flour and baking powder, but it doesn’t seem to have worked and it collapsed in the middle! It tastes good though so I’m counting it as a success. It’s turned out as more of a pudding than a cake, if that makes sense.

The chocolate and banana cake called for two whole eggs and two egg whites, which meant I was left with two egg yolks, so, not wanting to waste them, I searched what I could do with egg yolks and lemon curd popped up. Coincidentally I love lemon curd and I ran out a couple of weeks ago and hadn’t replaced it, so I made some. It’s currently cooling in the fridge so I can’t tell you if it’s successful or not, but I really hope so because I used the last of our butter to make it which means we have no butter for our breakfast so we’ll have to have toast and lemon curd sans butter!

I was initially going to write a post about my lockdown achievements, after we were released from lockdown, but as it’s going on rather longer than I think any of us thought, I’m racking up the accomplishments so I decided to break them down into categories and go for it! So, I hope you’ve enjoyed perusing my kitchen creations and I hope that having written about them will stop me making any more and save the groans on my bathroom scales!