Brace yourself

We have lived in our house for nearly 20 years now and, in line with our general ethos of trying to reduce our impact on the environment, we have done our best to make things last. Eventually, however, there comes a time when the fixtures and fittings need replacing, We’ve been aware that our kitchen cabinets have been getting more and more tatty in recent years.

We started talking, a couple of years ago, about having them replaced. I got Tim (the wonderful cabinet maker who built our pine cupboards) to look at them with a view to him constructing a whole new kitchen for us. However, he was of the opinion that this was unnecessary – the carcasses of the units were very robust and he suggested that just replacing the doors would be the way forward. I searched and searched for ‘off the shelf’ doors that would match the ones Tim had made before, but had no joy, so I gave the job to him.

He constructed traditional ledge-and-brace doors from pine. and even managed to reuse most of the original hinges. In addition, he was able to clad the ends of the cupboards to make them look even smarter. He also put new fronts on the drawers.

Finally, he was able to modify one of the cupboards so that it has a back door. This may sound odd, but supporting our breakfast bar is a big corner cupboard… you know the sort – so big that things get pushed to the back, never to see the light of day again. Usually, of couse, these are in the corner of a room, but not so ours – it just had a wooden back on it. I asked Tim if he could remove the back and fit doors so that I could access it from either direction and, being the skilled carpenter that he is, he had no problem building a frame, modifying the shelf and fitting additional doors.

You can even see a door of the original cupboard Tim build for us a couple of years ago in the background of the last picture!

So, our kitchen has been rejuvenated. In the end, all the wood, two hinges and the screws were new and three of the existing hinges also had to be replaced. The wood was sourced from a local sawmill and the work was done by a local craftsman – now, that’s my sort of revamp. I feel that we’ve managed to make an enormous improvement whist making use of as many of the existing materials as possible. At some point I’ll have the work surfaces replaced, but they are ok for now and I’m still pondering suitable materials.

I am a very happy snail.

Stirring things up

At the age of eighteen I went off to university with a trunk full of stuff – but not necessarily the stuff I needed. Indeed, I quickly discovered that I was going to have to do a bit of my own cooking (no food was provided in halls of residence on a Saturday night… goodness only knows why). And so, I made my way to Woolworths and purchased some essentials – a plate, a bowl, some cutlery, a small saucepan and a wooden spoon. Over the years the crockery got broken, the handle fell off the saucepan (although only about four years ago) and the cutlery disappeared into anonymity amongst all the knives, forks and spoons in the kitchen. But the wooden spoon survived.

For 33 years I have used that wooden spoon regularly – it has stirred sauces, beaten butter and sugar to make cakes, pressed fruit through sieves, agitated baked beans as they heat (often in that original little pan) and been played like a tiny fake guitar by Mr Snail. Its colour changed over the years and recently flaws had stated to show. I’ve certainly had my money’s worth out of it and its environmental footprint has been tiny. So, I was sad but unsurprised when It finally split into two as I was washing it the other day.


oh dear


So farewell old faithful spoon… when I bought you I could never have envisaged you (or me) getting so old. Your final contribution to our household will be that your cremation will provide energy to heat the water for a cup of tea.

And hello brand new spoon – not wooden this time, but bamboo. I wonder how long you will last.


do you think it will outlast me?

Cupboard love

Just a very quick post to share my delight at this:

IMGP3761It isn’t finished yet – there will be bookshelves at the far end and an edging where it meets the wall, but this afternoon I will be able to start filling it with preserved food and preserving equipment.

It has been great to support a local craftsman who is just getting his business started. He sourced the wood from a sawmill nearby, so that was another local business supported. This is how we build strong and sustainable communities… not to mention strong and sustainable cupboards!

Three Things Thursday: 27 July 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, the house is full of wood. Tim has arrived to start installing the cupboards; there is the sound of sawing and drilling in the kitchen and soon there will be loads of space for all my preserved food.

It’s a good job we have a long hallway.

Second, successful cheese. Yesterday we sampled a cheese made in January and I am very pleased with the result. This is a Tomme-style cheese and quite straightforward to make (for a hard cheese). It is not pressed and has developed a good texture and flavour – I will be making lots more of this.

Say ‘cheese’

Third, cooking from the garden. I shared pictures of our crops the other day and some of them have already been consumed. I am always happy to cook things that I have grown myself.

Here’s some I grew earlier

So, those are three things making me smile this week. What is making you happy?


Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

All hooked up

You may be surprised that this is not a post about crochet, but about buying local (again).

Each hook is unique and handmade

Each hook is unique and handmade

For ages I have wanted some hooks on the door between the kitchen and the utility room, but was really reluctant to buy ones that had been mass produced. About two years ago I saw some wooden ones, fashioned from the joint between the stem and branch of  a tree.  I didn’t buy them, thinking I would encounter the design again, but despite hunting local shops and craft stalls, I never saw such a thing, until a visit to the People’s Market in Lampeter over the summer. And there, next to the cheese stall, was a woodworker called Mick*, with exactly what I wanted. He was even making one as we watched. I love the simplicity of the design and, as you can see from the photograph they are just beautiful.

Mystic treasures

Mystic treasures

As I was discussing this post with Mr Snail-of-happiness, he pointed out that these are not the only handmade hooks we have – there is another, awaiting deployment. This one was made by the blacksmith at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. When we visited a few years ago, we spent ages watching the smith and chatting to him. I think he was delighted that we were so interested and so he made us a hook there and then, which we have treasured ever since and I really must clean up and make use of. As you can see from the picture, he also made us a nail and a little burnished leaf, which I wear as a pendant.

I do love to own simple, handmade items…. especially when I have met the creator of them.


* He wasn’t there when I went last Saturday, so I couldn’t find out his full name – if anyone does know, I’d love to give him credit.

Plugging the leaks

I haven’t written about it for ages, but one of the ways that we try to be a little bit more sustainable is by boiling the majority of our water in a Kelly Kettle. In case you don’t know what one is, I’ll let the manufacturers explain:

the Kelly Kettle is essentially a double-walled chimney with the water contained within the chimney wall.  Once the camp kettle is filled with water, simply start a very small fire in the base, set the kettle on the base and drop additional fuel down the chimney (natural environmentally friendly fuels such as twigs, leaves, grass, paper, dry-animal dung, etc.!).  The large internal surface area of the chimney heats the water extremely fast so, very little fuel is required.  The fire is all safely contained within the fire-base and the chimney of the kettle itself so, a) strong wind and rain does not interfere with the fire and b) the kettle is safe to use in many areas where open fires are not suitable

A roaring success for boiling water!

A roaring success for boiling water!

They are really designed for camping and outdoor pursuits, but we use ours at home every day… usually on the back doorstep. We sometimes light it in the greenhouse if it’s raining or very windy, but that’s for our comfort, the Kelly Kettle will work outdoors in really unpleasant conditions. We fuel it with waste paper, trimmings from around the garden (especially the willow hedge) and sticks that we collect whilst walking the dogs. We boil it a couple of times each day and store any excess hot water in two very good Thermos flasks for later use.

We have been doing this for four years now… I’m not sure how much electricity and money it has saved us, but if we assume that it gets boiled 600 times a year and that it saves us £0.05 each time, it has more than paid for itself and we’re well into profit.

I suppose that most Kelly Kettles only get used occasionally, so ours has had quite a hard life. Even so, we were very distressed a week or two ago to notice that it was leaking from one of its rivets. I’ve mentioned before how much I hate replacing things and much prefer to repair them (see this post if you want an example) so we started discussing what we could do. Our Kelly Kettle is stainless steel (we have very soft water here in west Wales, so aluminium was out of the question for everyday use) and neither of us had any idea about how this is best repaired. An internet search was in order… resulting in a link to the manufacturer’s own web site, telling us exactly what to do . Now there’s a company that I have respect for: a company who don’t want you to throw their product away and buy a new one, but who want to tell you how to make it last as long as possible.

All mended!

All mended!

As a result we have a fully functional Kelly Kettle once more – repaired with food-grade silicone sealant – and a very warm feeling about The Kelly Kettle Company of Newtown Cloghans, Knockmore, Ballina, County Mayo Ireland.

Do you know of other companies who behave like this? Because if you do, they too deserve some credit.

Winter fuel payments

In the UK, people who were born before 1951 are eligible for a ‘Winter fuel payment’. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, this is

an annual tax-free payment made to eligible people to help towards their winter heating costs

A toasty jacket

A toasty jacket

It ranges from £100 to £300 depending on age and circumstances, but generally it’s used for people who need extra heat in the winter to pay their bills. However, the other day I came across someone who had taken a slightly different view of the payment. Rather than paying for fuel (gas, electricity, wood or whatever), she and her partner had ‘invested’ their payment by each buying a puffer jacket. They had chosen to buy them from Patagonia, and selected designs made mainly from recycled polyester. She described how, when doing active jobs around the house, they don’t have the heating on, but wear their new jackets, thus keeping toasty and warm time and time again. What a great idea – genuine renewable heat that will last them for years to come!

There are, of course, a number of ways to keep warm if we can be active and have enough to eat, as Henry Ford said

Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice

which is great if you burn wood for heat, but not such useful advice if you have gas central heating! If you are mobile, however, moving about is a really great way to warm up. Often if we’re finding it a little cold in the house, a brisk walk with the dogs helps to get the blood pumping and when we return home, the house always feels warmer, even if it’s the same temperature as when we left. It doesn’t last if you become sedentary once more, but it’s a great feeling whilst it does.

Multiple functions: cleaning and heat generation, with added insulation

Multiple functions: cleaning and heat generation, with added insulation

It’s certainly not an option for everyone – my dad, for example, being confined to a wheelchair, really has to be kept warm by external heat, even if he is dressed warmly – but for many of us, exercise is a good option… with health as well as heat benefits. So, next time you’re feeling chilly, why not don a nice warm coat and do something to get the blood pumping? In fact after 1o minutes of chopping wood, doing the vacuuming, digging the garden or playing with the kids, you may find you don’t even need that extra layer!


In my last post, I mentioned that I am trying to cut down on my use of commercially produced compost. I’d like not to have to use any at all, but that is currently not practical. As a child, I can remember my father buying big bales of peat to use in the garden. These days we know how much damage peat extraction is doing to the environment – not only does it led to the destruction of rare habitats, it also causes erosion and leads to the release of enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Most of the peat we use in the UK comes from Ireland, the Baltic states and Finland; so, whilst we are protecting habitats here at home, gardeners are contributing to the destruction of peat bogs across other parts of the world (amateur gardeners are responsible for 60% of the peat used in the UK) . My dad also used John Innes compost, which is soil based. However, beware of reckless purchase of such composts – I bought a couple of bags a few years ago and got them home to discover that they also contained peat – I was mortified.

There was a bit of a media hew-ha last year when Alan Titchmarsh (well known TV gardener in the UK) said that he would not give up using peat because there was no alternative when growing some plants. I, and many other gardeners (both celebrity and amateur) beg to differ – I have not used peat products for many years and this has not stopped me growing whatever I fancied… although, I have to admit to never having tried to cultivate a bog garden of my own!

I have used a variety of commercially produced composts over the years – some I liked better than others, but none have been a failure in all respects. I’ve used one based on the waste produced from brewing Guinness (can’t remember what that was called – it was a long time ago), one from cow muck (a bit sticky), some from peat particles collected from water treatment plants (Moorland Gold) plus a variety of coir-based composts. I like coir in many ways (my favourite is Fertile Fibre) but my issue with it is ‘compost miles’; I really don’t like the idea of my compost (despite originating from a waste product) having had to be shipped so far round the world (from Sri Lanka in the case of Fertile Fibre). I do occasionally buy coir still, but in order to minimise emissions and transport I buy the compressed bales… that way all that is being moved around is the coir itself – the air, moisture and nutrients I add when it arrives in my garden, the latter in the form of ‘worm wee’ from my wormery and the water from my water-butts.

But I am lazy, and I do like to have a bag of ready-to-use potting compost; I want something that isn’t peat based, is made in the UK and is produced from waste or renewable resources. And so, these days, I buy wool compost, which seems to have a good texture and an excellent capacity to retain water. It’s made – as the name says – from wool, but also contains bracken (plenty of that here in the UK) It seems to be the best option for me, but I encourage you to research what is available in your area and make the most of local products that avoid the use of peat.

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