Hello, 2021, do come in and take a seat

The de-la-Haye Girls look ahead to 2021…

How many words have been written about 2020 and the disastrous year it turned out to be for many thousands of people. For us, 2020 brought huge disappointment, a near-permanent feeling of being unsettled and ennui: life feels very different when there’s little to look forward to. But flip that coin, and 2020 also brought us more time with family, new ways of pursuing our careers, a chance to enjoy the quotidian pleasures of an alfresco lunch in the sunny back garden, local walks, chaotic family video calls and good books. It’s highly likely that at least the first half of 2021 is going to be much the same, and here are some of the things we are looking forward to this year.

E ~ I’ve long enjoyed a good walk and home-based working in 2020 gave me lots of opportunities to explore the neighbourhood we’ve lived in for the past 23 years. Sure, we’ve walked here before but have never explored the way we did last year. I want to continue this in 2021. One of my favourite Christmas presents is a framed, 1-metre square, bespoke Ordinance Survey map, with our cottage slap-bang in the middle. In the week since Christmas, I’ve already spent several hours perusing the map and plotting future walks. I’ve also recommitted to Country Walking magazine’s 1,000-miles in 2021 walking challenge and any number of Strava walking challenges. And I’m just under halfway through a virtual Lands End to John O’Groats challenge I joined with some friends last summer. I will complete that challenge at the beginning of July. I am as far from an exercise enthusiast as it is possible to imagine but I adore walking: the perspectives – literal and metaphorical – it gives me; the space to think; the chance to chat about the unfolding day with Steve (who accompanies me almost every day); watching the hedgerows change with the seasons; snapping away on my phone camera as something catches my eye.

We are a friendly lot around here and a cheery “good morning” as we pass, at a two-metre distance, other walkers always raises a smile. I’ve found it heartening to be wished a “happy new year” by several fellow walkers over the last couple of days. Naughty dogs, and their owners, also make me smile and two in particular stick in my mind. “Annabel! Annabel!” being called, over and over again, by a male voice deep in the woods near the station. Steve and I looked at each other and wondered if the male was shouting for his wife or perhaps a child. A few moments later a little Jack Russell came barrelling out of the trees pursued by her owner, an older and rather unfit looking chap, who was still shouting “Annabel!”, but in vain. Annabel was having none of it and was off down the lane at quite a lick for one with such short legs. We saw Annabel and her owner a few weeks later, at the same spot, and he was still calling to her, and she was still running away. I hope I see them again in 2021. And just this week we met another terrier who was utterly ignoring his owner’s calls to “come here! Come here at once!” and was much more interested in us as we walked along. I couldn’t quite hear what the owner was calling the dog as first, I thought he was saying “Keiran” but as he came closer to retrieve his dog it became clear: “Tyrion! Tyrion, come here now! Tyrion!”. Ahh, good old Game of Thrones. Terrier Tyrion’s disdain for his owner’s commands was magnificent and the owner looked suitably mortified. I hope I get to meet Tyrion again too.

The joys of walking the byways of my ends

I’ve enrolled for some new online photography modules and am looking forward to completing these and practising what I learn. I have several DSLR cameras but over the past couple of years have been focusing more on my iPhone photography. My “proper” cameras are brilliant, but they can be a bit cumbersome to carry around and some of the lenses are heavy and really need to be used with a tripod for best results. Carrying all the kit can be off-putting. The liberating joy my iPhone gives of a pretty reasonable camera in my pocket never tires and I will continue to play with this in 2021. On 18 March 2020, when the realisation of the extent of the upheaval Covid 19 was going to mean fully dawned on me, I started to post one positive image a day to my Facebook feed. I called it my daily uplifting pic. I’ve enjoyed spending a few moments each day capturing, selecting, editing and posting a photo and will continue with this until 17 March 2021. And I’ll continue to enjoy posting a wider range of photos to my personal Instagram feed too.

Like so many people, what I wore in 2020 changed drastically, as the formality of work attire was dropped in favour of more casual working-from-home gear. For my work I spend hours and hours most days on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Skype, Blue Jeans and any other video-conferencing platform you care to mention. Some takeaways from this video-conferencing experience for 2021: I’m going to invest in brighter tops as they look much better on camera, and ditch the “neutral lip” that’s been something of a hallmark for me for years. Covid 19 demands a bright lip and I’m going to oblige much more often in 2021.

Zoom loves a bright lip, thank heavens E was prepared!

And what about shoes? No one can see my feet when I’m on Zoom, at least not the way I do it! I have several pairs of “work shoes” – cute-yet-stylish courts and pumps – purchased this time last year for my client-side days. They remain unworn. They are literally still in the box. But with hours and hours of standing in the same spot in front of my web cam, I have found trainers to be a godsend for my lower back. So, as 2021 hurries in, I’m planning fewer court shoe purchases and am on the lookout for snazzy trainers. And, I’m thinking, cool, colourful trainers with a smartly tailored trouser when I return to face-to-face client work a bit later in 2021. Well, why the heck not; if Trinny can do it, why not me?

Who would have thought this time last year that this would have been standard work attire?

Short-term, what I’m most looking forward to in 2021, is Veganuary. I’ve been a plant-based eater for years and love how Veganuary has taken off over the past five years or so. I have a few vegan acquaintances who are sniffy about Veganuary and mutter disapprovingly about “part-timers” under their breath. I don’t hold with any of that. As a long-time vegan, I love all the new products the supermarkets introduce each January and with a birthday in January too, it means I can indulge all month in lots of new (often sugary and convenience) foods. Vegan Ginster’s Cornish Pasty you say? I don’t mind if I do! And if M&S Food could introduce a vegan Colin the Caterpillar cake by mid-month it could be assured of pride of place on the table for my (no doubt Zoom-based) birthday tea-party.

L ~ For me, 2021 was supposed to full of travel. I was due to be heading abroad for work in early January and this has understandably all been put on the back burner for now. Having been struck down with Covid at the end of this year, I think my biggest take away from 2020 is that my health is my wealth and I plan to honour that as much as I can. Like my mother, I love a ramble. I’m really looking forward to becoming more familiar with our local area and have already discovered some wonderful hidden gems! The landscapes are wonderfully stark and moody in these wintery months, I can’t wait to watch them come to life during the spring.

Discovered en route

E and I share January birthdays – thankfully a week apart. This year is a big one for me as I lovingly wave goodbye to my twenties. I was due to be spending this milestone birthday in quarantine, but I’m delighted and a bit relieved that I won’t be on my own for this one. I’m hoping for: breakfast in bed, a socially distanced stroll outside with a Bailey’s-laced coffee, a takeaway and some sort of a Zoom quiz.

I did dress up for NYE in the lounge and will probably do the same for my birthday

The New Year always heralds an influx of excellent TV programming and new cinematic releases. I must confess, I have missed a visit to the pictures terribly this year. There’s something so exciting about settling into a dark theatre, rich with the scent of popcorn, ready to enjoy a film shown in the best possible way. Despite this, I have enjoyed watching cinema releases from home and undoubtedly there is a certain luxury in not having to change out of your pyjamas before you watch. I’ve been on a recent period drama binge, re-watching Greta Gerwig’s marvellous Little Women, The Queen’s Gambit‘s Anya Taylor-Joy led me to the 2020 remake of Emma and of course, like everyone else I devoured Bridgerton. I’ve been catching up on my Disney too, with Onward and the wonderful Soul being two of my favourites. The Great, following the life of Catherine the Great is on my TV hitlist, as is the The Serpent, a true crime drama coming to the BBC on New Year’s Day. A word of advice though, don’t bother with Black Narcissus, read the book instead.

Blankets and coffee – also something only an at home cinema will provide

This down time at home will also give me the chance to continue with our interior design projects. A welly rack and a laundry line are the latest improvements we need to tackle and we’re keen to add the pitter patter of tiny (kitten) feet to our home as soon as we can!

Of course, we’re hoping for a swift vaccine roll out, theatres to reopen and French cheese a plenty post Brexit, but our list here are the little things we’re hoping for. What are you looking forward to in 2021?

Just Another Glogg Post

The ultimate mulled wine recipe.

One recipe to rule them all. One recipe to find them. One recipe to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

Christmas in a cup!

Ok, so a Lord of the Rings marathon may not be part of your festive rituals but I bet that making mulled wine is. This recipe is totally foolproof and is worth making for the aroma alone. I often leave the batch simmering for longer than I should to let the Christmassy smell fully permeate every room.

Pairs beautifully with tacky decorations and cheesy tunes

To make 4+ mugs you’ll need:

  • 2 pots
  • A bottle of wine (or a selection of apple and pomegranate juice if you prefer no booze)
  • 500ml orange juice – no bits, the cheap and cheerful kind
  • Gin
  • Brown sugar
  • A tea bag
  • Lemons
  • Oranges
  • Mulling spice bag (or two)
  • Cinnamon sticks (optional)
Gather your ingredients

Fire up that hob to a gentle heat, chuck the entire bottle of wine into your favourite pot and get your playlist on the go. I thoroughly recommend The Beach Boys or The Carpenters Christmas Album – warning – may cause dodgy kitchen dancing.

In the other pot, add about a litre of water and encourage her to a rolling boil. Add your mulling spice bags; I think two bags is the Goldilocks amount, but alter as you see fit. You can pick these up in most supermarkets but I reckon a jar of handcrafted ones would make a thoughtful and cost effective present for someone special. Turn the heat down and leave those spices to steep and simmer.

Oh, the smell is heavenly

Eat a mince pie. Yes, this is part of the recipe. I’ll allow a hearty slice of Stollen or gingerbread instead. In the time it’s taken you to have a tasty treat, we should have a nice mulling liquor ready. To this, add your orange juice, 5 tbsp of brown sugar and a splash of gin. You can use any tipple you fancy: brandy, port and whisky work well too. Keep an eye on the vino in the other pan – don’t let her reach a boil.

Grab a lemon and rock and roll it over a hard surface before squeezing a little into the mulling liquor. Finally, add a regular English Breakfast teabag – this is the magic ingredient. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes – the future you will be so glad that you did.

Once 10 minutes is up, discard the teabag from the pot and pour your delicious, boozy, fruity potion into the warmed red wine. Slice up the remaining lemon and segment some orange, (or – hack alert – go with a couple of easy peelers). Gently stir these into the winey elixir. Finish with a couple of cinnamons sticks if you feel inclined.

Serve in mugs or heatproof glasses (the kind used for lattes – don’t serve in a regular wine glass. I made the mistake of doing that one year; it was painful). You can leave the mulled wine on the hob with lid on, ready to be heated for guests and feed her more wine throughout the evening if she looks a little low. The same is also true for me during the holidays.

A few of my favourite things

If Covid means you’re unable to visit or receive family and friends this Christmas and are feeling a bit glum about it, why not try this delicious concoction as an outdoor drink? Wrap-up warm, enjoy the crisp wintery air carrying your Thermos mug of mulled wine from which you regularly sip as you sit on your front stoop, or take a wander around your neighbour, decoration-spotting and wishing those you pass a Merry Christmas. You’ll be spreading good cheer and the unmistakable aroma of mulled wine. Go on, you know you want to. ~L.

Recycler Avec Ma Famille

Do your family recycle?

Does your family recycle? I don’t mean do you diligently separate your paper from your plastics from your metals, rinse them all and leave them kerbside in neat caddies every week, thought this is a VERY good thing to do. I mean, does your family recycle things between its members? Perhaps does your family cycle, as in rotate, things between its members is a more accurate question. This family does, in a big way, and I conclude that my little cottage, in the far South East corner of Surrey, acts as some form of homing beacon for all the family detritus in circulation. Eventually, it all ends up here. Usually, after a few months of contemplation, we upcycle, and find a new purpose for the item. Thank goodness the cottage has surprisingly generous attic space and a couple of sheds for storage. Permit me to share some examples.

Terracotta Tuscan Ovens

Terracotta Tuscan ovens. This particular sequence is one of our longest running. At 17 years old, I got engaged to my childhood sweetheart (no, of course it didn’t last, but we are still in touch and he is definitely one of this world’s good guys). We had a party to celebrate and though I don’t recall asking for presents, my very generous family and friends bought us various gifts for our “bottom drawer”. Nana Mary bought us a Tuscan oven which sat in its box for the next seven years as I finished Sixth Form, went off to uni, and came back, then headed to London and a succession of rented flats. I recall using it a few times to roast a chicken for Steve and Lily decades ago, but that’s about it. This Tuscan oven is still around, having an extended rest at the back of a kitchen cupboard. It might not have been in use very often, but on one of the occasions it was doing its thing it evidently caught my Mum’s eye because she hotfooted it to Lakeland Limited (probably still called Lakeland Plastics in those days) and bought herself her very own Tuscan oven. Earlier this week, Lily and I planned a pre-Lockdown 2 walk, exploring her new neighbourhood. Naturally, before our walk I had my second guided tour of her new house to see how she and Vince are settling in, during the course of which I had the opportunity to make many very helpful Mum-suggestions about what I would do if I was her (she loves that, as all daughter do). Opening one of the drawers in her kitchen to show me how Kondo-like she has been utilising her storage space, Lily spies the Lakeland Tuscan oven as asks if I want it because Nan gave it to her, she never uses it, and it’s just taking up space. I hesitate, I actually hesitate and for a moment thinking I’ll tell her to bin it, and then I just can’t. So I return home with a second (and never-used, by the way, not even once; it is in pristine condition) Tuscan oven. Thirty-six years, almost to the day, after acquiring the first one, I now have two Tuscan ovens. I’ve just done a quick calculation: between me, Mum and Lily, those two Tuscan ovens have done 15 house moves and have been used less then ten times. But fear not, I woke up with a start at 5:15 this morning with the genius idea of how to upcycle them: I will use the lids as seed trays and the deeper bases as planters next summer. Give me a bit of thinking time and I invariably come up with an upcycling idea.

Golden Creeping Jenny tumbling out of the recycled chiminea

Exhibit two is a cast iron chiminea purchased by Mum and Dad in, I would estimate, the mid 1990s. It stood proudly, and infrequently used, in the garden of my childhood family home. A year or so after Dad died, Mum understandably wanted to downsize and enjoyed a Goldilocks series of moves, first a couple of flats, which were too small, then a countryside bungalow, which was too big, before settling on her now-home, which is just right. During the “too small” stage, the chiminea headed my way, along the M4 and round the M25, in the back of someone’s car that was pulling a brilliant wheelie the whole way cos, let me tell you, that cast iron baby is heavy. In my garden for the past decade, the chiminea has been lit precisely twice. On the first occasion by Will (my son), on the afternoon he finished his GCSEs, when he used it to burn all his school notebooks (thank God he didn’t have to do any resits. The supreme confidence of youth, eh?) The second time was three years ago, on Bonfire Night, when we had visitors over for nibbles and sparklers and thought it would add to the ambience if we lit it. What a mistake. The thing belched like it was trying to turn us into Arbroath smokies. The garden stank of smoke for weeks. Never again. The chiminea has been upcycled to a distinctive planter for a golden Creeping Jenny, which tumbles from the main cavity like the contents of Ladybird’s/Vera Southgate’s Magic Porridge Pot. And Mum has since bought a new, just-right size chiminea for her garden; but it’s only for looking at, not for lighting.

Other notable examples include a dismantled pine-slatted wardrobe which seems to have journeyed from “our I”, my Mum’s cousin Irene, to our cottage, where, after 18-months seasoning in a shed, it has been upcycled to smart softwood edging for my new flower borders; Lily’s post-Japan bicycle, which lived for a while in the porch of her flat in Hither Green, and found its way to the cottage several summers ago, and has been literally cycled, very slowly, by me this summer, in an attempt to get healthier. My favourite item on rotation at the moment is a battered Fiat Punto. Bought by me and Steve eight years ago when we needed to replace our second “run around” car, Lily used it for work; Will learnt to drive in it and ownership transferred to him for a while; Vince (Lily’s boyfriend) then bought it off us to use for work; eventually Vince upgraded to a snazzier car and back it came to the cottage; then it went off to Bristol for Will to use while he’s studying there. No wonder the insurance company groans when I call to advise of a change of registered keeper and main driver. It’ll be back at the cottage when Will comes home for Christmas, and it’ll be lovely to see it, dents, scratches, “funny smells” and all.

We de-la-Haye Girls quite often end up sharing and swapping bags, shoes and clothes too!

You know what, I’m going to have to cook something in one of these Tuscan ovens before they are relegated, or maybe that should be promoted, to the greenhouse. Let the search for vegan recipes for Tuscan ovens begin.

Please do assure me that your family engages in similar rotation of chattels. ~ E