It’s A Filthy Job – But Someone’s Go To Do It…

It’s A Filthy Job – But Someone’s Go To Do It…

Ah, Christmas Eve. Snuggled up on the sofa, the woodburner roaring away, lights twinkling, candles flickering, the scent of mulled wine filling the room as we wrap gifts and eat chocolates and watch festive films. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s certainly what our plans were on the morning of the 24th, having done the last of the chores and put fresh new bedding on, with the washing machine humming away, in the background. Luckily, we needed something from the outside cellar – if we hadn’t, what next unfolded could have been so much worse, as it would probably have been well after Christmas when we next went into it. It was at this point, I heard the words I didn’t really want to hear on Christmas Eve – “I think we have a leak…

It did certainly appear that we did – the floor was wet. The first thought was that the new boiler might have sprung a leak – but all the piping was dry and there was nothing dripping. We had had very heavy rains and we wondered if perhaps the strong winds had blown the rain under the door – but it was dry around the door. We were perplexed as we just couldn’t see where the water was coming from. The floor of this cellar room is concrete and in the centre we have interlocking black gym mats – and suddenly we started to see water coming up through the joins. We pulled them back – and we don’t recall ever noticing this before – and saw that water was indeed coming up through the sides of a concrete cover. This was opened – and there was the problem. The washing machine was on its spin cycle and the water wasn’t draining effectively. The level did drop slightly, but not sufficiently and so we knew there was a blockage – and we realised that this drain led to the septic tank outside, and the thought of having an issue with that over Christmas meant we had to act. Fast.

We knew there was no chance of getting anyone out on Christmas Eve, but did work out that our refuse company also empty septic tanks, but they wouldn’t be able to come out until possibly after New Year, so there was only one thing for it. One of us had to roll up our sleeves and armed with a bucket and a big can, start emptying the chamber…

I shall spare you the details, but it soon became very, very apparent that it wasn’t just the washing machine water which was causing the problem. As the level of the water dropped, due to it being emptied manually, we could see that the pipe which fed into the main chamber, under the patio, was blocked, meaning that what was going into the small chamber in the cellar – everything from the dishwasher, shower, sink, washing machine, bath, toilets – wasn’t draining correctly and so was slowly starting to back up. Like I say, if we hadn’t ventured into the cellar on Christmas Eve, I dread to think what would have greeted us next time we went in! The decision was made to then investigate the main chamber under the patio.

When we bought the house, we asked the pertinent questions you would probably ask about a septic tank, never having had one before – and we were assured that we wouldn’t even need to think about it for about ten years. I, in particular, liked that answer, and so we haven’t really thought about it. A quick google search however – which in hindsight, I should have done when we moved in – indicated that domestic septic tanks should be emptied around every 3-4 years. We’ve lived here four years…

So, Christmas Eve afternoon, we’re in the garden. It’s icy cold, rainy, windy and the cover is off the septic tank. A quick peer inside told us that we needed to get the pipe unblocked pretty quickly – without plumbing rods, and nowhere to buy them from this close to Xmas, we had to use the first thing to hand. Let’s just say one of the garden umbrellas will need to be replaced come spring time 🤢 Luckily, one of us has a much stronger constitution than the other, and the gross task was tackled – and thankfully, we soon had water running much more freely. We knew that we hadn’t resolved it, but at least we’d bought ourselves a little bit of time over Xmas. Although, we definitely considered the implications of using any appliances etc and really tried to keep everything – and I do mean everything – to a minimum.

So, how do you sort a blocked septic tank in Istria?

Luckily, we’ve found out, so the new owners of our home can be rest assured that all is sorted, and we can advise what to do and who to go to. It is indeed our local refuse company – although it took a bit of persistence to get someone to assist, as emails and calls were going largely unanswered. Maybe because it was just after New Year, maybe not, because in our experience you have to be very teancious in your dealings with utilities companies who don’t seem to possess high levels of customer service skills. However, we did finally crack it. An invoice was emailed – as I didn’t know if our septic tank was considered large or small, I went for the large option, as I knew if I’d paid for a small tank to be emptied and we had a large one, the process would have to start all over again – and was paid immediately. Then, silence. Nothing. Nada. Not even an acknowledgment of payment. The phone number I had been given to find out a date for clearance, would ring once then I’d get the “User busy” message. This went on for a good few days and just as I was about to implode, I got a call. The lorry was on its way! As happens here – you rarely get a time, even an approximation. You just need to be prepared. And of course, at home.

I can honestly say, I’ve never been as relieved to see a big orange lorry. Within half an hour, we were all unblocked and it was nowhere as horrific as I had thought it might be. Nor was it anywhere near as expensive as I thought it would be. I suppose we still compare things with UK prices, and so we’d thought that for a job like this – where they do kind of have you over a barrel as it’s pretty unlikely you’d be able to do it yourself – we’d be paying at least €200. Not a bit of it! €40 – result! The guys who did the work were quick and efficient and spoke perfect English – always a bonus when you are trying to establish the workings of something quite technical, and they definitely deserved the couple of bottles of wine we gave them as a small thank you.

So, a Christmas Eve was not quite as we imagined and a festive couple of weeks followed, being very careful about what entered the septic tank, but all’s well that ends well. The tank is now cleared and although we won’t be giving the advice we were given about the tanks, we think the orange lorry may not be needed for a couple of years at least. And, whoever becomes the new owner, will at least have all of the necessary contact details to hand. They’ll just need to sit tight until the lorry arrives, and not leave the house…

 

 

 

New Year, New Project

New Year, New Project

Almost four years to the day, since we bought our first renovation project in Istria, we have the next one within our sights. I think we have always known that the stone house was never going to be the house. We have been so happy in it and we’ve worked so hard to transform it from a cold, dark shell into a vibrant, contemporary, warm and stylish home. But sometimes you can only take things so far and you know that it’s time to move on. And that has happened to us.

We’ve found a very, very different property to be our next project. It’s not a traditional stone house. In fact, it’s currently not even a house. It’s a single storey, old industrial unit, with a corrugated metal roof. It’s also, in terms of floor space, huge. Much, much bigger than anything we’ve ever lived in before.

Although we have very clear ideas about what we want to do with this property, we’re going to take professional advice. When we renovated our stone house, the structure was essentially in place, and without spending money we didn’t really have, what we did was essentially dictated by this structure. It’s different this time though, as once the initial work is done, what we’ll have will be four walls and a roof and a floor. How exciting is that?

If you want to follow the renovation journey, you can do so on our Twitter and Instagram accounts. We’d love to see you there.

And, if you fancy joining us in our Istrian adventure, you could become the new owners of our beautifully renovated stone house

 

Christmas 2020

Christmas 2020

Well, it’s definitely been a funny old year. Since returning from our Christmas road trip, back to the UK, in January, we have been nowhere. Coronavirus quickly put paid to our usual kind of year. No eating out. No mini breaks. No visitors to us, meaning that we’ve not seen family friends since last Christmas – thank goodness for Zoom! Travel restrictions and quarantines are still in place all across Europe and specifically in the countries we’d drive through (there and back) and add in full blown Brexit, and all that that will entail come 1st January, we’re not able to do our road trip this Xmas. However, plans are afoot with family to celebrate Xmas in the summer, and we suspect some festivities may occur with visiting friends, too. So, this all means we are spending our first Christmas, at home, in Istria.

This time of year has always involved much travel for us. Even when we lived in England, travel was still a massive part of the festive season, so it will be quite strange to be in one place. Although we might be able to do a bit of winter sightseeing in Istria, we think we’ll largely be at home, so we are going big on ensuring the house is as Christmas filled as possible. Usually, we don’t do much decorations-wise, as we’re not at home. We do usually have a tree – and when we were in Didsbury we used to have a real tree outside, meaning no needles dropping indoors – but that’s about it. Well, not this year. After a 2020 to forget, we’re going out with a sparkle or two ✨✨

The outside area has played a massive part in our lives this year and we’ve finally (we think) completed the front of the house. Now that it’s all tidy and very pretty (even in winter, for the first time), we wanted to create a bit of a festive feel outside. The kitchen window shutters are rarely closed so we’ve used the bar which keeps them open as a focal point. A long garland of faux ivy has been wrapped around it and around that, we’ve wrapped tiny LED lights. The cherry wood bench underneath still has the birdcages filled with beautifully coloured pumpkins, from back in October. We’ve only had one pumpkin casualty and that was one I sprayed gold which decayed under the film of spray and then collapsed in a pungent mess when picked up… The others – delicious hues of oranges and greens and light blues – are still going strong and look very pretty with lights twisted through the birdcages. The glass-effect summer bauble lights have been brought down from the trees and these also wind their way around the bench.

We’ve once again opted for a real tree outside. This potted Norwegian Spruce will be cared for until we finally move and can plant her up. She does look very lovely on the patio when lit up 🙂

Over the summer. I had a circular willow wreath which was wrapped with lights and hung inside the shed, so that it gave off a soft light in the evening. This wreath has been wintered-up. Again, garlands of faux ivy have been wrapped around it and orange berries inserted into the willow. Hey presto – a Christmas wreath for the front door.

I don’t think we’ve ever had a Christmas wreath before, but this year we’ve actually got two – although the second one came about by mistake. High winds had seen to the solar lanterns in the trees and all that was left of three of them was one of the hoops that formed one of the bases. This was about to be thrown away, along with all of the vines and berries which we’d cut back, when an idea formed…

Indoors is where we’ve taken December to a whole new level for us. Because we’ve never been here before over Xmas, it was decided that the house would this year, become a cosy retreat, full of twinkling lights and candlelight and woodburners burning brightly. The dark feature walls in the living room and the well room come into their own in the winter months and so we’ve been beavering away creating our own hygge haven. A fake white tree – another first! – is now sitting prettily in the well room, adorned with black baubles and a black sparkly star. Our big white stars (IKEA old-timers) hang at each of the windows and can be seen when driving down the hill from the village.

Croatia does seem to embrace Christmas as enthusiastically as back at home, and so we’ve had no problems sourcing decorations. Many do seem to be a lot less mass-produced (although supermarkets do the stock ’em up & pile ’em high with glitter baubles) and so we’ve found a lot of very unusual decorations. These wooden carved decorations are all from a store called TEDI – not sure if these are in the UK but is along the lines of The Range. Sadly, as we can’t travel to closer bigger cities such as Trieste or Ljubljana, we can’t get accessories from little independent shops, but hey-ho, we’ve tried our best with the restrictions we’re under.

By accident, I also bought some multi-coloured LED lights, on copper wire. I think the copper misled me, and I thought the tiny bulbs might be white, but no – they are every colour under the rainbow. And, with eight settings, I could have them flashing, flickering, racing. Many ways to bring on a hallucinatory state. Luckily, the last setting is static – and static it is…

In a nod to our new surroundings, we have introduced a bit of a deer theme…

Not sure if we have sparkly gold birds, with yellow feather tails around here, but just in case we do, and we’ve not seen them…

Even a ropey old wine rack which was about to be taken to the tip, got the gold spray pain and LED light treatment. A new life and something salvaged…

I think I’m quite liking getting into the decorative spirit, and even though I have *promised* I’ll buy no more, I can’t really say that I’ll keep this particular promise. It is Christmas 2020, after all! And, our homemade damson gin and blackberry gin is ready. So cheers, saluti and živjeli..

 

 

Creating a Car Park

Creating a Car Park

We’ve never had a garden big enough to accommodate our cars. In every house we’ve lived in, parking has always been outside, on the street. Apart from having to usually fight for parking space outside our house in West Didsbury, we’ve never really considered parking. Until now.

When we moved into the house, we had a big elderflower tree and a grassed area. The shovels and spades etc were being used to mark out what we thought might be a pool – that was knocked on the head pretty quickly! Cars used to be parked along the side of the house, but the grassed area there was starting to become worn, so we decided to use the grassed area below. The tree wasn’t very healthy so it was removed and we then had somewhere better to park the cars.

However, over the three and half years we have been here, this area has become more and more messy. Constant driving across it meant that the grass all but disappeared – although hardy weeds survived. With much building work going on in the house, lorries would often park up here, to drop off sand or stone or wood, and so the soil would be constantly getting churned up. And the soil we have here is thick, rich red soil, which, when it’s rained, is like clay. Looks lovely in the fields, not so much when dragged through the house on the soles of your shoes. So, a decision was recently made. The area was going to be sorted. With the house up for sale, it was another project on the list of jobs we wanted to do to ensure that our home was looking her very best.

Like all jobs we attempt ourselves, we grossly underestimated both how long it would take and how difficult it would be. But, you live and learn.

The first attempt involved the purchasing of a lot of flagstones – these were pretty inexpensive and we figured with a bit of leveling of the soil and plastic sheeting, we’d be good to go.

Of course, first rookie error – we didn’t think it through, because we wanted a hard surface down quickly, before the winter rain arrived – was that as soon the cars were driven onto the flags, some of then cracked immediately. We hadn’t really dug down and embedded them, so we had to have a rethink. Concrete was an option which we considered, but however we did it, it was agreed that the digging had to commence so that we could make the area as level as possible. And again, we didn’t think this through. With a wheelbarrow and a pick axe, we thought it would take a couple of hours or so – but how wrong we were…

We soon discovered where the outbuilding, which had been demolished before we bought the house, had gone. Buried. Under the soil. From slates to huge corner stones, the outbuilding was still there…

We quickly figured that we’d still be digging this time next year and that we needed a bit of advice. Working with our builder it was decided that a digger was needed and that the best solution, once the area was flattened, would be to backfill with a mix of stone and sand, compressed with a proper machine and then a top layer of Istrian stone chippings put down. This sounded like the perfect solution and all was arranged.

A full lorry load of rubble and soil was excavated and taken away, although we did retain some of the more beautiful stones as we had an idea for a wall…

Very early, on a very cold Saturday morning in later November, the first delivery arrived and not long after, with some good rake action, the area was covered, and the cars were driven back and forth to begin the process of compressing the material.

One of the things which has delighted us the most about doing this work, is that the excavation has now properly revealed the curved edges of the patio. Once this is repainted in the spring, it will definitely come into its own.

To finish this part of the job off properly, a machine was used to totally flatten the stones and when done, we had the hard area we’ve been wanting. And no more red soil.

The final piece of the jigsaw was the delivery of the top stones – beautiful milky white Istrian stone chippings.

And, within a couple of hours, it was done. What a transformation, for relatively little cost and done much more quickly than us attempting it with a pick axe and a shovel. The stones we’d saved were used to create a little wall at the front of our property, to finish things off. Heather plants and pink oleanders – which we hope will burst into colour, in the spring – create something more visual and definitely enhance the entrance to the garden now.

We are delighted with the finished result. No more trailing mud into the house and with a specific area for the cars, the garden just seems so much more complete. Depending on how long we are here for, the plan will be to maybe construct a pergola over this area, which will be planted up with climbers. But, that may be something for the new owners…

 
Our house for sale can be viewed here.
Window Shelving

Window Shelving

One of the things that we’ve always meant to tackle, but never got around to it, as there always seem to be other jobs which take priority, is the levelling of a number of our window sills. Some are level, but some, including one in the living room, are still in their Istrian stone state – therefore wonky. They are deep and recessed so perfect for a bit of accessorising, but anything that is placed on them, has a bit of a Leaning Tower of Pisa look about it.

So, after adding a window shelf to the kitchen window, it was decided that this could be a quick fix solution for the living room window. The intention is still to have the window surround and sill plastered, but it depends on how long we are here for. At the moment, we don’t really fancy doing messy work which will ultimately end up with us decorating, so the shelf it is. Another reason for this shelf, is to accommodate the broadband fixed line router. It can be temperamental and likes to be right in the line of vision of the pole in the garden from which the cable comes into the house – and we’ve found the higher up this router is, the less temperamental she is. But resting on the back of the sofa was never go to be a long term solution.

Where we live isn’t built up at all and without our garden lights, the house would look very dark at night time. The garden does look pretty magical when the green wall is up-lit – as you drive down the hill from the main village, it looks like a castle wall. Albeit a very small one. But it is eye-catching and we wanted the windows of the house to be a pretty. (“Top lights” are a thing in Croatia – a bit like Italy – and so we wanted to introduce a bit of lighting ambience…) Hence, another reason for the window shelves, to give us a bit of additional height and to create something a bit more interesting.

The shelves just lift off, so in summer they will be removed, so that windows can be open (they open inwards). But, in winter, there’s no chance of them being open, so we can be a bit over the top in terms of dressing the windows. Come mid-December, they’ll be Christmassed up, especially as it’s looking like we’re here for the festive season, but at the moment, we’ve gone for a slightly more subtle approach…

The shelf is just a piece of very inexpensive pine, cut to size and painted white. The router seems very happy in her new elevated position. A string of tiny LED battery operated lights add a bit of twinkle and a shelf not a shelf if it hasn’t got tealight holders for additional flickering lights. I’d love to have the green fingers to keep plants alive and thriving, but I don’t and so all plants are faux. But they never die, which is a result for me! Most of the accessories which currently sit on the shelf are from UK shops or are probably available in the UK :

  • Wooden fir tree & pink pillar candle : Søstrene Grene, Stamford Quarter, Altrincham
  • LED starlight in glass bottle : The Range
  • All plants, aluminium cream pot & gold candlesticks : IKEA
  • Green glass tealight holders : Dunelm
  • LED string lights : Jysk

We’re definitely not overlooked, so don’t need the privacy that these shelves offer, but when I think back to our West Didsbury house, these would have been perfect, especially at the rear of the house. I think what I love about them most, is that once the brackets are on, the shelf just sits on top and so can be removed as and when necessary. It also means that I can change things around quickly and create different looks and moods without spending anything at all – all I’ve done here is move things from different parts of the house. We decided against putting a shelf up on the opposite window, as it have just felt a bit too much – and the sill on this particular window has been finished so we do have a flat surface. However, I couldn’t resist a kitchen window shelf. And this one is perfect for pots of herbs, as well as a bit of ambient lighting at the front of the house…

 

Green Wall Maintenance

Green Wall Maintenance

If you’re a follower of what we’re up to, you’ll know that our renovated stone house in Istria, is currently for sale. You might also know that we have a very unusual feature in our front garden. We are right next to an abandoned house and one of its walls forms one of our garden walls. Now, this might sound alarming – and I have to say if we were living back in the UK, the thought of being adjoined to an abandoned house, would fill me with fear. But abandoned houses in Istria are part and parcel of the landscape. These buildings were once family homes – dwellings – and all have fallen into disrepair because families either escaped or were forcibly removed, depending upon the regime they were living under at the time. Many are now being renovated and restored, as descendants lay claim to them or as sympathetic buyers bring life back to them. A lot, though, have multiple owners, often scattered around the world, and Croatian property laws dictate that every single living owner has to consent to the sale, so some are destined to probably never be purchased/renovated. The one next to us, is one such property. It has seventeen owners – we know this for definite as all had to be contacted when we were establishing our boundaries – and some of these owners live in America, some in Australia, a couple in the village and most places in between! So, one thing’s for sure – it’s not going to be sold any time soon.

So, what we do have, is a very, very unique boundary wall, which is covered in ivy and vines. It is an absolute haven for bees and butterflies and birds, and so we have “adopted” the Green Wall. We take responsibility for its upkeep and ensuring that it is kept cut back. The ivy is very heavy and although the strong, thick vines keep it in place, we don’t want to risk it being pulled down with the weight. There are windows (without glass) in this wall, and we always ensure that these are uncovered, because when the sunlight streams through them into our garden, it is beautiful, and we don’t want these to be obscured any more.

But, you do need a head for heights to do the big, once a year, chop back. Or a friend with a head for heights. And we have one of these. And he came to visit with his extendable ladder, a few weeks ago. All of the vines which were beginning to work their way into our roof tiles, were removed and the cracked roof tiles we discovered were replaced, mortared and sealed. This year, we actually had the vines cut well away from our house – there’s now a space of over a metre where there are no vines at all, so we’re hopefully all OK until next summer. The guttering at this side of the house was all cleaned out, too.

Next job was to completely cut back the bulk of the outgrowing ivy – we’re always a bit reluctant to do this, because the bees and butterflies do love it, but we can’t just let it grow wild. Tied onto the very long ladder, our friend chopped it all back – and to get to the highest branches, he unstrapped himself and walked along the top ledge, chopping away as he walked. Health & safety is shall we say, a little less stringent than in the UK…

We left the smaller wall to the right and just trimmed the ivy here, rather than cut it all back at this stage, as we still wanted the berries for the birds, and the late flowers for the bees and butterflies. It’s late October now, but still warm enough during the day for them to all be buzzing around.

So, that’s one of our big autumn jobs ticked off. In the past, when we had our little garden in West Didsbury, winter prep would largely consist of putting pots away and brushing leaves. It’s all a little bit more involved now, but once done, we can rest easy over the winter, knowing there’ll be no water ingress caused by leaves in the gutters or tiles being lifted because of ingrowing vines. It’s always a good day, too, when we know that the weight of the vines has been removed and that we’ll better growth next spring. Just need to get through the next few months of darker days, less vibrant foliage and no stretching out in the garden in warm sunshine…

 

Walnut Pesto

Walnut Pesto

There are certain foodstuffs that we buy, that I know should be so easy to make ourselves, but for some reason, never get around to it. Either, there’s something we don’t have from the ingredients list, Or, I just assume it won’t be as easy as I think it might. Pesto is one of these things. At least one jar, often more, is bought on every shop. Meaning more bottles to recycle and meaning always paying over the odds for something.

But, with the most recent haul in the garden being walnuts, we decided the the time had come to crack the pesto…

Ingredients

  • Two or three large cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • A cupful of walnuts – depends on the size of your cup, but this was the amount we used, above
  • A big bunch of fresh basil leaves – again, it depends on how strong you want your pesto to be
  • A chunk of fresh parmesan, grated. Same as with the basil, it’s all down to personal taste
  • Olive oil – as above, re personal taste, as you can add more as necessary

01

Toast the unpeeled, whole garlic, in olive oil. Once the skin begins to brown, remove from the pan and set aside. Once it’s cooled down, peel the skin away.

02

Toast the walnut kernels, for about 10 minutes, stirring in olive oil, so that they don’t burn.

03

Combine peeled garlic, walnuts, basil, parmesan cheese and olive oil in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You’ll need to need to use a plastic scraper to mix the pesto as the walnuts tend to stick to the sides, until blended. This is also when you can add more parmesan and olive oil, depending on your taste and the kind of consistency you want to achieve.

04

Season with salt & pepper according to your taste. And serve…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, October

Hello, October

So, our long, hot – but very strange – summer, has drawn to a close. As in previous years since we’ve been here, I’m sure we’ll still have days which are warm and sunny, but the intense heat of the sun has gone. Days are obviously getting shorter and there’s a chill in the air. Our thoughts are definitely turning to getting the garden and the house, autumn/winter ready. All summer, the kitchen windows have been wide open and as they open internally, the shelf we put up last year, in the one that overlooks the front of the house, has been down. As it doesn’t seem likely that the window will be thrown wide open again until next year, the shelf is back in its place…

I want this shelf to bring colour into the kitchen. The room is painted in Farrow & Ball Hague Blue – walls and ceiling – and so in the winter, can be dark. I also didn’t want to go and buy more “stuff” so have searched around the house and repurposed old bottles I’ve kept, because I liked the colours or the shapes. The apothecary style gin bottle was spotted in Lidl – as cheap as chips and now very pretty, full of artificial orange berries. A rose lemonade bottle, sprayed gold, has taken on a new lease of life, rather than being condemned to the recycling bin. A cork bottle stopper, sprayed gold, makes a perfect candle stand for a collection of fat, squat candles I have – all, pleasingly, in autumn colours. I’ve also found that our potted basil plants seem to fare well in this window, and so the shelf has a *use* too – fresh basil leaves can just be plucked from the plants, which, surprisingly, given our track record with them, do seem to be thriving.

The window ledge was tiled over the summer and because it’s quite deep, it’s a good storage area. This year, we’ve gone a bit pumpkin mad, and it’s the perfect place for these autumnal beauties. The colours – oranges, yellows, greens, shades of blue – are gorgeous. Definitely too pretty to be hidden away in a cupboard. And they add to the joy of our autumnal window. A window which, until we renovated our kitchen, wasn’t even there…

The area outside the front door has also been tackled. Although we’ve painted the concrete pale blue, and the well was moved out here, we’ve not really done anything with it, to prettify up the front of the house. Well, we’ve made a start on making the entrance to the house just a little bit more attractive. The more delicate potted plants have been moved up onto the platform and now they create a much nicer scene outside the front door. Especially as the Virginia Creeper, which we planted quite late on in the summer, and so didn’t hold out too much hope for, is beginning to attach itself to the wall and turn red. The shutters to the kitchen side window are never closed, so hanging pots have been brought up here and twines of ivy have been round the bar. Plus some tiny lights which will twinkle away in the dark.

A sturdy willow wreath was sitting in the shed, basically asking for something to be done to it to make it a whole lot more attractive. A few lengths of artificial ivy, some orange leaves and russet berries did the trick, and the bare wreath is now resplendent in green and orange – and looking quite the autumnal thing, under the metal cattle skull. Very Istria.

As we have no plans to go anywhere very far this month, we’re making absolutely sure that our home (which is for sale, by the way), will be the cosiest it possibly can be. Looking forward to a winter of hygge inspiration…

 

Smoked Tuna with Pasta

Smoked Tuna with Pasta

 Almost with the flick of a switch, summer seemed to end yesterday, and autumn arrived. The temperature dropped and grey skies replaced the bright blue sky we seem to have had for weeks and weeks. Although we’re still hopefully weeks away from having to light the woodburners, we definitely craved something a bit more substantial and comforting for dinner. Our local Lidl store has been rotating, on a weekly basis, foods from different European countries – Greek week is always a winner in our house, and we’ve been stocking up on Eridanous range of smoked tuna. It is utterly delicious, with a real woody, smoky flavour and when a tin of tuna is called upon in future, I don’t think I’ll be able to have any other kind.

We’ve used this through the summer in salads and wraps but decided something more warming was needed – and our pasta dish was just perfect. It was quick and easy to make and very delicious. Hopefully, if you try it too, you can get your hands on some smoked tuna – it does make all the difference…

INGREDIENTS

  • Penne pasta
  • Red onion, finely sliced
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, sliced
  • Olive oil
  • Medium jar of passata or a tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 small tins of smoked or regular tuna
  • Dried chilli flakes
  • Strong cheese, for the topping
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Fresh basil leaves

The recipe is as you would expect. Boil the pasta until al dente (it will cook further in the oven). When cooking, fry the onion and garlic until soft, in the olive oil. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes. Add the passata (or tomatoes) and stir until heated through, then add the tuna (chopped up into largish chunks) and a handful of basil leaves. Season according to taste.

Drain the pasta and mix into the tuna & tomato sauce, then turn into an oven proof dish. Cover with the grated cheese and cook for about 30 minutes in a medium oven.

 

The Shed Upcycle

The Shed Upcycle

It was back in May that we finally bought a shed and started the job of building it. We made the initial mistake of thinking we’d bought just a shed, like the B&Q one we used to have in our garden back in West Didsbury, which was functional, but a bit on the cheap and flimsy side. We thought that sheds in Istria were a bit pricey because this one definitely wasn’t cheap, but we went for it, because we were becoming frustrated with the search for somewhere that sold these. I’d spotted a beautiful image on Pinterest of how I imagined it might look, and the shape of the one we found was exactly the same, so the search was over.

However, once unpacked, we realised that what we had bought was actually what was known, in shed circles, as a Dutch Log Cabin – a much grander description, I thought 😉 Unfortunately, this particular cabin had to acclimatise and as such, all of the wooden components had to sit out for three days. Not good for someone as impatient as me! But, despite instructions being in Dutch, over the course of a week, we worked it out and soon we had the structure built. The wood was a lovely golden pine – much nicer than the floorboards we inherited and which we’ve only recently finished treating and making good – but we didn’t want pine. The external (and internal) woodwork in the house is a very soft pale blue and so we chose a complementary soft grey satinwood for external use. The bonus with this paint, was that we didn’t need to use undercoat. The tongue and groove wood was caulked inside the shed, for extra protection against the rain, and painted white. Two coats were necessary for the outside, but it was fast drying satinwood and after a couple of additional days painting, the shed was ready. To accessorise!

We couldn’t just be content with the shed, though, because the lovely new colour really showed up the cheap look concrete patio. I love a bit of concrete, but not this kind, and the decision was made that this would be painted, too. As the patio area is a high traffic area, we went for a specialist, waterproof (no undercoat needed) paint, which wasn’t the cheapest option, or the quickest option, but wow, what a difference when we were finished.

Yes, sorry, that is a big tub of cold water for feet and an electric fan outside! On the day this photo was taken, the temperature was mid-thirties and it was VERY hot!

But, a few days later, this was the scene in the garden – and this is where the shed has come into its own. In previous summers, when a storm was approaching, we’d be dragging garden stuff that we didn’t want to get wet, indoors. It would all sit in The Well Room, taking up lots of space, until the weather improved. Now, it’s all found a new home in the shed.

We didn’t buy the shed to use it as a “garden shed”, full of plants pots and garden tools etc. All of that is stored in the external cellar. This was specifically for the quick in and out storage of cushions, sunbed pads, candles, lights, the hammock, sun sails etc. And, so far, it’s been worth every penny (or kuna) we paid. A couple of sets of white metal shelves were bought and fixed to the back wall, so they didn’t topple over – these are perfect to slot in seat pads, cushions, the rolled up hammock and sun towels. Two or three wooden crates are used to keep things together, which we always need in the garden, but have always had to search around the house to find them – one crate for suncreams and mosquito sprays, one for citronella candles, lighters, battery operated lights, and a smaller one full of batteries, bbq lighters etc.

As well as providing great storage, the shed also now gives us privacy. We’ve potted up quite a few tall, thick bamboos and these now sit to either side of the shed, meaning that we don;t have to consider building a wall at the front of the house anymore. The BBQ will have a winter home, as will our wellies and umbrellas and general winter stuff we don’t want in the house. The quality of it is in no doubt, having had some very strong and ferocious summer storms – no leaking or water ingress and it’s solid. Who knew you could love a shed as much?