I always enjoy January. Traditionally - once the excitement of the parties and new year's resolutions has worn off - I know it's often viewed as an anti-climax, what with the cold weather, lack of money after Christmas and those looming credit card bills! However, even when I was earning and spending alongside everyone else, I think what I enjoyed about it was the contrast. It's probably safe to assume that most people are busy in the run-up to the festive period and this has been no less the case for us this year. So, once the last of the decorations are packed away, I like to spend January reviewing our progress over the past year; to see what went well - in the hope of repeating it - and what didn't go quite so well and needs more thought for the year ahead.
One of the things I wasn't prepared for was the bulk of autumn produce. Naturally, I was expecting a steady trickle of seasonal bounty, just not in the quantities that it arrived in. I dare not even hazard a guess as to the number of pounds of pears our two allotment trees produced but it became a race to see how quickly we could find new recipes for them so that they didn't go to waste. We never did find out which variety they are but neither sort keeps for very long and we were picking them and giving them away by the box full. Our processing capabilities were stretched further by the bumper apple harvest and I began to get paranoid about constantly smelling of vinegar from the myriad chutneys we turned them into. Lots of these, along with jams and marmalades, became Christmas presents for our family and friends, so all's well that ends well, but it left me with very little time for anything much else. Whilst I was busy chopping, boiling and potting, though, I gave a lot of thought - if not attention - to this blog. When I first started out I was completely new to 'blog-dom' and struggled initially to set it all up but, like anything, you soon pick it up and it's only with time that you realize the design you've created is not as flexible as you thought. Furthermore, it then takes another lot of struggling before you work out how to put it all right! Needless to say, I spent the first half of this month making some changes to Being Creative that I hope will make it easier for you to navigate and for me to to include new material.
Under my original design, my book and recipe pages just ran down in one long list and I was discouraged from adding more because of the amount of 'scrolling down' it involved for both myself and the reader. Both the books and recipes now have their own separate lists so that you can find the recipe you want straight away, or find the section of reading matter that grabs your attention most. I keep finding books and recipes I want to add all the time so this should make it easier all round! On the recipe front, when I first started out I had very firm principles about not giving out recipes that came from books; in hindsight that may have been short-sighted of me. I always credit my sources - where known - for anybody else's intellectual property, be it a quote, an idea or a recipe, so it's not as if I'm trying to pass it off as my own. Secondly, by showing what I consider to be the very best recipes - and only then one or two from each book - I am applauding the author's creative success, recommending that book to you as one worth having and giving a bit of free advertising to boot. I will still only include recipes I've tried and tested myself and where I provide a link to a recipe on another site, I may direct you via my own thoughts on how to get the best from that recipe. I recently made some medlar jelly (more of that in another post) and the recipe said to boil for 45 minutes to achieve a set; I think it was a typo as it only took 4 to 5 minutes for mine to reach that stage. I think I might have wrecked my jam pan had I left it for the suggested time! I'm also conscious that several of my previous posts promise recipes that never made it to the former Tried and Tested page, so I hope to put this right, too.
If you have visited this blog before and are looking to find the 'Pages' that introduced the various subjects covered within it, they are still in the same place but under the heading 'Beginning to Be Creative'. They are essentially the same, with the book and recipe sections separated out, as I've mentioned. The change is just an operational issue on my part to make the best of my Typepad account.The final change - my, we are really ringing them today - is regarding the photo albums. I have had a lot of positive feedback about my photos and thoroughly enjoy taking them and putting my favourites together. However, a month is not very long to amass an albums worth of good shots, especially during the winter months when there is less growing, the light levels are so low and the day length so short. I've therefore decided to organise my photos, this year, by season. Autumn 2008 is currently available to view and I'm in the process of putting together Winter 08/09. It will mean, of course, that in the other seasons I will hopefully have a plethora of snaps to choose from of which only the very best will be included.
So, if you were to ask me, what would I consider my successes to be for 2008? Well, I set up this blog, not entirely - but almost - without help and with one or two exceptions (attributed to my better half) I have taken all the photographs for it, too, something I thought I'd never have the patience to maintain. Our allotment has blossomed - and fruited - with all the extra care lavished upon it and one of my own personal triumphs was being able to pick my own dahlias (see the Growing section of 'Beginning to Be Creative'). I have learned to make our own bread and bake a couple of loaves each week; Lucy told me only yesterday that she thought mine was "the best bread in the world" so I must be doing something right. One of the things that has surprised me most is how I've learned not only to manage, but to thrive, on a budget. Earlier today I was going through our finances and noticing that through a little price rise here and a little increased direct debit there we will have to do some further belt tightening. Not the most prestigious start to the new year, you may think, but though we might not wallow in wads of cash we have enough to get by. And although we can't manage without money there are so many things that money can't buy you - love, sunny days and an honest opinion are just for starters. I've met a lot of lovely people since I started this blog who have given me some very positive feedback and a lot more at events we've attended, and within our own community, who we now count as friends. Seeing a first patch of snowdrops yesterday reminded me that this time last year I was just embarking on my journey. Thank you for keeping me company along this road less travelled and I look forward to renewing our aquaintance over the coming months. Wishing you - rather belatedly - a happy 2009!