Gillian Monks

'Making Fairytales Come True'

Month: September 2022

A Thread Through Time

The seasons turn, autumn is here, and some of our constants have shifted.

Earlier this week I went to our local Honey Fair in the mediaeval walled town of Conwy. It is an annual event which the whole family looks forward to and after the exigencies of the Covid years, it is a real treat to once again see the narrow streets teeming with people and dozens of stalls piled high with sparkling glass jars of golden honey and other bee-related products.

One of the items I always purchase at the fair is my winter supply of beeswax furniture polish. As soon as I retuned to the shady car park with my bulging cotton shopping bags, I whipped out a jar of  polish, unscrewed the lid and took a deep breath. I simply love the smell of it! It instantly transports me back to so many other days when furniture around the home had been newly polished and the house was filled with this unmistakable sharp, clean scent…

Hot summer days when I would get in from school or college and step into the cool, shady living room of our cottage, an oasis of calm tranquillity… where dark furniture shone like satin and reflected the bowls and vases of velvet-petalled roses set about the room. Later, autumn afternoons of grey drizzle when the room was set for tea – winking copper and china on the shining sideboard and table and my little son would toddle in to toast crumpets by a glowing fire. Memories of blustery March days with all the doors and windows open as the house was swept, scrubbed, dusted and polished to welcome the coming spring… or given an extra buff in preparation for lighting the Midwinter candles.

Now I have a particular task for my new jar of polish. A week ago I attended a wonderful family reunion at which one of my darling cousins presented me with a beautiful oval mirror which at one time hung in the home of our grandparents – possibly nearly a hundred years ago. I peer at my reflection in it and imagine all the times my grandfather and grandmother, my father and his little brother and all the other older members of the family must have stopped in front of it to tidy their hair, adjust the angle of a hat – or perhaps simply catch a fleeting glimpse of themselves as they rushed about their busy days. I can almost see them smiling back at me from the captured depths of another era. There would be times, too, when the dark wooden frame got a good polishing, and perhaps the family home was briefly scented with a similar aroma of  beeswax and turpentine.

It is quite amazing how one small household item can encapsulate so many memories and unite a whole century of family history. How much greater is the impact of one very long life lived publicly and in service to others – and here, of course, I am referring to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.  How many of us have lived our entire lives with the queen as head of our nation’s ‘family’. Whether we agree with having a Royal Family or not, the Queen has acted as a figurehead, an unwavering example, a matriarch, a highly principled and conscientious common denominator running through not just our British society but that of all the Commonwealth countries around the world. I have been stunned by the many messages of condolence which I have received from friends and family abroad, especially America.

The fact is that the Queen has been a constant in our lives. There is no one under the age of seventy living in the world today who can remember a time when Elizabeth wasn’t Queen of the United Kingdom. Perhaps this is one reason why so many people now feel lost and adrift? We have lost the royal, loyal thread which has run through so many decades, connected so many famous people and places, so many historic events, so many eras – our national anchor, mainstay and compass. What comes next?

Time to reflect some more, I think, while I polish my precious mirror…


Free E-book: Eat Cheap or Making Much of Little: Survival Strategies in the Kitchen

I was inspired to write this ninety-page booklet in response to the many pitiful stories I have heard of parents not being able to feed their families. It is full of very basic energy and money saving ideas, recipes for meals, from numerous ways to cook an egg and make hearty soups, to quick main courses, puddings and treats. All are costed out down to the last penny. I have worked on the basis of providing three hot meals a day for two adults and two children.

There are weekly plans of meals for three types of week – a lean difficult week, an in between week and a good week, with a fourth week’s menu left blank for the reader to fill in for themselves.  For three meals for seven days for four people the leanest week worked out at £26.15. I am painfully aware that prices have already risen dramatically since I wrote this, but hopefully it will provide relative comparison. I have also chosen foods which required the least amount of cooking time to cut down on use of energy.

The meals are as healthy as possible but I have had to sacrifice a lot of healthier options in favour of folk getting something – anything – to eat. Similarly, I haven’t attempted to cater for different diets, although there are a number of vegetarian meals included for the plain and simple reason that meat is so expensive.

Nor have I included a range of recipes for other cultural sections of our modern society – I was brought up simply and my background in the kitchen is largely north-west English and Welsh – but I am making enquiries and hope to find others who might be able to provide similar suggestions for their cultural backgrounds – then we can all swap and share each other’s ideas!

Apart from bringing together some of the cheapest most basic, easy to assemble/prepare/cook meals, there are also lots of simple techniques for making catering for a family easier. For instance, I supply a basic recipe for cake batter from which, with the addition of one or two ingredients, design of baking tin or ways of decoration, you can produce twelve different kinds of cake, plain or festive. There are simple instructions of how to make your own yoghurt and six delicious recipes for desserts in which it can substitute for cream, the healthier and cheaper option.

Importantly, there are ways in which we can come together and share the work and the cost of cooking our food – pooling kitchen resources for equipment or bulk buying/storage which is more economical, filling an oven with several cakes or casseroles for three families and dividing the cost, purchasing a huge pan and using a single element to cook a massive hearty soup or casserole and then dividing it between several households.

We all love our personal space and privacy, but this winter, perhaps we might consider inviting neighbours or other family members to eat with us, taking it in turns to cook for everyone, or even sit with us for an evening so that only one room in one house needs to be heated. The possibilities are endless for community co-operation, the benefits many. These are unprecedented times and call for unprecedented measures. Come on – it could actually be fun!

Main tip of the day, stop using ready prepared foods and meals! Instead, get the family involved in helping to prepare food and if at all possible, eat at least one meal a day together. Those who don’t help/co-operate don’t eat – it’s as simple as that.

This little booklet is my ‘hug on a page’ to everyone out there who is trying to cope and maintain a decent life – it is far from perfect and it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but it gives simple ideas and suggestions and with them comes the possibility of practical action and positive hope – and my love.

THIS BOOKLET IS FREELY AVAILABLE ONLINE OR TO DOWNLOAD AND PRINT. To read the booklet, scroll down this page, or to download a print-ready version, please click hereTo print it out as a booklet select ‘booklet printing’ in adobe acrobat – instructions here.

It can also be purchased in paper form for the amount which it costs to print from Herbary Books or Amazon

Please… please…. please share this information and link as widely and exhaustively as you can.

This little booklet is my ‘hug on a page’ to everyone out there who is trying to cope and maintain a decent life – it is far from perfect and it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, but it gives simple ideas and suggestions and with them comes the possibility of practical action and positive hope – and my love.

Making Much of Little in the Kitchen DISTRIBUTABLE

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