Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lyme Regis

Yesterday ws a beautiful day. Cold, yes. Prctically freezing, in fact, but the sun was shining and the sky was blue and it was a lovely day for a trip out. And out we were going. Off to Lyme Regis to have lunch with our friend Farishta.

We had a fantastic run down. There was very little traffic, apart from when we were going around Dorchester. Rather to our surprise, we were outside the appointed meeting place at exactly 12:30. Rather to our surprise, Lyme Regis was about 5d warmer than it had been when we left Salisbury.

We found Farishta and went down the hill to the Pilot Boat for an extremely nice lunch. Farishta says that it had been very quiet in there in the run up to Christmas. It was busier yesterday. In fact, Lyme Regis as a whole was busier than I had expected it to be in the middle of winter. Though, I suppose lots of people do take a winter holiday between Christmas and New Year, and Lyme Regis is as good a place to holiday as any other. Better, in fact. I like Lyme Regis.

I liked the food in the Pilot Boat too. The portions were generous and the food was beautifully cooked. Then we all went for a wander around the town and out on the Cobb, enjoying the sunshine. Farishta took us around some bits of the town that visitors don't normally get to. We popped in to a delicatessen for a pie for tonight and tomorrow. Then Farishta had to go and take her daughter to the station in Axminster and we came home across country.

It was good to see Farishta. She was looking very well. We communicate mostly by email, so it was a treat to meet up for a face to face conversation.

We had a good run back and then turned out to go to Barb's place for roast lamb and a play with the kitties and an evening of chatter and wine (but not much wine for The Builder because he was driving!). I had been a bit worried when ploughing my way through the mountain of scampi I had had for lunch that there might not be room for roast lamb in the evening. Fortunately - there was :-)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ruddle Family Sunday Lunch

Well, we survived. I think. Mostly!

There was only one family flounce, no one murdered anyone and there was just enough food left over to indicate that I had catered enough but not so much that we were gloomily foreseeing leftovers for the rest of the week instead of pub lunches!

We were up fairly early, and The Builder set to, peeling and prepping a positive Everest of potatoes, parsnips, onions, carrots, sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower. We remembered to set aside a small number of vegetables for the boy who will only eat them raw! In the meantime, I made up some stuffing for the chook, sorted out the beef and found some roasting pans.

The Builder went to the supermarket to acquire some forgotten supplies. Such as red wine. And salt. We don't use salt and of course there isn't any in the cottage. Fortunately, I caught sight of a salt shaker while he was still in the supermarket!

I resisted the temptation to put the oven on too early.

And resisted.

And resisted.

Put the oven on.

Nothing happened :-S

Actually, it did. But I had forgotten that I always but always cook in a fan-forced oven. And this one wasn't. It was almost completely silent. And took FOREVER to cook the meat. Shouldn't have resisted quite so hard!!!!!

People started to arrive. Jeanette and Matthew had fortunately remembered to bring the soft drinks! Eventually the food was ready and everyone set to. We followed it up with my second Gordon Ramsey Christmas pudding, and Mr Waitrose's finest apple pie and chocolate roulade. I forgot to put out Gwen's mince pies :-S In fact, I forgot all about them until this morning when I ran across a stray plastic bag, wondered what was in it and looked to see ... :-S

All in all it was quite a good afternoon. Gwen certainly seemed to enjoy herself. Everyone seemed to have a good time until Marie misheard something that Matthew had said to her boys and decided to flounce. But by the time she flounced, it was pretty much time to be going home anyway.

Jeanette and Matthew (who had, by the by, brought Rebecca and Evie with them) stayed on for a very satisfactory postmortem.

Then they went away and we decided that clearing up was a Monday event!

I was cleared up downstairs by 10:00. And was just thinking that we had done very well for there to be no family arguments and nothing more than a minor flounce when Peter rang for The Builder and yelled at him for ringing him twice yesterday and what was all that about, and then yelled at him about something that had happened during the course of yesterday afternoon. The Builder yelled back very loudly and hung up. Odd. I know the Hyde family has its arguments, though not very often any more. But it is almost unheard of for something to carry on to the following day. I don't think we have sufficiently lengthy attention spans to hold grudges for long!

Peter also said that he was horribly sick. I do hope we didn't give him food poisoning! Although - The Builder and I are both in fine fettle and we all ate exactly the same things

We gave a bit of thought to going for a poke around in Chichester and to look at Selsey Bill today. But the queue to get onto the Southampton Road was enormous. And when we came to think about it, we had left it a bit late in the day - we were definitely not up early today. We went and had lunch in Shaftesbury instead and when for a drive around the Dorset countryside and then came back. The Builder is now doing the Christmas jigsaw. I brought down the summer one as well - we got two last summer and only did one.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Boxing Day and Beyond

A very quiet start to Boxing Day. The Builder and I were a bit worried about how we wold get our morning cup of tea. We thought Freyja was sleeping in the dining room which is the only way into the kitchen. Fortunately, she wasn't!

The Builder had bought me a new digital camera for Christmas. It comes with an integral 44mg memory. It also comes with a much better quality picture capacity than my last camera. Which means the picture files are three times as big! A memory card was required. Although supermarkets do not open on Boxing Day, the larger retailers do. A trip to PC World or Currys was in order.

Alas. My insistence that we go NOW coincided with the last little bit of a film that I didn't realise Freyja and Taffa were watching. Freyja elected not to come at all. Tabitha said she would catch us up. Gareth, The Builder and I, after a heartening bowl of leek, potato and cheese soup to fortify us, set off.

After a bit, Tabitha rang. Gareth reported that we had reached the St George on Midsummer Common. Should we meet there? He would ask me and let her know. Should we meet in the ST George? Why not. We turned around and went in.

About ten minutes later, while we were peacefully enjoying a lunchtime sip, Gareth's phone rang again. Had we made a decision yet? Ah - he had forgotten to let her know!!!

Then on to PC World and Currys and a potter around Argos. Memory card successfully captured, we continued our stroll to the Green Dragon for a glass or three. It was somebody's birthday. We were all given slices of chocolate cake to celebrate. Seldom do you go into a pub and have cake thrust upon you!

Then back to the house for our rescheduled Christmas Dinner. Roasties and toasted veggie things and baked seafood, followed by Christmas pudding, chocolate mousse and pavlova. All very tasty. The Christmas pudding was especially nice. Its a Gordon Ramsey recipe and is much, much lighter than the traditional pud. I really enjoyed it.

And now we are in Salisbury, ready to continue the celebrations. We left Cambridge yesterday morning, dropped Tabitha off at work, were about to leave Cambridge when I thought - I don't remember picking up my camera this morning. Rang Freyja. Indeed, I hadn't. Back to the house, reunite self with new camera and THEN of to Salisbury through a morning which was most certainly crisp and even. It was -1d, bright blue sky; and everything on the ground was white. Not snow, but a deep, deep frost.

Lunch in the Market Inn then a cup of tea with Gwen and Peter. We had bought Gwen a oft, cuddly sheep for Christmas. One of those toys that hangs over the arm of the hair so you can stroke it while watching TV. She's never had a soft, cuddly toy before. Never, not in 83, nearly 84 years! And now she has two. She got a free gift from one of the catalogue companies which is a Christmas polar bear. Then we went and spent a small fortune in Waitrose and checked in to our cottage for this week.

And now I really much get up. It's nearly half past eight and we have 12 people descending on us around 1. There are potatoes to peel, sprouts to peel, things to roast. We've got chicken and beef and two small lobsters, lots of potatoes, loads of veg. And another of Gordon's Christmas puddings, with a Waitrose apple pie and chocolate roulade. And cheese. I hope no one will go home hungry!

The TV here only has the five terrestrial channels available. There wasn't much on last evening. So I watched the new Wallace and Gromit filmette and then Alan Hart Davis considering railway tracks in the north of England on my Mac. The Builder's Windows laptop doesn't want to talk to the wireless network, so he played games instead. Then some more sensible programs appeared on BBC2. I never think to watch TV on my Mac at home. It's quite fun - except I have to keep hitting the space bar or the screen saver comes on!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas 2008 at Mt Helen

i have been busy this year with cooking - very unusual for me i have made christmas chockie royal biscuits, orange chocolate truffies and nut loaf with a red wine and mushroom gravey. the nutloaf wasnt my most successful attempt should have used fresh bread crumbs not boxed ones - you learn by your mistakes.
We started with chips dips and twiglets
mains included my nutloaf, turkey, ham, crayfish in sauce and straight, scallops with lots of veg and salad
and we finished with pud and stellas famous family trifle.
we had lots of wine and chocolate and cheese
think no one went hungry
christmas was decided to be a good event
Could easily have got use to those nice, lazy days of late rising, gentle activity, no rushing about. WAS getting used to them. Then Christmas Eve hit and I had to stir myself from my torpor and get the food ready for Christmas Day. The Builder sorted the vegetables and I made biscuits and party pies and pavlova and more party pies and potato soup and more party pies . The kitchen ended up covered in flour and sugar!

We went to the Three Horseshoes for dinner on Christmas Eve. Mighty fine food it was too. Though I wish I had thought to ask for a small plate of roast turkey. The plate they brought me was ENORMOUS and covered with a mountain of food. I knew even before I started that I was never going to be able to eat it all! It was extremely delicious, mind you. And very good value at £21 each for a three course Christmas meal. There weren't very many people in - I believe it was the quietest Christmas Eve they could remember. It was enlivened by the sudden appearance of about 30 carol singers, collecting for the local hospice. We enjoyed the carol singers, the food and the evening out. We don't often go out for dinner. We usually go out for lunch!

And so to Christmas Day. A reasonably relaxed start. No real need to get up at 5:30, so we didn't. Chatted to Austin and to Mount Helen on Skype once we did. Then I very, very carfeully packed the car. I think The Builder was really very surprised that I managed to get everything in and still leave room for Freyja!

Then we trundled to Sheffield to collect Freyja and the hippos and to open some presents and thence to Cambridge for more presents, a mountain of munchies that Tabitha and Gareth had bought in Waitrose, merriment, festivities, wine and the Doctor Who Christmas special. We ate so many munchies that we decided to defer Christmas lunch to Boxing Day!

I like travelling on Christmas Day. There is enough traffic around for it not to feel like the end of the world, but not enough to be an inconvenience - and there are virtually no lorries cluttering the roads up!

And now it is Boxing Day. The Builder and I are drinking tea in Tabitha and Gareth's bed. Everyone else is sleeping in the lounge room. The sun is shining. I am promised a visit later to the Green Dragon for a Christmas pint and there is still the makings of the Christmas feast in the kitchen. Let the festivities continue! (Mind you, it was as well that Peter and Joan were unable to accept out invitation to join us for a pub lunch today!!!)

Waitrose makes wonderful munchies. The sausages in bacon were particularly magificent. I don't usually like sausages!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sunday Roast Pie

We had absolutely loads of chicken left after Sunday evening's dinner. There was also lots of homemade stuffing, the steamed vegetables and gravy. I pondered this on Monday evening while considering what to do for dinner.

I took all the chicken off the bones and made a chicken stock with the bones and grungy bits.

I shredded some of the chicken and put it in my pie dish. Then I crumbled the stuffing over it, added the vegetables and the gravy, mixed it all around and covered it with puff pastry and shoved it in the oven until the pastry was puffy and golden. We had it with new potatoes and some sprouts and additional gravy. It really was very delicious.

There was yet more left over chicken for last night. We had hat with mushrooms in a cream sauce. Likewise delicious.

And that was the end of the Sunday chicken. I am not usually quite so profligate with it. It does lunchtime sandwiches and dinner up to at least Wednesday normally, eked out with more vegetables and other things. However we are out to dinner tonight and then away for ten days and it wanted using up!

I made cheese straws with the left over puff pastry. They vanished within minutes of coming out of the oven!!

(Puff pastry rolled out quite thinly, covered with grated cheese, wholegrain mustard smeared over, pastry folded over thrice then rolled out again quite thinly. Slice into thick straws, twist around a time or two, you should probably brush them with an egg wash but I don't bother, then bake until puffed and crispy)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Well there's a surprise. They're not coming!

And the saga of the Sunday Lunch continues.

We first mentioned the invitation at the lunch following The Builder’s father’s funeral in May. I sent out written invitations in (I think) September, and follow-up instructions with the Christmas cards. Everybody checked in to say they were coming. We belatedly invited The Builder’s adult niece and nephew. Alas, they can’t come. Previous engagements.

When I say that everyone checked in, I mean everyone except for The Builder’s son and daughter in law. I must admit,that I had long assumed that they wouldn’t come. The DiL appears to dislike The Builder intensely and positively loathes me. This is a pity in that it limits the contact The Builder has with his son, who appears to like us both immensely. But by and large it doesn’t impact much in our life. It’s not as though she lives around the corner. I was waiting for an unexpected emergency in her family, or some such.

And, as anticipated, yesterday evening the son rang to say that indeed they would be unable to attend. And what convincing reason did he give? That their 17, nearly 18 year old daughter would be working on Sunday from 11 to 5 and couldn’t be abandoned!!!!!!

The party is about a 50 minute drive away. At 1pm

She’s not finishing until 5. Not hard to get back for then.

And for goodness sake. She’s practically a grown up. Even if they were back later, surely she can spend a bit of time on her own or with a friend?

This is such a spurious excuse that it’s positively risible! I expected a better level of imagination than that!

The risible nature of the excuse seems to have irritated lots of people. They also had expected at least some attempt at a sensible reason why they couldn’t attend a very, very rare family gathering.

Actually, it has its compensations from my point of view (the lack of attendance, not the pathetic reason for it). I really had not been looking forward to the malevolent and brooding presence at my own Sunday Lunch of a poisonous Orc who was studiously blanking me unless she knew she was observed by others. And now it won’t be there. Every cloud ...

It's very odd having not very much to do!

It really felt very peculiar. Most odd.

I came downstairs on Saturday morning. The Builder came down on Saturday morning. “Right,” said I. “What’s the plan?” “I don’t know what the plan is,” replied The Builder. “Plans are your job.”

But I didn’t have a plan. Neither did The Builder. The day stretched ahead - completely empty. There was nothing that needed doing, particularly. There was no urgency. Didn’t really matter if I didn’t change the bed or do the ironing or clean the kitchen. Plenty of days yet to get all that done. There was no urgency to make stews, soups, cakes. No point, in fact. We’re heading to Cambridge on Thursday, then we’re going to Salisbury and we’re not coming back until Saturday week. There’s plenty to eat, and there are already lots of soups and stews in the freezer.

I really didn’t know quite what to do with myself. I surfed the net and read a bit and felt vaguely unsettled. I’m not used to having almost nothing to do on a Saturday morning. It’s usually a mad rush!

We did go out for lunch, to the Three Horseshoes in Spitewinter. We could only have a light lunch, though. We were going to Bea and Steve’s for dinner in the evening. The most magnificent bowl of leek and potato soup for me, very, very lightly curried (but not chillied). They were quite busy with people having pre-Christmas lunches out, although the people there say that it’s noticeably quieter than it was last year. I asked, without much expectation of getting an answer in the affirmative, if they happened to have a table for Christmas Eve. They did. They only had three bookings! I realise that many people are a bit busy on Christmas Eve and might t go out for dinner, although we sometimes do. But even so three, now four bookings doesn’t seem a lot.

We had a lovely evening with Bea and Steve. Steve had done a bit of work for the local fish and game monger and had been paid in rabbits. Bea made a really lovely rabbit stew. The Builder enjoys rabbit but I think I’ve only eaten it once or twice before. Certainly once when I went to dinner many, many years ago with Kate from the Glenroy library. I haven’t eaten it since, but probably ate it in my Yarrambat youth once or twice. I will definitely eat it again. We had a good time, sat up late, drank lots of wine, set the world to rights and went to bed, not waking until 8:00 on Sunday morning!!!! All very civilised.

I was in the kitchen, sort of mid-morning on Sunday, gazing idly out the kitchen window. There was something on the fat ball feeder. Not a sparrow. I looked more closely. Hmmm. You’re very pretty. You’re some sort of tit. But what sort of tit are you? Called for The Builder. Also, got the bird book! It was a long tailed tit. And there were two of them. No - four. No, there are long tailed tits dotted about the garden round the pond. There were two goldfinches on the niger feeder and two more on the now defunct thistle plant. There was a single blue tit on the peanut feeder (We hadn’t seen any blue tits thus far this winter until yesterday). Plus there were the usual sparrows, blackbirds, doves, magpies, starlings. I keep thinking that I really must get in and tidy up that bit of garden. Should have been done ages ago. But the birds appear to be quite grateful that I haven't.

We had afternoon tea with Penny, Steve, Joseph and Imogen. Their house is very festive indeed. They have a beautiful Christmas wreath in the dining room, based around a beech branch that came from Potters Bar, and a smaller, newer one. Joseph and Imogen are very excited about Christmas coming. They gave us a present :-) And a little bowl of jonquils for the dining room table. The jonquils aren’t flowering yet, but soon. Might take them away with us so we are about when they do flower! Everyone was looking very well and very happy. Penny is now declared to have been mended by all her doctors and they don’t want to see her again. So that’s good news.

We had roast chicken for dinner. I put the fairy lights on in the dining room and lit all the candles and it was also very festive. So we had our dinner using the Christmas crockery.

I’m beginning to get used to there not being any rush. We didn’t get up until after 8 this morning, either. Pottered about. Wombled around. Realised that we had intended to go shopping nice and early, and this really wasn’t even remotely “early”! But we went anyway. And now, I think - we’re done. I’ve got all the shopping. I’ve wrapped all the presents. I wasn’t going to dress the Christmas fig tree. It has fairy lights on it all year round and there didn’t seem to be much point in putting the decorations on just to look at them until first thing Christmas morning. I decided today that I would at least put the little red glass balls on - and it looks very pretty We’ve got booze for here. Tabitha is organising booze for Cambridge and we’ll worry about Salisbury on Saturday.

Everything on my list is crossed off!! I need a new list :-D (One for cooking on Wednesday, perhaps.) I do believe we’re ready. Well, apart from going out tomorrow or Wednesday to get whatever it is I’ve forgotten to think about!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I had yesterday off!

Ever since we moved in, the boiler has sounded as though it were a rickety space rocket trying very hard to take off – particularly when the hot water was running. It could be absolutely guaranteed to wake us up when the central heating came on in the morning. Useful during the week, but less amusing on Saturdays and Sundays!

A little while ago, I came home from work, kicked my shoes off, picked up my ugg boots and carried them into the dining room just wearing my socks. On my feet. I was still wearing the rest of my clothes! It was not a pleasant surprise to walk over a cold, wet, large patch of carpet and thus discover that the radiator was leaking. We already knew that the radiator in the kitchen had a slow leak.

We called a heating plumber. He came and inspected the problems and then went away, promising to return yesterday with new parts to solve all the problems.

Happily my diary was nicely empty of work appointments yesterday, so I arranged to have the day off. Alison, who deals with leave at the moment, felt that it was a pity to have to waste a day off waiting around for a plumber – but I can think of worse things to be doing in December than sitting about in the lounge room drinking tea and eating toast and pottering about in the warm.

The plumber turned up at about 11 and left again at around half one. The boiler now purrs, the radiators no longer leak, the hot water pressure is very much stronger than it was, the boiler’s overflow pipe has stopped overflowing. And we weren’t woken up at 5:00 this morning by the boiler trying to take off into outer space (though we were woken at 4 by Marlo deciding to play a fun game on top of the printer. I might move the printer into the spare room!!!)

So this left me pretty much an empty day yesterday. I filled quite a bit of it by baking biscuits. Tiny Christmas tree biscuits, and Christmas bells and teddy bears. And ginger Christmas angels. It was a very pleasant way of spending the morning.

I had a library book that needed to be returned to the Chesterfield library. I couldn’t renew it when I renewed all my other books because some very selfish person had inconsiderately put it on hold! I really didn’t fancy heading into Chesterfield so decided to go to Clay Cross instead and return it at the Clay Cross library. Drove into Clay Cross. Discovered that the library is closed this month for renovations. Hmm. Went for a potter about in Clay Cross. Still think it’s a lot like Royston Vasey! However, there are some interesting streets that run off the main drags. Might go for an explore at some point. In the car. It was much too mirky and cold and damp to go properly exploring on foot.

But there was still the problem of the library book that needed returning. The idea of heading into Chesterfield was even less appealing – it would be busy and parking would be problematic at half three in the afternoon. I wonder where the library is in North Wingfield. Oh look. It’s near the co-op. I’ll go there.

Alas. The map lies. There is a library but it’s the mobile library and there on Wednesdays and not Tuesdays. I don’t know where the mobile library is on Tuesdays. I do, however, know that the Wingerworth and Holmfield branches are not open on Tuesdays. Sigh. Head home for a cup of tea and to check how many copies there are of this book. Perhaps the hold has been filled already. And lo – there are lots. And it had. And in any case, my copy isn’t due back until December 23rd! Should have checked all this before going out!!!!!!! But we might call into the Wingerworth branch on Thursday on the way home. I see it is open from 2-7 and it’s fun poking about in small branch libraries. Or – I think it’s fun. I realise it might not amuse anybody else very much

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

On Saturday mostly it rained. And rained. And then it rained a bit more. And then it became misty and drizzly. Then it decided to rain again.

We took ourselves off to Chatsworth to the shop. I wanted the makings of a large vat of vegetable stock and various other bits and pieces.

We called at the Post Office and then made our way along a back route. It’s a bit longer than the regular way but very pretty and I enjoy going that way. It was particularly challenging on Saturday. The hilly roads had decided that really they wanted to be rivers or waterfalls. The bits at the bottom were pondering the notion of being ponds or, if they had ideas of grandeur, lakes.

The car park at Chatsworth was worryingly full. I’m not sure where everyone was, though because the shop wasn’t horribly full. And it was about 11 when we got there, which is too early for lunch and a bit late for breakfast. Perhaps people were having morning tea.

Anyway. We did the shopping, came home via the garden centre and the supermarket and trundled on home to sort everything out.

What shall we do for lunch?

I know. Let’s head back out through Littlemoor and try The Nettle – a pub we drive past every time we take the back route to Chatsworth and occasionally think we ought to visit. It looks cute and advertises home cooked food and log fires.

So we did. Back along roads that were even more determined to behave like rivers.

The Nettle is a lovely pub. Really lovely. It has lots of little, dark rooms with open fires and braziers. It is enticingly decorated for Christmas. There is an incongruously placed VR post box built into one of the pillars (I wonder if the postman collects from it – the slot isn’t taped over). And the food is absolutely lovely. I had a beef and mushroom pie with caramelised onion mash and winter veg. It really was very tasty. We must go there again. It is well and truly on my list of places to go for lunch. There’s a restaurant at the back. Perhaps we might try it for dinner one evening.

I spent the afternoon making a Vast Vat of Vegetable stock.

I spent Sunday morning preparing a vat of vegetable soup, a pot of beef and bean casserole and a slow braised belly pork. Right. Everything in the oven or on the stove. What shall we do now?

It’s still grey and misty, but it’s not actively raining. We could go out somewhere.

Yes. But where.

Let’s go to Twycross Zoo, which we’ve driven past a couple of times but never been into. It’s about 20 miles from Derby, a similar sort of distance from Leicester. About an hours drive from home. We know it has flamingos because we’ve seen them from the road. We don’t know very much else about it.

So we kitted ourselves out with snug coats and scarves and things and went out to find out about it.

It turns out that it’s a primate centre for the captive breeding program. There are grillers and chimps and lemurs and monkeys and lots of very cute primates. There are also elephants and camels and a couple of lions. It’s quite a big zoo by country standards . Here it is:

Then we went home and had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with all the usual things for dinner. I don’t know what it is about Yorkshire puddings. Their finished state appears to be almost entirely random. Sometimes they rise, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’re light and fluffy (regardless of whether or not they’ve risen), sometimes they’re hard and leathery (ditto). This time they rose and rose and rose and rose, and were magnificently fluffy. A mystery, I tell you!

The roast beef was, fortunately, also quite magnificent. I had bought, at ruinous expense, a piece of roasting sirloin. It would have been most unfortunate had it been horrid!! It is now serving a second manifestation as a lunchtime sandwich filling.

The Builder is very happy. I bought a Winter Casserole Pack from the people in Scotland I get meat from over the internet. In the pack came bags of lambs kidney and lambs liver. These are things that he loves and which I do not routinely buy. Anyone got a magnificent recipe for liver and onion?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In trouble - again!

I met a delicious irony yesterday.

The D&S team in LITS, my colleagues are, on the whole, an abstemious, temperate lot. One of them hardly drinks at all, another has a glass of wine with dinner from time to time. Another has been wondering if they should cut down in their household because they can finish two bottles of wine in a week. Temperate, moderate people.

We all went out to the pub last evening. And I noticed that the Team Alcoholic was THE ONLY PERSON who didn’t have a drop of alcohol in the course of the evening. Not one. A single lime and soda for me. And the rest of them? Complete debauchery. Moral Turpitude, if ever I saw it. They each had TWO. TWO, I tell you! Of alcohol. Some had three, but I was so appalled by then I had to leave.

I also had to catch a train, so had no chance to sit and enjoy being appalled by this over-consumption of festive merriment and excess of beer.

Got back to Chesterfield. Ambled up to the bus stop. Walked around the church – to see my bus just pulling out :-( 30 minutes till the next one :-( And it was cold. Really cold. My feet were freezing. The rest of me wasn’t too bad; I had my Dr Who scarf, my fleecy hat, my gloves and my waxed jacket. But my poor feet were definitely suffering.

Got home. Reintroduced alcohol into the equation and warmed up by nicking about a third of The Builder’s extra large portion of chips. I left him the evil mushy peas.

We’re in trouble again. You remember how on the Sunday after Christmas we’ve got The Builder’s family coming for lunch? It started out as a “let’s have Jeanette and Ian round for Sunday lunch while we’re down in Salisbury at Christmas and invite Gwen and Mick too so they can play with the great grandchildren”. Then Mick died and The Builder though it might be nice to invite his two brothers and his sister with their various accoutrements. So we did.

So we first got into trouble because the invitation I sent to Peter didn’t expressly have his friend’s name on it, so she clearly wasn’t invited and wasn’t best pleased. It didn’t include Peter’s name either. None of the invitations had names written on them. This was apparently irrelevant, at least to Peter’s friend.

At the very end of last week I sent every one a Christmas card with a follow up invitation included. Made sure everyone’s name was hand-written on. Double checked to make sure the friend’s name was written on, correctly spelled. Triple checked that I had remembered to include a line inviting people to confirm with me the number of people they would be bringing with them in case anyone had weekend guests they couldn’t abandon. Posted them off. The cards, not the guests.

And now we are in trouble again :-( The Builder’s mother is miffed because we have invited his (adult) children and their children. We have invited his sister’s children (they are, mind you, only 12 and 9 so we could hardly leave them out). But we haven’t invited his brother Terry’s 40-something children and their sprouts :-S But aren’t they included in the “tell me how many of you are coming bit”? Apparently not, according to Gwen

Sigh. It’s a minefield, I tell you. A veritable minefield. In the highly unlikely event that I ever decide to invite the entire Builder Clan to anything ever again – I shall have a cake party open house and issue no invitations at all (Does that mean that all the cakes will of necessity be eaten by only The Builder and me?). Or perhaps I’ll just invite the Hyde family, who seem to realise that the Declaration of a Sunday Lunch carries an implicit invitation to Uncle Tom Cobleigh and All. Anyone for Sunday lunch on the Sunday after Christmas 2009?

Any suggestions as to how we squish possibly 30 people into the holiday cottage will be very gratefully received. (Oh – and where they’re all going to park!)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Christmas and Sunday After Christmas menus

Here's the plan for Christmas (4 omnivores and one veggie)

Late morning/ lunchtime

Nibbly things (which I believe Tabitha is organising, but I will organise party pies of various persuasions)


Mid afternoon

Potato and leek soup with grated cheese for those who partake of cheese


Late afternoon

Vegetable platter with roast potatoes, peas, carrots, other veggies as I find them, perhaps with homemade stuffing balls and gravy and maybe a cheese sauce


Early evening

Seafood platter for the omnivores (Langoustines, scallops, tempura prawns, mussels, salmon for three of us) with dip things

And for the veggie I have a selection of vegetarian munchy things such a ficken nuggets, veggie sticks, quorn popcorn and so on

Oh - and potato smiles :-)



Dessert: homemade Christmas pudding; mini pavlovas; chocolate mousse

What think you all?

Right. The Sunday-after-Christmas when we will be entertaining anything between around 20 to 30 of The Builder's kin in a rented cottage with unknown quality of kitchen kit (I will, however, take some of my own stuff). This is *just* a Sunday lunch ("just", she says, with a slightly hysterical laugh!). We have one child who only eats meat, raw vegetables, frozen peas still frozen and roast potatoes. He also eats cakes, biscuits, sweets, crisps, general junk. I don't think there are any vegetarians; no one else has replied to my request to be informed of dietary requirements .

1. Soup (more potato and leek? Other suggestions?)

2. Roast beef, roast chicken, large platter of roast vegetables, peas, beans, raw veg platter, stuffing, gravy. If we have Yorkshires I think they might have to be supermarket ones. I'm not sure about making enough for 30 in an unfamiliar oven!

3. And dessert. Another homemade Christmas pudding. More mini pavs? Something else?

All comments, suggestions, revisions gratefully received. Also a cold compress, brandy and other emergency resuscitation elixirs, potions and devices for the chef. Everyone else is on their own!!

(Comments can be left by anyone. If you are not a registered contributor they will come to me first for moderation, so don't worry if your words of wisdom don't immediately appear in the comments area)

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I had some beef mince lying about yesterday and was quite tempted by the idea of lasagne for dinner. However, we didn't have any lasagne sheets and I couldn't be bothered making any. What to do?

Potatoes. That's what. We had lots of potatoes.

I very, very thinly sliced several potatoes (Thank you to a merciful heaven for the invention of food processors!).

I sauteed some sliced onion and some red cabbage which I also had lying around (but green cabbage or any other vegetable would have been just as fine) and added some juicy chopped tomatoes. I fried up the beef mince. Then I layered the potatoes, the vegetables, the potatoes, the mince, some mozzarella, some potatoes, the rest of vegetables and some more potatoes in an oven dish, put a lid on and put the whole lot in a medium oven for about an hour. Then I took the lid off, crisped up the potatoes a wee bit and then topped with some more mozzarella and toasted that.

It was absolutely lovely. Not heavy, not too fatty. Just very tasty. And effectively a store cupboard meal

(A colleague tells me that that is not a lasagne but a moussaka. I take her point about the potatoes but surely a moussaka has to have aubergine?)

Cheap Winter Lamb Casserole

Lentils - I use spilt ones
Herbs (of your choice)
Veg stock cube - or real stock if you have it. -Enough to cover.
Neck of lamb and what my mother called scrag end. (she used mutton but you can't get mutton these days)
Use any or all of the above veg, cut up into reasonable chunky pieces and lay at the bottom of the pot with the lentils. Sprinkle with herbs and add lamb pieces. Pour in stock till all covered.

Cook on low in Stock pot or 150c or lower if your oven goes lower or S on a gas oven all day.

The meat will be falling off the bones when you get home and the liquid will just needs thickening slightly.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fish pie for Jess' Japanese Christmas Feast

There are lots of variations possible for fish pie. It's sort of a fishy shepherds' pie, so quite forgiving of experimentation.

Take a mixture of white, red and smoked fish (roughly similar proportions)

Poach the fish in some milk until flaky

Lift the fish from the milk and flake it into an ovenproof bowl. I often add a handful of shrimps or prawns and/or scallops if I have any.

Strain the milk and make a white sauce with it (dob of butter, corn/rice/plain flour, blending until mixture thickens)

Choose how you want to flavour the pie. You can add tomato, or curry powder, or dill, or tarragon or whatever takes your fancy. Add the flavourings to the white sauce and pour over the fish mix.

Make some cheesy mashed potato, enough to cover the fish and white sauce mix, then put in the oven on a medium heat and leave until the sauce is bubbling and the potato nice and crispy. If you don't have an oven but do have a grill, you could grill the fish pie, but both the fish in sauce and the potato would have to be quite hot when you put the grill-proof bowl under the grill.

A really nice variant I make sometimes is to use prawns and scallops without the fish and to make a mild curry sauce with milk and flour. I make this in a pie dish with shortcrust pastry for the base and puff pastry over the top. You can make one large pie or individual smaller ones, but I think you would need an oven for this. I don't think the grill would cook the pastry enough. (Oh, and I still have cheesy mashed potato, but on the side!)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

birthday Adventuring

I have had an extra long, super packed birthday weekend :-)

It started on Thursday, when Freyja came to see me at work at around 4pm and we retired to the Adsetts Coffee Shop for a cup of tea and a natter. Then she went to work, and I went home, accompanied by the Travelling Wilburhippos.

I had Friday off. Just Because. Actually, I mainly had Friday off because we were away on Saturday and Sunday and I figured that if I worked Friday, I would spend all of Monday morning (when I would be home for an evening duty) rushing about and doing Saturday and Sunday things. This didn’t strike me as necessarily being a good thing. Being knackered even before the week starts is seldom desirable!

And in fact, I had a lovely day. I pottered around at home,. Then ambled into town on the bus. I had to collect a package from the sorting office. As I was walking up towards the sorting office, I happened to notice a bridge off to my left. After I had picked up my package, I went to investigate the bridge. Aha. It goes over the main road and leads into Queens Park. I haven’t been into Queens Park for years – and then only briefly. I went for a look see.

I knew there was a cricket field in the park. I have inspected it once, when I was with Richard. I didn’t know about the boating lake, though. Nor about the miniature railway track that runs around the lake. Nor did I know about the tea shop. I had a bit of a poke about, but couldn’t spend too long. There was shopping to do. I did, however, notice the parking area which costs 50p for two hours, instead of the £2.50 for two hours in the town centre car park. It’s not as though it’s a lengthy walk from the 50p car park. Probably not very much further than the town centre one!
I managed to buy nearly everything on my shopping list. Except for soap dishes and knitting needles. And I forgot to go to Primark, because that wasn’t on my shopping list at all. I was going to go this morning. But didn’t!

And then it was Saturday, and my Birthday Eve. We went to London on the train, The Builder, me and the Travelling Wilburhippos. The train was late :-( But that didn’t matter. We weren’t in any hurry. We went past The Sidings – it was difficult to see, though. The sun was shining brightly, but very low in the sky and it was a bit blinding! I saw the greenhouse. The Builder didn’t see anything. He’d gone down to grab a sandwich because there was only the train manager on the train and the buffet was only open occasionally!

We eventually arrived at St Pancras station, greeting Sir John Betjeman as we passed, admired the ceiling and considered hopping aboard one of the Eurostar trains. We thought better of that – we have London-based things planned for Sunday. So we ambled along to our hotel, a pleasant 5 or 6 minute stroll from the station. We checked in and then went out for a bit of an explore. They’ve upgraded the Brunswick Centre since I had last had occasion to poke about in Bloomsbury. I had noticed the last time I was in London that the apartments had been painted on the outside. And this time I noticed that all the pound shops, charity shops and tat shops have been replaced by fooderies, eateries and much more upmarket clothes shops. And the Safeway has, of course, gone and been replaced by a Waitrose. There was also a little food market with lots of fun, foodie things. The local pubs have gone upmarket too. We called into the Marquis of Cornwallis for a pre-dinner drink – and just stayed. We had a squishy couch to sit on, the wine was pleasant. The food was lovely. I even got a free bowl of soup because they’d sent soup instead of a side of buttered cabbage with my burger. Not that I could manage to eat all that, but it was very tasty!

And then it was Sunday, and my birthday, and a big adventure day.
First adventure at the British Museum for the Babylon exhibition. We really enjoyed it. It was much less crowded than the Hadrian exhibition, and was an interesting mix of Babylonian material and later depictions and renditions of various Babylonian themes – so Blake’s Nebuchadnezzar, various 18th and 19th century depictions of Daniel and so on, together with historical assessments and so on. Babylonian astronomy and astrology . And some simply beautiful mosaics. Lions and a bull and an absolutely gorgeous dragon. They had the mosaics at the beginning of the exhibition. Had I been curating it, I’d have had them at the end, because they were absolutely stunning and a reflection on what Saddam Hussein did do and the Allied troops are now doing to the historical site of Babylon, though extremely interesting, hardly counts as stunning.

You may remember that when we came down to the museum with Tabitha and Gaz for the Hadrian exhibition, we found a little pub off Oxford Street which served really nice fish and chips. We managed to find it again, and had a rather nice Sunday Roast.

Then it was time to make our way to the London Eye for our 2:30 flight. We had to be there ready to join the queue by 2. Off we trundled, down Charing Cross Road, pausing to loiter for a bit in Trafalgar Square. We reached the Eye with lots of time to spare. Mind you, the queue was enormous. You wonder why so many people are still so keen to go on it! Mind you – I suppose we were! And in fact the queue moved quite quickly. We were boarding the Eye by around ten past.

We had a wonderful day for it (but the sun – bright – low in the sky - …) although the London suburbs did seem remarkably smoggy. We, in London Central, were untroubled by smog!!!!!

And then we were back on the ground. What to do for the rest of the afternoon? “I know,” said The Builder. “Let’s go on that there boat ride down the Thames”. So we did!

It was, it must be admitted, quite chilly sat outside. But sit we did – even if I did end up putting on my hat and my gloves as the temperatures fell even further as the sun began to set.

And then we made our way back to the station, calling into Waitrose as we passed by. The Waitrose in Bloomsbury keeps very civilised Sunday hours. 12-6, rather than 10-4 in Sheffield.

We decided to wait for the train in the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras Station. We started out in the bar, being entertained by two young men who said they were preparing for a stint in Afghanistan. It was distinctly brisk, sat where we were. People kept coming in and out, leaving the door open. One of the young soldiers (I assume they were soldiers – although I suppose they might just as easily have been air force) kept getting up and closing it. Then they left to catch their train. I discovered, as I went to find the ladies, that there were more rooms, well away from the door. A Dining Room, and a “snug” and nice warm places. We moved! And had dinner. The food there was also very nice. Much nicer than railway pubs usually provide.

And then we caught our train. A slow train. But that was all right. We still weren’t in any hurry. And the slow train was £18 each instead of £58 each for the fast train!

Marlo was extremely pleased to see us come home.

The Builder went back to work this morning. I’m doing an evening duty – which, it must be said, has been extremely busy for an evening shift. But I wasn’t extremely busy this morning. The gas man came to look at why two of our radiators are leaking and why the boiler seems grumpy (we need two new radiator valves and a new wotsit in the boiler. Thank goodness for boiler and radiator insurance!). He’s coming back next week.

Other than entertaining the gas man, I had a pleasantly lazy time at home, drinking tea and eating toast and watching the winter being wintry outside and the central heating being toasty inside.

And I made a cake.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ian's First

OK, I'm here - out of the kitchen into the blog:
Behold (thanks to December Delicious) - chargrilled salmon with asparagus in lime vinaigrette (with slight modification by Ian).

Serves 4.

500g chat potatoes (small)
4 salmon fillets (with skin on)
Olive oil spray
250 g asparagus, woody ends trimmed, halved lengthwise, cut into 3cm lengths
Yellow (butter) squash chopped into 1cm bits
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lime
2tbs drained capers
1 small garlic clove crushed
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbs finely chopped tarragon

Cook potatoes in boiling water, throw in some butter and chopped dill after draining.
Heat chargrill to close to the surface of the sun, spray fish with oil and cook skin side for 3-4 minutes then turn and do about the same on the other side - be brutal!!!!! but rare in the centre.

Cook asparagus in boiling water (with squash - Ian's addition) for 1-2 minutes.  Drain, rinse in cold water and toss with remaining ingredients.  

Place fish on plate, spoon over asparagus mix and serve with spuds.

In our hurry to eat it, I forgot to put the card in the camera so you will have to put up with this inferior looking photo from the mag - ENJOY (preferably with a Shaw & Smith Sauv. Blanc)!
Think I will do this for Christmas.  Well done again Delicious!


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Another weather report

We woke this morning to quite solid rain. The forecasters yesterday had been offering dire warnings for Yorkshire and North East Derbyshire concerning snow, and more snow and yet more snow. There didn’t seem to be snow around us. Plenty of water, though. Water trickling into the lounge room from the top of the window. Not sure there’s much we can do about that at half past six on a wet and windy December morning. I moved the lamp and anything else that might object to getting wet, put the cat’s towel along the windowsill and let it as a Problem for Another Day.

It became clear, as we went out to get in the car, that the rain bashing against our windows had been lying to us. It had also been snowing. Oscar was covered in snow. QVR was all slushy.

The forecasters had all suggested yesterday evening that we should leave a bit early for work. We hadn’t.

And in fact, all was well. It was snowing in earnest as we hit the bypass at Chesterfield, but the Derbyshire council is extremely good about keeping the roads gritted and clear of snow. It’s true they had concentrated on the inside lane in both directions, but that was ok. No one was venturing into the outside lane; we all progressed at a stately 55 mph in the slow lane. No one was hassled. The traffic flowed beautifully.

Until we hit the county boundary with Sheffield.


The traffic came to a complete standstill.

The A 61, a main arterial into the city centre and significant bus route, clearly hadn’t been gritted, isn’t loved, nor maintained. The roads were slushy and slippery. The traffic was at a complete standstill from the Meadowhead roundabout. It took nearly twice as long to drive the 4 miles from Meadowhead to the Adsetts Centre than it took to drive the 12 or so miles from Tupton to Meadowhead. You would expect it to take longer than usual under the circumstances, for it was still snowing merrily. But that was ridiculous.

Doesn’t the council have some sort of statutory obligation to keep the roads passable, or at least to make an effort? It’s quite noticeable that as you drive past the Chesterfield depot in the evenings and early mornings when snow, ice or frost are expected, the gritters are all lined up, champing at the bit, ready to rock out and get going. As far as I can tell, the Sheffield gritters are wrapped up warmly and snuggly in their sheds, doonas pulled over their heads, hot water bottles tucked in, to stop them getting wet and cold, poor things.

There is no snow in the Sheffield City Centre. It’s just dark, cold, gloomy and wet.

I have a super-long weekend coming up. I’ve got tomorrow off, and am on the evening duty on Monday and not coming in until 4. Hooray for long weekends!!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

December snow

We walked out of the house yesterday at just before 07:00 and crossed over to Ward Street where Oscar was parked. He wasn’t in the driveway because the skip was still there. Mercifully, there was no need to scrape quite so much ice off the windows as there had been on Monday morning! It was just starting to rain and icy rain as we got to Ward Street

We were just getting into the car, when I hear a miaow. I looked around, and there was Marlo, looking at us, as if to say: Where are you going on such a dark, cold morning?

I didn’t want him following the car and getting lost or run over, so while The Builder was sorting things out, I picked him up and took him back to the house. He was encouraged to stay inside by the appearance of kitty treats on his food mat!

As we were approaching the house, it had started to snow slightly. Marlo was dotted with flecks of white as we went in. By the time I got back to Ward Street (tripping over the diversion sign on the pavement as I went), it was snowing with determination and starting to settle. Chesterfield was positively white. And the A61 bypass had snow to either side. It was all very pretty.

Sheffield had no snow. It was just damp and cold and miserable! Although people I work with who live in Sheffield reported that the pavements were very icy and they had had trouble walking on them.

Melbourne has had a smile in the sky this week. America, I am given to understand, has had a sad face. We couldn’t see anything on Monday evening – it was much too cloudy. But yesterday, as I walked out of the Adsetts Centre, you could clearly see the crescent moon in the western sky, with Jupiter and Venus much, much lower down. Probably too far apart to be a sad face, but very beautiful nonetheless. I tried to take a photo of it, but the street lights obscured the planets and you couldn’t see them. By the time we got to Sainsbury, the planets had been eaten by clouds. And by the time we got home, where there were no clouds, the planets had set.

It looked a bit like this :

Except of course the sky was black and the moon and the planets were shiny white!

We dashed home on Monday evening, early for us, so The Builder could visit his doctor who has been treating him for a manky rash with very slippy creams and unguents. The appointment was for ten to five, which was always going to be a rush. We got there a little late, he leapt out of Oscar and hustled into the surgery. I hopped into the driving seat and took Oscar down to Ward Street. Got home, was just talking to and thinking about feeding the cat – when The Builder came in. That was quick, I thought. Alas. His doctor had had to go home poorly sick :-S He has another appointment just before Christmas. Later than Monday's to avoid having to dash home from work like that. Only – we’re both on holiday that week!!!!!

The radiator in the dining room appears to be leaking. The carpet is all wet. I think it’s only leaking when it’s not on, though, which is why we have failed to notice until now. That and the fact that if we are at home at the moment, the heating is on downstairs! The weather man said that he thought that winter would maintain its grip at least for this week. Funnily enough – I thought it would hang about really until the end of March or so! Fortunately, from a leaking radiator point of view, we have a maintenance contract with our gas supplier. An engineer is coming on Monday morning when I happen to be at home anyway.

Monday, December 01, 2008

A cold weekend's activities

It’s amazing what the implications of adding a new piece of kit to the kitchen can be.

One large (ish) Le Creuset casserole. Needs somewhere to live. And there’s no space in the cupboards.

There is, however, plenty of cupboard space. It’s just not being used effectively. Everything is pretty much still where it was when we moved in two and a half years ago (yes – really; two and a half years!) and put things in places that “Would do for now”.

I made a start reorganising and turning out the cupboards. Alas; if you are going to turn out the cupboards, especially if you only do it every two and a half years, you more or less also have to clean them. So I did.

In the meantime, the weekend’s activities had been enlivened at 08:10 on Saturday morning by the arrival of a medium sized skip in our driveway (Oscar wasn’t in the driveway, fortunately. He was probably irritating Mrs Bay Windows by loitering with The Vixen in Ward Street). It had been further enlivened by The Builder’s eBay purchase of a rotivator which needed collecting from Ilkeston, near Derby. I went with him, just for the ride. And as a displacement activity from turning out the cupboards. And a very pretty ride it was too, even if it was quite remarkably foggy. Jenny took us effortlessly to the address – to their surprise; it’s a new estate and most sat navs can’t find them. They were expecting us to ring up in a lost sort of a way. Except they had failed to send us their phone number. And little did they know that I have subscribed to a quarterly map updating service and have the very latest map on Jenny, which includes their estate.

Oscar has a larger boot capacity than might appear to be the case. With a bit of wiggling, the rotivator fitted in quite snuggly.

We came home along an alternative route, just because. Also very pretty, though it was still foggy and extremely busy in and around Alfreton.

We got home. The Builder went out and began filling up the skip. I turned my attention to the cupboards.

I have sorted out and cleaned the cupboards. I have reorganised the black shelves and the side shelves. I’ve even sorted out the plastics cupboard. Then ----- I began looking at the tiles :-S There went most of my vinegar and two scrubbing brushes. Then the stove top – not too bad because I do that regularly. Then I made the humungous error of looking up at the extractor hood. Gulp!

I certainly haven’t cleaned it since we moved in. I don’t think it’s EVER been cleaned. It’s clean now! But it took for ever. It needs a new filter. It probably needs doing again to make it truly, really sparkly. Semi-deep cleaning the kitchen took virtually all weekend :-( And it still isn’t properly finished. And I didn’t even get to the larder :-( Can’t do it next weekend, cos we’re going to London. Perhaps the weekend after. Or maybe in the couple of days before Christmas.

While all this was going on, The Builder carried on filling the skip, dismantling the front rockery while he was about it. The fog thickened, paused, pondered and went away over Saturday night. He carried on into Sunday, knocking down the side step as he went. It was not foggy on Sunday but it was surely cold! The skip is now nearly full and eventually he conceded that he was much too cold to do anything else and came inside. But all the stones and rubble are now accounted for, and some of the soil has been moved down into the kitchen garden, ready for a new life as vegetable beds.

We had tea and gooseberry cake with cream for afternoon tea as a reward for all our efforts, and especially The Builder’s efforts out in the freezy weather.

The Le Creuset casserole which started the whole kitchen thing now has a new home. Except that it’s not in it!! Waitrose was selling silverside on special offer last week and I bought some. It’s unusual for me to buy my meat at the supermarket but it fitted all my meat-buying criteria so I did. Someone had mentioned to me that they had made a goulash with the one they bought. Goulash sounded good to me. So I made a huge pot of it yesterday after I had stopped cleaning. We didn’t need goulash for dinner last evening – I had a piece of pork for roasting. And in any case, spicy casseroles always taste the better for a bit of keeping. So the Le Creuset pot is currently sitting on the stove top, watching over the goulash. All that effort to create it house room and it doesn’t want it!!

For some reason my arms are aching quite a lot today!
It was Advent Sunday yesterday. We had given some thought to going to one of the higher churches but decided that the skip needed to take priority. So I listened to the Sunday Service on the radio. But I think I'm going to have to give up Songs of Praise on BBC2 on Sunday afternoon/evenings. It irritates me too much these days. They did top and tail yesterday's program with Advent hymns, but the service was mostly about children and babies and vaguely Christmasy things. You'd think they could at least do Advent on Advent Sunday! And they let one congregation sing a hymn which called God "lovely" Lovely? God isn't **lovely**. Lambs are lovely. So are kittens. Gooey chocolate cake is lovely. Likewise snuggly, fleecy things and log fires in winter. But ***GOD***?!?!?!?!? I had to leave the room, splutteringly speechless at that point!
There has been an astronomical phenomenon in Australia today. The conjunction of Jupiter, Venus and a half moon, to create a smile in the sky. Here are Ian’s photos of it (not mine, NB - I'm not in Melbourne today):

Gooseberry upside down cake

I found some gooseberries from the garden in the freezer on Sunday and decided to make a cake with them.


225g unsalted butter @ room temperature
225g golden caster sugar (though white would do)
4 eggs
225g self raising flour
1 glug cointreau (though brandy, wine, orange juice, any liquid would do)
Gooseberries, topped and tailed

Heat your oven to 160d if a fan oven, 175 if not
Dice the butter and place in your processor of choice
Add the sugar and beat until creamy and fluffy
Add the eggs one at a time until thoroughly incorporated (take your time with this)
Slowly beat in the flour
Add the glug of liquid

Grease a cake tin (I used two loaf tins)
Layer the gooseberries (or fruit of your choice) along the bottom
Add the cake batter

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until springy in the middle

Allow to cool a little and remove from baking tray/s

We had one of them warm with cream for Sunday afternoon tea. We've kept the other one for lunches this week


Welcome to Ian's Foodies, where we can share our food stories and experiences. Our kitchen is open to everyone with an interest in all things epicurean!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I was looking forward to a nice, peaceful quiet weekend doing very little. And more or less – I got one.

It started a bit earlier than I had been anticipating. At just before three on Friday afternoon, the fire alarm sounded. Rupert and I looked at each other, got up and picked up our coats and bags (you’re not supposed to, but they were to hand so no time was lost). The alarm stopped. Rupert and I looked at each other, shrugged, put down our bags and coats and sat down.

Thirty seconds later, the alarm went again. Exactly the same scenario played itself out. Groundhog day in miniature! Except that after we had sat down again, Rupert thought he had perhaps better go and find out what was happening.

Thirty seconds later he rang down and said that we were evacuating the students because nobody knew why the alarm had gone on and off like that and safety first was to be our watchword. I grabbed both our bags and coats and snuck up the back way to Level 4, abandoning the students to their fate.

It was complete chaos up on Level 4. Alan the security bod was announcing over the intercom that people should leave the building. Students were wandering out in a desultory sort of a way. Staff had gone out or were hanging around in the entrance lobby. Just as the building was nearly cleared, someone came in and said the alarm had been triggered (twice) by the contractors working on the lift (We’ve only had the lift a few weeks – how come it has had to have contractors working on it so often since it arrived? Doesn’t inspire confidence!)

Those in Charge decided to let the students back in. Even greater chaos as students were still trickling out but now also stampeding back in.

Eventually it was all sorted out and I decided there was no point in going back down to the office and starting again and went outside to await the arrival of The Builder and Oscar.

Saturday was a stunningly beautiful day. Absolutely glorious. Clear and blue and sunny and still. Not hot, but beautiful. We trundled off to Chatsworth (huge queues heading towards there from Sheffield and the main road from Chesterfield again – a second weekend of Christmas Markets in the Chatsworth grounds). We went to Dunstan Hall just for a mosey about. As we were driving over the hill towards Dunstan Hall and could look down into Sheffield and into Chesterfield, and could see way, way out towards the horizon, The Builder remarked on how lovely the view would be from Spitewinter. Well, by the time we’ve pootled about in the garden centre and then been to the supermarket, it will be time for lunch. Let’s go to the Three Horse Shoes and admire the view.

So we did.

They are suffering a bit with the recession, I think. It was fairly quiet for a sunny Saturday lunchtime. But they were offering a November lunchtime special of vegetable soup and roast pork with roast potatoes and all the usual stuff. So we had that. It was excellent. A few more people were trickling in as we made our way out to admire the view and head home.

A lovely and quiet afternoon and early evening, and then we headed off across country to Manchester airport. For Freyja was coming home and her plane landed about ten minutes after the last train into Manchester central departed. Seems remarkably early to me – her plane was due in at 25 past 9, which is hardly late. We stopped at the Red Lion just outside of Disley – just up from the Dog and Partridge where we met Ian’s niece when we collected him from the airport back in August. The food in the Red Lion is very much nicer.

We got to the airport, found Freyja waiting, leapt in the car and headed back to Sheffield, making extremely good time. We dropped Freyja, Bernard and Sleepy Hippo at their place and trundled back to Tupton, where we arrived to find Tabitha and Gareth in residence. We didn’t stay up until after 3am drinking wine and whisky at all, no, no, no, no. Of course we didn’t. Well, I certainly didn’t. I don’t drink whisky!!

We poured ourselves into our beds.

For some reason I slept extremely, really, very well.

Right up until The Builder sat up in bed and exclaimed: Goodness me – it’s 9:00!!!!!

Nine O’CLOCK?!?!?!?!?! Gosh. I was supposed to have breakfast ready by then Tabitha and Gareth were supposed to be dressed, fed and ready to go into Sheffield to visit Batch and his new wee kitten for 11.

It didn’t happen. Everything slipped by a couple of hours. Eventually they went to Sheffield, The Builder and I pottered gently about and did a few useful things, time passed.

Tabitha has polar bear pyjamas. I want polar bear pyjamas! She had bought hers in Primark in Cambridge. There’s a Primark in Chesterfield too. We arranged to meet them there later in the afternoon. I didn’t buy polar bear pyjamas in the end. I bought sheep ones. And some Rudolph ones. And some Christmas knickers. We all bought pyjamas. But The Builder’s aren’t as fun as mine!

Then we went home and had slow roasted shoulder of lamb followed by apple and rhubarb pie and we drank some more wine (apart from Gareth, who was driving) and then they went home and The Builder and I went to bed.

It was a lovely weekend.

And mine continued. For I had Monday off. And absolutely no plans at all.

The weather wasn’t so good, but the house was nice and cosy and the tea was plentiful and there was toast and I really did just amble through the morning, doing a very few useful things and just enjoying being At Home. Then I went. All By Myself, in The Vixen into Chesterfield. I don’t go out All By Myself very much any more. It was quite an adventure!!! Oddly, when I got to the car, I found both the front windows completely, absolutely, fully open. Just as well it hadn’t started raining before I got there. I can’t quite work out how that happened.

I had a nice wander around in Chesterfield. Went to the library, and pottered around the shops, and wandered around the town centre. Then I went to Sainsbury’s – for some reason we were completely out of wine. The Sidings was a Wine-Free Zone. I can’t remember that ever happening before!!!! Then I went home, the back way just for fun, and made stew and dumplings and read recipe books and slowly drifted into the late afternoon.

Then The Builder dashed home and dashed almost straight out again. He had an appointment at the surgery at 4:45 for the doctor to look at the manky rash he’s had on his arms and legs. He was gone for simply AGES! Eventually he came back to report that the doctor was pleased with progress, had written him a prescription for yet more slippy unguents, and that he had been gone for so long because, although the receptionist had SAID 4:45, she had put him in the slot for 5:45!!

We have a pharmacy in Tupton. It arrived a couple of weeks ago. It’s where the smaller of the village shops was. And the butcher, which closed last summer after a fire (which was about the time the (contiguous) village store disappeared) came back at about the same time that the pharmacy appeared. We are quite well-appointed for a not terribly huge village. Butcher, pharmacy, fish and chip shop, grocers with Post Office attached, two pubs actually in the village and another one on the main road, coffee shop, a couple of mechanics, and a surgery. Plus a junior school - and a middle school and another shop, but they are dotted about slightly further afield. Apart from a branch library, there’s not much missing!

The Builder has bought me a new Le Creuset casserole. It’s HUGE! What shall I cook in it to inaugurate it?