Friday, January 29, 2010

I spoke to both Jeremy and Joan at lunchtime today.

Funeral proceedings are being held up by a queue at the crem. Joan said because of the flu pandemic – but I don’t think that can be right. If there were that many flu-related deaths the papers would be screaming and yelling about the imminent end of civilisation as we know it, not to mention chaos, mayhem, and the probably cessation of the human species. They are not mentioning flu at all at the moment. But I have over the past few years noted a seasonal queue at various crematoria in January. I think it’s the cold that does for folks, although none of the people that I have known who have been queuing have actually died of temperature related causes.

Anyway. Not next week, but possibly the week after there will be a small, private funeral for immediate family. Then, probably in March, there will be a huge, enormous memorial service to which the whole world will be invited.

In the meantime, Tim is going home (about now) for a few days to catch up there. Penny is arriving (in about an hour) to stay until Tim gets back early next week. Jeremy and Jill have been in almost continual attendance this week and are having the weekend at home (but popping in from time to time). The Builder and I will drop in for a short time on Sunday afternoon.

And Joan is, as far as I can tell, being engulfed by sympathy cards. I might buy a pot plant to take with us on Sunday. I wonder if I should make a stew as well. People always take stew into bereaved households, don’t they?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Uncle Peter

I'm sorry to report that Peter died yesterday at around midday.  He was 87 and had been in fairly good health and certainly sprightly of mind pretty much up until the end.

I'm going to miss him.  He made me laugh. And he poured the acest gin and tonic of anyone I know

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Poor Peter

Had a message from The Builder this morning to ring Tony.  Uncle Peter was in hospital and the condition was terminal.

Thank heavens for mobile telephony.  Can't make international calls from the office. But I can on my iPhone. I rang Tony.  Not so much terminal as terminated, I think.  Peter had collapsed on Saturday and been taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital, where he had been put on a life support machine.  Cousin Penny had told Tony that Peter's guts were completely dead, from which Tony infers a massive embolism. So poor Peter is being kept alive by a machine but is, I fear, effectively dead.

More news as it becomes clear.

He's going to be very cross though.  He was determined to last until that cruise to Greenland later in the year.

Beef and tomato sausages

Some of you may remember that last year we made an attempt to make some sausages.  We weren't entirely pleased with the result - they were a lot like burgers inside a sausage skin!  The sausage skins languished in the back of the fridge, forgotten and out of date.  I forgot about my mincer and sausage filler, languishing equally neglected in the back of the cupboard (but mercifully not going out of date!).

From time to time I pondered the idea of trying again, but never quite got around to it.

Until, inspired by Jonathan Brown's recent sausagy blog posts, I decided to have another go this weekend.  I couldn't put the sausages in skins, but at least I could make an attempt at the sausage meat.

I began with 500g of rather nice minced beef from Chatsworthand half a pot of  semi-dried tomatoes.

Into this I added half a tub of fresh bread crumbs (I nearly always have breadcrumbs in the freezer - I blitz leftover bread in the blender every couple of weeks or so) and two very healthy squeezes of concentrated tomato paste.

Then I mooshed them all together by hand until it looked like sausage meat and not like hamburger meat!  Then I left the mixture to sit for a couple of hours for the flavours to mingle.

The grill in our oven really doesn't do a very good job, so I ended up frying them.  And we had them with mushrooms, bacon and baked beans for a late Sunday brunch.  They were very delicious.

 (The red wine was for Sunday dinner, much, much later and not for brunch, no matter how late.  
The beer was a different matter! 
I had ginger beer with mine. Much less alcoholic than beer)

I've been reading Jonathan's other sausage blogs with close attention.  Might try pork sausages this coming weekend.  It's not as though I am short of pork meat.  Plus, of course, I have a mincer.  With a sausage attachment.  And now some sausage skins to boot!

While I was in the kitchen over the weekend, I made a leek and cheese tart as well.  That too was very delicious.  We've been having it with home amde mushroom soup for our lunches this week.

Iva Nedake (well, I did have)

I am not much prone to headaches.  Hardly ever get them.  So it was a somewhat disagreeable surprise to wake up at about 3am on Monday morning to find that I had a particularly unpleasant one :-(

It was an even less agreeable surprise to wake up at getting up time on Monday morning to find that I not only still had the hedache but that now I also had a stiff neck and very sore shoulders. :-(

I decided not to go to work.

I didn't go to work yesterday either. Headache, stiff neck and sore shoulders still in place, accompanied now by lower back pain.

The Builder also had a headache.  This is extremely unusual.  He practically never gets them.

I have come back to work today.  My neck, shoulders and lower back are still very unhappy - but the headache has finally gone away.  Mercifully.  I think The Builder's has gone now too.  I don't think he ever had backache though.

It was all a bit irritating, though.  I had spent ages on Sunday getting lots of yummy lunch things ready for the first half of the week!!

I have discovered a disadvantage to having a large, new telly in a room with comfy chairs.  I sit down, in my comfy chair, next to the nice, warm radiator, and get ready to pit my brain against the nation's finest in, say, University Challenge, or prepare myself to drool over the Hairy Bikers and their Sunday Lunches - and promptly go to sleep!  Was much easier to stay awake and concentrate when I was gazing at a small screen from the solidity of a dining chair!!


I came to work this morning from a two-car family.  We are now reduced to one.  It may be just as well I brought The Vixen to work with me or she might have gone too!  But The Builder decided that we no longer require two cars now that he has stopped working.  Plus he had rather a substantial tax bill to pay.  Oscar has been sacrificed to appease the appetites of the tax man.  Mind you, he had hardly been out of the driveway since The Builder retired, and it's quite an expensive indulgence to have a car sitting, immobile, in the driveway.  I think The Builder did have some thoughts about selling The Vixen too  and buying something else - fortunately he rethought.  The Vixen is a nice car, easy on fuel usage and a pleasure to drive.  No point getting rid of a perfectly good car for no real reason!

Friday, January 22, 2010

A quick trip to Edinburgh

I’ve been to Edinburgh since last we spoke.

It was Digimap’s tenth birthday (though I think I was a bit surprised to discover that they were only ten – I think I thought they were already operating when I got here. But apparently not). Digimap started as Ordnance Survey online mapping data for UK Universities and FE colleges. It now includes historical mapping, which we have, and marine and geological material which we don’t subscribe to. I am the Digimap Site Rep for SHU and as close as SHU gets to having a map librarian (we only have about 25 maps, apart from the online mapping data), so when I got an invitation to go to the celebratory day conference it seemed like a useful way to spend a bit of time. Fortunately Peter and Alison (the head of our little bit of the department) also thought it was a useful way for me to spend a bit of time and authorised me to go, and for the University to pay for it. Excellent.

So I went up on the lunchtime train on Tuesday. Amused myself by watching the grey, gloomy scenery passing by, and watching DVDs on my laptop. I was in the quiet coach (I was using headphones on my laptop, naturally) which I seldom travel in. I have to say it was rather pleasant. The coach was quiet, almost unnaturally so. People were reading or listing to their ipods or using their laptops, all nice and quietly. There was a little murmured conversation, but nothing raucous. It was all quite civilised. Not only that, very few people get into the quiet coach. They’re all queuing in the middle of the platform, and the quiet coach is either at the very front or the very back. Must remember this for the future!

Got to Edinburgh – and set off purposefully to the castle. Which would be fine – except that I was supposed to be heading for the University!! Turn round, go back!! Not only that, I had equally purposefully climbed up a steep, long flight of uneven stone stairs.  I could not speak when I got to the top –  in fact, I could scarcely breathe!!! Took the walk to the University slightly less purposefully :-)

The University of Edinburgh has a hotel in the grounds of the halls of residence. And a very nice hotel it is too. And I was extremely pleased to reach it. I think that The Builder and I are not walking enough. I was quite weary when I got to the hotel, and it’s not that far from the station! I think we might need to instigate a walking regimen at home. Preferably one that does not involve a huge number of steep, uneven stairs at the beginning of the walk.

Enjoyed the conference a lot. It was all very interesting, for a map librarian, no matter how few maps your collection might include (although I have now checked and discover we have something a little less than 400 maps; this is still not a huge collection). The keynote speaker in the afternoon was the Chief Exec of the Ordnance Survey. She had lots of interesting things to say. And reminded me quite closely of Sandi Toksvig, for some reason.

The trip back was also in the quiet coach, but was enlivened by us all having to change trains unexpectedly in Leeds. Got home just before eleven.

Didn’t see much of Edinburgh, mind. Might book The Builder and me into the University’s hotel one weekend and have a gentle potter about.

While I was in Edinburgh, a man came and drilled holes in the house and attached a new SKY dish, lots of new cabling, a new telephone point in the loungeroom and attached a new SKY box to the new television. The Builder tells me that the television now actually shows television programs. I have not seen this demonstrated yet. I am hopeful of this evening!!

One of the people who influenced me to move into librarianship was my school and then University friend, Jane. She trained as a library technician after we left Uni, and while Ross and I were living in Beaufort would come to visit us and regale us with amusing tales from the State Library of Victoria, where she worked after graduating from her techie course. She married someone else who worked at the SLV. (Ross and I were among the few guests who were not family at the wedding.) I was casting about for something to do which might bring in a few dollars and after a weekend where Jane had been particularly enthusiastic about her job, thought that librarianship sounded a good call. I decided not to go down the technician route but to train as a proper librarian (more fun, really) and went off to do my course at the college in Ballarat. But I have to say that librarianship as a career option would never have occurred to me had it not been for Jane and her tales from the State Library.

We kept in touch, really up until I moved to England. After that we had occasional, but very sporadic email contact. I did know that she had come down with bowel, lung and liver cancer (never did things by half, did Jane), and last heard from her towards the end of 2008. She died on Tuesday of this week. I had wondered whether she might have already died (not having heard from her for some time) and had also wondered if I would ever know. Happily Stella noticed the death notice in the Age. And not only that - recognised the name!

So raise a glass to Jane, who I have known, on and off, since I was twelve, and who all unwittingly steered me onto the path which this week took me to Edinburgh for a conference and which keeps me gainfully employed in an interesting job, and which may yet lead who knows where. And think kindly of her husband Andrew, and their three children, the youngest of whom, I think, is only eleven or twelve

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Some pics of the new toys. And Marlo

It might be cold outside - but I'm nice and snuggly warm

Frannie's new toy - bought on a January impulse :-)

But we did need this new toy. You never know - the weather may warm up one day

It's got LOADS more space than the last one, but still (just!!) fits under the kitchen bench

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Builder has been dismantling the kitchen

... with a view to taking out the old fridge and installing the new one in its place.

Where the old fridge was he has found:

  • a hole in the floor
  • a whole load of electrical wiring
  • and
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .

  • THE COLD WATER STOP COCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!
How stupid to put a FITTED fridge in front of the main water tap for the whole house. It's no wonder we couldn't find it!!!!!!!!!

The new toys have arrived

We woke up on Saturday morning to discover that the world had turned green overnight. It was really quite strange after what had been a month of almost unbroken white outside! And, it was raining. Hard enough that I was enormously pleased that the temperature had risen to a balmy 5d outside. Had it still been minus 5, the rain would have been falling as thick, thick snow – and I wouldn’t have been going anywhere for the next week!!

We stayed in bed and watched the rain and messed about on our laptops and drank tea and played with the cat – until I suddenly remembered that the Man from Curry’s was due sometime between 10 and 2, and it was now half past nine and you could absolutely guarantee that if no one was up and dressed the delivery would come early, and probably before 10. Not only that, but the delivery would fail because the gate was still locked! Time to get up!

The new toys arrived at around lunchtime. It was very exciting (except that the cardboard recycling bin is now full, and won’t be emptied this week because of the number of places which didn’t get their general rubbish bins emptied last week on account of the ice and snow). The new fridge will almost certainly fit under the counter where the old one presently resides, but it will take a bit of effort and messing about to organise it all. In the meantime, it is sitting in the dining room, pretending to be a freezer!

It had occurred to us on Friday that the new telly would have nowhere to live – and no means of getting a picture to it, since the roof-top aerial blew down last winter. We hadn’t missed it because we run our small TV from a SKYbox and had never used the aerial. Seemed a bit of a waste of quite a lot of money if we couldn’t actually watch the new telly! Time to indulge in SKY multi-room. And, while we’re about it, to upgrade to a SKYplus box so we can record programs. The question now is whether to leave the small TV in the dining room, which is quite cosy in winter and where we mostly spend our evenings, or whether to move it upstairs into a bedroom because if we have a fun new toy in the lounge room, we may decamp into there. And if we move it upstairs, does it go into our bedroom, thus making it even less likely that we will bother to get up on Saturday mornings, or into the spare room to entertain our infrequent overnight visitors?

A decision for another day. First, we have to find somewhere for the rather large new television. And it’s now sat where the fireplace would be in the lounge room, had it not been tiled over (not by us, I hasten to add!). And the SKYman is coming on Wednesday to install the new box. The Builder will be in charge. I am expecting to be in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

So that was all very exciting.

On Sunday we went adventuring. I had observed that there is a Waitrose in Nottingham and in pursuit of expanding my still quite small collection of Waitrose branches, we decided that rather than heading to Sheffield we would go to Nottingham instead. It’s a bit further, but not lots, and it’s quite a nice drive. Mind you, once we got to Nottingham, we couldn’t actually get to Waitrose – defeated by the system of one way streets and no through roads! So we abandoned the car in an extremely full multi-storey car park and set off on foot.

It is almost certainly the smallest Waitrose in the world, always excepting the ones that are beginning to appear at the motorway services. Very cute, but possibly not worth making a special trip to go to again. Although, we did pick up a nice piece of fish, reduced quite considerably for a quick, Sunday afternoon sale.

We didn’t bother to go exploring in Nottingham. No point doing the shops – we don’t need anything and in any case we seem to be out of money for some reason. We weren’t entirely in the mood to do the touristy things (The Builder was recovering from an unhappy reaction to Saturday’s goulash), and there was no point in heading to the Old Trip to Jerusalem pub – we didn’t want a Sunday roast lunch because I had a nice piece of pork at home just waiting for our return, and we didn’t need a drink. So we turned around and went home again.

I have to say – it’s a very pleasant drive to Nottingham. And if we did want to go pubbing in the city centre, we could go from our place by bus. We have not abandoned the idea of Nottingham as a place for a day out. Just postponed it, perhaps until the spring and maybe on a Saturday rather than a Sunday.

The roast pork was very tasty. And it was amazing how quickly The Builder decided that his digestion was restored to full health once he discovered that there was not only roast pork, but also apple and gooseberry tart on offer!

The waggoning has been going rather better since we declared the emergency session of Lent. We are more or less doing Zoy’s weekday diet: whatever we fancy between 18:00 on Friday until bedtime on Sunday. No alcohol and careful eating outside those times. Can’t say my waistline has noticed – but my wallet has!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Playing in the e-January sales

At some point during The Snow, I noticed that the things in our fridge were not feeling particularly cold. More kind of cool. On the other hand, it was minus something in our kitchen unless the oven was on, so no doubt the fridge was quite warm by comparison.

Only – at work people were discussing having to turn their fridges down, because everything was freezing.

I decided to try an experiment, and turned the fridge right up as high as it would go.

Result? Nothing in particular. Everything remained cool but not absolutely cold, and certainly not frozen.

There is definitely electricity going into the fridge – the light comes on when I open the door. I began to suspect that whatever it is that generates cold in a fridge had gone on strike. Not that it matters much. It is still minus something in the kitchen, except for when the oven is on. But no doubt it will eventually warm up a bit. There is something of a thaw happening as we speak. And by August it might well matter. And they don’t generally have fridges at sale prices in August, whereas they do in January. Time for a new one. Off to the Curry’s website to have a look-see.

Our fridge is a built-in one, hiding behind a cupboard door. To buy a new, built-in one that would hide behind a cupboard door was going to cost something in the region of £700!!!!!!!!! An under-the-counter fridge, not hidden behind a cupboard door was £150. Not sure I have ever understood why it is necessary to hide the fridge. I can see that it might be an advantage if you have a horde of teenage boys about your person – but no matter how well you might hide a fridge from them, teenage boys will always be able to sniff it out! And, I discover, under-the-counter fridges are not only cheaper but also considerably larger than built-in, hidden ones. I ordered one of those.

It is possible that I might, accidentally, without noticing and certainly without malice aforethought, possibly also have ordered a 32”, flat screen, digital television while I was about it. Maybe!

They’re coming tomorrow, sometime between 10 and 2. I wonder where we can put the television.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Winter lamb stew with cheesey scone topping

I follow the BBC Good Food people on Twitter. A couple of days ago they posted a link to a list of comforting, warming winter foods. The first of these was a beef stew with a muffin topping. English muffin, rather than American muffin, I presume. It looked very tasty. I had some left over roast shoulder from Sunday and decided to make a stew with that, rather than beef and see what happened.

I shredded the meat and added some onion, some mushrooms, a bit of shredded cabbage and some of Sunday's left over gravy, and popped that on to stew quietly while I considered the topping. I made a variation of the BBC's recipe, substituting parmesan for cheddar cheese (didn't have any cheddar) and using skimmed milk for the mix. It was pretty much a scone mix, I think.

I piled the scone mix on top of the hot, added some extra parmesan on top, then put the dish in an oven at 190d for about 20 minutes. The scone mix rose magnificently :-)

I served it with potatoes, sprouts and carrots

And a rich gravy.

It was extremely delicious, but the scone mix rose so successfully that there was rather too much scone compared to stew. By the time I had eaten half my scone, I was running out of room for the stew and veg. On the other hand, it's much lighter and I think it's probably also much healthier than dumplings. So I'll make it again, but put half the depth of scone in, I think

Message to the Weather Gods

Dear Weather Dogs

Thank you very much for the extremely interesting winter weather you have seen fit to bestow upon us this year. A considerable improvement on the mild, damp and dreary winters we have had over much of the past decade.

This year you have surpassed yourselves. They are talking of this being the “worst” winter for thirty years. And I must say, the Christmas snow was a delight. I really enjoyed the frosty, frosty weather in the New Forest. I even rather enjoyed the excitements of last week, trying to get home on Tuesday, struggling into work for most of the week, admiring the beautiful, beautiful scenery, when I was about in daylight. It was kind of fun, watching the trains on Saturday morning, blowing up snowstorms as they made their way under the railway bridge up the valley. It made us feel very much as though we were Keeping Calm and Carrying On with True British Grit as we ducked out, between snow flurries, to Sainsbury’s for a few supplies, even though we are pretty much stocked up for a general siege most of the time.

But I am inclined to think that this might almost be enough. The weather conditions this morning were DREADFUL! OK – I’ll grant you they aren’t as dreadful as they are in Devon, or even in parts of Dorset and Hampshire. But the pavement this morning was like iced glass. Getting to the car was not comfortable. It took me over 15 minutes to de-ice the windscreen. I appreciate that a millimetre or so of ice is not a considerable depth. But it was sheet ice. On the windscreen. Frozen solid. And impossible either to see through or to get the scraper under in order to remove it. I don’t think that I have EVER seen ice quite like it on the pavements, roads, or cars. Pedestrians are being forced to walk on the roads, and are complaining that motorists are completely ignoring them and taking no account of the fact that they are there. Speaking as a motorist this morning, I can tell you that mostly we are aware of pedestrians being about on the road, but that they are almost impossible to see, in the dark, in the gloom, when they are wearing dark coats and dark hats and are scrunched up against falling over. Viz vests are what are needed. Viz vests! Pedestrians who are walking on the pavements are almost all skidding over; some are simply unable to move at all. Fortunately, the pedestrian area around St Paul’s Place and the Peace Garden, which I walk through to get from the car park, was relatively ice free. The University walkways likewise. Alas, not the pavements maintained entirely by the council.

Dear Weather Dogs, I appreciate that ill-equipped, invisible pedestrians are not strictly speaking your fault. But enough, already. I don’t know whether to risk going to Japanese this evening, or whether to go home while it is still almost light. It is hard to know, when the severe weather warnings are pronounced with gloom, doom and apocalyptic pessimism in the mornings, whether essential travel includes making an attempt to get to work. I would call upon the services of Aslan to induce a thaw. Except that I rather think that the need of the good people of Devon may be greater than ours. But if you could see your way clear, a slight thaw would be much appreciated.

And in the meantime – we’re getting to eat loads of simply wonderful, deep winter food. Rich soups, deep casseroles, dumplings, slow roasted things. Things that come into their own when it is cold and freezing outside. Might have to make a goulash for tomorrow. I lerv goulash and that’s really only freezing winter weather food. Maybe just the slightest of slight thaws?

Love, kisses, and many thanks in advance.


PS I've just spoken to the language college. Tonight's classes have all been cancelled. So one less thing to worry about!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More soup, and slow roasted shoulder of lamb

Chicken, this time.

When I quartered a chicken before freezing it in useful little packages, I made a stock with the carcass and all the vegetables I had lying about that needed using up. This included some red cabbage, so the resulting broth had a strangely beetrooty look to it!

Yesterday I took the broth and added some chopped pieces of thigh meat and some finely chopped savoy cabbage and simmered everything all together (with the thigh bones but I took them out at the end of the simmering).

While all this was going on, I had a knuckle end piece of shoulder of lamb to ponder. I also had last week's finely sliced winter coleslaw vegetables in the fridge, and some ends of carrot and parsnip. So I put all the vegetables into a roasting dish, put the lamb shoulder on top and added half a bottle of white wine. No herbs. Herbs would have involved going out into the snowy wastes of our back garden and excavating with optimism!

Sometime over the weekend I was watching or listening to someone cooking something which they did at 70d for 6-7 hours. I hadn't been paying close attention, but it sounded intriguing. Although 70d doesn't sound very hygienic to me. But I thought I'd give something like it a go. So I covered the roasting dish with foil and put it in the oven at around 100d for four hours, basting occasionally. After 4 hours I moved the lamb down to the bottom of the oven, turned it up to 150 and put garlic potatoes and a rhubarb and apple crumble in the top of the oven.

When I took the lamb out to rest, I put the vegetables, juices and the steaming water for the actual serving vegetables into the blender and then put the result through a fine sieve. I thickened the gravy with rice flour, shredded the lamb and served it with garlic potatoes, broad beans, sprouts and carrots.

There was quite a lot of the delicious gravy left over. Seemed a pity to waste it. So I added it to my chicken and cabbage soup. I have to say - the end result was specatcular. So much so that I can only say that it is a good job there is 15 miles between me and the soup waiting for tomorrow and perhaps Wednesday!!!

Saturday, January 09, 2010

More snowy tales

Getting in to work yesterday was quite a bit more fraught than it was on Wednesday.

We decided that waiting until daylight was a good plan (in case of ice, or worse, black ice) and eventually left at about quarter past eight when it was possible to see quite clearly.

It was cold :-S But at least QVR was fairly clear of ice and snow.

We got to the roundabout onto the A61, which is the main A route between Derby and Chesterfield and, come to that, Sheffield. The traffic heading north to the north of the roundabout was at a complete standstill. The traffic heading north to the south of the roundabout was at a complete standstill. Come to that, the traffic heading out of Wingerwoth to the west of the roundabout was also at a complete standstill - there just wasn't quite as much of it! There was JUST enough space to swing all the way around the roundabout and to head back into Tupton.

Never mind. I had brought stuff home with me just in case of bad weather and road conditions. There wasn't much in my diary. I could work from home if need be. Or try again later.

No need to give up yet, though. The Builder was more than willing to give it a go heading through the back roads, which weren't looking too bad. Although it seemed sensible to go up Hagg Hill very slowly and with extreme caution (Note to the driver of the Derbyshire County Council van who was sat on our tail - tailgating is NOT driving with care and caution, and especially not when the temperature is minus 8 and the roads are somewhat icy!!!!)

All was well. Until we got to the church at Churchside, where we ground to a halt.

I rang the office. Probably not coming in. Will work from home.

Nonsense, said The Builder. Not giving up yet. We’ll persevere.

Took nearly an hour to get to the Dronfield Bypass (usually takes 10-15 minutes). Any approach road to Chesterfield that we were on, or that we saw, was at a complete standstill. The bypass itself wasn’t too bad, and the trip from Meadowhead was pretty much as you would expect under the circumstances. Took and hour and a half to get to the office. Where they were quite surprised to see me.

But The Builder was determined to get me in. I don’t think he approves of working from home. Mind you, I suppose if you are a carpenter on a building site, or even a prison officer in, erm, a prison, it’s not quite so easy to work from home (take five prisoners home each, and shackle them in the cellar!)

Wasn't so bad this morning, although we had intended to leave around 7, but slept in and didn't leave until ten to eight. We went down the A61, didn't get held up until the Hunloke Arms and took 35 minutes to get to the Dronfield Bypass. Took a mere hour and 15 minutes to get to work. I am hopeful that on Monday we might be able to cut it back to an hour!

The being mostly dry during 2010 is not going well, and the reducing our waistlines whilst simultaneously increasing our running away fund's weight is going disastrously. We clearly have no will-power, no discipline and no moral backbone. I have called an emergency session of Lent, meeting from Monday!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Pea and mint soup

We had a truly delicious pea and mint soup at The Swan in Stoford on New Year's Day. I had, as it happens, been considering making a pea soup once we got back home, but had been thinking along the lines of ham stock and split peas. The pea and mint soup was so delicious that I decided to give it a go instead.

So not ham stock - would certainly overpower the mint. I made a chicken and vegetable stock (chicken carcass from Sunday, parsnip, carrot, leek, a bit of cabbage I happened to have lying about) and then took the last of the garden peas from the summer out of the freezer, together with some of the mint I had frozen in the early autumn. I simmered these in the stock until the peas were very tender (much more tender than I would have cooked them if I had been planning to serve them on a plate) and then put it all in the blender in little batches so that some, but not all of the peas were mooshed up.

My soup is lighter and less thick than the one at Stoford, but is almost as delicious. I think that theirs is a proper winter soup and mine is probably more of a summer soup. But I shall continue to drink it until it is all gone, even though it is snowy and cold and very definitely not summer!

I made a chicken hotpot with the left over chicken pieces from Sunday. Shredded the meat and put it, some mushrooms, some left over red cabbage and the left over gravy from Sunday in my new baking dish that Father Christmas brought me (Father Christmas brought me LOTS of lovely kitchen things, including a very fancy fat separating jug, and a splendid griddle which stretches across two hotplates on the stove, and a toast and marmalade jug and a Japanese cook book, but lots of other things too), and mixed it all together. Then I covered it all with thinly sliced potato which I dotted with butter. I baked it in a moderate oven until the potatoes were crisp and the hotpot was bubbling. We had it with sprouts, carrots and gravy. Exciting what you can do with a few left overs!!

Snow report

It was not snowing when we left home at 07:00 yesterday morning. Not a flake. There was quite a bit of snow in the garden, and some icy snow on the footpath, but not a flake was falling from the sky.

By the time we got to Sheffield, it was snowing, but only a little bit. And The Builder reported that it had stopped as he was heading back out of Sheffield.

Didn’t pay much attention, really. Until first Peter, and then Rupert rang to say that they were stuck on a tram and a bus respectively, and not going anywhere very fast and could I please cancel their morning meetings, or at least let people know that they would be late.

I began to pay closer attention. It was, in fact, snowing very heavily in the centre of Sheffield. So much so, that I couldn’t see the Royal Mail building on the other side of the bus interchange.

Rupert rang to say that his bus had turned back and that he was heading home. Also, that he had seen Peter who was also heading home. In the meantime, both Paul and Caroline had arrived, but they had walked in.

The buses and the trams were slowly but surely being cancelled.

There were several centimetres of snow outside the Adsetts Centre. This is very unusual – SHU is usually very good about gritting its surfaces.

At 10:00 I decided to cut my losses and go home while at least the trains were still running. And it transpired that SHU surfaces had been gritted but that the snow was just lying on top of it!

The trains were largely delayed or cancelled. Fortunately, however, the London trains were running, and running on time. I got on the next London train.

There were lots of people with very large suitcases on the train :-S

Got to Chesterfield, and the station carpark was covered in around 15cm of snow. Not a taxi to be seen. Went up to the bus stop. There were lots of buses sitting around (and several buses which were of no use to me actually moving). But no drivers for our buses.

Nothing for it, but to walk.

No worries. It’s only 5.5 kilometres from Chesterfield to home. Perhaps 6 if you count it from the station. Should be quite a pleasant walk.

As it was. There were a few flurries of snow, but nothing too bad. I rather enjoyed the walk from the edge of Chesterfield to Tupton. Until I got to the Hunloke Arms (just over half way) I was easily keeping up with the southbound traffic, although it mysteriously cleared away at that point.

But walking in 15-20 cm of snow uses muscles that I haven’t used since I was seven years old, and it was beginning to get a bit tiring. And I hadn’t ever noticed that there is quite a pull uphill at one point (although I suspect it wouldn’t be quite so much “uphill” under ordinary circumstances).

I was definitely very pleased to get home!! And I fear the January teetotal experiment was put on hold once I did get home. As I got closer and closer to home I had begun to think quite kindly of the idea of a glass of brandy. This was an odd thought because I almost never drink brandy. In my world it is a cooking ingredient, not something to drink. So I didn’t have brandy. But I did have a G&T, and some wine with our chicken hot pot in the evening. Back on the wagon today.

Probably just as well I walked, though. The first bus I saw was pretty much as I approached Tupton, and it was absolutely packed.

Had a fabulous run into work this morning. The Builder and I left home at about ten to nine (we weren’t going *anywhere* this morning until it was properly light!). The roads had been sort of cleared with snow ploughs and some grit in places. Most of the schools are closed. There was almost no traffic at all, not even in Sheffield. It was uncommonly like driving on a Sunday morning. Should be like that every day!!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Back to normal service, more or less

The intention had been on New Year’s Day plus one, to collect Gwen at 1, after a leisurely morning and a bite of lunch, and then to go out for the afternoon. No plans for the morning.
Alas, I woke at 5:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. The Builder wouldn’t let me get up until it was properly light, so in the meantime I sat in bed, drank tea and played games on my iPhone. And the INSTANT it was light I was up, abluted, dressed and ready for action.

But what to do? We decided to go to Stockbridge, where I have never been, to have a poke about and a bit of an explore.

It was absolutely FREEZING outside. Freezing, I tell you. Anything wet was frozen. Anything green was now a crisp white. The sun was shining. It was truly and absolutely beautiful. But cold. We took our coats, hats and gloves with us!

Jenny took us along a very picturesque route to Stockbridge, which is a pretty village in the Test Valley in Hampshire. It was cold. Very cold! But we wrapped up warm and went for a stroll, poked about in the shops, found one which was selling toast and marmalade pottery at reduced prices, so had to buy a serving bowl, admired the river Test and all the mill leats and streams and generally admired the place. Got back in the car – and my lips were so cold that when the heating kicked in - they split ;-(

We drove back to the Hobbit House by a different route – and found ourselves coming through a part of West Dean which we had not previously properly noticed. We also discovered that the village bridge was much prettier than it appeared when you were merely passing over it!!

After lunch we made our way back to Gwen’s place. The traffic in Salisbury was once again at a standstill, so we bundled her into the car and made our way to the New Forest via Downton, where the traffic was much more sedate. We had a lovely drive around, over as much of it as we could manage, and stopped in Burley for afternoon tea. We were held up on our way out of Burley by a cow with two calves meandering along in the middle of the road, seemingly oblivious to the queue of traffic that was forming behind them (I say “seemingly” because I am fairly sure they knew exactly what was happening behind them and were secretly laughing at their amusing little jape!!!)

We dropped Gwen back at home, briefly visited the Hobbit House, and then made our way to Winchester, where we were meeting Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca, Evie, Ian and Sophie for dinner in a pub near where Ian used to live. It was a good evening and nice to see everyone again.

And then suddenly it was Sunday, and time to go home. We left just before 10 and had a really good trip back. The roads were nowhere near as busy as we had feared. And we discovered that Waitrose is making incursions into the motorway services business – we called into a services which had a small Waitrose supermarket tucked in a corner and managed to get bread, milk and a chicken for whatever you call a meal that you have at around 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon!

As we headed into Derbyshire, we noticed that the pavements, fields, roofs, trees were covered in a light dusting of snow. As we got closer to Tupton, the cover of snow got deeper. Tupton itself had a decent covering. Made unloading the car a bit of a challenge!

Marlo was quite pleased to see us back!

And now I am back at work. That two weeks off went by mighty fast!! It helped a bit that I am on an evening duty today. I couldn’t work out how to get a parking permit for today, so decided to come in just for the desk shift. So it will be tomorrow when the Great Alarm Shock occurs for me!! In the meantime, we had quite a pleasant morning and early afternoon just sort of pottering about. But normal service is now, more or less, restored and that long, long run of Sundays has finally come to an end . No more holidays for me until April. Although the April holiday will certainly be noteworthy, given that we are off to Oz for three weeks.

Got on to the scales this morning. Was quite shocked by their report. Grabbed the tape measure. Was very shocked by its report. No point even trying to get into the wedding trousers! Made the Builder weigh and measure. Was even more shocked by his results. Shouldn't think his wedding trousers would fit either. Have put us both very firmly on the wagon to see if a few weeks of abstinence will have any effect. If not, we may need to bring Lent forward!

I did, in the end, work out how to get that Belling to work. Belatedly, and rather too late for the large hob to be of any use. But I’ll know for the next time I run across one. Didn’t ever get any life from the grill, though.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year Musings

Lots of people in the Hobbit House guest book have referred to how romantic the place is. Well, of course it’s romantic. There’s nothing else to do!! There is, as you know, no internet. There are only three fuzzy TV channels. There’s no DVD player (although there is a video player and a few old videos lying around). And I suppose there are some books, plus we brought a couple of books and some magazines. And The Builder has found some games on his laptop that he had forgotten about. But there isn’t even a radio. We do have a travel radio but I hadn’t thought to bring it. If nothing else, most British guest accommodation has a clock radio by the bed. No clock radio here. Come to that - no clock of any sort.

This has meant that I have been floating around the three fuzzy television channels (BBC1, BBC2 and ITV). And have seen (the last part of) a romantic comedy which I had to send to Tabitha to find the name of, (the last part of) the new version of the Railway Children, (the last part of) the original Willy Wonka, all of the New Year’s Day Doctor Who, and lots of programs about comic actors such as Mollie Sugden, John Inman and June Whitfield (as far as I am aware she remains living). Lots of things I wouldn’t normally bother with. Ordinarily we are messing about on our laptops with foodie programs burbling away in the background!

I’ve also been practising my hiragana. I suppose I ought to have been learning some vocab as well, but that doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

So it’s not all bad. And the flat is warm and cosy. The location is lovely. We saw a curlew on the way back on Thursday evening - although what precisely it was doing in the middle of the road in the middle of the night is a mystery! And we have heard owls at night and seen lots of birds during the day.. We even managed to sleep in the first morning we were here. The curtains are quite thick and it was very dark and somehow our bodies were seduced into thinking it was still night time. Now, however, we have got used to the darkness and I am waking at our usual, insanely early hour. Therefore, of course, so also is The Builder who is happy to provide tea but who won’t let me actually get up until it gets light (ish!!!) We are, after all, supposed to be on holiday.

So it’s a nice place. I could be persuaded to come back - provided they’ve fixed the baby belling so I can make what was effectively a bubble and squeak last night in less than half a day!!

We had lunch in The Swan at Stoford with Gwen to celebrate the arrival of 2010. We had pea soup to start (and absolutely delicious it was too) and then ENORMOUS plates of fabulous shepherd’s pie, made with lamb shank meat. They were only open until 3, and I don’t think they were expecting quite so many people to come for lunch. The chef had only made 4 shepherd’s pies, and we had three of them! I suspect if they’d had a few more reservations, rather than people just dropping in, the chef would have made more than 4 of the pies!! Then we took Gwen home and went for a potter about in the Forest. We called into Fordingbridge so I could collect the bridge. We came home along country lanes. The sun shone brightly all day. As we came back along a single track from Whiteparish, we passed by a stubbly field along an open bit of country with the sun setting behind it. You could almost have been out in parts of the Victorian countryside. Except it was deceptively cold and icy when you got out of the car!!!!

I wonder if you can buy games to play on Apple Macs - for those rare occasions when you can’t play games online

Friday, January 01, 2010

Between Christmas and New Year

Wednesday 30th December

And so to another Sunday lunch, this time roast hogget with Barb and Greg at Barb’s cute cottage in Warminster.

Mind you, we had quite a bit of fun getting there. Jenny said it would take about an hour from West Dean to Barb’s place so we thought: OK. We’ll leave a little earlier, call into Waitrose, pick up a few bits and pieces and then saunter slowly on to Warminster, taking our time, enjoying the misty, wintry views.

We decided to meander along some of the narrow, winding country lanes around West Dean, meeting up with the main road at the pretty little village of Whiteparish. And then - we certainly had plenty of time to admire the misty view of the Salisbury Cathedral spire as the traffic ground to an abrupt halt near Whaddon. We inched our way to where two lanes merge into one. We crawled to where they are building a new park and ride. But it wasn’t roadworks holding us up. No - it was the Tesco roundabout. Which is only going to be worse once the park and ride opens in the spring!

It has to be said, though, that the traffic all around Salisbury was absolute bedlam. The Waitrose car park was completely chaotic. We grabbed a parking space that became free as we were nearing, ran in, grabbed a few things, then cautiously put ourselves back into the traffic, hoping that we weren’t going to be too much later than our ETA.

As we passed The Swan @ Stoford, it was very tempting to stop, ring Barb and invite her and Greg to join us there. But no. We had been promised hogget. We persevered. And the traffic cleared, more or less, and we arrived at Barb’s door a fashionable ten minutes late.

And we had a lovely afternoon. The fire was lit and was very cheerful. We had delicious food, nice wine, plenty of chat, and a small cat to play with. The hogget was scrumptious and was accompanied by roast potatoes and roasted winter vegetables. And once again, suddenly the afternoon had passed, darkness had come upon us, and it was time to come back to West Dean.

And to another evening where lunch had been so delicious and so filling that there really wasn’t need for another proper meal. Although - I am not sure that twiglets, biscuits and chocolate really make a proper supper! Would have had eggs on toast, except we had had eggs for breakfast. And the baked beans are back in Tupton!!

We are quite enjoying staying in our little studio flat above the old barn, out in the middle of nowhere. The lack of internet and phone signal is a little frustrating for me. And the cooking facilities are definitely frustrating. There is a small belling oven with hot plates. This wouldn’t be frustrating at all, except that only the small hot plate works, and although the oven works I am not convinced that the grill does. Trying to create crispy bacon this morning made me come close to throwing the whole thing out the window. Except that the kitchenette doesn’t have a window, so all was safe!! But it is probably just as well that Ian is not here. And possibly that we are not really eating here.

The Builder and I appear to have acquired sneezes and runny noses. I would suggest hay fever, except that late December would be a very odd time to get it

Thursday 31st December

Today we were off to the seaside, to Lyme Regis to meet Farishta for lunch. We decided to leave plenty of time so we could just amble there, and we decided to go via Dorchester and to come back via Shaftesbury. So off we set, through cloud but not rain and not even much wind. And we had a lovely drive through the Dorset countryside, and made extremely good time. The Dorset drivers were, on the whole, being much better behaved than the ones in Salisbury yesterday.

So we went for a potter in the shops and then made our way up towards the Post Office, where we were to meet Farishta. My mobile phone rang - using the Sci-Fi alarm it uses to remind me to talk to Tony on Skype on Thursday evenings. This caused me immense confusions because it happens it WAS Thursday, but it certainly wasn’t Thursday evening! I looked at it. It was Ian’s mobile ringing mine! All the way from Daylesford, where he, Lindsey and Simon had repaired to celebrate the New Year. In a torrential rainstorm. Accompanied by thunder and lightning. And hopeful that the rain was also being energetic over Ballarat where, unbeknownst to them at the time, a vigorous bushfire had made a determined (but unsuccessful) attempt to burn down Lindsey and Ian’s house and dogs. So that was a very exciting converstation, as The Builder and I were wandering around a chilly, grey but dry Lyme Regis!!

In the middle of all this excitement, Farishta appeared and we took ourselves off to a rather nice cafe in the old Mill, where I had a pleasingly light baked egg with smoked pollack, leeks, cheese and toast, Farishta had smoked salmon and The Builder had a bowl of savoury mince and potatoes. It was all very tasty. We had some wine, a good chat, some cake and a general catch up, and then we went for a wander around town and along the windy seafront and then up and around the gardens overlooking the bay. It was good to see Farishta. We keep in touch through email, blogs and Facebook, but only really see each other for a couple of hours once or twice a year. Might see if I can organise a long weekend in the early summer, before the schools beak up and come down for a longer visit.

Today, however, we were slightly pressed for time, because we were due in Whiteley sometime after six and needed to get back to West Dean first before heading out again. So we farewelled Farishta at the car park and had a good trip back, heading first towards Shaftesbury and then along the A303 towards Salisbury. So a nice coverage of the Dorset countryside today. I like Dorset!

Then we had a quick change around (clean clothes, a wash, a cup of tea) before heading to Whiteley for a New Year’s Eve dinner with Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie. Also there were (now pay attention at the back) Jeanette’s brother (and thus The Builder’s son) Ian and his daughter Sophie, her parents-in-law Mike and Rosie, and her mother (and thus one of The Builder’s multiplicity of wives) Pip and Pip’s husband Tom. See - not complicated at all, if you pay attention!

We had a good evening. There was lots of chat and laughter. Lots of beverages both alcoholic and non. There was lots of food. It was good to catch up with everyone. We hadn’t seen Ian since August, although we do speak on the phone. We hadn’t seen or spoken to Mike and Rosie since August. I think the last time we saw Pip was at The Builder’s dad’s funeral. And I can’t remember the last time we saw Tom. So that was all good. Oh - and I even managed to have my regular Thursday evening chat with Tony. Having told him that I would be offline and unavailable, I ealised that if I took my laptop to Whiteley, it was unlikely that Matthew or Jeanette would object to me using their wi-fi to Skype New Year greetings to m’parents!

It was a pity we couldn’t stay to see in the New Year with them all, but we were at least 45 minutes from our bed, and there was no saying what the motorway would be like if we left later (in fact, at 10 pm on New Years Eve, the M27 was virtually empty). And I most emphatically did not want to be out on the motorway after midnight on New Year’s Eve/Day. On top of that, the gritters had been out working hard when we had set out, and there had been a bit of rain in Wiltshire. And the lanes to West Dean are not gritted. We didn’t want to be swishing around on ice! So we greeted the Whiteley Revellers by text message and saw the New Year in in our garret flat (what *is* the difference between a garret and an attic) with a rather nice wine. At least, The Builder saw in the New Year. I saw it in from my comfy bed with my eyes closed!!

And now here we are, emblazoned in sunshine, greeting the squeaky clean 2010 with brewed coffee and happy hearts. Hope it’s a good one for all of you too