Sunday, October 31, 2010

More frost

We've had two or three really hard frosts this last week, which have really done for the squashes, cucumbers and melons.  The Under-Gardener has pulled them up.

On the other hand, we actually have sprouts on our sprout plants which are nearly big enough to eat!!  We've never had proper sprouts on our sprout plants before, just tiny, poor, pathetic excuses for sprouts.  We've eaten the sprout tops but not actually the sprouts.  Mind you, the plants have been in for nearly 18 months.  And the sprouts aren't yet quite big enough to eat.  But they're coming along.

The chard is magnificent. And the carrots in their boxes are coming along well.  We've started thinning them out.

Otherwise, there isn't much to report. Winter is hoving into view.  We should be prepping the gardens and the allotment for winter - but we aren't!  (too cold, is my excuse - snuggled up inside drinking cocoa is what I'm doing)

The Matlock Bath Illuminations. Or not, as the case may be

Twitter is a wonderful thing.  It alerts you to all sorts of unexpected opportunities.

A little while ago, a post on Twitter drew my attention to the autumn illuminations and fireworks in Matlock Bath.  I investigated a bit and thought it looked like a fun evening out.  Tabitha and Gareth likewise thought it looked like fun.  Freyja thought it looked like fun - but not enough so to draw her away from a rare evening in!!  So I bought tickets for the four of us - although I was a bit surprised when they arrived in the post unaccompanied by loads of information on how to get there, where to park, advertising, a brief program of events, the sort of thing that usually accompanies tickets that come in the post.

Never mind.  I'm an Information Professional.  I can find things out.

And I did.  Matlock Bath. Derwent Gardens. Park and Ride.  Arrive early.  Sorted.

So we met Tabitha and Gareth at the Chesterfield station and trundled off to Matlock.  The first problem came when the sign to the park and ride apparently took us in the wrong direction.  A helpful young man in a service station sent us back in the right direction.  The second problem arose when the (small, insignificant) signs to the park and ride petered out.  There was no parking to be seen anywhere in Matlock or Matlock Bath. The traffic was nose to tail in both directions.  There were people converging on the town in hordes.  The queues at the fish and chip shops were 6 deep.

We drove through, looking for the park and ride - completely failed to find it. Drove out well beyond Cromford.  All the side streets had been coned off so we couldn't turn round for AGES!!!  Drove, slowly, slowly, slowly back, still searching for the park and ride.  Completely failed to find it.  Saw the buses, no park and ride.

It looked as though the event was going to be fun (and extraordinarily well attended).  What we could see from the road looked great.  But it all seemed a bit futile, so we abandoned the illuminations, the boat parade, the fireworks - and went to Bakewell for a not very exciting dinner in The Peacock.  We used to to to the Peacock quite regularly, until the quality of the food disintegrated.  It's got new people in now.  The food is still not fresh, local and seasonal, as stated on the menu!

We'll try again next year.  There is a station in Matlock, which would suggest the existence of a train service.  Plus there is the new bus service from Sheffield and Chesterfield, run with brand new shiny buses.  We'll leave the car at home!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rabbit pie and veal cutlets

For reasons that escape even me, when I was at the butchers' counter at Chatsworth on Saturday, and in what can only be described as a massively unlikely impulse buy, I acquired a rabbit ready for the pot.

I have never cooked rabbit before.

I have eaten it, and certainly not disliked it - but I probably wouldn't choose it from a restaurant menu.

I wasn't absolutely sure what to do with it, and in the end put it in my slow cooker with a glass of white wine and a jugful of tasty, rich chicken and sage stock.

Tony had spoken of fond memories of rabbit pie when he was evacuated as a boy from London to a farm in Edwinstowe during WWII, so I took the stewed rabbit, removed all the bones and put the very soft meat into a pie dish.  I added mushrooms and some of the braising broth, thickened to form a gravy and covered the lot with puff pastry, brushed with an egg wash.

It looked lovely when it came out of the oven

But I have to say it was something of a disappointment.  I'm not sure whether it was because it was a farmed rabbit rather than wild, or whether it just didn't want to be stewed in the slow cooker all day, but it was remarkably tasteless, even in what was quite a rich gravy.  And it had an after taste that was unpleasant to my palette (although The Builder didn't notice it). 

I'm not sure that I would bother to buy rabbit again, except that it would be interesting to see if it tasted any better if it was fried or even roasted rather than stewed.  The stew really needed the addition of LOTS of herbs and spices and flavourings. You'd almost have been better off with a boiling chicken!

I haven't seen them at the butchers' counter before.  Maybe if I see them again I'll give it another try and see if cooking it another way helps at all.

At the same time as I impulsively bought the rabbit, I also (and equally impulsively) bought two rose veal chops.  We had those on Saturday night, dipped in egg, flour and breadcrumbs, then brushed with melted butter and lemon juice. They were too large to fry successfully so I baked them in the oven until crispy and toasted on the outside.  They were absolutely delicious.  Lovely and steamy and succulent on the inside and crunchy on the outside.  I'll definitely buy those again!

Monday, October 25, 2010

It has been a truly beautiful weekend.  Apart from some rain on Saturday afternoon, the sun has shone, the sky has been blue, the wind has been light - and it's been bloody freezing!!!  Much, much too cold for October.  Freezing, I tell you.  FREEZING!!

This did not deter us from heading out on Saturday morning, though.  A dash to the supermarket, then a pleasant trundle out to the Chatsworth farm shop, where I surprised us both by buying two sizeable veal chops and a rabbit.  I've never cooked rabbit before! (It's in the slow cooker as we speak.)

Lunch in The Nettle was delightful.  It was raining by then, and still cold, so the log fire and my steak and ale pie went down remarkably well.

It has not escaped my attention that, when we go to visit people in their homes, their houses are always spotless, clean and tidy.  Our house generally looks rather on the dishevelled side :-S  It was therefore my intention to thoroughly clean it, from top to bottom, so that it too would look spotless and clean and tidy.  This, alas, did not happen ;-(  I did, however, turn out the kitchen cupboards and reorganise them, which certainly didn't help the cleaning of the kitchen project.  But we do now have organised and orderly cupboards.  Except that I've moved everything around and now neither of us can find anything!!!!!

I did some knitting and some messing about and some television watching. The Builder watched the Grand Prix on his laptop and didn't get up on Sunday morning until 10:00!!! We ate and drank well.  We pottered about.  Generally speaking it was a nice, quiet and relaxed weeken. A perfect springboard to what promises to be a busy week - and a busy weekend coming up

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


We had our first proper frost of this autumn last week.  This is a bit of a pity, because the courgettes, squashes and cucumbers were just coming into their own - a bit on the late side, I grant you.  But it was also a bit early for such a hard frost.  The plants are not looking at all happy now!  The sprouts and other brassicas, on the other hand, are thriving.  The frosty weather has been followed by warm, sunny days, so they are very happy.

The Under-Gardener has now brought in all the beans, including my beans for drying, and all the tomatoes.  I *think* the tomatoes might have been hit by a late blight.  They're in bags with bananas and should be ripening - instead most of them are turning black at the ends and then rotting.  Oh well.  We'll try again next year.

The apple trees are now fully harvested (and we have also acquired apples from Richard).  The eating apples were delicious; lovely and pink inside and juicy and crisp.  The apples on the allotment tree were a bit scabby, but peeled up nicely and have made wonderful cakes, puddings and stewed apple.  Richard's apples are also going into puddings and cakes - and into the freezer.

We got back on Saturday afternoon and found one of the black chickens wandering around in the vegetable patch!!!  We think she must have flown up onto the roof of the coop and then discovered that she could fly over the fence and out into freedom.  Although she didn't seem to appreciate the freedom - she was wandering around by the fence when I found her, and made no complaint when I picked her up and put her back in the orchard. But the Under-Gardener has decided to put up some extra wire along the top of the fence, the better to contain them.  We are not worried about them running away as such - but they are better protected from opportunistic foxes if they are in the orchard

The Under-Gardener has dug over the bit of ground by the kitchen wall.  Eventually it will be going, to make way for the new porch.  It's a bit early yet to cut back the garden around the fish pond.  But we are definitely planning to make a start on sorting out the flower garden in the autumn and early winter.  I want to get it all dug over, the shrubs and perennials (and bulbs) saved, then everything ready for a proper replanting next spring.

We also seem to have acquired a cat who is after the birds.  The Under-Gardener thought he saw Marlo with a dove the other morning.  Marlo - who was in the kitchen with me at the time - was a bit surprised to be yelled at from outside. The dove managed to escape.  But I keep finding feathers lying around.  There is another black cat that I occasionally see in the garden.  I assume it's that cat that's after the birds.  Not absolutely sure what I can do about it though

Simon came for the weekend

... so we had a massive feast!

We met him at just after lunchtime at Heathrow.  He had been intending to come up by train, but we figured that by the time he'd got himself organised, got the Tube to London then got the train up to Chesterfield, he would be seriously bankrupt and it would be well past bedtime.  Easier for us to nip down and gather him in.

And in fact, we had a good run down, even had time to stop for a bit of lunch in one of the services on the way (memo to self:  on no account, EVER, if tempted in to Burger King, indulge in the chicken royale.  It's made of reconstituted chicken, is unbelievably salty and fatty and is as dire as dire as dire can be. Bleurgh, bleurgh, BLEURGH!!!!!  The Builder quite enjoyed his burger though.

Anyway, back to Simon and the feasting.  We got back to Tupton in good time.  Simon and I had a gin and tonic, made with the exceptionally nice gin he bought in the duty free shop in Heathrow (Tanqueray No. 10, since you ask) and then we all trundled off to The Nettle for an extremely delicious feast there. Simon was a bit anxious about having the fillet steak - he had unpleasant memories of steak back in the 90s . And it has to be said that cheap, supermarket steak is unpleasant to this day.  The Nettle, however, does not source its steaks in the cheap chiller cabinets at the supermarkets!

And so back home, a glass or two of wine and everyone fell into bed.

Simon did not emerge from his bed until nearly lunchtime!!!!!!!  Well - shortly after morning coffee time :-)

In the meantime, I : grilled loads of sausages, meaty and quorn; peeled and sliced a hillock of vegetable crudites; slow roasted an enormous leg of pork from Farmer Jayne and Farmer David's most recent pig which I have kept hidden safe in the bottom of the freezer for this very event; I made a rather delicious (if I do say so myself) quorn shepherd's pie; I made (not anywhere like enough) roast potatoes and a mountain of vegetables.  And then there were: steamed gooseberry pudding, apple and rhubarb crumble, rice pudding, raspberry syrup, golden syrup and cream, and a chocolate roulade that Carol brought.  And gathered for the feast were Taffa and Gaz, Freyja and her Simon, Ginger Rich and Marryck, Paul and Carol, Penny and Steve, Joseph and Imogen and, of course, The Builder, our Simon and me.  The Weather Dogs wagged their tails kindly and the sun shone and was quite warm.  Warm enough for those who wished to, to sit out on the patio (though some of the patio sitters did put on their fleecy jumpers).  It was a lovely afternoon.  And there was almost no food left (though quite a lot of pork - but that was a mighty, mighty leg and I didn't put it all out!!).

Then the visitors all went away and Simon watched a weird American teen comedy all about (as far as I could see) underage drinking and underage sex and then we all fell back into our beds.

Simon got up at half past five!!

The Builder wanted to get up at half past five and make cups of tea and coffee :-S

It was my day off.  We weren't leaving until half eight.  No pressing need to get up at half past five at all!!!!!!!

In the end, though, time played its usual tricks and abruptly vanished with no notice, and in the end we were certainly rushing about to get out of the house anywhere near to half past eight! (And even then we had to rush back into the house as we were leaving because we had forgotten the sat nav)

We got in the car.  We nimbly avoided all the traffic lights and traffic chaos that has appeared outside our place.  Off we went.  Only to turn round and head back to the house when The Builder discovered that his trouser leg was covered in grease and fat. His trousers were therefore definitely not suitable for public appearances - and I hadn't packed a change of clothes for a brief, overnight stay away!

Newly attired, The Builder hopped back in the car and off we trundled down to Winchester where we were to deliver Simon to a pal for a further night of sybaritic merriment.  Except we ended up in Hyde Close and we should have been in Hyde Road. But eventually Simon connected with his friend and we dashed across country to Salisbury where we extracted Gwen from her lounge room and took her off to The Swan @ Stoford for a sneaky and unscheduled Monday Lunch.  It was, as you would expect, absolutely delicious.  My burger with buffalo mozzarella was a triumph :-)

Gwen safely delivered back home, we then moved on to Whiteley near Portsmouth for further feasting with Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie.  Matthew managed to get home from London by just after 7 and so could join us for roast pork, roast potatoes, loads of vegetables and a cherry pie (the cherry pie came after the main event!!).  In a burst of unusual bonhomie, Evie took me up to her room and introduced me to every one of her cuddly friends.  Ordinarily Evie treats me with the suspicion usually accorded to ogres you might suspect of barbecuing and eating small children.  Yesterday, however, I was persona grata, which was nice.  Not, of course, that it had anything at all to do with the large box of celebration chocolates that we were bearing when we arrived!!!

And today we came home.  Feasting is now abandoned for the time being.  We had eggs, chips and fried pork slices for lunch :-D  (Although I suspect that Simon is still feasting)

Back to work for an evening shift today.  The traffic in Tupton remains chaotic around our place.  The traffic lights are still there, although they do move around a bit.  Oddly enough, the traffic through Chesterfield and Sheffield wasn't chaotic at all.  Took me a little over half an hour to get to work. Usually takes much longer at that time of day.

It was extremely disconcerting to drive towards Sheffield heading into the blackest of black, black clouds.  Mercifully, it waited until I had reached the office before opening up and dumping a deluge on the city centre!!

Photo (c) Simon L

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How not to treat a beautiful trout

Well, I demonstrated last night that I emphatically cannot fillet a fish!

Steve next door had dropped off a beautiful brown trout after his most recent fishing expedition.  I had popped it in the freezer and took it out for use yesterday.  I decided to fillet it, marinate it in a ginger, garlic and sweet chilli sauce and then fry it and have it with rice and peas.

So far, so tasty.

I made the marinade with crushed fresh ginger and garlic, some sweet chilli dipping sauce and a very generous slug or three of Chinese rice wine. It smelled delicious.

It was only when I started to fillet the trout that I realised that I didn't actually really know how to do it!!  And the trout didn't really want to be filleted.  It took AGES to get the poor, hacked about "fillets" off.  It took even more ages to get the rest of the bones out.  Eventually I remembered that there was a pair of unused tweezers lurking in the bathroom cupboard.  That helped.  A bit!

Eventually I had something that almost approximated fillets and put them into the wonderful smelling marinade for a while.  In the meantime, I put some Japanese rice on to cook with one of those fish stock cubes that Ian bought when he was here.  I put some peas on to simmer.  And then I fried the poor old trout in some sunflower oil, with the marinade which I allowed to reduce to a sticky sauce.

It all tasted lovely in the end.  But I really need to learn how to fillet a fish properly.  It can't be that difficult, surely.

(And Rick Stein, on one of his seafood shows a bit later in the evening, made it look extremely easy indeed!!!)

There won't be any fresh trout for a while now.  Poor Steve is presently recuperating from an emergency appendectomy and is likely to be hors de combat for several weeks

Saturday, October 09, 2010


So there I was, at ten to six on Wednesday morning, sat in bed, minding my own business, not doing anyone any harm at all, drinking a cup of tea and looking at an iPhone game that Austin had drawn my attention to.  Fine and dandy I was.  At nine minutes to six I was unexpectedly and without warning struck with the most explosive and dramatic burst of diarrhea!

Necessitated a mad dash to the bathroom, a change of the (clean :-(  ) bed linen, a change of nightie, sluicing down of the bathroom and a day off work.

Make that two days.

I went to my Japanese class on Thursday evening, feeling quite considerably better.

I went to work on Friday ...

And had to come home again, feeling all over wobbly and not at all well.

The Builder came into Sheffield to get me.

On the way home, we wondered if I might not be feeling well because I hadn't eaten anything very much since Tuesday evening.  We called into Sainsbury's on the way past and bought tins of soup.  I think The Builder is being deprived - we almost never buy soup in tins.  Usually I make my own.  But the way he wolfed down his tin of Heinz tomato soup suggests that I perhaps ought to buy some for him from time to time!!!  I had chicken soup.  I must say - I prefer mine!  (But the soup and bread did make me feel slightly better)

Mind you - if you think that was all a bit dramatic, think of poor Steve next door.  Woke up on Monday morning feeling a bit peaky.  By Tuesday morning he was in hospital having an emergency appendectomy!!!

We have acquired a traffic light outside the front of our place.  It seems that all the power cables are going underground and the power poles are to be removed.  This has the advantage that we might be able to knock down part of the wall out the front and make the space into the driveway wide enough to be able to get a car in more easily.  Although then we would have to get council permission to drop the kerb. The Vixen's wheels don't like driving over the kerb too often - knocks the wheel alignment out!

In the meantime - the traffic lights are causing a merry level of chaos :-)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


The Under-Gardener has been working hard on the allotment and in the vegetable garden.  He now has two plots of onions and garlic planted on the allotment and has been weeding and manuring ready for spring.  We are also now pretty much ready for planting the new fruit trees and bushes in the winter, on the middle bit of ground on the allotment.

We have harvested the last of the peas - except for the very late sawing we put in.  They are growing quiet nicely, but the weather is turning colder and I don't think we'll get a harvest from them.  Next year I think we'll just keep planting through to mid-August.  On the other hand, the leeks are going great guns and the brussells sprouts that The Under-Gardener shoved in a corner are producing small sprouts!  He has also now dug up all the potatoes and sorted through them.  We have all four drawers down in the cellar full, and four hessian sacks full up in the cupboard on the landing.

The cabbages and sprouts and other brassicas in the kitchen garden are also doing well.  They are beginning to recover from the recent caterpillar attack.  The chard is amazing.  And we have now pretty much had the last of the runner beans.  Not a  huge harvest this year, but not bad. 

And finally, the courgettes and cucumbers and squashes are beginning to fruit in abundance.  We are harvesting them small, to encourage further fruits

And the grapes, though small, and mostly pip, are sweet and tasty.  Well, the black ones are.  The green ones aren't ready.  The chickens love them!!

Speaking of the chickens, they have been doing very well.  We are mostly getting four eggs a day and the birds seem happy and settled.  We did have a short time when one of the black ones was a little unhappy and was laying soft shelled eggs.  But we bought some grit and add that to their food once or twice a week, and that seems to have fixed that.  The chickens are now all happy and laying nicely formed eggs.

So far - so good!

The makings of Sunday lunch

A thriving grape vine

and lots of grape bunches

Monday, October 04, 2010

East Midlands Food Festival

It rained *all* day on Friday

It rained and rained and rained *all* day on Sunday.

So it was just as well that we had arranged to go, with Bea and Steve, to the East Midlands Food Festival on Saturday when the weather was warm and sunny and delightful!

The festival was held near Melton Mowbray, where I had never previously been and which is famed for its pork pies and for Stilton cheese.  I knew about the pork pies but didn't realise that it was equally famed for the Stilton.  I rather like Stilton cheese.  Not quite so fussed by the pork pies, largely because the pastry is too rich for me.  I tend to make my own, with a slightly less rich pastry!

The festival is held in the grounds of Brooksby Hall, which is a conference, wedding, agricultural venue.  It was a lovely location - although I rather wish I had worn my wellies or at least my walking boots.  The ground was very muddy!  Outside there were stalls selling all sorts of hot food.  Inside the marquees there were stalls and stalls and stalls of local and not-quite-so-local food producers' wares.  There were, indeed, many stalls selling local pork pies (although not the famous Melton Mowbray pork pies) and other stalls selling Stilton and even some selling pork pies with Stilton!  But there were other things there too.  The kipper people we ran across at the York Festival were there from Lancashire.  And, much to my sadness, the goose man we found in York was also there.  The sadness was that I hadn't really expected him to be there and so had not come armed with the money to buy a small goose for Christmas. I did, however, have the money to buy a box of small, boiled crayfish, and a few other tasty bits and pieces. And The Builder had the money to buy us pork burgers for lunch and a pint each to wash it down with (beer for him, cider for me).  Bea had a pint of beer too.   Steve did not - he had volunteered to drive!!

It was a good day.  And it really was just as well we went on the Saturday.  One of my foody Twitter pals had intended to go on the Sunday. And in the end - didn't