Saturday, December 31, 2011

Poor old Greg

For some time, Barb's brother Greg has been having problems with his heart. He was booked in to the Salisbury hospital on January 3rd to have an angiogram to see whether maybe a stent would help.  But I think he was having delusions of royalness - after we had seen him on Wednesday he had to be taken in the middle of the night to the Salisbury hospital with severe chest pains.  Alas - he didn't get to go in an exciting helicopter.  He had to be content with a boring old ambulance - not even with its lights and siren going!  Freyja says that this is all my fault - I had jinxed him by thinking how very well he was looking on Wednesday.  But I don't think it was my fault.  I hadn't actually said it - only thought it.

Anyway.  He has now had his angiogram and has also had FOUR stents put in. I think he is expecting to go home today, so I assume he is feeling better.  I don't think he is going home in an ambulance though.

On a happier note, our 2011 spare bedroom drought has been broken at the eleventh hour. Finally it has had an overnight visitor.  Freyja came to stay while we were away, to play with Marlo, who was very pleased to see her.  I think the spare room might have been pleased to see her as well.  It must be very sad to be a spare room that no one uses for its intended purpose (I use it, mainly as a spare storage space for things I can't be bothered putting away - but that is obviously not its intended purpose).

Last day of the year.  Better go and do something useful.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mostly at The Swan

It is possible that if you walked into your local pub to be greeted with a big kiss from the landlord you might be a bit worried that it suggested you were spending too much time in there.  It would certainly worry me - largely because I've never set foot in either of our village pubs.  They have never inspired much confidence. And in fact, one of them has been closed for months, and the other one has inspired the few people that I know who have ever been in (including The Builder) to suggest that I might like to save myself the trouble.  We have been into both of the pubs on the edge of the village. But we don't tend to go to pubs for drinking purposes, unless we are out walking. Mostly we go for food. And while the two local-ish pubs do do acceptable food, they're not foodie pubs so we don't bother. We hop in the car and go to The Nettle, usually. Or to try some of the other country pubs hereabouts.

But I wasn't in the least bit worried when I ambled into The Swan on Tuesday evening to be greeted in the foyer by Carl the Landlord (who had seen me crossing the road) with the key to our room, and a hearty kiss on the cheek.  It was, after all, Christmas. And although we don't count as locals (The Swan is a 3.5 hour car trip away, so not especially handy if we randomly decide to go out for lunch or dinner!), we must surely count as regulars.  We go 6 or 7 times a year and stay at least one night and sometimes two. It's one of my favourite food pubs.  I rather like the bedrooms as well!

We were joined that evening by Jeanette, Matthew, Rebecca and Evie who had come to see us and to have a rather nice dinner.  The food was delicious.  The log fire was burning (although in truth the night was remarkably mild for a late December evening). There was lots of wine. And a very great deal of fun and laughter. Then they all took themselves back to Whiteley, and The Builder and I dragged our weary and well-fed bones the huge great distance up the stairs to our room.

There was more feasting on Wednesday.  We dropped around to Nunton and collected Gwen and took her across to Warminster, where we were having lunch at Barb's house.  Some while ago, Barb and her brother Greg were round at out place for lunch and we were discussing that we were all of us increasingly finding it difficult to push Gwen around in her wheelchair when we took her out.  We pondered the possibility of buying a second hand motorised scooter to replace it. The only problem was that it would need to fit in the boots of our cars.  And while we have a hugely capacious boot - you could probably fit the houses of Parliament in if you stacked them brick by brick - you can't put anything particularly large in because of the design of the opening.  We went our merry ways and kept an eye on eBay and Amazon and local-to-each-of-us mobility shops.  One day Barb found just the very things based in Southampton and bought it.  We all four contributed to its purchase and arranged to give it to Gwen for Christmas.  And Wednesday was the handover day :-)

So we all exchange presents and gave Gwen her scooter.  She was extremely surprised (noone had mentioned it to her) and highly delighted.  Barb provided us with a delicious fish pie for lunch and lots and lots of wine.  To our surprise, for she is largely teetotal, Gwen had not one, not two but THREE glasses of wine!!!  We all had a go trying out the scooter. It's remarkably easy to drive and really rather fun. Then we took Gwen home and repaired back to The Swan for more food and more wine.

It was a great day.  There was lots more fun and laughter. It was a very happy afternoon. Although it is quite possible that I really didn't need to eat a full cooked breakfast, a two course cooked lunch and a two course cooked dinner!!!  I'm a bit scared about getting up and trying my trousers on :-S

But must get up.  We're heading back home today. And there is another cooked breakfast on offer before we go  :-D

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Christmas Feast

I was reading through my November issue of the BBC Good Food magazine which had arrived weeks before November.  Given that it was possibly still the end of September when I was doing this, I hadn't really been thinking about Christmas.  However, my eye was caught by this pretty little Christmas pie.  I like to have some festive and pretty vegetarian things for Freyja.  Things that aren't nut roast or quorn rolls

In the intervening weeks, I have pondered many things that we might have for the Christmas Feast, but have kept coming back to the pretty little Christmas pies. No reason why they absolutely have to be vegetarian. Although one of them most certainly will be.

So I made up a beef and ale stew in my slow cooker on Christmas Eve. I diced the braising steak into very small pieces and fried it up. I added some finely chopped fried onions and a can of Ruddles County ale and set  the slow cooker going for 10 hours.

I also took some diced butternut squash, some finely chopped leeks, a little garlic and some tarragon and simmered them together in some white wine (which entirely fortuitously was suitable for vegetarians) until they were all nice and soft. Then I stirred through a very generous dollop of Philadelphia cheese and a handful of crushed hazelnuts.

On Christmas Day  I lined some individual foil muffin cases with a home made short crust pastry (this was much, much harder than I expected it to be!!) and filled one with the squash mixture and the rest with the beef and ale filling. Then I topped the pies with a supermarket puff pastry lid, each of which had had a star shape cut out of it.  I made up a load of puff pastry stars while  I was about it.  They went into a moderate oven for about half an hour

We all had a bowl of butternut squash soup that Freyja had made while we were waiting.

When the pies were very nearly ready I warmed through some red currants and some white currants. Then I topped the pies with pastry stars, the warm currants and a roasted sage leaf each.  They ere very pretty pies.  And extremely delicious.  And Freyja was absolutely delighted that her Christmas meal looked exactly the same as everyone else's.  The contents of the pie might have been different - but her plate looked exactly the same as mine.  And not a quorn roll in sight!!

We finished up with chocolate mousse and apple crumble cake.  So it was not by any means a traditional Christmas Feast - but it was extremely tasty, very festive and enjoyed by all

(The spell checker on my computer keeps trying to change "quorn" into "quern".  Not sure anyone would enjoy eating a quern roll!!!)

Merry Christmas

Text message received at work on Friday morning: "There's no wine in Tesco".

This seemed unlikely.  None at all?  Well yes; there is some.  But not what we wanted for Christmas.

So The Builder went to Sainsbury's, where he had to queue to get into the car park!  A quick smash and grab raid later he had acquired a bit of wine and went home. So there will be some wine for Christmas but not, perhaps, quite enough.

In the meantime I decided to go out at lunchtime and see if any of the supermarkets in town had any.  It was raining  :-S  There is a little, milk bar style Sainsbury's across the road from SHU so  I decided to head into town via that - but expecting it to be very busy and bereft of wine.  I look through the window as I approached.  It seemed fairly quiet.  I went in.  And found three members of staff, two customers and lots of wine.  I assume everyone was in the large Sainsbury's on the Moor or in Waitrose or somewhere.  And, of course, there are very few students around, and the store is mostly used by students as far as I can tell.

So I acquired some more wine and headed back to work for the couple of hours until we closed for the Christmas break.

And thus we went from possibly having NO wine for Christmas to having a bit to having lots.  We are steadily drinking our way through it!!

And suddenly it was Christmas Day.  Much to the amusement of my Aussie friends and relations, I was quite excited by the temperature outside.  Now I am aware that 14d on Christmas Day isn't very exciting when the temperature where you are has been in the 30s.  But that 14d was about 20d warmer than it had been last year!!  It was a beautiful day.  The sun shone and the sky was blue and everything. Not a flake of snow.  Might almost have been an Easter Feast we were celebrating.  If you were thinking about the weather, that is.

It was Cally's first Christmas celebration.  I think she was a bit puzzled by it all but decided to indulge all the adults in their weird behaviour.  She was a bit surprised to come down from her midday nap to find that The Builder, Freyja and I had turned up.  Marryk was already there.  She was a tad surprised to find that there were loads and loads and LOADs of presents - nearly all for her.  She was quite surprised to find that there was a veritable feast in her kitchen - but was definitely prepared to indulge in feasting.  And then it was definitely time for another nap.  Alas - the festivities had worn her out to the extent that she napped right through to her bedtime - and didn't go back to sleep for hours and hours and hours.  In the meantime, Freyja and Marryk had gone back to their various residences (Freyja didn't go back to London - she's staying at Simon's place in Nether Green for the holidays). The Builder and I repaired to the Spare Room. Tabitha took herself off to bed.  Leaving poor Gareth to entertain Cally into the wee smalls.

Cally and Gareth were still asleep when Then Builder and I left to return to Tupton on Boxing Day morning, so missed out on talking to Stella and Tony on Skype.  But Tabitha, The Builder and I talked to them.

It was a good day.  We ate lots and drank lots and laughed lots.  Thank you to Tabitha and Gareth and Cally for letting us have Christmas at their place .

We had Boxing Day quietly at home on our own.  We pretty much had a Sunday - Sunday got more or less swallowed up by Christmas Day. We watched telly, installed the DVD player that Tabitha, Austin and Freyja had given us for Christmas and for the first time watched a DVD on the widescreen telly that we've only had for two years, ate roast beef and Yorkshire puddings and pottered about.  And now I need to get moving and get organised for we are off to Salisbury for a couple of days later this morning and I am not ready!

Click on the photo to reach the Christmas photo album

Monday, December 19, 2011


It makes a quite startlingly large amount of noise when something as big as The Builder falls down the better part of our staircase!  BANG! Bang. Bang. Bang.  Accompanied by a sort of strangled yell.

Didn't sound good!

Got up and went to investigate, expecting to find a mangled mess of Builder at the bottom of the stairs.  Our stairs are notoriously steep.  Falling down headlong would not be an amusing thing to do.

Fortunately, The Builder had gone down on his bum and was sat at the bottom of the stairs, propped against the book case (and calling it all kinds of things that I couldn't possibly repeat in a family friendly blog!)  Mind you - it's just as well it was there.  Otherwise he might have kept going and flown right out through the front door.  I think that's what Marlo thought might have been going to happen.  He had been asleep on a tiny coffee table by the radiator, well within the trajectory of anything that was flying down the stairs and out through the front door.  By the time The Builder fetched up by the bookcase, Marlo was on the drinks cabinet, peering around the corner looking worried.  He can move quite sharpish when there is need, can that cat.

Unlike Molly Meldrum*, who appears to have been gadding about on a roof when he fell from a ladder in Melbourne, The Builder was bruised and bloodied but not broken so no need for ambulances or other emergency actions.  And the day could proceed more or less as planned.

Although - can anyone tells me just what happens to whole days?  One minute it was breakfast time and there was loads and loads of time to do fun things like baking and making stock and stuff. The next minute it was time to go and collect Gareth and Cally from their place, then Tabitha from the supermarket and then head to Paul and Carol's place for their Christmas party.  Freyja, alas, did not go.  She hadn't ever received an invitation (though one was sent).  I hadn't enquired if she was going partly because I didn't realise that it was a family party we were going to (in which case I would have expected her to be invited); and also because UEL has exams this coming week and I had rather thought that she might be in London. She, of course, hadn't mentioned it to me because she didn't know about it.  Sorry Freyja :-(

In the meantime, it was most definitely a family party.  Jane and Neville were there.  So were Ruth, Andy, Nicky and Jo, not to mention Andy's 88 year old mum, Molly.  Claire was there with her boyfriend. Penny, Steve, Joseph and Imogen were there.  Helen and Ian lobbed in later, after the pantomime rehearsals. And Jane's oldest friend Zoe (an honorary Gill) and her partner were also there.  It was a lovely evening. Lots of good food and nice wine. Cally had a great time playing with Joseph and Imogen. Walter the cat beat a hasty retreat when everyone started arriving but came back later to be made a fuss of.  The party ushered in Christmas quite nicely.  And then we had to go.  Tabitha started work this morning at 6. And I had to be up and ready to leave for work by 7:15.  Early nights were called for.

December sunset near Sheffield
Click on the photo for the Christmas Party album

In other news, the Gill clan is to augmented by 1 in March for James and Kim are in an Interesting Condition.

The Hyde clan is also to be augmented by 1 in June when Austin and Kaori are also expecting a Happy Addition.  Theirs is due on Austin's birthday. This would have the equally Happy Consequence that the baby's birthday would be nice and easy to remember!

And Freyja features in the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls' Calendar for 2012.  If you fancy one, you can buy them here

*Australian pop guru

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unexpectedly Busy - Again!!

Although, I suppose, it wasn't all that unexpected.  It was payday, so we had planned to go to Waitrose when I finished work to lay in supplies.  Plus, my whole sheep and half pig were due to be delivered in the morning and would need putting into bags for the freezer (they do come butchered and in packs, but the packs are sufficient for a small army and we really don't need to eat quite that many pork or lamb chops in a sitting!!). So I was all organised to be sorting out food when I finished work for the weekend.

Then I had a phone call from Freyja.

Some sort of computer catastrophe had beset Tabitha's place of work.  Which is not good when you work in the online shopping section of a major supermarket the weekend before Christmas! Tabitha was going to have to work back late to help sort it all out.  Gareth works until 7.  Cally would need picking up from the nursery.  Could we do it for Freyja was not free?

OK.  This can be done.  I'll leave work a little early and hotfoot it to Waitrose and do the shopping.  We don't need much.  The Builder can meet me there as planned and we'll go and collect Cally.

But wait!  How will we get in to Cally's house?  We don't have a key :-S

Change of plan.  We'll go to Tabitha's supermarket, collect the key and *then* go to collect Cally.

Oh.  But no car seat.  Never mind. I can carry her home. The nursery isn't all that far away.

Right.  So off I go. dash into Waitrose. Do the shopping. Head outside. Still no sign of The Builder.  Get text message.  He's in London.  London?  What's he doing in London?!?  Oh - message was truncated!!!  He's in London Road at a standstill in traffic. Eventually he turns up.  Off we head to Taffa's supermarket.  Or rather, off we don't head.  Huge lots of traffic is taking a shortcut through the Waitrose carpark and it takes over half an hour to get out.  Try to ring Tabitha to say that the timings are beginning to look doubtful - Cally has to be collected by 6 and it's already 5 and we're still in the Waitrose car park :-S  Phone constantly engaged :-S

Eventually, we escape.  And then the traffic just melted away and ten minutes later I was collecting the house keys from Tabitha. Just as well I hadn't been able to contact Tabitha from the Waitrose carpark!!! No worries getting out of the Sainsbury's car park and ten minutes after that I was talking to a rather surprised Cally in the nursery.  She wasn't altogether delighted to see me, but cheered up as we walked back to her place and looked at Christmas trees in shop windows, and doggies waiting outside shops for their people. We even got to say hello to a police officer.

She was unimpressed to find The Builder sitting in her lounge room but cheered up when bribed with a small yoghurt pot, and was pleased but not noticeably relieved when her daddy got home just after 7.

Was all a bit stressful in the Waitrose carpark though!!

Still.  It all worked out all right.  And the pork and sheep are now sorted out and nestling in their new freezer bags in the freezer.  And we had magnificent pork chops for dinner last night

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Unexpectedly busy

So.  Off we ambled, on Saturday morning, to Bishops' House, where it was our turn to open up and to keep the place ticking over until 1:00.  We don't get many visitors in the mornings during the winter, so we were expecting a very quiet morning.  I had brought tea bags and milk and bananas to keep us fortified.  The builder had brought his book.  I had brought my Where's The Doctor? (รก la Where's Wally) book that Tabitha, Gaz and Cally gave me for my birthday to keep me occupied. So it came as something of a surprise when a lady with a German accent came wandering in just after we had opened!  All in all we had 4 visitors - plus a lady from the committee who came to look at the new stock we've got in our tiny shop. There will be more next weekend.  There's a band coming to play music in the afternoon.  We, alas, will not be there.

After the afternoon shift of volunteers came, The Builder and I made our way down to Sharrowvale Road near Hunters Bar. We drove round and round and round and round, looking for somewhere to park.  Finally we found somewhere to park, and made our way to a new cafe/deli called Thelma's which sells delicious sandwiches, amazing hot chocolates and a range of interesting cheeses, cakes and yummy things. It's quite new.  I would thoroughly recommend it should you find yourself in hunters Bar looking for somewhere for a nice lunch. There is also an astonishing fish monger just down the road, not to mention a rather lovely greengrocer across the road.  Sharrowvale Road was on its way upmarket when we first arrived in Sheffield. It's quite a bit more so now (although there are still some of the old shops there, selling dish drainers for tuppence ha'penny should you need such a thing).

After our very tasty lunch, Freyja, The Builder and I drove into the city centre and visited the Bank Street Arts Centre - a small community place which was having a tiny Christmas market selling hand made knitted things and jewellery and felting and pretty things.  Then Freyja went off to go skating and The Builder and I came home.

So it was an unexpectedly busy but very pleasant day.

On Sunday I was moved to decorate our ficus tree with Christmas decorations - something I would normally have done next weekend.  But I felt like it, so I did it.  I am not absolutely sure that Marlo really approved!

While I was about it, I made some Christmas biscuits

Starry jammy dodger, anyone?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Birthday Feasting

Celebrations at The Nettle are always a pleasure.  When the celebration is birthday, Festive Season and chocolate then it is a mighty pleasure indeed.

The Nettle does seem to have a Christmassy chocolate feast around the time of my birthday most years. It had to be cancelled last year because of the dreadful weather. But it went ahead this year.  (Weather mild and damp rather than freezing with roads under a couple of feet of snow!)  And it was well worth turning out for.

It started with a sharing platter of crumbed prawns and charcuterie and a stunningly lovely terrine, with bread and olives and dips. The main course was salmon and chicken strips and a delicious little beef stew with potatoes and vegetables

And the chocolate sharing platter which followed was amazing.  My photo is slightly out of focus, sorry - but I have to include it so you can admire its gorgeousness

I would never have thought to put a chocolate flavoured crumble on top of my stewed plums (top left).  I have thought about it now!!!

On Wednesday we went out for an actual birthday lunch in the Peak District. We went to the Devonshire Arms in Pilsley. We've been there before, but not since they completely refurbished the place.  The food was not too bad at all.  And they have a proper Children's menu with real food.  I have to say that I wouldn't have put as much salt into food intended for children as they did. (Of course, I  wouldn't have put any salt in, but that's by the by.) But it was great to see proper food being offered to the children. And Cally loved it

Cally's lamb and mint rissoles (she's only 9 months old so didn't eat all of that - had a good go at it though)

Grown up's lamb stew with dumplings. No need for an evening meal that day!

So a fun couple of days of feasting. Now I need to do some baking and cooking myself!

Birthday celebrations

12 months ago, Lindsey, The Builder and I went to The Nettle, through the snowy, snowy darkness, to celebrate my birthday at their Chocolate Feast.  Alas.  The chocolate feast had been cancelled because of the awful weather.

This year we made another attempt.  Lindsey, sadly, was not with us, but Bea and Steve were. And it was my birthday eve, rather than my actual birthday - but that was OK.  And the weather was mild and damp, so no snow on the roads around us.  The chocolate feast was on!!

And very delicious it was too.

I had taken Wednesday off, partly because this always seems like a good plan when you have been to a Nettle function the night before, but mostly, on this occasion, because it was my birthday and I quite fancied having a day out in celebration.  So we got up late and talked to Stella and Tony on the phone (There's a strange beeping noise - what can it possibly be?  Oh! It's the bedroom telephone!! Can't remember the last time I heard that ring!!!) and had breakfast and chatted to Austin on my mobile phone and chatted to various people on Skype/Twitter/Facebook.  Then we trundled into Sheffield and collected Tabitha and Cally, who also had Wednesday off and went out into the Peak District to the Chatsworth Farm Shop.  It had been our intention to have lunch in the farm shop restaurant, but there were two coach loads of tourists cluttering the place up. So we pottered around in the shop and bought a few bits and pieces and then went to the Devonshire Arms in Pilsley instead.

It was a lovely day.  Mostly the sun shone.  There was snow up on the hills and in the fields. Cally seemed to enjoy her jaunt out, although you should have seen her face when she had her first mouthful of mashed potato at lunchtime!!!  It was obviously not made in the way it's made at home or at nursery and her little brow furrowed in puzzlement while she thought about this :-D. I spoke to Freyja on my mobile phone while we were out and about. It was all good.

But we really, really didn't need any dinner last night. Feel a bit sorry for poor Gareth who was at work yesterday, so didn't get a mighty lunch - and possibly not a mighty dinner either!!

Cally and Taffa waiting for lunch in the Devonshire Arms in the Peak District. (Click on the image to reach the photo album)

I was rather surprised (and quite touched) by the number of birthday messages I got on Facebook yesterday.  Took me simply ages to reply to them all!!!  Who knew that I knew so many people!!!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Builder

Richard appears to have decided that I haven't mentioned The Builder much, or even at all in the last few blog posts and that this clearly means I have him locked up in a cupboard somewhere.  So - just to prove that I do occasionally let him out of the cellar, here he is

The Builder, at The Nettle, with beer

Monday, December 05, 2011

Remembering how lovely our house is

We have been in The Sidings for nearly 5.5 years now and so far have done very few of the things we thought we would do very quickly - like replace the carpet and redecorate the dining room and take the tin wardrobe out of the spare bedroom. We really don't see the carpet, or the rather fusty pinkness of the dining room any more. We don't really see the house any more. It's just where we live.

So it was lovely, on Saturday, when a work colleague, Jo, who has never been to the house before walked into the dining room and said "Oh, how lovely" and then went through into the lounge room and said "WOW!". Most people, when they walked into the lounge room for the first time did say "Wow", but there haven't been any first time visitors for a long time. We had forgotten just how much Wowness our house has.  It's a lovely little house and we had stopped noticing just how lovely it is.  We had also stopped noticing how lovely our garden is - until Jo asked me how I can bear to drag myself away from the garden and the view to go to work.

We clearly need more first time visitors.  If you haven't been - come now. I might even tidy up in your honour :-D  (You can come and visit even if you have been before - I'll tidy up for you too)

Winter is beckoning us into her frosty embrace.  Most places had their first light dusting of snow overnight.  I didn't think we had been so blessed - it was raining, not snowing when I left for work. But The Builder tells me that there was a dusting of snow down the back of the garden when he went down to feed the chickens this morning.  But still - nothing like as exciting as last year's offering!!

So. We had Jo and Rob over for lunch on Saturday and yesterday we went to the Mill in Rowsley and came back with loads and loads of bread flour and plain flour and porridge oats. I did quite a bit of baking yesterday afternoon, and we had porridge for breakfast today. Porridge is a mighty fine breakfast on a dark and icy morning

Saturday lunch

Gooseberry crumble cakes

We had some people round to lunch on Saturday, one of whom is a pescatarian. I happened to have some langoustine and prawn shells in the freezer waiting for an occasion when something fishy and a bit special was required, so I made a shellfish and tomato bisque, to which I added some small chunks of salmon, some mussels and some squid rings, all gently simmered together to make a fish stew. I had intended to make some chunky bread rolls, or even some soda bread to go with it, but had run out of both bread flour and plain flour (an unhappy circumstance which has now been remedied!).  I did, however, have some OO flour.  So I made up a batch of pasta instead and made ravioli to go with the fishy stew.  Each bowl had a raviolo with a scallop, one with diced prawns and one with salmon and cream cheese hidden underneath the fish stew. It was really remarkably nice.

For dessert we had gooseberry crumble cakes with vanilla cream.  I made up half a standard cake mix (so 110g each of butter, sugar and SR flour and two eggs, although I only put 90g of sugar in the mix). Last year I bought some aluminium pudding cases from Lakeland. They proved to be smaller than I was anticipating so I have never used them.  But they are a good size for making muffin sized cakes in, so I divied up the cake mix between 4 lightly buttered cases, then put some caramelised gooseberries on top of that and then covered them with a handful of oaty crumble mix and cooked them in a moderate oven for about half an hour.  They too were remarkably delicious, and the cream, which I whipped with a little vanilla caster sugar was lovely.

I will certainly do both these things again. And together they made rather a nice lunch menu. Satisfying but not too heavy

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

BBC Winter Good Food Show

We went to the BBC Winter Good Food Show at the NEC in Birmingham on Saturday and had a thoroughly good time. It took about an hour and a half to get there. We were there for an hour and a half, then it took another hour and a half to get back!!!  Mind you, we had a good run on the roads. There was hardly any traffic.

This might be because everyone but everyone was at the Good Food Show! It was very busy. And it was quite perilous going around. People were pulling shopping trolleys (not nice supermarket shopping trolleys that you can see, but Little Old Lady shopping trolleys that you pull along behind you which other people can't see) or boxes on wheels that they pulled along on sticks.  I tell you, if just one more person had pushed a shopping trolley into me, I was going to stomp on it.  And if that trolley was one of the Good Food souvenir trolleys they had bought as they came in, they might not have been entirely delighted.  But my ankles weren't entirely delighted either!! I probably wasn't going to stomp on one of the boxes, though.  My foot might not have enjoyed that

Trolleys and boxes (and people who just stop dead without paying attention to who might be walking along behind them) aside, we really enjoyed the show.  We enjoyed admiring ovens and stoves, kitchen equipment, gadgets and decorations. We really enjoyed looking at the producers' stalls and the craft stalls.  We weren't quite so interested in the wine and spirits stalls. I hadn't bought tickets to any of the demonstrations or classes, although I will next year. I did buy some balsamic vinegar, some rose veal escalopes, and a few other bits and pieces.  We both enjoyed the chicken wraps we had for lunch, and the sausage rolls we had before we left from a Cornish stall selling pasties and sausage rolls were absolutely lovely . But though you may look at me askance, dear stall holder, when I ask if you have any tomato sauce, allow me to assure you that sausage rolls NEED a tomato sauce of some sort to show themselves off to their best advantage.  Doesn't have to be a supermarket sauce; a home made salsa would do. But sausage rolls NEED sauce!

So, for next year, I'll buy tickets to some of the demos and events, and I'll use the map that they thoughtfully provided in the programme which I didn't notice until after we had left. And we'll go on a Thursday or Friday when (I assume) it won't be quite so busy. The downside to that is that not so many of the chefs are there. The upside is (I hope) that you might actually be able to see what's going on. Might buy tickets to the summer show too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Not much to say, really

Mostly because the big event of the past few days was our visit to the BBC Winter Good Food Show and I said it all on the Kitchen Blog!!

A few days ago, I was talking to Lindsey and she told me off for running the washing machine overnight while we were in bed.  What if we should inadvertently flood the house?  In fact, I suspect we would first of all flood the cellar, but I run the washing machine overnight because the electricity night rate is considerably cheaper than the day rate.  Following my conversation with Lindsey I was moved to investigate further. I had thought that the night rate was between 10 and 8 but a more careful inspection of the British Gas website suggested that it was any 7 hour period within those times.  How do we know which 7 hours apply to us?  I emailed them to ask.  And it turns out that in our area the night rate is between midnight and 7am.  Now I am sorry, but no matter how much I might want to live a more frugal lifestyle, I am not staying up until midnight to put the washing machine on.  And I am definitely not doing the ironing after midnight. I shall do it all before 7 instead.  So Lindsey now has no reason to fear that we will flood the house. Well, not from an unattended washing machine at any rate!  There's not much I can do about the oven though. I am emphatically not going to bake bread and cakes, still less make roast dinners overnight!!

It occurs to me that this time last year Lindsey had just arrived from Singapore for a ten day visit, bringing huge quantities of snow and Arctic temperatures with her. This year the weather is windy and grey but very much milder. No real prospect of snow in the foreseeable future. It's nothing like as pretty - but it's a good deal easier to move around in.  It further occurs to me that Lindsey was the last overnight guest we had. Not one overnight visitor this year.  Have we done something to upset you all?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The dumplings that keep on giving

Flushed with the success of my couple of attempts to use pieces of oxtail from the Donald Russell stewing boxes, I ran wild the last time I was in the Chatsworth farm shop and bought a whole oxtail (happily divvied up into pieces)

I put them in my slow cooker with some onions and tomatoes and white wine and garlic and herbs and left it all to simmer while I was at work. Once it was cooled, I took out the oxtail pieces then put the juices and vegetables into the blender and then passed them through a fine sieve to create a sauce. I put it in the fridge, and the following morning I took the fat from the top. I also stripped the meat from the bones and put it in a bowl in the fridge.  We had some of the sauce as a soup for lunch.

That evening I put the meat and the rest of the sauce in a casserole and decided to make a savoury cobbler with it.  So I made some herby dumplings and formed cobbles and put them on top of the stew.  I took the left over cobbles and put them on top of the other cobbles and put it all into a moderate oven for about an hour.

When I came back, the cobbles had risen and risen and risen and RISEN. The cobbles had also sucked the juices pretty much entirely from the stews.  What I now had was a thick, gravy infused suet pastry over my stewed and succulent meat strips!!!!!

I made some gravy with the water the potatoes had been cooked in and we had the dumplings and the meat with mashed potato, veggies and gravy.  I put the mountain of left over meat and pastry in the fridge while I thought about it.

The next day we had pork chops while I thought some more :-D

The following day I took some of the meat and rejuvenated it with a tomato gravy and put it in a casserole with a lid.  I put some of the pastry over the top and  heated it slowly in a low oven. We had that with boiled potatoes and buttered cabbage. The day after that I took the meat, the pastry (now reformed into dumplings) and added peas, beans, baked beans, cabbage and gravy, then crumbled a healthy handful of stilton into it all and simmered it on the stove top.  It turned into a truly delicious, glutinous, thick stew. There was a little left over and we have that with a few extra vegetables added with weiner schnitzels and chips.

Apart from the day we had the pork chops while I thought about things, that oxtail and its accompanying dumplings/cobbles/pastry fed us all week, and gave us a couple of lunches as well.  It was extremely good value for the £8 I spent on the tail.  I must buy another one (although I'll try and be a little less heavy handed with the dumplings next time!!!)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


It crossed my mind a little while ago that we hadn't seen Penny, Steve, Joseph and Imogen for about a year, when we all met on the last day of October last year on the Norfolk coast to farewell Peter on his final voyage. Penny and I have communicated by email and postcard on and off over the year and have made vague plans to meet up, but there has never been a time when all of us were free at the same time, and the year has trundled along and here we are, nearly at the end of it.

Penny and I had both earmarked November 20th as a date when we were all free and had blacked it out in our diaries.

And so it was that The Builder and I took ourselves off through the fog towards Sheffield yesterday lunchtime for a merry afternoon chatting to Joseph and Imogen, admiring the renovations that Penny and Steve have made to their house, and eating the delicious soup, bread rolls, apple meringue and steamed syrup pudding that Penny and Joseph had prepared for our repast. Joseph and Imogen seem to have grown since last we saw them - but are not too old to appreciate the Advent Houses we took for them :-)

We haven't seen Joan this year either.  Penny reports that she is quite well but does get a bit bored on days when she doesn't see anyone.  I can entirely understand that! The Builder and I are going to sort out a weekend when we can meander over to Cambridge and visit her and possibly even potter about in the market as well!

Yesterday was also the day when both Chesterfield and Sheffield turned on the Christmas lights. So after a lovely afternoon catching up, The Builder and I pottered into the Sheffield city centre, where we met Tabitha, Gareth and Cally for a wander around the market stalls, carnival rides and various other activities that were taking place in town. We didn't stay for the actual turning on of the lights - it was getting a bit crowded. We accidentally wandered into The Rutland Arms instead for a quick one before The Builder and I drove home, and Tabitha and Gareth and Cally walked home. Well - Cally didn't walk - she rode in her pram.  And she didn't have a quick one, she's a bit young at 8 months.  She had a doze instead.

Cally out on the razz. (If you click on the photo it will take you to the rest of the album)

It is very seldom that I have occasion to cook chestnuts. I, alas, am unable to eat them. The Builder loves them and buys them at chestnut braziers in the winter. I buy them for him sometimes too, but he usually has those unroasted. When I bought some for him on Saturday, I decided to treat him and bunged them in the oven for a bit - not wishing to light the barbecue just to roast a few chestnuts!!  I probably should have pricked or cut the ends. I probably shouldn't have forgotten all about them.  I was forcibly reminded of them when there was an explosion rather like a small cannon going off in the oven. There were bits of chestnut shell all over the bottom and the rest of the oven was coated in what can only be described as chestnut flour. I took the tray out of the oven and put it on the gas stove so the rest of the nuts would cool, and went to tell The Builder what had happened. I was in the middle of relating the tale when there was the sound of a shotgun going off in the kitchen. Another chestnut had exploded, covering most of the kitchen in chestnut flour. This is not entirely desirable when you have a nut allergy!!!!!  I nearly decide that it would be easiest to buy a new oven (can't afford a new kitchen!). But fortunately all the chestnut bits were easily brushed out using my dustpan and brush (once the oven had gone cold, of course). And I've been meaning to clean the extractor thingy over the gas stove for months!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gear Sticks

We should, I suppose, be grateful that when the gear stick in the car decided to break, it didn't do it while we were travelling at speed, it didn't do it while we were on the motorway and it didn't do it while the car was in neutral or reverse. On the contrary, it decided to break just as we had come off a quiet roundabout on the way to the station and while we were, we think, in third gear.  Thus The Builder, in his guise of my chauffeur, was able to coax the car to the station so I could get to work, and then managed to coax it home again, ably assisted by all the traffic lights which turned green on his approach.

Now, most cars these days have gear stick in little boxes. If you should need to replace or repair any of the cokmponent bits, you dismantle the gear box, fix whatever it is that needs fixing, remantle the gear box and off you go. But no - not ours.  Our gear stick is encased in a hermetically sealed box which would take a nuclear blast to dismantle - and then you would never get it remantled again.

We had to buy a whole new unit at around £150.

As you will be aware, most gear sticks have a knob on the top of them which usefully tell you wehre the various gears are.  In my naive innocence, I had always assumed that these come as an integral part of the gear stick.  But no. They are a separate unit. In most cars, they screw on and off, or can be levered off.  In our car, they are a separate unit which is then sealed eternally to the gear stick itself with resin. Our mechanic gamely tried to get the old one off the old gear stick, but it retaliated by shattering into a zillion pieces.  We had to buy another one for a mere £60


All up, it took almost £300 to get the car back on the road. The Builder's bank account has gone into hiding!!  Still, we are now mobile once again and I have given up my flirtation with the early morning bus drivers, and indeed the evening bus drivers. Was nice running across our next door neighbour Debby most mornings, mind you. She works in Chesterfield and most mornings was on the same bus as me

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pea and Broad Bean Tart

Back in the summer, when we went to Clumber Park, I had a pea, broad bean and brie tart which was extremely delicious. I marked it as something I could serve to vegetarians which was a bit out of the ordinary. A change from goats cheese, ricotta and spinach!

We were going to visit Freyja at the weekend and I thought i might make a variant on it to take with us. I remembered that the Clumber Park tart was a little dry and neither Freyja nor The Builder is especially partial to brie, so I decided to make small tarts with a cheese sauce. I made the cheese sauce with quite a lot of red leicester

So. I took peas and beans from the freezer, and lightly simmered them. Then I removed the skins from the broad beans. In the meantime I had made some shortcrust pastry. I stirred the peas and beans through the cooled cheese sauce, rolled the pastry and lined some small aluminium pie cases, filled the pies with the cheesy mix and topped it with a vegetarian friendly Parmesan style hard cheese and baked them in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes or so. Then we packed the car and took the pies to London for lunch with Freyja.

The pies were extremely lovely but very filling. The left over cheesy mix made an excellent addition to some minced pork I was using to make a quick pork and noodle supper when we came back home.

I still had quite a lot of peas and beans left over, so decided to make another tart to have for our lunches this week. The intention had been to make a pea and bean quiche, but I blind baked the pastry for the tart and all the quiche mix ran out when I tried to put it in :-S  So I topped the peas and beans with grated red leicester and parmesan style cheese and baked it without the quiche mixture, and made a baked savoury custard separately to go on the side.

I must remember these tart variants.  They were all really lovely and certainly do make interesting things to offer to vegetarians

Pea, broad bean and cheese tart

Lunch, with a serving of baked savoury custard on the side

Monday, November 14, 2011


*I* want to move to London Docklands, then when someone says "Would you like to help stage and perhaps even have a small part in a Medieval Mystery Play  at St Clement's Church?" I too could say yes - although I would not need telling that this is probably THE St Clement's of Oranges and Lemons fame. (Not only did I already know this, but I have even been to St Clement's, once upon a time, a long while ago)  I too could audition for the Olympic Games opening Ceremony, even if I can neither dance nor skate. And I could meander about during a free afternoon and find that I had walked to Canary Wharf and have a nice potter about in the shops.

Actually, I had been a bit worried when I delivered Freyja to UEL that I had more or less abandoned her in what looked like an industrial wasteland. Apart from the University itself, which is quite sweet and rather charming, there didn't appear to be anything else much about. Freyja, however, has been out exploring and has found suburbs and shops and even a park plus, of course, lots of exciting things to do in the city itself.  So after we had had a small spot of lunch on Saturday, after The Builder and I had driven down in the morning, we went out for a look around. And it's quite a nice little area of London, around where Freyja lives. The park is huge. There are horses in it. And people wandering around. And even two silly boys on a VERY loud motor scooter rushing up and down on the grass. Mind you, the signs around the grass only forbid the playing or practising of golf. No mention of motor scooters. And, come to that, no mention of cricket, football or even lacrosse. Presumably we can do all of these things, provided we do not attempt to do it with golf clubs!

Freyja had mentioned that there was a city farm somewhere round about, but I had got the impressions that it was quite some distance away. So it was something of a surprise to run across this across the road from the park.

An unexpected find

Naturally, we had to go in!  If you click on the photo, you can see what we found in there.

We had a good potter around the city farm then a bit of an explore on the way back to Freyja's place, where we had a nice cup of tea and then trundled back to Tupton.  It was a good day. Although I think The Builder was a bit tired when we got back. He had done all the driving and his knee was objecting quite strongly to this. So I fortified him with liberal applications of wine and a nice stir fry. And we did almost nothing on Sunday - which was grey and dreary and gloomy in Tupton, despite reports of warm sunshine from almost everywhere else in the country!

I am, however, extremely glad that the gear stick in the car decided to snap away from the gear box when the Builder was calmly and steadily taking me to the station this morning, and not when we were hurtling up or down the motorway at great speed on Saturday!!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A long, long weekend

The advantage to having a long, long weekend is that you get two short working weeks and the time passes very quickly. 

The disadvantage to having a long, long weekend is that you get two short working weeks and the time passes very quickly.  It seems to be Wednesday already.  I am definitely not ready for it to be Wednesday!!

It was a good weekend, though. We went to Bishops' House on Saturday morning to open it up for visitors.  Not that we had many visitors.  It was a drizzly and gloomy sort of a morning so there wren't many people pottering about in the park.  But we did have a mother with two excitable small boys drop in to say hello.  And a couple of committee members came to meet a visitor from Colchester who had lived in the house during the 1970s, when it was divided into two residences and occupied by park keepers from the council.  And Freyja came to visit too, not from London but from Simon's place near Nether Green.  It's kind of fun, in a quiet sort of a way, volunteering at a small museum.  We get to play shop. We get to wander around and look at things. We get to talk to the visitors, when there are any. Plus we had taken books and tea-making provisions, so between visitors we got to sit and read and drink tea and eat flapjack. Not a bad way of spending a morning.

Sunday was an absolutely beautiful day. Truly glorious. So, naturally, I washed absolutely everything I could find and hung it all out on the new washing lines The Builder has put up right down at the bottom of the garden which gets sun all year round, when there is any sun to get. I had intended to get out and do some clearing up in the garden and plant some bulbs and generally do useful things.  Instead, we repotted the ficus in the lounge room which had very seriously outgrown its pot and was looking very unhappy.  I've had it since I very first arrived in Sheffield when it was given to me as a present. When I got it it was about 40 cm tall and now it's around 120 or so and serves as our Christmas tree. It's looking very much happier now that it is in a substantial pot!  So then I was about to go outside and do useful things in the garden. Instead I made some bread and an apple crumble and a beef and tomato stew.  And suddenly, it had gone dark and was too late to go out gardening. Never mind. There's always tomorrow. I can sort the flower garden out then. In the meantime we will eat roast chicken and indulge in late Sunday afternoon activities.

Alas. Monday dawned gloomy and misty and damp. No gardening for me then. And the bulbs sit, unattended and unloved in their boxes for another week. And we more or less had another Sunday. All very restful and peaceful. And damp.  But not as damp as yesterday.  Yesterday was one of those days which, when you get them at other times of the year, cause people to say "Goodness - look at the weather; anyone would think it was November!!"  Grey, dark, drizzly, misty. Not cold. Quite mild, really. But definitely not a nice day.  Fortunately, I was back at work. The Builder and Marlo, alas, were stuck at home in the gloom.  Fortunately for them, we have electric lights and central heating!!

Speaking of being at work, Gareth is off again this week. I think that the company that he has been working for has actually ceased trading. fortunately, the call centre in which he was based has found him a job with another company so there is no immediate need for me to send stale crusts and mouldy water to keep them ticking over.  And he is on annual leave so is at least being paid, even if he might not have chosen to take leave this week.

And I am still waking up at around 04:00 ;-(

The house is looking distinctly tatty now that The Builder has painted the porch!

Autumn flowers in the driveway and our new back door

Friday, November 04, 2011

Waking early

It is extremely irritating when you are consistently waking an hour earlier than you need to. It is even more irritating when you wake at that time on a day off!!

I have today off.

And still I woke up at about 4:00 this morning :-(

I *think* it's because our clocks went back last weekend. Usually I adjust quite quickly to the change in time. Not, apparently, this time.  Not that I actually need to be awake at 5:00 in the mornings. Usually The Builder gets up around 05:20 and goes down to make us a cup of tea so we can have a leisurely drift into the morning before I get up at around 6. But I am usually awake a little before all this happens.

There was, of course, absolutely no reason at all why I needed to be awake, and up and attem on a day off ;-(

So we stayed in bed and drank our tea and listened to the radio and generally behaved as though it was a Saturday.  It's quite nice having a Saturday when everyone else is doing Friday!

Gareth is doing a whole run of Saturdays. The company that he works for has been being naughty and it looks as though they might be about to cease trading. All their call centre staff were sent home earlier in the week while things sort themselves out.  Fortunately he is being paid for this week. But he's not sure what will happen next week.  Tabitha is due to go back to work later this month and has been doing odd extra shifts recently to get back into the swing of things. But I don't think anyone can comfortably survive on just statutory maternity pay, even with a few extra shifts thrown in and particularly not when there is a small creature in the family. For their size, small creatures are very expensive! We will have to hope that either the company Gareth works for keep going, or that the call centre they are based in can redeploy him (and, of course, all the other staff; let us not be selfish in our hopes for gainful employment).

Right.  I'm off to do some useful things.  The more Saturday things I do today, the fewer I'll have to do when it really is Saturday

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Autumn this year is very colourful

Even our garden has some beautiful colours

Looking from the bathroom over to the grapevine and beyond the kitchen garden to the farm

Looking over Steve and Debbie's garden as well as ours, from the bedroom. There are horses in the field

The fan of orange behind next door's shed is particularly striking this year

And our red, prickly bush is even redder than usual. The sparrows are really enjoying playing in it

Tomato, cheese and ham loaf

I have a subscription to the BBC Good Food magazine and each year they send with the December issue a calendar with monthly recipes.  I have to admit that I don't very often make them, although I do, of course, look at them.  This month's recipe is for a tomato, cheese and basil loaf. Each time I've gone past the calendar I've thought that it looks remarkably delicious. Today I had a proper look and realised that it is more or less a savoury cake and decided to give it a go.

The recipe called for basil, which is not really in season any more and which in any case I didn't have.  I did, however, have some ham, so decided to use that instead to add a bit of interest to the loaf. The cherry tomatoes came from the plants in the greenhouse (still producing really very well). The hens had provided *exactly* enough eggs for the recipe. And for the milk I used some slightly sour left over milk from the last lot we got from the dairy (we have fresh milk for the tea and coffee, you'll be pleased to hear).

So this is what I did.

I took 100g of soft butter and 300g of SR flour and rubbed them together until they resembled fine breadcrumbs.  I then took 100g of cherry tomatoes chopped in half and 100g of sheeps feta cheese, crumbled and gently mixed them into the flour. I also roughly shredded a slice of medium cut honey roast ham and mixed that gently in. I put 100ml of slightly soured milk and 3 eggs in the blender and briefly blended them then added that to the flour and tomato mix, making sure it was all blended in together and that all the flour was incorporated. I poured the mixture in to a buttered loaf tin, then scattered some more halved cherry tomatoes and the rest of the feta over the top. I put it in the middle of an fan oven  pre-heated to 160d for about 55 minutes.  I then cooled the cake/loaf in the oven. 

I have to say it is extremely delicious. But next time I think I might put more tomatoes in.  And I think it would work really well with olives instead of tomatoes.

A hippo has come a knock, knock, knocking

... at the back door, looking for Freyja, Bernard and Sleepy.

The Builder was a bit surprised.  He wasn't expecting a box in the post.  It was addressed to me.  *I* was surprised.  I wasn't expecting a box in the post either.  And I certainly wasn't expecting a hippo, searching for Freyja, Bernard and Sleepy, wishing to join them in East London so that she too can study, become a Lady of Letters and (apparently) smoke cigars and drink port.  I am not sure that any of the others smoke cigars, but I expect they can oblige with the classes and the port.  The hippo came bearing vegemite, socks and packets of chips. Hippos bearing gifts are always welcome!

I saw Freyja for lunch on Friday (and handed over the hippo, and her share of the goodies).  I saw Tabitha and Cally and Gaz this afternoon and handed over their share. So many thanks to Tammy the Hippo for her largesse, and to Ian and Lindsey who I believe provided the airfare that allowed Tammy to get here.

We went to Salisbury on Saturday afternoon. And from Salisbury we went to Braishfield near Romsey so we could carry on stalking our favourite Australian publican and, entirely incidentally of course, eat the magnificent food his chef turns out (a mighty burger and some truly lovely French fries for me; steak and positively gargantuan chips for The Builder). We returned, well fed and well watered, to The Swan.

It was quite exciting the following morning when we came out in search of breakfast, to find Carl the landlord up a ladder outside our room peering into the fuse box (not that it has fuses, but it's the same sort of thing). There were no lights on in the bar! For some reason they had decided overnight to stop working!! So we had a romantic breakfast in dim lighting, sat by the window. Not that the window was providing much additional light. It was a grey, gloomy, misty morning. Entirely appropriate for autumn, but not much use if the lights aren't working!  Still, how much light do you need to eat an egg and bacon sandwich?  Or even a full English breakfast?

And by the time we returned at lunch time, bringing the Builder's mother with us after a really lovely drive around in the New Forest admiring the autumn colours, the lights were back on and we could easily see our Sunday roasts. It seems that the trip switches had taken against the beer coolers in the cellar and turned the lights out.  (Don't ask me - I don't understand these things!)

The Builder's mother is in a right pickle. About three weeks ago council workers came and stripped out her kitchen and her bathroom. Agreed, they did do this by appointment, but THREE WEEKS LATER she still doesn't have a functional kitchen, the bathroom is more or less a toilet and a shower attached to a wall, the kitchen equipment is in her bedroom and loungeroom (although the washing machine is out in the corridor)and her (tiny) loungeroom is full of leaves and dust and chaos. Fortunately her youngest son Peter lives in the same complex so she can go and stay at his place during the day, so she isn't starving. But for goodness sake - how long can it possibly take to put in a small kitchen and bathroom?!?!?!?  She'll be 87 in April and doesn't have the sharpest of short term memories any more. All this chaos and confusion isn't helping matters at all.  She definitely enjoyed the lack of chaos at The Swan. And the food! (And the drive through the New Forest)

Lindsey asked for some more detailed photos of the progress of the porch.  Here they are:

The back door with a new, large letter box. The shoe rack is by the dining room window

The Builder is going to paint all the boards yellow. Then he's going to put shelves up along this wall, which backs on to Steve and Debbie's garden

Eventually all this will go and the large freezer will go here. The Builder is going to reconcrete the floor and then put down lino

The door out into the garden. The hole at the bottom is to allow Marlo in- and egress. The windows are now glazed

Friday, October 28, 2011

A mid-week day off

At some point last week I was musing that it was very nice to have a table booked at the Nettle for their Italian themed evening. Nicer still that Bea and Steve were coming with us. We don't go to the themed evenings very often. They have them every 8 weeks or so, but they are always on a Tuesday, which is not an entirely convenient evening for going out revelling if you happen to work full time!  Mostly we go if I am off anyway on the Wednesday. And mostly the evening are full of food, full of wine and finish quite late (at least by my standards).

I consulted my diary to see if maybe I could go in a bit later on the Wdnesday following the Italian evening. And discovered that on that Wednesday, unexpectedly and quite remarkably - my diary was completely empty.

I booked the whole day off :-)

We had a really lovely evening. As predicted, it was full of food, full of wine and finished quite late (at least by my standards). I particularly enjoyed the deconstructed pizza - a warm bread roll which you could fill with your choice of charcuterie, olives, mozarella, tomatoes. It was nice to have an evening of gentle chat with Bea and Steve. It was a lovely evening.

And it was particularly lovely that I didn't need to bounce out of bed at 6:00 on Wednesday morning.  The Builder, of course, is retired, so no need for bouncing for him.  Bea was on an evening shift so also had no need to leap from her bed at an early hour.  Spare a thought for poor Steve who alas did have to go to work first thing on Wednesday morning!

We had a nice, gentle morning on Wednesday, pottering about. Then The Buidler went to the surgery to see if they could work out why he is getting a bit breathless when rushing about. They did blood tests and a blood pressure test. They did a puff test. They stuck a thingy on his finger to measure how much oxygen his blood is getting. It was all very exciting for him. He has to go for an xray of his lungs as well. But the doctor doesn't seem to think that there is much amiss - and probably nothing that losing a bit of girth won't fix.

While he was doing that, I pootled into Sheffield and met Tabitha, Cally and Ginger Rich for a wander about the Woodseats shops. That was quite fun too. there is a good butcher. There is a good fishmonger. There are LOTS of charity shops, but we didn't trouble those much. We did trouble the book shop, largely because it is closing down and was selling books very cheaply. We ate chips and met Gaz on his lunch break.  And then I went home again.

I rather like having Wednesdays off. Should do it more often.  And we have booked into The Nettle's next themed night which is another Chocolate evening early in December.  We are hopeful that this time it might not be snowed off.  And I have booked the WEdnesday off, partly for expediency but mostly because it is my birthday :-)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mid October and Autumn is in full swing in the garden

Pretty much ever since we moved into The Sidings, The Builder and I have found it quite frustrating that you walk straight from the back courtyard into the kitchen. It has always meant that you get very wet while struggling with packages and bags and things while trying to unlock the back door when it's raining. And it is impossible to keep the kitchen floor even approximating clean. For a long time we have been thinking about the ;possibility of putting a porch up to keep the area dry - and to give us a bit of extra storage space.  And now the project is getting very close to complete.

We (well, when I say "we" !!!) still need to glass in the windows and to paint the walls.  Then The Builder is going to re-concrete the floor and lay down lino. He also thinks he'll be able to put a light out there, which would be useful - it is very dark in the porch at night!

Marlo, in the meantime, is a bit puzzled about what we're up to, but is definitely enjoying having a nice dry area outside the kitchen door to lie about it!

The seaside daisies that we put in along the shrubbery have settled in very nicely and are communing happily with the digitalis plants that have come along uninvited. The hollyhocks are growing well. All I need to do now is sort out the wild strawberries and the buttercups which have colonised the path and are making a move into the shrubbery!  It's all looking very pretty though (if slightly unkempt)

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting to find rosebuds at this time of year!

We are beginning to clear up the flower beds and have started planting some more spring flowering bulbs.  I have put fritillaries along the side of the top flower bed, and also along the path in the bottom flower bed. I've also started clearing up alongside the fence and am putting bulbs in there as well.  In total I have 100 fritillaries, 40 dwarf narcissus and 15 tulips. We're going to put the tulips and some of the narcissus in the herb bed up by the pond

The grape vines have really run amok this year!  The Builder is considering extending the trellis so it covers over the patio, then we will train the grape vine over the top to provide a bit of a weather break. We'll also put two new grapevines in on the other side so they can meet in the middle. It will be a living gazebo :-)

We have had a plentiful harvest of small but very sweet grapes this year. And they may be small - but they're bigger than last year's crop

We have just started pulling up the zucchini plants, which did remarkably well this year. We have also pulled all the sweet corn, which also did very well. The carrot boxes are down to their last few carrots. But we still have lots and lots of chard/silverbeet and the cabbages and caulis are also now providing small but tasty additions to the veg plates

Schnitzel, Parsley and coriander coming to see what I'm doing
The chickens have definitely been off the lay lately. Coriander has been off the lay for months - ever since she went broody late in the spring.  But now only Parsley is laying regularly.  Kiev is definitely moulting and therefore isn't laying. Schnitzel is (I think) laying every three or four days.  There was one day last week when we had no eggs at all, for the first time in 18 months. And also for the first time in 18 months, on Saturday I actually had to buy some eggs!! Fortunately, the local dairy farm where we buy our milk and cream also sells fresh eggs - obviously not as nice as our eggs, but better than those on offer in the supermarkets

Marlo watching the hens watching me

It looks as though we  might actually get some sprouts this year. They're only small, but bigger than last year's were. And last year the sprout plants got covered in half a metre of snow and more or less froze to death. I am hopeful that this year there will be less snow!

Looking back up towards the house


 The cherry tomatoes in the greenhouse in the garden are still producing quite well. Things are winding down up on the allotment, although the heritage tomato plants continue to produce delicious fruits. But we've had our last cucumber and The Under Gardener is beginning to think about putting the allotment to bed for the winter. And we are beginning to think about the potatoes and other plants for next spring.

And he has planted the garlic and the over-wintering onions up in the garden.  Time to start the garden maps for 2012 :-)
The car now seems to be better.  The Builder took it to Nick The Mechanic during the week, who took it for a good drive and put it on his diagnostic computer and couldn't find anything wrong.  He diagnosed dirty fuel.  So The Builder put more fuel in the tank and added a fuel cleaning liquid and so far it seems to be running smoothly again. 

I didn't go to my Japanese class on Thursday evening, though.  I wasn't sure about this diagnosis, and had no wish to find myself stuck on the Dronfield bypass at 9:30 in the evening with a car that refused to go!  But we took it to Chatsworth and round about on Saturday and it went perfectly well, so I have decided it must be better after all :-D

We didn't go to London, which had been the original plan for this Saturday. By the time it was clear that the car probably would take us to London and back, we had already put Freyja off and she had made other plans.  We'll go down and see her in November.  Instead, we just pottered around.  The Builder put some more work in to the new porch.  I baked and roasted and stewed. We did a little light gardening. It was all rather laid back and rather peaceful. And it was the last appointment-free weekend that we have for 5 or 6 weeks, now that I come to look at my diary.

Said I was tired, though - each evening I was asleep in my comfy armchair by 8:00 and had to be shooken awake at bedtime!!!  Just as well I don't have a big and squishy comfy armchair!!!!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cream of tomato soup (and coffee cupcakes)

I still have a mountain of tomatoes from the greenhouses and was pondering what to do with the latest harvest - a little under 1.5 kg of various sorts of tomatoes).  So I cut them all in half and put them cut side up on a baking tray then scattered finely chopped garlic over them and drizzled extra virgin olive oil over them.  I roasted them in the oven at 150d for about an hour and then passed them through a fine sieve until i had roasted tomatoey goodness in a bowl and only dried skins and pips in the sieve.

Then I tasted the sauce.  It was absolutely delicious. So good that I thought it would make fabulous cream of tomato soup.  Although - I probably didn't really want to put 300 ml of cream into the tomato soup.  It still tasted wonderful, but now was a sort of tomatoey cream rather than a creamy tomato soup!

Fortunately, I still had quite a lot of cherry tomatoes around, not to mention some small shallots.  So I finely sliced the shallots and put them and the cherry tomatoes into a frying pan with some butter and some sunflower oil (not a lot of either) and fried them down until the shallots were slightly golden and the cherry tomatoes were soft.  Then I added them to the tomato cream and then some home made chicken stock to slacken it all down a bit.

And I have to say that the resulting soup was absolutely wonderful. I had a bowlful for lunch with some buttered soda bread.

Since I had the oven on, I decided to make some cupcakes as well.  Coffee cupcakes are a real pleasure after a bowl of tomato soup :-)