Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter holiday

We have had a lovely Easter holiday.  The weather was beautiful - although cloudier and cooler on Easter Sunday itself. 

Roger, Kate and Richard came for the Easter Feast.  We sat inside, rather than out on the patio, and ate cheese and fruit bread, then turkey and apricot parcels with Jersey Royals and asparagus, followed by little meringues with raspberry ripple ice cream, and we chatted and told stories and generally had a lovely time. I was a little worried, though.  Ordinarily when people come for a feast I am all too aware of time whoooooooooshing past and of there not quite being enough time to achieve everything that I want to achieve.  On this occasion, however, I was pretty much ready by 10:00.  In the morning, yes.  It was a bit disconcerting!

We were reasonably active over the weekend too.  The Builder has started the repairs to the fish pond. We have begun clearing up the patio.  We went into Chesterfield on Tuesday (which is not nationally a holiday but which is observed as a closure day at SHU for historical but mysterious reasons) and got The Builder's new glasses and had lunch in The Rutland. We have been to the DIY store a couple of times and to the supermarket and while The Builder has been outside I have made cupcakes and meat pies and tasty food.  I did have to apply medicinal beer to The Builder when he dropped a bag of cement and nearly ripped a finger nail off. And he has gone quite deaf. This means I can say all sorts of things and he can't hear me :-D

And now I am back at work for two days, and The Builder is out with Richard shovelling horse manure.

Freyja has become a steel skater.  I think this means that she is pretty much ready to start bouting for the A team

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Good Friday in Graves Park

It was an absolutely delightful day on Friday.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the temperature was in the mid 20s or so.  Freyja was off into town to do Roller Derby stuff.  Ross was off to church.  But Tabitha, Gareth and Cally weren't doing anything.  And neither were we.  So I packed up a picnic and we trundled around to their place.  From there we strolled down into Graves Park.

Now, I had never been into Graves Park, peculiar though this may seem.  We drive past the top end, where there is are putting greens, pretty much every time we come into Sheffield.  I knew there was a gate into the park further down, by the Woodseats shops.  But I had never been moved to go in, even though I knew there was an animal farm somewhere in the park.  Tabitha and Gaz have been in a few times since they moved back to Sheffield and suggested it might be a good place for a picnic.  And they were right.

In the first place - it's ENORMOUS. There are woodlands and parklands and playing fields.  There are ponds and streams and lakes. There is a rose garden, there are flower gardens and huge swathes of grass.  And there is the animal farm. It's really lovely.

And we had a lovely picnic.  We had chicken legs and hard boiled eggs and salad. We had wine and ginger beer and orange juice.  We had poppy seed rolls and ginger biscuits. It was all very lovely.  And lots of other people were having a lovely time too.  There were dog walkers and kiddy walkers and baby strollers.  There was a little train.  There were people playing ball and other people playing cricket.  There were loads and loads and loads of people in the animal farm - including one young man who greeted me cheerfully and said he knew me.  I looked a bit blank - I was fairly certain that I didn't know him!  Then he explained that I had been teaching a referencing class that he had been in.  That makes sense!  And I got into trouble when we were looking at tiny baby ducks bobbing about on the lake and I opined that they would make very tasty starters dipped into tempura batter and deep fried.  The woman in front of me turned around, shocked - and said: You can't say things like that!!!  She was even more shocked when her husband agreed with me but said you would need several threaded onto a skewer to get a decent sized starter!!!!!!!!!

We strolled back to Nettleham Road, from the top corner of the park and down through Norton, a suburb that I have not previously explored. Must go back and have a proper look at the cemetery.

And then The Builder and I went home again having had a really nice day out. Must do it again some time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The garden on Sunday morning, quite early

The Under Gardener is busy preparing the beds for planting

The blossom is excellent this year

The chooks enjoying the sunshine

We are hopeful of a good fruit harvest later in the year

Apple blossom not quite out

Tulips looking cheerful

From the bathroom window

Looking across the neighbours' gardens to Grassmoor

Looking across gardens and fields to Grassmoor

A spontaneous Tuesday evening out

I was sat in the office yesterday afternoon, gazing out at the little patch of sky we can see from our office windows, and thinking that when I lived in North Carlton on my own, it was that sort of afternoon when  occasionally, rather than heading home after work, I would head to Williamstown or to Geelong and buy fish and chips and go for a walk on the beach.

At about that point, The Builder happened to contact me.  I said to him that I felt it was the sort of afternoon when we should head to the beach for fish and chips.  Rather to my surprise, for he is not much given to spontaneous excursions out, he agreed and asked where the nearest beach was.  Cleethorpes is, I think, probably the nearest beach to us.  About an hour and a half away.

In the meantime, Tabitha and Cally were sat at home, on their  own.  Gareth was working until 8.  Freyja was at work only until 5, but then she and Ross were heading out for the evening.  So The Builder came and met me at SHU when I finished work at 4 and off we set to kidnap Tabitha and Cally and take them beachward with us.

I had forgotten in the 25 or so years since I last had a baby lurking about the place quite how long it takes to kidnap one.  They need to be fed and watered and changed before you go, then changed again when they wee all over their nice clean clothes.  They need an enormous supply of kit and caboodle bundled into the car.  Just as well Tabitha was a willing victim is all I can say!!

And off we set.  It was a beautiful evening.  The sun shone, the temperature was pleasant.  It's quite a nice drive to Cleethorpes.  Cally was quite happy tucked up in her car basket.  All was good.

Except that when we got there is was VERY windy and noticeably cooler than it had been in Sheffield.  We had a potter about on the seafront, a quick and brisk trot out onto the pier and then trundled off in search of somewhere to have the fish and chips that had brought us there.

Didn't find any pubs, but did find a rather nice hotel (the Dovedale) which was perfectly happy for us to take in a five week old baby, and which did fresh local fish with fabulous chips, and which also did the most enormous plate of pork spare ribs for Tabitha, who doesn't much care for fish.  It was all very good.

And then we came home.

If we had been able to leave earlier in the day we would probably have gone to Whitby or Bridlington or even Scarborough.  And it has to be said that Cleethorpes would not be my destination of choice if I were heading away for a weekend, still less a week.  But it's not a bad place for a quick dash for fish and chips by the sea.  And looking at the maps, I think there is probably more to do and see than we noticed on our very quick trip.  We'll head there again one day and have a proper nosey about.  We have been once before, The Builder and I.  But it was back in 2005 and we only stopped long enough for fish and chips and a bit of a potter about.  Pretty much like yesterday, then - but without the getting stuck in Grimsby first!!

It's a beautiful day again today.  But I think we won't head to the seaside this afternoon.

There are photos here

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Some mid-April photos

Flower bed, newly dug over. You can even see the flowers!

Our new hellebore

and the beautiful, frilly hellebore that Penny gave us a couple of years back

The twisted witch hazel is growing beautifully

This is the shrubbery, newly dug over and cleared by the Under Gardener

It now has a coenothus, a rosemary, some re-planted daisies and a rather sad, small hydrangea

This is a shrub that we summarily dug up and replanted after the snow. It seems to be thriving in its new bed
The dogwood is happy there too

We are now turning our attention to the patio

I've put some new strawberry plants in pots, and might put some more around the edge of the patio

The Under Gardener digging over the veg beds

More asparagus

The Builder's birthday

Well now.  I hope The Builder enjoyed his birthday weekend, because I certainly did.

His birthday was actually on Saturday, but I had taken Friday off so we could have a nice, leisurely long weekend.  And the Weather Dogs rolled up in party mood, and gifted us warm, sunny days with blue skies and light breezes.  And we pottered about and trundled around and sloped through our little taster of summer.

We ate lots of nice food (seafood stew on Friday, chicken and vegetable curry on Saturday, pork and scallops on Sunday) and drank wine and lazed.

The Builder had an eye appointment early on Saturday afternoon, so we dropped into town a bit early and had lunch in The Rutland, which does humble pub food, but does it extremely well.  They do nice beer too.  Not that I had beer, but The Builder did. I had wine.  Oh - and they do the most amazing onion rings.  Proper thick rings of onion in proper batter.  None of this oniony-flavoured puree stuff in something solid and indigestionous! 

He organised a new pair of glasses and I had a potter in the market.

We went out to Chatsworth on Sunday morning and admired the magnificent stags and the pretty deer, and avoided running over the sheep, and decided that the people who were out having picnic brunches by the side of the river probably had a good idea. But we weren't out for picnics - we had food waiting for us at home.

So as you see, we didn't really do anything very much.  And very delightful all this not doing very much was too.  We did do a bit of light gardening and I washed everything that could be washed - not wishing to waste God's air dryer but nothing very onerous.

A good way of spending a birthday weekend, if you ask me
The Under Gardener has been very busy this week.  he has been a-dig, dig, digging in the lovely spring sunshine, both on the allotment and at home.  He has dug over the shrubbery, thoroughly weeded it and prepared it for re-planting.  We have now planted the coenothus and the rosemary, plus we have put in the poor hydrangea which has been struggling along, neglected and unwatered in a huge pot by the front door.  The Under Gardener has also pretty much finished weeding the flower beds and is now preparing the vegetable beds for the late spring planting.

Today I planted in modular seed trays: pumpkins, watermelons, sweet melons, zucchini, and red peppers.  I planted in flat seed trays white and purple sprouting broccoli and leeks.  We have also prepped and planted the carrot boxes, with various hues of carrots.  We seem to have no cucumber seeds!!  We have decided to wait a bit and buy a couple of seedlings, for laziness' sake.  I have still to plant all the various cabbages - only we have run out of potting mix.  I also have my seaside daisy seeds to plant, plus extra plantings of beetroot.  And there are, of course, the salad boxes to get up together.

But I'm fairly sure I have forgotten something!!!!

In the meantime, the cost per individual egg has now dropped below 50p for the first time (taking all the costs, including set up costs, into account).  And the total number of eggs since the chooks started laying is now 930.  Which is not bad, for four youngish chickens.

OHHHHHHHH.  And the asparagus is coming up.  There are five or six stalks nearly ready for picking.  And we have been eating PSB this weekend too :-)

Belly pork, caramelised onions, scallops and squid

It was The Builder's birthday over the weekend and he asked if we could have a piece of pork for Sunday lunch.  We have LOTS of pork in the freezer, so I took a piece of belly out and went hunting for something interesting to do with it.

I ran across this recipe, and decided to give it a go.  The idea of pork, scallops and caramelised onions seemed especially appropriate for a birthday celebration.

I had terrible trouble sourcing squid rings.  No one had any at all.  Even Chatsworth let me down.  So I bought some prawns instead. 

The caramelised onions in their balsamic dressing were mouthwateringly delicious.  I have got them noted down as something to make many times again.

The balsamic sauce was equally lovely.

The scallops and prawns I cooked very briefly on my griddle.  They were quite nice too.

I'm just not sure about the belly pork.  It seemed like an awful lot of work for not much dividend.  The pork was absolutely delicious - but it was going to be delicious anyway; it was a piece of pork produced by Farmer Jayne and Farmer David.  I ended up having to deep fry it to get any crunch to the crackling, so it's not as though I gained in the fat stakes.  It didn't seem to be any more succulent than it would have been without the simmering.  It's true I ended up with a  really nice stock which I have made soup with - but I have loads of home made stock lying about in the freezer and wasn't really in need of any more.

So this is what I'll do next time.  I'll slow roast the pork belly in the usual way.  The caramelised onions and balsamic sauce are definitely staying.  We had our meal with mustardy mashed potato and home grown purple sprouting broccoli.  These were excellent additions.  We enjoyed the scallops and the prawns - but they got a bit lost in amongst all the rest of the robust flavours.  Next time we'll have them as an entree. 

But I'll keep the excellent stock recipe for the next time I have a ham I need to cook - and then I'll roast the ham rather than frying it.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Frugal food

You may think that my understanding of the word "frugal" leaves a bit to be desired when i tell you that the start of my week of frugal cooking began with the purchase of a free range local large chicken for the grand sum of £13.50.

Agreed, that sort of outlay doesn't immediately strike as frugal.  But I looked at the other chickens in the supermarket and decided against them.  The Essentials range birds looked scrawny and unappetising.  And they were definitely not free range.  We have been keeping chickens now for long enough to know that they are inquisitive, active creatures who are happiest when they are scratching around in new piles of stuff to explore.  Our coop and run are easily larger than the (commercial) legal minimum size, and our chooks hate being cooped up in there for any great length of time.  More to the point, the Essentials range chooks were only half the price and would just possibly do us for two meals where it looked to me as though the free range large bird would last all week.  So I bought one.

When I got it home I cut it up into pieces and make a stock with the carcass and various stock vegetables.  That was later turned into chicken and sweet corn soup and gravy.

One chicken fillet I butterflied and then flattened.  Then I cut it into two fillets and wrapped them each in baking parchment with some basil leaves, a little chopped garlic and some fresh lime juice, then I more or less poached them in the oven.  We had them with baby potatoes and various green vegetables. The lime juice had turned into a lovely, herby, garlicky sauce

We had one thigh each, de-boned and stuffed with a home made dried apricot stuffing, which I then baked.  We had those with more potatoes and more vegetables, with a little gravy.

The second fillet I chopped up and we had it stir fried with lots of vegetables, noodles and a lemon sauce.

The legs I just roasted and we had those with a huge big salad.

We had the chicken wings with some more salad for lunch mid-week.  And, of course, the chicken and corn soup for other lunches.

We didn't have chicken on the Thursday because I was at my Japanese class and The Builder fetched for himself.  But I reckon we got around 14 or so individual meals from that chicken.  And we already had the potatoes and  the store cupboard ingredients so the only additional cost was a few vegetables and the salad. I made the bread we had with the lunches and we had home made fruit loaves for our "sweet" courses. So what, about £1.50 - £2.00 per person per meal I think.

Was a very delicious week.  And much more frugal than it would have been had I bought one of the scrawny, Essentials chooks.

Monday, April 04, 2011

A burst of spring activity

The Under Gardener has been very busy indeed this last week.  The allotment is now all up together and ready for the coming season.  He has dug over the "shrubbery" and pretty much dug everything out between the prickly berberis and the not quite so prickly holly.  He's cut back everything that's left so we can see what we're doing.  He's also made a start on digging over the flower beds.  We are determined to get rid of all of those pesky wild strawberries if it kills us!!!

We were in Wilton over the weekend and called into the garden centre.  We now have a new coenothus and a new rosemary to replace the ones that the snow took out.  They will go in the space in the "shrubbery".  We also have a lovely new hellebore to go in the flower bed, next to the existing one.  There were two, but one seems to have vanished!

And the blossom is coming out.  There is even some on the peach tree, although not yet on the apple or cherry trees.  I am feeling good about the fruit for this coming year :-)

Leeks on the allotment

Fruit trees and bushes all settling in

This tree is not in our garden but in the field at the back. The fruit falls into the garden though

A birthday celebration and Mothering Sunday

We were down in Salisbury to help The Builder's mother celebrate her 86th birthday, which was on Friday, and to mark Mothering Sunday - which obviously enough was on Sunday.

We stayed, as is our habit, at The Swan in Stoford.  I enjoy staying at The Swan.  It's in a pretty location, it's handy for Salisbury, the food is excellent - and the beds are amongst the most comfortable I think I have ever slept in.  It is EXTREMELY hard to haul myself out in the morning.  The only way I manage is the siren call of a tasty breakfast wafting up from downstairs!

We de-Lented for the weekend.  There is no point in going either to The Swan, or to The Wheatsheaf near Romsey if you are going to stick to your Lenten diet.  No point at all. They're foody places  And we were in The Swan and had Sunday lunch plans for The Wheatsheaf!  And if you are going to crash your Lenten Diet then you could do a great deal worse that to crash it with The Swan's slow roasted pork belly with a really lovely vanilla apple sauce.  I think that the red cabbage and star anise possibly might have been ok in a Lent diet - except that it tasted far too nice to belong on any diet. 

And looky here at my Sunday lunch at The Wheatsheaf. 

Not by any stretch of the imagination Lenten fare!  And nor was the creme brulee I followed it up with.

But you really can't fast when celebrating an 86th birthday.  It would be remarkably self-righteous.  And Gwen seemed to enjoy her day.  She ate nearly all of her main course and every last scrap of her apple tart and ice cream. (So did The Builder, but that is not newsworthy!!)  She even had a glass of wine!  And she was absolutely delighted when Matthew @ The Wheatsheaf presented her with a Mother's Day pot plant and a pretty little fairy cake.

It was a good weekend. Even the weather held for us - except that we were chased by some quite malevolent rain storms up the M5 on the way home!!

I have just had my lunch.  My Philly-lite and salad sandwich with a banana chaser was rather nice and indisputable very worthy - but it seemed a bit dull in comparison!!!!

Well fed and satisfied after a mighty fine lunch

A small diversion off the motorway

We have been heading down to Salisbury on a fairly regular basis for about six years now (Six?  Are you sure?  Is it really SIX YEARS??????  And, erm, yes it is :-S  ).  We have a variety of routes that we take, but our main one has us on the M5 from Birmingham to Cirencester.  And as you pass from Gloucester towards Tewkesbury there is, to the left, a truly pretty meadow, with a river running through it, boats moored along the banks, a pretty looking church sat above it.  I look out for it as we pass along the motorway.  It seems to be rather a happy place. And I have for a very long time wondered where, exactly, it was.  Not its location.  I could pinpoint its location with amazing accuracy.  But I wasn't sure which village it was or even which river it was on.

On Saturday we decided that we had time, the weather was fine, the time had come to find this village.  So I set Kathy the Sat Nav to a village which looked likely on the map and off the motorway we came, ready for adventures.

And we found it.  The village is called Bredon, and it sits alongside one of the many rivers Avon.  This one decants into the Severn at Tewkesbury.  And I have to say it is a very pretty little village.  There is, of course, the church. There's a rather nice looking pub.  It seems there is a National Trust property thereabouts.  There are walking tracks and there is the river.  We didn't really have time for a proper exploration but have decided that over the summer we will leave quite a lot more time and go by and collect the church and the NT barn and possibly even have lunch in the pub. It really was worth the effort of turning off the motorway and going out in search of it.

And we were not the only ones.  As we returned to the car from a gentle stroll through the village a couple of people stopped us and asked if there is a walking track along the river.  They too have been travelling up and down the M5 for several years and had been wondering where that pretty looking village and marina were and had also chosen that afternoon to come and find out!!

Looking out across the meadows

Walking down through Bredon

Looking up towards the marina

Looks like a lovely place for a little holiday

Looking down river towards the M5