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

Sunday

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