Tuesday, December 31, 2013


I didn't do the autumn cutback in the end.  But I've done most of it now.  I can see what I'm doing again!  And what I need to be doing is weeding. There are buttercups and grass growing everywhere, not to mention tenacious little alpine strawberry plants.

We've had quite a lot of stormy weather lately - but yesterday was glorious.  So we went to the allotment and pottered about in the garden.  It's stormy again now though

Click on the allotment to reach the album

 Poor Gyoza woke up dead on Saturday morning.  She had become progressively less and less mobile and spent most of her time sitting in her run watching the world go by. But she hadn't shown any sign of dropping off her perch. She was eating happily and pottering about.  Still, that's chooks for you.  Mind you, we haven't had much luck with this year's load of chooks.  That's three of six gone now. One of each type.  Curry and Dimsim are laying beautifully.  Udon, though, has gone into moult and stopped laying.  An unusual time of year for moulting and she's unusually young.

We'll get some more chicks and ducklings in the spring.  Maybe this time our ducklings will be girls!!  (It's just as well that the boys are very cute - they're not much use apart from that)

Friday, December 27, 2013


So.  I finished work on Christmas Eve at just after 4. It took 15 minutes to get from the car park in town to Tabitha and Gareth's place (I wish it could be Christmas Eve … ). Marryk rocked in a bit later. We packed the car, all jumped in - and headed to Tupton where were waiting The Builder and Marlo, ready to start Christmas.

I had, the previous day, made a braised bean curd and vegetable shepherd's pie - which would have been suitable for any passing vegan.  Until I put butter and cheese in the mash :-D  It seemed sensible to  have loads and loads of veggies on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day was bound to be a major meat feast!

Christmas Day dawned rather more abruptly than I had hoped.  I had forgotten to turn the alarms off so was jolted awake by the radio coming on at 5:30 :-S  The alarms are all turned off now :-)

It was a lovely day.  We had bacon rolls for breakfast. There was a smorgasbord for lunch, with party pies, sausage rolls, gyoza, prawn wontons, and various very yummy things from a Christmas hamper that Jeanette and Matthew had given us. Then for dinner we had roasted pork, crumbed chicken, katsu sauce and a huge mound of roast potatoes, mashed potatoes and vegetables.  Later for dessert we had a ski slope which was intended to be a skate park until I put a circle of meringue on my cake plate and created a hill rather than a skating rink

We had lots of presents.  Grandma Stella and Grandpa Tony gave Cally her very first train set.  I had suggested that she should open it quite early so she would have something to occupy herself while we were all doing Useful Things. It was such a successful present that it proved impossible to convince her to eat her bacon sandwich.  Or, indeed, to do anything else at all.

She quite liked the pirate tent The Builder and I had got for her. Except it is so huge that we had to put the train set away to make room for it in our lounge room.  I hadn't realised quite how big it was when i bought it!

We talked to Austin, Kaori, Tatsuki, Freyja, Lindsey, Stella, Tony and everyone else who was at Mount Helen for Christmas Evening. Skype is a wonderful thing!

The sun shone and the winds were gentle and the birds sang and it was all good.  Cally says it was the Best Christmas Ever.  But I don't suppose she really remembers any previous ones :-D

Click here to see the Christmas photo album

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Welcome to Freddie ...

… and very many congratulations to Chloe (The Builder's granddaughter) on the birth of her first child, Freddie Lee (surname Stewart). Freddie was born on Christmas Eve at a little after 6 in the evening, thus making Chloe a mum, Ian (The Builder's son) a grandad and The Builder a great grandad.

They all seem to me to be much too young to have obtained these august titles :-D

Oh I wish it could be Christmas every da-a-a-yyyyyyy

I don't, of course.  Nobody who actually has to DO anything about Christmas wishes it would happen every day.  We would all be permanently bankrupt and absolutely exhausted.

For instance, from about 4:30 this morning I became aware that I had been lying in bed from around 3:00, three quarters asleep but thinking about making tiny, tiny meringues and meat pie filling and washing the kitchen floor and various other things. By 5:00 I had decided that rather than lying there thinking about doing it, I might just as well get up and *actually* do it!  So I did :-)

But you couldn't do that every day.  Exhausted, I tell you.  Not to mention fat.  And probably not very well and with no teeth left after eating all that sugar.

But I do very much wish that it could be Christmas Eve every day.  I came to work in the car today so I can take Tabitha, Gareth, Cally and Little Friend Marryk back to our place after we all finish work. Ordinarily, if I leave even a minute after 7:00 the traffic is fairly heavy on the main road, and very heavy when I get to Sheffield and it takes anything up to an hour and a half to get to the office. Usually I leave at about 5 to 7. This morning, though, I left at 7:28 precisely. And walked into the office at 8:05 :-)  And then those of us hardy souls who had come in to work today went to the student cafeteria for breakfast/brunch/morning tea at 10:00. I had already had breakfast but a cup of coffee went down quite well.  And a bottle of the two litres of milk that they were selling for 50p each also seemed worth turning out for. We don't actually need any milk at home, but it can always go in the freezer until such time that we do need milk. And it's very, very quiet here today. Not many staff and even fewer students.  Will be interesting to see how many come in tomorrow (it's the first year that we've been open on Christmas Day. There won't be any library staff in, just security. I wonder if there will be any students!!)

So Christmas Eve.  Peaceful, calm, an excellent good thing.  I wish we could have it every day.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Weather. And Biscuits

It was the weekend before Christmas and all through the house ...

Actually, there was quite a lot of stirring. Mostly in my various mixing bowls with my wooden spoon and my electric and hand whisks :-P

We did the (final, I hope) Christmas shop at the Marsh Green Farm Shop and in a strangely quiet Sainsbury's.  I say it was strangely quiet because the car park was absolutely packed. I don't know where all the drivers and passengers were though. They didn't appear to be impeding progress in the store!

Then we went home and I didn't leave the house and garden again until this morning.  The Builder did, but only to go as far as the dairy for some milk.

I spent most of the rest of the weekend cooking.  I made starry jammy dodgers and loads of tiny biscuits: ginger women, cocoa men, vanilla teddies and stars and Christmas trees for my snow park for Christmas Day. We had roast turkey with nearly all the trimmings for Sunday lunch - and in honour of the nearly Christmas nature of it, we ate at the dining table rather than from trays on our knees in front of the telly.  We had apple and blackberry pie for dessert and sampled the biscuits (well, someone has to taste test things - what if they had been horrible?)

We spoke to Stella and Tony on Sunday morning, and then to Lindsey, Freyja, Austin, Kaori and Tatsuki who are all at Mount Helen.  I don't think this is going to be a fun Christmas for poor Tatsuki. He's not a big fan of new people and there are going to be lots and lots and lots and LOTS of new people over the next few days!!  I'm told that when Ian and Ross turned up to collect Austin, Kaori and Tatsuki from the airport, Tatsuki took one look at them and burst into tears.  I think he's still crying :-S

Right.  Let's talk about the weather. We've been having some quite stormy weather lately. Not surprising, you might think, for England in December. But some of the storms have been unusually severe.  We in North East Derbyshire have missed the worst of it (although the Tupton village Christmas tree did get blown down in a storm a week or so ago. It's been put back up again now).  We have had strong winds and very heavy rain but nothing as exciting as has hit other bits of the UK. And the weather for today is likely to be Very Stormy Indeed. Torrential rain, hurricane-like gales, massive transport disruption, trains, ferries and flights cancelled.  Again, we are not expecting the worst of the weather in North East Derbyshire but I am definitely wondering what the state of the trains is going to be when it's time to go home.  And it's all very well suggesting that people might like to defer their Christmas Holiday travel until tomorrow - but I wasn't going on holiday.  I was coming to work.  You can't just not turn up to work because the weather might get a bit bad later in the day!!

Starry jammy dodgers for Christmas

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Very Quiet Weekend Indeed

Very, very, very quiet.

We were at Bishops' House on  Saturday morning, but for a shorter time than usual. Then house was closing at 12:30 for a wedding in the afternoon.  And it was Very Quiet Indeed.  We had one visitor pretty much as we opened - but she didn't get any further into the house than the shop. She had come to buy stocking fillers for Christmas. I counted her as a visitor.  Around that time the Treasurer turned up to make up price lists and to make sure the house was ready for the wedding.  Then some of the wedding people came and decorated the chairs and the room where the wedding was to take place. I didn't count them on our stats sheet. Then two people turned up to put radon detectors in various places.  I did count them because they then went for a proper look around the house.  I didn't count any of the people who stopped outside to read our early closure notice. I did talk to most of them though - many of them were wondering whether we were really licensed to have weddings in the house (yes) or whether we were just having receptions (no - not licensed for receptions, just weddings).

The morning passed surprisingly quickly to say that we had almost no traffic through the place.  And then we abandoned the house to its happy afternoon and took ourselves into Chesterfield for a bit of Christmas shopping and lunch in the Rutland.

And that was it, pretty much. I didn't leave the house from when we got back on Saturday afternoon until I left to come to work this morning.  The Builder did, but only to go as far as the dairy for milk and cream on Sunday morning. I passed Sunday morning making a steamed suet pudding and custard to go with it.  I also roasted some chicken and some potatoes and prepared some vegetables and made an apple cider gravy for Sunday lunch.  We had the roast chicken before we had the steamed pudding! I made some bread, intending it for today. Alas, it was extremely tasty and we ate it for supper instead! I had to make some soda bread rolls for lunch today :-D

The Builder let the ducks and chickens out of their run when he went down to feed them on Sunday morning.  I found Marlo sitting by the kitchen sink later in the morning, watching them through the kitchen window.  I went upstairs to make the bed and sort a few things out.  When I looked out of our bedroom window I could see Marlo merrily playing a happy game down the bottom of the garden. I could see he was happy.  His tail was up and he was positively bouncing.  I don't think the ducks enjoyed the game of chasey quite as much though. They seemed much happier when we had called Marlo off and brought him back inside!!! (I don't think he was actually trying to catch them; he wasn't stalking them or hunting them. Just chasing them :-D )

Despite the fact that we really didn't do anything very much, the weekend still vanished in a puff of smoke.  And now there's only just over a week until Christmas.  I have done the bulk of the shopping but there are one or two things still to get. And we can't really do the perishable food shopping quite yet.  Over next weekend, I think.

Sunday morning sunrise

Marlo - after we had stopped him chasing the ducks :-D

Friday, December 13, 2013

Birthday feast at The Nettle

I was going to put these on the birthday blog. But they were on my laptop and I didn't have it with me when I wrote the blog.

So here is what we ate:

The Builder's gammon and chips

And my delicious bacon and cheese burger and chips

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cally's first sleepover

Months and months and months and months ago, Tabitha asked if we could have Cally on the Sunday after my birthday so that she and Gareth could go to a late evening Gig and then perhaps go out clubbing afterwards.  I couldn't immediately think of a good reason not to, so said yes.  After all, it was months and months and months and months in the future.

And then, suddenly, it was NOW!

So we dug out the blow up child's bed with Dr Who sleeping bag attached.  We sorted out the spare room, where we were all going to sleep that night. And then we very, very bravely went to Sheffield, picked her up and transported her back to our place.

She seemed entirely happy about this.

So we watched the Children's channels on the BBC. And we made fish fingers and chips and peas and corn for tea (Cally loves fish fingers and chips and peas and corn, although I don't think she's ever had home made fish fingers before). And at about half past seven she announced that it was bed time, reminded me that she needed to brush her teeth, and off she toddled to bed.

A little while later, The Builder went up to the loo and came down to say that Cally was lying in her bed, quietly going: "Gamma. Gamma. Gamma. Gamma." But so quietly that he only just heard her and that I didn't have a hope of hearing her downstairs.  I went up to investigate.  Tabitha and Gareth had reported that when they had gone camping over the summer and had borrowed the blow up bed, she had managed to wriggle right down to the bottom and they were afraid she would suffocate.  So I had zipped her in nice and tightly so she couldn't wriggle down to the bottom.  Alas - she couldn't wriggle anywhere!!!! She was so tightly zipped in that she could barely move!!!!!!!  I unzipped the sleeping bag so it wouldn't matter if she did end up down at the bottom and went downstairs.  And that was the last we saw of Cally until after 7 the next morning.  Which was quite late by our standards. Which meant that we had to be quiet and still when we woke up the next morning lest we disturb her :-S

So we got up on Monday and watched more Children's BBC. And we had crumpets for breakfast. And we made cupcakes for a lunchtime dessert. Then Tabitha (but not Gareth who hadn't taken the day off work, although Tabitha and I had) came for lunch and we more or less did Sunday again.  Slow roasted shoulder of lamb, with roasties and veg and cupcakes for dessert. Then The Builder took Tabitha and Cally home again and I cleared up. He came back and we watched a bit more catch up TV and then retired to bed.

I think we can declare the first sleep over a success.

But now Taffa wants to do it all over again, on a Sunday sometime in April :-S

Monday, December 09, 2013

Birthday blog

A quietly, well celebrated birthday, if I may say so.

We started perhaps a little early with birthday eve food and wine after I got home from work on Friday.

I was awake nice and early on Saturday.  I spoke by Skype to Stella and Tony; Lindsey; Taffa, Gareth and Cally; Freyja from her airport hotel at Heathrow; Austin.  I had lots and lots of messages on Facebook.

Then Freyja and Simon went to Bali, and The Builder and I went out into the Peak District for some foodie fun. We went to Rowsley to visit the mill for lots of different flour (although it's a pity I didn't think to get bread flour - the bread flour bin is all but empty :-S)  We went to Chatsworth to the farm shop for a few supplies and for some of their rather nice soap. We went to Marsh Green for some more supplies, plus a few Christmas supplies (apart from perishable items I seem to have all but finished the Christmas food shop; this is something of a worry. I'm bound to have forgotten something essential!!!). Then we went to The Nettle, arriving more or less as they opened, ready for my birthday feast.  You will be surprised to hear that I had a burger with chips.  And white wine.  The plan for going alcohol free in Advent has been a spectacular and comprehensive failure :-S

And then we went home and passed a gentle and quiet afternoon watching catch-up telly and pootling about.

So not an exciting birthday. Not a huge amount of dashing about. No raucous celebrations.  But it was definitely my kind of birthday. Lots of nice foodie things and lots of nice wine.

Right.  Cally is coming for her first sleepover later this afternoon.  We had better get ourselves organised!

Friday, December 06, 2013

Bishops' House Advent/Christmas do

We were invited to a do last evening at Bishops' House for the Committee members and volunteers to get together and indulge in a little Adventy Christmas cheer.

The do started at 7:30, so The Builder came into town and met me at about 6 and we tootled to the (Sheffield) Rutland for a burger and a pint.  It's only a little pub and it was quite full when we got there, so The Builder had half a pint and I (not being a huge fan of beer) had a glass of wine, propped in a corner, waiting to see if a table would clear.  And lo - a table did clear.  So we had another drink each and had a burger with chips (home made, tasty burger, home made, tasty chips).

Then we went to Bishops' House.  It was good to see John, the chair of the committee, there.  He's been A Very Poorly Boy Indeed. Very, very poorly.  He seems to be quite a bit better now, but isn't quite as nimble as he was before he took poorly sick.  There weren't many people there (I think the storms which were blowing trees and buildings and vehicles about, put people off - although Sheffield and Chesterfield escaped the worst of the winds and certainly escaped the coastal storm surges). Taffa was there (she's both a volunteer *and* a member of the committee). A few people wafted in. There were candles along the window sills and festive music playing.  More people drifted in. There was mulled wine and mince pies. It was warm and cosy in the main hall (calling it the main hall sounds quite grand - it's only a small main hall!) It was all very pleasant.

We didn't stay long. I had an early start this morning and there were things to do.  I think we left after about an hour and went home via the supermarket for vital supplies such as wine, fizzy water and cat food.

We were still up, watching television, when the news broke of Nelson Mandela's death.  Sad as the news was, it can't have been unexpected - he was an elderly, frail, sickly poorly gentleman. And the obits were ready to run pretty much as soon as the death was announced. But it took over the whole of the late evening news (I would have liked at least a little bit on the storm surges, storm damage and other weather related news). They were still talking about it this morning when I woke up (a tiny bit about other things, but not much). I know he was an important 20th century figure. I know he was a great and good man. I fully expected when he died that there would be a (well-deserved) full on coverage. But there were (and are) other things happening that were (are) equally deserving of coverage.  Such as the Chancellor's autumn financial statement which seems to have vanished without trace and which will most certainly have had some contentious details in it.

Freyja has one sleep to go before her #roundtheworldin41days adventure.  Although she is not going round the world in 41 days. She gets abandoned in California for 5 or so months, while Simon goes round the world in 41 days

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Not Safe For Work

I borrowed from the library a copy of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Fruit everyday a week or so ago.  Lots of lovely, fruity recipes, some savoury, some sweet.

When we went to London last weekend, I took it with me to browse in the car.  At the back there is a recipe for quite a luxury fruit mince.

I had very nearly all the ingredients sitting at home.  I didn't have any dried sour cherries, but I did have a big bag of morello cherries from our tree in the freezer.  I didn't have any lemons or oranges, but one of Freyja's local shops did. Everything else I had.  So when we got home I dug the cherries out of the freezer and began my preparations.

The fruits and spices and sugar macerated happily while I was at work on Monday.  On Monday evening, I baked the mix, gently, for a couple of hours.

When it was all nicely baked and cold, I mixed in the brandy.  Funny.  It's not mixing in very well.  Stir, stir, stir, stir.  No.  It's definitely not stirring in very well.  Double check the recipe.

Oops :-S  The recipe calls for 50 ml of brandy and I've put in 150 :-s  No wonder it's not mixing in very well!!

I put the whole lot in a box and put it in the fridge and pondered.

I decided to bulk up the fruit and juice.  So I took loads more cherries out of the freezer, macerated them in orange and lemon juice with some more spice and a bit more sugar and 12 hours later simmered it all for half an hour or so. Then I mixed in the brandied fruit mince and very gently simmered that for half an hour.  Then I made some small mince pies and a fruit mince roulade style pastry.

I have to say it was very, very tasty.  But it was also very, very heady.  We definitely couldn't count that as an alcohol free evening. And I absolutely can't bring them in to work. Wouldn't do at all to make my colleagues slightly tipsy before they go up on the desk or into a classroom!!!

I shall keep the mince pies and roulade for our delectation.  And I'll make some more fruit mince at the weekend.  Without the brandy!

And I can take the Fruit everyday book back to the library.  The Builder has bought me a copy as a non-birthday present

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


So.  Freyja's passport has come back from the American Embassy with a new decoration:

Photo pinched from Freyja's Facebook page
She's now ready to go off adventuring!

She and Simon leave on Saturday for a few days in Bali, a few days in Perth, a couple of weeks in Victoria, a few days in EnZed, a few days playing in America - and then Simon comes on home alone and Freyja is spending second semester at university in San Francisco.

First, though, there was the little matter of her moving out of the house she's been living in for the last year or so. At one time she had been intending to leave her stuff there with the vague possibility that she might move back in when she returns from America.  Her belongings could live in boxes in the garage.  But that option went out the window when the owner gave everyone notice to quit!  The next option was to sell or throw away absolutely everything and to reduce her worldly goods to a single suitcase.  The Builder and I thought this was a bit over-enthusiastic on the scaling down front and arranged to go down in the car and to bring up to Simon's place in Sheffield as much as we could fit in the car.

So we went down on Saturday morning. And were a bit non-plussed by the amount of stuff there was to squish into the car.  But based on our "never give up, never surrender" mindset, we squished and squashed and packed and shoved and squidgled as much as we possibly could into the car.  The rest (mostly food and kitchen stuff) went across the road to where two of Freyja's house mates had moved (when she said they had moved across the road I didn't think she meant it properly literally.  But she did!!).

A quick lunch in the local coffee shop and back to Sheffield we headed.  I had *this* much space for my feet.  Freyja had ***this*** much room for hers.  Fortunately, The Builder was driving or there would have been no room for him in either of the passenger spaces. And I don't think he would have been very happy if we had left him alone and palely loitering in East London!

All of Freyja's possessions are now lurking in Simon's cellar. And they have five sleeps before they head off on their adventures.

We had a very quiet Sunday by contrast.  I don't think we left the house and garden. Mostly we ate and drank and watched TV. We did move Gyoza and her run up to the lawn by the pond but I think that was the most activity that we managed.