Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chicken cheese kiev

I had two magnificent (and very expensive) chicken fillets for dinner last night. Mindful of my disgruntlement last weekend when I was presented with a slab of chicken fillet swimming in cream which nothing at all interesting had been done, I decided I couldn't just grill the fillets, even if I had butterflied them. I decided to make kievs, but filled with cheese rather than butter. And I just happened to have some Sage Derby cheese in the fridge.

I cut the micro fillet off both the fillets and butterflied them (the fillets, not the little bits!) THen I flattened them gently with my rolling pin.

I finely grated a healthy hill of cheese and added two finely chopped cloves of garlic. Then I put the cheese in the middle of the fillets and rolled them up, tucking the end in to seal them. One of them wasn't quite big enough so I used the micro fillet to plug the gap.

I (gently!) rolled the kievs in flour seasoned with black pepper, then dipped them in a whisked egg and then rolled them (also gently) in some fresh breadcrumbs. THen I put them in a fairly low oven and let them cook gently while we peeled the potatoes and prepped the veg and then cooked it all. I think the kievs were probably in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

Because they had been cooked quite slowly, they came out still tender and juicy, but properly cooked. The cheese had all melted and they went really nicely with the boiled potatoes and veg. I added some quick gravy made with gravy mix.

Next time I make a Sunday gravy with a vegetable trivet, I think I might make lots extra. The kievs would have been magnificent with a really nice vegetable gravy. I need some in the freezer for just such kiev emergencies!!

I must start taking photos of things befiore we eat them!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slow cooker report - Part the second

I am fast coming to the conclusion that where the slow cooker recipe books talk about cooking on “low”, that corresponds on my cooker to “medium” and that “low” on mine corresponds to the recipe books’ “use the warming function if you have one”. That makes sense, and seems to work! And the manufacturer’s instructions are very clear that the optimal results are gained by using the cooker on medium.

Although, I didn’t yesterday!

We picked up some stewing lamb in the Waitrose in Harrogate on Sunday. I have no idea what cut it was, but each piece was about the size of half a standard playing card (but thicker, obviously) and most of them had a piece of bone attached.

I more or less followed the recipe in one of the books for lamb in mint and tomato, except that I added a bit more stock. I cooked it on low because the recipe said to cook it for 4 hours on their version of low and I knew I would be away for upward of 12 hours. Oh - and I prepared it the night before. We are both still in bounding good health :-)

And it worked perfectly well. I can’t say the house was absolutely redolent with the aroma of stewed lamb when we got home, but I turned the cooker up to high for half an hour, which upped the redolence factor to a more than satisfactory level.

One of the problems I have always had with crockpots and pressure cookers is that the “sauce” you end up with tends to be very thin, more like a broth than a sauce. I find this a bit with slow cookers as well. I prefer a thicker gravy or sauce. With thinner ones I find the mashed potato goes soggy and the vegetables are inclined to swim about! And the flavour is a bit thin as well. So I took most of the sauce out of the slow cooker before serving and reduced it by half in a saucepan. Then I thickened it slightly with some rice flour which I happened to have hanging about, then stirred everything back in together.

It was absolutely delicious! Although next time I will put more garlic and more mint in.

We ate all the lamb, but there is still enough of the sauce left for The Builder to have it as lunchtime soup.

Our Slow Cooking adventures were nearly brought to a premature end when The Builder was washing up after dinner. He oh-so, oh-so nearly broke the cooking bowl on the floor! He caught it by *this much* before it crashed to the ground.

Pork hocks next. Friday.

Monday, February 23, 2009

An overnight stay in York

We went to York over the weekend to play with the Vikings.

We left late morning on Saturday and decided to drive up avoiding the motorways. Jenny took us on a very pretty, roundabout route through lots of South Yorkshire villages we had never heard of – or, if we had heard of them we had never been - and then through some lovely North Yorkshire countryside. It takes a good bit longer than going along the motorways, but it is considerably more restful.

Thereafter, we had something of a mixed weekend, although we did have a good time and were mostly perfectly happy.

Where to start …


It was a weekend, really, of not entirely satisfactory food.

Despite having gone along the laneways and back roads, we had still arrived too early to check in to our hotel room. Finding ourselves in the wrong lane at a roundabout, and therefore inadvertently driving past a Wyevale garden centre (I’ve only ever seen Wyevales in the south before), we decided to call in for some lunch. We have, I suppose, been a bit spoilt by the cafes in our local garden centres, but even so you wouldn’t think they could do much wrong to a plate of fish and chips. But it didn’t inspire confidence when, half an hour after ordering, The Builder asked when our lunch might arrive – and was told that it was nearly ready but that haddock takes a long time to cook! The batter was almost impenetrable!!

We had dinner in La Vecchia Scuola, which is indeed in the old girls’ school. A very mixed experience. My starter salad was fabulous. But the main course was very disappointing and was served much, much too quickly after the starter plates had been removed. My somewhat expensive chicken fillet in a creamy garlic and prawn sauce was a large chicken fillet plonked onto a plate and swimming in a lake of red cream with no discernible garlic taste and a scant handful of frozen shrimps (they weren’t frozen by the time they got to my plate, of course). I would expect the fillet at the very least to be butterflied, the cream to be reduced, the vegetables not to have been microwaved to death and the potatoes to be edible. I also don’t expect, when I ask for a jug of tap water, to be presented with a bottle of still mineral water and, when I sent it back and it was replaced with a jug of tap water, still to be charged £4.50 for it (not that I expect to be charged £4.50 for a bottle of mineral water anyway)! The pianist, on the other hand, was wonderful. When I asked if he could play some Gershwin, he grinned and played a whole set of Gershwin for me :-) I suppose, though, that the restaurant name should have rung at least a small warning bell. Real Italians would have called in La Scuola Vecchia!

Breakfast was a serious disappointment. The hotel itself was lovely. We were upstairs in an attic bedroom, which had been beautifully decorated and was very comfortable. The hotel was only a short walk from the minster. But we have become accustomed to being offered breakfasts made with local produce and which are well cooked. This was quite definitely a Tesco’s value breakfast. And a not particularly well cooked Tesco’s value breakfast at that. It’s a pity. We would certainly have gone back. But for £70 a night, I’m not eating a value breakfast again!

We had our Sunday roast at home in the evening. I had had enough not entirely satisfactory food for one weekend. We had roast beef with Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, edible vegetables and a gravy made with vegetables and stock. That was extremely satisfactory.

The Vikings

We enjoyed the Vikings. It was a bit unfortunate that we were there for the last day of the festival and there was less going on than earlier in the week. But realistically, it would be hard for us to get there mid-week in February. We were disappointed that they weren’t doing anything on the river, but we enjoyed the craft tents and the museum. We also enjoyed the plate of mini-pancakes we bought in the market – perhaps we should have been eating street food all weekend! It would be expensive, mind, if you wanted to do all the Viking related stuff. The battle re-enactment would set you back £6; entry into the craft tents is £2. But in fact we had a happy time pottering about in York itself, pootling in the shops, wandering around aimlessly and admiring the buildings. I think we might not bother with the Vikings again for a while. They run the festival during the half term holiday which means that York is extremely crowded with families. There is nothing to stop us just coming up for a weekend, or even for a day for a potter about, without attaching it to festivals, and there is Viking material around all the time. But we are definitely coming for the food festival this year!!

We went to matins in the cathedral on Sunday morning. The cathedral choir was on its half term holiday and the service was sung by the gentlemen from the choir of St Andrews in Aberdeen. But if the gentlemen of Aberdeen were singing in the York minster – who was singing in St Andrew’s?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Slow cooker report - Part the first

I am still not entirely convinced by the slow cooking machine.

In the first instance, ALL the books I have read state quite firmly that you absolutely must NOT prepare your goulash* the night before and leave it ready so you can simply turn your device on the following morning as you leave for work. To do this is to invite certain catastrophe, the end of civilisation as we know it and the distinct probability that David Cameron will become Prime Minister.

*Other dishes are also available

I can tell you now that if I ever have to prepare goulash or any other form of evening meal at 6:10 in the morning, then yesterday's was absolutely the Slow Cooker's first and last excursion.

Although Lindsey tells me that she prepares her dishes the night before and that so far civilisation struggles on and David Cameron is not Prime Minister. Mind you Kevin Rudd might have something to say if DC just turned up planning to take over. On the other hand, if he did, it would significantly reduce the likelihood of him becoming Prime Minister here!

But I digress.

Many other people told me that they too prepare their dishes the night before with no ill effect. And that the delicious smell of goulash that would greet me when I got home would make it all worth it.

We got home. And were greeted not by a mouth watering small but by a tiny, vague scent. I peered in. Not very much appeared to be happening, definitely no simmering. In defiance of all the instructions, I took the lid off and tasted it. It was hot, it's true. But the meat was a bit tough and it wasn't a "finished" goulash at all.

I left it to carry on. And checked the recipe. I was doing exactly what it had said to do. I looked in the manufacturer's book - and discovered that the recommendations for cooking in that were not at all the same as the instructions in the books! I turned the cooker up! The books aren't written, it appears, for a cooker with a medium setting!!!

In the end, it turned into quite a nice goulash, but it took a bit of last minute effort. And I really didn't like the fact that I couldn't take the lid off and taste and stir and smell. Everyone else, however, tells me that they take the lid off theirs with no ill effect.

I have some pork hocks coming this week (from my Scottish butcher, who calls them houghs!) I shall try them in the slow cooker when they arrive, folowing the manufacturer's instructions fr use, and see how we get on! And the oven stands at the ready, prepared to take back the responsibility for slow cooking should the slow cooker and I fail to get along

Friday, February 20, 2009


... is about to join the ranks of the long-haired (or, in this instance, short-haired) layabouts.

The law firm she works for is shedding people.

She is one of the sh(r)eddies :-S

Still, she seems fairly sanguine about this. She's ready to start lazing about, smoking rollies, watching daytime TV, drinking strongbow...

Actually, I think she's planning to hit the job hunting scene. She has travel plans which need feeding. Not to mention lots of Very Hungry Hippos.

She also has five weeks redundancy money (four weeks statutory redundancy and an extra week for going quietly). But that won't go far, not with all those mouths to feed.

It's her last night tonight. Think remunerative thoughts in her direction

My slow cooker has arrived. What shall I make first?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spring must be on the way

Two bags of onion sets arrived last week.

And today two boxes of seed potatoes arrived. I ordered three "collections" from Thompson and Morgan - a salad collection, a conservation collection and an allotment collection. Six varieties in each collection, ten tubers of each variety. I'm going to have to sort them out. I have no idea now which are the earlies and maincrops, though I do know which are the salad potatoes!

And the snowdrops down the back are nearly flowering.

The garden has emerged from the snow.

There is a distinct promise of spring in the air.

But let us not be too hasty. It's still only February. It is way, way, way too early to start planting. Might be time to get digging, though!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rhubarb crumble cake

First make a basic sponge cake (225g butter, 225g sugar, 225g SR flour, 4 eggs Blend butter and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time - slowly! Add flour gradually. The mix was a bit thick so I loosened it with some orange and passionfruit juice. Bake at 140d in a fan oven or 160 in a conventional oven, for about 45-50 minutes). I put my cake mix into two loaf tins - one cake for The Builder, one for the office.

Stew some rhubarb with a little sugar (I had a tiny bit of butter as well). Put on top of the sponge cake.

Make a crumble mix, using half flour and half oatmeal

Put on top of the rhubarb

Put it all back in the oven until the crumble is crisp (but not burned!)

Serve on plates - the crumble is crumbly!

Photo to come - I have my camera but not the lead!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Slow Cookers

I've just ordered a slow cooker using some Amazon money I had lying idly about.

You'd better all be right!


The Swan @ Stoford

If you find yourself in the Salisbury area wondering where to go for a nice meal in the country, allow me to recommend The Swan at Stoford in the Wylye Valley. It's a lovely pub which sells excellent, restaurant quality food at not quite restaurant prices. We've been several times (usually we stay there when we are in Wiltshire).

Yesterday was the first time we've been for Sunday lunch. We will certainly go again. The roasts on offer were beef, pork, slow roasted lamb shoulder and pheasant. Can't remember ever having seen pheasant on a pub's Sunday lunch offerings before!. The Builder had the pork which came with a little pot of apple sauce. His mother had the beef (which she declared delicious but which was rather more than she could eat). We all had fluffy Yorkshire puddings, roasted potatoes, beautifully cooked broccoli, cauliflower and carrot. And I had the slow roasted lamb shoulder. I have to say - it was fabulous. It was served on the bone and it melted as you ate it. And it was in a very slightly sweet, very slightly sticky sauce (but not too sweet, or too sticky and it wasn't a Chinese style sauce). I asked the waiter what the sauce was - and he said it was the gravy that everyone else had with some mint added to it. Oh, and perhaps something else. Actually, I think it had red currant jelly in it, along with the mint. But I'm sure it had something else. And it had been reduced - it was thicker and darker than the gravy on the other plates was. I have a shoulder of lamb in the freezer. I may have to try to replicate the sauce!

What I did at the weekend

Right. That’s enough excitement, I think. Let’s go back to dull and quiet and this-is-what-I-did-at-the-weekend blogging.

And what we did was to go down to Salisbury (the trip that was relocated from last weekend).
It was very interesting driving down. Up around our area the gardens and fields and hilltops were still covered in quite thick snow. Then we got to the area around Birmingham and there was no snow anywhere. No indication that there ever had been snow. Not a skerrick.

Then we got to Cirencester and decided to stop at the Highwayman for lunch. That little area of the world is under about a foot of snow – still! The people in the pub said they had been snowed in until snow ploughs could reach them and dig them all out! And still the side roads are largely blocked.

Not much snow in Wiltshire anymore.

We dropped by to see Barb to drop off some seeds which I had got ready to bring down when The Builder had come down for her mother’s funeral. I had sorted them out, packed them in a bag and put the bag in my basket. And yet somehow they had remained resolutely on the dining room table. This time I carried them out to the car myself! We had scones and jams and cups of tea in front of the fire and made an attempt to get her fruit cage to stand upright, after it had been squished by the weight of the snow. I’m not sure how successful we were with that!
Then off to The Swan for the night.

I had completely failed to realise, when I changed the date of out trip down, that we had rearranged our visit for Valentine’s Day. The thought had crossed my mind at some point during the week, but I hadn’t really done anything about it. This meant that when we got there, there were no tables available for dinner until 21:00! The upside of that was that it was fairly quiet when we did eventually go down for food. This meant we had a chance to talk to the staff, who we have got to know quite well over the past 7 or 8 months. There are two Australians on the frontline staff. Matthew, who comes from Queensland, and a lassie whose name I don’t know who comes from Melbourne. Her family had been largely unaffected by the fires. But poor Matthew’s family had been quite dramatically affected by the floods in Queensland – his uncles’ houses have been flooded and one, I believe, is effectively destroyed. People come into the pub talking about how awful it has been in Australia. He asks if they are referring to the fires or the floods. They say: What floods? (I have to say that I have noticed this too). The media here, which would have normally reported the Queensland floods, has been so taken aback by the Victorian fires that it has remained entirely silent about the Queensland dramas.

The Victorian girl’s working visa is about to expire. She is obliged, with very considerable reluctance, to go home. She didn’t seem to think that her boyfriend (also Aussie, also working at the pub) would take too kindly to my suggestion that she could fix this problem by marrying an Englishman! She and he are going home, via several weeks touring in Europe and won’t be there the next time we go down. Pity. She’s a nice girl. I shall miss her.

We took Gwen back to the Swan for lunch on Sunday. We have never thought to have Sunday lunch there before and I really can’t think why. The food generally is of a fantastic quality and you’d think we would have inspected the Sunday menu by now. And we should have done. The options were: roast beef, roast pork, slow roasted shoulder of lamb and roasted pheasant. You almost never find pheasant on a pub menu! I had the lamb, and I have to say it was fantastic. We will absolutely have Sunday lunch there again! I wish we could move them to Derbyshire!!! (I’ll write a fuller critique of Sunday lunch on the food blog, if you want to know more).

And then we came home. And now we are back at work. The temperature has risen noticeably, the snow is almost entirely gone (apart from in a few very sheltered spots up high out in the country). We are poised at the start of a new week. Let’s hope it’s uneventful!

This is now the second time we’ve changed the date of a weekend down in Salisbury based on apocalyptically awful weather reports. And it’s the second time the weather has been entirely uneventful and we could have gone as planned after all. Maybe next time we’ll take a chance and just go. After all, there are worse places to be stuck than the Swan!

An update from Lindsey

It was my privilege last Wednesday and Thursday to be able to volunteer in Whittlesea to help out the bush fire victims

I had heard a call for GP volunteers on the Tuesday and tracked down the Whittlesea Medical Centre to offer my services.

The GPs who went through the official channels of the rural doctors workforce had their names collected but very few were called upon due to the overwhelming response of others directly to the local medical centres.

I was rostered on for the Wednesday arvo and went up with all our redundant glucometers, spare drug samples, dressings and packets of mars bars and red frogs for the kids.

I was a little anxious about what I may encounter up there.

The relief medical centre had been organised by one of the local nurses who walked in to the relief centre with her hospital name badge and a stethoscope and announced she was there to help.

She organised volunteer nurses doctors dressings medications equipment for the relief centre first aid room with efficiency. She was ably supported by another local nurse who farmed out her 3 young children and was working up to 18 hours a day both in Whittlesea and " up the mountain" in the evening - helping the firies with their eye complaints , chest complaints and minor injuries.

These two nurses in particular have my complete admiration.

One doctor arrived with a pallet of goods which he had been about to send to Bali but on the Monday decided that he would divert it to Whittlesea. Another doctor had come up with her church group to volunteer with general things but got roped into the medical centre once she said she was a GP - luckily she had her script pad with her.

I was amazed at the resilience of the people.

Most people I saw had lost houses neighbours friends and or relatives.

All had little with them but the clothes that they wore.

I wrote out scripts helped to look after minor burns and injures and gave the occasional hug when needed.

I went back on Thursday taking one of my practice nurses with me as she has experience in dressings and had pushed me to get her up there.

I also took up Rachel a friend who has just finished her uni course of nursing

Everyone wants to do something to help.

Everyone wants to volunteer.

Our little first aid centre overflowed with donated medical goods. Nurses came from all over with a huge variety of skills to volunteer.We were well fed by the volunteers in the kitchen.
Bottled water appeared when ever we were getting thirsty. Ice creams appeared donuts appeared Lollies appeared Volunteered goods were of all sorts.

People would refuse to take sample packs of medication because someone else may need them more - we had to force them on them.

Humans are a wonderful race - in 2 days I saw the best of people even those who had been through hell.

The local communities will rebuild.

This area is my home area albeit that I have now lived in Ballarat for 12 years.
It is where I spent my late teenage years then 20s in Eltham and up to Cottlesbridge for 5 years. Cottlesbridge survived. Strathewen a couple of km away has lost at least 30 of its population of 200. Kinglake is where we took the kids bush walking going to Masons falls etc

We all mourn but I came away with a feeling of hope.

The people will return.

The trees will return.

The animals will return.

Kinglake will live again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I was talking to Lindsey earlier today and she mentioned that the Victorian government had called for GPs to volunteer some time help with people with minor injuries and for people who had had to evacuate their homes and had lost their medication, prescriptions and other medical necessities. I had never thought about these matters in relation to a disaster. But it’s true. Think of all those poor asthmatics without their inhalers in all that smoke.

I have long been aware that in the event of an emergency evacuation of your house, at the very least you need to make sure you have your wallet (so you have access to cash), your drivers licence or passport (so you have some form of ID) and a laptop (so you have a means of getting information to and from you, including radio). I didn’t have my mobile phone on that list because it’s usually in my pocket and one of the things I automatically grab as I leave the house. These are the things that people who have been through catastrophes say not having makes life extremely difficult when you reach a place of safety.

There is always a large bottle of water in The Vixen’s boot

It was only when I have been listening to the radio and reading the news reports from Victoria over the past few days that I have come to realise that I need to plan some practical things as well. I may have to have an emergency pack ready to roll, although I am not actually anticipating an emergency. The reception centres in Victoria were asking for toilet paper and soap and things. I had never stopped to think that a roll of loo paper in the car might be handy. I do have a toilet bag permanently packed (it’s so much easier when you go away at weekends as much as we do). I must add it to my list of things to grab on the way out. And women under a Certain Age need to think about sanitary pads as well. And we really ought to have some emergency food. I am emphatically not expecting a conflagration in or around Tupton – but people do get stranded on the motorways for hour after hour after hour sometimes.

I discover that I am emphatically not as prepared for an emergency as I thought I was – although, in the event of a conflagration, I do at least have a deep, cold cellar I can hide in. I might never get out of the cellar (not a nice thought for a claustrophobe such as me) but I would be most unlikely to be incinerated! (Beofre you ask, I would block the door with a couple of saturated doonas and cross my fingers)

Wendy says:

it has really cooled down here, for the time being, still very blowy though...that will go on for a while, it was nice talking to you the other day....the person who did die, was a friend of a friend....I had only met her a couple of times....nice person......very sad that all these people died....and they think that arson is the main culprit.....can't figure that one out.....Christina(Suzie and Christians stepmum) did not have to evacuate...thank goodness though they are still on high alert.....the fires were rather close to her place..I think the wind changed and for the time being she is safe which is a great relief.......

And she is doing some volunteer work with the CFA

And Barb’s aunt said, in an email to her British relations (quoted with permission, I hasten to add!):

The fires have almost died down but no one is allowed in the area,the police have called it a crime scene as the fires were deliberatly lit. Judiths house has gone completely, there is a aerial photograph in the news paper today of what is left, she had time to pack some of her things, she left five large plastic boxes full of Christmas decorations along side the drive they are still there but the house has gone,the sheep were dead but they had to shoot some of the cattle they were badly burnt, Judith is holding everything together but John is like a zombi and I'm afraid when Jude sees the photograph it will just hit her hard. Susan's house is untouched but every thing else has gone,sheds heavy machinery hay shed and most of his cattle, he paid $3000. for his bull Prince but he didnot survive,they have 118 acres,the opposite side of the road there is nothing left the top of their road all is wiped out and a lot of the deaths happend there. Ron was out of town playing badmington, by the time he arrived home he could not get through to his place, we are all thanking God that he could not get home for he would have not left with Sue, he would have stayed and it's only a house,as I'm writing this the tears are starting again, it is going to be so hard for them and I know I am selfish but I'm just thinking of my own Family, so many people have lost their lives, One old friend of the girls 95yrs. stayed, his house and car went up in flames,so he went in the middle of a paddock that the fire had burnt out waited til it had passed and started walking down the road,a fire trick picked him up and he is in the hostpital with burns, you would have to know Charlie to believe this it is just what we expected of him. there is so much more to tell but I'm due out in half an hour so I must go. I will keep up with the news as I get it. The heros of this fire are the vollenteer fire fighters,they never get paid and yet they risk their lives to save ours. God Bless them. Diane it's good news that Nell is with company you will be able to relax a bit now. Thank you all for your kind thoughts please prat for us ,Love Phyll. I cannot bother about the spelling check you will just have to make a guess

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

This from Barb’s elderly aunt who lives in Morwell. The people referred to are Barb’s cousins and live in Callignee, near Traralgon:

“Sue and Ron still have the house but the tractor and heavy machinery have gone so have some of the cattle, Jude has lost everything, house cattle sheep the lot, the fire changed direction before it got to Phillips. but we are all still in tne land of the living and thats all that matters. no one is allowed into the area, it has been declared a crime scene, the fires were deliberately lit. so many people killed. they have a 14yr.old boy they are questioning, as most of the tetevision stations are off the air, it is hard to get any local news,over a 100 people dead and many more just missing. I'll let you know more as we get the news but we are alright for now, love Phyll”

The ABC reports 166 confirmed dead and fires still burning

I spoke to Wendy this morning. I think she said that she had lost a friend in the fires, but I may have misinterpreted that. No doubt she will be able to enlighten us by leaving a comment. And I think she said that Sue and Christian’s stepmother near Healesville was about to evacuate. The zoo in Healesville has already been cleared of animals.

There is something extraordinarily surreal about listening to Melbourne’s weather forecast and fire chaos whilst standing at the kitchen window and watching Derbyshire’s snow, ice and fog!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sausage casserole

We had a lovely sausage casserole on Saturday evening. This is what I did.

Two sausages each (in this case beef and tomato) chopped into pieces.
Chicken stock to cover (I didn't have any beef stock, or I'd have used that)
Carrots, onions, garlic, fennel and a bit of parsnip, all peeled and sliced.

I put everything into a pot and put that in the oven on 120d for two or three hours, stirring from time to time. A slow cooker would do even better

Just before serving time, I took out the sausage pieces and set them aside, then I put everything else into the blender and blitzed it until it was gravy like. Then I put everything, including the sausage pieces, back in the pot and reheated it.

We had it with mashed potatoes, sprouts and red cabbage. It was definitely good food for a very cold wintry evening

It's snowing lightly again

... and its settling :-S

Weep for Victoria ;-(

The number of dead in Victoria stands confirmed at 93 at the moment. I assume that this total is likely to rise. One of the dead, alas, was Brian Naylor. I am surprised by how much I mind this. It is not a personal loss. He was a television presenter and then an eminent newsreader who has been retired for over ten years. Neverthless, I do mind! I wonder if he would have been surprised that his death has been reported in various news sources here.

At least 750 houses destroyed, not to mention churches, schools, community centres, shops... Matthew and Belinda were extremely lucky

And a 774 reporter sees someone flinging a lit cigarette out of the car during the day! Some people are simply morons!!!

The Builder and I took ourselves away from the streamed 774 commentary and went to the Three Horseshoes for lunch. It was hearteningly busy, although they said it was very quiet last weekend when it was actively snowing.

The snow is starting to melt in our garden now, although slowly. I'm not sure if we're expecting more. They are expecting lots more down in the south. Along with rain, gales and ice!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

We were peacefully discussing, yesterday morning, whether to make an attempt to go to Chatsworth and if so which route to take. Suddenly I heard water. Now this wasn't so surprising. I did, after all, have the washing machine going. But normally the washing machine doesn't make a sound which says: You have a new water feature in your kitchen! I abandoned the Chatsworth discussion and vanished into the kitchen. To discover that the washing machine had decided that the cupboard under the sink clearly needed cleaning out and had proceeded to wash it.

Definite pause while The Builder sorted all that out. And no trips to anywhere until the washing machine had finished washing the clothes. It would have been a bit of a (tiny) disaster if that had happened when we were both out!

We decided that we would go to Chatsworth and that we would take the major roads, which are a bit of a long way around for us, but I didn't fancy the road down to Beeley in the snow and ice (It's narrow, winding and above all - steep). It was a glorious morning. The sun was sparkling off the snow in the fields. The roads were nice and clear - of snow and of traffic. Even Chatsworth wasn't as busy as it usually is, although there was a huge queue at the butcher's counter. This was largely because of an absolute twonk who had announced that he had bought some of their sausages some weeks ago and had been very disappointed with them. Far too meaty and much too heavy and nothing like as good as his local butcher who made sausages to die for. Tell you what - he'll have a single sausage of each variety they do and then test them and see what's what. Chatsworth does about 15 varieties of sausage. Each one had to be weighed and wrapped separately. Took FOR EVER!!!!! Has to be said that the person serving him remained remarkably patient. But you could see it was an effort! Eventually, however, I got my half lamb pack and a few other bits and pieces and we set off again.

We decided, given that the roads all seemed to be fairly clear, to try going across the moors to the garden centre. The roads had clearly all been gritted (either Derbyshire wasn't running out of salt, or it had sourced a new supply somewhere), the views were spectacular, it was really just a beautiful morning. Still cold, mind you. About -10d when we got up, rising to about 3d in the afternoon. Even the little roads running up through Wingerworth had been gritted and were clear of snow. And the sun is beginning to get some warmth into it now. The snow is beginning to melt where the sun is getting to it. We can see the vegetable beds again now, and the cabbages are emerging from their snow doona.

I turned my laptop on when we got home, and found a BBC breaking news alert in my email inbox saying that 14 people were believed dead in the Victorian bushfires. I didn't go to the BBC for further information, but to the Age. And then to ABC radio. I appreciate that what was unfolding in Victoria was a catastrophe on a far grander scale than our snow last week, but I was deeply impressed that 774 (ABC radio station covering Melbourne and Victoria) had more or less cleared its programming schedule and turned itself into an emergency broadcaster, conveying sensible, practical, useful information. I was considerably better informed about what was happening in Victoria yesterday than I had been last week about what was happening in and around Sheffield. Better informed, in fact, than my Australians were, given that I was listening while they were, I believe, all tucked up in their beds.

It's all a bit grim, mind. Parts of Britain are still bedevilled by snow chaos, and more is expected in southern Britain this week. Victoria is ablaze, scorched and arid. 65 people confirmed dead, Kinglake and Marysville gone, lots of other places also affected. And Queensland is underwater and possibly also expecting a cyclone. Mercifully, as far as I know, the blog readers all remain fit, well and safe.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The cabbages and broccoli are covered over by snow! And the greenhouse is frozen. Gearing myself up to go down and inspect it!
Woke up this morning to find the garden thermometer reading minus ten degrees. The thermometer inside, which has a sensor outside on the house wall reads minus four degrees. It always does read slightly higher than the garden one being protected by the house while the one in the garden is fully exposed. Whichever one you believe, it's mighty cold and icy outside. Ventured out in my Bagpuss, cosy dressing gown and Ugg boots to feed the birds. Now back in bed with The Builder, Marlo, coffee and my laptop. Might just stay here!

It is, mind you, a beautiful morning.

Meanwhile, back in Gippsland, Matthew and Belinda have been on fire alert, with a bush fire only 5 to 10 km away and heading in their direction. Matt has been putting out spot fires (or so I believe) and they've had the car packed ready for a quick exit if need be. The temperature in Melbourne has hit a record high of 46.4 d according to Simon. Much to everyone's relief a cool change has come through, the temperature has dropped and the wind direction has changed. The fire near Brandy Wine Creek is now moving away from the house!

Exciting weather at both ends of the spectrum. But I think I'd rather be here in the ice and snow. It's not cold in the house!!

Passing through Temple Normanton on our way home Feb 6th

Tuesday nights at the flat have become "slow cooker food nights"
We started off just after xmas with beef stroganoff and a vegggie dish curried chick peas - not that the vegetarians turned up
the following week we had the beef strog again and had a veggie strog with blue cheese - was the most wonderful of flavours!
we have now ventured into desserts - rice pudding not a success as never came to the boil and had to be transferred into the proper oven will try again with the other slow cooker which seems to heat a little better
we have cooked lamb roast and shanks and a chilli beef and a chilli veg to have with tacos
tues nights of take away have been abandoned and slow cooking is the way to go
the whole family turns up including simon and the kids if he has them
the left overs either go home with jess to her housemates or christian takes them so we are feeding plenty
my friend suggests we have pork in ginger ale will have to experiment with that some time

Friday, February 06, 2009

To quote Bernard (again): snow ssnow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow (again)

Barb reports from Salisbury that her (nearly 2m high) vegetable cage is bending under the weight of the snow. She was properly snowed in on Tuesday. Her boss suggested that rather than working from home, she would be better employed clearing her (long) driveway and the farm track of snow so she could get in on Wednesday. Barb was less than impressed! So there is an ironic justice in the fact that today her boss himself is unable to get into work because his road is impassable!

Stella from the Mornington Peninsula says: Just read your snowy blog. I remember times like that when I was young, digging our way out to go to school and then later to go to the hospital. I don’t know which is worse all the heat or all the cold. Its quite warm now and its only early. (And Frances replies: Cold is infinitely preferable to extreme heat; so much easier to keep yourself warm than it is to keep yourself cool)

And Robert in Melbourne reports: you probably know that Melbourne had a 43 and a 45 last week, and is due for a 43 on this coming Saturday. Cool 30s in between. We also seized up. You can't keep all that infrastructure for conditions that happen once in a century. The rails buckled and that stopped the trains. Everyone put on their air conditioning at industrial blast level (versus the furnace outside) and that blew all the State's plugs and we were left sweltering in the dark, leafy North Balwyn fortunately for only an hour; some for three days. Gardeners emerged at dusk with buckets of water from their brief showers to rescue the worst-hit of their bushes and plants. Leaves which were not burned were drooping; autumn leaves have begun to fall before Fall; there's no use in their hanging on any longer. Washing dries very quickly (a positive thought). And we are assured by those magi the meteorologists that we can expect a repeat for some years.

And I think Lindsey might be a tiny bit jealous of all our snow!

We noticed when we got up yesterday morning that it was snowing quite hard. The Builder went out to clear Oscar of Snow. I got a move on so we could leave early. Oscar was being covered by snow again when we went to leave about ten minutes later!

It was VERY slippy getting out of the drive

And EXTREMELY slippy going up Ward Street (QVR is still closed to through traffic).

We drove slowly, slowly, slowly up towards the roundabout at the Derby/Chesterfield Road.

And gave up when we found that the main road wasn’t very much better than the side road.

We turned around and drove slowly, slowly, slowly home again.

We put the BBC breakfast program on to find out what was happening. They were doing very much more frequent traffic updates than they usually do. It seemed that the South East of the country, right up through East Anglia and into the Midlands was covered in a snow storm! Tune in to your local BBC radio station to find out more about road conditions around you.

Exceedingly reluctantly (it is emphatically not my morning choice of radio station) I tuned to Radio Sheffield. And found no traffic information at all. They were sticking to their regular, every 20 minute updates. Oh well. I can be patient. And found myself obliged to listen to nearly 20 minutes of what can only be described as crass, offensive and puerile radio output which was neither informative nor entertaining. I think the presenter thinks he’s a comic. Anything less funny I can’t imagine! He was crashingly rude to and about someone who had emailed him complaining about the lack of information on his program earlier in the week. If I had been that rude at work, I’d have been, rightly, sacked. I haven’t bothered emailing him. I’ve emailed the BBC central complaints department! And I rang Richard instead. I knew he would give me reliable information without being crass or puerile!

He said it was just starting to snow in Sheffield. The Builder and I decided to wait and see what the weather did next.

It continued to snow heavily.

At 8:00 we both rang in to our places of work and said we wouldn’t be in.

I pondered the possibility of going in later, if the weather eased, using the bus and the train.

The snow lessened in intensity and became merely persistent.

We went up to the village coffee shop in our walking boots and thick jackets, and had hot chocolate and bacon sandwiches . And discovered that almost no one who commutes in to Tupton had been able to get in. Almost no one who commutes out of Tupton had been able to get out. That Radio Peak FM is reliable as a source of information when road conditions are troublesome. And that although we saw several buses heading out towards Clay Cross, we had seen none at all coming back and heading towards Chesterfield.

I abandoned my bus and train plan. We went for a snowy walk round the nature reserve instead. It was a beautiful walk. The snow was still falling but only very lightly. The newly fallen snow was soft and fluffy and fun to walk in. There were lots of people out walking their dogs and/or their children. Oh – and the Highland cows have gone away on a winter holiday and are due back in the spring. The sheep are still there, though.

I perhaps could have got in to Sheffield after lunchtime. But by then I had moved into Day Off mode!

I think we must have been right on the edge of the snow storm. Although there was a lot of snow in Sheffield and the buses were very disrupted, most people managed to get in, even the ones from Chesterfield. As we left this morning, the snow was probably around 15-20 cm high in the gardens and on the verges. As we drove past the lay-by near Wingerworth, there were about 60 cars parked in it, all covered in snow. I assume they were vehicles abandoned by drivers who had tried to get to Derby or Chesterfield yesterday morning and who had given up. By the time we got to Chesterfield itself the snow was probably only around 10cm. And there’s very little left hanging about in Sheffield.

We have postponed our planned weekend trip to Salisbury. The weather hereabouts is forecast to be quite nice. Lots of snow is forecast for Salisbury on Sunday. We’ll go next week instead. (Although Richard, ever a ray of optimism, says the long range forecast for next weekend is even worse!!)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

To quote Bernard: snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow snow etc

It was slightly disconcerting to wake up on Monday morning to discover that London and the South East were effectively closed! The capital’s buses had come to a complete standstill for the first time ever. The tube was mostly closed down. The taxis had all gone home. London was covered in snow!

I realise that London is not very often hit by snow and very, very seldom by lots of snow. But the arrival of snow on Sunday night could hardly have come as a surprise. The Met Office had been warning about it for a week or more. And I do know that you can’t keep the infrastructure in place to deal with something that only happens every 20 years or so. I know that London doesn’t need to have gritters and snow ploughs at the ready most of the time. But given that they had known for a week that a snow blizzard was likely, you’d have thought they could have borrowed some from somewhere. After all – London is the nation’s capital!

Sheffield doesn’t use its gritters very much at all. They could have borrowed some from here!!

Actually, it was all a bit odd, sat at home on Monday, listening to the news reports and getting text messages and emails from people in snowy places. It’s true it was snowing in Tupton, but not excessively so. It was just – well, snow really. The cat wasn’t all that impressed at first, but then went out to have a potter in it. People kept asking me if and how I was going to work for my evening duty. Couldn’t not go to work. I could hardly argue extreme weather conditions! Snow showers and sunny spells are quite mannerly in February, really.

However, the forecast for Chesterfield was for heavy snow at about the time I would be heading home and I didn’t fancy driving the Dronfield Bypass in a blizzard! I decided to go by train.

The Builder’s firm shut up shop early. Many of the workers commute from Manchester, where the firm is based and the two main routes to Manchester were already closed. The Builder got home in time to take me to the station.

Just as we were about to leave, Peter rang from work to see if I was really OK about getting in. No extreme weather here, said I. And off we set.

Mind you – I had fun getting in to work. Not because of the weather but because of the ticket machine. It had decided to chew up the paper and the bloke couldn’t clear it. The people who wanted the Manchester train only just made it on! I didn’t even try. I still didn’t have a ticket! But then next train was delayed by 45 minutes :-( I got to work in plenty of time but it was EXTREMELY cold sat at Chesterfield station for an hour!

Can’t say that the weather seemed too bad around the station when I arrived in Sheffield. It’s true it was snowing, but the road and station concourse seemed fairly clear. It would appear, however, that this was not the case in the rest of Sheffield.

I got to the desk for my shift, to find that Counter Services were shutting up shop. It seems that, in their wisdom, the bus companies had decided to pull all the buses! At quarter past five. Excellent time to withdraw public transport services! I appreciate that the buses wouldn’t get up Sheffield’s steep, steep hills – but they could surely get most of the way along their routes? Alas, no. So as many staff as possible, including the evening staff, had taken off to catch the last buses out. So that left two information staff to keep the service going! And there were a surprising number of students in.

People kept asking me how I was going to get home. On the train.

But what if the trains stop running? Why would the trains stop running?

Well – what if the buses aren’t running when you get back to Chesterfield? The buses are still running. Yes – but what if they aren’t? And what if the trains stop running?

Several other people sent messages saying that if the trains did stop running I could stay at their place. That was extremely thoughtful of them. Although, to get to most of these places, I would have had to walk past Freyja’s place and I knew she was at home because her office had closed for the evening!

The Builder sent messages to say it was snowing harder in Tupton. I decided to abandon my post, leave Dan to his own devices and leave early, catching the half past seven train. (We did have a senior manager in the building who had suggested I might care to leave. I didn’t just amble off!). The London trains were all delayed but the other trains were running OK. The Builder met me at the station and we made our way slowly, carefully, cautiously back to The Sidings.

Actually – I think it would probably have been just as successful a trip home if I had caught the half past eight train. Might have been pushing it to stay until nine and catch the half nine one. But half eight would probably have been OK. Still. Hindsight and all!

We never got the forecast blizzard, but we did get quite a lot of steady snow overnight and it was about 10 or 12cm deep in our garden by morning. Which would be difficult to drive through on ungritted roads for people who are not really used to driving in snow (which is most of us in England!)

We got up even earlier than our usual early start on Tuesday. And left 15 or 20 minutes earlier than normal. The A61 through Chesterfield was easily passable with care. Even the Dronfield bypass was easily passable, with quite a lot of care. The inside lane was more or less clear (but icy) and we all processed at a stately 35mph towards Sheffield. The outside lane was not clear and was being used by a few mad people trying to overtake the stately procession.

Then we got to Sheffield. And the roads were an absolute disgrace (see – I said Sheffield didn’t make much use of its gritters). And it was bedlam. Traffic was at a standstill, the roads were covered in sludgy snow. Cars trying to get out of Sheffield were really, really struggling to get up the Woodseats hill. Fortunately, we were going down, not up!

It took us three times as long to get into work yesterday as it does on a normal day. Most of the delay was in Sheffield, when you might have expected it to be on the high country road we had been on earlier!

“How on earth did you get in today?” was how most people greeted me as people dribbled in. “In the car!” Lots of people didn’t get in. Schools were closed and roads were closed and there were still problems with the buses. Poor Rupert (one of my teammates) had had to walk 5 or 6 miles to get home on Monday. A pleasant enough activity during the day when the sun is shining on your fluffy, new fallen snow. Not so pleasant in the dark at the end of a long day when it is still snowing. He nevertheless managed to struggle in yesterday morning.

The council, responding to comments that the roads hadn’t been properly gritted, said that they had had all their gritters out overnight, gritting away. “Really?” asked an incredulous populace. “WHERE?!?!?!?!?!?”

And many, many people, fearful of another arduous journey home, left around half three, four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

I couldn’t leave early. I was Duty Adviser until 5. The Builder and I resigned ourselves to a lengthy, difficult drive home.

And found that the council must have had lots and lots of complaints. Because lo – the main roads had in fact been gritted. Nearly snow free. Driving out through Woodseats was a doddle. Not only was there no snow – there was no traffic either! It was like driving through on a Sunday morning. You almost wish it could be like that everyday :-) Took about 35 minutes to get home!

Normal service is more or less restored today. Here, at least. And for the moment. There is more snow, sleet and ice forecast.

Here is the link to Freyja and the hippos' photos

Monday, February 02, 2009

Just back from a visit to Sainsbury's. It was bedlam in there too. Everyone looked as though they were preparing for a siege. Their trolleys were piled high with stuff and the queues for the checkout had to be seen to be believed. What do they know that we don't know? And if preparing for a siege - why the need for industrial quantities of beer? People were laying in slabs and slabs of beer!

It was very tempting to join the lemmings and fill our trolley to overflowing too. But we are already prepared for a siege. We usually are. Though we do not have vast quantities of beer. But we do have jars of dried beans and tins of fish and buckets of rice and pasta. And always supposing that the besiegers don't cut the power, we also have two freezers with supplies as well.

We have had to replace the bird water bowl. The frost and ice and cold had caused it to split apart. I've just put it out, and watched a blackbird approach it very cautiously, snatch a beak full of water and then dash away hastily. Giggle! Birds are *so* suspicious of new things.

There's a pot of veggie minestrone on the bubble in the kitchen. I am considering whether to make a gooseberry cake (we have vast quantities of flour as well, should we become besieged). And there is yet the Sunday roast chicken to come. :-)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

February 2009

I went down to the back of the garden today and found that the snowdrops are about 3cm up. A sign that spring is on its way :-) Mind you, with the arrival of February, the temperature has plummeted again and we are promised snow for this week. Although, they're revised the forecast from heavy snow and total misery to light snow and moderate misery. We shall see!

We ran out of broad beans in November and only have one bag of peas left in the freezer. In fact, apart from the peas, some zucchini and a bo full of pumpkin that I had forgotten about, we don't have much left in the way of veg. Still a bit of fruit, though. But I discovered a wholesale sed supplier who sells in small quantities and so have bought 1kg each of broad bean and pea seeds. It's considerably cheaper than buying them in packets! I also bought 250 sweet corn seed. This is rather more than I need! Sweet corn seeds anyone?

The cauliflowers have not done well. They got hit by the hard frosts we had in december and went manky. The ittle savoys, however, have been wonderful. The red cabbage is looking healthy but not hearting for some reason. And the sprouts have remained stubbornly tiny. We have been eating minuscule sprouts and munching on the sprout tops (which are very tasty). The flowering broccoli is looking very healthy and is promising a splendid spring crop. I'm not sure I'll buy the plugs again though. I think they got here a bit late. And it's loads cheaper to plant seeds and do it myself.

The greenhouse in the garden is quite a bit warmer than the rest of the garden. The Builder lined it with bubble wrap to keep the kiwi fruit and the orange tree warm. Well, warm-ish. So far they seem to be surviving well. Also, I've got some sweet peas in there overwintering. They're not looking entirely happy but they are at l
east surviving. I'll plant them out in April, assuming they survive that long.

I'm still considering the possibility of buying a heated propagator to get my kidney/soya/french beans of to an early start. But January is way too early even for inside germinating. Being patient here!


Here is my dessert from last Sunday's lunch in the Three Horseshoes. A strawberry and champagne mousse. It was absolutely delicious!

The temperature today has absolutely plummeted and this coming week is expected to be very cold indeed. I've got a vegetable stock simmering on the stove ready for making a hearty soup later. We are about to have a full English breakfast for brunch, then tonight there will be roast chicken with all the roast chicken trimmings. Chicken and leek pie later in the week with the leftovers, plus chicken sandwiches and chicken soup. And there are loads of stews in the freezer ready to come out as winter warmers. We will probably have them with dumplings or with pastry and loads of mash!

Awfully glad I'm not in Melbourne mind. Not quite sure what you eat when the temperature is in the mid 40s day after day!!


It was absolute bedlam at Chatsworth yesterday. The car park was full, absolutely chockers. Worse than it was before Christmas. I hopped out of the car to go and make a start, girding my loins for chaos inside the shop. The Builder went to find a parking space.

It was busy, but not hugely so in the veg and fish section. There were, it is true, lots of people hanging around the butchery, but I wasn't in need of meat so wasn't particularly perturbed.

The Builder reappeared.

We headed off to gather the bread and milk and cream - and found that the checkout queue had snaked its way all the way up through the dairy and deli areas to the bakery!!! Much, much worse than Christmas.

We joined the queue and collected what we needed as we queued past it!

The card reading machines had all gone down. They were having to swipe everyone's cards by hand. It took AGES!

We put our provisions in the car and then, without much hope, went to see how long the queue was for a table in the restaurant. To our surprise, there wasn't really one and we only had to wait a few minutes for a table to come free. But thereafter the queue grew and grew and grew. We had clearly timed it exactly right!

And it was slightly chaotic trying to pay when we had finished. Their card reader wasn't working either and their swiping device wasn't very happy about being brought out of retirement!! Fortunately, we had cash and took no time to pay at all.

Then we took some flattened cardboard boxes to Freyja, chatted to her and to Mark for a bit and then came home again. We came back through Bradway, Barlow and Cutthorpe. A while ago we had to divert that way when the bypass was closed and all the traffic was going through Dronfield. We said at the time that this was probably a very pretty route i naylight. Yesterday seemed an ideal opportunity to find out. And it is a very pretty drive - though it takes nearly twice as long to get home. Still, we weren't in any hurry and sometimes it's nice to dally a little and take the scenic routes through life.

We had thought we might get out into the garden this morning. There are storms and tempests and all sorts forecast for later today and the early part of this week but this morning looked as if it would be ok. We weren't planning to do all that much, a bit of tidying up and some light digging. Then The Builder took the scraps down to the compost heap and came back saying that it was FREEZING outside and the wind was even colder. The temperature has dropped quite a bit. It was two or three degrees when we got up. It's minus one now. (and there's a considerable wind chill to factor in as well). No gardening for us. I shall make a full English breakfast instead. And soup. And perhaps even a cake.