Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Long weekend (for f) report

We had a lovely time on Saturday. It's true the weather wasn't all that good, certainly not allotmenting weather. But it didn't rain all that much - and we had gloomy weather plans as a back up. Or even, really, as a first up.

Last weekend, while we were dallying in the sunshine in Salisbury, Freyja and her mate Yvonne had gone at some unearthly hour on the Sunday morning to a craft fair in Bingley, where Yvonne had a stall to sell her jewellery and bags and things. I don't believe it was all that well attended but Freyja and Yvonne seem to have had a good time. This weekend they had a stall at the Spring Fling in Sheffield. The Builder and I went to inspect it - and found that Yvonne had already taken more on Saturday morning than she had for the entire day last Sunday. We had a good potter around, and carefully inspected all the other stalls. Then we waved goodbye and went off in search of lunch. At the Fusion cafe, down the road from the SHU main building.

Then we headed for the Millennium gallery for a couple of hours of kulcha. They've had a bug exhibition running since around Christmas in the little gallery, and an exhibition of things from the V&A in the main gallery, lots of which are pertinent to Sheffield (so the old Castle, the Manor house (both now long gone) and the Bishop's House in Heeley (still extant) ). Was an excellent way of spending a couple of hours on a gloomy, spring Saturday afternoon. Then we went home again, via Waitrose.

Sunday was a glorious day. Truly glorious. I had to keep repeating the mantra: It's only March. Don't trust the weather. Plant nothing that is tender outside until MAY! The Builder did some digging in the kitchen garden. We both went to the allotment and he did more digging and I did pea and broad bean sowing and some planning. We sat outside when we got home and drank long soft drinks (I must say we did miss out vodka/gin and tonics on Sunday afternoon!) and enjoyed the sunshine.

And then it was Monday again. The sun had gone. The clouds had crept back in. The Builder went to work. And I settled in to wait for the Gas Man (annual boiler inspection), the Electricity Man (replacement meter) and the Delivery Man (new bathroom scales).

The Gas Man came first - puzzling the cat who was not expecting stray men to amble in and disturb the peace! He inspected and serviced the boiler, patted the cat - and went away. The Electricity Man came next, slightly alarming the cat by producing a set of yellow steps so he could reach the electricity meter. The cat has not been entirely fond of men with ladders ever since (we strongly suspect!) the previous window cleaner had thrown a ladder (and possibly, though we are not so sure about this bit, a bucket of water) at him very shortly before the window cleaner became the ex-window cleaner. Since then Marlo has positively growled and bared his teeth at men bearing ladders. It appears that men bearing yellow steps might almost be ok. The Delivery Man arrived while the Electricity Man was putting his stuff back in his van - thus making it difficult for me to reach the door to allow the Delivery Man ingress - there was a ladder and a big bag in the way of the door. Then everyone went away and left the cat and me in peaceful possession of the house for the rest of the day :-)

I had thought about doing some more work in the garden, but it was cloudy and dark and windy and cold - and Steve Next Door had lit a fire in their chimenea which was billowing acrid smoke over our garden. I stayed inside and sorted out plans, both social and horticultural, for the summer and did a few Useful Things before The Builder came home again.

I am not entirely delighted, however.

The new electricity meter is very tiny and is way, way up and even stood on the couch, on my tippiest, topiest tiptoes I have no chance at all of ever reading it. I did ask if it could be put much, much lower, but the man said it couldn't ;-( Quite what I will do if The Builder runs away, dies or become incapacitated I have no idea (and quite how Mrs Hallam ever read even the previous meter is a mystery to me - she was littler than me, and much, much poorlier (cos I am not poorly at all and she was very poorly indeed) - and I struggled to read it)

I can't even reach the card the man left with the previous readings on it, even if I stretch as much as I possibly can. It's tucked right at the very highest top of the meter cupboard!

It is true that I have to lie almost prone on the floor to read the gas meter - but at least I can do that Getting up again might be more problematic though.

Why can't they put meters where people can see them? Why aren't they outside where meter readers can see them?

Even The Builder can't reach to read the electricity meter when stood on the couch. He will need to use the steps. I will need to use the ladder. I wonder what Marlo thinks of women bearing ladders?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's a disgrace, that's what is is -

an absolute disgrace!

The quality of Taget merchandise is going downhill faster than a rampaging avalanche. Sinking like a stone.

I bought a pair of pink pyjamas with green frogs at Target. Nice and cheerful. Suitable for keeping one chirpy during dark, dismal winters. It's not even as though I've worn them all that often. Only during winter. And autumn. And perhaps maybe spring. And they've worn out. Worn out, I tell you. I've had to throw the bottoms away. And the top is starting to show signs of wear.

Really! You'd think they'd make things to last at Target. After all, I've only had them - oh, five years or so. Pff, is all I can say. Pff!!!!!!!


I'm not sure my most recent jammie acquisitions will do quite so well. I bought them for tuppence ha'penny at Primark in December, thus keeping employed the third world sweat shop labourers who made them. Primark, I think, declares that it doesn't employ sweat shop labour - but how they manage to make them for so little that they can sell them at a profit for tuppence ha'penny, they have so far declined to explain.

I was out for dinner last evening. A pal from work is leaving on Tuesday and decided to have his leaving do at an Italian restaurant in town. Around 20 of us turned out for it and it was a good evening - though I did not stay late. It was quite strange, being out at a work do with The Boozers when off alcohol myself. Wasn't so noticeable when I went to the Team Do, because they are none of them real drinkers. But when I go out with last night's bunch, I usually arrange to go home on public transport. Last night I had the car!!

I enjoyed the meal. It was a tad irritating, though, that they had absolutely insisted that we be seated for a first service at 6pm. Most of us eat later than that in the evening, so had had early and light lunches to ensure we were properly ready for Italian food at 6. They brought out the first of the starters at 7!! Could have had an extra hour in the pub :-)

I left at about half eight. The rest kicked on into the wee smalls. Peter, the escapee, had had the foresight (given that he lives in Nottingham) to book himself into a hotel over night. By all accounts, they all had a good time.

Time do go and go good and useful things. Not a good day for gardening, but there are house things to do - and we are going out for the afternoon

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Slow Cooked "Roast" Lemon Chicken

First thing this morning, I tore up a load of oyster mushrooms and put them in the bottom of the slow cooker. Then I stuffed the cavity of my superb free range chook with two lemons, chopped in half. The chook and its lemons went on top of the mushies and I added a tiny bit of boiling water just to start the steaming process.

I put it on auto and went to work. We came back at about half five to find the house smelling enticingly of roast chicken. It was surrounded by lemony liquid.

The chicken pretty much fell apart as I took it out of the cooker, although it was the bones rather than the meat itself which fell apart. The meat was meltingly tender but hadn't disintegrated. I reduced the lemon liquor and skimmed off the fat. It made a lovely sauce to go with the chicken, new potatoes, cauli, sprouting broccoli and carrots.

Marlo is STILL insisting that he hasn't yet had anything like his share of the chook!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Challenges of this year's Lenten Diet

There are some unexpected challenges when following the Lent Diet I have devised for this year! All I can say is that it is just as well that I have not decided to become Vegan for the rest of Lent!!

Last Sunday, when we pottering around in the Waitrose in Salisbury, I ran across some Shetland Black potatoes. I had never seen this type of potato before, so bought a packet just out of curiosity. The packet said they were best roasted or baked, so I baked some on Monday. They were, it must be said, absolutely wonderful. Black and crispy on the outside, creamy and fluffy on the inside and a great pleasure to eat. No real need to add any sort of fat or sauce to them.

On Monday we had them as an accompaniment to some grilled fresh tuna with a seafood, tomato and leek sauce, accompanied by sprouting broccoli and carrots. (As an aside, it must also be said that the tuna and seafood sauce was also something of a triumph!)

Last night I decided to make them the centrepiece of the dinner plate and have them with garlic mushrooms. We have lots of mushrooms lying about at home. Just to pep them up, I thought I might get some mushroom ketchup to add to the cook pot. The supermarket had no mushroom ketchup. No worries. I’ll buy one of the many mushroom cooking sauces that are available. Nope. They have cream cheese or cream in them. They have chardonnay or brandy in them. They have venison or beef in them. There were no ready made sauces which covered a no cheese, no red meat, no alcohol diet!

I made a sauce of my own with olive oil (a bit), leeks, garlic (obviously, for a mushroom and garlic dish), soya sauce and tomato paste, which I reduced down with the chestnut mushrooms in it. It was surprisingly lovely.

I also hunted for some veggie pates or spreads for our lunches over the next couple of weeks. They too all have cream cheese or cream in them. Except for the ones with nut paste instead. Most of the obvious ready-prepared things I have looked at for lunches fail on at least one of the Lent Restrictions. I’ve gone back to humus and tzatziki! Although I have bought some mushroom burgers and carrot patties to have with our salads. And I have found some lovely low fat fruit yoghurts.

I was extremely happy to notice, when I was checking to see what seed potatoes I had for this coming season, that amongst the heritage collection there are ten Shetland Black tubers :-)

Today I am trying to slow cook a whole chicken while we are out and about earning pennies to keep a roof over our head and potatoes on the table. I shall report back tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


The Builder tells me that a mate of his at work decided that he was also going to give up alcohol. It appears that he drinks upwards of 8 cans of cider a night. I'm not sure how large these cans are, but it is common for cans to contain a pint. I am also not sure what strength cider he was drinking. But it must be of a reasonable strength because he gave it up quite abruptly - and promptly came down with horrible shakiness. Shaky paws do not an Excellent Carpenter make! So he has taken cider drinking back up with alacrity. Shakes now all gone!

The Builder and I have had no shaking. No insomnia (apart from on Sunday night when we were both woken up by an almighty WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSHHHHHHHHHHH followed by the sound of things blowing about but I think that might have been down to other things than alcoholic abstinence). No coma, no hallucinations, no death - which I am given to understand can be a side effect of giving up drinking alcohol. Seems a slightly extreme side effect to me!

I think the cider-drinking chippie should have tried for longer

Last time we were at the Swan at Stoford, we tried to book a room for Saturday 28th March so we could come down for The Builder’s mother’s birthday which is on April 1st.

No go. They were fully booked.

We didn’t really want to come down on the 4th because we are going away for Easter week on the following Friday and we do like to be at home just occasionally. If nothing else, the cat likes to have us about from time to time! So we booked a room for the 21st, went home and thought no more about it (other than putting it in our diaries, of course).

A little while later, I had an e-newsletter from the Swan. Amongst other things, it announced it was now taking bookings for Mothering Sunday. I pondered this. The date looked strangely familiar. Oh look – it was the weekend we were down in Salisbury and the very Sunday that we had arranged to take Gwen out for lunch.

I dashed off a hasty email, booking a table for the Sunday.

A little while alter, it crossed my mind that, although we had invited Gwen to lunch on Sunday the 22nd, and had written it on her calendar, we hadn’t mentioned that fact that it was Mothering Sunday and nor had she. It seemed highly possible that she might be expected to join her daughter and small grandsons (and son in law!) for lunch on such an august Sunday. I got The Builder to ring her.

But no. She wasn’t expecting to be invited out anywhere apart from with us and still seemed entirely delighted to be lunching at the Swan with us.

Excellent. Then we will let the booking stand. Just as well, really. Not sure quite when we would have got down otherwise!

So. The weekend dawned beautiful and sunny. Gloriously so. I did a couple of loads of washing while The Builder went to the Sorting Office to collect a parcel for me. Then we headed up to the allotment for a couple of hours of digging in the sunshine. Feeling quite pleased with ourselves, we headed home for a spot of lunch, brought the washing in, fed a Very Suspicious cat with extra rations and some kitty treats, then headed off down towards Stoford, where we arrived about 3.5 hours later ready for a couple of pleasant soft drinks in the bar, accompanied by a warm and welcoming greeting from Carl, Matthew and a lady whose name I don’t know (but not the Australian lassie who has gone on her European travels prior to heading home) and a truly lovely braised beef for me for dinner.

I was in bed and asleep pleasantly early. And slept in quite nicely on Sunday morning. The triple glazed windows, plus the almost blackout quality curtains meant that the sunlight which was dappling the river and lawns across the road had not penetrated into our room!

Breakfast was slightly hampered by my Lenten diet. No alcohol is not a problem at breakfast time. Nor, really, is no chocolatesweetsbiscuitscakescrispssnackyfoodsorother
sugaryorfattyyummythings since you probably wouldn’t have any of them at breakfast. But no cheese was a tiny problem (otherwise I would have had the fruit, cheese and ham platter, in preparation for a proper roast lunch at just before 1). I had eggs benedict instead and didn’t eat the hollandaise sauce. The Builder had a full breakfast!

We went to the Wilton Garden Centre in search of a birthday present for Gwen. We had had a mug made for her for mothering Sunday with one of the photos I had taken of her and her brood at Christmas printed onto it, so that wasn’t a problem. In the end we bought her a willow tepee (small!) with a pot inside containing sweet pea seedlings for her patio. It’s a bit early for putting sweet peas outside, but her patio is fairly sheltered and I think they should survive all right. We bought some seeds for us as well. Not sweet peas (I have lots of sweet pea seeds, plus about 7 plants ready to go out when April is well advanced). And a book about keeping chickens. The Hyde-Ruddle chicken enterprise may be nearer than we thought!

Then we called in at Waitrose, went and collected Gwen and headed back to the Swan for a truly lovely Sunday Roast. Even Gwen managed to eat very nearly all of hers. We took her home along a scenic route, called back at Waitrose so we could buy her some smoked fish – having discovered in the morning that she is quite partial to a bit of smoked cod or haddock, and dropped her back at her place ready for a Sunday nap. So was Gwen!

We came back along the Fosse Way, it being a beautiful afternoon and we being in no real hurry.

And I was in bed by just after nine :-S This healthy living is all very well (3.5 weeks with no chocolatesweetsbiscuits…..; 3 with no alcohol) but it isn’t half exhausting. I’m sure I had loads more energy before I embarked on my Clean and Simple (ish!) Living for Lent regimen! Lindsey tells me my energy levels will rise again in good time. Probably. I reckon that yes, of course they will. On Easter Sunday when I take it all up again! Although – I have a SHU Wellness MOT on April 27th where they test you for absolutely everything (more or less – no more eBay blood tests for me!!). Perhaps I should maintain my Clean and Healthy Living Exercise until then (barring Easter Sunday, of course).

The daylight hours are getting noticeably longer now. Spring is indubitably about. The daffodils are cheering the waysides and gardens, the blossom trees are in flower in the south (though not yet up here). And the UK clocks go forward by an hour in the early hours of next Sunday morning, should anyone wish to note the change of time.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Working plan (allotment) - assuming we get time to dig the new plots

Now - where to plant the beetroot? And the shallots? And I wonder what I have forgotten to include ...

March still

I've been down in the greenhouse today. Marlo came too. He thought it was wonderful - all warm and toasty, and with the bubble wrap (which is around the inside of the greenhouse to keep the frost out) tucked down into a corner so I could get in and out. Excellent kitty sleeping space!

The lettuce and romanesco seeds are all germinated now. The carrots have not, yet (a bit hasty, I guess) and the seed potatoes aren't up yet. But I'm sure they'll be along soon. I've also sown into plug modules 45 "Magic Bean" seeds (a random mix of kidney, flageolet, borlotti, Cherokee and Yin Yang), 5 baby bush beans, 25 soya beans and 10 each extra of the borlotti (in a packet labelled Rattlesnake beans!) and Yin Yang. I am not, you understand, expecting them ALL to germinate, although I suppose it won't matter if they do. Once they're big enough, I'll move them into proper plant pots and they can stay in the greenhouse until late May, early June. I realise I've been repeating the mantra: Don't be hasty - put nothing out till May. But The Builder reminds me that it was in the middle of May last year that we got over excited and put the beans outside (still in pots) and caused them extreme damage from which they never properly recovered when there was a late, hard frost. June it is. I'm hoping by then they'll be tall enough and strong enough not to be bothered by slugs or caterpillars and that they'll be flowering and beaning happily in their pots so they don't notice the transfer process. Ever Optimistic Frannie!!

I have planted the new dogwood shrub where the yellow rose bush used to be and trimmed back the privet shrubs. I am now ready to tackle the section of the shrubbery where the compost heap used to be and which is now completely over run by creeping buttercup. This may be something of a challenge!

And - I've been to the allotment. I've dug just under half of the first broad bean bed. I had to stop at that point for my back was registering a certain level of outrage at being put to work after most of an autumn and a winter of indolence. I shall have another bash on Saturday morning.

I need to devise a plan of where everything is going on the allotment this year. Give us all something to work towards!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

(Nearly) Mid-Lent health report

Finally, finally, I have managed to get one of those home cholesterol kits to work.

At least – I think I have. I am a bit confused by it.

My cholesterol levels appear to be remarkably, even astonishingly low. The conversion chart that came with the gizmos didn’t start converting until well over what my result was. And how can you have an HDL level which is twice the amount of the *total* cholesterol count? Dunno – but the testing stuff didn’t seem to worry. And, it seems, neither do I need to. The home testing kit, even if not absolutely reliable, would appear to suggest that I can continue to indulge in butter, cheese and cream to my little heart’s desire. Except that we have just given them up for the rest of Lent!!!!!

Tell you what, though – I am going to be scarily fit, healthy and exer-getic by Easter at this rate. The only possible cause for concern would seem to be my blood pressure, and even that is viewed by the health websites as high, but within acceptable limits unless you: have diabetes (it seems not); are of Sub-continental extraction (not so far as I am aware); tick various other boxes which I don’t; or are likely to have a heart attack in the foreseeable future. Not quite sure how I am supposed to gauge that one – so I will assume not, for the moment! And will hope that continued alcoholic abstinence until Easter, an increasingly wholesome and plain diet and the continued decreasing of girth might induce the blood pressure to come down a bit too.

I also appear to be finally waking up. For the past few evenings I’ve managed to stay awake until after the interesting bits of the ten o’clock news. And I haven’t been ready for a nice, evening nap by eight o’clock. You never know – by Easter I might even have become mildly active!

I’ve been down the Moor and come back with four whirly flower things to put around the pond. I also seem to have been diverted by my wayward feet into the Chinese grocery store and have come back with 1.5 kg of Japanese rice and 1.5 kg of glutinous rice. The people behind the counter made very sure that I really wanted these two varieties of rice and not the American style long grain that most Westerners buy. Absolutely not. Long grain rice is BORING and Japanese rice is lovely.

The Builder’s attention has been diverted from useful things recently. He’s been doing the “autumn” scene of the four season jigsaw that T, A and F gave him for Christmas. Marlo had a good time helping him, and protecting the jigsaw while we were not there by lying on it. Fortunately they have both finished now and their attention has been directed back to where it should be – firmly focused on me!

Has anybody else noticed that the weekends seems to be coming around with a quite unseemly haste – and then disappearing again at supersonic speed? Time seems to be behaving very oddly all round. I keep waking up, having slept for hours and hours and hours – only to find that I have in fact only been in bed for an hour or so; then I go back to sleep for about twenty minutes, and wake to find that the clock says it’s been 6 or so hours. I think that Time is playing mind games with my head!!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


It is entirely true that I think herons are lovely birds. Elegant and imperious, and so graceful when in flight.

This does not, however, mean that I think our fish pond should be treated as a heron’s deli-bar, or even as a Little Chef for fish eaters who are passing overhead – not even one that has been made over by Heston.

So it is not clear quite who was more dismayed when The Builder went downstairs at about 7:30 on Sunday morning to make our morning cup of tea –and espied a heron stood at the side of the pond, having shucked up the netting intended to prevent it doing this, with its head in the water fossicking for a fishy breakfast! Certainly the heron was dismayed, as it flapped hastily away. The Builder was more stunned, I think. And the fishies have still not recovered from the shock!

At first it looked as though the heron had munched its way through the better part of our goldfish collection. But slowly, and hesitantly, more fish have reappeared. Last night I counted 30. I suspect it might have got one or two of the smaller dozier ones, but certainly not many.

We have planted some heritage carrot seeds (white, yellow, orange and purple) in one of the deep, wooden boxes on Saturday. The box is in the greenhouse in the garden. We also planted the spring onion sets in the garden. I’ve also put some potting mix into my “plug” tray to warm up so I can sow the kidney/soya/French beans this coming weekend. There are lots of things we can start sowing now in the greenhouse

Need to be VERY careful, though, not to get carried away and to start putting things out too early. Remember the fate of last year’s bean plants, from which they never really recovered.

It’s ONLY MARCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We’ve weeded all the flower beds now and have made a start on the little strips along the fence. About to start tidying the patio.

We need to start clearing the beds on the allotment ASAP – it’s not too early to get the broad bean and early pea seeds in.

And at lunchtime I am going to the trashier shops in town to see if I can get some very cheap whirly flowers or wind thingies to deter herons from munching the fish!

Slow Cooked Sunday Lamb

Some weeks ago, The Builder and I bought a half sheep at Chatsworth. And very delicious it has been.

Yesterday, I decided to slow roast a (small!) shoulder piece. As I was pondering what to do with it, I vaguely remembered that one of my slow cooker books says that you can slow cook Sunday roasts, pointing out that there is no need to add liquid.

Despite the dire warnings in the instruction manual about NOT cooking without liquid, I decided to give it a go.

So – I put a mix of various different mushrooms (shitake, oyster, crimini, and some that look remarkably like dead, desiccated and very small penises) in the bottom of the slow cooker, plonked the lamb breast bit on top and set it to auto then wandered off to do other things until dinner time.

About 9 hours later, I put some potatoes to roast in the oven.

About 30 minutes after that I turned the oven up to high, took the lamb out of the slow cooker and put it in with the potatoes for 15 minutes.

We had it with a Moroccan sauce and with carrots and glazed cabbage.

It was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!!!!!!! Really fantastic. Much more fantastic than the stews I’ve been making, which have been nice, but not stunningly fantastic (I prefer my stews a little thicker and richer than I have so far managed to achieve in the slow cooker). It was meltingly tender and tasted wonderful.

It also left me a truly lovely lamb jelly which I am planning to use with the left-overs tonight.
I might try cooking my stews with half the amount of liquid that the recipes suggest and see what happens with that.

And yes – normally I would have given up red meat well before now during Lent. I have a different list of things this year. Red meat goes next week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Falling (briefly) off the Lent Wagon

Well, I did fall off the Lent Wagon for Purim. I made a Gentile version of Hamentashen (of necessity not authentic because I have never eaten them before and all the recipes I could find were American and used biscuit dough rather than the flaky pastry which is used in Israel). Obviously, I couldn’t bring in Purim biscuits and then refuse to et them! However, I didn’t indulge in the Purim excess of alcohol indulgence :-) And neither did any of the rest of us – largely because Paul didn’t tell us about that bit of Purim boisterousness! They were very nice biscuits, I must say. I might write them up on the food blog!

You may remember that Freyja took redundancy from her job at DLA Piper a week or so ago. She’s been off to register as an official Bludger at the Dole Bludgers' office. I laid in a supply of squishy tomatoes so we could hiss at her and throw the tomatoes when we saw her passing in the street. All was progressing satisfactorily.

Alas – we have been thwarted in our hissing and throwing endeavours.

She was, for reasons best known to herself, browsing on the Sheffield Forum site one day, earlier this week. Suddenly, she espied a small advert from the people who used to maintain the computers when she worked at Lann, before DLA Piper. She emailed the bloke, asking how she should apply. Only 8 hours a week, but 8 hours is better than no hours. She got an email back almost immediately saying that if she wanted the job it was hers. She went, later that afternoon, to discuss this with the owner of the little business. During the conversation, he upped the pounds per hour a little bit – and increased the hours to two days a week! Not a bad outcome, for the outlay of one speculative email!

She’s also emailed the employment agency which operates in the same building that Lann used to be in. They’ve got a couple of two day jobs too that they’re going to put her forward for. And she’s busy applying for lots of other two and three day jobs too.

So no throwing squishy tomatoes at this particular non-bludger :-(

Lindsey, Ian, Stella and Tony are back from their jaunt around New Zealand. They seem to have all had a good time and to eaten lots of yummy food and to have drunk lots of yummy wine (at least the wine drinkers drank lots of yummy wine). Lindsey’s blog is at Alas, Stella and Tony are now showing a distinct disinclination to get back on a plane, which will make it difficult for them to get to the UK in the summer. Lindsey and I are pondering this. A packet boat might do it. Or a space shuttle. Maybe even a Tardis – although Tardises seem to be unreliable if you have a specific destination in mind!. Alternatively, stupendously gorgeous, late spring and early summer weather here, coupled with tiresomely dreary late autumn and early winter weather there might drive them with enthusiasm into the arms of a luxury air carrier. In the meantime, the planning for the new bathroom, courtesy in part of the late Cousin Beryl, carries on apace, and the investigations into stair lifts, collapsible wheelchairs and other reduced-mobility friendly apparatus continue, in case they do come and against the day when The Builder and/or I might need these facilities ourselves

Monday, March 09, 2009

Lenten Fasting

Goodness. That’s a whole week of alcoholic abstinence! And so far we are surviving!

I had rather assumed that there would be cravings and withdrawal symptoms and all the same things attendant on giving up smoking. Although, now I come to think about it, I gave up smoking (at least ten years ago) at a time when I was completely out of money and so didn’t have, or at least didn’t notice , any nicotine withdrawal symptoms being focussed, as I was, on getting milk and bread and stuff for home. By the time more money came my way, I’d more or less forgotten about smoking. Although I hadn’t forgotten about alcohol!

And actually, there haven’t been cravings, or withdrawal symptoms. I have to say that I think life is slightly dull without the addition of a glass or three of wine in the evenings, but otherwise all is well. Except that I am strangely and extremely tired and sleepy. Not sure if that’s because of the (gradual up to last Sunday) removal of alcohol from my body’s systems, the somewhat abrupt complete withdrawal of chocolate, sweets, cakes, biscuits and other sweet things (although not hot cross buns, which I am baking two or three times a week) on Ash Wednesday, a chronic lack of sleep, a sudden burst of busy-ness or a combination of the lot. Whatever the cause, I am more than ready for bed from around 8:30 or 9 o’clock! I do struggle on until 10, but it is a struggle!

I am hoping that the Lenten discipline of healthy eating and water or fruit cordial drinking may yet lead to a reduction of girth and a burst of energy. Eventually!

We have been doing early Lent blood tests to see if all this effort makes a difference. I was pleased to see that a urine test for liver function revealed that I have no bilberries or Euro-bilberries in my urine. Sadly, Lindsey informs me that abnormal results in a liver urine test would tend to suggest that you are very definitely Not Well At All. Blood tests are the way to go. However, this would seem to require a visit to the medico. May have to assume that no results are good results and carry on. My blood pressure has dropped though, even after only ten days of sweety abstinence, from high enough to presage an explosion of nuclear proportions, thus taking out the planet, to just high enough to suggest a small explosion, merely taking out England. The replacement cholesterol tests haven’t arrived yet, although the blood sugar ones have. We’ll do them both when the cholesterol ones arrive.

We had a very pleasant weekend. We did manage to get out into the garden a couple of times, on both occasions being driven back in by inclement weather. We had lunch in the Three Horseshoes on Sunday. We went to the Dunstan Hall Garden Centre, and the Chatsworth one. I was looking for new oven gloves and a proper outside doormat, both of which we found at the Chatsworth Garden Centre whilst poking about during a massive rainstorm. We had positive gales on Saturday night. They made such a racket they woke the cat up! Otherwise we just pottered. The Builder has made a start on the jigsaws Tabitha, Austin and Freyja gave him for Christmas (the same scene but over four seasons). And I cooked :-)

Back in late December or early January, we were driving through the Chatsworth estate and read the large notice that announced that Chatsworth House was now closed and would re-open on March 11th. We commented that March seemed such a long, long time away - but that no doubt it would suddenly come upon us and we would wonder where the time had gone. That time is now! It must be said that January and February were somewhat more eventful than usual so it doesn't seem quite as quick as it would in other years, but even so. Where *did* the time go?

Memo to the Weather Dogs: I have enjoyed the nice, proper winter you have bestowed upon us this year. I know Taffa is fed up of being cold and would prefer the milder, wetter winters you have graced us with over the past few years. But I have enjoyed the dry, freezing conditions. I have enjoyed the snow. I was very pleased with my unexpected day off, walking in the snow and chatting with snowbound neighbours that otherwise we never see. I appreciate that the cold weather will have killed off lots of garden bugs and (if we are lucky) perhaps even some or most of the slugs and snails. However, I really think that that might be ENOUGH SNOW!!!!! Thank you, and all that. But enough is enough. We had lots in January and February. We don’t need it in March as well! We’re getting behind with the garden preparation for the summer veg, and it’s not effective trying to dig in the snow. Spring weather would be nice, if you wouldn’t mind.

I wonder if it would be an unconscionable break of the Lenten fast if I were to make some Hamantashen pastries for Purim, which starts tomorrow. We have a Jewish team member who has been perfectly happily munching his way through the hot cross buns. He did, however, mention today that Purim is upon us and these were the traditional pastries for the feast. It seems only fair to provide tasty morsels for all the religious feasts and fasts which we severally observe. And obviously I can’t bake them and then refuse to eat them. Traditionally they’re filled with poppy seeds and not with the jam they’re mostly now filled with. Poppy seeds are healthy :-)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

We've been fairly busy in the garden this weekend. We've had a couple of nice sunny mornings, followed (yesterday) by dark clouds and strong winds in the afternoon, with positively gale force winds overnight. This morning we also had a beautiful sunny few hours. It's raining now, though.

The Builder has dug over the prickly corner by the pond and shifted the yellow rose bush. And I've pruned back the red thorny push and pushed the super prickly, dog rose back in amongst the branches of the thorn bush and along the fence. Must put some more trellis along the fence for the rose to snake along. I've also weeded down along the "shrubbery" along the fence. Alas - my curry bush has fallen apart. I've dug the roots out and bought a new one. It's only about 10 cm high!!! I think I might put it in a patio pot for the summer and plant it in the shrubbery come the autumn. That way it might stand a chance of not being over run by daisies, valerian, foxgloves and other vigorous cottage plants while it's still a baby.

I've made a start on the second triangular flower bed, but was forced to stop by the arrival of icy rain this morning. I still need to finish the shrubbery - but the rest of that needs digging over rather than just weeding. Perhaps next weekend.

The Builder has dug over the bed where the onions are to go. There's already garlic in there, but there were also cabbages (now eaten) and cauliflowers, which got frost mangled. He's also started preparing a new "permanent" runner bean bed. There's the beginnings of a compost trench. He's put the compost heap we've been using to bed now, hoping it will be nicely fermented and ready for use in the autumn. We really must dig up last year's compost in the old bed, up at the end of the shrubbery. Quite apart from the fact that we could use the compost (when we've got rid of the creeping buttercups), I'd like to restore it to shrubbery magnificence!!

There are seven sweet peas looking healthy and happy in the greenhouse. I'll plant them out along the fence when we come back from holiday after Easter. The orange tree has easily survived the winter. And the kiwi fruit is now in bud.

I have also planted a salad box with Giardina lettuce (has red, frilly outer leaves, and a hearted centre when mature) which is in the greenhouse. There is also now a tray of Romanesco calabrese seeds, also in the greenhouse. And I've planted 4 of the 10 Salad Blue potatoes in the potato bin in the hope that we might get some early salad potatoes. I've got the seed potatoes in my wardrobe in the spare room. The heating is not on in the spare room. It's quite chilly in there. The seed potatoes are sprouting anyway! I might need to plant them earlier than I had intended to - and just keep covering them with soil as the leaves come up - until May when hard frosts become less likely.

I had intended to start planting more seeds in pots/trays in the greenhouse. The threat of snowy showers this afternoon put me off. But next weekend I think I will do. It's not absolutely likely to snow in the greenhouse!

PS We went to the Chatsworth Garden Centre after lunch and dodged snow, hail and a spectacular rain storm to buy a dogwood to put where the yellow rose bush was (for winter interest and it won't matter if we can't reach it during the summer), and a beautiful, burgundy hellebore to put next to the one Penny and Steve gave us last spring. They're quite expensive if you buy properly established ones, but I figure if we buy a couple a year we'll end up with a pretty little winter edging along the path. Eventually!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

First of March

The snowdrops are flowering

The crocuses are peeping through

The hellebores are still flowering happily (this is a lacy one that Penny and Steve gave me last spring)

And the froggies are back and have been busy

It was the first of March, according to some the first day of spring, and we actually managed to get into the garden for a few hours in the afternoon.

The Builder has cleared loads of blanket weed, rampant oxygenating plants, water mint and water forget me nots out of the pond. We had to time this quite carefully (having failed to do it in the early autumn!). We needed not to disturb the fish while they were hiding at the bottom away from the snow and ice, but to get in before we were over run with frog spawn. The frogs came back to the pond and pretty much beat us to it - but The Builder thought that if he was careful he could clear some of the vegetation away without disturbing the frog spawn. And he has. The fish have now spread out around the pond again, rather than having to congregate in the very tiny bit of clear water that hadn't been over run by plants! The frogs have enjoyed it too - they were bouncing around on top of the remaining weed and chasing each other around the now cleared water and puffing up their throats and croaking. I don't think they were just intent on producing zillions of tadpoles. They looked to me as though they were playing as well!

Alas - the pond pump did not survive the winter. We have had to go out and buy a new one. Mind you, we've been saying since we moved in that it would need replacing. It's never had much strength. So it hasn't done too badly to say we picked up the keys three years ago at the end of April! The new one is fantastic. It has a proper umbrella shape when the fountain comes on! The frogs enjoyed that too.

In the meantime, I have cleared out the first flower bed. Mostly of stray weeds and alpine strawberries. Had anyone told me how tenacious alpine strawberry plants are I would never, ever, EVER have planted them!! I am hoping to get the next bed done this coming weekend, and perhaps the "prickly corner" where I want to transfer my yellow, scented rose bush from the back of he pond (where it looks lovely - but you can't get anywhere near it once the ferns come back to full strength, so no chance of dead heading - or even picking the beautiful flowers).

I am also planning to set some seeds for black/purple/scarlet sunflowers, hollyhocks, cornflowers and foxgloves ready for planting out in May. And we must crack on with prepping the veg beds. I have onions which are very ready to go out, it won't be long before the potatoes can go in (though I think I might wait till we come back from Cornwall after Easter) and we cold certainly get a sowing or two of broad beans in. Must get up to the allotment. Beans and peas, going up there this year.

Must organise a garden and allotment plan!

In the meantime, we have reverted to winter conditions. It's chilly outside, pouring with rain and the wind is positively howling! It's a long time since we've had any proper rain

A Foodie Miscellenay

What to do with the left over roast beef from Sunday? I decided to heat it gently with the left over vegetable gravy, some caramelised onions and some mushrooms. WE had it with boiled little potatoes, sweet potato and sprouting broccoli. And Yorkshire Puddings. The Yorkies were AMAZING!

I made my standard batter mix when I got home (equal quantities of eggs, milk and plain flour - it doesn't matter what the quantities are but they must be equal - whisked to aerate it and then put in the fridge to get nice and cold). I have two single person lasagne dishes. I put a generous slug of vegetable oil in each of them and then put them in the oven as it was warming up to its hottest temperature. By the time it had reached its top temperature, the oil was bubbling. I took the dishes out of the oven and shut the door, all as hastily as I could. I then poured in the cold batter (which sizzled satisfactorily) and put the dishes back in the oven as quickly as I could move without tipping everything all over the place. Leave the batter in the oven undisturbed for 15 minutes and remove. The Yorkies has risen all the way UP TO HERE!!!!!!! Ordinarily I would have turned the oven off after 15 minutes and left the pudding in to dry off a bit only everything else was ready. This meant that the puddings sank a bit in the middle as they cooled. This didn't really matter - they would have sunk anyway when I put the beef, mushrooms, onions and gravy on top of them!

It was all very delicious :-)

The slow cooker. I have been continuing my experiments with the slow cooker. Some quite tenacious internet searching has revealed that the medium setting on my slow cooker is the equivalent of the auto setting on other models, which means that it heats the food to the top heat and then adjusts down to slow to keep it just fractionally under simmering (why the manufacturer's booklet couldn't just say that is a mystery!. Last week I tried a recipe for overnight slow cooked porridge (Dorset cereals raspberry and cranberry fruit porridge). I have to say it was just lovely. A little thick for me (will add extra liquid next time) but rather like a steamed breakfast pudding to eat. I really enjoyed it. And at the weekend I did a pork hock in a Chinese style "sticky" sauce (had to reduce it quite hard on the stove before serving to make it properly sticky) which was equally delicious. I think I probably still prefer the texture of things slow cooked in the oven - but I probably wouldn't wander off and leave the oven unattended for 12 or more hours. THe slow cooker seems perfectly happy left to its own devices.

And a restaurant review. We went with my work team for a Spring is Sprung meal last Friday evening. Zeugma on London Road in Sheffield. It's not fine dining by any means. You wouldn't expect it to be fine dining on London Road. But it is a Turkish restaurant in which Turkish people eat. The food is plentiful (overly so, in fact) and is absolutely delicious. I really enjoyed my starter (cacik - the Turkish version of tzatziki) which was probably enough to feed three of us. I did, however, really, really regret having had it when I completely failed to eat my truly delicious lamb ishkender main course. I did my best! Next time - main courses only!! Even The Builder couldn't manage his mixed grill main, delicious though it was. But if you are looking for tasty, good, abundant, not very expensive Turkish food in Sheffield, then Zeugma is your place.
My but that was a lovely weekend.

We went out to dinner with the D&S team on Friday evening, and I had a haircut appointment on Saturday morning at 09:00. But apart from that, we had no firm plans at all.

So we sort of made it up and gently pottered about.

The weather was lovely for the last day in February and the first day in March. The wind was cold but the sun was nice and warm. It was cloudy on and off but no rain to speak of. It was just a very pleasant spring weekend.

We went to The Nettle for Saturday lunch, and to Chatsworth for supplies for the week. There were lots and lots of deer on the Chatsworth estate but no sheep. They seem to take them away for lambing.

And then we went to investigate bathroom shops. We are considering re-doing the bathroom. Actually, we’re more than considering it. We are going to re-do the bathroom. It will be our first major project on the house. Our bathroom is not in any way geared up for people with mobility problems. We at first intended only to buy a new shower recess so that people who would struggle to get in and out of the bath could get clean. But then we came into a little bit of money and decided we might just as well do the lot. I think we have more or less decided what we want. We now need to work out if it will all fit in a sensible way in the bathroom – and then find the rest of the dosh. And a plumber!

We had intended to get out into the garden when we got back from inspecting bathroom shops. But by then the wind had got up and it was a bit cold, so we didn’t. We sat inside and meandered gently into the evening instead.

Sunday had been designated as Do All The Blood Tests day. I can tell you that my blood sugar levels are nice and low. But only one of my double cholesterol tests worked. And The Builder's finger was so thick that the piercing thingy completely failed to pierce so we couldn't test his blood sugar levels. I hadn't thought to get a cholesterol test for him. I have sent for more blood tests. Several each. Next time we will soak The Builder's fingers in hot water for three days before attempting to pierce him!! And next time I must remember not to pierce the tips of my fingers - typing this morning was fun! It was ages before I worked out why from time to time my fingers would catch on the keyboard.

We finally managed to get out into the garden on Sunday afternoon and spent a few hours making a start on the early spring clear up. We watched the St David's Day Songs of Praise and ate roast beef and drank the last of the wine and drifted off to bed.

No more alcohol now until Easter. Sadly, a case of Italian and French dry white wines arrived today ;-(