Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lots of foodie fun this weekend

 We went to Scotland for a wedding at the weekend and I took Friday and Monday off as well to make a nice long weekend.

We had lunch in the newly opened gastropub The Fox and Pheasant in Durham on Friday.  I nearly walked past it - a gastropub on the side of a large shopping mall does not necessarily induce confidence. But the decor was quirky and fun, the bar staff were friendly and cheery - and it does inspire confidence when you have to wait for your food to be cooked. The chips that came with my home made cheese and bacon burger were magnificent. And The Builder was very impressed with his cod and chips - the cod cut into "fingers" and served with mushy peas.

Bacon and cheeseburger with chips

Fish "fingers", chips and mushy peas
Then on Saturday we went to the wedding reception at Mavis Hall Park, where they did us a barbecue. You might think it slightly unusual to have a barbecue for  a wedding reception (although - we had a picnic which is no more conventional!). But the barbecue was mightily impressive.  They did burgers and sausages and spare ribs and salmon and chicken and corn on the cob, accompanied by a vast array of salads.  You almost didn't need the tasty chocolate dessert afterwards.  And I have to say that I think that greeting the reception guests on arrival with champagne, ice cream and chocolate is absolutely inspired

Wedding food
On Sunday we ate at home in the evening and - for the first time this year - the potatoes and vegetables were all out of the garden

rainbow chard

A vegetably feast: potatoes, chard, purple carrots and cabbage with sage leaves

Dinner is served
Today we are doing a Sunday-on-a-Monday.  And for breakfast we had eggs and bacon.  I cured the bacon myself using this recipe but with black treacle rather than molasses. It was extremely tasty (although I might try using even less salt next time - I'm not using the salt as a preservative; that's what God invented freezers for!!) but I struggled to slice my belly pork strips into thin enough slices. It may be easier if I used a slab of meat rather than strips. Or I may need to invest in an electric carving knife!  The eggs were from our chickens.  One was even a double yolker. I should have made the bread myself, I suppose.  But I used farm shop bread and turned it into toast. So not quite entirely self sufficient. But pretty impressive, I reckon.

Change of pace. Collecting bridges and castles

We woke up yesterday morning to find that the hotel people had forgotten to replace the tea bags.  Not a problem.  I have taken to travelling with emergency supplies of tea bags!

They had also forgotten to top up the milk :-S  This was more of a problem.  I really do not care for black tea.  But there's a co-op in Gifford and it opens at 7 in the morning.  It's nearly 7.  I'll throw some clothes on and wander up for a supply of milk.  Oh - except the co-op doesn't open until 8 on a Sunday. I wandered back towards the hotel.  And ran across a gentleman who worked at one time in Rotherham but has lived in Gifford for over 30 years and who was out walking Jake, his Jack Russell, not in the woods as is his usual practice, but on the green because it's Sunday and much quieter than on other mornings.  And he was carrying a carrier bag with milk and bread.  This suggested that the newsagent (i) was open and (ii) sold milk.  And so it was!

I knew that there was a long viaduct in Berwick upon Tweed because I have travelled over it several times when heading to Edinburgh on the train.  I hadn't realised quite what a magnificent bridge it was until we were driving up the A1 on Friday. You can see it from the road but, of course, can't see it when you are crossing over the top of it.  I decided that we really had to collect it on the way home. So we detoured off the A1 into Berwick to see if we could find it.  You ought, after all, to be able to find an exceedingly large bridge if you try hard enough.

And we did find it.  And it is magnificent.  But tucked down over the river, and completely masked from the viaduct by the large and truly horrible concrete monstrosity someone saw fit to build, is a really beautiful smaller road bridge.  I had no idea it was there.  I can clearly see that there was need for a larger road bridge, but quite why anyone thought it was a good plan to build such an ugly structure in between two such beautiful ones is a complete mystery to me!

I had vaguely toyed with the idea of visiting Holy Island while we were in the area, but the causeway closed yesterday at 13:35 and didn't open again until 18:40.  We could, of course, have had a quick dash round. But I really didn't want to get engrossed in something, only to discover then that we were stuck on the island until well after we had hoped to be back home.  So we went to visit Bamburgh Castle instead.  Another thing that has long been on my list of places to visit, and no danger of getting stuck there.  Well, not under normal circumstances, at any rate.

And it was well worth the visit.  We had a potter around, admired the Farne Islands from the walls, waved at Holy Island (still on the list of places to visit), strolled through the grounds and the castle itself and had a more than acceptable steak and ale pie for lunch in the tea room.  We were extremely lucky with the weather.  We drove through a short but sharp shower on the way to Bamburgh.  And through another on our way towards Newcastle.  There were no showers while we were there.

And then we came down the Northumberland Coastal Road to Newcastle, passing beautiful beaches, pretty villages and a smattering of ruined castles. Then we rejoined the A1 and came home for tea.

Oh - and in addition to bridges and castles, we pretty much collected a hill fort.  We had noticed it on our way up to Gifford on Friday (hill forts not being the sort of structure it is easy to miss!!).  On the way home, we accidentally ended up on an A road which runs parallel to the A1 for a time and which has a viewing spot of Traprain Law. So we stopped to admire it.  I walked up to a viewing spot higher up the bank and discovered that I could also see North Berwick Law and Bass Rock out in the sea. It was a mighty view - and one which you wouldn't suspect was there from the road - it was completely hidden by the treed bank

It was a fabulous weekend.  And I have today off to take a breath before heading back to work tomorrow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

James and Kimberley's wedding

The wedding was lovely

The service was at the Humbie Kirk, up a long, narrow lane, outside the tiny village of Humbie, about 5 miles from Gifford.

There was a piper.

And lots of Scottish people wearing kilts.

The minister was funny and made us all laugh.

The service was beautiful.

And the weather held.

Then we all relocated to Mavis Hall Park for the reception.

It is very lovely to be greeted at a wedding reception with champagne, ice cream being served from a rolls royce, and chocolate.

James and Kim turned up in a powder blue VW camper van.

Mavis Hall Park is a collection of farm buildings now turned into a reception venue.  The dining barn is very beautiful.  And large.

We dined on barbecued burgers, sausages, chicken, salmon and various salads.

The wine was plentiful.

There was a post-dinner ceilidh. Everyone danced the wedding dance (fortunately this didn't require me to do anything more complicated than to twirl.  I can twirl!).  Then Lots of people did more dancing.  The Builder and I sat and watched.  Mostly people seemed to know what they were doing and looked to be having a great time.

Then The Builder and I snuck off and went back to The Goblin Ha'. It was already past our usual bed time and a general lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with us.

It was a great privilege to be a part of such a happy occasion.

And it was nice, as well as meeting up with family and extended family and not quite family, to catch up with Jane's oldest friend Zoe, who I have known (more off than on, I suppose) since I was about 4

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Off to Scotland for the weekend

When we got back from Australia back at the beginning of May, amongst the post that had accumulated was a card, from some people of whom I had never heard in Bristol, inviting us to he wedding of a woman I had also never heard of in a place whose location was unknown to me. I looked at The Builder.  "Are these your people?"  No.  He also had no idea about any of this.  I looked Humbie up.  It is a little village near Edinburgh.  Who do I know in Edinburgh?  Ah.  Of course.  Cousin James.  And look.  There he is on the invitation.  Kimberley (who I have only ever heard called Kim) and James were to be wed, in Scotland, at the end of July.

And now, here we are, at the end of July.  And we have made our way up to Gifford, about 15 miles east of Edinburgh for the occasion.

We had a good run up the A1, stopping for lunch and the Fox and Pheasant in Durham (something of a find - fabulous chips, wonderful burger, cheerful bar staff, funky decor). It's only been open a couple of weeks. It deserves to do well.

Anyway.  We were booked into the Goblin Ha' in Gifford where, it seems, Jane had tried unsuccessfully to make a bulk booking back in January.  I think there is a music festival going on somewhere this weekend.  Lots of earnest, older folk dressed in folk-music style were at breakfast this morning and the hotel is fully booked.  We took the precaution of booking a table for dinner.

Peacefully munching on our dinner we were - when The Builder was ACCOSTED by a woman who snuck up behind him and hugged him.  It was Ruth, accompanied by Andy, Nicky and Jo. Not staying at the Goblin but at a B&B nearby.  We joined them at their table and had a merry evening eating and drinking.

Then we began to wonder where all the others were.  Possibly in the other hotel around the corner. We went to investigate - and found James and loads of other people sat in a dining room clearly finishing dinner.  Those of us from the Goblin cheerfully gatecrashed, drank their wine, met loads of people, generally partied on.  The Builder and I went back to our room at nearly 01:00!!

This morning I have remembered very clearly why I generally do not drink large quantities of red wine and definitely do not stay up partying until the wee smalls!!!!!

The Builder and I have been for a nice walk this morning with Ruth, up out of the village and along a farm track.  Some lovely views.  We ran across Jane carrying buttonholes and nosegays. Dotted about the village are: James; Jane and Neville; James' dad Michael, his wife Lynn and her two sons Richard and Phillip; Ruth, Andy, Nicky and Jo; Rosie and her husband; Paul and Carol are out there somewhere, along with Helen, Ian and Claire. It's a positive invasion!

And lots of them are staying in the other hotel, which apparently went into liquidation a few weeks ago but remains more or less trading.  One unexpected consequence of this was that, although they had showers in their bathrooms, they had no hot water.  We didn't have a shower, but did have hot water. I had a lovely soapy bath before breakfast this morning

Better get ready for the wedding, I suppose.  Nearly time to go.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Poor old body

It all started when I decided that my shoulders hurt. I had to be more careful how I carried things.

Then I got arthritis in my fingers.  But it wasn't too bad so I soldiered on.

Then my hands decided to ache rather more.  It spread up to my wrists.  But on I soldiered.

Then I caught my hand on the bottom of a veryveryveryveryVERY hot saucepan and burnt a hole in it ;-(

Stoically, on I went.

I didn't worry too much when I wore a pair of shoes without socks and rubbed holes in my toes - although it did rather hurt.

I barely noticed when my back went out in sympathy.

I definitely did notice when I ambled into the orchard wearing open toed sandals and the chickens pecked at my toes - especially the toes that had the holes in them.  But I merely resolved to wear my garden clogs in the future. And carried on.

But when last night I decided to make a pork, sage and apple gravy, put the stock in my new baby blender, turned it on - and the lid blew off and hot stock erupted all over the kitchen and me, slightly scalding my arm (just above where I burnt the hole in my paw!!) and liberally bedecking the kitchen walls, bench and cupboard doors with apple, sage, onion and stock; well when that happened it all just got far too much and I had to Retire Hurt with a glass of wine to watch comforting foodie programs on the telly (and to eat my pork chop, new potatoes, steamed garden veg and small amount of rescued gravy!!)

I have a feeling you're supposed to hold the lid down when blending.  At least, that's what the woman was doing on the video demonstration I looked at this morning

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Builder has been a-buildering

We've had the chickens out wandering around loose in the garden since the weekend, but only when there is someone at home and preferably out in the garden.  We've had the back gate shut and put the recycling boxes in front of it to stop inquisitive chickens squeezing through the holes in the ironwork, but there's nothing to stop visitors or delivery people pushing the boxes aside and then not putting them back again and we don't want the chicken ambling off into the big, wide, cruel world.

So when there hasn't been anyone around to act as a casual supervisor, they've been contained in their run, which is a reasonable size for four chickens but doesn't offer anything like the excitements to be found in the garden.  So we've bought fence posts and mesh and all sorts of stuff and The Builder has been putting up a fence down the side of the orchard.  He has worked like a thing possessed in the hope that he would get it finished by the time we head off for a long weekend in Edinburgh.

And he has.  The chooks now have a super-di-doopery run which covers the whole of the orchard.  We'll still let them out into the rest of the garden when we are about  - once I work out how to deflect their attention from my rainbow chard/silverbeet which they discovered yesterday. It's as fox proof as we can get it, reasonably visitor-proof and full of interesting things for the chooks to investigate. Parsley is now engaged in working out how to escape Beyond the Fence!!

If you should happen to need an 8 foot fence post, may I suggest that you go to Arnold Lavers to acquire it and definitely not to B&Q?  We bought 12 posts from Lavers at £4.75 each.  The Builder decided that we needed another one and dropped in to B&Q to pick one up, simply because he happened to be passing.  He dropped out again very quickly when he saw the £10+ price tag for one post!!! 

We now have three chickens laying (Coriander has yet to oblige). And I am happy to report that the cost per egg has now dropped below the £10 mark!!!!!!!  But the total outgoings does include all the set up costs, including the price of the chooks themselves.  Once everything is set up properly the outgoings should become quite minimal.

I was up on the allotment on Monday evening to water the greenhouse.  We have a lovely crop of tomatoes coming and even a few small peppers (assuming the ants don't chew their way around the stalk so the peppers fall off.  Again!).  We also have a cucurbit of some sort growing uninvited next to the pepper plant.  We have no idea what it is (other than being a cucurbit!).  But it is starting to set fruit so all may shortly be revealed :-)

The onions are not happy.  Not happy at all.  I think they are all going to have to go into the freezer this year and there certainly won't be enough to last the winter.  On the other hand, the potatoes and peas seem to be quite happy.  We aren't digging the potatoes yet but I might have a look next week and see what's what.

The Under-Gardener has now stripped most of the peas and broad beans in the garden and we are starting to plant brassicas where they were.  There are runner beans starting to appear and the chard (where the chickens have not stripped it) is getting close to ready.  And we have had some lovely little cabbages.  We are positively over-run with raspberries.  The chickens don't seem to like raspberries, which is a bit odd because they are quite willing to go to war for the gooseberries that got left on the bushes when The Under-Gardener picked them all a week or so back.

The freezer is beginning to fill up!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I seem to be in pie mode at the moment!

I was reading one of my regular blogs (one that I read, not one that I write!) and found this recipe

I have to say - the egg and bacon pie looked delicious.  I had eggs.  I didn't have bacon, but I did have quite a bit of ham.  So I made up a shortcrust pastry with half lard and half butter.  I lined a rectangular pie dish with pastry and lined that with ham.  Then I broke four eggs in (yolks whole).  I *gently* layered more ham over the eggs, added four more eggs on top of that, then a final layer of ham and covered the lot with a pastry lid.  I baked it at 175d for about an hour.

And here is a slice of it with some Chatsworth beetroot chutney, which we had for Sunday Brunch:

There's more for lunches this week :-)

And with those eight eggs, I had run out for the first time since Schnitzel and Kiev started laying!!!  Fortunately, Schnitzel obliged with another egg.  And Parsley produced her first, a pretty, speckled brown egg.  I used the eggs to make a Yorkshire pudding to accompany our Sunday roast.  I am coming to the conclusion that the inconsistency I used to have with Yorkshire pudding results may well be down to the quality of the eggs.  Since I stopped buying eggs in supermarkets and started buying them in farm shops, my Yorkies have been much more consistent.  And with extremely fresh eggs, the pudding rose and rose and rose and rose and ROSE.  We had it with roast beef, Jersey royal potatoes, and cabbage, carrots, peas and broad beans from the garden.

It was a good food Sunday!

Taffa and Gareth are coming back to Sheffield

There are a number of reasons for this move, but the main one is that Gareth's sister is terminally ill.  I think not cancer, but something equally unpleasant.  So they have decided to come back to Sheffield (Gareth's sister lives in Glossop , which is more conveniently reached without a car from Sheffield than from Cambridge) at least on a temporary basis.

So, The Builder and I are house-hunting on their behalf.  Or - we're going and inspecting houses which they have found on various websites and assessing their suitability. One of the main criteria is that there should be a decent space for the rabbits!  We found a lovely house this afternoon, in Woodseats, near the shops and pubs, and with a nice little courtyard garden for the rabbits. But I think the bloke who was also looking round it while we were there was going to hop straight into his car and charge into town to get first dibs on it!

As well as accommodation, of course, they need jobs. Taffa is hoping for a transfer to one of the Sheffield supermarkets.  It was looking as though she had found one.  She was told that there was a vacancy at one of the large stores in Sheffield doing pretty much what she does now.  But when she came up to meet the relevant people it turned out that it might perhaps be a position covering someone who was off  and which might or might not become permanent.  Maybe.  I think she's investigating the possibility of other transfers and also job hunting.  Gaz is also job hunting, not necessarily for a teaching position.  I think that they do not want to be tied down in the way that a school job involves.

So that's all very exciting - although I think they will miss Cambridge and particularly the river and the various festivals and fairs and summer events on Parker's Piece.  Sheffield has many things to recommend it, but it doesn't do the festivals and fairs as well as Cambridge does.  And I shall simply have to find excuses to go visit from time to time.  Two of my favourite pubs are in or near Cambridge!!! 

In the meantime, The Builder has been busy a-buildering in the garden.  And I spent a happy half hour at lunchtime sat in the sunshine on a gravestone in St Mary's Church on Bramall lane at lunchtime.  I was at our departmental away "day" (9-2) where we had lovely food and some interesting talks from various people.  I think I had a less physically exerting day than The Builder

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Storm

The Builder picked me up at the Chesterfield station yesterday afternoon at about quarter to five.  It was cloudy and very, very muggy.

We drove towards Tupton.

There was a BIG, BLACK CLOUD hovering over North Wingfield.

We walked into the hosue at about ten past five.

At quarter past five there was a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and a sudden burst of rain.

At half past five, the rain was like blankets, cascading down, monsoon-like

At six o'clock, the clouds went away, the sun came out, the air was fresh and clean -- and the blue water butt by the kitchen wall which had been empty was now full.

So that was all very exciting.

(The chickens had, it would seem, the intelligence to go into their coop. They were dry when I went down with their supper just after 6!!)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

It's raining!!

Nice, gentle, sustained rain.  You can hear the garden purring!!!!!!!  And the weather pundits say that we may get more rain through the course of the week.

Excellent :-)

Fortunately, it held off until after the weekend.  The Under-gardener has now rescued most of the paths in the flower garden - which were over-grown with wild strawberries, weeds and flowers.  There's just one more path to excavate, although that is mostly covered with exuberant lavender and rosemary bushes.  I really must trim them back, once they've finished flowering.  There's also quite a handsome crop of wheat and oats, which we were going to pull up. Then it occurred to us that they're getting very close to ripe, and the chooks might rather enjoy them in a few weeks time.  We'll pull them up then!

We have an abundant harvest of gooseberries, not a bad crop of morello cherries, about 10 sweet cherries and a small box of blackcurrants.  The apples appear to have stopped dropping for the moment.  Even so, there's only one bramley.

The Under-gardener has been bemoaning the fact that we never get any pears and that the apple crops are a bit hit and miss.  Then I read somewhere that, given even a modicum of luck, an apple or pear tree can live for upward of 250 years.  In which case, our 5 year old trees are mere babies and shouldn't be expected to fruit abundantly just yet.  You need patience to be a hard fruit grower, it seems (that's a grower of hard fruits, not a grower with chain mail and knuckle dusters!!).

Our peas and broad beans are delicious. And doing very well.

Now we just need a drop more rain.  And a fence around the orchard so the chooks can range free unsupervised. Although we must remember to go and sit with them still in the evenings.  We want them to stay friendly.  Kiev was sat on my knee the other evening :-) 

(We can't let them amble about in an unfettered sort of a way.  It wouldn't take long for the fox to have them.  Or they would quite quickly find a way to escape - and vanish.  Wouldn't take them long to find the gate out onto the road!!)

Clean Sheets

It was a beautiful day on Saturday.  So much so that when I changed all the bedlinen in our room, rather than immediately putting the doona cover, sheet and pillow cases from the cupboard on the bed, I decided to wash, dry and immediately re-use the stuff that was already on the bed.  There was no danger at all that it wasn't going to dry in time!

Out it went, and flapped on the line.  I went and did useful, we've-got-people-coming-for-Sunday-lunch type things in the kitchen. We pottered about in the garden. We played with the chickens. We moved back inside in the evening and The Builder watched the Germans and the Uruguayans running around on a football ground. It was a very pleasant day.

And then it was bedtime. And the sheet, doona cover and pillow cases remained in the washing basket, where The Builder had put them when he had brought them in earlier in the evening. I had forgotten all about them!!

I certainly wasn't going to set about completely making up a bed at that time in the evening. We decamped, rather to the cat's perplexity, to the spare room.

It was rather like going away for the evening! Nice comfortable bed. Unfamiliar things around us. (I know they are our things but they aren't usually with us when we are sleeping!). Different overnight sounds. Different Sunday morning sounds.  If we should be minded to have a night away and don't have a particular purpose in mind then a night in the spare room would probably do the trick!  But we've decided not to move in there - the tree across the road is quite a magnificent tree, but it's nothing like as interesting as the view from the back of the house where there are lots of trees and a field and a railway line to watch if you have time to sit about in bed in the morning.  Plus, in our room you can hear birds and things in the morning.  In the spare room - you can hear cars!!

Not that we had time to sit about for long in bed on Sunday morning.  There were, after all, people coming for lunch.  I had made, on Saturday, a fishy stock for my seafood soup. I had also made a raised chicken and pork pie for the main course.  But the house needed tidying and the patio needed sorting out and there were potatoes to prep and veg to gather in and a salad to make.  So we did that.  And were easily ready when Bea, Steve and Richard wandered in shortly after 1pm.

It was a lovely afternoon.  The weather held - despite the threats of rain made by the BBC weather bloke on the early morning forecast. We sat on the patio under the gazebo and munched and slurped and sipped. We let the chooks out to potter about.  We grazed on the raspberries in the raspberry bed in between courses. We had lots of wine (apart from Steve, who was driving) and generally had a good time.  Then everyone went back to their respective lounge rooms, ready to watch the football final in South Africa.

I didn't watch it.  I went to bed nice and early.

It's been raining today.  It's weeks and weeks and weeks since we had any proper rain. Well before the chooks arrived.   Everything smells very fresh

Monday, July 12, 2010

More pie. Chicken and pork this time

I was reading Monty and Sarah Don's book Fork to fork last week and they had a recipe for a raised pie made with hot water pastry.  It was more or less Christmas fare, but I thought I might try a variation on it for our cold collation Sunday lunch yesterday.

Ham, chicken then sage
The quantities of fat and flour looked to me as though they would make a pie large enough to feed an entire battalion, so I cut them down a bit.  Plus I decided to try half and half butter and lard.  So I put 200g of butter and 200g of lard in my mixing bowl and added a mug of boiling water and whisked until the fat had melted into the water.  I then added enough plain flour to make a very soft and fluffy dough.  Instead of rolling it out, I buttered my springed cake dish and then spread the pastry out around the dish by hand, pressing and firming and pressing and firming (I left a bit aside for the lid!)
Followed by sausage meat

I took the fillets from a small chicken and sliced the meat very thinly.  And I minced some pork shoulder steaks and made it into sausage meet with grated bramley apple, a healthy quantity of breadcrumbs and some apple juice.

Another layer of chicken
Then I layered my pie, starting with slices of ham, then some chicken meat, some sage leaves, sausage meat, more chicken, more sausage and finally a layer of ham.  I meant to add an extra layer of sage leaves - but forgot ;-(

And another of sausage
After covering the pie with its lid I covered it with several layers of baking parchment and baked it at 170d for 2 hours. Then I removed the parchment and left it in until the lid had browned to a golden colour.

A final layer of ham
We had it sat on the patio under the gazebo, and after the seafood soup for a Sunday lunch cold collation with a garden salad (from the garden :-) ), a pea and broad bean salad (also from the garden) and buttered new potatoes. We finished up with home made raspberry ripple ice cream and  gooseberries stewed in elderflower cordial and honey.

The pie, after being baked for 2.5 hours
There wasn't a whole lot left after lunch!

Seafood soup

I tried, this weekend, to replicate the fish soup we had at River Cottage HQ last weekend.  I'm not sure how close I got but it was extremely delicious, and was a definite nod in the direction of the magnificent soup we had there.

I couldn't lay my hands on any fish heads and didn't really want to go buying lobsters just so I could use their shells for a seafood bisque, so I bought some fish pie mix at the Chatsworth fish counter and a bag of Sainsbury's basic shrimps and put those in the stock pot with a sliced onion, a chopped fennel bulb, some roughly chopped garlic cloves, two glasses of dry white wine and some water.  I simmered that for a couple of hours until the fennel and onions were very soft and then strained the broth.

I then added a can of tomato juice and some fennel seeds and simmered that for half an hour or so.  Then I left the broth to sit and develop for about 24 hours.

When it was time to have the soup I heated the broth and then added the scallops and prawns that we bought in Lyme Regis last weekend (and which I had frozen when we got home, obviously!) and some chopped squid and mussels that I bought locally. I also added some chopped dill and, at the end, a slosh of single cream that I happened to have handy.

I ended up with a huge bowl of seafood soup which should have been more than plenty for an entrĂ©e for Sunday lunch.  There is very little of it left! Just enough for me to turn it into a fish stew for tonight, using some of the ling and salmon that we also bought in Lyme Regis last weekend.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Lyme Regis

I hadn't realised, when planning this weekend, quite how close River Cottage HQ and, indeed, our B&B are to Lyme Regis.  I knew they were fairly close but not that they were a matter of a few miles.

So I arranged to meet Farishta for lunch (no, no - to have lunch with Farishta, not to have her for lunch!!) and said we would be along at around about half twelve.  We arranged to meet outside the cinema where she works.

In the meantime, we had to leave the B&B after breakfast.  What to do?

We decided to take a drive along the coast road to Weymouth, passing along some lovely, winding country roads and with some beautiful views of Chesil beach and Lyme Bay.  We came back along the main road from Dorchester, accompanied by a gadzillion motorbikes.  Fortunately, the motorbikes kept going through in Lyme Regis and we pottered off to our usual car park.

We were still a bit early.  But there was lots of walking to do.  And a fish shop to find.  When we were at Millers farmshop on Saturday there was a stall selling shiny, fresh, glistening fish and seafood.  We couldn't get any then - nowhere to keep it cold. (We really, really MUST take the esky with us when we go on foodie weekends.  Or even any weekends.  We so often find delicious things and don't have anywhere to keep them cold.  Likewise the walking shoes.  What use are walking shoes on the steps to the cellar at The Sidings, when you are in Dorset and Devon and out wandering around in fields?)

Fortunately, the bloke said that he would be in his shop by the Cobb in Lyme Regis on Sunday, if we could get to there. And he would have a polybox with ice to keep the fish cold.  And he would store it in his fridge until we wanted to head home.  No worries.  We could easily get to a fish shop by the Cobb.  Not a million miles from where we were meeting Farishta.  But no need, surely, to go all the way back up to the cinema, just to come back down to the harbour, where we had a table booked in a pub for lunch.  We sent her a text message and went off to choose our fish.

Fish and seafood selected, paid for and packed away in the fridge, we went for a wander along the beach and then met Farishta for a windy walk out along the Cobb.  Then lunch in a harbourside pub.  Then we collected the fish and made our way back to the car park.

Now, I know that a weekend of gastronomic delights had not been friendly to our waistlines.  I fully appreciate that all of my summer clothes seem to have shrunk over the winter.  Agreed - the Biobank measurements had indicated a need to lose weight and girth.  But you do have to wonder why Farishta decide to march us up the **STEEPEST** hill in Lyme Regis to get to the car park, The Builder all the while carrying the polybox with 3 or 4 kg of fish and a large bag of ice.  I'll grant you that the views were stunning, when we paused for breath and turned to look back.  I kept thinking that surely we must at some point stop climbing uphill and turn to the right - for our car park is all the way over there, just above the main lot of shops.

Eventually, we got to the top of the hill, where there is an exceedingly large car park.  It turns out that when Farishta had asked us if we were in a particular car park and we said "yes, the usual one, at the top of the hill" - she thought we meant this one.  Nope.  We didn't know it existed.  We meant the one up the hill over the shops.  Oops!!  So down we went, along another road, and then up again - a smaller hill this time.

Oh well - we certainly needed some exercise.  Although The Builder was very puzzled when we finally got home and he found that his leg muscles were very stiff getting out of the car! Farishta is, I think, still laughing :-D

It was good to see Farishta.  Haven't seen her since last Christmas.  She has put her house on the market and is hoping for a move to Chiswick in London in the not too distant future. We are planning a visit to London in December or January to pick up a couple of exhibitions.  We could meet her for lunch then :-)  And I had been wondering what excuse we could find now for a visit to Lyme.  But then I remembered that we don't need an excuse.  We can just go, if we are so minded!

And now we are home.  The chooks were pleased to see us.  Marlo was extremely pleased to see us.  Tammy was not at all pleased to see us.  She had thought we were coming home today and was not a little alarmed to see that our back door was open and there were people making free with our television!

Today we are mostly going to do Sunday things.  I like Sundays so much that I try to have two of them as often as possible!!

July update

It has been very, very dry so far this summer and the garden and the allotment are suffering a bit, despite The Under-gardener doing his best with the watering bucket.  The potatoes and onions on the allotment are really struggling, and virtually none of the sweet corn germinated.  The July apple drop has been more than usual. Lots of tiny apples lying around on the ground.

The salad boxes which I've put in the driveway are doing rather well, though.  Of course, they're much easier to keep watered.  But we've got three boxes of various salad leaves, one of parsley, one of pea shoots and another with tiny beetroot in them.  Our lunchtime salads are quite delicious. I've stopped growing mustard and cress and broccoli shoots in the window for the time being.

The flower garden remains horribly over grown ;-(

Those of you who have known me for a very long time may remember that when we lived in Beaufort I came home from a church fete one year with a goat kid. I named her Aphrodite - but found that every time I opened my mouth to talk to her, I actually called her Ariadne.  In the end, I decided that the goat really wanted to be called Ariadne and gave in.  Ariadne she was.  The same happened with the chicken formerly known as Marjoram.  Every time I went to speak about her or to talk to her - out came Coriander.  I gave in quite quickly this time.  I obviously had her name wrong.  Coriander it is.  So we have Parsley, the brown chicken with the white coloured bum; Coriander, the brown chicken with the brown bum, Schnitzel the black chicken with the lower beak longer than the upper, and Kiev, the black chook with the two beaks evenly lengthed.  They've settled in quite well and now let me pick them up (Parsley doesn't yet) and stroke them.  And Schnitzel and Kiev are laying.  We mostly get two eggs a day.

The Under-gardener has done an amazing job up on the allotment.  He's been digging and digging and digging.  The whole of the bottom bit, which was ploughed in the spring, has now been dug over by hand.  It's ready now for fruit trees and bushes to be planted in the designated "fruit" area in the autumn.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

River Cottage Summer Party

We had come down to attend the River Cottage Summer Party at River Cottage HQ near Lyme Regis.

We came down on Friday because we thought it would take hours and hours to get there and didn't want to arrive late, or tired, or flustered.  We wanted to be there in a timely and relaxed and unflurried manner.

So - that gave us a whole day to fill before our taxi was due to come and take us to RCHQ at 6:20 in the evening.

We decided to go for a drive.  First we went into Axminster to look at the RC shop and to have a mooch around.  The nice lady in the RC shop suggested that we might find it a profitable use of our time to go and have a look at Miller's Farm Shop just outside town.  We went.  It was indeed a profitable use of out time.  It's *amazing*!  It may be necessary for us to move!! Although - I would miss Chatsworth horribly.  We may need two houses.

Then we drove off towards Exeter and then down the coast road to Dawlish (black swans at Dawlish), Teignmouth and eventually fetched up at Torquay.  Torquay was busy and touristy - a quintessential Victorian watering hole.  We decided not to stop but to head back towards Teignmouth and stop at a viewing place we had noticed on the way out.  So we did.  And had an ice cream and a bit of a wander.

The Thatched Tavern

Lunch time.  If we are off for a fancy dinner in the evening, we don't want to have a late lunch!  I had noticed, back towards Torquay, a sign pointing to the Thatched Tavern off the main road in Maidencombe.  Shall we go back and see if it looks a likely lunch prospect?  We did.  And it's way down by the beach along a narrow, narrow country lane.  And it did indeed look like a likely place for lunch.  And the food wasn't bad at all.  Basic pub food but well cooked and very tasty.

Then we drove back to the B&B and got ready for our evening out.

River Cottage HQ House and Veg Patch
And it was a lovely evening.  You are ferried from the car park down to the house and gardens in a large trailer, pulled by a tractor.  Once there, we were handed a glass of local cider and then given the run of the gardens and kitchen garden and terraces.  Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was on the terrace and came to talk to us.  He was doubtful that my elderflower fizz is as alcohol-free as I think it is.  They make theirs to a similar recipe and it's usually around 4-6%.  Must get hold of an alcohol testing device!!  Then we ambled off for a stroll around the kitchen garden and ended up in a huge marquee in a field where trestle tables and picnic benches were laid out in long rows.  We checked the seating plan and found we were right up at the other end, so went up and took our places.

Imagine our surprise when the couple we had seen and nodded to in The Bottle the previous evening turned out to be sat next to us at the RC dinner!!!  I have decided that The Fates want us to get to know each other and have taken the lady's name and mobile number!!

Fish soup at River cottage HQ
The fish soup was one of the most delicious things I think I have ever eaten.  It had fennel bulb in it, and fennel fronds and seeds.  I think it had tomato in and garlic (I would never pass that Masterchef test where they get you to tell them what's gone into a dish!!)  But I know full well that it had white and red fish in it. And mussels and prawns and scallops and squid.  It was absolutely lovely and I have every intention of trying to duplicate it.  I just need to mug HFW's chef for the stock recipe!!!  The roast spring lamb and slow roasted lamb shoulder which followed was also delicious - just not quite as exciting as the fish soup.  The new potatoes were beautifully cooked and very buttery.  And we drank English wine (I had a couple of glasses of sparkling English wine too which, to my taste, is infinitely nicer than French champagne because it's lighter and more refreshing).  I like English wine but it tends to be extremely expensive (it's a small production so that's fair).  It wasn't unduly expensive at the party, though (you had to pay for wine - only the first glass of cider was included in the price).

I have to say that I was deeply impressed by HFW.  The details for the evening had made it very clear that he would be unable to stay all evening.  But he pretty much did.  He spoke to every one who was there.  Granted it was a members' evening but I still thought it was amazing that he took so much time with the guests.  He even, charmingly and cheerfully, had his photo taken with the Travelling Hippoberries.  He even shared his bottle of cider with them!  Various of his specialist friends were there - so the bee man and the jam lady and I think the bread man and they all circulated and spoke to interested guests.  The kitchen people had noted that I had told them about The Builder's strawberry allergy (everything was nut free, as far as I could tell) and his dessert came with blueberries instead.  There was cheese and coffee to follow - but I had no more room in my tum for anything.  Well, apart from another glass of English fizz.

They had a skittle alley set up outside, and a post-dinner band with dance floor.  They had lit braziers outside after it went dark so people could wander around outside and not freeze (the temperature had dropped after sunset - and the sea breeze was a bit brisk).  It was all extremely well done.  The only comment I would make is that the benches in the marquee were really only long enough to accommodate 3.5 people comfortably.  I appreciate that it's difficult to find half sized people willing to fill the gaps - but 4 was a bit uncomfortable.  And if I have to be sat quite so close to the man next to me, I would really rather that it was a man that I know rather than a complete stranger (who, for a thin, wiry bloke, took up quite a remarkable amount of space!!).  I felt all kind of squished, trying to avoid him.

Would I go again?  Absolutely!  And I have discovered that there are many, many evening dinners through the course of the year, which HFW and his friends do not attend.  But should we find ourselves down that way and pondering where to go for a gastronomic evening out ...

Right.  More food and fun today.  Lyme Regis for lunch.  And there's a fish shop to find. Must get up and head to breakfast.  Although I am strangely uninterested in a cooked breakfast this morning!!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

We've been shopping

We rather assumed that it was going to take us 6 or so hours to get to the B&B, so told the landlady that we would be there around 6pm and left at 11, having dashed about to get us, the livestock and the house ready.  Got in the car, turned Jenny-the-Sat-Nav on - and she said it would take just over 4.


But still, there was the M5 to take into account.  The motorways are always busy, especially on Fridays.

No traffic on the M5.


I know.  Let's turn off at Glastonbury and head to Street, where there is a shopping outlet centre which specialises in shoes.  I needed a pair of surf shoes (the ones Lindsey gave me are still perfectly serviceable, except that the velcro on the straps has worn off and they won't stay done up.  This is a great sorrow to me.  They are extremely comfortable and I've been wearing them for years and years.  I must work out how to replace the velcro!).  I've been keeping my eye open but haven't seen anything likely.  Street seemed a reasonable place to go hunting.  I had had a look when we were there with Gwen a few weeks ago, but didn't want to hold everyone up by doing a proper search then.

I found a pair in the Timberland shop for £19.  Not bad given that the RRP is £50!!

We found a summer nightshirt for The Builder for £7 and various other bits and pieces. We went for an amble around Street itself - it has quite a nice little High Street.  And then we made our way across country down into Devon (just) to the little hamlet of Hawkchurch and then to the B&B which is on a farm out in the middle of nowhere.

We were early!

The landlady recommended The Bottle Inn for dinner. It's been closed for about a year and has recently re-opened with new people at the helm. It serves home cooked food and the servings are enormous!  My prawns in filo pastry were delicious - and about the right quantity for an entree.  But The Builder's bowl of whitebait was huge!!!  We both had to tackle it.  Then I had a really lovely lamb shank in red currant gravy with mustardy mash (and a spray of lovely red currants draped over it). and The Builder had a pork chop with cheese and apple and a mustardy mash.  I couldn't eat all of mine.  Fortunately The Builder was there to help!

The pub doesn't open in the evening until 6:30 and we were too early.  So we went for a drive in the countryside.  I think the other couple who had also ambled into the car park at 6:00 (the traditional evening opening time) walked back to where they were staying. Certainly they walked back into the pub as we got there at about 20 to 7.  The pub is, I think, in Dorset.  The B&B is in Devon.  And Somerset is just over there!!

We had a hearty dinner and went back to the B&B where The Builder drank wine and watched the football, and I went to sleep.  I was very, very tired for some reason

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Builder and I are medical guinea pigs :-)

Well now, that was an interesting day.

Some time ago The Builder and I received letters in the post inviting us to be participants in Biobank, which is a medical research project which stores medical, physical and dietary data, plus blood, urine and saliva samples for ever and ever and ever.  Well, indefinitely, anyway.

We decided that we might as well take part.  We are neither of us precious about our personal data.  And it sounded as though it might be fun.

I'm not sure it was fun, exactly.  But it was certainly interesting.  We had to fill in a comprehensive on-line questionnaire.  Then we were measured (waistline too capacious), weighed (too heavy) and had our body fat measured (too much for me :-( ).  We had our blood pressure taken (slightly too high) and our eyes and hearing tested.  We did lung function pufffffff tests (lung function good) and our heart rate taken (after 6 minutes on an exercise bike.  My knees did not enjoy the exercise bike - but my heart rates are fine).  We had an armload of blood removed and provided urine and spit samples.  Then we were offered a cup of tea and a biscuit (not for me thanks - it's *lunch* time, not biscuit time) and I had to fill in a questionnaire asking what I had eaten and drunk on Wednesday.

Then I went back to work and The Builder went to collect The Vixen from Meadowhall, where she was having a new windscreen fitted.

None of this, alas, means that we don't need to go for eye, hearing and various other medical tests as the need arises.  We don't ever hear what the results of any of the tests were - apart from the measurements which were printed out and given to us.  And apparently all the body fluids will be broken down into the tiniest of tiny samples so that medical researchers can have access to them for ever.

Getting a sandwich was problematic when I got back to work.  The student cafeteria was closed, the sandwich bar had run out of sandwiches and the soup and salad shop across the road had a queue stretching almost for ever.  Fortunately, the Adsetts Cafe came to the rescue!!

Right.  Must get up.  We're off to the border of Devon and Dorset this morning and we're not ready

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Freyja seems to have gone completely mad

Not only has she taken up roller derby skating - which I suppose could be explained as being a fun form of exercise and therefore good for her and so not mad at all - but she has now enrolled to participate in a skating marathon at the beginning of August.  OK - the cause is a good one. Raising funds for the Sheffield Children's Hospital.  But a marathon?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?  Isn't that something like 26 miles?  Bonkers, I  tell you.  Bonkers!!!!  (Although she has pointed out that she'll be on wheels so if she gets tired someone can push her.  Good thinking!!)

She is now begging for sponsorship so, if you're feeling charitable you can donate your pounds, dollars or whatever your currency of choice at the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls' charity page at

If you want to watch them Do Their Stuff, they are holding Sheffield's first ever Roller Derby Bout (which is a sport, vaguely like a race apparently) at Ponds Forge on July 24th from 3pm. Tickets are £6, Under 11s are free

And if you want to know more, their website is at    ( But mostly it seems to be girls in tight clothes bashing each other with sticks)

Freyja said...
There are no sticks! Just shoulders and bums for bashing. And I promise I won't bash you if you don't sponsor to the cause... but donations are definitely welcome :)