Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Our new office

So, I wandered up onto the desk this morning, nice and bright and early.  The Level 2 office looked like this

All my stuff has been packed up and is gone

When I came off the desk at 11, Peter's stuff, and mine, had made their way up to Level 7.  By the time I left to come home this evening, the new office looked like this

This is Peter's desk

And this is mine

We even have a window which you can see out of

We look out over the Sheffield City Centre.  Not a bad view

And there's not a student in sight!!

Could get used to this :-)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Avoiding frosts

I had been thinking of planting out some fo the seedlings last weekend.  Monday was the day I had earmarked for it.  But Monday dawned distinctly on the cool side.  It was spectacularly windy.  We had intermittent squalls of cold rain (but not really enough to be very useful).  I cahnged my mind and decided to hold to the original plan of waiting until the long weekend.

Just as well, really.  Last night they forecast the possibility of ground frosts!!  I don't think they materialised in our garden, but it was definitely cold when I got up this morning.  I don't think the squashes, pumpkins or sweet corn would have been very happy!  Things that are tolerably hardy are still suffering from the effects of that last, late, hard frost that we had!

On the other hand, many things are more than happy.  Here is the view from the kitchen on Sunday:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chicken Kievs

There's a program showing on the Good Food channel in the UK at the moment called Perfect... And they are looking at the perfect puddings, afternoon teas, "takeways" and so on. I think there are 14 or so different episodes. Anyway, one of them was Perfect Chicken and one of the chefs did a chicken kiev. In a twist, he rolled it up like a swiss roll rather than folding it into a classic kiev shape and I decided to give it a go.

I happened to have a couple of fillets hanging about, but they were very big. I decided to have one between us. I put it between sheets of baking parchment and flattened it out, bashing it with my rolling pin until it was lovely and thin. Then I liberally spread one side with butter and garlic and then laid fresh basil leaves on top. Then I rolled it up into a swiss roll, covered it with plastic wrap which is closed tightly around it, and then put it in the fridge for a couple of hours to rest and chill.

Then I followed my usual practice of double dipping in flour, egg and crunchy breadcrumbs, put it in a small baking dish (to catch any stray melted butter) and baked it in a moderate oven for about half an hour.

We had it with boiled jersey royals and asparagus in place of a Sunday roast.

Oh - and I turned the other fillet into chicken schnitzels and we had them on Monday evening with chips and more asparagus

Monday, May 23, 2011

A River Cottage inspired brunch

I have always thought that soda bread would be quite complicated to make, so I have never attempted it.  Then Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall made some on his River Cottage Everyday series.  And more recently, the Barefoot Contessa made some on one of her programs.

I have to say, it didn't look that complicated.  I decided to give it a go.

But where to source buttermilk?  Turns out in the cream section at the supermarkets.

So on Sunday I decided to have a bash.  And I have to say it's dead easy.  Even easier than making a cake.  Considerably less time reliant than yeast breads.  And extremely delicious into the bargain.  I won't give you a recipe - there are loads available out there

In the River Cottage Everyday series, they also made bacon chops, lightly cured over night.  I decided to give it a go with some pork steaks rather than chops.  That was remarkably easy as well - although I think that next time I might drop the salt levels a little and raise the sugar levels.  After all, you are not curing the meat for storage purposes but for the taste and I prefer my bacon less salty. I might also put some honey in as well.  I like a slight honey hint in my bacon.

So I took 50g of salt, 25g of demerara sugar, two teaspoons of juniper berries, crushed, and crushed black pepper corns.  The recipe calls for bay leaves as well, but our bay tree died in the winter and hasn't been replaced yet.  Put the cure ingredients into a plastic box and mix around.  Press into both sides of the meat, put a lid on the box, put the whole lot in the fridge and leave for 8-12 hours.  Rinse well, pat dry and cook.  And there you go

So we had our bacon steaks with the soda bread and with home produced fried eggs and with not home produced grilled cherry tomatoes and mushrooms for brunch.

And very. very good it was too. A mighty fine Sunday brunch!

At least it looks like it's supposed to!!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fish and chips

I really fancied fish and chips for tea last night but the local chip shop changed hands a bit over a year ago and the quality has seriously gone downhill since. So I decide to make my own.

Waitrose has some nice pieces of Hake on offer, so I bought a good sized fillet which I later cut in half.  While I was there I also bought a squid bit, which I cut into rings.  And I decided to do the fish and squid in breadcrumbs rather than batter.  While I was about it, I also bought some baking potatoes.

Back at home I dipped the fish pieces and the squid rings in flour, egg and Japanese style breadcrumbs, and then I did all three stages again.  I cut the (peeled) potatoes into chunky chip shapes and parboiled them.  Then I fried them in batches in very hot oil until they were colouring up.  While they were draining I fried the fish pieces until they were crisp and golden.  Then I fried the chips again until they were crisp and crunchy, and then the fish again just to crisp it up a bit.  The squid rings I did last of all, just once.

I served all this with boiled peas, lemon wedges and balsamic vinegar on the chips.  It was extremely delicious. The Builder even had a second helping of chips (or the few that I didn't have room to eat!). It also didn't take all that long to prepare.  Probably no longer than it would have taken to walk to the chippy, wait in line, wait for the food be be cooked and walk home again!

But I forgot to take photos :-S

All alone in the Level 2 office

The University is planning a big refurb of Levels 2 and 3 over this summer, bringing those levels up to the standard that was set by the amazing redevelopment of Level 4 last summer. This of course means that the staff offices have to be vacated.  If you are having a major redevelopment done and the floor is closed to everyone, it would be slightly unreasonable to expect the staff to abseil into the offices through the rather small windows!

We've know that this was coming for some time and have been getting ready, throwing things away, sorting things out, packing up.

And on Friday, moving people came and moved all the staff from our office into a bright, sunny, shiny office near the coffee shop on Level 4.

All the staff, except me ;-(  There's no room for me in the new office.  I am left, a little oasis of life, in an otherwise abandoned and deserted landscape.

(There are still some students out on the floor, and Peter is still in his office next door, but it is definitely very quiet in the office all on my own.  Even quieter given that I don't have a printer now, or even a working telephone.)

I am obviously going to have to hone my abseiling skills!!

(Or move with Peter, next Friday, up into a little, sunny, bright office up on Level 7, pro tem)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The allotment as it stands today.  We picked up a bag of Sante maincrop potatoes at the weekend at the Chatsworth Garden Centre for the princely sum of £2 for 45 or so seed potatoes.  This was something of a bargain!  We also picked up some lettuce seeds and some cucumber seeds.  Not quite such a bargain - but the cucumber seeds were a much better deal than the £4 for 5 seed packet that I first chanced upon!

I have had my first strawberry from the new strawberry plants.  There are more coming along.

We still have had no significant rain, although mercifully no more severe frosts either.  But the vegetables and fruit trees are all rather thirsty.  But it has also been very much cloudier, cooler and windier over the past couple of days with odd spots of rain.

The Builder has been doing a great job working on the veg beds and has now turned his attention to the shed at the bottom of the garden.  He has been slowly but surely emptying it out, and moving all the junk up to the top of the driveway.  This has attracted the attention of a couple of "rag and bone" men, or scrap merchants as they call themselves, who (with permission, of course) have been gleefully clearing away all the metal rubbish. Saves us hiring a skip!

The flower garden is still looking beautiful.  The plants in the pond seem to have recovered from their ruthless uprooting, chopping and replanting and are beginning to grow again.  The seedlings in the greenhouse are flourishing.  The new asparagus plants and putting up more spears. We are eating the spears from the old plants. The allotment is almost entirely under cultivation now.  All is good :-)

More food

And it was another weekend filled with food, although we decided not to go to any of the food festivals that were on offer over the weekend.  Instead we pottered about at home and close by.  We went out to Rowsley to the mill for some bread flour.  We went to Chatsworth to the garden centre and the farm shop.  We pootled in the garden and pottered in the kitchen and ate and drank and generally had a good time.

I am not working on Mondays during May.  The first and last Mondays in the month are bank holidays.  I booked yesterday off so I could go to a meeting of sorts.  That got moved to the previous Monday so I booked that one off as well.  And that left one lonely, sad, unbooked Monday all on its own.  So I booked that off as well :-)  I have to say I have been enjoying my long weekends.  It's going to be a horrible shock when June trundles along and I have to start working on Mondays again!

Yesterday we went into town.  We don't often get the chance to potter about in Chesterfield, unencumbered by time constraints.  The Builder took the opportunity to go into one of the banks to cancel his account (its an extraneous one that has long outlived its usefulness).  While he was doing that I went for a roam around the market and the shops. I ventured into the tourist information centre. I had a nice walk around.  And eventually he emerged from the bank and we went to the Rutland for lunch (good, plentiful, inexpensive pub food, you may remember).  Then we went home and I settled in for some serious afternoon and evening television watching and The Builder went to an Allotment Meeting in one of the local pubs that we have never ventured into.  It's not a food pub so I don't suppose we'll have much reason to go in - we don't tend to go drinking in pubs; more eating.

My weekend sort of drifted into today.  I'm on an evening shift at Collegiate and spent the morning at home making ice cream and biscuits and other yummy things.  A nice gentle, deferred start to the week  :-)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dishcloth swap

Some months ago Lindsey drew my attention to some self-sufficiency type blogs that she follows.  One or two of them I then followed as well.  There's one in New Zealand, one in Queensland, one in the UK.  I don't follow them daily, but I do keep in general touch.

A few weeks ago the Queensland based blog decided that it would be fun for people who read the blog and play in the forum to knit dishcloths and then swap with  a partner selected by one of the organisers.  Sounded like fun to me, so I signed up and began making squares.  Crocheted, rather than knitted in my case.  Months and months ago I bought on eBay a bundle of wool scraps and I have been occupying myself on the train to and from work crocheting the little squares.

Then I crocheted them together

Then I decided that it needed a backing square.  So I made one

 And then I crocheted them together

I must say that I think it's really rather lovely, though it has turned itself more into a pot holder than a dishcloth.

But there was something of an irony that, with people in four or five countries for my swap buddy to have come from, she should live in Mornington, a mere ten minutes away from where my parents live!!!!!!!

In the meantime, it crosses my mind that if I made large blanket like squares I could have lovely and cheap (if remarkably old fashioned!!) reupholstery for the lounge room furniture which is beginning to look rather tatty

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


We had a very sharp frost one evening last week.  It has singed the grape vine, decimated the cherries on the morello cherry tree (but not, mostly, on the sweet cherry trees) and even singed the kiwi vine in the greenhouse - and we knew there was a frost coming and had closed the door!  The strawberries also got a bit singed.  The enthusiasts on the allotments, who had put some of their summer veg plants out have suffered for their prematurity :-S

Let this be a lesson to us all.  May, no matter how beguiling, no matter how summery, is still only spring and it is TOO EARLY to plant things out.  Not that I have done - but it was tempting!!

We have finally had some nice rain.  But my stressed apple tree is still stressed.  I don't know what's wrong with it, only that its leaves have gone all limp and sad.  It'll have to take its chances.  If it doesn't recover, a new one will replace it next spring!!

We have now reached the 1000 milestone of eggs laid since we got the chickens.  Not bad considering they've only been with us for 11 months

Lots of food

It was definitely a weekend filled with food!  We had a jolly evening in Zeugmas with the work team on Friday.  They do cheerful and hearty plates of food for not a whole lot of money.  I have learned not to have a starter!!  I really enjoyed my lamb shish kebab.  The Builder very definitely enjoyed his mixed grill.  I am not usually a big fan of long grained rice - but Zeugmas rice is delicious!

Then on Saturday we decamped around to Tabitha and Gareth's place in the evening, armed with what was essentially a vegetarian moussaka (minus the yucky egg plant!) and a couple of bottles of wine.  Ginger Rich joined us (armed with what I thought initially was a jerry can of petrol, but it turned out to be a jerry can of beer from a shop which allows you to buy various different types of beer and have them decanted into receptacles of your choice).  Freyja did not - she was off to a birthday party and therefore not available. It was a good evening.  But next time I might make pasta and have lasagne instead.  Or I might do something entirely different!

Sunday we had our regular Sunday roast (slow roasted shoulder of lamb) with baby Jersey Royal potatoes, asparagus from the garden and sprouting broccoli not, alas, from the garden.  We followed that with a rhubarb flan made with home made pastry, home made custard stuff and allotment grown rhubarb.  It was even moderately healthy.  I made the custard with low fat milk and creme fraiche, to offset the butter in the pastry :-P

All of this partying (Easter, Royal Wedding, Workers' Day, this weekend just gone) has been a lot of fun and very delicious.  But it hasn't half played havoc with my waistline.  I fear another diet may be upon us, unless we want to buy new party clothes for the wedding in August!!

About a week ago, The Builder woke up one morning to find himself profoundly deaf.  Since then he has hardly heard anything..  He could hardly hear the telly unless it was turned up so the whole of Tupton could hear it. Fortunately most programs have subtitles.  He couldn't hear the radio.  He couldn't hear me, even if I was asking if he fancied another glass of wine.  He went to meetings and heard not a word.  It was all deeply frustrating for him.  Not to mention for the rest of us as well!! He's been pouring olive oil into his ears (he wouldn't let me add vinegar, garlic and basil!!!).  And yesterday it was finally time for him to go into Clay Cross and visit the practice nurse.  And lo - he can hear again!!  He is very profoundly relieved.  He definitely did not enjoy life in a world of slightly hissing silence!

For a variety of reasons, I am not working on Mondays during May, so I went into Clay Cross with him.  Tesco is not my supermarket of choice, but there is a brand new and very large one in Clay Cross which I thought it might be interesting to drop in and have a look at.  I have to say that I was very impressed with the fish counter and fairly impressed with the wine choices.  I have added it to my list of emergency, 24 hour supermarkets.  Not that I often have overnight supermarket emergencies, but if I did, this one is probably the closest of the 24 hour ones.  And the next time I am planning something fishy or seafoody for dinner, I might be persuaded to go and fossick among their fishy offerings.

I was remarkably unimpressed to be woken by the phone at 04:00 this morning.  Not because I object to talking to people in the middle of the night. If you have something interesting to tell me, then please feel free to do so.  But I would really prefer it if you did not ring in the middle of the night and then giggle and hang up when I answer.  I can, however, tell you that it is pretty nearly light at 04:00 at the moment.  And that it had been raining but wasn't at that moment.  And that the birds think it is a mighty fine time to be singing and making merry

Friday, May 06, 2011

Chit Chat

Ross is now back in Australia.  He went to London on the lunchtime train on Wednesday, waved off by Tabitha, Gareth, Cally and Freyja.  Then they came across the road to my office to say hello to me.

We knew they were coming.  We could hear Cally objecting strongly for at least a minute before they came into the office! I wondered if she perhaps had an objection to being in a library, or maybe being surrounded by students.  But it turned out she was objecting to a distinct lack of lunch!!  You can see her point.  I object when lunch is lacking too!!

Cally had her lunch.  Freyja trundled off back to work.  Tabitha, Gareth, Cally and I ambled over to the Millennium Gallery and armed ourselves with ice cream and then went for a stroll through the Winter Gardens and the Peace Gardens while we ate them.  Then we all went our separate ways and I came back to work.

Our Japanese classes started again last week after the Easter holidays.  This seemed a bit odd to me.  I know that Sheffield schools had gone back after the break but Chesterfield ones hadn't.  And it was a very short week, what with the Easter holidays weekend and the Friday Wedding bank holiday and everything.  Plus both lots of Uni students were still on vacation.  Last week really seemed like a vacation week to me.  So I wasn't really looking forward to my Japanese lesson.  I wanted to go home. 

Freyja was having similar thoughts up in her office at T'Other Place.  She was tired and also wanted to go home.  She communicated this to me by email.  We were just deciding that nevertheless we Had To Go to class when - in popped an email into my inbox from the school announcing that classes on Thursday had been cancelled because of a problem with the water main.  Freyja and I were a bit startled.  We were unaware that our psychic powers extended to bursting water mains just so that we could go home early!!!!!  We are going to have to be more careful in future in what we wish for!  We went to class last night.  It was a bit of a worry how much we had forgotten in three weeks.  I really must get back to listening to my language tapes, and to using all that online material I bought!

I had lunch with Tabitha and Cally again today. They had come into town for a health check up and to check out the shops.  We went to the soup and salad shop across the road from the Adsetts Centre and sat outside in the sunshine.  Was very pleasant.  And I'm off out to dinner tonight as well.  The work crew and partners are all off to a Turkish food place on London Road this evening.  I do like Turkish food :-)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Mayday Bank Holiday

The garden is suffering from the long lack of rain, but it is also looking very pretty this year, mostly down to the Under Gardener's vigorous weeding and digging.  He has now also dug over all the beds in the kitchen garden, except the one with the cabbages in.  Now he has turned his attention to that patch of wasteland behind the shed (up by the grape vine) and has created two new beds.  One is dug and nearly ready for planting. The other is nearly dug.  the path has been properly trodden down.

I have now potted on my tumbling and standard tomatoes and planted seeds of cabbage, chard, more sweet corn, and seaside daisy.  Everything is doing really well.  Even the pumpkin seeds, which I was beginning to think had upped and died on me, have now germinated.  We are eating pickings of asparagus, and the new asparagus plants are beginning to show signs of life.  Each row has two or three plants with spears in evidence.

My Hangingwater apple tree was beginning to look very stressed indeed.  So we put the hose on it and left iot for a couple of hours.  The tree looks less stressed now, but not entirely happy.  But it is weeks and weeks and weeks since we've had any rain.  We are putting the hose on the other trees now too.  They are all covered in baby fruit. It would be a pity if lack of water were to get them!

One of the Lohman chickens has been very broody for the past couple of weeks.  I think we might have dissuaded her now - she's coming out of the coop much more and is following the other chooks around more happily.  We are getting an average of 3 eggs a day.  In April we got 93 eggs at a cost of .007p per egg.  In total since the chooks arrived at the end of  June last year we've had 982 eggs at a cost of 46p per egg.

The biggest thing we've done recently is to clean out the fish pond.  It's been looking very murky and horrid for a while now.  The filter has broken. There was a crack in the wall at the back.  We had thought of catching the fish and putting them in one of the water butts, but then we discovered that the square at the back of the pond is separated from the main part by a low wall.  Usually there is enough water for the fish to swim over it, but the drop in water levels over the past few weeks meant we could empty the back part and clear it out and mend the wall, which the Under Gardener did  few days ao, then bucket the water from the main pond onto the garden and transfer the fish into the newly filled square at the back.  That took all morning on Monday but was a surprisingly fun activity.  And the fish are really enjoying their newly de-mudded pond with nice clean water (although we mixed it with quite a bit of the original pond water so it didn't come as too much of a shock!).  Now we just need a new filter.

Refilling the fish pond - under close supervision!
 The days are being sunny and warm and dry.  But it is only just May.  The nights are cold.  And frosty.  All tender plants and seedlings remain in the greenhouse.  We close the greenhouse at night.  Must not let the weather lull us into a truly false sense of security!!

Sunday, May 01, 2011


For a little while Freyja has been considering the possibility of a move to Bangor.  None of us knew very much about Bangor, other than that it is in North Wales and that it is pretty much the gateway to Angelsey.  Tony tells me that I went there when we went on holiday in Prestatyn - but I would only have been 5 or 6 and have no clear memories of Bangor at all (though I do remember Lindsey and me having a great time in the holiday camp playing with pedal cars).  I have been there since, when I was staying with a friend in Llandudno, but only passing through on our way to a visit to Angelsey.  Neither of these really armed us with sufficient information for Freyja to make a decision.

So yesterday we all piled in the car, Freyja, Simon, Ross, The Builder, a picnic and me - and off we went for a look see.

We decided to go across country, rather than along the motorways, partly because you get to see more of the countryside, but also so that the Builder and I could investigate the "how we get there to visit" options should Freyja actually decide to run away to the country.   It was a very pretty drive and I really enjoyed it.  Alas - it didn't do much for the comfort of those sat in the back of the car.  The roads were very winding and twisty and the stomachs in the back found it all a bit of a struggle.  fortunately, the last bit of the trip was along a straight road with magnificent views of the sea.

We had a lovely time in Bangor.  We had our picnic in the grounds of the rather cute cathedral.  Ross went for a look at the church and then for a stroll through town.  Freyja and Simon went up to inspect the very imposing University buildings high above the city.  The Builder and I went to look at the High Street and its surrounds.  Then we all met in the tea room at the end of the pier for a nice cuppa and an assessment.

The Builder and I thought that the High Street was looking very pretty and festive and summery.  It was decked out in summer and Royal Wedding bunting and the sun was shining and there were people milling about obviously having a good time.  But off the High Street there were lots of empty shops and a general down-at-heel feel to the place. It looked like the kind of place that is lovely in the sunshine but deeply grim in the winter! And we felt that if Freyja was going to move there she would need to give up her interests in film and roller derby and take up shooting, kick boxing and drinking (there were LOTS of pubs, many fish and chip shops, plus a couple of kick boxing places and a gun shop!).

Freyja could see the romance of becoming a recluse by the sea in a remote-ish part of Wales for a couple of years, taking tea on the pier, reading and studying, not doing a very great deal.  But Bangor is difficult to escape from if you don't have a car. And it would be unfortunate if, having got there, the romance of it all palled very quickly (which I think it might very well do) and you found yourself stuck there with no practical means of escape.  Nice place for a day trip, a weekend, even a holiday.  And perhaps even as a place to live for lazy middle aged people who are happy just to veg along.  But maybe not for someone in her mid-20s.

Freyja has decided not to move there.  And The Builder and I have decided that we might go for a weekend visit to Angelsey one day when time allows.  We didn't get around to collecting either the Menai or the Britannia bridges and I really would rather like to.

We came home along the motorways.  No twisty roads on them.  Well - not until we got to the Snake Pass to get us from Manchester to Sheffield.  But you have to drive that quite slowly and gently and the views are such that no stomach would object!