Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Friday, October 28, 2011

A mid-week day off

At some point last week I was musing that it was very nice to have a table booked at the Nettle for their Italian themed evening. Nicer still that Bea and Steve were coming with us. We don't go to the themed evenings very often. They have them every 8 weeks or so, but they are always on a Tuesday, which is not an entirely convenient evening for going out revelling if you happen to work full time!  Mostly we go if I am off anyway on the Wednesday. And mostly the evening are full of food, full of wine and finish quite late (at least by my standards).

I consulted my diary to see if maybe I could go in a bit later on the Wdnesday following the Italian evening. And discovered that on that Wednesday, unexpectedly and quite remarkably - my diary was completely empty.

I booked the whole day off :-)

We had a really lovely evening. As predicted, it was full of food, full of wine and finished quite late (at least by my standards). I particularly enjoyed the deconstructed pizza - a warm bread roll which you could fill with your choice of charcuterie, olives, mozarella, tomatoes. It was nice to have an evening of gentle chat with Bea and Steve. It was a lovely evening.

And it was particularly lovely that I didn't need to bounce out of bed at 6:00 on Wednesday morning.  The Builder, of course, is retired, so no need for bouncing for him.  Bea was on an evening shift so also had no need to leap from her bed at an early hour.  Spare a thought for poor Steve who alas did have to go to work first thing on Wednesday morning!

We had a nice, gentle morning on Wednesday, pottering about. Then The Buidler went to the surgery to see if they could work out why he is getting a bit breathless when rushing about. They did blood tests and a blood pressure test. They did a puff test. They stuck a thingy on his finger to measure how much oxygen his blood is getting. It was all very exciting for him. He has to go for an xray of his lungs as well. But the doctor doesn't seem to think that there is much amiss - and probably nothing that losing a bit of girth won't fix.

While he was doing that, I pootled into Sheffield and met Tabitha, Cally and Ginger Rich for a wander about the Woodseats shops. That was quite fun too. there is a good butcher. There is a good fishmonger. There are LOTS of charity shops, but we didn't trouble those much. We did trouble the book shop, largely because it is closing down and was selling books very cheaply. We ate chips and met Gaz on his lunch break.  And then I went home again.

I rather like having Wednesdays off. Should do it more often.  And we have booked into The Nettle's next themed night which is another Chocolate evening early in December.  We are hopeful that this time it might not be snowed off.  And I have booked the WEdnesday off, partly for expediency but mostly because it is my birthday :-)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mid October and Autumn is in full swing in the garden

Pretty much ever since we moved into The Sidings, The Builder and I have found it quite frustrating that you walk straight from the back courtyard into the kitchen. It has always meant that you get very wet while struggling with packages and bags and things while trying to unlock the back door when it's raining. And it is impossible to keep the kitchen floor even approximating clean. For a long time we have been thinking about the ;possibility of putting a porch up to keep the area dry - and to give us a bit of extra storage space.  And now the project is getting very close to complete.

We (well, when I say "we" !!!) still need to glass in the windows and to paint the walls.  Then The Builder is going to re-concrete the floor and lay down lino. He also thinks he'll be able to put a light out there, which would be useful - it is very dark in the porch at night!

Marlo, in the meantime, is a bit puzzled about what we're up to, but is definitely enjoying having a nice dry area outside the kitchen door to lie about it!

The seaside daisies that we put in along the shrubbery have settled in very nicely and are communing happily with the digitalis plants that have come along uninvited. The hollyhocks are growing well. All I need to do now is sort out the wild strawberries and the buttercups which have colonised the path and are making a move into the shrubbery!  It's all looking very pretty though (if slightly unkempt)

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting to find rosebuds at this time of year!

We are beginning to clear up the flower beds and have started planting some more spring flowering bulbs.  I have put fritillaries along the side of the top flower bed, and also along the path in the bottom flower bed. I've also started clearing up alongside the fence and am putting bulbs in there as well.  In total I have 100 fritillaries, 40 dwarf narcissus and 15 tulips. We're going to put the tulips and some of the narcissus in the herb bed up by the pond

The grape vines have really run amok this year!  The Builder is considering extending the trellis so it covers over the patio, then we will train the grape vine over the top to provide a bit of a weather break. We'll also put two new grapevines in on the other side so they can meet in the middle. It will be a living gazebo :-)

We have had a plentiful harvest of small but very sweet grapes this year. And they may be small - but they're bigger than last year's crop

We have just started pulling up the zucchini plants, which did remarkably well this year. We have also pulled all the sweet corn, which also did very well. The carrot boxes are down to their last few carrots. But we still have lots and lots of chard/silverbeet and the cabbages and caulis are also now providing small but tasty additions to the veg plates

Schnitzel, Parsley and coriander coming to see what I'm doing
The chickens have definitely been off the lay lately. Coriander has been off the lay for months - ever since she went broody late in the spring.  But now only Parsley is laying regularly.  Kiev is definitely moulting and therefore isn't laying. Schnitzel is (I think) laying every three or four days.  There was one day last week when we had no eggs at all, for the first time in 18 months. And also for the first time in 18 months, on Saturday I actually had to buy some eggs!! Fortunately, the local dairy farm where we buy our milk and cream also sells fresh eggs - obviously not as nice as our eggs, but better than those on offer in the supermarkets

Marlo watching the hens watching me

It looks as though we  might actually get some sprouts this year. They're only small, but bigger than last year's were. And last year the sprout plants got covered in half a metre of snow and more or less froze to death. I am hopeful that this year there will be less snow!

Looking back up towards the house


 The cherry tomatoes in the greenhouse in the garden are still producing quite well. Things are winding down up on the allotment, although the heritage tomato plants continue to produce delicious fruits. But we've had our last cucumber and The Under Gardener is beginning to think about putting the allotment to bed for the winter. And we are beginning to think about the potatoes and other plants for next spring.

And he has planted the garlic and the over-wintering onions up in the garden.  Time to start the garden maps for 2012 :-)
The car now seems to be better.  The Builder took it to Nick The Mechanic during the week, who took it for a good drive and put it on his diagnostic computer and couldn't find anything wrong.  He diagnosed dirty fuel.  So The Builder put more fuel in the tank and added a fuel cleaning liquid and so far it seems to be running smoothly again. 

I didn't go to my Japanese class on Thursday evening, though.  I wasn't sure about this diagnosis, and had no wish to find myself stuck on the Dronfield bypass at 9:30 in the evening with a car that refused to go!  But we took it to Chatsworth and round about on Saturday and it went perfectly well, so I have decided it must be better after all :-D

We didn't go to London, which had been the original plan for this Saturday. By the time it was clear that the car probably would take us to London and back, we had already put Freyja off and she had made other plans.  We'll go down and see her in November.  Instead, we just pottered around.  The Builder put some more work in to the new porch.  I baked and roasted and stewed. We did a little light gardening. It was all rather laid back and rather peaceful. And it was the last appointment-free weekend that we have for 5 or 6 weeks, now that I come to look at my diary.

Said I was tired, though - each evening I was asleep in my comfy armchair by 8:00 and had to be shooken awake at bedtime!!!  Just as well I don't have a big and squishy comfy armchair!!!!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cream of tomato soup (and coffee cupcakes)

I still have a mountain of tomatoes from the greenhouses and was pondering what to do with the latest harvest - a little under 1.5 kg of various sorts of tomatoes).  So I cut them all in half and put them cut side up on a baking tray then scattered finely chopped garlic over them and drizzled extra virgin olive oil over them.  I roasted them in the oven at 150d for about an hour and then passed them through a fine sieve until i had roasted tomatoey goodness in a bowl and only dried skins and pips in the sieve.

Then I tasted the sauce.  It was absolutely delicious. So good that I thought it would make fabulous cream of tomato soup.  Although - I probably didn't really want to put 300 ml of cream into the tomato soup.  It still tasted wonderful, but now was a sort of tomatoey cream rather than a creamy tomato soup!

Fortunately, I still had quite a lot of cherry tomatoes around, not to mention some small shallots.  So I finely sliced the shallots and put them and the cherry tomatoes into a frying pan with some butter and some sunflower oil (not a lot of either) and fried them down until the shallots were slightly golden and the cherry tomatoes were soft.  Then I added them to the tomato cream and then some home made chicken stock to slacken it all down a bit.

And I have to say that the resulting soup was absolutely wonderful. I had a bowlful for lunch with some buttered soda bread.

Since I had the oven on, I decided to make some cupcakes as well.  Coffee cupcakes are a real pleasure after a bowl of tomato soup :-)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Last week

... was sat there, brooding and dark, even when I went home last Friday evening.  I knew it was there, lurking.

I was aware of it all over last weekend, an oppressive presence, rather like a forthcoming thunderstorm, casting shards of glooming fingers through Saturday and Sunday.

Yet Monday dawned sunny and bright. My lecture went quite well.  So far, so good.  1 down and only 4 to go

Tuesday remained sunny and bright. 3 classes, seemingly well received. Not too bad. 2 down

Wednesday had sat in the middle of the week looking alarming. 2 hours on the desk, made all the more disconcerting when the bookings system overnight decided that all of the rooms, equipment and kit on level 4 had been decommissioned - and cancelled everybody's bookings for anything on level 4 for the whole of the rest of time!!!  This introduced a high level of chaos into the week. But mercifully the students were patient and friendly. The desk session was followed by a two hour meeting, which was followed by a brief interlude which allowed for lunch. Then came another hour on the desk and another meeting. And quite abruptly it was time to go home, the hump of the week was broken and the day had been survived. 3 down, only 2 to go.

Thursday and Friday each had two classes and one desk session, just not in the same order. 4 down, and then all done.  Quite abruptly, the busiest week of the year in my diary was done.

And here we are.  It's Saturday morning again.  There is no dark cloud hovering over this weekend. The week that loomed so darkly over last weekend has been vanquished (and actually was quite a pleasant week, in the end, topped by the first year students and tailed by the final years, all of whom were engaged and charming). And I have been paid so we can go out and re-stock the larder and visit Chatsworth and re-stock the upright freezer.

So not too bad, to say that I had been aware of the week commencing 17th October for many weeks and was definitely not looking forward to it.  Went quite well, all things considered.

I'm a bit on the tired side, though

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night

And it was.  It was extremely windy. And the wind was accompanied, from time to time, by bursts of very heavy rain.

The Builder has completed putting up the side panels for the kitchen porch and has finished putting the plastic over the top to form a lid.

He has not, yet, put a panel in over the door leading to the driveway, and the "wall" on the other side, leading to the garden is still completely exposed apart from a door.

The wind had a merry game, blowing in through the holes in the "walls" and trying to dislodge the plastic roofing.

It was all quite noisy, especially when you add in the noise that the fan oven makes when it's turned on!

So I wasn't immediately aware that there was a fairly rhythmic banging noise going on until there was a sudden lull in the windy plastic game and the oven noise subsided a bit.

What on earth is it?  The oven about to explode? The roof about to explode?  Some mad person engaged in a spot of DIY outside in the storm?

No idea. But whatever it is, it's now making the kitchen vibrate :-S

The Builder ambled in from the lounge room.  "What do you suppose Sean is doing?" he asked.  Sean is the next door neighbour on the other side of the kitchen.  "It sounds as though he is attacking his kitchen or dining room with a sledge hammer!"

And that was exactly what it sounded as though he was doing (and it explained the banging noise).  But I guess if people wish to attack their houses with sledge hammers, there's nothing to stop them. I stopped worrying about it and went back to making my shepherd's pie.

The Builder ambled off.

And suddenly there was an almighty banging noise on the (new) back door, leading to the driveway.


I went to investigate. And it was Sean on the hunt for a crowbar. He had locked himself out of his house and his Yale locks were entirely resistant to whatever it was he was trying to break them down with.

So that explained that!!

The Builder, of course, has a crowbar. He and Sean trundled down in the wind and the rain, armed with a torch, to the shed at the bottom of the garden and Sean disappeared home with the crowbar.  A couple of huge bangs later he was back, back door now in bits (his, not ours).

Would seem easier, though, to have a spare key at our place. We are reasonably trustworthy when it comes to other people's keys!

After that it was a relatively uninteresting dark and stormy night.  It was noticeably chillier this morning when I got up. But it's a truly beautiful morning in Sheffield now, although I am told it remains blustery

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dressing gowns

I am in the fortunate position of possessing four dressing gowns.

Now you might consider this to be slightly excessive. I probably don't actually *need* four dressing gowns. But one of them is a big, thick, snuggly depth of winter dressing gown that I wear when the temperature is absolutely freezing. And one is the lightest of light summer dressing gowns that you don't need for warmth but for decorum's sake should you need to go outside in your summer night attire, or have visitors. The other two are mid-weight dressing gowns, one a bit warmer than the other. These are the two I wear most often and which one I wear depends entirely on the temperature inside the house, although I wear the lighter, purple one more often in the summer and the heavier, green one more often in the winter. Obviously!

The super snuggly one was washed at the end of the last winter and hung in the wardrobe. A few weeks later the green one was washed and went in. A little after that my very light summer one came out.  This weekend I have washed it and put it back in the wardrobe.  It was hardly worth washing it. I think I've worn it a mere handful of times this summer.  It was not the hottest of summers that I have lived through since I came to England.  And my green dressing gown came back out of the wardrobe a mere few weeks after it went in.  Some bits of the summer were positively chilly!!

This weekend just gone, however, was not chilly at all. At least, not during the daytime. Proper autumn weather it was.  Cool and even a bit drizzly in the early mornings, followed by gloriously sunny later mornings and afternoons, followed by cool, nearly cold nights.  Lovely, it was. Although I think the summer veg might be coming to the end of their useful lives. They are not enjoying the colder nights any more than I would were it not for the fact that I have a lovely feathery, downy, cuddly doona to keep me cosy.

We went to the Chatsworth farm shop for a few supplies on Saturday. Now this would hardly count as news. I'm sure you all know that we go there fairly regularly. But Saturday's trip was very much more, um, exciting than it would usually be.  As we were driving along, the Builder suddenly said: What on earth is the car doing?  I couldn't see a car. But he meant ours. The one we were driving in. Out in the middle of the Derbyshire countryside.  I don't know.  What is it doing?  Losing power, apparently.  Three times on the way to Chatsworth it suddenly began to slow down and lose its acceleration.  Getting back home again required careful, gentle driving on The Builder's part and encouraging exhortations from me to the car along the lines of: Come on, you can get to the top of the hill; keep trying. Then suddenly it seemed to shake itself and trundle along as normal.  But I think that we might not go to London in it, as was the plan, on Saturday unless it's been inspected by Nick the Mechanic and possibly fixed. I have no wish for it to decide that it can't get any further half way along the M1!!

No other excitements except that The Builder had a delivery of wood boards during the week and has started putting up the side wall for the back porch. You never know - it might be finished by the time winter kicks in

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roller derby and chocolate brownies

I thought, when we went to watch Freyja captain her team in a bout against Nottingham, that we might have gone to the wrong bout. That one was organised by Nottingham (so why, you may wonder, was it in Sheffield) and it was held at the skating rink, which I'm sure is fine for skating but isn't so good as a spectator venue. There isn't anywhere comfortable for specators to sit, or to see. There isn't room for a proper bar. There is no cafe. There wasn't really even any room for many merchandising stalls.

We should have gone instead to the one that Freyja organised on Sunday, which was held at Ponds Forge and which had a circus theme. There were lots of stalls and there was a proper bar. The spectator seats are comfortable and well-lit  And, of course, at Ponds Forge, there are lots of cafes and snack bars.

But we hadn't gone. We were at home.  I was, in fact, in the kitchen, baking brownies and making baked beans and generally amusing myself by cooking, while watching the bout on the internet.  You could hear the announcer nice and clearly (the one at the previous bout had been practically swallowing the microphone and was absolutely inaudible). I could see (although I would probably have been able to see if I had been watching the Nottingham bout on the internet, I guess). Lots of other people could see too - the announcer mentioned at one point that they could see people peering in through the gallery windows, presumably wondering what was going on. The announcer also announced that I was at home baking brownies :-D  (I had mentioned it on the chat facility on the internet site; he wasn't being clairvoyant!!!)

Otherwise it was  peaceful and relaxed weekend.  I was at work on Saturday afternoon, but at Collegiate Crescent, where I very seldom go any more. So it was a bit like a little holiday. Apart from that we did almost nothing other than eat nice food and drink nice wine.

Freyja wishes to point out that there was absolutely no reason why we shouldn't have gone to both bouts.  Attendance is not rationed. Taffa and Cally went to both.  So did Gaz, but he was there in some working capacity at Ponds Forge.  This is very true.  But sometimes it's nice to stay at home, watch on the internet and bake brownies!

I have been a bit worried this week.  We're deep into October. The mornings are darker. The days are shorter. There is mist and fog in the valley when we get up.  So why is my diary almost empty this week?  What, I wonder, have I forgotten to do :-S

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sunday baking

I wanted some butter yesterday and decided rather than going all the way to the supermarket to get it, I would go to the dairy and buy cream and make my own butter.  I rather enjoy making butter and it certainly tastes nice.

I used the resulting buttermilk to make some soda bread.  I only had 200 ml of buttermilk so cut my River Cottage recipe in half and made a small loaf using some spelt flour that I was given recently. 250g spelt flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda and 200 ml of buttermilk, mixed to a soft dough and put into a preheated 200d oven for 25 minutes resulted in this:

While I was in the kitchen I decided to make some chocolate brownies, using Bill Granger's recipe in The Age, except that I reduced the sugar to 250g. 350g of sugar seemed to me to be unnecessarily sweet!  The brownies were very delicious.  So much so that I can hear the ones sat in the plastic cake box in the office singing to me - and it's much to early to be eating chocolate brownies!!!

While we were in Japan in August, the runner beans were left unpicked and grew rather too large for eating en pod. So we left them for a while until the beans had grown a bit more then picked them all to use the beans.  Some of them had started to dry. The fresh ones are in the freezer. The dried ones I soaked in water for 24 hours and then simmered for an hour. Then I put them and a mountain of fresh tomatoes into the slow cooker for 8 hours with the addition of one dessertspoon of brown sugar.  We had beans on toast for breakfast this morning

We have had to buy a new freezer.  The little chest freezer we bought in 2007 has proved to be too small for this year's harvest.  We have bought one that is three times the size.  I have asked Farmer Jayne to provide me with a sheep and half a pig to fill the bottom of the new freezer :-)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

October :-S

I was listening to someone on the radio a little while ago who mentioned in passing that they were doing something in October but that "October is ages away yet".

No it isn't.  October is never ages away. October is always there, lurking in the undergrowth, growling quietly. October digs silent little elephant traps and loiters by them sniggering soundlessly. October peeps at you over the hedgerows and glances at you among the Christmas lights and smiles at you sneakily on Sundays. October is looming on the horizon even on November the 1st. October lulls you into a peaceful, calm defencelessness through July and August and then abruptly and suddenly POUNCES

October has pounced!

The students are all back and my diary is filled with inductions, workshops, lectures, seminars, not to mention the desk shifts and other things that fill my time right through the year.  It is true that I do all the lecturing and workshops and other things through the year as well, but not quite as intensively as in October. My diary quivers every time I approach it with a pencil. And it's only October 4th!

In the meantime, we have been enjoying some lovely weather.  The weather that you might expect to get in July or August but which passed us by. Temperatures around us in the high twenties. Sunshine and blue skies. I dusted off my shorts and sandals (which I think I have worn once in England this summer!) and even rescued my straw sunhat.  It all felt slightly odd. It had been quite chilly a couple of weeks ago and I had moved on to autumn food. We've had to make a quick slide back to summer!  But it was really quite odd to have warm, balmy evenings, but to have the sun go down at 6:30.  Pleasant.  But odd.  They say that normal autumn temperatures will be back with us in the next day or two.  Good. I like my autumns to be misty and chilly in the mornings and sunny but cool during the day, cooling down again in the evenings.  And I want to snuggle into the new, winter weight feather doona we bought recently!!!

We went back to Bishops' House on Sunday. After our visit there when we learned how to make butter, we joined the Friends of Bishops' House. And Tabitha registered as a volunteer - it's opened by volunteers at the weekends, which is the only time it's open to the public.  the Builder and i thought that sounded like a fun thing to do, so we volunteered too. It's only half a day or so once a month. So we went for our first session with a more seasoned volunteer on Sunday. And it was quite busy - even if two ladies did come in just to buy pencil sharpeners. I assume they had been before and had bought pencil sharpeners previously. Otherwise, how would they have known that we had them?

Oh. If you are interested in life during October from the viewpoint of the (slightly more mature) student, you should follow @runrollerrun on Twitter.  Her #lifeinhalls remarks are very entertaining