Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Late May

And, of course, the second I had bought tomato seedlings - the seeds started to germinate!  I now have loads of tiny seedlings and I don't know what they are because all the labels fell off after I had given up on them :-S

We planted seeds of courgettes, melons, watermelons, pumpkins, Brussels sprouts, sweet corn, white sprouting broccoli, runner beans, French beans, more carrots and some mixed flowers about 3 weeks ago. These have all germinated well apart from the French beans and the pumpkins.  The pumpkins may yet come along but only 3 of the French beans have appeared.  The sprouting broccoli is also not doing all that well - but that was down to a snail attack before we remembered to protect against snails and slugs.

The runner beans are now out in the garden, accompanied by some seeds that have been sown directly. The tumbling tomato seeds are now in their hanging baskets and swinging gently from the grape vine trellis. And the fuchsias which we cut back to the stalk and overwintered in the greenhouse are re-shooting and are now hung back on the side of the house.

We planted 25 new asparagus plants two weeks ago. Three of them are in the old asparagus bed where the plants had failed. The rest are in the new bed. And all of them have now come up which is, I think, the best result we've ever had with asparagus! We are hopeful these will settle in and thrive.  We are not eating from the plants we put in last year, but the established plants are doing very well.  Since the weather warmed up and the sun came out we are getting three, four or five spears a day, occasionally more.

The flower garden is looking beautiful. The planted flowers and weeds and self sown flowers are mostly now meshing in well together and sorting themselves out.  Even the alpine strawberries are being kept under some sort of control! We need to do a bit of weeding of the grass, but the rest, even the dandelions, all looks good.

I am hopeful that there will be more planting and seed sowing this weekend. I think we can safely plant up the greenhouses on the allotment now (where the peas, broad beans and potatoes all seem to be doing well)

Click on the garden to reach the photo album of the garden in May

The allotment as of today

The garden as of today

Ice cream

I was sorting out our freezers at the weekend, moving things from the large one into the smaller one so I can defrost and clean the large one ready for the new season's crops.  Tucked away I found a big bag of last year's red currants.  They need using up - the next lot will be along shortly!

So I used a good number of them to make a redcurrant and honey sauce to go with Sunday's new season lamb shanks.  This still left a good two thirds of a large freezer bag left.  So I stewed them up with a very little sugar, put them in the blender and then strained them through a fine mesh sieve and left them overnight while I thought about them.

I didn't need to make red currant jelly - I still have some left from last summer.  And in any case I had pushed the red currants through the sieve quite hard so didn't have a clear liquid but more of a pulp.  It looked remarkably like strawberry ice cream!!

Ice cream!

It may only be May but the weather has been warm and summer lately and we have definitely moved onto summery foods.

Ice cream would be nice

Although it had been stewed with a little sugar, the pulp was still quite tart, and probably too tart for ice cream. So I added a good dollop of flower honey to it (I measured this precisely, of course! I tipped the honey jar over the pulp until it had started to pour out, then twisted the jar to stop it. I suspect it's probably about a tablespoon's worth).

Then I took two fresh eggs.  I appreciate that some people are wary of eating raw egg. But the Australian Food Safety people advise that the nasties that cause food poisoning are to be found on the outside of the shell and not within the egg itself and can be effectively neutralised by putting the whole egg in a bowl of boiling water for a few seconds.  So I did that before whisking the contents until they were frothy and custardy, then I gently whisked that into the fruit pulp.

And then I put the whole lot into my ice cream maker and let it get on which churning for about 30 minutes.

It was still quite a tart ice cream.  But it was absolutely delicious.  We had a small bowl each just on its own. But it would be lovely with fruit or a steamed pudding - or even , I suspect, a chocolate sauce!

It still looks remarkably like strawberry ice cream - but it definitely isn't!

The weather seems to have gone to everyone's heads!

So.  Glenys and Geoff ambled off on Monday morning, via Chesterfield, Bolsover Castle and Woodseats, where they met with Ross, Tabitha, Gareth and Cally for lunch. Pretty much immediately the sun came out, the temperature went up and a burst of summery weather came our way!

Happily for me I had Wednesday off, so was able to enjoy the unexpected burst of summery weather. I then also had Thursday off, having woken up with no voice and a koff and sneezles and wheezles.  I would have put this down to hayfever, except that antihistamines didn't fix it - and our office has been toppling down with these symptoms one by one since my colleague Rupert came in with them one day the previous week.  Anyway - whatever it was there didn't seem to be much point going in when I couldn't speak. They would only have sent me home again!

And the summery weather continued.  So much so that we decided to water the garden on Saturday evening. Alas - the gun thingy that fits at the end of the hose had sprung several leaks in the sides over the winter and really wasn't performing its function. This didn't entirely discommode me.  I was holding it and therefore was behind it when it decided to spray vigorously in a sideways direction. The Builder, alas ....

We determined to buy a new one. The one we had had been bought for not many pennies a couple of years back in our local Homebase.  Alas, a couple of months ago they decided to take our Homebase away from us. Now the nearest one is in Sheffield, which is not a huge distance away but is really not worth driving to when all you want is a hose fitting which will cost less than a fiver! So we decided to go to B&Q.

To our surprise, the car park at B&Q was almost full. I realise that it was a warm, sunny Sunday morning in May - but we got there before half past ten and it doesn't open until 10 on Sundays. In we went. And turned around and came straight back out again when we saw the queue for the tills!!! By the time we had got back to the car, the queue for people coming in to the car park had stretched right back down to the road!!!!!!!  On the other hand - there was no one in the supermarket. This is possibly because they were all in B&Q. The ones who weren't were out on the roads trying to kill all the other drivers and passengers. The number of times The Builder had to take evasive action to avoid people doing highly improbable things in their cars was really quite remarkable!  All I can assume is that the unexpected exposure to several days of warm sunshine had gone to people's heads and driven them all peculiar!

We still don't have a gun for the hose (we did go to the garden centre but they wanted £15 for a properly good one and we didn't want a properly good one for £15 but a cheap and cheerful one for £5). But we do have a sprinkler so have been using that.

The warm sunny weather carries on.  But there is an extra long long weekend coming up. And the schools are all on holiday next week.  I think we can pretty much guarantee cold, wet, windy, wintry weather for at least the next ten days!!!

A sunny weekend out and about:

The view from our loungeroom window

Marlo enjoying the Sunday morning sunshine by the herb garden

Driving out around Dunstan Hall

The hedgerows are nice and green

and the oil seed rape is in flower

and there is blossom on the trees

The Cutthorpe roundabout

Heading back towards Chesterfield

The Builder talking to his mum on Sunday evening

The house catching the evening sunshine

I thought this might be a harbinger of storms and tempests - but it wasn't

Monday, May 21, 2012


Spring blossom, looking up to Grassmoor
When people that you haven't seen for nearly 30 years get in touch some months in advance and suggest that they would like to come and visit you while they are pottering about in Western Europe,  it seems only fair that you should excavate the bed from under all the rubbish - er, I mean things that you are in the process of sorting out and then tidy and clean the house.

Glenys, Frannie and Geoff out walking the Nature Reserve
As we are all fully aware, dates on the calendar are much closer than they appear, and they have a tendency to sneak up on you and ambush you while you are paying attention to other things.

Thus it was that on Saturday morning I had to get up extra specially early for a Saturday and find the spare bed and then clean and tidy the spare room, and then clean and tidy the rest of the house.  This took rather less time than I had anticipated.  Perhaps I should do it more often!!

The Builder explaining the art of layering hedges
Anyway. By half past ten or so we were pretty much ready for the visitors, who were due late morning sometime.  We thought we might trundle out to the Chatsworth Farm Shop for dinner supplies and Sunday roast supplies and then see what the weather was doing on Sunday and how the mood took us all and plan Sunday activities later.

The morning trundled on.

The morning turned into afternoon.

The afternoon trundled on.

No sign at all of the visitors :-S

Walking up towards home
This was something of a worry.  Glenys had said they would be coming from Preston, which is only a couple of hours drive away.  They had my mobile phone number - or I assumed they did; I had given it to them several times - but I didn't have theirs.  Eventually Lindsey, who was convinced that they would turn up at some point because they sere supposed to be staying two nights and might not enjoy sleeping out in the car, suggested putting another message on Facebook.  So I did.

And shortly thereafter my phone rang - and there they were!!!!

Our house is hiding behind a large holly tree,
 more or less in the centre of the picture.
Go right from the church tower, past the house with the scaffolding,
beyond the pointy conifer and there we are!

It seems that they had decided that our house was house #20 in the street, had gone there at about 11am and found nobody home.  After waiting for a bit they tried to ring my phone but for some reason got a Service Not Available message.  So they decided to wander into Chesterfield and have a look around. They found the market and the shops and various other nice things - and also found a McDonalds. McDonalds, of course, have free wifi. So they went in and checked Facebook and found my message!  Which alerted them to the fact that we were sitting and waiting not at house #20 but at house #2.

I do hope the goslings can read!!
And 15 minutes or so later they were sitting in our loungeroom, eating a very nice round of Brie that they had brought from Bruges and eating toast and drinking wine :-)

Sunday evening - Geoff
See - I *knew* they would turn up eventually!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And we had a really lovely weekend.  I hadn't seen Glenys and Geof since they had left Jeparit in around 1984. The Builder, of course, had never met them. And we all got on famously and had loads to talk about and there was lots to eat and drink and the weekend flew past.

Sunday evening - Glenys
We didn't get to Chatsworth on Saturday afternoon, but I had some steak in the freezer and some Japanese curry paste in the cupboard and lots of vegetables and rice. We did get to Chatsworth on Sunday morning, driving there along one of the scenic routes, and then coming back along another scenic route. We went for a lovely walk around the Avenue Wetlands and then went and inspected the allotment. We had a Sunday roast and a Sunday dessert and we drank lots more wine (apart from Glenys who was much more abstemious than the rest of us). And we went to bed at very nearly getting up time (which I am definitely getting too old to do!!) and then I came to work and they went to Chesterfield to look at the church and to Bolsover Castle to look at the hippogriffs and then on to Woodseats to look at Ross and Tabitha and Cally, and The Builder stayed at home to do Useful Things :-)

It was a great weekend. The Spare Room was very happy to be used as a bedroom rather than a junk room. The spare bed was delighted to be put to its proper purpose as a bed, rather than a table. I enjoyed the opportunity to do a bit of showcase cooking. And we all enjoyed catching up, or getting to know each other.  But I really should have taken today off!!!

Friday Fish and Sunday Roast

I had a small piece of monkfish tail to use up last week and had decided to do it in batter with some chips.  But then I thought that it would really be a plate of chips with a small piece of fish on the side and decided to go wild and buy some extra bits and pieces and make up a seafood platter.

As you may be aware, Tesco isn't my supermarket of first choice, but the new one in Clay Cross does have quite a nice fish counter and there wasn't time to head out to Chatsworth for the extra seafood. So we headed to Tesco and acquired a scallop each, a squid and some cooked prawns.  I also bought a lemony mayonnaise and, indeed, some lemons.  I cut the fish into goujons and dipped them in batter (made with egg, milk and self raising flour). The scallops and squid I dipped in panko crumbs.  I thrice cooked the chips, allowing them to go properly cold between cookings. And I served the lot with a little salad of beetroot and tomato - and plenty of white wine.  It was remarkably delicious!

Seafood platter with chips

Chips with seafood platter :-D

We had visitors over the weekend.  Proper visitors. The kind you clean the house for! So we took them out to Chatsworth to the farm shop and acquired a single rib of beef, which I more or less flash roasted in a very hot oven.  With it we had goose fat roasted potatoes and individual Yorkshire puddings, with baby carrots, fresh asparagus and baby purple sprouting (the PSB came from the garden - we are eating asparagus from the garden too, but we had it all on Saturday evening so had to buy more!)  I made a gravy with a trivet of vegetables under the beef, white wine, lemon slices and water. As you can see, it wasn't at all nice, not at all. We all had to force ourselves to eat every last scrap :-D.

We finished up with a rhubarb crumble made with rhubarb from the allotment. I sweetened the rhubarb with some flower honey that I got at Chatsworth and it was really rather yummy. Alas - there is no photo. We were all too greedy for the taking of photos when the crumble and cream came to the table!!

A platter of Sunday roast

Spring vegetables to accompany the roast

Sunday roast and red wine

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Look at our pretty house

And still the house smells faintly of smoke, rather than of fresh paint.

Although, you may be wondering why the house should be smelling of fresh paint at all.

Do you remember, months and months and months ago, the electricity people came and took down all the rusting, ancient power poles and put the power cables underground?  I don't remember when it was - I do remember being quite excited because it meant that we had the possibility of widening our gate so we could use the driveway (although we haven't). Plus there was the great excitement of having traffic lights outside our house and being able to watch the chaos that that sometimes caused.  Anyway. The consequence of that was that they took down all the now redundant wires from the front of our house, leaving the poor house looking even more tattered and sorry for itself than it had already been!

The Builder wasn't entirely delighted because it meant that the render was broken and water was getting into it.  Eventually, of course, that meant that the render would rot and then fall off.  So when the electricity people came back recently to do the same thing up along Ward Street he went out and had a word with them.

A few weeks later a couple of bods turned up with a ladder and a bucket of render and patched the house up.  This meant that our tatty and sorry for itself white house was now a tatty and sorry white house with patches, splashes, stripes and dollops of grey all over it. 

A few days later a painter turned up to assess the situation.  And a day or so after that the electricity people made an offer.  We'll paint the whole of the front of your house if you'll pay £300 towards the cost of it.

Since we had been thinking that patching the render (which needed doing before any wires were removed) and repainting the front of the house (likewise) would be likely to cost us in the region of £1000 - we accepted with alacrity.

I meant to take some "before" photos of the house, showing the grey render - but there was an unexpected break in the rain that hasn't ceased falling since the Environment Agency declared England to be in a Serious State of Drought and the painter came before we were expecting him.

So here is the house after the wires were removed but before the render was patched

And here it is now

Isn't it pretty?

Although now, of course, the side wall is looking very dingy in comparison.  Sigh!

(And I think we need a pretty new front door to match the awesomeness of the windows and the newly painted wall.  But that can wait until after the GWT is sorted out)

PS  I have just trawled my way back through the blog and found that the power pole was taken down and all the wires removed from the front of the house back in October 2010 !!!!!  So you may well not remember it after all :-D  )

Friday, May 11, 2012

At least we know that the smoke detector works!

Peacefully sitting in my chair, I was. Minding my own business. Watching the late evening news.

Was abruptly awoken from the pleasant doze the news had induced by a piercing, shrieking sound.

The cat vanished with the speed that cats do.

The Builder and I leapt to our feet.

And found that the house was full of smoke and the shrieking sound was the smoke detector being the most agitated that I have ever heard it.

We dashed into the kitchen, to find that it was as smoky as the smokiest thing in a whole smoky universe.

And it was all emanating from a saucepan on the stove.

Probably wasn't the wisest thing I've ever done, to put a pan of Jersey Royal potatoes on to cook, preparatory to making a potato salad for today's lunch - and then wandering off to watch the news.  The Jersey Royals were black, pebbly things. I suspect the saucepan may never quite be itself again (and it was a seriously expensive saucepan - although I wouldn't have bought it had I realised that it is aluminium rather than the nice stainless steel my other, much cheaper saucepans are made of).

We do have potato salad for lunch today. Fortunately, I had more Jerseys and cooked them up this morning - staying firmly in the kitchen while I did so. 

I found Marlo hiding on a chair under the dining room table.

And the house now smells of very burned smoke, rather than the nice fresh paint smell it had when I got home from work yesterday.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Showers, Downpours, Cold - and finally some sunshine

So, after days and days and days and days and days and DAYS of rain, Sunday dawned lovely and sunny and bright - but still remarkably chilly for the time of year. But at least it allowed us to get out and do some useful things in the garden, which is in real need of a proper, post-winter tidy up.

Looking from our bedroom window on Sunday morning - I had even got the washing out and it came in several hours later dry!

I am quite pleased with the flower beds, although they need the grass pulling out and a gentle tidy up

The pond is still quite full, but there is now no cause for concern that the fish will run away

Looking up towards Churchside, on the way to Hasland

The herb garden around the pond is absolutely full of cowslips, bullslips and primroses this spring

Bullslips making a pretty edge around a paving stone

One single red and yellow tulip. All the rest are purple!

Happy and cheerful forget-me-nots

I really must get in and sort out all the dead weeds on the patio!
The carrots and tomatoes in the greenhouse never did come to anything.  There are TWO carrots growing out of the seeds I planted in the box!  I have left them safe, scarified the soil in the box and planted a new packet of purple haze carrots.  Three tomato seeds have germinated. Alas, they have lost their labels, so I don't know which variety it was that came to life :-S  In the meantime I have bought seedlings of tumbling cherries, ordinary standards and a couple of heritage varieties. If the Weather Dogs ever get their act together, I'll plant them all up into hanging baskets and greenhouses this coming weekend.  I've also bought seedlings of cucumber, butternut squash and sweet red capsicum which I'll also sort out this coming weekend. At the moment they're all adorning the shelves in the porch by the kitchen, where I can keep a closer eye on them.

The chickens are still not laying and we don't really know why or quite what to do.  So last night, after they had put themselves to bed, The Under Gardener went down and shut up their run.  We don't think they are laying out - if they are we have signally failed to find where they're laying. But we were a bit puzzled, when I put egg bombs made of hot mustard, tabasco sauce and hot chilli sauce in the next box, that they simply vanished. We can't think that they chickens could have moved them away and hidden them, so started to suspect the intervention of a creature with paws, maybe a squirrel,  or possibly a very large beak (there is a crows' nest not far from our garden, and there are lots of magpies about).  We figure if we keep the chickens shut in for a few mornings and see if any eggs are produced, we might have a better idea of what's going on. They can come out to play in the afternoons.

The Under Gardener has been busy up on the allotment, digging, planting and mowing - and in the process earning himself libations of Old Speckled Hen ale. He's also been digging over the veg beds in the kitchen garden when he can't get to the allotment.  All we need now is some warm, sunny weather to get started planting!!!

Progress on the allotment, up to today when rain stopped play. Again!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Bank Holiday Weekend

I have lived in England long enough now to know that, even though it's May, even though the sun is shining, even though the sky is blue - the chances are that it is nevertheless not going to be particularly warm.  Warmer, probably, than it was in February, not not necessarily in the least bit hot despite the deceptive sunniness of the day.

So when I tell you that I wore summery rather than wintry clothes to Bishops' House on Saturday morning, you will understand that I don't mean that I was dressed for a Melbourne summer's day. I wasn't really even dressed for a midsummer day in Derbyshire.  But I was wearing a short sleeved shirt. And I was wearing a fleecy cardigan rather than a ski jumper.

And I was absolutely frozen.  Frozen solid. The heating wasn't working in the shop or the parlour.  The day turned grey and blustery. I didn't have my gloves with me. After 3 hours in the shop, my fingers were frozen, my fingertips had lost all feeling, and my feet were like icy poles, only probably not as tasty.  Next time I shall take my ski jumper and my hat and my scarf and my gloves and a flask of warming hot chocolate. And the time after that. And the time after that.  Even in August!

None of this seemed to deter visitors though.  There was a gentleman waiting outside with two children even as we opened. And they couldn't stay for long because Nana was coming to visit soon.  We had 18 people through while we were there, which is quite good for a Saturday morning.  It would have been 20 if I had counted the young man who came bouncing in, hotly pursued by his friend trying to entice him out.  The first boy attracted the antennae of both The Builder and The Librarian as being Up To No Good!  But they didn't stay and I didn't count them.  So 18 visitors it was.

You really wouldn't think it was May, though.  It remained chilly all weekend, even though it was sunny and bright on Sunday, and even on Monday morning.  Mind you, we also had lots and lots and lots of rain.  Sunshine and showers, I believe the weather people call it.  But I could wish that the Weather Dogs would bring us warm not Arctic rain!

So I had a nice long weekend off work. It was very relaxed.  We ate and drank and pottered about and didn't do anything particularly exciting. I did a bit of baking and The Builder did a bit of digging. We watched the snooker and The Builder watched the football. It was nice to wake up on Monday morning and not have to dash about. We went to the garden centre and the supermarket and I did some more baking (an ambitious and, happily, successful raised pie for lunches this coming week) and we slurped gently into an evening of the snooker final on telly

More lunch - chicken, pork and apricot raised pie

I had taken quite a large piece of pork out of the freezer for roasting on Sunday and before I put it in the oven, I cut it in half, thinking I could do something else with the other half.  I do have a mighty repertoire of recipes for using left over roast pork, but thought it might be nice to make something with fresh meat for a change.

But what?

I was browsing idly through the Hairy Bikers' Perfect Pies and was a bit taken with their recipe for raised pork pies. But then again - the chicken, apricot and ham pie looked rather nice too.  And I had some chicken fillets that could do with using. I didn't have any dried apricots - but that was easily remedied.  So I made a variation on their chicken, ham and apricot pie, using pork rather than ham.

I made a hot water pastry, which I left to cool for half an hour or so.  The Hairy Bikers are clearly better a making pastry than me - they rolled their hot water pastry out.  Mine was never, ever going to roll, so I pressed it into my spring-sided cake tin by hand.  I then put diced pork, diced chicken and a hefty handful of chopped dried aprictos, which had been marinating in a very little white wine for about 45 minutes, in the pastry crust, put the lid on and baked it all in a moderate oven for about an hour. Then I took the side off the cake tin and, following the Hair Biker's instructions, egg glazed the top and sides twice, with 15 minutes further baking after each glaze.

The pie, cooling down

In the meantime I had seriously reduced some chicken stock (infused with fresh herb leaves) and when the pie was cold, I poured some of that into the centre of the pie where it set to a loose and slightly runny jelly.

It's not lunchtime - can't eat it yet, tempting though it is

My pie is a much darker colour than theirs, and nothing like as elegant - but I have to say it tastes wonderful. And it made a really rather lovely lunch for work today.

Lunchtime in the office.  Pie, salad and some baked sage and apple stuffing

Wednesday, May 02, 2012


Seasonal salad, made with baby watercress and lettuce leaves, beetroot, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, baby Jersey Royal potatoes and asparagus and topped with small prawns, served at my desk at work with a homemade cheesy soda bread roll and a glass of water :-)  How wholesome and healthy is that??

The garden as at early May