Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Friday, August 31, 2012

Visiting Joan

It's age since we went to visit my aunt Joan. Ages and ages and age and AGES.  So long has it been that I have been feeling increasingly guilty about the lack of attention we've been paying her.

So when I realised that I had a week off work and had virtually no plans, I arranged a time with my cousins when it might be convenient for us to nip down to Girton near Cambridge and take her out for lunch.

We went down yesterday, dodging the torrential showers that pottered about all day and took her to The Plough in Fen Ditton, about 20 minutes drive from her place.  We've been there before and always enjoyed the food but it must be close to two years since we were last there.  I am pleased to report that the standard of food remains excellent and the courtesy and cheeriness of the waiting staff is as sunny as ever - despite the rain showers outside!!

Joan seemed to be in fairly good form, though her back was giving her trouble so walking any distance was something of a challenge.  She seemed pleased to see us. We were pleased to see her. Really must go more often. it's not that hard to get to Girton from Tupton.  Was a pleasant day out

On our way to Girton we realised that we were running quite ahead of time so took the opportunity to come off the A14 at Huntingdon and collect the old bridge in the town centre, which you can see from the A14 and which we have intended to collect for years.  One side of the bridge is in Huntingdon. The other is in Godmanchester!!

From the footbridge, looking towards Huntingdon

From the Huntingdon bank of the Ouse
I think the earliest bits of the bridge are fifteenth century

One of those apartments would do me nicely :-D

RIP Parsley

That's Parsley the chook, not parsley the herb!

The Under Gardener reported on Tuesday when he came back from checking on the hens late in the afternoon that Parsley wasn't looking at all well. He had put her into a nice, warm straw nest to keep her cosy and comfortable, but it came as no surprise to find on Wednesday morning that she had died overnight.  The other hens were supremely uninterested in this and were loudly demanding to know where their breakfast was while we were contemplating the chooky corpse. So now we are down to three hens, who are still not laying all that well.  I think we will probably replace them with new hens when we get back from our winter jaunt to sunnier climes. We'll probably get some ducks as well.

The remaining hens all look fit and well and healthy. So much so that I became aware when I was bringing the washing in on Thursday that Kiev was marching around the orchard making very definite "Keep off, it's mine" noises, hotly pursued by Schnitzel making "It's good to share, give it to me" noises.  I went to investigate and found that Kiev was absolutely determined to keep whatever prize it was she had found, Schnitzel was equally determined that she should get a share (and Coriander was peacefully minding her own business, munching on a windfall apple). I, on the other hand, couldn't see what it was that Kiev was prizing so strongly.  I got closer - and found that she had, somewhat surprisingly to me at any rate, managed to catch a baby mouse and considered this to be a very delicious delicacy indeed!!  Marla the cat quite often catches baby mice and also considered them to be delicious delicacies. But he definitely doesn't share them with the hens so I think Kiev must have caught this one herself.  They do catch frogs in the spring (I know this because the frogs make an almighty racket when they get caught) but I have never seen them before with a mouse.

It was really quite cool last night.  In many places there was a ground frost.  In August!!!  I don't think we did get a frost. The zucchinis and runner beans are all looking quite perky this morning. But it was a close run thing.  It is, in my view, much much MUCH too early for frosts.  It's still summer, for goodness sake. Even if according to the Met Office tomorrow marks the start of autumn.

On the other hand, it's a beautiful summery day today.  Still strangely cool, though for the time of year

Look at the colour of the sky!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Out taking little walks

Monday was a bank holiday, so the weather was always going to be dodgy. But as it happened the morning dawned bright and relatively sunny so we took the opportunity of this unexpected break in the rain to go for a stroll around The Avenue Wetlands at the back of our place.

They've opened up the railway bridge for pedestrians to go over now. Some nice new views for us to admire

The view from the new hide just past the recently opened railway bridge

Our house is in amongst those in the distance

And while they've been about it, they've taken down the grotty underpass that we used to have to use if we wanted to do a round walk (although to be fair they had tarted it up a bit over recent months)

However, as you would expect on a bank holiday, this period of dryness didn't last and the rest of the day was appropriately wet, although not as excitingly as it was on Saturday.  We stayed inside for the afternoon and watched television.

Tuesday was not a bank holiday, but it was a SHU holiday. Fortunately, the Weather Dogs failed to notice this and the whole day was lovely and sunny and warm.  So I did loads of washing and hung it out on the line and then The Builder and I took ourselves off in the car to the Linacre Reservoirs for a nice, if short, stroll in the sunshine

Click on the sign to reach the pictures of the stroll around

And the weather stayed lovely for the rest of the day. We dropped up to the VIllage Hall later in the afternoon for the drop in session they were having to explain the next stages of The Avenue Project.  But they didn't have anything we hadn't already read in the booklet I had found online so we didn't stay long.  And then we went to The Nettle in the evening for an Italian Set Menu - which was very, very delicious - but rather more than we usually eat in the evening which didn't lend itself to a gentle night's sleep!!!

Amazing spare ribs

An antipasto platter which was surely enough for four but was meant for The Builder and me

The main course of sea bass ...

... and a tiny chicken carbonara, plus a serve of meatballs on the side

Poor Tony, on the other hand, has not been having such a fun time doing Little Walks.  He went for a walk over the weekend - having not been able to walk much while he has been poorly - and took a fall on the final leg, almost within sight of home.  When I spoke to him on Sunday he looked as though he had done ten rounds with Mike Tyson and with his arms tied to his sides so he couldn't fight back ;-(  I spoke to him again today and this time he looks as though it was only five rounds. Hopefully, by the time they go to Perth for a week's holiday at the weekend all the bashing, bruising and gashing will have faded into a distant memory.

Hairy Dieters

I have been watching with some pleasure the latest Hairy Bikers' television series called "The Hairy Dieters: how to love food and lose weight". I have also been very much enjoying the companion book and have been making several of the recipes.

I made a really delicious sweet and sour chicken, substituting the pineapple (which I do not much enjoy eating) with mango slices. I also reduced everything by half given that there are only two of us and the recipe is supposed to feed four!   It was so good I've made it a couple of times since.

I've made other things from the book too, like the chilli mince (lighter on the chilli than the recipe, and I used taco shells rather than tortilla wraps). The food is all very delightful. And if you came to dinner and I fed you from the recipe collection you would definitely not accuse me of feeding you diet food!

We had this paella for Sunday lunch, minus the mussels only because I wasn't convinced by the freshness of the mussels I had bought for it and I had no wish to give us food poisoning! (Oh - and I cooked it at home rather than at the beach but I don't think that really counts as a recipe variation :-D  )

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bank Holiday Weekend

It's meant to be the late summer Bank Holiday - although it nearly always rains. As it did this year too. Thus marking the end of a wet, cool, miserable summer.

However, some things have greatly enjoyed the coolness of the weather. The gooseberries enjoyed it (there are over 6 kg of red and green gooseberries in the freezer waiting to become winter treats). The peas (13.5 kg) and broad beans (17.5 kg both podded weights and in the freezer) also thoroughly enjoyed the weather.  The onions and potatoes much less so. The potatoes have avoided being struck by blight but are being mercilessly attacked by slugs and wireworm. So The Under Gardener has been digging them, peeling them and sorting out the edible bits and I have been making homemade frozen chips and frozen roasties.

In the meantime, in the warmer surrounds of the greenhouse on the allotment, the cucumbers have been producing a mighty feast - so much so that we can't keep up with them and can't give them to people because some of them remain unpleasantly bitter and there's no way of telling which will be bitter before you prep them and bite into them :-S. The butternut squashes are also producing nicely - although when The Under Gardener went up on Sunday to water he found that one of the vines had collapsed and the fruit had fallen off

One is very nearly ripe, the other not so ripe

The ripe one weighed in at 1.5 kg, the other at just over 1 kg

And I have picked the apples off the dessert apple tree. They also weren't quite ripe but they were being eaten by birds and slugs.  I figured it would be better if we ate them instead!!

I took some of the apples and added some of the blackberries which are beginning to ripen and made a delicious apple and blackberry pie
The Bramley apples are still awaiting picking. And there looks to be a large number of plums nearly ready to be harvested.  The branches are so laden with plums that they are hanging down to the ground and the chooks are eating them from the tree!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saturday rain

My goodness but it rained yesterday.  For most of the day it drizzled with determination.

Then it stopped.

I decided that we really needed some carrots to go with our dinner, so took the opportunity of the break in the rain to head down to the bottom of the garden to get some.

The carrots grow in boxes almost as far from the house as it is possible to be whilst remaining in our garden!!

As I put my jacket and boots on, I could see rain beginning to come down the valley from the north. I hastened down our somewhat slippery path as fast as expediency would allow.  As fast as I could I pulled some carrots from the box, pulled the tops off and threw the tops into the chicken run.

As I moved as fast as possible back up the path toward the house, I could hear the rain rushing up behind me.  As I went into the porch, the rain arrived.

I had made it by the skin of my teeth!!!

And then it rained.  It really, really, really rained. The noise in the porch of the rain bouncing off the plastic roof was phenomenal.  The water found its way in along the sides of the porch and flooded down the house walls - we had to move everything way from the edges!  The area outside the back door going into the back garden turned into a small lake. The driveway always has little ponds in it when it rains. It turned into a small sea. Bridge street turned into a river. There was thunder and lightning.  And Marlo the Cat sat unperturbed on the letterbox inside the porch and ignored it all.

Then it stopped and went away, as quickly as it had come.

But the water butt up on the allotment which had been empty is now over half full - and it only feeds from a greenhouse so usually takes a while to fill up!

The carrots were very tasty, mind

Monday, August 20, 2012


Goodness!  It's ages since I put anything on the blog!!  And it's not even as though there was nothing to say.  All sorts of interesting things have been happening around us.  We went to Bishops' House last Saturday morning, expecting to have no visitors at all (the Olympics were still on, there were things happening in and around Sheffield, all sorts of things to entice people away from coming to visit us) and had loads of them, including a surprising number of foreign visitors. I've been quite busy at work. The Builder has been quite busy up on the allotment and and and about.  Loads of things to blog about.  And (apparently) no time to do it!!

This weekend we were off to Warminster to visit Barb in her new apartment. She's moved pretty much right into the centre of town, a three minute walk from the cafe she sometimes helps out in. Her little flat is only small but it's remarkably light and has a lovely, tiny courtyard and is plenty big enough for one person.  I said to her that I thought it might be a bit small for two, but on reflection I think that two people who liked each other probably could manage in there. Wouldn't do for two sworn enemies though!!!

Anyway. We went down quite early on Saturday morning, leaving at 9:30 after the Wingerworth library had opened (I had reserved the new Hairy Bikers book - Hairy Dieters, although I have to say that if I invited you around to dinner and fed you food from the book you almost certainly wouldn't accuse me of putting you on a diet. The recipes look delicious!).  The Swan in Stoford has recently re-opened with new landlords so we decided to drop by and suss them out for lunch.  I would have to give them 10/10 for their hospitality (they worked out very quickly that I was @nethergreen on twitter and came and made themselves known to me). We were also very impressed with the choice of ales and wines they had on offer, so 10/10 on the drinks front too. They seemed to be quite busy but it would be hard for me to tell if they had loads of locals in celebrating a sudden burst of summer, or whether they were picking up passing trade from the road outside.

A quick visit to the Wilton Garden Centre (where we randomly ran into The Builder's brother who was also mooching around the Garden Centre) and then off to Warminster to wile away the afternoon and evening with wine and plentiful good food.

It was a beautiful day on Sunday so we all got up early (Barb's apartment is, you will recall, very light!!) and had toast for breakfast and then went out to explore Warminster.  Both Barb and The Builder are very familiar with the town centre but I am not. It is true that we have been several times to visit Barb, but she used to live further out of town. It is true we came for Greg's birthday party. But that was at night and you couldn't see anything. So we ambled off for a stroll around the shops and then down to the Pleasure Gardens.  Now in my mind a pleasure garden is either where you have roller coasters and roundabouts and ferris wheels, or it is a place for naked bathing.  However in this Pleasure Garden there are no fair ground rides, nor are there any naked men (or women).  There is a boating lake, however, which we strolled around. And there are some rather nice gardens. And lots of happy dogs running about.  So that was all good.

Then we went to Salisbury to gather in Gwen, back to Warminster to capture Greg and then on to Upton Lovell, 10 minutes out of town, for a truly delightful lunch at the Prince Leopold. Then Barb and Greg headed back to Warminster and we took Gwen home and then headed back to Tupton up the Fosse Way which is a lovely drive up through central England which we haven't done for years. It is true that it is best done when it is sunny, when you are not in any hurry and when the daylight is likely to hold into the middle of the evening. But that is no reason for not having used that route for what must be a couple of years.  Must Do Better!

Warminster Pleasure Garden.  Click on the heron to reach the rest of the album

Prince Leopold, Upton Lovell

Something around 2 years ago we ran across the Prince Leopold, which is off the main road that runs between Salisbury and Warminster.  It had just opened with new owners and a refit that wasn't quite finished.  We were very impressed with them and had every intention of returning.

We didn't intend the gap between visits to be nearly two years, though!

Anyway, we were staying in Warminster at the weekend and were pondering where we might take our hosts for Sunday lunch - preferably somewhere with nice food, out in the country, and also somewhere handy for Salisbury as well as Warminster so we could take The Builder's mother out with us as well.

I remembered the Prince Leopold.  Looked them up. Booked a table.

The refit is now finished!  And they have a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Wylye

The food was amazing.  What really impressed us most was the vegetables. Lots of places do beautifully roasted meats and potatoes. Most places can turn their hand to Yorkshire Puddings. But so many places largely ignore the veg.  Some peas and carrots, a bit of roast parsnip, red cabbage if you're lucky. At the Prince Leopold you get a half a braised baby cabbage and half a romanesco broccoli, proper roasted carrots and parsnip. And a huge pile of delicious rainbow chard (silverbeet).  Not only that, but the meat, potatoes and Yorkies were equally beautifully prepared and the gravy was a proper herby gravy.  More to the point, they also proved a child's serving for Gwen which meant that she easily finished her portion without either having to eat so she was uncomfortably full or (worse from her point of view) having to leave food on her plate.

We all had dessert.  My meringue came with raspberries and some rather nice cream - and the most amazing passionfruit sauce.

I was also very impressed with the waiting staff who were friendly, attentive, on the ball and not in the least bit pushy.

And the sun shone. A bonus!

If you happen to find yourself in or around Wiltshire or Somerset I would heartily recommend  the Prince Leopold.  Our firm intention is to go back - and not to wait another two years!!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Harvest time

Finally, finally, finally we are beginning to get a good supply of runner beans and zucchini, both of which have been worth waiting for. The zucchini in particular are extremely tasty.  The sweet corn, alas, are looking pretty and healthy - but are very small and have no cobs on them at all.  We have almost finished eating the first early potatoes and The Undergardener has dug the Lady Balfours and the Highland Burgundy Red.  These two maincrop varieties are usually highly dependable but this year they were very disappointing. We got hardly any potatoes from them.  What we did get was tasty but it was a very poor harvest.

The butternut squashes, on the other hand, are proving to be highly prolific.  We decided to pinch out the growing tips on them and to clear them back a bit so that we could see what was going on and so that the other plants might have a show at growing too.  While we were doing that one of the squashes fell off the vine. So we took it home with us. It was, of course, not properly ripe, but it was extremely delicious and lovely and juicy. We are waiting patiently for the rest to ripen - October or November, I would think, depending on how the autumn turns out

As for cucumbers ... some of them are still on the bitter side, and we have noticed that even the sweetest of them turns bitter if cut and then left.  So we are eating cucumbers as fast as we can possibly manage.  I have discovered that if you cut them into strips and de-seed them they stir fry remarkably well! 

Butternut squashes growing happily in the greenhouse

One of our many enthusiastic cucumbers

A self invited Bramley apple - I took all the blossom off in the spring because it is a new, small tree. So it produced more blossom and a few, hidden apples!

It's not quite ripe, but was very tasty. And weighed in at 1.25 kg

This could almost be the entrance to a Secret Garden :-)

The cages are doing a good job of keeping the butterflies and pigeons out

Marlo isn't keeping anything out!!!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

I decided on Saturday morning that I wanted a book or two about Singapore.  We are planning a couple of days there in December and I thought it might be interesting to see what, apart from shopping, there might be to do there.

So I took myself off to the Wingerworth library. I haven't been there for simply ages. I wasn't confidently expecting there to be books on Singapore, necessarily but it was worth going for a look.  Plus I wanted to put myself on the waiting list for the new Hairy Bikers' book and for some reason I couldn't do that online.  The Wingerworth library is a small, quiet little library, in the Wingerworth Parish Hall building. I was, therefore, somewhat stunned to find that the car park was absolutely full. Chockers. Not a parking space to be seen :-S Fortunately I managed to find somewhere to park out on the roadside. And equally fortunately not all the owners of the cars were in the library which is, as I said, very small. They were all in the hall itself.  Some sort of indoor fair raising money for the Wingerworth Well Dressing later in the month.

There were no books about Singapore. But I did manage to put my name down for the Hairy Bikers' new book, and to re-regsiter my card which had expired (and which explained why I couldn't place the hold myself, online!!).

So I went home and dragged The Builder away form the Olympics on the telly and we pottered into Chesterfield, where they had books about Singapore in the library. We also had a rather nice potter about in the market where I found a honey stall run by a lady selling her own honey, honey products and wax products. The Builder got a new battery for his watch (which took several times longer than we had anticipated - the watch resolutely refused to work whenever the battery man tried to put the back on again :-S)  We came home with supplementary stores of fruit and vegetables, a more or less working watch, some honey and some rather nice cheese.

And then in the evening we went out to dinner at the Nettle, in a slightly early celebration of our third wedding anniversary. Absolutely lovely it was. They too were very busy and their car park was also quite full.  But fortunately I had had the foresight to book a table. And as we walked in they handed us two wine glasses and a bottle of our usual wine (do you think we are maybe getting a bit predictable in our old age?). And we settled in for an evening of delicious food, nice wine and gentle conversation.

It was a lovely day on Sunday. The sun shone and everything.  We went to the allotment and pottered in the garden and The Builder watched more Olympics on the telly and we ate nice, homemade and largely home grown food and it was a pleasantly peaceful day. I spoke to Stella and Tony in the morning. Tony is beginning to feel quite a lot better after his unpleasant bout of optic shingles. It's nearly two months that he has been unwell but on Sunday he not only managed to go to church (Stella drove him) but also to play his flute.  Stella is complaining that she too has been unwell (she's had a bout of chicken pox) and has had no sympathy at all. But since nobody knew until after the event, then nobody will be sympathetic!  Anyway. I shall declare them both more or less better now.

Today actually is our wedding anniversary. We must be having a good time - that three years has simply vanished. The sun continues to shine (although rain is forecast for later in the day) and we are abandoning our austerity drive for the day in celebration. Back to austere tomorrow, but it would be bad form indeed to dine on stale crusts and to drink mouldy water on a day of celebration!!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Early August

The Under-Gardener has been very busy lately picking and then podding peas and broad beans. He's also been digging the first early potatoes in the garden (and today has started up on the allotment, because we think that the potatoes may be coming down with blight.  The weather remains absolutely ideal for blight!). We are also eating carrots from the carrot boxes and the first of the zucchini.  It's funny though. Last year we were in Japan at this time. Before we went we have been eating the runner beans and when we got back the beans had all got too big to eat as pods and we had to wait and gather them in for use as beans. We also had an absolute glut of zucchini. This year the runner beans are still only embryonic and the zucchinis have only just now started producing.

The butternut squash up in the greenhouse on the allotment, however ...

There are five or six of them this size and more on the way. The Under-Gardener goes up in the mornings to pollinate any female flowers. It hasn't been a good year for bee or butterfly pollination, although there are bees and butterflies about and they can get into the greenhouse if they are so minded.  There is one female flower on the poor watermelon plant that was buried under a squash plant.  We've unburied it - but I don't think there are any male flowers and I don't know if you can cross pollinate with squash pollen!  The cucumber plants however are going great guns, although some of the cucumbers are unpleasantly bitter.  A fossick around on the internet and in veg growing books suggest this is because they're too hot, too cold, over-watered, under-watered, pollinated, not pollinated.  Take your pick! This cucumber, however, is not bitter and tastes delightful

There are lots more coming and we will just have to wait and see whether or not they're bitter.  Some of them are also developing a bit oddly. They go all ridgy at the bottom.  I thought that might be what was making them bitter, but it isn't.  Oh well.  We'll just have to watch and wait and see what happens. I'll buy a different variety of seed next year

The squash vines before we pruned them back a bit

The tomato greenhouse. Finally producing tomatoes!

Meanwhile, back in the garden - the hollyhocks are looking magnificent

And for dessert:

Blackcurrants from the young bushes on the allotment