Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mushroom and stilton pies

When I was considering what to make for the Vegetarian Sunday-Lunch-on-a-Saturday last weekend I was browsing through various recipe books and ran across this recipe in Simon Rimmer's More from the accidental vegetarian.  I didn't consider it for the feast, because Freyja doesn't care for mushrooms at all and it seemed ridiculous to create a vegetarian dish that the visiting vegetarian would profoundly prefer not to eat!!

But I thought it looked delicious, so I made it last night.

I made a few changes.  I made a low fat pastry (flour and low fat sour cream) to line my individual pie pots with and then topped the pies with supermarket puff pastry, and I used black pepper from my pepper grinder rather than tinned green peppers, largely because I didn't have any tinned green peppers and I did have black pepper in my pepper grinder.  Also, instead of using vegetable stock I used 100 ml of (vegetarian-friendly) white wine, 50 ml of lemon juice and 100 ml of water. And I vastly prefer portobello mushrooms to the smaller mushrooms so I used those and cut them into eighths. There were no carrots in the version of the recipe which appears in the book, so I didn't include them though I might well do next time.

We had a little pie each, served with boiled potatoes and runner beans.  And it was absolutely lovely.  Really lovely.  There are more pies for tonight, which I am really looking forward to.  Even if you are not a vegetarian, or never eat meals that don't include something meaty I think you would still appreciate these pies (assuming, of course, that you do like mushrooms :- D )

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A tiny bit of rain

It rained yesterday.  Just a bit.  A tiny bit.

It was quite fun the couple of times I had to head over to the Main Building, dodging soggy students and raindrops and puddles.

Then it was time to go home.

So my umbrella and I headed to the station (where there was a beautiful train, the Northern Belle, sat at the platform where the Manchester train usually is) and caught the train to Chesterfield.

There seemed to be a high level of chaos on the roads in and around the station in Chesterfield (and the Northern Belle pulled into the station while I was waiting for The Builder - in his guise of chauffeur - to come and collect me).

The Builder was quite late.  It had taken him nearly 45 minutes to get from our place to the station.  Usually it takes ten or fifteen.

The traffic on all the roads around us was at a standstill.  It seems that a couple of the major roads and at least one major intersection were flooded - and the bypass leading to the M1 was closed heading out of town so all that traffic was also on the town's roads.

It seemed pretty much impossible to get back to our place in anything like a sensible time, so we headed towards Sainsbury's thinking that we might lay in emergency supplies of wine and possibly even have something to eat while we waited for the traffic to clear.

We got to Sainsbury's at 18:33. The store is open until 23:00.  But they stop serving hot food at 18:30 (although there is nothing to tell you this, just that they serve main meals from11:30). So we didn't buy dinner there. We did buy emergency wine supplies though - and went out to find that the rain had pretty much gone away and that the traffic heading towards our place had apparently gone with it.  The traffic heading into town was still at a standstill but that didn't particularly bother us

So we went home and drank the wine and had leftover chicken, plums and soya sauce from the River Cottage Hugh's three good things book which I had made for Sunday lunch and which was extremely delicious.

It was a beautiful, beautiful morning when I left Chesterfield today. The sky was pink and promising in the east. The sun was shining in an early morning sort of a way.  Now, however, the clouds are back and the sky is threatening and gloomy and lots more rain is forecast.  I, however, will not be on the train this evening.  I have the car with me.  And I won't be heading home during peak hour traffic.  For, after a hiatus of 9 months, I am going back to my Japanese classes this evening.  Wish me luck!!!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sunday Lunch on a Saturday

So, Freyja, Duncan and Nate rolled up on Saturday at about half past one.  I had managed to drag myself out of bed.  I had managed to get dressed.  I had even managed to prepare lunch.  And we had a lovely afternoon, eating and drinking and pootling about.  The sun even managed to shine. It was all very delightful.

Then yesterday the weather turned and the storms came in - and today it is cold and wet and windy and almost wintery.  Lovely weather to encourage the new baby students to come and play this week.  If they've come from anywhere warm and sunny they might very well have headed back by the end of the day!!

The exciting thing that happened at the weekend was when we heard quite a bit of noise emanating from next door's garden.  I went to investigate - and found a bloke knocking down their fence that keeps Max the dog out of our back garden.  It must be said that we have watched that fence blowing about when the weather is wild and wondered how long it would be before it blew over.  No chance of that now.  It was completely gone.

And now there is a new fence in its place.  Max is completely unable to come and play in our garden.  But the building of the new fence did have one or twom moments of excitement - particularly when the fencing bloke was filling a hole on his side of the porch with cement - and it managed to find a way through the retaining wall and pour all over our porch floor.  This didn't absolutely matter as we are intending to re-concrete the floor one day anyway - but it came as something of a shock to open the door into the porch and find the floor with rivulets of wet cement all over it!  (It also came as something of a worry earlier when he was taking out the original fence posts - the bottles and jars on the shelf in the porch sounded very much as though they were going to fall off!)

In the meantime, the doors seem to have taken against me.  The door into the back garden has bitten the middle knuckle of my right hand.  The door into the kitchen has bitten my left arm (which has a splendid bruise coming up on it).  The back door into the driveway didn't bite me - but I think it instructed my paring knife to snip the top of my left thumb when I was finely slicing zucchinis for lunch on Saturday.  It is *extremely* inconvenient to have a slice cut into the top of your left thumb!  I recommend you don't do it.

Right.  Term is upon us.  I had better go and find some students to terrify!!


Having said that we weren't doing very well for apples - I was listening to the apple orchard growers on Farming Today earlier in the week and they were saying that this has been absolutely the worst apple harvest for around 15 years or so. English apples are going to be in very short supply.  Which makes our basket of Bramley apples from the garden look quite healthy in comparison.

Apple pies, crumbles and cakes in the offing

And, up on the allotment, on our baby Bramley tree (which I had taken the fruit off in the spring, it being a bit small and a bit young to be bearing fruit) there are sneaky apples growing.  I think it must have had a second flowering when I wasn't watching.  There were certainly no baby fruits on it after I had had my initial inspection!

Sneaky apples growing on the allotment

And look how well we are doing for butternut squashes.  The ones that are properly ripe are copming in at around ikg each.  The new baby squashes almost certainly won't have time to ripen properly - but we'll eat them as if they were zucchini.

We have finally come to the end of the cucumbers - which have been extraordinarily prolific, even if some of them have been unpleasantly bitter. The tomatoes are starting to ripen now - but we definitely had a light frost on Saturday morning. If that keeps up the tomatoes will have to be brought into the house.

Mind you - if the weather turns properly cold that might do for the very hungry caterpillars which are demolishing our broccoli and cauliflower plants.  We had to take the butterfly cage away from them because the plants were getting too tall for it.  And of course the minute we did that the butterflies moved in, bringing their voracious offspring with them ;-(

And now The Under Gardener is getting the beds ready for winter.  We have bought the autumn planting onion sets and the garlic bulbs.  I have a new plan for the garden and the allotment for the next season. The freezers are full of summer bounty and autumnal harvest.  All that remains to be seen now, really, is what sort of weather the autumn has in store for us.  Mind you - it does feel rather as though we've been doing autumn since about June so it might not change markedly!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Vegetarian Sunday-Lunch-on-a-Saturday

I have had a lovely time planning this Sunday-lunch-on-a-Saturday.  I wanted it all to be suitable for vegetarians, and also all to be something that our visitors would enjoy eating.  No mushrooms, goats cheese or aubergine for us!  (Why do restaurants and veggie food writers obsess so much about mushrooms, goats cheese and aubergines - are they not aware of the many other delightful vegetarian foods that are available?  As it happens I rather like mushrooms, though lots of vegetarians do not.  But aubergines?  Goats cheese?  Why I ask.  Why?????)

Anyway.  None of that figured on my menu.  I decided to make the Hairy Bikers' take on chicken sweet and sour - but obviously not with chicken!  I was going to use quorn pieces, but then Freyja suggested I might like to use the mock chicken you can buy in oriental food shops.  So I took myself off to Tai Sun in Sheffield and bought some tins of braised bean curd and used that in place of chicken.  With it we had a butternut squash risotto.  And the two combined together were absolutely delicious.  We had them with runner beans and griddled zucchini..

To start we had mini party pies (using quorn mince), vegetable wontons and a "sausage" plait which I made using spicy tofu, mozzarella cheese and puff pastry.  And we finished off with an apple crumble cake.

There was, of course, wine.  And cups of tea with the cake.  All in all it was a delicious and pleasant afternoon.  We must do it again.  But after I have finished washing up from yesterday!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"So," said The Builder last Friday evening as we hit the supermarket.  "Who's coming to visit this weekend?"

No one

"No one?  Are you sure"  No one coming for Sunday lunch? Saturday supper?"

No.  No one.  And not only that there are no plans. Nothing in the diary. Nothing on the calendar.  A completely blank canvas for the weekend.

So that is pretty much what we did.  Almost nothing.

And almost as quiet has been the week at work.  A few tours of the Adsetts Centre for Education students.  An induction for part time students. A couple of meetings.  But otherwise fairly peaceful and unremarkable.

This, of course, is all about to change.  It's induction week next week. There will be new students milling about everywhere.  The returning students will return.  Bedlam is about to fall upon us.  Chaos is imminent.

And now I really must get up.  For we do have company coming this weekend.  Freyja and her former housemates Duncan and Nate are coming for a Sunday-lunch-on-a-Saturday.  They might not be entirely delighted if they arrive for lunch and find me lounging about still in bed - and no food to be had.

It's ten weeks today until we embark on then Grand World Tour.  I do not feel ready!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Sunday, another lunch

Quite some time ago, I had organised with Tabitha for her, Gareth, Cally and Ross to come for lunch on Sunday afternoon.  It was much, much more recently that we decided to go to the Paralympics. I didn't want to postpone the Sunday lunch - it can be quite difficult finding Sundays when we are all free.  And in any case, we had also invited Ginger Rich (who is very happy to provide taxi services between Sheffield and Tupton, in exchange for food.  So we headed back from London on Saturday morning to give ourselves time to go shopping and get ourselves organised.  In the meantime, Tabitha, Gareth and Cally were at Bishops' House running the shop until 1 on Sunday. So it was a mid-afternoon lunch.

And it all went rather well, I think.  We had roast chicken and a summer fruit crumble. We admired the garden and pottered about.  And we all went for a nice walk around The Avenue Wetlands after lunch. It was all very gentle.

But I think we wore Cally out.  Tabitha sent me a photo when they got home of Cally absolutely sound asleep in her car seat - well after they had got into the house :-D

Click on Cally to reach the pictures of her walk around the Wetlands

Monday, September 10, 2012

Paralympic fun

About a week ago Freyja rang me up to tell me that she could get tickets to the Paralympic athletics on Friday night quite cheaply, and did I want them.  Well yes.  As you are almost certainly aware, sport is not an overwhelming passion of mine, but if you are given the opportunity to attend a major sporting event then you would be a bit foolish to pass the chance up, in my view.

So I booked us into a hotel in East London (The Premier Inn in Beckton was way too expensive so I booked us into the much, much cheaper Travelodge by the City Airport) and arranged to have the afternoon off work to allow us time to get down to London in an unhurried manner.  We stopped at a supermarket on the way to pick up picnic supplies, checked into the hotel and took ourselves off to Stratford on the DLR.

The Olympic Park is just as beautiful as it was at the end of July - only vastly more crowded!  The Builder was a bit worried, when we first went in, that the wild flower gardens might be well past their best - the first bed we came to was more or less a bed of seed heads.  But the gardeners have done an excellent job of making sure that there are still flowers out in all their glory all over the park and it was all looking beautiful. We went for a wander around and admired the sunken gardens and the riverside walks.  We couldn't climb The Orbit - all the tickets were sold by the time I realised that we were going.  Oh well.  It's due to re-open towards the end of next year as a tourist attraction.  We'll climb it then.

And so into the stadium, where we had to climb all the way up there, that's right - up there rightattheverytop.  Most fortuitously, our seats were by a gap in the seating in front of us, so The Builder has lots of space for his knees.  Most unfortunately, another couple who climbed allthewayrightotheverytop - only to find that their seat numbers were where the gap in the seats was in front of us.  So they climed allthewaybackdownagain. We never saw them again so I assume someone sorted them out. In the meantime we ate our picnic or cold chicken, ham, salad and crisps and waited for it all to start.

And we saw discus and long jump and shot put. The discuses were picked up and put onto little remote controlled cars which delivered them back to the athletes. The shot puts came back along a channel similar to the ones that return bowling balls in ten pin bowling alleys. We saw sight impaired running, and blind running, where the athletes are accompanied by a sighted guide. The guides have to be every bit as fit as the athletes because they run just as far and just as fast.  Not something I could do as my evening job!  We also saw wheelchair racing, and those long, bicycle-style wheelchairs racing around.  We saw medal presentations (everyone sang lustily for the British National Anthem) and an Australian won the shot put (the crowd hummed lustily for the Australian National Anthem; as it happens, I do know the words so I sang instead of humming). It was all really rather exciting and I enjoyed it very much more than you would expect me to enjoy an evening out at the athletics.

And my librarian's raised eyebrow of disapproval is evidently still in fine working order.  There was a teenage boy sat a couple of rows in front of us who was disinclined to stand for the Chinese National Anthem.  As he was looking around in a "Look at me I'm not standing for the foreign anthem" sort of a way, he looked backwards and saw me.  I raised my librarian's eyebrow of disapproval.  And he leaped to his feet as though he had been bitten :-D He stood for all the other foreign anthems!!

Then we left and made our way to the Westfield eateries where we met Freyja who had been working in the athletes' village for a pasta and pizza supper.  Sat alongside us was an American couple whose daughter had been swimming in the aquatic centre.  She had garnered two gold medals and a bronze during the tournament - so they were very happy and excited too.  It was a really lovely evening.  Warm and convivial and exciting and happy.

There's a parade for the British medal winners from both the Olympics and the Paralympics in London today. Some of the volunteers and the participants in the various opening and closing ceremonies get to go to a seating area to watch it.  Freyja is amongst those going!

Click on the photo to reach the Paralympic album

Friday, September 07, 2012

Farewell To Roger

Well that marks the end of an era.  Roger was the chair of the panel who appointed me to my first position in the Learning Centre at SHU.  He was the team leader of the team I first worked on here. He has been here almost for ever and he's been on lots of the committees and groups that I have been on.

And now he's left.  Somehow he seemed to think that he was old enough to retire (though clearly he is not).  He took the last week of August off, as is his habit, but then simply didn't come back.

Until yesterday, when he came in so we could have a proper farewell for him in the Learning Centre, followed by a meal in the Crucible Corner across the road, where there came lots of faces from the past. People who have retired, people who have left, not to mention people from both campus Learning Centres.  Was a good evening.

But I shall miss him. Not only has he been here a very long time so the place will seem quite odd without him - but also there is now no one to pass the difficult and challenging engineering questions to!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Autumn is on the doorstep

We are having some lovely weather at the moment. The days are mostly sunny and moderately warm and very pleasant.  The nights, however, are becoming quite chilly, and there is an autumnal dampness in the garden when I get up in the morning.  But still not yet a frost so things continue to grow apace.

We are eating mountains of runner beans.  The Under Gardener has stopped picking from the plants furthest away from the house so we get some beans to put away for winter stews and soups.  But he is picking the plants closer to us, where we have abundant beans growing nicely.  The plants still have flowers on them!  We are also getting some quite nice zucchini - though not the gluts that we get most years.  We are, however, getting gluts of cucumbers still. Andn still they are of varying quality.  More of them are now nice and sweet, but we still get a number which are unpleasantly bitter.  We are not eating those.  And I am using cucumber in place of zucchini in our evening meals at the moment.  Not the bitter ones, but the sweet (and not sweet but not bitter ones) make a more than acceptable addition to ratatouille and curry sauces and other things where you might use zucchini. We are also eating vast number of "cucumber and ... " sandwiches at lunchtime!!  The tomatoes are just starting to ripen. We continue to watch them closely because the very first one we picked was all mouldy and grungy on the bottom. The mould looked more like blight than the mould which comes when you leave fruit for too long before using it.  But so far still so good.

The Under Gardener has now, mercifully, finished digging the potatoes.  We haven't done all that well, particularly when you take out of the equation all the potatoes which had been damaged by slugs and wireworm and other munching creatures.  So not many potatoes in the racks - but a positive mountain of prepped boilers, roasties and chips in the freezer. Probably the best of this year's varieties was the sarpo miro, which is a blight resistant, floury maincrop.  It is true it didn't seem to be affected by blight. But the slug and wireworm damage was immense and they don't really lend themselves all that well to being par boiled (they're very floury so they are prone to disintegrating and need very carefully watching).  I prepped them anyway and will see what happens.

And now the blackberries growing along the side fence in the chicken run/orchard are starting to ripen.  And the bramleys will be along soon.  Blackberry and apple pies/puddings/cakes anyone?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

End of my week off

And so we come to the end of my week off.

We went to Bishops' House on Saturday morning and had the grand total of 5 visitors! Not that that really worried us. I quite enjoyed a nice peaceful morning, drinking tea and eating apple and blackberry pie and reading the papers on my laptop. The Builder appeared to enjoy pottering about and chatting to the various dogs who popped their noses in to say hello.  Not quite sure what it is about our tiny shop, but dogs seem to find it quite fascinating.  I know we put a bowl of water outside the door for dogs to drink from, but even dogs who have not been enticed by the bowl still come over and amble in - hotly pursued by their apologetic owners!!

The tomato and chilli festival, which was to have been held in the walled garden at the bottom of Meersbrook Park on the Sunday has had to be cancelled because the tomatoes aren't ripe yet!!!

This is, of course, a bit sad, but didn't greatly inconvenience us.  We wouldn't have been able to go anyway.  For we had a visitor coming for lunch on Sunday.  An old school friend of Tabitha's who kept in quite close touch until we moved to Tupton.  He went and lived with Tabitha and Gareth for a while when they were in Cambridge but I haven't really seen him since then. He is a friend on Facebook and he chats to me sometimes on Twitter. And it was on Twitter that he happened to mention the previous week that he wished we didn't live so far away because he would quite like to catch up sometime.  I pointed out that Chesterfield is not on the dark side of the moon and invited him for lunch. And so he came.  We had a nice lunch and a nice chat and a pleasant potter around the garden, it not raining on Sunday. We had Japanese inspired fried dumplings to start with, a chicken "korma" for our main course (not a real korma, obviously, because they are made with coconut which might not have made the rest of my Sunday afternoon particularly fun!) and a plum tarte tatin for dessert.  Was all very tasty and convivial.

So that was a pleasant end to a pleasant week off, in which we didn't really do anything very exciting. We just pottered about, took a few gentle strolls, ate and drank, visited Joan, did a bit more pottering.  Nice and gentle.

Was something of a struggle to get up on Monday morning and dash about purposefully.  But I managed, after a fashion.

It's supposed to be nice and sunny this week.  Might do some washing!!

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Today was plum harvesting day

We have one plum tree.  One!

This year it was heavily laden.  And today we decided to harvest the plums.

Some were very ripe, some just ripe, some not really ripe. But we picked them all anyway.

Well, when I say "we" ... The Under Gardener picked them and I sorted them and dusted them and removed the tiny, tiny snails and the stalks and took away the damaged and otherwise less than perfect ones.

We now have a mixing bowl full of damaged plums and 19kg of plums in the freezer.  I freeze them whole and unblanched - they are then perfect for pies, cakes and tarts through the winter; slightly soggy but easy to de-stone.

19kg of plums set aside for the winter from one tree isn't bad, I reckon!

There are still the Bramleys, some more potatoes, tomatoes and butternut squash to come.  The humungous freezer, large enough to house a woolly mammoth, is almost full :-S

This is what I did with some of the damaged plums