Z has a pressing problem

I’ve been letting the ironing build up for the last few weeks. I had nearly all the tablecloths and four duvets to iron, for a start. Today was the day. Eloise cat thought so too and came to help.

I went and washed the leeks for Tim’s quiche. She’d moved slightly when I came back, so I had room for napkins on the ironing board. It took quite some time for her to be bored enough to move, but I did get the ironing done and I feel very self-satisfied. So does Tim, his quiche having proved to be as delicious as it always is. It was the first thing that he cooked for me, as I have said many times.

And yes, she’s a fat cat. I don’t think we overfeed her and we don’t leave dry food down for her any more, but she doesn’t move a huge amount. She potters about in the garden, unlike Rummy who’s a lean hunter. Rose gets presents from him, which we don’t, luckily. She’s completely recovered from her operation last spring and doesn’t limp at all, thank goodness. I don’t from my broken foot in July, either, but I can still feel it. The doctor said that it would take at least eight months to recover completely, so I suppose I’m on track. I’ve a horrid feeling that wearing heels will be an occasional event in future, though. Such a pity. I’ve never been one for extreme heels but I do like a bit of lift. Downhill all the way, in all respects, it seems.

Animal crackers

We were sitting having a peaceful cup of tea when Rose knocked on the window. The cattle were out! I hastened into boots and coats and fetched a stick, but it was less trouble than it looked. When the single bullock saw me, he jumped the fence back in with his mates.

We spent a while mending the fence.

By the time everyone comes to the blog party this summer, there will be a new fence. Probably a wooden picket fence, or rather, a series of them between the brick pillars. Jonny Farmer is going to come and talk to me about it on Sunday.

Sadly, one of our young hens has been taken by a fox – probably. A few afternoons ago, I shut the hen house when they’d all gone to roost and was taken aback the next morning, when I went to feed the cats, to find the smallest white pullet in the dutch barn with the cats. She returned to the other chickens when I opened their shed, but she didn’t roost with them that night either. I’m afraid that she thought she was being clever, but she wasn’t. I haven’t seen her since. I suspect that she came down from wherever she’d roosted at first light, when foxes were still about.

This means that I only have one pullet from Scrabble’s brood, which is a pity. I feel anxious when letting them out, but they’re so much happier being out and about in the garden. They’re really happy little chickens and we love to see them pottering around.

Their greenhouse needed some running repairs the other day. When I shut the chickens in their shed, I noticed a broken pane of glass. The next day, I realised there were two broken panes and that the gate through to the field was open. Evidently, one of the bullocks – probably the same enterprising chap who fetched up in the drive this afternoon – had managed to open the gate, come through, found his way barred and kicked about a bit before returning. So LT and I put wire netting up and Wince has done more maintenance too since then. And we’ve wired the gate so that they can’t tease it open.

Z muses. One of these days, Z might amuse, but baby steps…..

In the last two or three years, there has been a movement to take small children and babies into care homes, so that the old people can have the pleasure of interacting with tiny tots and the children enjoy the experience too. They’re too young to mind if the elderly people have hairy chins or say the same thing a few times and everyone enjoys the visit, including the parents who realise how much love there is between the generations. A few young friends of mine have taken their babies along and enthused about it.

I used to take Meals on Wheels to a nice old man who lived in the village. After his wife died, he’d had a long relationship with another woman, a widow, who kept her own home but spent a lot of time at his. This is not at all unusual now, at whatever age, but was then. But then she died and he was quite lonely, not for company but for touch. I got that, I knew that when he wanted a big, enveloping hug, he wasn’t behaving inappropriately but showing a need – in fact, once, I remember him muttering “oh, that’s what I need, that’s what I need.”

We used to be quite reticent in this country and it’s one of the big changes in society, that we all hug and kiss each other nowadays – just socially, as they do in some Continental societies. I say “all” but that’s not really the case. Some people are quite uncomfortable with it and feel that kissing should be reserved for spouses and children, but even those less tactile ones go along with it if they have to. I generally go by instinct, whether someone will welcome a hug or not – body language, I suppose.

There is, of course, the social hug/kiss and the warm one and the loving one and probably a few more nuances – like the intergenerational one I started with. I remember once impulsively kissing the cheek of an old lady I didn’t know all that well but was fond of, and she just blossomed. She was surprised and so pleased.

I’m not going anywhere with this really except to say, touch matters and hugs matter. If one is really non-tactile then that may not be possible, but there are a lot of people who simply crave a moment of warmth with someone friendly. Even when Eloise cat cuddles up to me, I feel soothed and cheered. I never mind her waking me in the night, because we both feel happier for the contact.

Z has lunch

We were on our way home from Norwich at 12.30, so decided to stop for lunch at a local farm café. This is an interesting set-up. Only three years ago, the owners started a small herd of Jersey cows. They leave the calves with their mothers for at least six months and only take the surplus milk, which they sell raw and unpasteurised. They also keep chickens for eggs and rare breed pigs. To start with, they had a shed with a couple of fridges and tables and an honesty box. This was always full of change – there must have been £30-worth at least, quite apart from the money from sales, which you were asked to write down in a book. If you bought meat, you might spend £20 or so and just left it in the box.

It seemed to work because they got a bigger shed. Then, last year, they expanded considerably to have a shop and a café. We went in for lunch last November, having shopped there a couple of times, and it was very good. The waiting staff were a bit inexperienced but the place was busy – full and on second sittings by 1 o’clock. We ordered our Christmas goose from them, which wasn’t reared there but at another, named Norfolk farm.

As you drive in, geese, ducks, guinea fowl and peacocks scatter in front of the car. Today, there were a couple of pigmy goats in a paddock, polishing off the remains of a Christmas tree. Goats love conifers. They have planted a field with grape vines, which intrigues us – vines are a lot of work and we wonder if they’re leasing the land or planning to do the work themselves and sell the grapes to a winery.

We had an excellent lunch. I had falafels and Tim had a steak sandwich. We bought some sausages to bring home and I spotted wild rabbits and a hare on the butchery counter. Hares have been struggling with a form of myxomatosis but I’ve been told that they’re overcoming this, around here anyway, and numbers have recovered. So we bought it and I’ll marinade and casserole it. I asked the butcher what the rare breed of pig was? He looked a bit nonplussed. “They\re black ones,” he said. “Um, Berkshires?” I asked, because they’re the only black breed I can name. He didn’t know, though.

We are very well served here for food. There are several good bakeries, though I normally make my own bread. There’s another excellent small farm the other side of Yagnub and the greengrocer has a fridge to sell their meat. Opposite the lovely greengrocer is the wholefood shop, the wet fish shop (and the chippie too) and the deli, which has a range of great cheeses, in particular our local Baron Bigod and St Jude. They also sell Norfolk salami. You can get your own containers refilled with washing up liquid, shampoo and so on at the wholefood shop so you hardly need to go to the supermarket if you don’t want to.

Anyway, what I really came here to write about was our waitress today. She was very much on the ball and efficient. And what I noticed was the way she kept an eye on every table. Tim and I spent some time looking at the menu and the specials board, then the drinks menu. I saw her spot us put them down and sit back. Seconds later, she was at the table to take our order.

I’m sure you all have been in restaurants where the waiting staff never catch your eye. There seems to be a time, usually when you’ve been asked if you want anything more and you’ve said no, when there’s a strange reluctance to bring the bill. However many waiters there are, they’re all focussed on what they’re doing and eyes never go to right or left at all. But the good ones’ eyes are all over the place, however busy they are. They know exactly who might want another drink or need some attention. They don’t bother you but they are right there if there’s anything you need. She was one of those. As I paid, she asked me if we’d enjoyed our meal and I quoted Tim, who’d said his steak sandwich (with salad, red onion relish and aioli) was the best he’d ever had. Later, having fetched our meat and a cauliflower, we went to the shop till. They don’t have someone there all the time but there’s a bell to ring when you want service. Having waited a few minutes, I rang it – and as soon as a diner had paid for her meal, along came our waitress to serve in the shop too. Whatever she’s being paid, she’s worth it and more.

Today, I’ve mostly been making marmalade…

Though I’ve made a loaf of bread too. The Seville orange season gets earlier and earlier – it used to start in the last week in January but now it’s before the mid-point of the month. They’re huge oranges this year too, or Simon’s offerings are anyway. The water didn’t come more than halfway up the oranges in the preserving pan, so I halved them for the second and third batches, which made it much easier. I have nearly 25 jars, which will last the year, especially as there are a few jars left from last year – when I made four batches as we’d run out.

That’s all we’ve done, really. It’s windy tonight, Storm Brendan, apparently, who will be forgettable. I noticed, when I shut up the chooks, that a pane of glass is cracked in their greenhouse. There is netting on the outside but we need to add wire for their safety. I’ve lost too many to foxes and dogs, as well as mink and so on – poor little chickens are easy prey, even though I thought I’d been careful.

As long as I don’t think the roof is going to blow off, I quite like lying in bed listening to the wind and rain. Although I’ve lived here over half my life, the earlier part was spent within earshot of the sea or tidal river and rough weather is strangely comforting, probably because of its familiarity. Our last house was a big old Edwardian former rectory, with lots of sash windows that let in the draught. I used to lie in bed watching the curtains billow from the easterly gales. Or, on still nights, listening to the foghorn.

I rarely went on the beach in the summer, except when the children wanted to – actually, that was quite often, now I think about it. But I didn’t for my own pleasure. It was stormy days, when i’d come in with salty lips from the sea spray that I enjoyed. Winter walks on the seafront and watching lightning forking into the sea on stormy nights was my delight.

And that has nothing to do with marmalade. LT finds it hard to keep up, sometimes. Though he digresses too, which I enjoy. We’re as mercurial as cats, in our way.

Eloise cat

I had no idea about cats, until I had Eloise. She’s sitting on my lap now, which makes typing quite difficult, looking at me, then having a wash, then gazing around. She’s endlessly entertaining to Tim (equally unaware of cats before this) and me and quite unselfconscious as a dog isn’t. She is mercurial – affectionate or not, randomly; and attentive and clinging or disappearing for hours, with no apparent reason for either behaviour. She has quite a vocabulary, which we have learnt to understand and answers, if she wants to, when we speak to her. She certainly greets us verbally in the mornings and answers when we ask a question, as long as it’s sensible one, such as does she want to go out or does she need food? She is utterly adorable and I love her more than I ever thought I could love a cat. I don’t think I’ll ever have another pet. The thought of loss weighs on me too heavily nowadays.

Talking of talking, one of the young pullets had decided to spend the night in a nest box. I reached in to check on the eggs and she gave an indignant yowl, not a chickeny sort of sound at all. I just removed the closest egg and didn’t explore further – I have a couple of pot eggs in there and I didn’t feel I could upset her by investigating which were the bantams’ and which were the decoys. They are real eggs, but bought ones – clay or china eggs are no good; the chickens are perfectly aware that they aren’t genuine, but bought-in eggs, marked with a cross in indelible ink, keep them laying in the same place, for the most part. As far as I know, at any rate. I don’t think a chicken is likely to go broody at this time of the year, but four years ago on the 1st February, a chicken that had gone missing turned up with a clutch of chicks and had to be looked after. I put her in the greenhouse with a coop.

Must eat more eggs…..

I don’t waste food, really. Tim knew that when he married me but I’m not sure he realised the extent of my resolve. For example, the goose we had for Christmas did a number of meals and the bones made stock and that made a few more. At the weekend, I made soup – celery, broccoli and stilton, minestrone. The first two needed vegetable stock so I made it from the trimmings of the vegetables that were the basis of the soup. So even peelings get used.

I wonder if I’m a bit obsessed, sometimes. The sometimes is ambiguous, which is fine. Ambiguous has a lot going for it.

In other news, I played the clarinet for the first time in three months. I’ll be tootling the keys in church tomorrow. It’s a long time since I did that performance standing up because the risk of overbreathing has its follow-on risk that I’ll faint.

Lovely little bantams are still laying like good’uns. Eggs will be the basis of tomorrow night’s dinner. When I lived alone and we had a glut, I ate egg twice a day, but Tim is weirdly reluctant. I don’t count breakfast, you see, he does. Anyway, they are good little girls – and their two smaller cousins are due to start laying by the end of this month.


I don’t usually do this sort of thing. But the awful fires in Australia are unprecedented.
Rachael was a friend of Linda’s, our lovely Ziggi who died four years ago and who we miss so much still. Those of us who read her blog or met her, anyway. If you visited Linda at home, you’ll have seen a marvellous tiger on her wall and that was drawn by Rachael. Rachael is Australian but has lived in this country for a good many years. Anyway, it’s a fiver a pop so, even if you’ve already donated to one of the Australian charities, it’s a good cause that means a lot to her. She’s a lovely woman and a fine artist. You might even win.

And so to bed…

I’ve just got home from my book group – which, until a few years ago, was something I thought I’d never say – and we all agreed that we loved the book that one of us chose. It was The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Armin and we all enthused, which pleased Annie, who chose the book, very much.

The other book I’ve read most recently, it having been a Christmas present from Tim – I finished it today, in fact – was A Cheesemonger’s History of the British Isles, by Ned Palmer. A stunning amount of research, both in terms of history and the present day, by a real enthusiast with a wickedly dry sense of humour – and our very own local Baron Bigod and St Jude cheeses feature in it.

While I was out, Tim did his annual Christmas card audit. I don’t think he’s posted it on his blog yet, so that’ll be a pleasure for tomorrow.

Z cooks

The young chickens are laying very well. Fortunately, they seem to be happy to lay in the nest boxes at present, probably because the big black hens are off lay and they are a bad influence. Yesterday morning when I let them out of their house, I looked for eggs from the day before and found only one, plus a sitting pullet. I thought that must mean they were laying away – until I looked again before they went to roost and found nine more eggs. Ten in two days must mean that Scrabble and/or Polly are also laying, which is pretty good, but gives us rather a glut of eggs.

Dealing with Christmas leftovers was no trouble, except for the milk. I managed to acquire three milkman’s pints plus a litre from the farm. So, LT being away for the weekend, I cooked myself vegetables in a cheese sauce and made a lot of yoghurt. I then cooked two dishes this week, one of chicken marinaded in yoghurt and one fish baked in the stuff, which used about half of what I had. With the rest of the surplus, I made celery soup and broccoli and Stilton soup, as well as minestrone and that emptied the fridge.

I’ve never been wasteful in the kitchen but I’ve become a lot more frugal in recent times and there’s virtually no food that gets thrown away without full use having been made of it, though I have no hesitation in buying expensive ingredients if I want to. And final leftovers, apart from bones, go to the chickens or the compost heap (which they comb through anyway). I even make stock from vegetable peelings, apart from potato.

Simon the greengrocer has Seville oranges in now, so marmalade is on the list for later this week. I made four batches last year and we’re down to the last few jars.