Monthly Archives: February 2009


It was an accident. I’m glad to say that I laughed and came up with an alternative dinner plan within ten seconds and the food itself in less than fifteen minutes.

I made a bolognese-type sauce to go with pasta this evening. It was tasty, although it hadn’t had the requisite long cooking. I called Ro down and asked him to carry the trayful of food through. I can’t carry traysful any longer, not without demonstrating the Quasimodo Lurch. I carried the wine, cheese and glasses and he carried the tray with plates, cutlery, pasta and sauce and the sprouts (what? of course Brussels sprouts go with spag bol). I went first, to open the door.

There was a crash. I went back. The meat sauce covered a surprisingly large area of floor. Tilly shot past me, looking scared and embarrassed for having tripped Ro up.

I laughed. Ro looked stricken. “This will all have to be thrown out! What shall we have for dinner?”

“Put on the grill,” I said. “We have bacon.” Fortunately, I’d not put the sauce on the pasta and that dishful was still on the tray. “Carbonara sauce,” I decided.

We always have ingredients for spaghetti carbonara, don’t we? I’d even grated the Parmesan. While the bacon cooked, we scooped up the sauce and then called Tilly back to lick the remnants off the floor (may I make it clear, at this point, that Tilly is a dog? Don’t let Dave mislead you, unless it is into naughtiness). I only had greek yoghurt not cream, but I cracked eggs, squeezed a lemon, ground black pepper and it took no time at all.

Ro is abashed. Tilly has got over it. I’ll cook the meal again tomorrow, because Ro said it looked and smelled so good. The chickens will be thrilled at their meaty dinner in the morning.

Z plans to visit London

I’ve got to come up to town next week to take a look at my flat, where my tenant is still ignoring requests to pay the rent. The only day I can clear is Wednesday 25th. Before I book my ticket, which will commit me to times, is anyone free to meet me for a drink or a toddle round an exhibition or something? If I’m meeting someone it’ll be worth a longer visit, but otherwise it’ll just be a flying one.

Cheers, darlings.

Love is…

I had an email from a friend this evening, apologising in advance if she becomes a bit unreliable in weeks to come, as from now on she’ll be looking after her 2-year-old granddaughter. I don’t know her son or daughter-in-law but there’s obviously something very wrong. I sent a supportive email back of course, aiming to be sympathetic and available but not asking questions she may not feel like answering, but I’m so sorry about the situation. I hope whatever the problem is, it sorts itself out without lasting damage, and at least, by taking the little girl out of the situation, Granny has done all she can to limit distress.

On a different note entirely, dearest Jen is finally off. She, her other half and her third half – their little daughter – are off to make a new life in the jungle in Belize. They’ve been wanting to do this as long as I’ve (virtually) known them but, unlike most of us, they’ve quietly planned their exit (should that be exeunt?) and taken the final step, leaving behind all that passes for life as we live it.

The Sage arrived home safely and has just toddled off to bed, where he’ll find I’ve turned on the blanket already. Love appears to be measured by the warmth of the bed in this house. Pugsley was terribly excited when the Sage arrived home, and shot straight off to the table where he’d put some leftover toasted teacake which his mother had given him for the bantams. He fed Tilly, too. He is very fond of animals, and loves to watch them eat.

Squiffany and I played shoe shops today. I’ve never got into that sort of imaginative play myself, being singularly lacking in that quality, but she loves it. We took it in turns to be shopkeeper and customer. Both children had a good bounce on my bed, too. Then we went downstairs, read stories and watched The Simpsons. Al has recently bought a DVD of early (original) Star Trek episodes. Squiffany loves them and is looking forward to watching them with Ro. She’ll hold his hand if there are any scary moments and explain who all the characters are.

Beeguiled and begulled

This morning I have been making phone calls. Two of the people I rang were out so I’ll phone again. The first doesn’t have an answerphone, which is quite straightforward (although I only wanted to leave a message) but the second did. “There’s no one here, please ring again later,” it went. Which is a bit pointless, isn’t it? I’d rather not have had a reply than that.

The good news is that Al’s hive of bees has survived the winter. When it was sunny on Sunday, thousands of them were flying about. He is very relieved.

When cycling home this afternoon, I heard an angrily screaming seagull. I looked up and a barn owl, misguidedly out during the day (it was about 2.15pm) was being chased by the gull. It was being outpaced too, despite weaving and diving to try to get away. Finally, it reached a small tree and took refuge, just in time because more gulls were appearing in answer to the screaming. I’d rather have owls than gulls on the whole, but I suppose they had right on their side. I wonder how a gull knows that an owl has no business out and about in the afternoon?

The Sage phoned a while ago (just before I went out, luckily) and I’m expecting him home in about an hour. I have looked after the place carefully during his absence and he will be reassured. He said he loves and misses me. Sweet, isn’t it? We made a lot of kissy noises down the phone.

Got to love him

So, the Sage has been putting his foot in it with both hands recently. A few weeks ago (can’t remember if I told you this already, but if I can’t the odds are you can’t either) we were invited to have dinner with friends. I took the phone call, which was fortunate, and happily accepted the invitation and then told the Sage. We never do anything on a Saturday night so I knew it would be all right.

“Oh. A bit short notice. I might want to visit A & J”. A & J live in Cheltenham. I was a bit surprised. It transpired that he was planning to visit them at some time. Well, I might have implied that already. But I didn’t know that hithertofore. Furthermore, he was going to stay overnight. Upon enquiry, it turned out that he might go at any time in the next few months. So, what was the big thing about the coming weekend? I asked.

Long/short – I gave him hell. I explained that we were going to have dinner with friends and have a social life together for once. And, while I was about it, I wondered why he was insouciantly planning a night visiting his friends when he was so staying-away-from-home phobic that he didn’t even go to his son’s graduation and I was the only parent sitting with an empty place beside me, and he hasn’t spent a night away from home for more years than I can remember (at least 8, maybe 10). Poor chap didn’t have a leg to prop himself up with.

Two more incidents, this last weekend, that have demonstrated that he doesn’t take any notice of what I say, however nicely I say it. “Don’t throw that gravy away, it’ll go in with the partridge bones to make stock” isn’t that hard, is it? Binned it was, although the rest of the post-dinner chaos in the kitchen was untouched. “I’ve left *this* dishful for the chickens, and *this*, in the colander, is for Tilly” was also straightforward. Naturally, Tilly was disappointed.

I explained that it isn’t the wrong move but the not listening. He was abashed. Next time, I’ll make him repeat what I said. The simple truth is that most men dismiss what women say. It goes right over their heads. They think it’s all ‘yakyakyak’, however lucid the explanation.

Anyway, today he’s gone to visit A&J in Cheltenham. So I’ve taken the opportunity to cook an Indian meal. Fish in a yoghurt sauce, a mushroom and rice number, a green bean with chilli and mustard seed dish and spicy cauliflower. Later, I will play loud and sweary music. Then I’ll go to bed. He phoned at 7 o’clock. “I left the electric blanket on” he said. “I wouldn’t want you to be chilly without me.”

Oh, and he arranged for Al to feed the chickens. “Didn’t he think I’d get it right?” I wondered. “I think he was worried that you’d fall over and get muddy” reassured Al. “It’s a bit boggy just inside the gate.” It’s true. He spares me.

Isn’t it a nobby one?

Today has gone very well. Last night, I knitted together, in pairs, the last 16 stitches of my hat. I was, until the last few rows, undecided as to whether to sew it up or to unravel the whole thing and start again. It isn’t perfect, to say the least. However, once I’d done, I encouraged myself to finish the job. After a good night’s sleep.

And so, this morning, that is what I did. I had a cheery online chat with Badgerdaddy and then I did a bit of work and then I got on with it. I’d had a bit of difficulty in deciding when to start reducing the rows, as it was not easy to count – evidently, I should have used a marker. It seemed about right and, more vitally, I judged that the wool I had left wouldn’t stretch much further, so I was glad when I put the unmade-up hat against my head and found it wasn’t a bad fit. Once finished, there actually was some wool left over, so I added a few rows to the scarf, which I’d providently (not providentially, it was deliberate) left on the needle against the opportunity to lengthen it and then finished that off too.

Later, I cycled into town wearing both hat and scarf. This means I have resoundingly carried out one of my NY resolutions, which was to knit and wear something. I’m still working on the music one and haven’t started on the others, but it’s only mid-February so there’s plenty of time.

But before that, I discovered that the post had arrived. And in it was a pair of most splendid walking poles, which were a gift from the company, or at any rate its PR people. I’m quite embarrassed about this, as I’m not exactly a target customer, but at the same time my good friend who arranged the gift was entirely truthful, as was I in my letter of thanks. It’s only fair to give them a plug – the Vango Walker is what I have and although they haven’t yet been used for more than striding around the house, they seem well designed and made (isn’t telescopic always a pleasure?) and there’s a little compass in the top, which is such a nice touch. I love gadgets and they just might have found themselves a new customer. Next time, a paying one.

Then I had my hair cut, which is always a pleasure.

Ro, who still has a cold, roasted himself by the fire tonight. His arm is quite red. I’ve been up to find my après sun stuff, which I didn’t need at all last summer.

Tonight, Al and Dilly are at the Bee Club meeting, the first of the year. The Sage (who blotted his copybook on consecutive days, oh dear oh dear) is babysitting, but I expect I’ll take over from him later.

Oh, there is one thing that has annoyed me. I bought a bar of Green & Black’s cherry chocolate a while ago, and we’ve been eating it in the past week or so. Now, G&B chocolate isn’t quite what it was, since it was bought out by a major brand (Cadbury’s, I think, but am open to correction) – for one thing, they’ve added milk to their plain chocolate, and what’s all that about? But anyway, what I like about this particular chocolate is the delish sour cherries. So, when I was in the Little Green Shop this afternoon, I bought a small pack of sour cherries, thinking that I could nibble on a few of those and bypass the chocolate. But when I got them home I read the label and found that they have added vegetable oil and sugar. What’s the point of that, then? Is it because they are American and everything is high fat/high sugar in America? Surely not. Anyway, I ate a couple. They are too sweet and slightly oily. I’ll probably hide them at the back of the cupboard for a couple of years and then throw them out. Not at all nice, and disappointing. Why call them sour if the sourness has been eliminated?

Ro and the Nasal Irritation

“Urgh” groaned Ro again. “Poor you,” I said sympathetically. “Is it a cold or is it full-blown man flu?” “I suppose I am making a bit of a fuss,” he acknowledged.

I’ll miss him when he moves out, you know. Whenever that will be.

“You know when you get something packed in those polystyrene granules and a bit goes up your nose?” he said. “Well, no, but I have inhaled a feather,” said I. “Well, it feels like that. As if there’s some irritant that you’ve breathed in and it’s right up near your eye.” We talked about polystyrene. Apparently, he’s inhaled it more than once. Stuff was often packed in it where he used to work and in the end he always got someone else to do the unpacking. Most odd.

Z does very little

I’m absurdly relaxed. I’m gradually catching up on work but not putting much into it. I’m hoping that I’m just following my body, as it were, and that when I need to snap to it, I’ll be all keen and ready again.

I was awake for a long time in the night, so I finished the book and started another. Reading books has settled me back into myself I know – but for ages they didn’t hold my interest. Actually, yesterday’s didn’t really as I didn’t engage with any of the characters at all, but the writing itself was good enough to keep me going.

Today, after getting up late, I went into town to pick up my contact lenses. The receptionist was just back from 3 months in Australia visiting family and we chatted for a long time. I was in there about 20 minutes. Then I went over to where I’d left my bike and chatted to friends who were buying their fruit and veg from Al and then I went to the bike shop to get my tyres pumped up. This is no sort of euphemism, they were quite spongy. I bought a pump while I was there. £2.50 seems reasonable for a bicycle pump. I went back for some kumquats, rhubarb, blood oranges and a melon and then to the wine shop, then to the deli. I was right out of coffee and couldn’t quite face instant. Last night, I thought I made a cup of chamomile tea, left the bag in the mug and it was only when I was taking the first sip that I realised it was actually green tea and already getting bitter. I like it bitter, but not overbrewed. The coffee smelled so gorgeous that I had to make a potful as soon as I got home.

So now I’ve had a late lunch and have been reading the papers and listening to relaxing music – first Sidney Bechet and now Mara Carlyle. For dinner tonight, we’ll have melon, roast partridge and something with rhubarb and kumquats. You need to cook the kumquats first – the skins are edible but tart so I usually simmer them until tender, then add sugar and cook again. Orange flavour goes beautifully with rhubarb and the liquid from the kumquat, reduced until syrupy, gives plenty of sweetness. I’ll probably cut them in half as they can be very pippy.

London Particular…

…is what we had for dinner. I think that’s brilliant, that pea soup gave its name to a filthy fog and the fog gave its name right back to the soup. I’d boiled a piece of gammon for last night and saved the cooking water, in which I’d put onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and coriander seeds. So today, all I needed to do was cook the dried split green peas in the (strained) stock, fry more vegetables and cook them all together for another hour. It didn’t even need seasoning. The baker had sold, cheap, the last few rolls to the Sage for the chickens, but I heated them up for us. That sounds a bit mean actually, snatching food from under the chickens’ beaks, especially since the dear little things have kept us in eggs all winter.

We never did cut back on eating eggs, by the way. Not that we often have them for breakfast, but I simply didn’t believe the warnings about their cholesterol-raising properties. Actually, I did have a boiled egg for breakfast a couple of weeks ago. It was lovely. Come to think of it, I had one of the bantam’s bread rolls with it then, too. Me bad indeed.

It’s interesting, going in to a lesson in school once a week only, to observe how the students change over the months. Back in September, the year 9s (aged 13-14) were unsure in their new school and most of them were still children. A couple of tall boys, gangling and awkward or chunky and – awkward! – and some sophisticated-looking girls, but very young. Now, half a year later, they’re much more assured and, some of them, potentially harder to manage. Not in the class I go to, they’re fine and they’re polite and surprisingly friendly, in a respectful sort of way, with me. I could equally transpose ‘friendly’ and ‘respectful’ – indeed, though some older pupils don’t accept my authority to tell them what to do as they know I’m not their teacher, they are still polite and just grin at me. But the Year 9s, they do ask me for help – they also know my limitations mind you! – and … oh crumbs, you know, they treat me kindly as a granny figure I suppose.

The other thing that gets me is how beautiful they are. Gorgeous, almost without exception. Appreciably better groomed than when I was their age, both boys and girls. At that age it comes naturally, too. I bet most of them have no idea and only see what they’d like to change.

At LOM’s request, more details of the soup –
I think I could have used the veg I cooked with the gammon to make the stock, but I was afraid they would be salty (it was only one onion, a few slightly wizened carrots and a couple of outside celery stalks so it wasn’t much waste. I also cooked swede, carrot and celery together as a vegetable so I saved their cooking water. Altogether it was a couple of litres once strained. I added 12 ounces (I use metric and imperial indiscriminately) of dried green split peas and simmered gently for half an hour. I chopped – actually I did it in the food processor – another big carrot and an onion and a stray shallot and a couple more celery stalks, fried them gently in a little oil for 10 minutes or so. Then I chucked them in with the peas and simmered again for an hour or so, then put through the food processor until small. This still has some pea texture, if you want it completely smooth you’d want to put it through a mouli.

You could use other vegetables, leek for example. I didn’t put in so much carrot that it would change the colour.

I wouldn’t use ham stock to cook beans that need soaking, as the salt would toughen them. I’d soak them overnight, then cook them (kidney beans, blackeye beans, chickpeas etc) in plain water until tender and then drain them and use stock for the rest of the recipe. Kidney beans need boiling for 10 minutes to destroy toxins or they give you stomach cramps, but are digestible after a preliminary hard boiling. Never think that beans will finish cooking in the recipe, cook them until tender first.