Monthly Archives: February 2010

Z prefers marmalade to dates

Looking in my diary, I’ve not got a lot on this coming week.  Quite a lot of the sort of things that don’t go in the diary – I’ve made a to-do list, which I only do when things are really piling up – but not much that’s out of the house.  So I think that the time has come to make marmalade.  It’s probably about the last week that Al will have the oranges, in any case.

I was talking to someone the other day who had met her husband over the internet.  I know several couples who have got together that way, either via blogging or dating websites (when I say “know”, some of them I only know through blogging, but I do know two couples personally).  A friend of hers, whose life was shattered a couple of years ago when her husband walked out without warning, has been dipping her toe into the deep water of dating again – but, fifteen years on and with young children, she hasn’t the confidence to go out looking.  So far, her dates have not been wildly successful and she asked Our Mutual Friend for advice.  OMF said that she and her husband didn’t meet very soon – they corresponded for quite some time first, and felt that they had a rapport and that they would like to be friends, whether or not romance might follow.  The Ex-Wife admitted that she had gone by photos, whether she’d liked the man’s smile and his eyes.

It occurs to me that I am very lucky to have hung on to the Sage for yet another reason.  It’s not been long since I was last propositioned, in fact (no one you know, darlings) but I don’t think I could face ever starting over again with another serious relationship.  In fact, if ever he throws me out and I start casting my beady eyes around, don’t take me seriously, will you?  I’m afraid I would be quite unreliable.

Three Years?

Lemon Gin Recipe


  • I litre bottle of medium quality gin
  • 200 g white granulated sugar
  • 3 unwaxed lemons (just the rind, avoiding the pith)


  • Make space in the bottle for the sugar and lemon by pouring off at least 200 ml of gin (reserve this).
  • Gently pare the lemon rind from the lemon. Be really careful to avoid the bitter pith (at a pinch use a zester – although the results are not nearly as good).
  • Add the peel to the bottle.
  • Using a funnel add the sugar to the gin and shake well. Top up the bottle with the reserved gin. Find a use for the surplus (I usually mix myself a large gin and tonic at this stage).
  • Label the bottle. Wrap it well (bubble wrap is ideal) and place securely in the boot of your car (The alcohol will not allow the bottle to freeze completely in cold weather).
  • Drive the car hard for three years.
  • Remove the bottle. Taste and taste again.
I was looking on my computer for a recipe that I’d been given for vodka flavoured with Seville orange. I couldn’t find it, and I think that I was told it and didn’t write it down.  However, I think that this recipe, which I did find, could be adapted satisfactorily.

But three years?  Don’t think I can wait that long.  Maybe I can just give it a regular shake and wait a few months.

I don’t know who gave me this recipe.  Any of you?

Not you, Dave, I know that already.


A couple of days ago, I was looking through Blogger and found that one can now email a post directly to the blog. When I was last staying with Wink, I went down to her local library and found that I couldn’t write on the blog, not even a comment – they were blocked. So I was just checking that it worked. I was going to take it down again, but several keen people sent in comments, so it didn’t seem polite. Anyway, it’s of limited use, but if you’re using a hospital network or a school one or anywhere where usage of some sites is blocked, it’s a good thing to know.

I’m a slow learner when it comes to this sort of thing, and it takes me ages to work anything out. I sometimes think back nostalgically to when I bought my first computer, which came with a surprisingly helpful manual which told me stuff. Now, it’s all about clicking on ‘help’ and asking questions, which usually give nil returns, or looking through a list of topics which don’t seem very relevant.

A few months ago, I was struggling to change a document which had been written by Excel by someone else and sent to me – the trouble was, previous people in her job had set it up and then altered it, and it was a complete mish-mash – I was having to change each thing individually and then it kept wanting to revert back to the original. Weeza happened to visit while I was still complaining about it, and she showed me that if I removed all formatting, I could then redo it how I wanted. How was I to know? The person who now writes that document does it in Word, which is just as annoying. Actually, it’s worse. For instance, when it arrives in a font I hate and which won’t fit anyway once I’ve done my alterations, why, when I’ve selected all and changed it, does it keep putting any new writing in the original font? I’ve tried everything. I don’t understand it (btw, I’ve got an elderly version of Word, because I’m not buying anything new and it doesn’t come with a Mac). Another thing I look back nostalgically to is my first computer, when I used Clarisworks. Lovely Clarisworks. It was brilliant. It did exactly what I wanted to and I only had to ask once and it remembered but it never imposed anything. Honestly, it was even better than a husband, in many respects.

No, of course not in every way. In nearly ten years, it never once took out the bins or brought in a bucket of coal.

Second best

Then, of course, there’s the other side of the coin. Things that we often buy to use, which actually are better home-made but are just too much trouble to make all the time, or which require a level of skill which one may not have.

In my case, the first among these is pastry. I almost always buy it – quite forgivable with puff pastry, I think, but I buy short crust too. Simply, it is one of my more puzzling failures as a cook. I’ve tried every way recommended, and it’s never very good. The best is if I make it in the food processor and don’t actually touch it with my hands at all until it’s rolled out – but it’s still not as good as other people’s, and it’s all pretty messy. In fact, I’d usually make a scone or crumble topping and avoid the pastry issue altogether.

Something that is better home made is mayonnaise – but how many of us always have a jar of bought in the fridge? I certainly do, though I will sometimes make mayo for a nice meal – won’t bother if it’s to dip chips in, though. Chips as in french fries, that is. Not potato chips, ie crisps. Although, of course, chips are made of potato.

Tins of beans (plain haricot, blackeye, kidney etc) and chickpeas – they aren’t even hard to do, one just has to start them off the day before and then actually cook them. And fresh are better than tinned. But I often get out a tin.

Orange juice. Freshly squeezed is far, far better. But the supermarkets sell an awful lot of tetrapaks – and there’s one in my fridge right now.

Yoghurt. This is no longer the 1960s, which was the last time I made yoghurt.

Muesli. Now, why does anyone buy it? It doesn’t take long to make your own, enough for weeks at a time, and you can get the proportions you like. But I don’t.

Biscuits or cookies. Home made are far better, far cheaper and not that much trouble. And I did make flapjacks yesterday – but generally, I’m likely to buy biscuits, especially savoury ones. British flapjacks are not the same thing as American ones, by the way. You melt sugar, butter and golden syrup and stir in rolled oats, then put in a tin and bake, then cut into slices. I can’t remember what American flapjacks are.

Bread. Time was, I used to make all my own bread, but that was a long time ago.

Mustard. I have several jars of different ready-made mustards, though I do like fresh mustard made from mustard powder (especially with roast beef), but it never all gets used and goes rock-hard in the mustard pot and has to be repeatedly soaked out. So I only make it occasionally. Interestingly, Martina reckons that mustard is better bought than made.

I’d have reckoned that I make most dishes from scratch, but now I look at this lot (tip of the iceberg, I’m sure), I realise that I could do an awful lot more. I also realise that I’m not going to.

Again, comments (or admissions) will be added to the post.

Frozen roast potato (for one, he points out) Dave
The best French mustard – Sarah
Bread sauce – Jane Goth (I only ever made bread sauce to go with the Christmas turkey, but we haven’t had turkey for years, so I haven’t made bread sauce).
Rice pudding – Martina, who says it’s better than the pudding she makes, and cheaper. I think there must be more to rice pudding in the US than there is here, as it’s just rice, sugar and milk, with nutmeg, cinnamon or whatever you like to flavour.

The real thing

I’ve been thinking about recipes where the only proper thing to use is a convenience food rather than making an ingredient from scratch – for example, an obvious one is that real custard is made from Bird’s custard powder – sure, you can use cornflour and an egg in an emergency, though it wouldn’t be quite right, but in a trifle, making a ‘proper’ egg custard would just be wrong. Oh, and making the cake for it is a bit dubious, too. Bought trifle sponges or boudoir biscuits are fine. By the way, powdered custard which you make up with hot water may be kept for when you are desperate, I suppose, but it’s pretty rubbish. It has no body or substance to it and tastes of artificial sweetener. It has no place in trifle. And is barely passable on a treacle pudding or jam sponge. I agree with Sarah that tinned custard is fine though – and, for a trifle, it has the advantage of already being cold.

Salad Niçoise in a smart restaurant is a case in point. Seared fresh tuna is wrong. It has to be tinned. And those pallid salted anchovy fillets from the deli – no, it has to be the dark brown ones from a tin or jar. Anything else just disappoints. And, in fact, it’s not even correct.

My mother used to make proper Boston Baked Beans, about once every five years. I did, once or twice, many years ago, and tasty it was. But it’s hardly the real thing. Beans, it has to be said, meanz Heinz.

I don’t often use tomato ketchup, but there are times when nothing else will do. With shepherd’s or cottage pie, for instance. And fish fingers. And fish cakes, come to that.

There are foods which we remember from childhood, which are still a (possibly slightly guilty) pleasure, but that’s not quite what I mean – it’s foods or dishes that are actually more authentic when a tin or a packet is used. I thought I’d come up with a whole long list but, now I’m writing it down, I can’t think of many. Any suggestions? If so, I’ll add them to the post. Credited, of course.

Stock cubes (Sablonneuse)
Milk from a bottle rather than straight from the cow (Dave)
Oven chips (Mrs Rine)
Marmite as a flavouring agent (Allotment queen)
Worcestershire Sauce (Wendy)
Packet jelly (Wendy)
Tinned custard (Sarah)
Amoretti biscuits (Sarah)
Fish stock (Sarah)
Campbell’s Tomato soup (Martina & Luckyzmom)
Wyler’s Chicken or Beef crystals (broth concentrate) (Martina)
Heinz Catsup/Ketchup (Martina)
Ground mustard (Martina)

Z chuckles

I do apologise for three posts in one day, especially before 2 pm, but do go to and search for Real Snowman. Scroll down for full description of Thor the Snowman, and also for questions & answers.

It’s the first one on the page, the only actual snowman. All the others are models and costumes. There are several pages of q&a, which are very amusing.

Thanks, Dilly, for telling me about it.

Hiplog again

Pamela has written an interesting post here about travelling by public transport with a new hip, specifically in London as it’s where she lives. There are some very useful tips in it. I found, before my operation, that the Tube was the worst as there is so much walking and so many stairs. One time, I wanted to go to an exhibition at Tate Britain in Pimlico, travelling from Islington. I looked up the route online. There seemed to be no way of getting there without a change at a station where the escalators were not in use. The alternative was three buses. I tried to look up a route without stairs and with limited walking and the effort made the site crash. I didn’t get to the exhibition.

I’m not up to a day in London yet, because it would be too tiring, but I think I’d feel fairly confident about a bus or a Tube ride. I’d certainly take a stick – it makes sense to warn people visually that you aren’t going to be quick or agile and that you might be grateful to be given a seat. I’ve already said how very helpful people are, as long as they know you need a hand.

My friend Sally had a new hip just before Christmas. She had a bad fall and broke her wrist and the top of her femur, poor love. I expect she’s finding things quite restricting, but for me it’s the opposite. I was already so restricted in what I could comfortably do that any limitations now are much less disappointing than they were before.

I’ve noticed I’ve gained stamina in the last few days – I had an afternoon meeting and an evening meeting yesterday, which would have wiped me out for today, not so long ago, but I feel fine (although I slept badly last night, the Sage and I are still both finding this difficult). I’m getting heartily fed up with the limitation on movement, though still being patient about it – I can break the rules if I want to, but then can’t blame anyone if I dislocate my hip.

This is still my greatest anxiety. Sometimes, in the dark 3am recesses of wakefulness, I’ve reduced myself to tears of worry – yes, this is silly but haven’t we all got things out of proportion at 3am? It’s because of my mother’s experience – in brief, 3 months after a successful hip operation, when she was completely recovered, she had a bad fall which dislocated her hip. In the next 7 years, it dislocated 7 times, each time pretty well spontaneously. Not surprisingly, she became a nervous wreck. Other health problems were dismissed by medics as hysteria (you might as well say) and I suspect that she was thought to be bringing on the dislocations as a form of attention-seeking. It wasn’t until she finally asked for the hip to be pinned that an x-ray was taken from a different angle that showed that the joint had been damaged in the first fall and that was the reason for the dislocations. She had another operation, which was successful – but we had all been through hell – I can’t begin to talk about it all – and by then the cancer which had been looked for and not found (no blame, just a statement of fact) was about to spread fatally, so it was all too late to improve her life. I’m very glad to have had a youngish non-white surgeon, because she found her middle-aged, English, awfully charming consultant quite impossible to be assertive with – he should have investigated more thoroughly much earlier.

Anyway, I’m afraid of doing something silly or having an accident and dislocating my hip, which I believe would ruin my life and that of my family. In view of what happened, it’s not completely irrational, but I can’t tell the degree to which I’m over-concerned. I realise that the best thing to do is talk to my consultant about it (not in an emotional way, I’ll be perfectly sensible I promise) and find out any sensible restrictions I should bear in mind for the long term, while not being over-protective of myself.

Anyway – the scar has healed beautifully, but still feels both numb and tingly when I rub it. I do rub and massage it, as that helps break down scar tissue apparently. It is slightly swollen compared to the other thigh, but this is gradually going down. I can feel some pain across the front of my thigh sometimes, presumably where the bone was cut off – it can be sharply prickly if I’ve moved about a lot or walked far without a stick. I can’t in any way feel the new hip, as such – there’s no sensation in the bone of a foreign body being there. It’s all far less than the pain and aching I had before.

I can’t test the full movement of my hip, but I’ve certainly got far more movement than I did have. i put my foot on a box for the Sage to tie my shoelace yesterday – I’d have found that very hard and sometimes impossible to do before, but my only care was to make sure I didn’t have an acute angle of the joint. I am fine in cars and on firm chairs – I wouldn’t try sitting in a low soft chair because of the angle and the difficulty of getting up again. If the chair is a bit low, it gives me some discomfort and I can deal with it by leaning back and stretching my leg out for a greater degree of angle – my knee should be lower than my hip. Having short legs is a help here.

Right leg still slightly long. I take a stick if walking any great distance, but actually I’m starting to find it a nuisance to use. I am taking great pleasure in walking very fast – possibly too fast for entire comfort, but it’s been so long since I could walk briskly that I can’t resist. I don’t mind if my leg aches a bit afterwards as a result. I haven’t walked *that* far at a time – not as far as a mile, say, though I’m sure I could, because it’s cold and it keeps raining and snowing when I’ve got time for a long walk.

Around the house, I am getting on fine. I can bend as long as I stand on my left leg and put my right leg back in the air (it’s the 90º or more angle that has to be watched). I can put washing in the machine, but taking it out isn’t so easy because you have to reach right in for the last little things that stick to the drum. Similarly, I can put things in the bottom oven of the Aga and push, but you have to go lower to get them out again, so the Sage does that. Light housework is fine, heavier stuff depends on what it is and i can’t move furniture about much yet.

The rate of improvement has slowed, but that’s because I’m nearly better (it’ll be 5 weeks on Friday since the operation). I was told to expect to be pretty well healed at 6 weeks and back to normal in 6 – 12 weeks. My follow-up appointment is 8 1/2 weeks from the operation – that’s a bit longer wait than I’d have expected, but I’m rather assuming that the consultant is having a holiday – and I’m hoping to be told that, apart from some sensible precautions, to pretty well get on with a normal life then.

I know not to do certain things, like dig the garden, for instance, for 12 weeks, but it’s movements that I want to ask about, with dislocation in mind. For example, sitting on the floor with outstretched legs or knees bent upwards, sitting in a chair with crossed legs, squatting, sitting cross-legged on the floor – those have an increasing degree of risk and if I ask that, it’s short and straightforward. My joint hasn’t been cemented – this is good, as it will grow in and make a stronger bond (often, people have to have another operation, not because the joint is worn but because the cement is breaking down), but it possibly means a less secure fix to start with – I don’t know. I know I’ll be able to run again, but I’d like some advice on what degree of exercise is sensible – weight-bearing exercise is good, but I want to balance being active (I never knew that I’d look forward to not being a lazy bastard, but it’s not being able to do things that makes you want to) with wearing out the joint. I’d like to play tennis, for instance, but that means quite a lot of darting about. Mind you, I’m terribly uncompetitive and really can’t be bothered to chase every ball. “Good shot” is a phrase that rings out quite often on my court.

Z prises open the cage door

Finally, I formally tendered my resignation as churchwarden, which means that a new one will be elected by the congregation in April, appointed by the PCC at the AGM and licensed by the Bishop in May. I’m feeling freer already. Still a couple of meetings to go, but then I’m leaving the PCC altogether, after quite a number of years – I can’t remember how many, somewhere between 15 and 20. Too soon to plan an exit strategy from the governors, but another 5 years or so and I might be free.

I’m not complaining – these are all voluntary jobs and if I didn’t want to do them, I should never have got involved. They do suck you in, rather. I have pondered over the reasons for me choosing to be a volunteer rather than apply for a paid job – for one thing, I think, I have to take some control over my time as I’m sometimes quite busy and it would be really awkward to need to be somewhere for fixed hours. For another, I have to acknowledge that I’d not find it too easy to work for someone I didn’t like and respect and have no choice in the matter – if I don’t like it, I know I can walk. I never have – and I must say, I’ve put up with things that I wouldn’t have tolerated as an employee – but the element of choice plus obligation seems to bring out the tenacious side of me. In addition, I know I am lucky and I suppose I feel the need to give back. We chose a way of life we like over a bigger income many years ago and we’re extremely fortunate that the work we do is one that we enjoy so much.

And finally, I’m a fidget. I need to have fingers in a lot of pies as I’d get bored with just one. Sad to say, if the choice is between doing very well at one thing or getting by at several, I’d go for the latter. I’m a perfectionist at wallpapering, but at very little else.

Come to think of it, it’s nearly 12 years since I last did any wallpapering.

Feeding and reading

Since I started to use a feed reader, I’ve used Bloglines. However, not all blogs update in it – some are several days late and some don’t update at all. Google Reader is much quicker and more reliable – but is this because Bloglines isn’t efficient, or is it being unfairly squeezed out? Sometimes I can help things by unsubscribing and then resubscribing with a different link, but not always.

Recently, several bloggers have moved servers and the matter has become worse. Now, I have nothing against google except that it’s so damn big. I like to support someone other than the market leader – but I often miss updates because I’ve got a good many blogs marked and I don’t get around to clicking onto them on the offchance that I haven’t been notified of a new post. it’s got to the stage that I have a number of blogs marked in both readers, which takes a whole lot more time to sort through.

One thing I’m not fond of in Google is that one has to scroll through every post or mark all as read, or else they remain highlighted, even if I’ve clicked through to the blog – which I usually do – I like to read a post in its proper setting. Otherwise, I don’t much care about the details. But if I change completely I’ve got an awful lot of blogs to change the settings on. Some of them haven’t been updated for ages and may never be – but I don’t want to lose them, just in case.

Sorry, this is something of a non-post. But advice or explanation gratefully received.