Monthly Archives: August 2016

Z starts talking about freezing and ends up with recipes. Butterfly mind, I think it’s called…

Tim and I normally travel together, but he’s got things to do at his place and I’ve got things on here.  So we’re apart for a few days.  There’s no point in moping, tempting as it is, as I’ve actually made a to-do list.  Although the things I’m doing today aren’t on it, they’re additional.

For example, I’m in the process of turning out the freezer, so that I can find what I want again.  I dislike freezers.  Chest freezers are difficult to keep organised in the long term and the drawers in upright freezers aren’t the right size and shape.

Time was when I kept a notebook and everything that went in or out of the freezer was marked down.  The difficulties there include the need for everyone else to follow the system.  If someone doesn’t bother, you lose track in no time.  And then there doesn’t seem any point in bothering any more and it gradually gets chaotic.  Inevitably, the stuff on top tends to get used first and then what’s down below becomes less appealing anyway.  Upright freezers aren’t really geared to home-freezing, I don’t think.  They’re fine for boxes and tubs, but only a few at that.  When I cooked food for Ro and Dora when the baby was born, they said they couldn’t take too much, the freezer wouldn’t cope.  It was a bit better when Weeza and Phil had their first baby as they were moving up from London and were starting afresh with an empty freezer.

I rarely freeze vegetables any more.  Prepared dishes, yes, but not a glut of runner beans or whatever.  The hours I used to spend in blanching, cooling and freezing, in the belief I’d use the summer crop in the winter.  The truth is, I mostly prefer seasonal vegetables.  There are some that we’re so used to having imported that we don’t think too much about the seasons – courgettes, peppers, aubergines, spinach, broccoli, for instance; or nearly always eat frozen, such as sweetcorn kernels or peas; others are stored or grown all the year round – carrots, cauliflowers, potatoes;  but some vegetables seem connected with their seasons.  Brussels sprouts.  Who’d want to eat them in June?  They’re firmly a winter vegetable.  I simply never buy asparagus unless it’s English and locally grown (living somewhere where it thrives helps, of course) and, though I am known to buy french beans from thousands of miles away, I don’t do it with runners.  And even though the ones in my freezer were grown in my garden, we tended not to feel like eating them in January.  So the July ritual was to throw out half the ones I’d frozen last year to make room for that year’s crop.  In the end, I called a halt and just give them away, or compost them if they’ve got tough, at the start.

Ratatouille, passata, that sort of thing are different, of course.  And Imperatrix, who long since gave up blogging but is a friend on Facebook, has recommended that I should egg, breadcrumb and fry aubergine slices, then open freeze them.  If reheated from frozen, they aren’t soggy.

Actually, I’ll quote her friend’s recipe, which is more or less aubergine parmigiana –

I slice them with or without the skin, then process them like fried breaded eggplant: Dip in flour, dip in egg, dip in bread crumbs (i like a mix of regular with panko). Then I fry them in shallow veg oil until brown, let dry on paper towels, cool then I freeze them between sheet of parchment paper in a plastic bag.  

Then to enjoy them later – I plop them frozen in a baking dish with some red sauce & top with mozz cheese and bake for 15-20 min. Yes, they would be soggy if you let them defrost or microwave them, but if you bake them they get back their crisp.

That reminds me of an aubergine sauce I made the other week –

I drizzled olive oil on slices of aubergine, roasted until soft, mashed (should have removed skin but didn’t) and added a couple of spoonsful of yoghurt and some chopped mint.  Really good, couldn’t be simpler. 

And some roasted vegetables –

I put some cumin seeds and pine nuts on the roasted veg a few minutes before they were done, then stirred in some harissa sauce. I think coriander seeds would have worked instead and a bread slice brushed with olive oil and baked would have added a good crunch. Maybe halloumi cheese, grilled, would have made a good substantial meal. 

I should add, I’ve no idea what panko is.  And the spellchecker ‘corrected’ it to panic, so it doesn’t know it either.  Anyway, we’re not wasting any of the crop.  We’ve got a lot of seriously hot cayenne peppers, though.

You say tomato, I say tomato. We all say tomato.

It’s been a good year for tomatoes.  Spectacular for aubergines, I’ve had huge ones.  The last one weighed nearly three pounds and took us rather a long time to eat.

Today, we picked all the ripe tomatoes we could, having just been picking as many as we could eat for the last few days.  And an aubergine, only slightly overgrown courgettes, peppers – so the obvious thing to do was to make ratatouille.  And tomato sauce.  And tomato soup.  All these things have been made this evening and they’re now cooling, waiting to be mouli’d where appropriate and frozen, ditto.

We are planning more sorting out in the garden.  If you’ve been here, it’s the bit opposite the glass porch, by the lawn, the really miserable little bed and the rather overgrown, though handsome, pittosporum.  I’m afraid it’s going to come out.  We ducked out of the decision when the drive was relaid.  But now is the time.  Well, in the next few weeks, anyway.  I honestly don’t mind this place looking shabby and relaxed, I wouldn’t really like it if it were smart.  But the balance between relaxed and a wreck is broad, but not infinitely so.  Anyway, this is going to be a big improvement.  And we’ll have to plant a pittosporum somewhere else.

Watchful Z

Russell gave me a gold O***a watch for a wedding present, back in 1973.  I had my portrait painted as a present for the man who had everything.

I used to get it cleaned and serviced at the excellent jeweller in Norwich that R’s family always used and they’d done some repairs to the gold strap over the years too.  I wore it every day and – I was young in those days – didn’t always bother to take it off to wind it up, which put a strain on it.  And then, after a decade or so of this, I realised it was costing me some £60 or so a year, apart from the strap repairs, and I bought a new watch for about that much and just brought out the original one for special occasions.

After a couple of years, the new watch broke down.  So I took it back to the jewellers and it was repaired and then, soon after the guarantee ran out, it happened again.  So I said, stuff it and bought a cheap watch instead, reckoning on simply throwing it away once it stopped working.  This was fine, I replaced the battery when needed and it kept on going.  Then I lost it.

It’s still a mystery.  I took it off in the bathroom one night, forgot to put it back on after my bath and, the next day when I remembered, I couldn’t find it.  And I’ve never seen it since.  The bathroom has been redecorated and refurbished since then, there’s nowhere else it could have gone, but it vanished.  I can only blame it on the Borrowers.  My mother then bought me one from a second-hand shop – I was coming down and down in cost by then, i didn’t seem to do too well with watches.  And then I bought an iPhone and, when that watch finally packed in, I didn’t bother to wear one again.

Then, last year, I wore my gold watch for Ro and Dora’s wedding and thought it would be nice to wear it again.  But suddenly, a few months ago, it started racing – gaining about 15 minutes in every hour.  So I took it back to the jeweller for repair.  It turned out that they didn’t do it in-house any more, O***a  demanded that they send it to them in Switzerland.  It was going to cost a packet.  But it was of immense sentimental value to me, so I said yes.  Then, a few weeks later, I had a phone call from an embarrassed jeweller.  O***a said that the strap wanted some work done on it too, at a cost of a further couple of hundred pounds. Plus VAT.  I said, I know the watch is a bit fragile but I’m okay with that.  Er, O***a insisted.  They wouldn’t do the repair without it.

My fury was considerable, but they had me over a barrel.  I said I’d think about it and let them know.  And I decided I’d have to bite the bullet.  Very reluctantly, I okayed it.

A few more weeks passed and the jewellers rang again.  O***a couldn’t repair the watch and so were sending it back.  At this point, I realised that this was the reason they’d insisted on doing the strap repair, to save themselves from admitting they didn’t know how to repair the watch itself, and they’d hoped I wouldn’t have it done at all.

The jeweller said that their own chap would have a look and that’s how it’s been left until a couple of days ago, when I was out and LT took a phone message to say that it’s ready.  I don’t know how much it’ll cost, but I’m fairly confident it will be less than O***a.  So, if I have any advice for any of you, it’s to think long and hard before buying an expensive Swiss watch.  Because they’re not just mean and overpriced, but they can’t even repair their own products.

Less than two months to the auction!

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been compiling the items for the next auction and that’s pretty well done now, the catalogue is almost ready and I’ve started to put pictures up on my Facebook page.  Here is the link, you don’t have to be on Facebook to look at it as it’s a public page (to befriend me, you do have to be, though).  The catalogue will be on the website before too long, I’ll do a link to that too.

Today, the family came over for a barbecue – we were very lucky as showers were forecast and we had nice enough weather to sit outside – now, at quarter past eight in the evening, it’s pouring with rain but we’ve long finished and everyone has gone home.  Weeza and Phil kindly cleared the guttering and cut back the creeper this morning, which leaves us pretty well ready for the winter – I’ve been able to do the single storey parts myself, but I can’t manage the double ladder.  I expect LT and I could cope, but we’re not going to turn down a kind and helpful offer.

It’s only another week before the new school year starts again and, for the first time in decades, it has nothing to do with me.  I’m still a trustee at the high school but no longer a governor and there are fewer calls on my time.  I’ve got quite a lot on, one way and another, this autumn and winter, but I’m looking forward to being less busy except by choice.

Young Hadrian and I have been planning a day together – LT will be out so it’ll just be the two of us.  Bacon for second breakfast and cake making are certainly on the cards, but the rest of the time is free for spontaneous fun.



Childhood is made up of sights and sounds and smells, as Betjeman put it. I think. Might be misquoting.

I’m not sure what made me mention it, but over lunch today, I started talking about gripe water.  LT thought it sounded rather horrid – oh, I’ve remembered, I’ll start again.

Tim took me out to lunch, to a jolly good local restaurant which received a rave review from AA Gill in The Times a few weeks ago – he rarely praises anything outside London so this was quite a coup.  When our pints arrived, I sank a good draught of it and spoke in praise of good English beer.  “A couple of hundred years ago, they gave children small beer to drink, of course.  Likely to be safer than water.”  We debated how much alcohol there was in small beer and decided it must have very little, but they were more relaxed about alcohol for children anyway in those days.  And this was why I said that I was quite sure that gripe water used to be spirit based.

That made us think about other things that we hadn’t tasted or thought about for years, but were very distinctive.  I can’t remember the flavour of gripe water, actually.  Fennel?  Dill?  My mother bought it when Weeza was a rather colicky baby for a while and she loved it, though I’m not sure whether it helped her digestion.

Virol was the first thing I thought of.  LT hadn’t come across it.  A thick brown paste, much the consistency of Marmite, though not so dark, it was a malt extract.  I was given a spoonful a day at one time, it was such a distinctive taste, but I can’t describe it.  I’d recognise it instantly, though.

Tim mentioned Bemax.  He was given it sprinkled on breakfast cereal.  We didn’t normally eat cereal when I was a child, but I remember my father-in-law used to put it on All Bran, which presumably made the stuff more palatable.

We drifted a bit after that, on to the highly distinctive smells of TCP and Dettol.  Later, in the supermarket, someone stopped abruptly in front of me and, braking and swerving, I stubbed my toe painfully on my trolley.  I realised when my toe felt damp later that I was rather bloody.  So I’ve made use of TCP myself, as well as there-there cream (the ointment that has a local anaesthetic in, though that’s worn off now and I throb rather).  But now that’s reminded me of the tubs of pink Germolene.  Surely, dipping a finger in wasn’t very hygienic?

The Close connection – part 13 – the hedge

We went for a walk this afternoon, LT, Zerlina, Gus and me and on the way home I started telling LT about the hedge.  It runs all along the road frontage and round the corner down to the start of the field, it’s probably around 400 yards in all.

It was an old hedge in poor condition.  Thirty years later, I can’t tell you if it could have been resuscitated – Russell didn’t think it could be, he said that there was too much rotten wood in there.  And we got a grant towards the cost of grubbing it out.  We also got a grant towards the cost of planting a new hedge.  I don’t think one was dependant on the other, but it’s lost in time now.  Anyway, we had the hedge taken out and burned it all up on the front field.  It was a fairly massive job.  Then we had our friend Alan – not that I knew him as a friend at that time – take out a trench with his JCB and then we had tons and tons of muck delivered.  As far as possible, it was put in the trench but there was a lot of manual shifting done by me and Russell.  It was a lot of effort and we worked very hard indeed.  Then, there was the planting of the new hedge, which we also did.  We had hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, holly and some oak and ash trees.  A neighbour pinched some of the holly bushes soon afterwards to sell, but we didn’t challenge him.  A nice man when sober, he was impossible when drunk.  He said to me once that it was his downfall that he never had a hangover and, once he started to drink, he couldn’t stop.  He knew it had ruined his life.

The year after we planted the hedge was a dry one and Russell took water down in a water cart and bucketed it onto the roots.  That and the manure we’d spread saved it.  It’s a fine hedge and I’m rather proud of it, actually.  It needs trimming back now, it not having been done for three or four years.  We used to have it flailed when a neighbour was having his hedge done, but it was never done as we wanted it.  There’s nothing wrong with a flail as long as it doesn’t go into mature wood, which gets split and splintered.  We just asked for that year’s growth to be tidied up but it was always cut back too far.  It really does need cutting again now, though.  I’d like to get it done by hand, but it’s too big a job.  I’ll wait until people have had a chance to pick the sloes though.

Except, LT noticed that you can’t see the sign with the name of the road any longer.  So we’re going to go down and trim it back there ourselves.

It’s after 10 and Z has only just finished working. I’m supposed to be past that sort of nonsense

I haven’t taken the photo of the stick, I forget and it’s dark again.  Sorry.

Putting together the catalogue is a lot of work, not just done by me, not by any means but I’m very tired.  I slept absurdly soundly and long last night as a result of TAKING LOTS OF PHOTOS.  And today, I’ve been cropping and so on and I’m actually even tireder.  I don’t like this part of the work at all.  Awfully tedious.

Still, nearly all done now, just the cover to do.  And Zerlina and Gus are here again for the next couple of days and nights, so no question of thinking of anything else.

Right now, canoodling with my lovely, drinking a glass of wine and reading the papers, in no particular order.  Goodnight, darlings.

The Close connection part 12 – the stick

I’ve been meaning to tell you about the walking stick and it obviously needs a picture, but it’s the wrong end of the day, I’ll take it tomorrow in the daylight and add it then.

I think I mentioned that we had new hardwood windows put in to replace the 1950s metal-framed windows that my in-laws inexplicably thought would be a good replacement for oak.  Over the decades, as some of you may know from experience, these windows warped and let in draughts and couldn’t be opened because then they were almost impossible to close again.  So we applied for planning permission (this is a listed building so everything structural needs planning permission) to put in new ones and that was granted.  In fact, we also asked to put in slightly bigger ones so as to let in more light and that was allowed too.

The house is made of wattles – sticks – and daub, then brick faced.  The builder, on removing the old windows and cutting away the extra few inches of wall, found that many of the wattles were quite worm-eaten – they’d been there for over 400 years, after all.  But one that he drew out was intact, strong and looked as good as the day it was first used.

It so happened that my sister-in-law’s husband had recently taken up a new hobby, that of carving walking sticks.  So we gave him the stick and, in due course, it was returned, with the top shaped and the bark removed so that it was smooth, and the length of the stick polished and varnished.

I love that stick and I use it regularly.  You’ll see why when I show you the photo.

Z likes it hot

The reason I didn’t write yesterday – of course, I know I don’t need to have one, but there is a reason – was that I’d moved the computer into another room and the wifi didn’t reach that far.

It’s only a couple of months or so until my next auction and I spent a couple of days writing the details of the lots.  There will be ten more pieces of china than there were last year, a bit to our surprise.  All we need are the buyers.

I was glad to have a reason to be busy today.  I heard yesterday that Russell’s sister died on Wednesday, having been diagnosed with cancer in January of last year.  She was both forward-looking and stoical, I loved her dearly and she will be much missed.

It was two years ago today that Russell died and it was impossible not to be aware of every passing minute, though I tried not to be.  I’m not keen at all on anniversaries, but will only mark good ones.  Today is Gus’s birthday, Wednesday was Zerlina’s.  That will be the significance of the dates, memories will be marked with love but not misery.

Weeza is coming over tomorrow, which will be lovely.  I have made soup from a couple of pounds of the many, many tomatoes that are merrily ripening in the garden and greenhouse.  It’s rather a year for the greenhouse.  I’ve got a couple of cayenne pepper plants that are very productive and very hot; that is, the fruits are.  The jalapeño peppers are less so, as yet, but there are still an awful lot of chillies.  Still, some like it hot.