Monthly Archives: June 2018

Z had lemons so made lemonade. Obvs.

All this relaxing in the sun is very enjoyable but it doesn’t get much work done.  I did manage a bit – business emails mostly, including the booking of meetings  with my business partner and with my accountant for next week – but all I did this afternoon was make lemonade and yoghurt.  Which latter must be potted up and put in the fridge.  I’ll do it now while I think of it – excuse me for five minutes, please.

Right, that’s done.  The last time I made it, I had just one pint of silver top (ie whole) milk spare and it had too much whey and had to have some drained off.  A pint of whole milk plus the top third of another pint is ideal, just the right consistency, and that’s what I used today.  It exactly fills two pound honey jars.  So that’s LT’s breakfast yoghurt dealt with for another week.

The lemonade, I hadn’t made for some years, though it used to be a regular thing.  Very easy, a Good Housekeeping recipe.  I first made it for a WI competition that was being judged by professionals and it scored 19/20.  Simply, you thinly peel a lemon – I use a potato peeler – and put it with 2 oz sugar in a jug, add boiling water to half a pint, cover and leave to cool, add the squeezed juice and strain.  That’s it.  You dilute it a bit, not a great deal.  For modern tastes, I think next time I’ll put in a little less sugar.

Zoe and Mike – long-time blog friends, whom some of you will know – are coming to stay tomorrow for the night.  They’re really staying with Rose, but she doesn’t have a spare bedroom.  It’s all very convenient and friendly.  We respect each other’s privacy but drop in, borrow, give and lend, help each other out and it just works without having to worry about it.  If one of us is away (in my case I mean two of course, but you know what I mean), the other looks after cats and chickens and we all look out for each other but give space too.

Talking of space, Wince the gardener has a drone which he flies from the front field.  To say thank you, he took a photo of the house the other day and gave copies to each of us.  It doesn’t show the veg garden or even the Wall, but it does show the sprawl of the house.  I’ll scan and post it sometime.  I describe bits of the house sometimes and, if you haven’t been here, it’s hard to explain.  It’s a much-altered Tudor house with modern extensions and it rambles almost as much as I do.  Tim says I over-explain and he’s right.  But when I don’t, no one has a clue what I’m talking about.  I strive to be brief and I become obscure, as Horace put it a couple of thousand years ago.  I like Horace.  My Latin teacher said, it’s said that you have to be middle-aged before you appreciate Horace, but I think I was born middle-aged.  The teenage Z had a sudden moment of clarity.  I was born middle-aged too.  It was immensely comforting to start to understand myself.

Z goes clothes shopping

The other thing we did in Norwich was visit M&S.  I wanted some teeshirts, because most of my ancient ones have indelible stains on them – I’ve no idea why, greasy or grubby blobs that nothing will shift; I’m just a messy eater or something  – or are faded.  I really don’t buy clothes very often and, actually, I don’t think I’d bought anything at all this year except two pairs of really cheap sandals, until yesterday. When I announced my intention, LT said he could do with a pair or two of lightweight trousers and he knew exactly what he wanted and the size, so they didn’t need to be tried on, which is a huge bonus in anyone’s book.

We spotted the teeshirts quite quickly, but they were very cheap and thin, so I thought that possibly the better ones were upstairs (I’m too old to be quite that casually dressed, really) and we might as well check out the trousers first.  Tim said, odds were that they wouldn’t have the right colour in the right waist/length combination because he’s a pretty standard size so they sell out and don’t replace them.  That reminded me of when my children were small and I was buying them school uniform and that was what I found too, even thirty-plus years ago.  I’d go in for a – let’s say – age 9-10 white school shirt and they’d have every other size but.  So I’d think (it being half way through the summer holidays) that they would be getting in more stock soon.  And I’d revisit every week and they never did.  Sometimes, I’d move shirts about to a pattern I’d recognise but wasn’t obvious, and it was the same next week.  This was annoying but not incomprehensible, before the days of automatic stocktaking in the time of barcodes, but it seems that it hasn’t changed.

In the chinos that Tim wanted, there were Pure Cotton Regular Fit, Regular Fit Linen Rich, Regular Fit Stormwear, Pure Cotton With Active Waist, Straight Fit Pure Cotton and Straight Fit Pure Cotton With Belt, which is too much choice to start with, in just one style of trousers.  What he actually wanted was Super Lightweight Regular Fit, but they didn’t have any of those.  Why they had Stormwear in a heatwave is open to debate.  But we started looking through for his size.  We found them in black, in the Pure Cotton Regular Fit and in navy, the colour he wanted, in Straight Fit Pure Cotton, which he’d have had to try on in case they were the wrong shape and, by that time, he couldn’t be arsed.  Admittedly, we didn’t search the Linen Rich or Stormwear because he didn’t want those at all.  So we came away without.  It really did take me back all those years to when they had every size but the most popular and never restocked.

After a quick foray through the immense first floor women’s section, we ended back on the ground floor women’s casual again and I found there was actually a choice of tee-shirts in a whole section to itself.  The choice, as in the trews, was puzzlingly wide.  V neck, round neck, boat neck, vest, several different weights and sleeve lengths.  What I liked and wanted in white, size 12 or 10, wasn’t available in anything under 14, though it did go up to 22.  Subtract two even numbers for American sizes, of course.  In the end, I did buy five teeshirts in various colours, excluding the hideous ones, and spent a little under thirty quid.  I had shrugged and reckoned they were cheap enough to last a season and be put in the charity bin if necessary.

Later, I looked up the chinos online and found the ones Tim had wanted.  It said there were two pairs in his colour and size in the Norwich branch, and four of the pure cotton ones.  I don’t believe it.  There wasn’t a single pair of Super Lightweight Regular Fit on show, though they did have winter weight in midsummer.

I’d not be surprised if Marks & Sparks had to close a lot of their shops, as other retailers have had to.  Surely they’re too big to go under – but honestly, I haven’t found anything to buy there in years and had pretty well stopped looking.  There’s too much stock that no one wants and they don’t have the lovely everyday basics that people do, in the size they need.  It’s all own brand, for goodness sake.  Why don’t they sharpen up a bit?

Anyway, today I went to buy fruit, get a new watch battery and pick up new contact lenses – all easily done with free parking in lovely Yagnub – and, as I ambled back to the car, caught the eye of the nice woman in the dress shop.  So I deposited my shopping in the car and went back.  I had a pleasant half hour browsing and trying on clothes and could have bought several outfits.  I bought a dress and a skirt and, unasked, she knocked off nine quid.  She didn’t have any teeshirts, but it reminds me why shopping local is much nicer than anything else.  If only there were still a shop with men’s clothes here.

The seduction hob*

Talking about the possible turning-off of the Aga, I said that the only problem with the Baby Belling is that the two electric rings are higher than is convenient when it’s placed on the kitchen counter.  LT suggested buying an electric induction hob, freestanding, to use instead.  I was a bit dubious, because it would be one more thing to store when not in use, but I looked at the John Lewis website this morning and found just the thing – one with a single ring, it’s small enough not to be in the way at all.  So if we were cooking something that needed stirring, it could go on that, whilst something that could simmer away undisturbed could go on the Belling.  And there were two in stock at the shop in Norwich, it said.  So, after breakfast, I turned off the Aga, changed into something less casual – I didn’t want kind people to assume I was a bag lady and give me money – we drank coffee and set off.  On the way, we stocked up on beer at the Co op because Phil is going to be here at the weekend and we didn’t want to have run out.  There is plenty of beer at the Co op in Yagnub and no sign of panic buying as yet.

In short, it’s just the thing and we think it’ll be very useful, even when the Aga is on.  A nice little gadget.  I cooked dinner on it, and the Belling, this evening, which was a bit of a workout for me.  I decided to cook eggs Florentine, because we have a lot of eggs and spinach, with courgette because they have to be eaten daily or else we will be overwhelmed with socking great vegetable marrows.  That meant one pan for spinach, another for courgettes, another for cheese sauce and, at the end, the spinach pan was reused to poach the eggs.  Then the whole thing went under the grill for a few minutes at the end.  I was also chopping and stirring and grating and so on – even though the kitchen was not Aga-heated, I was a bit hot and bothered by the end.  But it was all a success and the new hob is quick to get going, unlike the electric rings.  The other lucky thing was that the new frying pans I bought last year are suitable, as are my stainless steel pans and the non-stick milk saucepan.

The instruction leaflet reads as if it’s been translated from a language very different from English, so I didn’t bother with it.  Tim, who is more sensible than I am (yeah, really) did, so when I kept saying oh blimey, what’s happening now, he was able to reassure me.  Which is one of the things that husbands do, innit.

*because it remains hot, even when switched off.

If we can’t stand the heat………

RasPutin came for breakfast again, so at least he’s eating well for now.  He’s still hungry but not quite so desperate, poor boy.  He doesn’t come in the evening, I suppose he sleeps most of the day.  I was a bit later than usual going out to feed the barn cats and put the chickens to bed and I saw all the barn cats lounging round waiting for me.  There’s usually one, who rushes off to tell the others, but they’d become impatient tonight.

I made courgette chutney from a  vegetable cookbook that my sister gave me a few years ago.  The writer airily said that she’d been given it by another chef and it was his grandmother’s recipe.  Clearly she’d not tested it or paid any attention to it at all but just had it typed and printed.  It said the range of pickling spices to use, but no hint of quantity.  It said to cube the courgettes and add the other ingredients but didn’t suggest cutting up the dried apricots or the apple.  It said to steep the ingredients together overnight in a preserving pan, then to heat them in the pan and cover it.  You can’t really cover a preserving pan, it’s too big.  It said how long to cook it for – at least an hour until the courgettes were translucent and the liquid was syrupy, but describing how it should look was vague and, having covered it in my biggest casserole dish for half an hour, I had to leave it uncovered or it would have been far too liquid.  Then, having potted it, it didn’t say whether you can eat it straight away or whether you have to wait for a month or three.  I suspect it will be very sweet and I think we’ll try it at once to see whether it’s worth persevering and tweaking the recipe.  At worst, it will add to the compost heap.

We’re debating at present whether to turn the Aga off.  Cooking becomes less of a pleasure in one way, but at least it isn’t so exhaustingly hot.  We’ll have to check the longterm weather forecast.  Tonight, LT made a delicious mushroom risotto, but he suffered somewhat.  Half an hour stirring a pan over the Aga in the height of summer is not for the weak.  It was worth it – which is easy for me to say, I just made the stock … by putting the ingredients in the pan and leaving it for an hour while I did something else.

Z tosses up between blonde and senior

RasPutin came again for food and I gave him plenty, he didn’t leave the breakfast bar hungry.  It was hot, I’ve spent all day watering the vegetables, which were flagging.  I think the squashes would be dead by now if I hadn’t given them a good watering this morning.

Last year, for the first time ever, I was short of courgettes.  I sowed two seeds and only one came up and that plant didn’t do very well.  So I sowed three this year, all germinated and have thrived and I’ve been caught out twice already by fruits that hid under a leaf until they were nearly marrows.  So I found a recipe for courgette chutney and that’s what I’m in the process of making – the ingredients have to steep in vinegar overnight.  I also made bread – this on the hottest day of the year in an Aga-heated kitchen.  But I put the extractor on and an electric fan on, and opened a window too and it was not too bad.  All the same, we relaxed on the lawn for a couple of hours this afternoon and I was quite hot and bothered for a while.

The good thing that happened this afternoon was that Hannah turned up with our box of wine from the village winery’s wine club.  We opened a bottle of rosé this evening to go with our lemon sole and approved.  The less good thing was that I went in to unpack the dishwasher and found that plates hadn’t washed very well.  I put them aside to re-wash, then discovered that the bottom of the machine was full of dirty water.  On the assumption that the filter was blocked – the machine had turned off rather than interrupt the programme – I looked to see how to empty it.  Then Tim did.  As a last resort, I looked out the instruction book and Tim took over – this is brilliant, I’ve always been the one to have to deal with this sort of thing my whole life – and he was very puzzled and quite indignant.  The instructions seemed to bear no resemblance to the controls, he said.

i know, darlings, it would really help if I hadn’t fished out the instruction booklet from the old dishwasher.  How we laughed.  And then I put the book back in the drawer, until he pointed out that it might be better to throw it away.

Turned out – once we’d looked at the instructions and found that nothing was wrong at all – that I’d leant on the dishwasher when I went in to make tea and accidentally turned it off.  And that’s all I’m going to say on the subject.  Except that, with all the faff, I completely forgot about the bread in the oven and, by the time I came back from feeding cats and chickens, the timer had been beeping for at least five minutes.  It’s only a bit browner than it’s supposed to be, I’m sure it’ll taste fine.

I blame it all on the hot weather.  We’re not used to it.

Z’s summery summary

I appear to have a clear diary for the next week, which means it’s not possible for me to put off various items of business that I’ve shelved for the last few weeks, which is a pity.  I’ll feel so much better once they’re done (said insincerely, because the thought of that doesn’t seem worth the faff).

The village fete seemed to go well yesterday, though I’m not sure if the paying stallholders were very busy.   The cake stall had made exactly £100 by the time I left, which they were pleased with but, as I’m mercifully not involved with any of the organisation nowadays, I didn’t hear from others.  In the evening, we went off to our final visit to the Aldeburgh Festival, which finished completely this afternoon.  After the food shortage on our first two visits, we decided to take sandwiches and just get a drink there – inevitably, as I noticed when I went to the bar, there was plenty of lovely salad left this time.  There was an earlier start and finish – 7pm to just after 9 – and I suspect some people had decided on a later supper this time rather than have to get there very early.  The concert was splendid and we came home feeling uplifted.  Today has been a gentle, cheerful sort of day.

Poor old RasPutin, the father of the barn cats, came for breakfast this morning and he looks quite thin now.  If only he’d come every day, I could look after him better.  As it was, I just kept on putting food down and he kept wolfing it.  About a year ago, he grew thin but then he did come daily for a few weeks and it did him a lot of good, he gained weight and didn’t look so desperately anxious any more and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t come twice a day when I put out food. It’s possible he comes for the dry food I put down overnight, I don’t know.  He’s not injured and I’ve no reason to think he’s ill, but he’s old and losing the knack of hunting, I think.  I’ve become very fond of him, he’s got no malice in him except around other tom cats, and his children and he all get on well together.  He’s never shown teeth or claws to me but mews plaintively now, begging to be fed.

I went out to the weed the round bed in front of the house this afternoon.  It’s so dry that even the weeds were drooping.  We’ve had to top up the pond too – doesn’t take many days of dry weather for the ground here to look parched.  The vegetable garden is doing well, though.  I watered thoroughly one day last week – a good soaking every week seems to keep it going.


We’ve been invited to a party!!(!) This was terribly exciting and we were very happy – truly we were, this is just the way I talk – and checked our diaries.  We’ve got tickets for Snape Proms on the Friday and the Sunday and the party is in Gloucestershire on the Saturday.

Pfft.  We’ll go to Snape, drive to Tim’s place in Reading, spend the night, drive up to Gloucestershire, go to the party, drive home to Reading, spend the night, drive back to Snape, go to the bash, drive home.  Only 520 miles.  What can possibly go wrong?  It’ll be fun and we can pretend we’re still young enough not to need a week off to recover.  A lot more fun than turning anything down, anyway.

The blog party is a month away.  That’ll be fun too, thanks to you lot.

Z gets down on her knees

I’ve been quite hard-working, for me, this week.  I weeded the vegetable garden over several days – this might not seem a big job but it is, with six beds of 30-ish feet by 4, plus another bed 10 foot square, more or less, plus a herb bed.  I also turned out the chicken greenhouse and shed, which took two hot and bothered sessions.  Lovely Tim helped in both cases, but he’d be more than willing to agree that I did most of it.  And today, we did the ironing.

Ironing is rather out of fashion, and I do avoid all I reasonably can, but I do find it necessary for a lot of things.  LT does his own, though there had been rather a build-up of shirts so I did some too, but there was quite a lot else to do.  I also achieved, if that’s the word, five loads of washed and dried laundry by the end of the day which, of course, has given an appreciable amount of ironing again…

I do appear to be immersed in domesticity at present, which is quite pleasant.  I have to admit though, I’ve sent out a plea to the children, to come and cut back the creeper for us, which is growing over the guttering and – in places – on to the roof.  I don’t mind a ladder, but I ventured up a double one last year and I wasn’t comfortable with it at all and don’t want to do it again.  Tim and I, chatting over and after dinner as we usually do, considered perception of age from various perspectives, though we didn’t talk about going up ladders beyond ten feet or so.  But, if we had, I’m sure we’d have agreed that we’re too old and we’re not going to do it.

Anyway.  The garden is doing really well.  Not a vast range of veggies yet, but we had a Caesar salad with home-grown lettuce for lunch yesterday, and artichoke and broad bean tops with dinner as well as home-laid eggs, and today there were courgettes.  There was a third courgette that’s still waiting on the table, that hid under a leaf and is bigger than I’d have wished, so it will figure heavily in a future meal unless I chop it up for the chickens.

I put too much garlic in the Caesar salad, by the way.  Just as well we were not out and about last night, we’d have stopped people at 30 paces. Hah.

Z isn’t hangry but it’s a near thing

The music was very fine but I was glad that the last piece had melody, something to hum on the way home.  Showing my age, I daresay.

What Snape has got wildly wrong this year is the food.  Last week, we arrived at 6.45, for a performance at 7.30, which should have given plenty of time for a light, one course meal.  We didn’t quite fancy the roast beef and other hot dishes, on a warm evening, so went to the salad bar, where there was just one helping of salad left.  So we said, that’s okay, we’ll share it.  She lumped the potato salad and the beetroot salad on one plate.  So I said, er, can we have two pieces of crab tart, please?  And she put two pieces on the one plate.  Er, two plates?  She was embarrassed to say that she only had the one plate.  But she then found a small side plate and we were, of course, kind and polite, and I then went to pay and – unasked – some charge was taken off for the absence of salad.

Anyway, this time we cannily left quarter of an hour earlier, but could see that the salads were just about sold out again and they only had cold sliced meat to go with them.  So we thought we’d check out the hot food.  We both liked the idea of the fishcakes and joined the queue.  “Only three fishcakes left,” I said.  Tim thought he’d have the vegetarian lasagne otherwise.  But, as we neared the front, we could see that was sold out.  And the person in front of us chose one of the – by then two – fishcakes, so I said I’d have fish pie.  The only other option was a beef curry.  And, once we’d been served, there were only enough helpings of anything for four or five people.  As we sat eating our supper, we could see people being turned away.

Years ago, the food was one of the appealing things about going to concerts at Snape but it’s been wayward for quite a while now.  I don’t think it’s acceptable to run right out of food, 40 minutes before the concert starts.  Sure, gauging how many theatre-goers will want to eat there is always going to have an element of guesswork, but they knew it was a sell-out performance and so surely experience should have given a good idea.  Plates of sandwiches in reserve might have been a good idea.  And anyway, a vegetable lasagne and a potato-topped fish pie are really cheap to make, if not to sell at £13 and £14 respectively, so a bit left over wouldn’t have been a great problem.

We’re going again next weekend and we’re taking our own food. I think it’s pretty sure to say that the people who went hungry and didn’t have an opportunity to eat anything until after 10 pm won’t take the risk either.

Z looks forward and back, and forgets as well

It’s peaceful here.  I can hear a couple of birds still singing, at 9.20pm, but nothing else except the tap of my keyboard as I type and LT’s pen writing answers to the Guardian crossword.  I’ve less and less capacity for sound except in its place.  Tomorrow night, we’re off to the Aldeburgh Festival again – Aaron Copland’s music features, plus a couple of composers I’ve not heard of, one of whose piano concerto is a world premiere.  That means the composer will, very likely, be there and take a bow, which is rather a joy to me.  I think myself into his place, hearing the piece I spent so many hours on being played by a wonderful orchestra – the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in this case – and the applause from the audience, and I feel warmly towards him.  Or her, of course, but I’ve never been at a premiere for a woman composer’s work.

On this day last year, we were in London at the funeral of my goddaughter, daughter of my dear schoolfriend, and I think of their grief which hasn’t started to feel less raw.  Lynn wrote a book of poetry in Sophie’s memory, which she’s selling on behalf of St Martin in the Field’s fund for homeless people.  It’s the big church in Trafalgar Square and does a lot of good work.  Lynn and Adrian were married there, their children were christened there.  They thought Sophie would be married there too, not buried so young.

Last night a year ago, we were at Aldeburgh (the concert hall is at the village of Snape, in fact, a couple of miles away) too, for a performance of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It was excellent and we enjoyed it, but I can’t remember much, the events of the next day have driven it from my mind.