Monthly Archives: May 2021

Good day

We were really lucky with the weather, as we usually are with family events. A lovely day, which we spent outside. That is, we spent the afternoon outside, I was too busy in the kitchen in the morning. The whole family hadn’t been together for months, but all the children just got on happily, as usual. Most of them hadn’t met Izzy the puppy, who loved the attention. Perdita, the baby, loves her Auntie Weeza, even though she’d rarely seen her before. Weeza always gets on well with little children, there’s an instant rapport. It’s been a happy day. I am pretty tired and so is Tim, but that doesn’t matter. Nothing that a good night’s sleep won’t deal with.

My sleep has been disturbed recently by my left ear. It took me a few weeks to work out the problem; which is that I need it to be syringed again. I’m puzzled. I’d never had any issue until two or three years ago and then I put it down to having sometimes used an ear bud in the sleepless small hours, to listen to the radio. I’d lie on my right side with it in my left ear and had the sound on the lowest setting. Having had that dealt with, I’ve never used one since and rarely used earphones – again, on the lowest setting. I can see that my ear didn’t know that and still turned out too much wax, but not why it became impacted. I’ve had a headache and ringing ears for the last month.

It having become worse since trying eardrops, I phoned the GP surgery yesterday morning. The receptionist explained that current practice is that they don’t do routine syringing because of the close contact, unless it’s recommended by a clinician. Instead, I should put oil in the ear daily for six weeks. I asked, in a polite and friendly way, how a clinician could recommend it if I couldn’t be seen by one and, also, what happened after six weeks? Ah, she said and excused herself to go and find out. I was offered a phone call from a nurse. Who invited me in, checked the ear and I’ve got an appointment for next Thursday. I had taken the precaution of finding a private practitioner who’d have done it, otherwise.

It was all fine, friendly and helpful. It’s great that you are seen within a few minutes of an appointment. Some of the hoop-jumping is a bit of a nuisance, but Wink and Tim have also needed to contact the surgery in the last year or so and everyone has received exemplary assistance. I know that’s not the case everywhere, but they’re really good in Yagnub. I have no problem with telephone calls in the first instance, if it’s considered the better option. I’ve often not contacted the surgery at all because I didn’t want to waste a doctor’s time. A quick phone call would have sorted out my query or issue. Though I’m blessed with excellent health, i can’t suggest that’s ideal for everyone.

Chick pics

Here are the chickens emerging into their new run for the first time. The flimsy netting has been replaced by wire netting now.

It didn’t take long for them to eat all the grass. These three at the front are Jabba the Cluck, the big black hen, Polly the old black bantam and Scrabble, the old brown bantam. Polly and Jabba are six and Jabba is five or six, I can’t remember at present.
But they had nice fresh grass all ready for them, so we shifted the run over.
They are very happy and very tame. Polly isn’t the only one who’ll jump up onto my back, but she is the most persistent. I had to bribe her with mealworms and even then she wouldn’t get down. I managed to reach round and pick her up, whereupon she sat on my arm until I lifted her onto the ground. She’s an old girl and I didn’t want to shake her off and risk her falling awkwardly.

The tunnel can be blocked off and it’s all quite safe now so, even if a dog ran into the garden, I don’t think it could get into the run. And they cannot lay away. Much as I love having them all over the garden, completely free range, I can’t deal with chicks this year. Being youngsters, nearly all one or two years old, they are laying very freely and I could have ended up with dozens of chicks.

Wince and I are still good friends. I blamed all the mishaps in regard to the building of the run onto Richard, but nicely. Wince acknowledged that he’d left the measurements to him and just cut where he’d been told. I did the ‘bless him, he didn’t really listen,” thing.

Other news is good. Tim had his car thoroughly checked over and, apart from a minor detail in regard to the brakes, it’s in excellent condition and it’s worth having the clutch replaced. So that’s being done next week and we are very happy. Tim has two more years in mind, before the big decision has to be made of whether to replace it, as well as what with. By that time, I may be looking to change my car, so we can decide together what two cars to share.

The whole family, with the possible exception of the teenagers, is coming over tomorrow. I’m going to spend an excited morning baking.

Courgette , raisin and apricot chutney

Nearly courgette season, so worth saving for a little while until you’re overwhelmed. My recipe is adapted from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook, which is very good. In this particular case, she says the recipe was given to her by the chef Paul Burton, taught to him by his grandmother. Since many of the quantities and even some of the method are not specified, I suspect that she didn’t actually try it herself.

Spices: 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds, 1 teaspoon allspice seeds, 1 teaspoon dried chilli, half teaspoon black peppercorns, a piece of ginger, grated or chopped, half a tablespoon of salt and two or three bay leaves. You can crush the allspice and peppercorns a bit with a pestle and mortar if you like. And you can play about with the spices, of course, especially the chilli.

700g courgettes, cut into pieces about the size of raisins.

250g raisins

250g dried apricots, also chopped small

1 small apple, chopped

250g sugar

500ml white wine vinegar. I bought 5 litres very cheaply on Amazon and it was really good quality. I think cider vinegar would be just as good.

The recipe says to steep all the ingredients overnight, but it had you put the spices in a muslin bag, to be removed afterwards and it’s much nicer if you leave them in, so I don’t bother with the steeping any more.

Heat all the ingredients gently in a big pan until the sugar has dissolved, then cover and simmer until the courgette is translucent. Remove the lid and simmer until the liquid is syrupy. At least an hour altogether.

Pour into sterilised jars, it makes 5 or 6 pounds. It keeps well but is good straight away. It’s a fairly sweet chutney but, depending on the quantity of chilli, can have some zing.

Blog party 10 years on

It’s on the header, but here it is again. We would love to hold a blog party on 3rd July (or it could be later if things work out that way, but let’s go with 3rd July) and you’re invited. Anyone who feels reasonably well disposed to either of us or our friends is welcome and we have spare rooms. As ever, all dietary preferences and requirements are catered for, I just need to know so I don’t accidentally combine two foods, one of which is out of bounds.

Our specs are saved

Well, moving on. Tim and I went to have eye tests yesterday. I normally have them every year – that is, a biennial sight test and an annual contact lens test. But my local optician didn’t survive lockdown, which isn’t really surprising. It’s the third branch of an independent firm and the actual optometrist was only there once a week. When the receptionist phoned to tell me last April, she asked if my notes could go to one of their other branches (I know I’ve mentioned this before) and I agreed they could. But, in more than a year, they hadn’t been in touch, so I went for the cheap option and booked at Specsavers. Tim’s eye test was well overdue, so I booked him in at the same time, with his agreement.

Their equipment is modern and their staff are very good. I can see why they’re the leaders in the field. I’ve come away with a tweaked prescription – slightly less shortsighted, slightly increased (but still not bad) astigmatism. My new lenses are silicone and have much improved oxygen permeability, so I can, if I wish, wear them night and day. It’s unlikely I will wish to, but I know I can. And they’re cheaper. If I’d been recommended new glasses, I’d have had them, but the optometrist said it wasn’t necessary as the prescription is so nearly the same: this lack of upselling was impressive.

No sign of glaucoma or macular degeneration, but early indication of cataracts in both eyes. He doesn’t expect any deterioration of eyesight soon, so I can go for the two-year check. I’m not at all upset about the cataracts, I would have been if it were either of the other things but I can shrug that off.

Tim had been concerned about his left eye but it’s only a cataract too. So he’s being referred to a specialist and it’ll be dealt with. In the meantime, his old glasses are okay as well. We’re both impressed.

Z is thoroughly cheesed off

I was quite annoyed yesterday evening. Miffed, even. I went to shut the chickens up, tempting them in from their run with the promise of mealworms. Chickens adore dried mealworms. I wasn’t entirely pleased when Rose taught them to expect the treat, as they’re expensive, but the advantage is that they come running when I go in their greenhouse, so it’s got a cheerful pass.

After settling them and shutting up the tunnel to the outside run, I fed the cats and then, on my way back, noticed Hen Rietta was still outside. She got out on Thursday and, though she went back in willingly enough, she either got the taste for freedom or laid an egg and has a yen to nest, because she was trying very hard to get out into the garden. I left the end of the run with netting just draped over the top, so that it could be easily removed in case I needed to climb in. It seems that Wince had forgotten this and he’d nailed it all down. I had to hoick it all out again so that I could get in there and deal with Rietta.

Scrub annoyed. It was the wrong end of the day to have an unexpected hour’s work in the rain and I was furious. I wouldn’t have minded if I hadn’t explained, but I had. I’d intended wire netting to go over the top, except for that section, but Wince and Richard had persuaded me that the added weight would make the run too heavy to move, so I’d bought stout plastic netting instead. First thing that happened was that Zain cat managed to fall through it and panicked before finding his way out and reverting to his normal placid self. So I’d explained that the other end had to have openings too and I was ignored. Anyway, I reverted to the wire netting plan. Measuring it, I discovered the reason for four feet of grass not covered by the run.

The section of grass is 20 feet square. So I said, we need a run 12 foot by 20 foot. The middle section will lead into the hen’s greenhouse, the run itself (with two shutable openings) can be moved from one side to the other, to allow for grass to regrow. I actually thought that I must have got the measurements wrong. Clearly not. Richard (I think he took the lead rather than Wince) decided to have a 10×20 run (because half, hey), even though there still has to be an overlap. I got it right. Why didn’t they listen? Is it because they’re men and I’m a woman?

Anyway, today I removed all the battens screwed down (I’d said nailed, but actually they were, mercifully, screwed) and took off all the net. I replaced it with wire netting, section by section. I have left about 5 feet by 4 feet open so that I can get in if necessary. That will be covered by a net tomorrow, though I will probably make a lightweight frame with more wire netting, to be absolutely sure no cats can get in again. Though I hate any sort of woodwork, I am not sure I’ll trust anyone else (except Tim, of course, because he’s lovely and he listens and if he doubts what I say, he’ll discuss it and we’ll come to an agreement).

The whole job, last night and today, took me over four hours, plus the time that Tim helped. I can only be glad that I wasn’t paying anyone to put right the things that should never have gone wrong. An extra tunnel will be inserted in the greenhouse, so that the final 4 feet of grass can be used. If I can be arsed. I’m quite cheesed off, to tell the truth. I’m a reasonable Z but, when I explain why I want something done a particular way, I don’t do it on a whim but because I’ve thought about it.

Too many truffles

That’s the fungus truffles, not the chocolate sort. It’s something the writer Colette said (quoted by Elizabeth David, I think, but I’m slightly too lazy to check, right now): that, if she couldn’t have too many truffles, she wouldn’t have truffles. I get that, but not about truffles because I’ve never been in the situation to have ‘too many.’

It’s about returning to things. I get emails from venues or societies I subscribe to or support, that are opening up again. The National Gallery and Royal Academy, the British Museum and Victoria and Albert, Snape Maltings and a number of concert halls. They are desperate for support and I have, indeed, watched various events online, whether paid for or not. But I’m not keen to travel for several hours for a shortened event, wearing a facemark and there being few spectators because of ‘social’ distancing. If I can’t do it how I like it, I’m really not sure that I want to do it at all. Perhaps I should buy a ticket and just not bother to go? But then someone who would go might not get a ticket. Can I call myself interested in art or music if I can’t be bothered to support it? Well, evidently not enough.

Restaurants can finally open their doors and I met friends for lunch yesterday. Wink is taking us out for lunch again next week. But the weather has been awful and I haven’t been at all tempted to go and huddle outside under an awning in the cold, for the sake of ‘eating out’ while outdoor eating was all that was permitted. I’ll not count the cost when I do, but I won’t put myself out to do so.

I’m not at all keen to return to any sort of communal transport, whether public or not. Trains can take a running jump, frankly. Much as I like going to London, I have had so many delayed and miserable journeys over the years and a break from them has opened my eyes. As for airports, I’d already made my mind up about them. I hate most English airports; the large ones anyway. Better to fly from Norwich to Schiphol (Amsterdam) and fly anywhere in the world from there. Although, admittedly, your luggage is more likely to go astray if it isn’t a direct flight. Tim isn’t keen on going anywhere much, which makes me unhappy. He’s had far more holidays than I have and, whilst I take his point, I still have places I would like to visit or revisit and I don’t want to go without him. Circumstances dictated to me for many years and, whilst I wouldn’t let that happen if I had my time over again, I won’t have it. I only have now. I’m not quite sure what to do with now.

A load of ol’ squid

Jane Grigson let us down, a bit. She’s such a reliable cookery writer and so I trusted her, even against my instincts. I’d bought a squid. Too much for us to eat at one meal, so I cut off the tentacles and stir-fried them with vegetables and we decided to stuff the body of the thing for another time. Jane had several recipes and we decided on one with rice, pine nuts and raisins, cooked in a tomato and wine sauce. Jane said to use a small amount of water and, when the rice had cooked enough to soak that up, bung it in the squid. I’d have felt safer cooking the rice completely, but maybe it would have become soggy, so okay. And then cook it, uncovered, for about 35 minutes. Well, that soon wasn’t going to work as the sauce didn’t cover the squid and it was reducing too much, so on went the lid.

Squid needs to be cooked very quickly or very slowly, or else it’s tough. After 45 minutes, the rice was still too firm and so was the fish. Cephalopod, I know, but sort of fish. Anyway, it got microwaved for ten minutes, or else we’d still be waiting. If ever I do that recipe again, the rice will be cooked completely and the whole thing will go in a gentle oven for two hours.

Delia gets it wrong occasionally too. Her redcurrant jelly, for instance, has you cooking the redcurrants, then measuring them, adding sugar and boiling – and only then putting it in a jelly bag to strain off the seeds. That is clearly absurd. It’s setting almost as soon as it comes to the boil and you would get no jelly at all from the pulp. If you sieve it before adding sugar, it’s fine and, luckily, I knew that and ignored her instructions. Also, her yoghurt recipe has you adding the starter when the milk is far too hot. It took me about two years to twig that, now I never have any whey to drain off because I leave the milk to be lukewarm and it doesn’t separate.

I often read recipes for ideas, rather than follow them exactly but, when I do, they should work. I’ve a very nice recipe, now I’ve tweaked it, for courgette and apricot chutney. It gives a list of ingredients, including an apple, but it never mentions chopping it. It also has a list of spices, but not how much of each and it says to put them in a muslin bag and remove them at the end of the cooking time. I tried that and couldn’t taste any of them. Now, having heavily annotated the recipe, I put the spices straight in and it’s lovely. And, in the summertime, it’s really helpful to have a good way of using quite a lot of courgette.

Tomorrow, I’m going out for lunch for the first time this year (apart from a picnic when it wasn’t so cold as it has been for the last few weeks). I’m looking forward to it hugely.

In other news, I had nineteen pieces of china to value for someone’s probate today. She’d bought several of the pieces from me, I’d known this nice woman for many years and I’m sorry she has died. I’ll miss her. The daughter of another long-time client phoned last week, to say he’d died and I’m really sad about that. He used to call in here every year, when visiting friends in Suffolk from his home in Northumberland. All in all, I feel a bit sombre, so I’m relying on a convivial lunch to cheer myself up.

Z’s anecdotage 2, lunchtime

I was too bewildered to be daunted. I just accepted my fate. I was led from the ground floor downstairs, which was rather a surprise, but I wasn’t upset because there was nothing to object to. The class I went into was known as Pre-K: that is, pre-kindergarten, not that I knew that. Next year was Kindergarten and then came Junior 1. Pre-K and Kindergarten had their own playground and went first for lunch. Lunchtime was an ordeal, not that anyone made it so, it was all in little Z’s mind.

I’ve thought about this and I don’t suppose I’d ever eaten a meal outside my own family group. I was probably too young to have eaten in a restaurant and, if I had, I’d still have been at a table with my parents. I was completely out of my depth when taken into a big school dining hall and given unfamiliar food, with people I didn’t know and, shy child that I was, expected to eat in front of everyone.

The dining hall had long tables, each seating about 10 people. I can’t remember queueing but I suppose I did, certainly that was the system when I was older. I’d have just followed everyone else and I did what they did, until it came to actually eating and I baulked at that. I just sat there. My classmates left and older children came and I just sat there in front of my cold food. I remember that, but not what happened next, though my mother told me, years later. Apparently, I sat until the end of dinnertime and next day the same thing happened, except that kind nuns intervened.

It was a convent school and a kind one. There was no harshness and no intolerance. I have nothing bad to say about it at all and I wish I could actually remember the occurrence I was told about: I was taken into the convent itself and given milk and chocolate biscuits, so that I wouldn’t go hungry. How very kind they were. They could have brought my plate of food and left me alone and I’d probably have eaten it, but they cherished that frightened little girl and gave her treats. I do remember that the biscuits were chocolate fingers and that was a real bonus, we didn’t have them at home except for birthdays.

I’m not sure how many days this carried on, though I do remember stubbornly sitting there in front of my congealing plateful. Apparently, a nun spoke to my mother and told her that they were worried about me and Mummy totally killed my joy. Yeah, she was right, but all the same…she said that I shouldn’t be given milk and chocolate biscuits and I was quite able to eat the food. So a new tack was tried. An older girl was put in charge of me – how kind she was and how wise they were. I suppose, perhaps, she had younger siblings. Patiently, she persuaded me to eat. “Open wide, down the red lane,” I remember her saying and I did and I ate and swallowed. I don’t know if it took a couple of days or a week or a month, but it did the trick. One day, I just ate my dinner and went out to play with everyone else. I’ve wondered since, what that kind girl thought when she arrived and I wasn’t there. Was she disappointed or hurt, or perhaps relieved? I have no idea. I never spoke to her again.

Z’s anecdotage. The prologue

Not having slept much for the last week, I’ve been thinking about other things and going back to my childhood again. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I was a shy child – it was my defining attribute, I must have. When I first went to school, I was small for my age. My mother bought the smallest size in everything and it had to be taken up and in.

I surely must have said this – oh, go on, it’s a funny story so I’ll tell you again. My sister was still down in Weymouth, she hadn’t moved schools yet and stayed in the week with friends and at weekends with Grandad. She liked this arrangement and still rather resents it having ended – but the point is, that meant that the momentous First Day Of School was faced alone by little Z. I remember clearly being dressed in my bulky new uniform: navy gym slip, light blue blouse, dark blue tie and sitting in the back seat of my mother’s Daimler. We arrived at school. “Well!” said Mummy. “You’d think they’d have the gates open, at least. That’s not very welcoming on the first day of term.”

I’m not sure how long it took for the penny to drop, but a brief discussion between my parents established that we’d arrived a day early. I took it in my stride, being taken home and undressed again and put into mufti. Grown-ups inhabited a different planet from mine and I took life as it came.

This isn’t the story I told Tim yesterday, merely the preamble. Tomozz, darlings.