Author Archives: Z

Z & LT pack their bags

We’ve had Rose’s brother staying this week, over from Trinidad, which has been a great pleasure.  Rose doesn’t have a spare bedroom – she has a sofa bed, but that’s a bit more faff at the end of the day and we have lots of room, so it works out nicely.  We’re off to LT’s place tomorrow, so he’ll be in charge of everything for the rest of the week.  We’ll be away for our anniversary in fact – yes, darlings, on Sunday we’ll have been married for a whole year.  Still like each other…..

We’re going to the caravan, so internet will be spasmodic from Thursday and I probably won’t post at all, as it would have to be from the phone when there’s a brief hint of 4G, which is occasional in that part of Pembrokeshire.  And I will probably have other things to do, darlings.

We picked all the vegetables that were ready; the last of the sweetcorn, some raspberries, tomatoes, peppers and so on.  The figs seem to be over and I think we’ve had the last of the cucumbers, when we get back we’ll need to harvest all the squashes – we’ve had one and picked another to take away, it’s been a good year in the kitchen garden and the freezer is full, as well as the shelves of pickles.  I’ve made dishes to take with us for the first day, but we’ll buy local food after that.  Or, remembering young Gus’s advice, we’ll go to the pub.

Looking back and forward

I’m spending my time mostly thinking back at present.  I do it every summer, very painfully, reliving Russell’s illness and that’s hard to deal with.  Once the anniversary of his death is over, it eases somewhat, but every week after brings its anniversaries.  Ro and Dora’s wedding, birthdays, when I went to visit Ziggi, when I went to visit Irene in Maastricht, barely a month after Russell died, and so on.  Both of those friends were dying, of course, and Irene died in December the same year, but that didn’t prevent our time together involving a lot of fun and laughter.

My friend Mike turned up today.  Some of you have met him; he and his wife Ann (not blogger Mike and Ann) turned up unexpectedly at a couple of our blog parties and were invited to eat with us.  Ann was already rather odd, unable to speak much but eating sweet things greedily, which were symptoms of her Alzheimer’s disease, which has spent the last few years overtaking her completely.  I called on Mike a few weeks ago and then he said he felt she didn’t have long, today he told me she died on the 20th August: coincidentally, three years to the day after Russell.  he said that she had lost the ability to eat but the nursing home fed her by tube, which he felt was unhelpful and unkind.  Understandably, nursing homes err on the cautious side, but there was no hope of improvement, let alone recovery and he felt that it just increased the ordeal for her, himself and their children.  In truth, I felt he looked better than he had for a long time, now the stress of her illness – and the loss of her personality – was over, which is sad in itself.  Anyway, I need some help with the older vintage car, so he’s agreed to come back in a week or two.  Although in his mid-eighties now, he’s a fine car mechanic with a specialism in very old cars and what he doesn’t know about them isn’t worth knowing.


Z cooks and storms

We’ve just been talking about recipes.  Every newspaper and magazine has them, of course, and I daresay most of them are destined never to be made.  Tonight, I did cook one though, a sweetcorn, egg and tomato curry from yesterday’s Guardian, and it was good, though the sauce was far too much for four – we’ll add some fish and have it again tomorrow, but I halved the corn and the eggs, kept the same quantities for the sauce, didn’t do the recommended rice and it was still more than ample to serve us twice.

Today, however, in LT’s paper, there was a “dip” for globe artichokes.  Well, to start with, it’s past artichoke season.  My theory is that, when a vegetable comes into season, a cook starts to think of new ways to use it and, by the time the recipe has been devised, tested, written up and printed, it’s the tail end of the season.  It happens every year with asparagus, new spring veg, even pomegranates and other imported stuff.  But yet, on the other hand, the testing is often a lot less than perfect.  And sometimes, the recipe is so up itself that it’s almost impossible to make.  Like this artichoke dip.  A globe artichoke is a perfect thing with a very distinctive, delicate flavour.  Melted butter is perfect with it and vinaigrette is also traditional.  I can see Hollandaise sauce.  A few herbs, I wouldn’t bother, but okay.

This recipe suggests putting all the artichokes in a dish and everyone taking out leaves to put in the dip.  I’m close to losing my temper already.  This starts by making mayonnaise with egg yolk, lemon juice and two sorts of dijon mustard.  Then add both capers and cornichons – why? – as well as shallot and six different fresh herbs, salt and soured cream.  The herbs include coriander, dill, tarragon and sage, which would truly fight each other.  The writer boasts of how her children love this dish.  Show off.

If anyone makes this, please let me know.  I won’t and, if I were to consider it, I’d cut out more than half of the ingredients.

The other thing with recipes is, how long they take to cook.  A friend put a link to a tomato curry sauce on Facebook the other week and, since we’ve bucketfuls of tomatoes this year, I made it.  She commented that it took a lot longer than it said to simmer down and so it did, and it wasn’t nearly as tomatoey as the picture.  I added more tomatoes to the leftovers the next day and it still didn’t look like the picture, though it tasted very good.  I’ve made a tomato relish several times this year – we have at least a dozen jars of it – but the half hour it suggests to cook it is ludicrous.

While I’m on the subject, most Indian recipes have too much water and salt. And the Nigel Slater  recipe for squash we cooked yesterday was okay, but we could immediately think of several improvements when we try it again.  Does anyone actually test the recipes before they’re published?

Driving along

If you’ve visited, you may have noticed that there’s a field to the right of the drive as you come in, where cattle graze in the summer.  There are two brick pillars and numerous angle irons and the fencing is comprised of five strands of wire.  The two pillars take the fencing halfway down the drive, then there’s a concrete post and then a wooden post before the five-barred gate.

That second half is no longer good enough.  It’s had to be patched up with barbed wire and I agreed with the farmer in the spring that it’ll be a good idea to renew all the wire.  And it would look much better and be more effective if two more brick pillars are put in.

Good friend Dave has volunteered to do the bricklaying and I got someone else to put in the concrete foundations today.  But I don’t know what the bricks are.  We went to the builder’s merchant a while ago and they didn’t have anything similar.  So I’ve sent a message to my builder cousin, asking if he might recognise them.  Fingers crossed he’ll get back to me soon.


Dishpan hands – goodbye!

Yesterday morning, we looked at the dishwasher fittings, thinking to get it unplumbed before the new one arrived – this turned out not to be a good idea as the sink would then not be usable until a replacement was installed, but even so, we felt daunted.  But fortunately, the nice chaps this morning put us on the right lines and it was swiftly removed while they unpacked the new machine.

We made our first mistake of the day.  We read the instructions.  Or rather, we looked at the pictures and didn’t understand them at all.  It didn’t help that there were two sets of pictures for two different models and it didn’t explain which was which.  At 8.15 this morning, i phoned my friendly neighbourhood plumber, who came round an hour or so later because he’s lovely and a real life friend – mostly, he’s very kind indeed.

So we put the machine on to test it and we’ve filled it this evening and actually using it.  So fingers crossed.  For the first time, i’ve got a cutlery tray at the top rather than baskets – I’ve always felt that my large Victorian cutlery wouldn’t fit, but I took some along to the shop last week to test and it does.  And the absence of a basket adds a lot of space down below.  It’s remarkably quiet too.  But why on earth does no dishwasher manufacturer think of cleaning the rotor arms?  It’s so obvious to have a plug in the end that one can remove to shake out debris, but not one single manufacturer does it.

Anyway, after the dismal situation of not being able to connect up a few pipes, as well as having to get up really early in case the machine was delivered at 7 o\clock – they phoned in advance and came at ten past, in fact – we felt the neeeeeed to have lunch out.  I’ve probably said before, we’re spoiled for choice in Yagnub for places to have lunch – which is our preference rather than dinner, when we like to relax and cook and eat and – um – drink a glassful or two – and we  chose the Fleece this time and it was splendid.

Tomorrow, I’ve got my new accountant coming.  So I’m very nervous. Early night planned.

The guest

Very jolly evening.  Rose’s brother is over from Trinidad and they all came in for dinner this evening.  So LT and I spent much of the day cooking an Indian meal, the only disadvantage of which, with the five separate dishes, was the amount of washing up.  We are counting the hours until the new dishwasher is delivered on Thursday morning.  At least it makes us appreciate mod cons.

At the front of the house there’s a garden comprising three circular beds in an area of gravel, backed by two long raised beds.  One of those is well grown with established shrubs, but the other is very dry and poor and everything but weeds eventually died off.  So we have soaked newspaper and cardboard and layered it on top, hoping to smother most of the weeds.  We tried digging out all the earth, but I truly don’t think it’s feasible.

I hope we have found a new handyman.  I know his parents, which is how I heard about him.  He seems very good and capable and, if it works out, we can give him a number of jobs.

But now, it’s pouring with rain, which is quite good as the garden is fairly dry at present.  Dinner included beans, aubergines and tomatoes from the garden – it’s all winding down now, of course, but there’s still quite a lot of vegetables.  And the raspberries just keep on keeping on.

Another year older

I had thought, at one point, that I might have some sort of celebration of my birthday, but I couldn’t be bothered in the end.  I’m really not that fussed about any sort of anniversary, not if it applies to me.  In fact, that attitude seems to have passed on to my children – presents might be given weeks later and it’s generally thought that it’s more fun that way than to receive everything at the same time.  For a child, who gets a range of presents on or around the birthday or Christmas, having something extra when the event has long passed seems like a bonus, or so our relaxed attitude assumes.  May all change for the next generation, who knows?  My mother took very different attitude, her birthday was immensely important to her, but that may well have been because not enough attention was paid to it when she was very young.  But anyway, there was nothing specific but it was rather lovely all the same with just LT and me for most of the time.

Tomorrow, it’s Ro and Dora’s third wedding anniversary.  They’re away on holiday this week, which I only remembered as I dropped their card in the post box. They’re having a new kitchen fitted, some of which will be done while they’re not there.  I think it’ll be microwave ready meals for the second week – at least they’ll really appreciate proper home cooking after that, Ro pointed out.  He’s a keen cook and prepares a lot of the meals in their house.  One of the things – they can be counted on a few fingers – that I got right as a parent was encouraging them all to cook and to appreciate good food.  I didn’t even know I was doing so, or that it was unusual, at any rate, because it was natural to me.

Z says three cheers

We decided we needed a curtain to keep cats out of a room when we’re not there; there’s an internal window.  But I should start from the beginning.

When we were having structural repair work done to this house, back in 1985, the Sage discovered, up in one of the attics, that there was an original Tudor window frame, bricked over from the outside – that was the reason it was still in pretty good repair, of course.  A retired cabinet maker friend of ours carved the bits that were needed to make it sound, once it had been removed from the brickwork, and it was inserted in the dining room wall, between that room and the hall.  Better there, we thought, than hidden away in an attic.

It isn’t glazed of course and Eloise cat and Rummy occasionally use it to pass through between the two rooms.  And we’ve had enough of that, we want to control where they can’t go.  So, curtain … having made the decision, we wanted to act on it straight away.  So I did a bit of research into ready-made curtains – ideally, we’d have the fabric of our choice and I’d either make them or have them made, but that would take too long as we felt a strange sort of urgency.  Why?  Probably for the same reason I became decisive yesterday and wrote those letters and made those phone calls, but I can’t identify it.  It was time, that’s all.

Having looked on various websites, we went to The Range, which is at probably the worst signposted retail park in Norwich, if not the country – or the world, for all I know.  We’ve been there before, we always make at least one mistake and sometimes drive around every single area before finding the quite self-contained bit we’re looking for.  Truly, it’s dreadful.  But I only made two mistakes on the way in and one on the way out, which has to be an improvement on previous occasions.  And we found that the most suitable curtains of all were also reduced in price, quite fortuitously, and we bought a pole and so on – and then we went to the supermarket almost next door and wandered around helplessly – gosh, aren’t big supermarkets wretched?  – for some time, but found every section we’d been looking for in the end.  They didn’t have all the spices I wanted, mind you.  No mace, no allspice (I have ground, I wanted the whole ones) and no celery seed.  Though they had asafoetida.  I dunno.

I’m useless with a drill, it’s not my thing, but LT is pretty good, though our very solid walls and centuries-old oak nearly proved the master of him.  But the job is done, and we only decided to do it this morning.  Ree-markable.  Though, truth to tell, we decided that one of the supports for the pole is in the wrong place, as a cat might still slip past it, so he’ll redo it a bit further on tomorrow.

And he cooked dinner too.  Truly, a pearl among swine.  No wait, do I mean that?  A pearl beyond price?  A pearly king?

A jolly good chap, anyway.  Hoorah for Tim.

Bullets don’t taste nice

I’ve finally got around to various domestic matters, which I’ve been putting off for a while, for no good reason.  So I’ve written to my solicitor, accountant, phoned the chimney sweep, the electrician and the handyman and – while I was about it – cleared an overflowing gutter.  All this brought me close to a panic attack, which is stupid and I managed to reduce it to mere anxiety.  These things are much worse to contemplate than just to do, of course.

I woke up at 3 o’clock with a really bad headache, couldn’t sleep and finally did when it was time to get up, finally surfacing late, still with a thumping head.  So LT showing me a plastic box of apples that had gone to liquid wasn’t something I quite took in, then or later when I agreed it looked peculiar and had better be thrown away.  Of course, if I’d been feeling less unwell and had thought to question him, I’d have known in time that it was actually the particularly lovely chicken stock that I’d put in the fridge last night, not having managed to remove the label showing the tub’s previous contents.  Ho hum.  These things happen and we can always make more chicken stock.

I’m feeling smug now, rather than anxious, at having gone straight out to clear the gutter and downpipe, because it turned out that there was only a few minutes’ gap between downpours.  It’s bucketing down again now and clearing itself straight down the drain.  We go weeks with very little rain here, only the other day we planted out irises and sedums in a bed that is in full sun, with very sandy, stony soil.  It was cleared a couple of years ago because the few last shrubs in there were more lichen than leaf, and I think the best thing to do is put in fairly substantial succulents, alpines and so on.  The whole of the garden in front of the house is dreary, either large, overgrown shrubs or perennial weeds that are really difficult to shift permanently.  I thought I’d tackle it more fully this summer, but it’s still a work in progress.  We’re getting on, though.

Z says Aah

I had a routine dental appointment this morning, which was fine, so went on to look at dishwashers afterwards – LT had looked in his branch of JL yesterday and, as it turned out, we came to the same conclusion.  So I’ve bought it and it’ll be delivered … next Thursday, chiz chiz.  I could have spent twenty quid for next day delivery, but it turned out that it wasn’t worth it to me.  I know, darlings, I’m surprised too.  I’d have thought I’d have paid £20 to get me out of washing up for a week, but it seems not.

I expected LT home between half past one and two o’clock, so had lunch ready for two, and waited and waited and, once it got to quarter to three, I was so hungry that my manners completely abandoned me and I ate my lunch.  I’d already drunk the bokkle of beer that we were supposed to share.  He got here by soon after three o’clock, having been sent round the North Circular because of some traffic problem.  And I opened more beer, for which he was grateful.

I said the dental appointment was fine and it was, except for one thing.  You know how they measure your gums, how much they can get a probe in – with luck, it’ll be not at all or one millimetre, and so it was all round my mouth except my lower left wisdom tooth, and there, between that and the next tooth, it was 6mm.  6mm!! that’s very nearly an armful!  The dentist was surprised because it had been 1mm only six months before and the rest of my mouth was spot on.  So I’ve come home with an inter-dental brush and some gel that tastes disgusting and I expect it’ll clear up soon.  Wisdom teeth are more trouble than they’re worth, I reckon, though maybe I’m being a bit tooth-picky.  And there’s no sign of any other trouble in my mouth, which I’m glad to know.  I knew two people who had mouth cancer picked up by their dentists – many years ago, these were, not at all recent – and the routine check they do is a truly valuable service.

But that was a serious moment that was quite uncalled for.  Let frivolity reign.  Tim is back with me where we both belong.