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Travelling Tim

Tim took a flying visit down to his house in Reading this week. He hadn’t been there since December before lockdown and he’d had an unsafe tree felled in the garden and he knew he’d have a lot of post (including three Christmas cards and two window cleaner bills), plus some everyday maintenance, so off he went. While he was away, I mostly ate eggs. Luckily, Dilly and my friend Mimi have taken quite a lot off my hands, but I’ve still eaten them twice a day this week. Little rotters – the chooks, that is – will go off-lay soon enough and then I’ll be looking for eggs. And then, literally that when they start to lay away in the summer. I’m not quite sure why I keep chickens, really. But when you’re used to eating home-laid eggs, it spoils you for anything else. And chickens are lovely and each has her own personality, so I suppose I’ve answered my own ponder.

Next time there’s a visit to Reading, I hope to go with LT, leaving Wink in charge here. Thinking ahead and assuming the chickens still have to stay indoors, I need to scheme some way for stopping them from slipping past Wink and getting out. Once more than two or three do that, one might as well let them all out, because at least then they will go back in the evening. Otherwise, one has to inveigle them in individually without letting any others out, which I find quite hard enough and she’d find impossible. So we need an ‘airlock.’ I’ll talk to Wince when he comes next. He’s good at this sort of thing.

Otherwise, nothing much to mention this week. Blood donor appointment tomorrow. My downstairs London tenant is leaving next month, after nearly 15 years in the flat. He’s a really great guy and I gave him a faultless reference. It’s lockdown that’s done it, he now wants more space around him, both in the garden and out on the street, which is understandable. I’ve often had a pipe dream of living in one of those flats, which I love, but I’m too used to the countryside and a garden. I’ll be glad when I can leave this garden for a few days, though, for a change of scene.

Man get out

Mother’s day, so all my children phoned me. And I had a card from Ro, drawn by Rufus with the caption “Love you Granny xxx” at which I melted, of course. We are all very much looking forward to seeing each other again, but it’ll be a fortnight yet before that’s okayed.

There’s a website/Facebook page called ‘overheard in Waitrose.’ A friend reposted a picture of a bag of mangetout from Tesco. The caption was “My mom called these ‘Man Get Out’ and I’ve been crying since.” I’ve been giggling ever since, I will never call them (snow peas, if you’re over the waters, and the joke doesn’t work) anything else ever again.

Tonight, we had a perfect roast chicken. I claim little credit, it was a free-range Suffolk bird (from Sutton Hoo), I covered the breast with rashers of local Tamworth bacon and just roasted it, with garlic, butter and lemon pushed inside, the potatoes were roasted in the fat from the (local) lamb chops from a couple of nights ago. It was fabulous, even though the cat rejected it. I ran out of her regular food last week and had to stock up at the supermarket (I’m sorry to say that Evil Amazon gets a bimonthly order) and she adores the food that I bought there. It’s just that she’s loving the change, I hope, or else I’ll have to cancel Amazon and pay for small quantities at double price.

Hair today

My hair is longer than it has been for decades. I’m quite happy with it, except it’s a lot more bother to look after than the short style I’ve had for some while. My hairdresser went on maternity leave about a year and a half ago and then moved house once the baby was born. Another woman was looking after me temporarily – but the former one has got a job nearer to her new house, so I still have the very nice girl, but she’s not quite as good with my hair. So I need to know what I want her to do to tell her, and I don’t.

This is me now, which you can compare to my wedding photo, four and a half years ago on the sidebar. I love having longer hair again and I don’t actually care if it’s age-appropriate, but I don’t want to look messy and it does blow around rather. I haven’t got an appointment yet anyway and it’ll be six weeks or so, which I hope will give me time for inspiration.

Pugsley has lent me his outgrown guitar, which suits me much better than Tim’s full size one and I’m starting to enjoy myself. I need to put in a week or two of hard work, as well as getting back to the drawing, so it’s as well that I’ve got a fairly free week coming up.

Bread and salt

Salt and yeast don’t go together, they say. Bread tastes better with salt, as do most things, but it inhibits the yeast. Paul Hollywood advocates putting the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other, so that they don’t mix until you add the water. However, I was looking up advice on sourdough the other day and landed up on an Australian website, run by someone who’s a sourdough expert and they (can’t remember whether male or female) advocated adding the salt as late as possible, after the mixing has started. So, with my ordinary dry-yeasted loaf, I tried that today.

It’s a multi-grain, multi-seed loaf, which is very tasty but the loaf is sometimes heavy, I have to admit. White, wholemeal and wholemeal rye flour, sesame/flax/poppy/sunflower/pumpkin/millet/whatever else I have seeds, about 100 grams to 500 grams of flour, usually five different seeds. Today, I started mixing the flour, black treacle and water and only added the teaspoon of salt with the last water. Two minutes difference at most, yet it rose better and quicker than any loaf I’ve baked.

If anyone has any experience they’d like to share, I’d be very interested. I’ll try again, and with the sourdough too, but I don’t know if this was chance or cause-and-effect.

Simple scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on freshly-baked, toasted bread, with an extra slice of smoked salmon, finished with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper, ground sumach and lemon juice on the side, for dinner tonight. It was delicious and just the light meal we wanted.

Z drives 500 miles. Or thereabouts.

Wink had her follow-up appointment after her hip operation, so we headed south and west. It all went well, she’s got the go-ahead to drive again and doesn’t need to be seen unless she asks to be. I’m mostly knackered. Having not done a lot of driving for a while, about ten hours in two days has wiped me out. But never mind, it was in a good cause.

I was going to write a reference (very favourable) for my (soon to be ex) tenant this evening, but I’m too tired. Tim cooked dinner, which was a straightforward tomato sauce – lots of garlic, onion, tin of tomatoes, olive oil, bit of saffron, some basil – with goujons of monkfish dropped in and poached. Nothing with it, very simple and digestible, which is just right for a tired Z. I’ve had a bath and I’m probably going to be in bed before 10. Possibly before 9, but I know that’s a recipe for wakeful early hours.

There is a lot of blossom about, down in the West country. Blackthorn isn’t in flower here, but it is there. And the early trees – what are the first that aren’t willow? Not cherry, I don’t think, but plum? Almond? Gardens looked graceful and hedgerows were a joy. I love to see the changing landscape in early spring, as leaves and blossom emerge.

Z rises

Several improvements; or maybe I mean improvements on several fronts. One thing was natural rhythm, when I’m down I need to be patient and recognise that my mood will change. Another was an improvement in the weather. Another was cheerful exchanges with family members, starting at 8 o’clock this morning, when Rufus’s mother texted me to say that he wanted me to know that my strawberry jam was totally delicious.

The downside, which I might as well get out of the way, was that drawing was another failure, but not a failure in drawing. I’m supposed to draw a corner of a room, with a door, from far enough away that I can see both ceiling and floor through the viewfinder, and get the angles of the ceiling and floor in relation to the vertical corner wall and doorway. My house doesn’t do that. I’d already failed on the passageway thing because there’s only one passageway in this house and it didn’t fit the other criteria. There are a few possibly suitable corners, but all of them have a window behind where I had to sit, which meant that I could only see a reflection of me or something else, so couldn’t see to draw. So that was another lesson I couldn’t do. The next was to draw the same corner and door on paper. I wasted so much time failing to find a suitable place that I hadn’t got time to do that, but I’ll try next time. The main reason I ran out of time was because she wrote an interminable chapter, that I found very hard to read because it was so boring and I already knew most of what she was telling me, on the subject of angles and perspective. I’m actually pretty sound on that already, so I didn’t need her to keep telling me – and acknowledging that she was repeating herself – about it, making me miss the small nugget that was useful every page or two. But never mind, I think I’m back in the mind to have another go soon.

My eldest grandson Pugsley is a very good guitar player and I had a chat with him today about my difficulties. I was very glad to hear his recommendation that I need not bother with chords as yet, but to keep playing tunes and get to know the strings that way. That isn’t how Tim taught himself, he cracked on with chords. I explained to Pugsley how hard I find them and asked about his guitar – he’s got a bigger one now, but is happy to lend me his first one. That may be smaller than I really need, but I think I’ll find it easier than a full size one. Dilly, his mum, will be passing by the road every day on her way to work from Monday, so she’ll drop it in to me. They will also be happy to take surplus eggs off our hands, which is a great help. Pugsley has been vegetarian for a while and eats quite a few eggs. His sister Squiffany will be 16 later this month, which is quite alarming to think about – she has no suggestions for a birthday present so will probably get money, ready for when she can go shopping again. I’ve promised her some driving lessons for next year.

My downstairs tenant in Islington has told me that he’s moving before long – this is a heads-up rather than formal notice, but I suspect that it’ll take place within a couple of months. He’s been a brilliant tenant. I’ve assured him that he’ll get the best possible reference. I’ve been the best possible landlord, to be fair.

The sun shone for a while and I spent half an hour in the sunshine this afternoon, which always helps.

Any improvement on yesterday has to be good

Wink wanted some things from the supermarket and so I drove her in. We needed a couple of things ourselves, but I managed to return with two bagsful, as you do. Tim pointed out that we already have three tins of coconut milk, so a fourth was probably superfluous – but he helpfully suggested several recipes to use them up, too.

I’ve got more done in the last hour than I have all day. Dinner is an interesting mixture. I’ve no idea how it’ll turn out, though we’ll find out soon. I cooked bacon – whole rashers, as I had half a dozen and wasn’t sure how much I’d need: I cut them up and decided four were enough, so the others are in the fridge – half a red onion I had in the fridge, some mushrooms that needed using up, then mixed them all together.

Meanwhile, I cooked a parsnip and a carrot. Jane Grigson recommends not taking the core out of a parsnip until after it’s cooked. I tried it. She’s wrong. Just as much effort, not that it’s much, to remove it and it’s from a hot parsnip, so a nuisance. Glad I didn’t follow her advice not to peel it until it’s cooked. Separately, I cooked the remains of a cauliflower, broken into florets.

Then I made a cheese sauce. I put the mushroom mixture in the bottom of a dish, added the cauliflower – there’s not a lot of it, less than a quarter – and topped it with the sauce. Then I melted some more butter and tossed the parsnip and carrot, put it on top of the rest and it’s now frizzling away in the oven. We’ll see.

Simultaneously, I made a batch of sourdough and have also fed the starter. Only then did I sip from the glass of wine that Tim had helpfully poured for me half an hour earlier. And then I loaded the dishwasher.

That’s enough for today. That I feel the need to tell you about an hour’s busyness shows how very unbusy I’ve been otherwise. I even bought a quiche for lunch.

Z and the slough of despond

Two more dull days. Sorry darlings, I have nothing to write about. I can’t get down to drawing – I have to have some feeling of dynamism to do that because it’s very difficult and the process isn’t enjoyable, though the result may be. Don’t think that I can sit down and sketch with any pleasure, because I haven’t the ability, as yet anyway. So I have to be fully engaged with it, or else I’ll do badly.

I meant to get a sourdough loaf on this evening, but that isn’t happening either. The trouble with doing it in the evening to rise overnight is that I don’t want to do anything after cooking and eating dinner. I’ll try to remember to do it at the same time as I cook, tomorrow.

What did go well was an inauthentic Spaghetti Carbonara. We had a pack of smoked salmon that needed to be used or frozen, but we didn’t feel like eating it, so into the freezer with it. I did, however, have some chorizo sausage and Tim suggested using that instead of bacon in a carbonara. I did exactly the usual recipe otherwise – eggs, nutmeg and parmesan; fried the bacon aka chorizo; cooked the spaghetti and mixed them all together once I’d drained, but not too much, the spaghetti. I also added a splash of extra dry Martini to the chorizo, which adds some syrupy oil once it’s simmered down. So, beating it all together in the hot pan, the paprika in the fat of the chorizo added a nice depth of colour and the hint of chilli and flavour of paprika was at least as good as the bacon would have been. I dished it straight out onto warmed plates, giving Tim a bit more – he can’t eat more, though, so the chickens are having a treat in the morning.

On Friday, the milkman comes and we have croissants for breakfast. That’s the highlight of the day, I guess. I didn’t get around to ordering Friday night takeaway, so maybe the smoked salmon will come right back out of the freezer. I do have various vegetables, but they’re quite random and I’m not sure what to make of them. There are eggs. Dozens of eggs.

Z uses the diary

Next week has turned out to be unexpectedly busy. Wink phoned the hospital where she had her operation and she’s finally got an appointment for her check-up. She’s been expecting a call for the last week or so, because it was left for them to ring her – anyway, no matter, it’s for next Tuesday. And then she phoned her dentist and he can fit her in on Monday. She rang the optician, who has written to her twice to remind of her of her due annual checkup, but they’re not making appointments at all until April. She forbore to enquire why they keep writing, then – anyway, she’ll get her extensive notes from them (she’s got interesting eyesight) and find a new optician here; as she will a dentist after bidding the nice one, she’s been with for years, a fond farewell.

So that takes up Monday, Tuesday and possibly Wednesday. On Thursday, I’ve booked my car for an MOT and service and on Friday I have a dentist’s checkup. This is all possibly the most exciting week I’ve had for a year.

This week, on the other hand is as dull as can be. My training meeting was interesting, but draining. Talking about analysing data is even worse when the meeting is online. Poor Ro had to take a nasal swab from his year-old daughter, whose temperature was slightly raised (as a result of her recent vaccinations), because the nursery insisted on it. Perdita was not happy. He couldn’t even attempt the throat one, poor little girl.

Blue Witch mentioned getting up later than usual – yeah, I find it really difficult to get up before 8.30 at least. Tim gets up when he wakes up, but that’s usually about 8 and I’m generally awake for several hours before drifting into a deep sleep between 7 and half past. So I have no feeling of guilt at all if I linger on in bed, even after waking. Though the cats line up outside and look at me balefully, even if they still have food in their dish in the Dutch barn. Cats like service, that’s all there is to it.

Eloise cat had eaten all her food last night, so there was none to take out and I felt obliged to put a few scrapings from a food pouch to take. I observed Tim noticing, though he politely didn’t mention it. But little Betty Kitten gets pampered a bit, because her brothers push her away from the best food. So I make sure she has a treat and she knows to expect it.

Talking of treats, Polly chicken is getting old and likes to be pampered now. So I spent several minutes with a handful of corn, so that she could eat at her leisure from my hand. I don’t mind, though it’s tedious. I don’t think we’ll have her much longer and she can have all the attention she wants. At least she eats well and is able to fly up to the perch at night.

Z strums a bit

There’s not much to say and so, unusually for me, I haven’t said it. Recap of the last week –

I’m attempting to learn to play the guitar. Yes, I’m that desperate. One of Tim’s guitars is here, but it’s rather big for me and I’m struggling to manage the chords. I can buy a smaller guitar, but that’s a drastic step, considering I might not take to it and it just be shoved in a cupboard, never to surface again. Maybe, when eldest grandson grows out of his guitar, he might let me use it…

The daffodils have been out on the drive for a while, which is always cheering. A good year for spring flowers generally, I think. A covering of snow for a week or so always seems to do them good.

As usual, I cooked a lot. I tried a recipe out of the Sunday paper – it’s black garlic and mushroom/spinach and ricotta lasagne. I did half the (serves 6-8) recipe for the three of us and there’s nearly half left, which is in the freezer. We liked it and it was good to have a use for some of the black garlic I over-enthusiastically bought some time ago, but if I make it again, which I might well, I think I’d up the proportion of garlic and mushroom. It was straightforward, but took a long time because of the various components, all prepared separately. I also cooked several vegetable curries – tomato with hard boiled eggs, potato and cauliflower and … hmm … another one, i can’t remember at the minute and took naan bread out of the freezer.

I haven’t been doing any drawing at all. The next chapter is a very long one about perspective and she wants me to make use of a long passageway with at least one door off it. I don’t have such a thing. I don’t have that sort of house. There is one passageway but the door to the side is set back and the end of the passageway is door height, with the ceiling beyond much higher. Not being able to do the thing she wants and all the writing that is, I’m sorry, a bit boring, is off-putting. I recognise that this is lockdown ennui, but I just want to sit in a comfy chair and draw, not perch awkwardly at the end of the ‘wrong sort of passageway.’ My rooms are big and mostly squarish, I just don’t have the distance for perspective as she wants me to do it. I’m not managing to jolly myself into the mood at present.

It’s not that I’m uncheerful, just feeling dull. I could be sowing seeds in the greenhouse, but I’m not sure I can be bothered. I might just buy in some plants. I won’t grow many vegetables this year, the chickens are just so destructive. I’ll grow a few things that they don’t like, such as courgettes.

I have a governor training meeting this afternoon, on Microsoft Teams, which is a horrid platform that doesn’t work very well on my Mac, but the schools use – I think the encryption is good, which is why it’s suitable. At least there is something in my diary for the week. Next thing is the dentist on the 11th, which is a genuine reason to leave the house and drive for half an hour. Whoopee!