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Z looks busier than Z actually was. Apart from the garden stuff, obvs. And sorting out the dishwasher.

Having been thwarted of my holiday, I said that meals would mostly involve no cooking and be very simple. A fail there, yesterday. Not that there was a huge amount of cooking, but more than I’d intended.

Lunch was more preparation than actual cooking. To start with, I had to roast a whole bulb of garlic. In fact, I roasted three, because that was no more bother than one. Then I peeled six small cucumbers and liquidised them, added yoghurt and some crème frâiche, squeezed out the flesh of the garlic and added that, quite a lot of mint leaves and some seasoning. So little cooking and not really much actual work, but it still took a while. I chilled it and we ate it with naan bread that I’d taken out of the freezer and we followed up with some St Helena cheese from Jonny’s farm. He lets other people use his dairy and his cows’ milk to make their own cheeses.

I’d got one chicken breast. Tim, reading the Guardian, found a recipe for which we had all the ingredients. So I grated ginger and garlic, added mustard powder and lemon juice (should have been lime) and bashed the halved chicken with a meat mallet, then spread on the mixture and left it to marinate. I quartered peaches and grilled them, grilled some tomatoes from the greenhouse, chopped chilli and shallot, cooled and peeled the peaches and tomatoes and added those. At the last, i added more lemon juice and olive oil to make a salsa. I floured, egged and breadcrumbed (home made sourdough breadcrumbs) the chicken and fried it. Also sautéed some courgette from the garden.

After we’d eaten, Tim said “I thought you weren’t cooking?” D’oh. Today, we finished the soup and salsa and, for dinner, we’ve had scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. I’m not very good at not cooking. i’ve fed the sourdough starter and may well make a loaf tomorrow/Tuesday. I’ve realised that the slower bread is made, the better it is. I’m in no hurry nowadays.

Friday was the 35th anniversary of moving to this house. And yesterday was Ronan’s 37th birthday. Time doesn’t seem to have much meaning. Memories blur time.

Change of plans

Well, it had been very hot. And Tim didn’t feel at all well on Monday morning and felt quite woozy when he went out to buy a paper. So we spent the day relaxing and we had to give our apologies for the party. Thinking about a long drive to Wales to stay in a caravan, we knew it wasn’t a good idea, so we’ve postponed our trip. We came home on Monday night, driving in the cool of the evening and we haven’t done a lot this week and feel better for it. Disappointing but a relief too, it would really not have been comfortable there, particularly at night.

I hadn’t driven Tim’s car for at least two years and that meant I hadn’t driven a car with a gear lever and a clutch. I managed to stall three times getting out of his driveway and around parked cars into a turning space. But after that it was fine – until I was coming off the A14 at Bury, when I forgot I had to put my foot on the clutch as I stopped at the roundabout. Didn’t stall that time, luckily. Oh, how we laughed.

Since then, I’ve mostly been watering the greenhouse. One happy cucumber plant can produce an awful lot of cucumbers. I’m not watering the outside ones because I don’t want to have too many more – though actually, I think the outdoor ridge cucumbers have the best flavour of all.

Waxing gibbous moon

it’s 10pm and I’m sitting in Tim’s garden, enjoying the evening air. Although it’s still 25° it feels pleasant, neither warm nor cool.
Tomorrow will be a quiet day, or that’s the plan. We might venture down the Oxford Road to the Exotic Superstore but that’ll be the limit of our excursion, probably. We might do a bit of housework- it’s pretty dusty. I’ll wash my hair. That’s the summit of my ambition for the day. We bought a quiche for supper and I roasted some home-grown courgettes to go with it and we’ll finish them for lunch tomorrow.
We have little idea what to expect tomorrow night, which doesn’t matter. Just going with the flow (one way along the river, that is, against it the other way…). Our return taxi is booked for 11.15.
Even though it’s too hot to be outside in the middle of the day, I appreciate the heatwave. Really beats wishing the heating was on in the middle of July.
The moon was lovely but, by the time I thought to take a picture, a cloud was drifting over. So I hope you noticed it too. It’s the same moon for all of us, after all.

Z is obliged to relax, out of the heat

I had so much planned, but it was too hot. I simply couldn’t go out cutting ragwort in an open field in the heat of the day. Also, the cattle were on that field all day and I didn’t want a group of bullocks taking too much interest in me on top of the rest. So either I get up really early tomorrow, which will only happen if I chance to be awake, or else I’ll have to deal with the plants seeding, which is a daunting prospect but one I’ll cope with.

I’ve shown Wink the ropes. I trimmed the nettles away from where she needs to walk and explained about the personalities and preferences of each barn cat. Her eyes glazed over. Still, the worst that can happen is that they miss me dreadfully and the best is that she took it so on board that they don’t care if I ever come back again. Mother cat is really affectionate, just like she used to be before she buggered off for four years. She’s desperate to be a pet and I would welcome her, dear little girl, if Eloise cat would allow it. She won’t. That’s that.

I’ve also put all the house plants into the porch, for ease of watering. I know that what’s normal for me is quite a lot for anyone else to be presented with at short notice. it’s just what you’re used to.

The next few days are promised to be seriously hot. So early starts, for maximum lounging at the end of the journey.

Z considers making a list, but it’s too daunting

We’re going away on Sunday, for the first holiday since September 2019. First to Reading, because we’re going to a party on Monday evening. It was originally scheduled for Saturday – tomorrow, that is – but when lockdown was extended (lockdown lite-ish, by that time), it was postponed. It’s a river cruise on the Thames and I’m looking forward to it immensely, never having been to any such thing. Tim will know more people than I will and I suspect that most of the other guests will know each other, but I assume that a convivial atmosphere will carry me through. We’ll go by taxi from and back to Reading, which we think will be better than staying in a local hotel.

The next day, or possibly the day after if it’s been a bit *too* convivial, we will head off to Pembrokeshire. Looking forward immensely to that too. Wink will, nobly, be in charge here. The house is never left empty. It never has been – well, not since 1945 at latest, anyway.

I have a lot to do tomorrow. I had a List (mental list that is, I hadn’t got around to writing it down) and some items slipped yesterday. I’d been to blood donors on Wednesday and, on Thursday morning, I was very busy: too busy, as it turned out. By mid-morning, I had a sizeable migraine. I usually tough them through nowadays but I didn’t even try and took pills instead, as Wink and I were going out to lunch and cancelling it would have been worse than carrying on. So the pills worked and it was all right, but I didn’t get anything useful done for the rest of the day. I was still a bit slow today, so focussed on food.

Honestly, this sourdough starter thingy. It’s just another pet. I fed it this morning, then took out 300g a while later and put the rest in the fridge. I left the 300g to ferment a bit longer, while I boiled some milk and left it to cool for yoghurt. I went to investigate the cucumber situation – the outdoor ones are healthy but only yielded a single cucumber, whilst the single greenhouse one had 8. Luckily, it’s a variety that has small fruit, so they only weighed the amount I needed for more bread-and-butter pickle. So I set that off (the cucumbers and onions need to chill, salted, for a few hours. Then I got the sourdough bread dough started. And then we had lunch.

When I read recipes in the paper and then online comments, people often complain about the list of ingredients. Yet even a simple meal can take a lot of components. Today, it was prawns, cucumber and tomato. Here is what I used:

Prawns in Marie Rose sauce. Prawns, bought mayonnaise (or else a list in itself), tomato ketchup (also bought, or else another list), Tabasco sauce.

Cucumber. That at least was straightforward.

Tomato, with French dressing. I’d already made that, otherwise it would have been oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard, herbs (can’t remember which). Basil leaves strewn on top.

Lemon. Salt and pepper, obviously.

If everything were made from scratch and listed, it would be around 30 ingredients. As it was, as written here, 11. Took longer to prepare than eat, of course. Tonight, we had mushroom risotto. Tomorrow, hot-smoked salmon for lunch and something with eggs and courgettes in the evening. Then, on Sunday morning, we’re off and meals will be very simple or eaten out for the next ten days.

Tomorrow’s jobs are legion. Help.

Happy birthday to Tim

Wink took us out for lunch today, in honour of Tim’s birthday. So it’s also the 9th anniversary of the second time of meeting him, the first having been here at the second blog party.

I’d been out early, for me, with a 9 o’clock hair appointment. She trimmed my hair and left the fringe, which I’m going to grow out and see if I like it. Most of the grey hair is at the front, so I’ve got darker hair with a pale fringe, which isn’t a good look. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t mind going white, it’s interesting to see how it progresses. I’m not at all tempted to colour it. I am both too lazy and too inclined to fuss about roots.

Lunch was very good. I had sea bass (I don’t know why ‘sea’ is added, isn’t all bass from the sea?) with risotto and it was delicious. The risotto would have been enough on its own, without the fish and pickled samphire and I was sorry not to be able to manage it all. I wish restaurants wouldn’t put too much food on the plate. If there’s leftover chips, I’ll bring them back for the chickens. i’m sure they’d have loved risotto but it wasn’t very portable. A peach started to go brown right at the top and it wasn’t possible to rescue it. The chickens loved that, too. When I was weeding the other day, I saved all the edible weeds for them – they are pampered fowl.

I must look up a recipe for pickled samphire, while it’s in season. It would be good to extend its life. So delicious.

I remember the first time I ate samphire, in 1970. All fishmongers sell it now and it’s been a fashionable food for a long time, but it was so unusual then that a good restaurant sold it, boiled with butter, as a first course, just as you might have asparagus. Though I suspect that few places would just serve asparagus to eat with your fingers, nowadays. Which reminds me, I’ve at least one artichoke ready to cut.

Z says hello

I meant to post a letter in Yagnub today, but I forgot until half past five, which was after the last post. So I walked round to the village post box, so at least it will go at 9am tomorrow. There are some new bungalows, built on the field opposite and, because of the restrictions, I’ve not met any of my new neighbours. I went past a man and woman chatting, he in his garden and she on the pavement and thought I should do something.

I usually do a circular trip rather than retracing my path, but cut through the centre of the circle. By this time, the man was alone, trimming his new hedge and I said hello as I went past. He greeted me in return in a friendly way, so I stopped to pass the time of day.

This isn’t much, is it? Well, it is for me. To engage a stranger in deliberate conversation, that is. Anyway, we chatted for a while, I introduced myself as his neighbour and so on. He and his wife have moved from Durham and they like it here. I must make more effort. You don’t make friends unless you do so.

Gosh, there are a lot of big slugs about this year. I know there’s been a lot of rain, but all the same. I’ve left them all. My ability to kill for my own convenience is decreasing all the time. For food, yes (normally someone else does it and I buy the meat or fish, of course) and for others to eat, also yes. Anything harmful to me or a pet, too, such as parasites. But I don’t kill a fly because it annoys me or a wasp because it might sting me, an aphid or slug because it’s eating a plant I want to eat or look at. I’m a bit squeamish about plants, come to that. At least I’m fine about eggs. Vegans would disagree, but I know how well I look after my chickens and they exploit me quite as much as I exploit them. Also, cheese would be impossible to eschew. So, even if I find I can’t kill vegetables, at some time in the future, I won’t actually starve.

Z befriends a slug

I have fallen in love with Norwich again. It’s a joy, every time I go there. I used to love it many years ago, but it had lost its magic for various reasons. Now, it’s simply a treat to have the occasional visit. Sad that there are so many empty shops, though.

Wink went for her eye test – she’s had one already this year, at her old optician in Warminster. She wasn’t very happy with her new glasses and the specialist didn’t think they were suitable either. The person she saw today was very helpful, said that her old glasses are still fine for driving and the lenses in the new ones will be changed. The divide in the bifocals was very sharp and she found it very disconcerting to look down, then up. She fell over a kerb last week and is still recovering from badly grazed legs.

She took me out for a late lunch and we chose an independent pizza restaurant, which was a good choice. As we left, we looked at the sky and thought we’d better hurry. The rain started before we got to the shopping mall, but we scurried in and didn’t really get wet – I saw in the online local paper that the torrential rain caused that same mall to flood an hour later, along with various other Norwich roads. We were very lucky. Most of the way home, the roads were dry, but it rained hard for twenty minutes here, Tim said.

He cooked dinner tonight, a beef Rogan Josh. I’d bought fresh peas on the market, so we each had a bowlful as a starter. Naan bread out of the freezer, warmed in the microwave (as the Aga is still off) and dinner was sorted. With a few Kent cherries to follow.

Tomorrow, not much is planned. I moved the hen run to its new location today, so they’ve had a lovely time scratching in the new earth and eating fresh grass. I see there’s an artichoke ready to cut. It’s likely to rain.

The rain had wetted a saucer of dry cat food outside – the five barn cats are friendly and eat together to an extent, but some get squeezed out by others, so I spread the food about a bit. I thought they’d not eat wet kibble, so I’d give it to the chickens. There was a large slug on the saucer too, so that would be a bonus treat. But then I saw it opening its mouth and ingesting a large piece of soaked kibble and it looked so happy that I couldn’t feed it to a chicken. I left it. It’s welcome.

Breakfast at Timothy’s

Eh, three days have gone past. To think that I used to post every day, without fail. Catching up…

I was reminded on Tuesday that there was a meeting planned for Wednesday – the reminder politely didn’t mention that I, as the secretary of the committee, should have sent out the paperwork last week. I simply hadn’t put it in my diary because I’d written it on the minutes of the last meeting instead. No matter. There are two meetings a year and we always have the same agenda for Meeting One and Meeting Two.

Offered a Zoom meeting, the one with furthest to travel said that he’d had too many of those and would like to meet in person. It has to be said that you get extra things done face-to-face. Though not having to leave the house is nice too. Anyway, it was a 200 metre walk to the meeting and a bit longer back, because I discussed hedge trimming with the Rector, so walked back to his place.

This morning I drove Wink to the next town, because she had a hospital appointment there – just for an eye checkup, no illness or anything. She had drops dripped in, so couldn’t drive herself. The specialist wanted her to have another eye test at the optician and she has been given one tomorrow. So, a jolly to Norwich. That is, not jolly for her, but I’ll spend my time at the market, maybe buying books at Jarrolds too. Things that used to be normal are now such a treat.

There’s an acre of land around the house, not counting fields, and much of it is grass. We dutifully leave it to give wild flowers a chance, but it rained when it should have been cut and now the grass is waist high. So I started cutting it with the wheeled strimmer (this has probably got a ‘proper’ name, but it’ll do). Admittedly it was a warm and muggy day, but I was panting after ten minutes. I managed another ten later, but there’s a long way to go. Meanwhile, Wince was constructing another tunnel for the chickens, so that they can have a third outside area. One chicken got out when we removed the pane of glass, ready to insert the tunnel. She had a lovely hour pecking around outside and then she wanted to go home. It was Hen Rietta or Hen Leigh, I can’t remember which is which. We opened the door of the run for her. She tried for some time to get through the wire, but eventually I poked a stick at her and guided her to the doorway. Not long afterwards, the heavens opened. Apparently, there were flash floods on the main roads round about. It bucketed down for an hour and I was very thankful that poor little Rietta (or Leigh) was safely indoors by that time.

I picked some swiss chard to go with the casserole for dinner. I noticed a black leafy thing on one of the leaves I’d picked. It was actually a butterfly, wings closed, that had sheltered from the rain. I picked it up and put it under a growing leaf, feeling very mean to have disturbed it.

Tomorrow, Wink is coming for breakfast, because Friday is Croissant Breakfast. I started ordering croissants from the milkman on a Friday because it didn’t seem fair to ask him to come all the way down the drive for one pint of milk, so I added butter, croissants and orange juice to the order. Now, the milkman no longer supplies croissants (and I now use a different milkman anyway, who doesn’t either, but that’s another story). So we buy them. I can see that the time will come when I make croissants, but it still seems a bit too much like work, so I don’t do it yet. But it’s still Croissant Friday.

Z and Tim are about to eat lemon syllabubs, because those leftovers won’t go away without help

Today, I just caught up with some necessaries. We put the borrowed tables and chairs into the car – well, cars, Tim took some of the chairs – and returned them to the church (the bier shed, in fact). I checked and took photos of the overgrown trees, which aren’t, along the lane, because the council had told me that the bin lorry couldn’t get past. I’ve written an utterly charming letter, assuring them that the hedge and trees will be cut back in the autumn once nesting and fruiting season is over, but in the meantime I’ll ensure that the trees on the other side of the road are trimmed. And then I wrote to the churchwarden offering to sort that out. I suspect it’s one problem branch. I took photos and sent them.

The new milkman left the milk in the wrong place, so didn’t spot the direct debit form I’d left out. I didn’t say it was the wrong place but emailed to send the dddetails. So that was all right. I settled back, thinking I’d done all the admin. No I hadn’t, I realised. I needed to make a phone call.

My phone phobia has never gone away. I panicked and pretended it wasn’t going to need to happen. But it did need to happen, things would only get worse if I left it. So I steeled myself – and had a very pleasant chat with a nice woman called Megan (I asked: I do ask people’s names nowadays and use them in a friendly way. I’m getting better, old as I am) and sorted out everything, did follow-up emails and all. The pandemic has done nothing for my people skillz. I know I’m not alone in preferring email and texting etc to speaking to people, but it’s still embarrassing.

All the same, owning up to it is a help. Tim already knew about my phone problem, but I told him (possibly I’ve told him before but he didn’t say) that, in years gone by, if we were going to ask people over, I made Russell make the phone calls. The reason went beyond a disinclination to pick up the phone. I thought people would want to come if he asked them and not want to if I did. I had no reason to believe that, except that everyone liked him. There it is, I’m over it. Choosing to believe I’m likeable is still the bravest and hardest thing I do and accepting some people don’t much like me and that’s all right is the next bravest. Approximately.

The porch was wonderfully clear and empty, apart from a freezer and a small fridge. We wanted to keep it that way, so I suggested bringing in a table, as well as the nice teak bench. It’s a lovely little room and we’re going to use it regularly for coffee and lunch, when it’s either too hot or not quite warm enough to eat outside, but bright enough to want to. My parents-in-law used it for morning coffee and afternoon tea, but then they had a back porch too, for wellies and suchlike and I don’t, because the space was incorporated into the study. It’s too easy to use it as a dumping ground and I need to resist that temptation.

Tomorrow, hmm. I don’t have much planned. I need to deliver back the bier shed keys to the churchwarden and I will pick up my vineyard wine club’s annual crate, which is included in the membership. We need to sort out the fridge. Otherwise, I’m footloose.