Sunday, 30 December 2012

In the Soup - how not to follow a recipe...

It seemed a good idea to start with ... rather than search my cookery books for inspiration, I'd just do the soup Mrs Redboots had posted on her blog the previous day

It would make a change after two days of cold meat and undisguised* leftover veg followed on the third evening by a mild curry-ish sort of thing using some of the spicy mix that the Udder Farm Shop sells - displaying it in fragrant bowls, with sturdy brown-paper bags and little metal scoops to play at being old-fashioned grocers with, as you serve yourself Magic Majhala** or Regal Red Sea mixes.

Anyway, soup was called for, and at first glance I had everything on the list. So yesterday afternoon, for last night's meal, I extracted some chicken carcase stock from the freezer, and began to assemble the other ingredients.

I only had 2 carrots, but then I was only making soup for the 2 of us, so that didn't worry me. I had escallions [banana shallots] and used 3 of them rather than 2 onions; I added a couple of small turnips that were looking reproachfully from the veg shelf, and after much searching - we've not long had our kitchen completely redone, so some things are in logical but not easily found places - found the tag end of a packet of red lentils - probably about 100-150g worth.

I used a little bit of dripping to soften the chopped shallots, as we'd had rib of beef for our Christmas main meat, and it had produced a small basinful. Then I added the diced carrot and turnip to the pot for a few more minutes, and rinsed the lentils under the tap. Some old habits die hard, and I'm old enough to remember when one had to rinse, and pick over, lentils for grit; these days they are meant to be OK straight from the packet. Once everything was stirred together, I added the block of frozen stock, about half a pint, and filled the plastic box it had been frozen in with water from the tap, and poured that in - twice - making about a pint and a half of added liquid.

I kept stirring until the frozen stock had melted, and brought it all to the boil, then left it simmering for a couple of hours.

I ventured into the dank garden and returned with very small trophies - a couple of sprigs of thyme and a few marjoram leaves. Once these were washed, I bruised the thyme and added it to the pot. 

Mrs Redboots had said she used asafoetida as she didn't have any garlic to hand. Not having any asafoetida, nor ever having knowingly tasted it, I was confident I had plenty of garlic. Well once upon a time it was plenty ... but it was growing out, and the cloves themselves had got soft and rubbery. So I chopped the growing shoots together with some Greek basil that I have on the kitchen windowsill, ready to stir in at the last minute. 

A quick taste about half an hour before serving showed the need for a bit more seasoning. As 'Magic Majhala' has a few lentils amongst its many ingredients, I added about a teaspoonful of that and stirred it well in; mild curry flavours go well with lentils and carrots. 

Our G had been sitting on a slice of lime for a good hour by now, so we added ice-cubes, and the T, and relaxed for a while with this and a few of the beautiful olives [from Olives Direct] that we get from our local market. 

Just before serving, I used a potato masher to break down the cubes of vegetable without losing texture. I'd thought about using the stick blender, but decided I didn't really want this to be a 'cream soup' - a decision approved by TMH when I put the bowl in front of him - and stirred in the chopped herb/garlic shoots mixture.***  

So I'm afraid, Annabel, that it wasn't really your soup at all - but it was jolly nice!

* Chopped up and fried in dripping, but still obviously sprouts, chestnuts,  roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips. 

** I'm not sure of the spelling of this, as the last lot we bought didn't have the proper printed label, just a hand-written 'Magic'.

*** For once something I had pre-chopped did not lurk on the chopping-board to confront me when I came back to the kitchen after the course for which it was intended ...

Friday, 21 December 2012

Winter Solstice

Well, it seems the world did not end at 11:11 this morning; and so I return, as every year, to this poem by my favourite living author, Susan Cooper.

The Shortest Day

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

― Susan Cooper

Winter sunshine on the hill behind Halsway Manor, Somerset

Thursday, 29 November 2012

What a Shower [but I can't use it yet!]

We're nearly there! Y finished work last night. Everything is in, except that we need to go and get a new loo roll holder tomorrow, as the old one really doesn't suit the room as it now is.

But the outside waste pipe has been replaced - we knew it was split, and had been leaking into the carport for ages - and we can't run any water into the top hopper until the jointing has dried ... so I still can't have a shower until tomorrow morning. 

It's a good job we were away in France last weekend, staying in a hotel with beautiful facilities, or you'd be beginning to smell us from wherever you are!!

So here are a few pictures of what things look like now ...

[We still need to get a new blind, too]

Update Friday - still haven't got the blind, but we successfully purchased a new bathroom cabinet and loo roll holder. We should be able to get them fitted over the weekend, with a bit of luck...and I did have a lovely shower this morning!! 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A Night on the Tiles

Just a short post tonight, to say that things are moving on. After a bit of fiddling and final fitting in place of the vanity unit - although it had been plumbed in, it wasn't properly fixed yesterday - Y started tiling. That bit doesn't look any different from yesterday, so I haven't taken another picture. 

He's done quite a bit of tiling, but I won't reveal a whole wall until things are entirely finished ... must keep some surprises up my sleeve.

Because it was crucial where certain elements went , I missed my Pilates class today, in order to be here to set him on the right datum line. 

[Don't tell my Pilates teacher, but in the end I would have been able to get there and back in time, but I didn't want to risk him starting in the wrong place, and he thought he'd be starting the tiling about an hour before he actually did.]

Anyway, there are a few more days before he'll have finished everything, but I shan't post again now until I can show you the completed room. [We have chosen our wall colour, by the way, and will reveal that at the same time!]

Edit, morning of 22 Nov., to add that the cistern leaked/overflowed in the night, so suspect he'll need to sort that before any more tiling gets done today ...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Now Wash Your Hands...

We have a working loo and handbasin!

After collecting the new loo seat, Y went to get connectors for the new tap. Wouldn't you think all taps nowadays would be metric? Especially with a continental-sounding name like Grohe. Not a bit of it! The diameter of the hoses leading into this tap is three-eighths of an inch! So instead of being able to pick up the usual connectors to go between the isolators and the tap hoses, Y had to go to a specialist plumbing supplies to get four connectors - to connect the metric pipe isolators to a short length of pipe, and then to 'convert' that pipe to the size of the hoses feeding the tap.

That done, Y arrived here and set about actually fitting the loo. When you see a back-to-the-wall loo in a hotel en-suite, you don't think much about it. You probably notice in some of the more modern, or more recently converted hotels, a door between rooms that evidently leads to a 'service room' that gives access to the back of all the plumbing. 

When you have a vanity unit fitted, that gives a shelf above the loo, and a cupboard under the basin, you don't really think about how it will go in. The large waste pipe from the loo has to be fitted, but to manoeuvre the pan into place - after fitting the seat! - at the same time as connecting the cistern to the flush feed at the back of the pan, whilst holding the cistern and getting the cold feed into the cistern connected before the cistern itself can be put on its housing and the lid put on ... I think an octopus would have been hard pressed to come up with enough arms.

But it's in, and it works.

Tomorrow the tiling begins. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

Still Looless!

I knew it was tempting providence to say 'one more night...' In fact I thought as I posted yesterday's blog that it really was asking for trouble. The trouble started when Y arrived this morning, as when he tried fitting the vanity unit in its eventual position, the water feed pipes were too far out into the room, so he had to move them to get it back against the wall.

Then he realised that he needed to do part of the bath panelling before he could fit it in anyway, as there would be no way to get to it once the unit was in place. He's making the bath panel, at my suggestion, from vertical 'planks' of the flooring material, which will look much better than a plastic moulded panel. It will also allow a door in the panel at the tap end, to get to the isolators if we ever need any work done in future.

This afternoon I went out for a massage. After an hour of blissful relaxation I returned. Another problem. The loo seat broke as Y was fitting it. It is - naturally [!] - of a kind that needs to be fitted before the loo itself is plumbed in. 

 So ... another night of plodding downstairs ... I won't attempt to prophesy whether it will be the last. Latest photos from this evening, after he had gone. You can at least see progress! The one at top right shows a bit of the bath panelling. 
[You may need to click on the picture to get a clearer view - I've just realised this is possible!]

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How [not?]to get a new bathroom

When we had the kitchen redone about 18 months ago, the two men who did the work made such a good job of it that I asked them for a rough quote for the bathroom, ‘when I was ready to have it done.’

About a month ago, I emailed the one whose contact details I had, and 2 or 3 weeks ago, the other one rang me to say that ‘X’ [the first bloke] was now spending most of his time in France - where he’s renovating a ‘ruin’ – but if I was happy for himself, ‘Y’, to do the work, he would come and look and give us a proper quote. So on Tuesday the week before last, he came and measured up, did some sums, and his figure was within budget, so we said, 'Fine, let's go ahead.'

'When were you thinking of having it done?' says he.

'Well we're away all next week,' I said jokingly.

'Well, actually...'

It turned out there was a problem with the job he was supposed to be doing last week, so he could do us then! So we spent the next couple of days choosing bath, taps and shower, either from the catalogue he had with him, or via various internet sites and OK-ing by email various things from emailed pics. Then we zoomed up to Salisbury to look at tiles & flooring, which we successfully purchased and brought home ourselves, together with shade cards for paint.

We then spent the weekend clearing access in the loft for him to sort out the electrics for the shower, and taking down the wall cabinet and towel rails before he arrived on Monday morning, when we were setting off for a week’s folk dancing in Somerset.

The idea was that while we were away, Y would strip the whole room, and re-plaster/skim the walls and ceiling, put down new floor, fit the new sanitary ware & the shower, replace the radiator with a ladder-towel rail, tile round the bath and the window wall and - if we'd chosen the colour by then! - paint the un-tiled wall-and-a-half.

So he arrived as arranged, and we left him chipping off tiles, and the electrician he had organised sorting out the power feed to the new shower. Before we left there was already a slight problem…the plasterer he had booked for Tuesday texted him to say he couldn't come until Wednesday. So he rang another plasterer he had worked with before, who couldn't come Tuesday either, but ‘definitely’ could do Wednesday, so Y texted plasterer A back and cancelled him. And we set off to Somerset with light hearts [and bank balances, having paid him for all the materials and fittings!]

We were 10 minutes up the road when TMH realised he didn't have his mobile with him. We wouldn't normally have worried, as we had mine, but we’d given Y the number on TMH's phone, as he can’t work mine, so we turned round and went back to fetch it. We still arrived at our destination in good time, and became engrossed in the dancing that we scarcely gave what was going on at home a thought. 

Tuesday passed, and Wednesday, and we thought everything must be going to plan. But on Thursday Y rang. Plasterer B had let him down. And by the time he got back to plasterer A, he had arranged another job, so Y was going to keep trying to get someone, but he was afraid we wouldn't have a usable bathroom when we got home on Friday…

I think he was more bothered than we were. We have a downstairs cloakroom; so although it is further to go in the middle of the night, at least we have somewhere to go. And having been brought up in the days when bathing was a weekly occurrence, daily ablutions in a small washbasin is no great hardship either, for a few days at least, so we came home in a far less worried frame of mind than Y was in.

He’d done a lot of preparatory work. The new bath was in situ and plumbed in; the shower was on the wall; the new flooring was down; the largest irregularities of the walls filled. All was ready for a plasterer – and he’d found one who was willing to work on a Sunday, as a special favour. So today Y arrived at 9.30 with plasterer C, who spent the day giving us a lovely smooth ceiling and walls. Meanwhile Y replaced the exterior waste bathwater pipe, and prepared and fitted the new door.

Only one more night, now, of having to go downstairs in the middle of it; tomorrow the first thing he does will be to fit the new loo, then the washbasin, so that on Tuesday the newly skimmed walls should be fit to take the tiles. 

We need to decide fairly urgently on the colour for the un-tiled wall area, as – which we hadn't thought of before – he will need to have that done before the towel rail goes up, as we’ll never get behind it properly once it’s in place.

The before [on the left] and during [on the right] pictures will show you the state of what we came back to on Friday, and what it was like by Sunday afternoon.

The rest of the saga, and the final appearance – to follow...when it happens!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Help! Where did August go?

Just a quick post today, as I'm about to go out to the theatre.

But good news on the dishwasher front! I eventually called the manufacturers, who sent along a Man. The Man pressed various buttons and water rushed around; he looked under the sink and twiddled the outlet hose.

And he announced that probably the problem was the way the outlet hose was fitted to the 'space-saver' waste pipe under the sink; that he'd altered the angle of the bit the dishwasher hose was attached to, and used some 'cable clips' to keep it in place. Then he drank a cup of coffee ["Two sugars and milk, thank you very much!"] and left.

And hey presto, the next wash we did there was NO grey scummy water sloshing about in the sump, just about a teaspoonful of clear water at the bottom. Hurrah!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


More things that I've done to keep my hands from being idle... 

2 - Five Elephants

Pratchett fans will be aware of the Fifth Elephant. Those who do not share my delight in these books need only to know that the world about which Sir Terry Pratchett writes is a disc carried by four elephants standing on the back of a giant turtle. But there is an esoteric tradition that once, there was a fifth elephant ...

'Harris Tweed'
It started with one elephant. My regular knitting magazine [Simply Knitting, for those of you interested] often features 'toy' patterns designed by Alan Dart - but wonderful-looking though they are, most of them are really for show, not something that a small child could safely play with. But in the August 2011 issue, there was a group of 'real' toys that he had designed; 'Safari Sweeties': a lion, a zebra, a giraffe ... and an elephant. In the magazine the elephant was shown in a baby blue, but I had some odd balls of a greyish fleck DK yarn, that I thought was far more elephantine, and so I made 'Harris'.

He had to be Harris, of course, because he was made with a tweed yarn. And I took him with me to the local lunch 'gather' of CBB friends, as I knew two of the others had small children, thinking I'd let them fight it out, but would offer to make another for the loser.

'Donegal Tweed'

But only one of the Mums was there that day, so Harris went off to be Meli's ellie, and I emailed Eddy's Mum to offer to knit another for him.

Elephant number 2 became 'Donegal' - this being the only other tweed I could think of at the time. They are about 6 inches/15 cm 'tall' - i.e. from whatever they are sitting on to the top of their heads.

Donegal [L] and Harris [R]

He sat on my white bookcase for some time before Eddy's Mum could make one of our meetings, but eventually she did, and Meli's Mum brought Harris to see his 'twin...

Lewis is at the top - someone else had
evidently seen the same pattern, and sent a pink
and white elephant to be his friend...
And then another baby arrived in the family - so another elephant became necessary.

I was exercised as to a name for this one, and wondered about Tertius, but was told it would be too hard to for a little one to say. So he became Lewis, that being a sub-type of Harris tweed.
[After all, you can't call a baby ellie 'Herringbone' or 'Thornproof'  - or can you?]

'River Tweed'

At the beginning of this year, the little boy for whom the Gunner Bunny was made [see Rabbits!] was approaching his second birthday, so I started to make the fourth elephant. His parents said they thought he should be called 'River'.

I was at a folk dance weekend at the end of January and as I wasn't dancing as much as usual, due to an injury, I managed to get all the knitting done, and most of the stuffing and sewing-up - all that was left to do when I got home was to give him a face and some toenails.

The Fifth Elephant

Naturally, he occasioned considerable comment, and one of the musicians was particularly smitten. Over breakfast on the last morning I found myself offering to make one for her. Hence the Fifth Elephant - I don't know what she'll call it...

Update 17 November - the Fifth Elephant is now officially named 'Fifth' - and she's a girl!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Dishwasher Blues

This is by way of being AN AWFUL WARNING – at least it is if you are new to dishwashers, as we were.

Last summer we had our kitchen redone, and for the first time, found ourselves with a dishwasher. The Man of the House [TMH] was reluctant, as washing-up was his daily pleasure, watching people going past on the pavement outside each morning as he worked his way through the previous day’s detritus – and besides, it would use too much water…
A ‘slimline’ model, with A* ratings for energy and water use was given grudging approval, however, so about a year ago, when the workmen departed, we had to get used to our new ‘toy’. Naturally, for the first few days, everything went into it. Well, everything that wasn’t old and precious, anyway. And if it came through that OK, it went in next time…

And then I began to have terrible heartburn. TMH also got a touch of indigestion, but not as badly as I did. We thought it might be the olives – we have a wonderful Olive Man who comes to the local market, and we had got into the habit of eating a few – well, sometimes more than a few! – before dinner every evening, And it seemed I wasn’t getting such bad indigestion when we were away from home. So I stopped eating olives for a bit, but it didn’t really help…and then I looked at the dish we’d been serving the olives in, and realised that it was only glazed on the top, so that the terracotta back was probably absorbing the dishwasher water and holding it. So we started using a different dish for olives, and that sorted TMH out completely. But I was still suffering. Alerted by this, we stopped putting a few other items through the dishwasher, and incidentally changed the detergent we were using as well. The artificial lemon smell seemed to permeate everything, so we switched to an ‘ecologically friendly’ one which at least got rid of the smell.

By this time I was almost afraid to lie down at night, for as soon as I did the pain and the racing heart-beat would start, and I was losing sleep. I’d been put on omeprazole and was lined up for an endoscopy. And we went away again on holiday and I was fine. Two weeks before the endoscopy was due I stopped taking the omeprazole as instructed. Coincidentally, TMH had started hand-washing the dishes I have my morning porridge in, since as we only normally use the dishwasher on alternate days, and porridge is notorious for sticking when it dries, I was putting the dish into the sink to soak rather than straight into the dishwasher, and TMH was just dealing with it. After a week of no medication, no porridge bowls going through the dishwasher, and NO SYMPTOMS, I rang the GP. “I’m quite prepared to go through with the endoscopy if you think it will show anything useful,” I said, after I’d told her of the lack of symptoms, and the explanation I had come up with. She agreed it probably wouldn’t be necessary, and that if the symptoms returned I could always be put up for one again.

As a – rather painful! – experiment I used one of the porridge bowls that had last been put through the dishwasher rather than washed up by TMH. That night – heartburn. So all four porridge bowls have now been soaked in plain water, and then washed up by hand – and will not be put in the dishwasher again. We googled aluminium poisoning – some dishwasher detergent contains aluminium salts. Among the first things mentioned are increased heart rate, heartburn and indigestion.

So I am no longer poisoning myself. But it seems there are other irreversible consequences. I went for my annual sight test, and was telling the optometrist an abbreviated version of the tale as she was checking various things. Then she looked in my left eye.
“Ah, well, we’re in a whole different ball game now,” said she. "The cataract I saw just a tiny sign of last year has grown. No wonder you've lost two lines on the chart."

Later she was expressing surprise at the speed with which the cataract had developed, and then checked herself. Our eyes met, and in unison we said:

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Some of the things I've been doing with my hands recently

1 - Rabbits!

Gunner Bunny - rear view
When my new cousin was on the way [first cousin twice removed, for those who are particular about such things ... my first cousin's grandchild] I decided to make a knitted toy. I knew he was going to be a boy ... at least, I knew that's what the scan said - more on this later - so as his father is an Arsenal fan, and I had some suitable stash, Gunner Bunny was born.

Gunner is, as befits a footballer, a fairly tough character - if you tackle him you'll know about it ...


Gunner - from the front

I knitted the main part of his shirt in red, then crocheted the white parts and embroidered the various logos. Then the shorts were crocheted in white with red embroidery, and the boots/socks were done as per the pattern for the legs but on larger needles, and changing to white and stocking stitch for the socks.


When a work colleague had a little girl, I thought I'd make a more feminine version - Bella Bunny. Now the original pattern was for a 'ballerina bunny' and it had a little dress included.

Bella Bunny
... So when I made Bella, I thought I'd just do the dress as per pattern ... Mistake. What I missed in my haste to get her done, was that the [very slightly] larger needle size shown at the head of the pattern was only meant to be used for the dress; I'd used it for the rabbit. So of course when I came to make the dress, it was immediately apparent that it wasn't going to fit. I'm sure some people would have just kept trying with larger needles until theirs did fit, but I tried one size up, and again it was obviously not going to be large enough, so I got out a crochet hook. made a chain long enough to go round her waist, worked upwards in half-trebles to make a bodice, then went back to the chain foundation and worked downwards in trebles, increasing on some rows to make a ruffled skirt.
Then I added an Irish crochet flower. 

Belinda Bunny
Now I was well away, and when a cousin on the other side of the family said her son was expecting a little girl, I knew exactly what I was going to do.

I made the rabbit on the right size needles as per pattern, but decided do do another crochet dress, as the 'official' one was garter stitch [same as the rabbit] and looked decided UN-pretty! I couldn't get on with the proper pattern for the ballet shoes either, though they had converted well into football socks and boots so both Bella and Belinda have crocheted shoes, and crochet cross-ties too, rather than the ribbons the pattern specified.

I took Belinda to the Sherborne book fair about a month before the baby was due. She was much admired, and I found myself agreeing to make another one 'exactly the same' for the grandchild of another exhibitor.

My cousin, who lives in Yeovil, came to meet me, and we caught up on various family matters. A month later she rang me.
'The baby has arrived safely ... but it's a boy!'

Despite the scan saying all along it was a girl, something vital had been missed. This was not the first time I had known that to happen. Two previous 'boys' I had heard about turned out to be girls, so I wasn't unduly surprised.

All the knitted pieces awaiting assembly
'Don't worry,' I said. 'Just send me back Belinda - I know where she'll have a good home!'

I had already started making the pieces for the rabbit 'exactly the same' as Belinda, so I was able to send Belinda herself to the exhibitor's grandchild, and start putting the pieces together for a boy bunny.

Robin Rabbit - front view

It's all in the stuffing. You can make muscles and bulges in the right place to make the rabbits more masculine-looking, and to get the set of the arms to look as if they are ready for action.

Robin - rear view

So Robin Rabbit emerged - the new baby's dad was a Notts Forest fan, their mascot is Robin Hood, and after a bit of research I was able to make something that looks enough like their kit to be recognisable, whilst, as with Arsenal, not [I hope] breaking any copyright or sponsorship rules.

Next time, Elephants ...

To blog or not to blog?

...Well several friends are at it, so maybe I should put a toe in the water. I'm a book collector, a knitter, a quondam bookseller, writer, and librarian [does one ever stop being a librarian? I still get asked the way to places, even when I'm hundreds of miles from home ... my sister-in-law, also retired librarian, reckons we have a big rubber stamp on our foreheads, invisible to ourselves and our friends, that glows bright red when approached by a stranger, saying 'REFERENCE LIBRARIAN - ASK HERE!']
So I'm sitting at my keyboard thinking of all the things I should be doing, and not actully doing any of them because I've been inveigled into this blogging lark, and looking at the knitting I've just started - the third thing I've tried to make with this wool - which is actually beginning to look like something I might want to wear, whereas the previous attempts with it were just - wrong!

diamond jumper - the first attempt
The first attempt - in the round, with diamond pattern
[that attracted me to the pattern in the first place] nearly complete.

I had got about as much length again as shown in the picture of attempt #1 done before I saw a mistake - I was knitting in the round, but turning at the underarm 'seam' - and I'd taken it on the train,  so had obviously started again in the wrong direction without realising it. So I put it away for a year or two while I did some other stuff, and after 4 rabbits and 5 elephants and one cardigan of a sort either side of these [pictures later] I came back to this and decided as I had to pull it back anyway, I'd try something else with the yarn. So for attempt #2, I found this really pretty pattern of a jumper, shown in cream, and as I hadn't done much in the way of lace, I thought I'd give it a go. And it was successful, in that I didn't make a mess of the lace-work. But I didn't even try and photograph it - it just didn't look RIGHT! So that was 2 things unpicked. Then the new month's knitting mag arrived, and there was an intriguing pattern, so I'm about 4cm into attempt #3 ... I'll keep you posted!