Thursday, 28 February 2008

It's nonsense, but fun even so!

It's about the colour of your aura. So I don't believe in stuff like this at all. I group it along with religion, astrology, homeopathy and all that other stuff for which there isn't the slightest bit of evidence.

On the other hand, it was only a click from DelboysDaughter's blog so it wasn't much effort just to go and do the quiz. Sadly, I wasn't terribly impressed by the quiz either. There's a set of questions to answer about yourself, and you click the answers that fit you most closely. But as is so often the case, there often isn't an appropriate answer, so I tend to end up clicking answers that really aren't all that appropriate.

For example, I am very interested in religion. I just think it's fairy stories. It's not important to me, nor do I take it seriously, nor is it a central part of my life. I'm just interested in it, that's all. But that isn't an option I can select.

So it's not too much of a surprise that I don't entirely agree with the description of my personality type that this quiz has generated. It is true that I tried teaching for a couple of years, but I was lousy at it and hated it more or less the whole time.

I am kind of interested in saving the planet, but now I come to think of it, the planet is perfectly safe, which leads me neatly into speculation mode. (It's my birthday today. Just humour me!)

I think......
1. Global warming is probably beyond our control already and nothing we can do will help.
2. That means the weather all over the world will change in unpredictable ways, and there's little chance the major food-producing areas will remain productive.
3. Hence, famine on an unimaginable scale, including the developed countries, ie us. With any luck, not for 40 years or so. I don't fancy experiencing this, thank you very much!
4. Thence warfare as we scramble to feed ourselves.
5. Well, disease, too, of course, as our systems are stressed, our infrastructures break down.
6. Plant and animal extinctions on a massive scale. Maybe not up there with the permo-triassic one, but certainly on a par with the end-cretaceous event.
7. Catastrophic population collapse. The survivors are likely to be in the under-developed countries where they are more used to eaking out a living without depending on much technology. I don't see H. sapiens being entirely wiped out.

With any luck, the human population will stay very low for a very long time, allowing the evolution of whole new ecosystems. Sadly, the longer that is the case, the less likely they are to remember what all went so horribly wrong this time.

Any ideas on how we could transmit a warning, given all the unknowns in this somewhat pessimistic prediction?

Sorry, didn't intend to descend into the darkness, nor to drag you with me!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Well that solves that problem!

For over 20 years, Jenny and I have done a bit of silversmithing. We've made lots of jewellery, and also things like candle holders, wine goblets, fruit bowls, and so on. We did most of the work at weekend workshops which we attended twice a year, and that was just perfect. We'd come home hyped up from the weekend, and that would keep us going for 3 or 4 months, continuing to design and make stuff in our workshop here at home. Then, just as we were losing momentum, another course would loom, and we'd have to start thinking about a new set of designs, then buy in the materials we'd need, and so on, so we never really stopped producing stuff.

About 5 years ago the guy running the courses retired, which I thought was most unreasonable of him. I guess when we first started going, in the early 80's, he must have been in his early to mid-60's, so to be fair, 5 years ago he'd be well past 75, so I suppose we ought to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But that left us with a big problem. Without the regular impetus provided by the workshops, we did less and less. And as we practised less, so we started to make more mistakes, and to find them harder to recover from. The downward spiral of getting it wrong and being unable to fix it is depressing and self-reinforcing, and we've hardly done any silversmithing for some years. And I got into trouble you can just guess where, because I decided I preferred carving wood and stone to soldering silver.....need I say more?

Anyhow, this weekend we went on our first workshop with a new guy, on the Worcester/Hereford border, and what a pleasure it was! Both he and his wife are quite delightful, he's an excellent teacher, the classes are small, and the workshop reasonably well-equipped. Ian and Sue Buckley run Bringsty Arts Studio and the courses are the first weekend of the month apart from January, I think.

Jenny made this magnificent bangle for me, despite starting to feel quite poorly yesterday, and I'm completely delighted with it. I was over-ambitious and tried to make 2 rings and a brooch, but didn't manage to finish any of them. However, we achieved the main objectives, in that a) we've found someone we can keep going back to every 6 months and b) we're really fired up about silversmithing and jewellery making, so hopefully we'll recover those lost skills and start making some more nice stuff.

I'm glad to say Jenny is now almost completely recovered, and I survived the drive home, despite not having my co-driver there to take over once we hit the A14.

And the icing on this particular cake was that we stayed in a wonderful pub, called the Talbot, in Knightwick, which is really close to Ian and Sue.

This 15th 14th Century pub is completely wonderful and we enjoyed excellent food and a comfy room both nights. Friday night we both had delicious oxtail stew, and on Saturday I had a most excellent Hereford sirloin steak and Jenny had really good mutton. Terrific!

This is the Talbot last summer. More info on their site.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Phew! That was lucky!

Yesterday a parcel arrived with a book in it, but no note or anything. It just came direct from the vendor. It was Kite Runner, the film of which we saw and loved a few weeks ago. I knew the film was based on the book, and had decided straight away that I wanted to read it. Now, since this parcel was addressed to me, I assumed I must have ordered it myself, even though I had no recollection of having done so.

Now the other thing you need to know is that it's my birthday soon, and it would have been very stupid to buy such an obvious birthday present right now, but that was the only conclusion I could come to.

Anyhow, we were out with the usual crowd in an Indian last night, and I happened to mention this book, at which there was a disappointed "Bugger!" from Jenny. "I've just bought you that for your birthday!" she said. Did I feel bad? You bet!

But I didn't recognise the vendor at all and wondered if maybe I'd bought it via Amazon and they were a secondary seller, or whatever they're called. Checked this morning, and no, I'd definitely not ordered it through Amazon. Very odd. Still feeling bad, of course.

This evening my mother phoned to warn me of the impending arrival of a parcel containing a book. Ahah! Mystery solved! Mother, knowing I wanted the book, had bought it for me and had the vendor mail it direct. Well, at least it wasn't me being stupid, for a change. Still leaves Jen with a couple of problems - what to do with the spare copy, and what to get me instead, but at least I can stop feeling guilty!

Monday, 18 February 2008

Brilliant sunshine and electricity

It was such a glorious day yesterday, we decided to go to Anglesea Abbey to visit the Winter Garden there, and Lorna and Richard wanted to come, too, which was great. Having got ourselves thoroughly cold, we then retired to the restaurant where I had a very satisfactory jacket potato with beef stew. Good value central heating!

Some of these pictures are a bit disappointing. When I shrank them, they became a bit pixellated, and I'm not sure how to fix that without ending up with huge files. I'll need to experiment, and might come back and replace them some time. Later: I've had another go at the photos. They're still not great, but they are a bit better.

The rest of the post will be pretty much just photographs, so I'll explain the electricity bit of the title now, even though it's out of context. We have solar panels on the roof, connected to the national grid, so when the sun shines, we export electricity, for which we're paid. It's not remotely economical, even taking into account the 50% grant we received when we installed them, but it makes us feel good. Yesterday we generated 7.8 kWh, which is not bad for a winters day. 7.54 today!

Saturday, 16 February 2008


So we opened the bedroom window to find a horde of ladybirds! These are mostly harlequin ladybirds, which are an evil alien invader! There are a few native ones in there, but they're mostly harlequins.

As you can see, they're very variable in pattern, some orange with black spots, some black with red or orange spots.

They're bigger and more aggressive than our native species, and eat a wider variety of food, including other ladybirds. The impression I get is that they'll clear all the greenfly and other suitable ladybird food from an area, and the locals will then starve. That might just be me making it up, of course. Unfortunately they don't taste as nice as grey squirrel!

Anyhow, the story of this horde is that last autumn we noticed ladybirds climbing up the east-facing gable end of the house, so collected a few in case they were harlequins and sent them off to Cambridge for identification. And they were. We promptly forgot all about them, until we opened the window. Amazed is something of an understatement!

There are fewer of them now, of course, since opening the window disturbed them a bit, and closing it again crushed some of those foolish enough to move around.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Of blackbirds and jambalaya

This is not the greatest photo in the world, but this particular crab apple tree (it's called Red Sentinel) is rather hard to photograph, so it'll have to do.

Several mornings this week, gazing out of the window while getting dressed, I've noticed a male blackbird pecking away at the apples.

Now we know these apples must taste pretty nasty, since it's mid-February, and the tree is still loaded with apples. Anything nice has been scoffed long since. So a tree loaded with food, even nasty food, is a valuable asset.

The routine has been the same for several mornings. A few minutes after Mr Blackbird gets stuck in, a second one appears and chases him off. Clearly, the second bird owns the tree, (and I thought I did!) and the first one is a neighbour and interloper. It's quite entertaining to watch, particularly as it keeps happening. A sort of blackbird scrumper!

OK, so as not to let up on the food front, here's what I cooked last night. Jenny did ballet last night instead of Wednesday, so I cooked. I did a smoked sausage jambalaya.

1 Matteson's smoked pork sausage, in 1cm slices.
100gm unsliced smoked streaky bacon, in 1cm cubes.
1 red onion.
1 clove garlic.
1 yellow pepper (capsicum).
1 small green chili pepper, chopped fine.
1 can chopped tomatoes.
1 cup basmati rice.
150ml chicken stock.
2 bay leaves.
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper.
tabasco sauce.

Fry the bacon for 5 or 10 minutes to release some fat, then fry the onion and garlic in that until soft. Add the yellow pepper and the chili, continue frying for a few minutes.

Add the rice and stir it all around to coat it with the fat, then add the chicken stock.

Then add the smoked sausage, tinned tomatoes, bay leaves, cayenne and tabasco. Salt and freshly ground black pepper as you like.

If necessary, add more stock or water so there's enough for the rice to cook properly. I realise that's not a good instruction for a recipe, but it's the best I can do. It needs to be pretty liquid at this stage, as the rice will absorb a fair amount. If in doubt, keep your eye on it.

Cover and leave it on a low light for 15 minutes or so until the rice is cooked. Longer is fine, but make sure it doesn't stick to the pan. I imagine you could do this in a casserole in the oven, instead.

Taste before serving. I found this wasn't really punchy enough, so gave it several good shakes of tabasco, and even so it didn't have as much bite as I'd have liked. Next time, more chili, more cayenne, more tabasco, maybe some paprika.

Monday, 11 February 2008

A really great weekend!

Well it started well, since Jenny was home from Denmark when I got home from work, but then it always did bode well. This weekend we sang 3 services in Worcester Cathedral, which really is a wonderful place. We had a car-full on the way over, taking Jane and Julia, and it looked a little touch-and-go when we got to the M6 because the signs said long delays between junctions 1 and 2. Fortunately there was time for Jenny to check the map and direct me off at junction 1, through Rugby to the A45, which was slightly snarled up with traffic but not too bad.

A bonus was that quite unexpectedly, we drove past the end of the road where my maternal grandparents used to live when they were alive. That stirred up a load of memories, you can imagine.

The plan had always been to find somewhere nice to stop for lunch, but Jenny pointed out that we were now going to go quite close to Kenilworth, so we took a small diversion and dropped into Simply Simpsons, where we'd had Jenny's 60th birthday meal last November after the Coventry Cathedral evensong. We just had a starter and a glass of wine, since there wasn't much time and in any case we would be eating a big meal in the evening, and it was just perfect.

We arrived in Worcester at 14.30, in plenty of time to check in to the Diglis House Hotel and walk to the Cathedral for the 15:00 start to rehearsal, though parking was 'interesting' since half the hotel car park was inaccessible as they're building a function suite. They're also refurbishing the bedrooms in the annexe where a number of us had our roooms, and not before time, is all I say. Our room was really nice, but had a rather shabby, run-down air, which is not what you expect for the price we paid.

Evensong went well (Barnard responses, Sumsion Mag & Nunc in A, Greene 'Lord, let me know mine end' which is just the most beautiful anthem I know!) and in the evening one of the choristors, who has family in Worcester, had organised a meal for all of us in The Old Rectifying House, which was excellent, and a lot of fun. Sadly, I had rather too much red wine, and was unable to perform as well as hoped on the Sunday morning. Oops!

Sunday we awoke to the sound of swans taking off from the river, with much splashing and whistling of wings, spoiled at 07:50 by a pile driver starting up somewhere in the distance. When I got up to make the tea shortly after that, I closed the window, which helped a bit. The view out over the river was worth getting up for. Frost on the fields, a thin mist, pale pale blue sky and low winter sun. Fabulous. I still went straight back to bed, mind you!

We sang the Eucharist at 10.30 and I got away with it because there were enough others to cover for me, but I really didn't earn my place in the choir that time. What a prat! (Loosemore Litany, Jackson Sanctus & Benedictus, Self 'Let all mortal flesh keep silent'). It all seemed to go OK, and after a coffee in the chapter house we wandered along the river front to get lunch at The Quay. We had cassoulet, which I liked, but which impressed Jenny less. The place was packed, including 5 other singers, and when we emerged, another 5 sitting outside drinking coffee in the sun!

With an hour or so to kill, we wandered around the town for a bit, somewhat astonished at the sheer number of restaurants. Seems to be almost every other shop is an eatery!

This little lane seems to be mostly ancient, timbered buildings, and for once a pretty street had no cars on it at all, which made a very pleasant change. Sadly, I couldn't quite avoid including the top of the multi-storey car park in the distance, but it's not obvious that's what it is.

By the time we got to Evensong at 16:00 I was feeling OK, if exhausted (too much booze == poor quality sleep) so performed adequately. (Clucas responses, Prince (our conductor) Mag & Nunc, Howells 'Oh pray for the peace of Jerusalem'). Followed by a quick exit in the hope of getting back to Royston reasonably quickly.

Missing a critical turn meant we had to feel our way to the M5, but we knew we were pointing roughly in the right direction as the sun was behind us, and Jenny was well able to find us the Worcester North junction, after which the map was not necessary. Many oohs and ahhs as we watched the sun go down, the sky a blazing pink. I did look where we were going occasionally, but mostly I was watching the mirrors!

Jane confirmed that her insurance covered her to drive my car, which was a blessed relief, as I really felt quite tired, so I drove roughly half-way home and she took over and finished the job for me. Perfect teamwork! I did get the impression that like Richard, she found having all those horses available under the loud pedal quite appealing!

Home by 19:30 meant time to put the dinner on and have a quick bath. We did loin of pork with prunes, from the Busy Cooks Book, which we've had since the beginning of time. The pic is from the cookbook, as I forgot to photograph it at the time. This is the perfect sort of dish for that occasion - assemble and stick in the oven, go for your bath, emerge, steaming, to cook the rice and serve!

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Happy (Chinese) New Year to you all! We've been invited to the celebrations at a local Chinese restaurant where we often eat, so will be off shortly. I've no idea what to expect, but am hoping for some food and wine! I must stay sober enough not to try to say "Gung Hay Fat Choy!" to them, since I don't know the correct intonation, and will probably end up saying "Your mother is an elderberry. " Be interesting to see who else turns up. Jenny will have to make do with Danish salami and mustard, I expect, washed down with lager.

Last night I finally finished the most recent Harry Potter book, which I found didn't push my buttons the way most of the previous ones, especially the first few, did. It all seemed a bit formulaic, and very, very long. So I'll not be putting that on my Recent Good Reads list.

Next up is John Preston's The Dig, which is an account of the excavation of the Sutton Hoo Viking burial ship.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Excellent Blog award, hoorah!

DJKirkby has very kindly given me this blog award which originated with a Canadian blogger who says:’ I love being a part of the blogging community and part of all the friendships that I've formed so I wanted to give a blog award for all of you out there that have Excellent Blogs. By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you have to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least 10.'

I've included a few bloggers in here who probably aren't the sort who'd expect to be given awards like this, since their blogs are somehow a step away from the babies/recipes/gardening type topics the rest of us stick to. I hope they don't mind, and I'll not be hurt if they don't feel able to pick up the baton.

Then after that I'll tell you what I cooked myself for dinner this evening!

Sparx at Notes from Inside my Head who writes about the Spud and the Frog with inspired use of the <strike> tag.

who I notice hasn't posted since December, but whose writing has moved me to tears more than once.

Science Girls at InklingMagazine for a constant stream of wonderful techie posts.

Dulwich Mum for very funny 'insights' into life in the Smoke.

Jenny at Mountain Mama who writes so unsentimentally about her own deafness, and makes it so real for me.

Mohammed Judas Christiansen for expressing my views on religion so clearly and forthrightly. Unfortunately his blog doesn't have the facility to post comments, so I can't tell him, but you can still visit this excellent blog.

DelboysDaughter for a great blog, but particularly for her excellent Interlude post of Jan 25th. Check it out!

Yorkshire Pud for the way he talks so unpretentiously and openly about his own life.

GeraniumCat for fantastic food blogging and for recommending Diana Henry's cookbook: Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.

Reynolds at Random Acts of Reality whose vents his anger and his love and his dedication with/of/to the London Ambulance Service on his blog. Sadly, I couldn't get this one to accept a comment from me either, but please visit the blog, which is excellent.

And so to my dinner!

I'm particularly proud of this because I kind-of made up the recipe. Jenny's in Denmark right now, and I'd got a rib-eye steak out of the freezer, but coming home I decided I wanted to go Moroccan, so when I got home I looked in Crazy Water Pickled Lemons and found a lamb tagine recipe which I thought I could adapt, and indeed, it was so.

Fillet of beef tagine with couscous (serves 1)

Aberdeen Angus rib-eye steak, cubed.½ red onion, finely chopped

1 garlic, crushed

5 or 6 dried apricots, sliced & soaked if nec.

5 or 6 dates sliced

½ tsp cumin seed

½ tsp coriander seed

6 cardomoms

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp cayenne

½ tsp ground cinnamon

1 dsp liquid honey

150ml chicken stock

Dry roast the cumin, coriander and cardamoms, then crush them quickly with a mortar and pestle. Take out the cardamom husks if you want.

Toss the meat with all the dry spices to coat and leave to stand for 10 mins while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.

On a high heat, flash fry the meat in a little olive oil, for perhaps 30 seconds, to just brown it and flavour the oil, then remove.

Fry the onions and garlic in the remaining oil until soft, then add some chicken stock, the apricots, dates and honey.
Season to taste.

Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for as long as you can bother to wait. 10 mins minimum.

As the time approaches, uncover the sauce to let it thicken a bit, cook some couscous and add a few pine kernels when it's done. When that’s pretty well ready, put the meat back in the sauce and let it heat through for a few minutes. Toss the couscous with a little butter just before you serve.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

No time, no time!

Well I probably won't have much time for blogging tonight after all, so I'll just post a photo of me at work on Christmas Eve, 2005. This is the outfit I'll be wearing to collect my Excellent Blogger gong from DJKirkby, probably tomorrow night. Sadly, you don't get to see its entire magnificence, but you get the gist. Below the waist was a rather short, dark blue skirt, black fishnet tights and grey trainers. I think I look rather fetching.

I'll have more time for posting tomorrow night because Jenny is off to Denmark tomorrow. I think the taxi picks her up a 05:15. I did offer to drive her, but fortunately she told me not to be so daft. She's back on Friday.

Thursday evening we've been invited by a Chinese restaurant we often eat in, to go for a meal to celebrate the Chinese New Year. And in case you're wondering, we're seeing out the Year of the Pig and welcoming in the Year of the Rat. Jenny won't be there, of course, but Lorna and Richard will, and also Julia, though Peter will be away, and is deservedly in the dog house.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Very disappointing indeed

Last night I stuck a tape in the VCR, but it spat it back out. I assumed I'd not pushed it far enough in, so gave it another shove, but then it went half-way in and jammed. I couldn't get it out, however I tried. Eventually I googled for it and was told that I'd need to dismantle the VCR. That's fine, as I absolutely love taking things apart and putting them back together, but not when I've been drinking. That's a quick and effective method of converting whatever it is to useless junk. So we watched a DVD instead, and today I took the VCR up to the office where there's lots of clear desk space and good light.

I was really looking forward to this, and was ready with the camera to take a series of pictures ready to help me put it back together again, but first, the obvious thing to do was to power it up again and press the Eject button, to make sure the tape really was still jammed in.

I'm sure you're way ahead of me here, but I was very disappointed when the damn thing buzzed and whirred the way they do and innocently spat out the tape as though butter wouldn't melt in its mouth. Well bugger! I'm left with that hanging tendril of anticipation and no way of satisfying it. So disappointing!

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Little Boxes

Today we are mostly been making boxes. We had the loft converted into a room about 5 years ago, and we're really pleased with it, so when I talk about archiving stuff up there, it has to go in fairly reasonable looking boxes, otherwise it looks awful. These pics were clearly taken in the winter, since the place is full of tender plants.

The boxes you can see here came from Homebase, but the new ones are from Focus, and the difference in quality is marked, though I don't think the prices were much different. They are rubbish.

Honestly, I don't know what those Chinese child slaves were thinking of. Several of the pre-drilled screw holes were in the wrong places, the hinges were wrong and I had to shorten the bottoms by 4mm so they'd fit at all. And 'pre-sanded' obviously means something completely different from what I'd expected, since they were covered with splinters along all the edges and had to be properly sanded before we could do anything else. Anyhow, they're together now and had their first coat of varnish and a quick rub down. Second coat tomorrow and we'll load stuff into them and shove them in a corner somewhere.

Tonight we're having half a giant skate wing each, though I don't know how Jenny is planning to cook it. With new potatoes and fennel is all I know. It's not really the wing of a giant skate (is there any such fish?) but it was the biggest skate wing I'd ever seen when we bought it from the fishmonger on the market a couple of weeks ago!

And I'll be making a mango and passionfruit 'brulée' for afters. It's not a real brulée; just peel and slice the mango into the bottom of a suitable dish, whip some cream and mix with Greek yoghurt (about 1:3) (enough to give you a good 2 - 3 cm layer on top of the mango) and blend in the pulp of as many passionfruit as you feel like (4), then pour over the mango, dust heavily with muscovado sugar and chill for an hour. Then stick it under a really hot grill to caramelise the sugar and serve.

The skate was spectacular, simply floured and fried in butter, but then, it did come from a fantastic fishmonger. And here's something I learned entirely by accident tonight. Keep a pot of chives growing by your back door. In early Feb, they'll put up 3 or 4 inch shoots which completely transform boiled new potatoes!

Accompanied by a magnificent Wine Society Exhibition Selection Chablis. Mmmmm!

brulée was not quite perfect, but still pretty good. The Fairtrade mango was a bit crisp, though mangoes manage to still be very flavoursome, even when unripe, unlike avocados. I've still not quite cracked the caramelised sugar on the top, but it's getting there. I used a blow torch, but it was only slightly crunchy, not very.

Oh, I forgot to say, if you don't like the passionfruit pips, you should sieve them out, but I love the crunch as I eat the creamy bit, so I always leave them in.