Sunday, 24 August 2008

Dinner Party

We had 4 very good friends around for dinner last night. It's ages since we've fed any of them, and it was such a pleasure to be able to do so. We've known them for decades and love them deeply, and they make such relaxing company you can't help but have a wonderful time. We were indulging ourselves as much as showing off our culinary skills!

We started with roasted tomato and mozarella salad. You might call this a Delia dish done à la Jamie. Stick some cherry tomatoes in a roasting pan, drizzle over olive oil and chuck in some crushed garlic, a few finely chopped basil leaves and one or two finely chopped anchovies. Stir them around to make sure they're evenly coated and distributed and roast flat out for about 20 mins until the skins are splitting. Let them cool.

While they're cooling, tear up a mozarella into smallish bits. When the tomatoes are cold, add the cheese to them and some more fresh, chopped basil, then throw some balsamic vinegar at them, stir the lot up to coat everything and serve. It's a combination recipe because Delia does a roasted tomato salad while Jamie does a fresh one with mozarella. We did our version.

Followed by pot roasted haunch of muntjac, (yes, darling baby Bambi!) which Jenny had marinated for a couple of hours with crushed juniper berries, red wine, olive oil, thyme, rosemary and seasoning. She gave it an hour at about 170°C, but we had the meat thermometer in and gave it a bit longer (maybe another 15 mins) until the needle was just entering the 70°C box before taking it out and leaving it to rest. It was pink, but perfect. The fuss is because muntjac is so tender it's really easy to overcook.

I did roast potatoes and we also roasted some butternut squash, as well as fresh runner beans out of the garden.

Pud was Mopsa's clafoutis recipe, with freshly-picked wild blackberries from just up the road, a few black cherries, raspberries plus a few blackcurrants and blueberries. Served with crème fraîche and a scoopful of clementine and Grand Marnier sorbet. That was because we had a few clementines that we needed to use, and the GM seemed a good idea. It was pretty good, but the icecream maker broke halfway through. We had to stick it in the freezer and churn it manually every 20 mins to finish it.

And I have to say, it all went rather well. Truth to tell, even if it had gone badly wrong, these are friends who would forgive almost anything, so we were on pretty safe ground!

Today, having spent much of the morning clearing up, we proceeded to finish off the conservatory. We bought some stuff to glue the skirting boards back and it reduced me to a screaming, quivering wreck in nothing flat.

Called PinkGrip (for professionals only) it is almost completely useless. I ran the required 6mm bead along the skirting board, pressed it up against the carefully cleaned brickwork, and instead of sticking, the pink gloop was just flattened against the back of the skirting board. This is some new sort of glue, I surmise, that's not sticky. Or maybe it detected that I'm not a professional, so refused to stick.

Eventually, with a bead laid on the brickwork and another on the skirting board, I was able to get the 2 lines of "glue" to actually stick to each other. What a joke!

Anyway, fortunately the way the skirting board is laid out, most of the bits wedge each other in place, so glue that really sticks one thing to another is not really required in too many places.

After that we washed the inside and outside of the roof panes, which was no mean feat, and in the process discovered the reason the kitchen had become so gloomy.

So there will be silence for a bit, but all will become clear in due course!

Friday, 22 August 2008

Where Gymnastics meets contemporary dance....

A friend sent me this movie clip. I'm impressed!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Conservatory - the final mile?

Today Anglian Home Improvements returned, filled the hole in the floor and laid new chipboard underflooring. They also fixed a roof pane which had somehow become dislodged. I'm a bit concerned about the long term prospects of the roof, having seen the pane out of place. It shouldn't really have come out of position, but hey.

This evening Jenny and I relaid the laminated flooring and moved most of the furniture back in. It's not finished, as the skirting boards are just placed, rather than fixed, but we were fresh out of energy!

Edit: To be perfectly fair here, I have to say that right now, it feels as though Anglian have done everything I could have wished. Far from being an enormous, anonymous corporation, selling over-priced products and then washing their hands of the consequences, they have admitted their liability and made a good effort to fix what went wrong. Good for them, and a particular thank you to the lovely Sue on reception and manager Malcolm for making it all happen.

So it's just as well it's all done as we're holding a dinner party on Saturday, and it would have been awkward with all the conservatory furniture in the dining room!

And now, a well-deserved glass of chilled white. I seem to be doing that rather a lot of late!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A Nasty Job Finally Done!

Over our (gas) hob we have an extractor fan which was installed when we had the kitchen fitted around 20 years ago. It's a proper extractor, with a vent to the exterior, and we've always been pleased we had it as the only thing that's ever accumulated in the kitchen air enough to be a problem has been toast or grilling smoke, which sets off the smoke detectors, of course.

Every now and then we'd have at it with some sort of aggressive detergent to remove the worst of the revolting congealed fat, but over the years we seem to have become less and less effective. It's strange, but however thorough we tried to be, it was never really good enough, and we are quite picky about grot, believe me.

Not long ago, Jenny had a go at it after a thick, dark brown, viscous liquid dripped from one side onto the worktop. (Thank god it dripped to the side of the hob, not directly over it, I say!) (And don't even think about adding "as far as you know"!)

You know the kind of stuff I mean - that sort of ancient kitchen grease which, when you get it on your hands, just laughs at the Fairy Liquid you use to try to wash it off. Yes, that stuff. Then, only a few days later, it did it again, so I had a go. And the other day, yet another drip, even though we've been giving it increasingly severe talkings to.

So tonight I drew up battle lines once more. This time not only did the filter come out, as it always does, and not only did I reach up around the back with Flash-soaked sponge, but when it became evident that I'd still not beaten it, I took off the front panel, the one you pull out to turn it on, so I could get up on a ladder and really see what was going on.

Yuk! A veritable lake of the appalling gloop lurking behind the light fittings and beneath the body of the fan! No wonder our blind moppings had had no effect! While I scooped it out and scrubbed the interior with yet more Flash, Jenny had another go at the front panel, since she had so much better access now we'd actually taken it down.

So we are currently labouring under the delusion that we've done a reasonable job and will be spared the disgusting drip, at least for a few years more. We've awarded ourselves a glass off chilled white as a reward. Well, probably rather more than just the one glass, truth be told!

And, on a happier note, I can report that since I subscribed to Google Ads about a year ago, my account has accumulated an impressive $4.65 (USD I assume). I don't think I'll give up the day job yet!

Monday, 18 August 2008

A New Utility Room Worktop

It all started a few weeks ago when a double-glazed window in the utility room had some condensation between the panes. A quick phone call to a local firm confirmed that the unit would need to be replaced - we'll just pop the old one out and pop a new one in, he said. Sounds quick and simple, so I assumed cheap, too. Wrong, but never mind.

They came last Thursday (in and out in half an hour!) and to enable them to get to the window, we had to clear the old worktop, which was about 2m long and 1m deep, something I knocked up out of contiboard about 15 years ago, now covered with all sorts of gardening junk, crash helmets, boxes and bottles for dishwasher, washing machine, etc, etc.

Once the top was clear of junk, we realised what poor condition it was in, so decided a new worktop was in order. Wickes sold us one for £20 which was fine, except pukka worktop is only 600mm deep and I needed at least 90 to cover the whiteware we keep there - tumbledryer can't go right back against the wall or it crushes the exhaust ducting.

Fortunately we had in the cellar some wood left over from the pergola, which was exactly the right width. Only it was 45mm thick, compared with 28mm for the worktop. So all the supporting stuff had to be stepped to accommodate the difference, and I had to leave a removable bit behind the washing machine so we can get to the taps in an emergency.

It took the whole weekend! We're delighted with the result, but amazed at how long it too. And we were completely knackered by close of play last night, of course.

Monday, 11 August 2008

My mum's beef casserole

We went to see my mum on Saturday, returning Sunday, and had a really good time. The new car is so quiet, I'm finding I drive it 15 mph faster than I used to drive the old one, which is getting to be a problem. The real issue is that I always did ride the motorbike 15 mph faster than I drove the car - you sit higher up, so your perceived speed is lower, so you compensate, of course. You can do the computation for yourself - I typically drove the Mazda at 85 on motorways...

Today, overtaking and downhill on the bike, I glanced at the speedo and saw 115 mph. On an A road. This is silly. At the very least, I'm going to lose my licence. If not much worse. So I've decided I have to ease off, though it's going to have to be a conscious process. Sigh.

Anyhow, I thought I'd share my mum's beef casserole recipe with you. It was simply delicious. I'm confident most of my readers have been cooking 20 years or more (sorry, Dr But Why!) so will be able to work out what to do. This is almost mediæval in style, but is easy to interpret, I maintain. This is what she wrote:

"I just browned the beef (skirt- I haven't used it before) and gave it lots of garlic, onions, tomatoes and assorted tinned beans. And fair amount of wine. Can't remember the beans I like for casserole but will remember as soon as I have switched off. "

They were probably borlotti beans, or maybe haricot. I don't think it's critical. Tinned, of course. And she forgot to mention a carrot or two. Oh yes, she cooked it for a couple of hours, left it overnight, then warmed it up for dinner. Like so many dishes, the cook, cool, reheat process improves things.

OK, going to bed. Night night.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Proof of the Pudding

Just occasionally, it turns out to be a good thing to actually listen to what that irritating girl is saying as she walks you through the recorded menuing system you so often have to put up with when you phone say, the local authority, or the DVLA, or, in as in this case, Anglian Home Improvements.

Having been here several times over the past couple of weeks, it went like this.

Her: "Thank you for calling Anglian Home Improvements. (pause) Your call is important to us. (pause)"

Me: "Oh yeah?"

Her: " Please choose from the following two options."

Me: "Jesus H Christ on a crutch! Just get on with it, will you?!"

Her: "If you are an existing customer..."

I stab the 1 button, breaking my finger nail.

Her: "Thank you. Please choose from the following 4 options. If your conservatory is new or less than 6 months old, press one and you will be put through to your local branch."

Did I hear that right? All these times I've been pressing 2 at this point, only to find myself talking to the head office in Norwich who can only follow a script without variation but with plenty of hesitation and repetition, when I could have been put through to the local branch straight away.

Actually, several times, having explained to Norwich what was going on, they have put me straight through to the local branch anyway, but I had to actually listen to the tape to realise I could short-circuit the whole palaver.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

A man phoned Jenny during the week to say he'd be here at 9am Friday. At 10.30, when he still hadn't arrived, I phoned and Norwich finally put me through to Bar Hill where a nice lady called Sue, after consulting Manager Malcolm (who had inspected the job on Monday) explained that the building team had been delayed, but would arrive around midday.

Somewhat before midday, a man on his own arrived, looked at the job and said it was not something he could deal with, and he'd file a report. After some conversation with Jenny, he filed his report and left.

I phoned again and this was when I heard the magic words "and you'll be put through to your local branch" so pressed 1, and got straight through to the lovely Sue.

After further consultation with Malcolm, it finally became clear that Bar Hill had not made Norwich understand that the inspection had already been done, so Norwich had stuck with Plan A, and sent an inspector. Confident that the building team would arrive, I hung up, and lo and behold, they did.

Didn't do much, just lifted the chipboard subflooring and left, but that was progress.

Around 4, I phoned Sue once more, and was assured they'd be back this morning to carry on. Well so far, (10am) they're not here, but that's fine. The conservatory doors are unlocked, so we don't actually need to be here and they can come and go as they like.

For now, I'm quite happy to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Returned from minor shopping to find a man with a power tool removing some of the concrete flooring. He expects to get the drain replaced shortly, but in any case will have to hang around until his brother reappears, having finished whatever job he's doing in Milton Keynes.

The reason they didn't reappear yesterday afternoon is that Manager Malcolm is convinced you can buy the screw-down cap for the drain from the local Jewson, but in fact, they don't keep them in stock and you have to order one. Our man had one at home, but home is in Huntingdon and by the time he'd ferreted one out, it was too late to return to Royston. Seems fair enough to me.

The only down side to this is that with the drain out, we can't do any washing, and we've already stripped the bed. Hardly the end of the world.

No doubt there'll be more later.