Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Tuesday morning

It was happy hunting at Sainsbury's yesterday, in that I got several things I hadn't planned to get, but what the heck, school starts tomorrow (my excuse for every indulgence at the moment).
I had a good look at the clothes and was a bit frustrated to see so much in beige/yellow/cream which is definitely NOT my colour. It looks as if this season's colour is mostly based around brown/beige, something that seems to be reinforced by the fashion pages of the magazines. I read that separates are in again, but this seemed to be mostly trousers with very few skirts on show. I ended up buying two pairs of jeans, but they will only be worn indoors for now. I also got two long tops to wear with them. One is lovely and flowing and looked quite pretty. The other is going to be my next target top - I would say another 8lbs off and it will look OK! I like it very much so it's a great incentive and a better measure of how things are going than the scales.

I've been noticing that one of my favourite Wii activities, the half hour step, isn't really challenging me any more. I'm doing it but don't feel 'worked out' by the end. I was wondering about holding cans of beans or something like that to make it more strenuous; I can't go any faster because it doesn't register if you go too fast. To my delight, I saw a set of three pairs of dumbbells on special in Sainsbury's so bought them. It was definitely more challenging yesterday evening and, as I was able to do some lifting at the same time, I felt it was much more of a complete work out, which was satisfying.

Something really struck me as I drove home after shopping. By now, one expects to see the grass verges looking yellowish and dried out as the warm, dry weather takes its toll. However, far from it, they are green and lush, with no sign of drying out or browning and, apart from everything being more or less the same green now rather than the many shades of spring, it could easily have been May or early June. Apart from the very hot spell in June/July, it's been much more like the summers I remember from my younger days - cooler, uncertain and with plenty of rain, creating indeed a 'green and pleasant land'.

I had an email from my brother who lives in the Borders saying that a frost was expected overnight. I don't know if they got one but when I woke this morning the central heating had clicked in and the radiators were warm, so it must have been colder than usual at some point in the early morning. No frost here though, thank goodness. I have no wish for my garden to be struck down so early - it's not even Autumn yet!

Sweffling made a comment about how I must have a good system for the freezer. As I confessed in my answer, I have a dark corner in my freezer, especially the chest one, as does just about everyone, but I do also have a method, worked out over the last couple of years. Unfortunately, it really only applies to the things I have in single portions, so stuff I get for Christmas, for example, can fall to the bottom if not used at the time and get forgotten.

For the rest, this is what I do.
Firstly, everything is labelled with what it is and the date it went in. I use Avery labels (or the cheaper equivalent from Staples or Tesco) and the wonderful single portion pots I have in such abundance from Bodychef. I wouldn't be without them! The labels go on the lids and they then go into poly bags.
The other main thing is that as soon as I put the single portions of anything in the freezer, I record what's gone in and how many (as ticks) on a document on the computer. When I plan my week's eating, this is my main source of information and when I take something out, I delete a tick. It's not foolproof, but it works pretty well, as long as I keep it up to date.
So looking at the list now I can see that I have a lot of stuff left over from the family barbecue which will need to be eaten sooner rather than later but am running short on chicken based meals.

Living on my own can be awkward as far as following recipes is concerned. Not everything reduced to one portion without waste. Not a problem, I simply make enough for four and freeze three. When making a casserole or stew, a bolognaise or curry, I make as much as the meat allows and then divide it into what looks like reasonable portions - how many I get is just pot luck!

I also look out for bargains or possibilities in the shops - yesterday I saw a pot of watercress and creme fraiche sauce that said 'can be frozen'. Now, seeing as I have a number of portions of salmon in the freezer, I thought that it would be a useful thing to get to go with the salmon. I split it into seven portions, in little pots, all labelled, and there they are for when I have the salmon.

So I suppose, yes, I do have a fair old system going, but it doesn't take much time, is manageable and the only problem is that as I like to cook, in the past I have just made too much - certainly I have some pretty old stuff in there, but it won't go off, just deteriorate in terms of texture and, perhaps, taste.

And I am all set up for the new term now. The vegetables, etc, are all cooked fresh, of course, but I have a good selection of cooked meat dishes to plan and choose from and all I have to remember is to get it out of the freezer in time! It's basically do-it-yourself Bodychef - cheaper and with the fun of cooking your own and being able to take advantage of specials as they appear.

Works for me!

Monday, 30 August 2010

Monday morning

Well, the yogurt maker did the job OK. Lots of delicious natural yogurt for the week to come. I think it's going to earn its shelf space which is something you can never be sure of at first.
I was looking at the vast array of 'stuff' that I keep out in the kitchen and wondering; it all looks so cluttered and really it ought not to. It's a big enough kitchen after all. Do I really need everything I keep out on such a regular basis? Maybe not. Definitely not, in fact.
The kettle - a necessity, not negotiable. The coffee maker and toaster - well, I hardly use either at the moment although I do when people come a-visiting. Maybe, if I can find space somewhere, they can go away. The ice cream maker - yes, I use that, and anyway it's too flippin' heavy to move too much. Microwave - I need that, definitely. The same goes for the breadmaker. And then there's the large basket of cookery books - a lot of them could go back upstairs now as I hardly ever use them: they were brought down for a specific purpose and didn't get taken back up again. Then there would be space to keep my recipe file in it. The scales - no, they would easily fit in the cupboard underneath. The same goes for things like washing and dishwasher capsules, conditioner, etc. It's just laziness really, keeping them on the working surface. It would all look a lot better with just a little thought and more common sense.

I saw on the adverts yesterday that Sainsbury has 25% (or was it 20%, I can't remember - anyway, a significant %) off all its 'TU' range so I thought I might trundle down there to take a look. It's getting almost embarrassing with some of my skirts, which are almost falling down now. I have to stock up on a few basic skirts and tops for school and maybe I can get something there - and it would be nice to get away from so much black, if I can find the right stuff.

It looks like the day is planning itself out quite nicely. I haven't looked out yet, but I do hope the weather is fine for all those going out or away for the bank holiday.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Seedless blackberry and apple jam: the recipe

. . . with thanks to any number of different chefs whose recipes I have cannibalised. If anyone notices any silly mistakes, please let me know.

Seedless blackberry and apple jam
This is seedless but it’s not a true jelly as it’s cloudy. I resent the waste of good fruit to make a true jelly.

A sieve, mouli or other method of sieving the pips, core and skin from the stewed fruit.
A large pan
Ladle, wooden spoon, a jam funnel, if possible.
Jam jars, wax discs, either cellophane circles (and elastic bands) or lids.

Ingredients and method
For every kilo of blackberries, you need about 350g of apples. They can be windfalls (cut out any bad bits before weighing) or well flavoured eaters. Chop the apples into small pieces, core, skin and all, just no bad bits

Place the fruit in a large pan with enough water to prevent sticking (you can always add more if necessary later). Simmer the fruit until it’s all soft. I like to give it all a good mashing with my potato masher from time to time to help it along.

When it’s all soft and mushy, push the fruit through a sieve or a mouli so that all the pips and skin remain behind. Discard these.

Weigh the fruit pulp. Add the sugar, gram for gram – i.e. 500g fruit pulp will need 500g sugar. Place the sugar and the fruit pulp in a large pan and stir together well. I like to leave it overnight, covered. It’s not essential but it helps the sugar to dissolve into the fruit and I think it reduces the amount of scum (no idea why).

When you’re ready, get the jam jars together, clean them thoroughly and place them in the oven at about 130 C to get good and hot.

Heat the fruit and sugar, slowly at first and then, when all the sugar has dissolved, bring it to a rolling boil and let it boil for about 10 minutes or until it reaches setting point.
Scrape any scum from the surface and allow to stand for a few minutes.
Ladle the hot jam into the jars, using a jam funnel, if possible (because it’s less messy), lay the wax discs over the top and then seal with either cellophane and an elastic band or a screw lid.
Allow to cool, label and store in a cool, dark place.

Sunday evening

Another very productive day.

Seventeen little pots of jam, for starters, looking warmly delicious in the tray where they're cooling down. On a chilly day like today they warm me up with hints of hot buttered toast, apple and blackberry pie or jam tart.

Eleven containers, each holding one portion of stewed blackberry and apple. When I come in from school, cold and tired, a hot, sweet, comforting snack is only a microwave away.
Seven tiny pots of meat paste, made with offcuts of cold cooked meat from Morrisons, zizzed with softened butter, pepper, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. Perfect for school lunches.
Ten delicious looking cupcakes, destined not to be eaten today, sadly. DD is not well so they haven't come over for tea. I have exerted incredible self controlled and consigned every single one to the freezer.
I got the yogurt maker and several other things I hadn't actually planned to get, but there you go, it is the end of the holiday, isn't it? I will try it out overnight. The instructions say it takes eight hours to make a litre so if I start it off when I go to bed, it should be ready in the morning. We will see . . .

I had a most infuriating hour or so this afternoon. I needed labels for the jam and thought it would be rather nice if I used views of Streele Farm with wording over it in any colour that showed up well (it turned out to be white). Not being any kind of expert, I did the following: opened the photos I wanted to use and created an oval layer for each one, which I saved as a jpeg. I opened Word and got the labels template, put the pictures one at a time into a label, used word art to create the wording, put one over the other and grouped each picture and word art together. Sounds straightforward enough but those pictures would keep jumping all over the place. No sooner had I got one positioned than it took a great jump up and out of the cell again. So infuriating. Eventually it was all ready so I printed a sheet of labels. Oh, dear - problem - the pictures weren't within the boundary of each label. Funny, I thought, it looked OK on screen. I checked the margins and decided that perhaps the sheet didn't feed through properly. Tried again - same result. I was getting quite cross by now as I couldn't see where the problem lay. I changed the size of the pictures, I changed the top margin to try to get it to match, all to no avail. I was on the verge of giving up when light dawned and didn't I feel an idiot. I was only using the 6 x 3 template and 7 x 3 labels! What a prize idiot!!! No wonder they wouldn't print properly!

Hopefully, tomorrow will be a better day! Warmer too.

Photo: one of those bloomin' labels without the wording

Sunday morning

I was well pleased yesterday. After planning my menu for this coming week, I popped into Morrisons again to get what I needed. By the fish counter there were packs of whole sides of salmon, very, very reasonably priced. I got a side that cost just over £8.00 which, when I cut it into steaks, yielded eleven portions (OK, nine and two smaller ones, more lunch than dinner sized). They are now individually wrapped and sleeping sweetly in the freezer. I thought that was good value - you'd be hard pushed to get a salmon steak for under a pound any other way! They also had some packs of cut parsley reduced; I picked off the leaves and they are also frozen in a pot now, from which I can lift what I need, when I need it.
Apart from the jam, I think the other thing I am going to make today is a pot of stewed apple and blackberry which I will freeze in single portions. It's so delicious and it will be good to have it to hand for desserts and treats.
I've decided that I will pop into Lakeland today. It's always a delight to look round in there, I need some more silicon wrap (or whatever it's called) and some small jam jars and lids too. As an added bonus, it opens at ten whereas most of the other shops stay closed until ten thirty!
I pondered on the yogurt maker a while ago - basically, all it does is keep the mixture at the right temperature to create natural yogurt, it's nothing fancy. I'd decided not to get it but to use the flask, but now that the flask seems to be dead, I think I will get it. I poured boiling water into the flask and within a short time the outside was hot: that shouldn't happen, there's obviously some serious heat loss somewhere, somehow!
I will look upon it as a sort of positive reward for not gaining too much weight on holiday!
So: wash hair, go into town, get stuff, come home, make jam, make stewed apple and blackberry, have lunch, tidy kitchen, do ironing, then DD and DG are round for tea. I might make some iced buns - I haven't done that for ages and DG can take the remainder home with him for treats.
That seems to take care of today quite nicely. Have a good one!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Saturday evening

. . . and it's been a productive day.

Apart from the gingernuts and oat thins mentioned earlier, I've got going with the blackberry and apple jam and now have a huge pot of stewed and sieved blackberries and apples, mixed with the appropriate amount of sugar, waiting for the next stage which will have to be tomorrow now. I will have to do it in two batches, there's far too much in the pot to do it in one lot.

The yogurt wasn't such a success as it usually is. I think the flask has sprung a thermal leak. When I poured out the yogurt, it was nearly cold, and it should have still been warm and it was very thin in texture too. Maybe I will get the yogurt maker from Lakeland after all - I've got used to having a pot of delicious natural yogurt in the fridge all the time and I would miss it..

Good news - Peeves the Wii balance board tells me that I have gained two pounds. Normally that would NOT be good news, but seeing as I'm just back from holiday it's excellent news and I sincerely hope tomorrow won't show a delayed reaction to all the nibbles and drinks!

Photos: Blackberries simmering and the jam mixture ready for cooking tomorrow. Lovely colour!

Seven good things about being at home again

1. I know where everything is in the kitchen. Yes, I do! It may not be the most methodical kitchen in the world but I know!

2. The oven behaves itself. It is neither too hot nor too cold. It's just right. The gingernuts have just cooked perfectly! So have the accidental oatcakes.

3. There's room to spread. I thought I was more than a little crazy to get a double range with just family Christmases in mind, but cooking for three on a normal sized cooker has made me realise what a blessing the extra space is. And the very large pot of blackberries simmering slowly on the largest ring would be an impossibility on the cottage hob - the base would be too big to sit centrally on a too small ring.

4. There's room in the bath. For we ladies of - er - generous proportions can suffer sadly in a normal sized bath. Getting in is OK, providing the water is deep enough that as one's sides touch the side of the bath, it has warmed them up (the sides of the bath, I mean), but getting out can be a serious challenge. Use the shower, do I hear you say? But I like my baths. Hot, wallowy baths. With bubbles! My corner bath takes up room in an already small bathroom, but I wouldn't be without it!

5. There's room in the dishwasher. No, I don't have my baths in the dishwasher, but the pots and pans do and it's jolly nice that all the stuff used to make the aforementioned biscuits all fits in with room to spare instead of having to be washed by hand because the breakfast things (or whatever) don't allow enough room for much else. It's lovely that a holiday cottage has a dishwasher, but a half sized one has its limitations.

6 It's quiet and calm and peaceful. I'm not saying any of my guests were anything but (apart from DG) but it's different when you're on your own.

7. I know we're going back to Streele Farm next year! Yes, we are, I've just booked!

Saturday morning

Rain battered lily.

Gift from Jackie

Salad leaves, carrots and mint - yum.

And the sun is shining, the sky is blue with cotton wool clouds and it's not too warm, not too cold. Why, oh why, couldn't it have been like this last Saturday? Never mind, I intend to enjoy it while it lasts and might find the time to sit out with a good book at some point this afternoon.

I made a version of the Cullen skink yesterday and it was very acceptable indeed. Diane, however, on her blog, has given more advice, which I like. She said she sometimes uses leeks and she sweats the vegetables in butter rather than adding it at the end. She uses diced potato which, I presume, cooks in the mixture rather than cooked mashed potato and, if she has some, adds a bit of cream, although it's not essential.
Although last night I used up left over fish from holiday, I won't use 'ordinary' fish in the future as that wonderful smoky flavour was a bit subdued. Smoked haddock or smoked cod would work or, if one can get hold of it (and afford it), a fillet of smoked salmon (rather than the sliced form) would be very tasty.
All in all, though, definitely one I will do again, with variations.

The garden's looking nice - and so it should after all that rain! There are weeds, of course. It's amazing how fast they grow when you're not watching them! I think (hope) George is coming this morning and he will certainly earn his money today!
The lily that was in tight bud two weeks ago is now fully out, although showing a lot of rain damage, sadly. The plant Jackie gave me is a picture now with promise of more to come: it's a shame it is 'only' an annual. The small pots of carrots and salad leaves look ready to start eating and I have planned salad leaves into my eating plans this week.

Today will be busy. I need to make some more yogurt, some ginger nuts, start the apple and seedless blackberry jam and make some oatcakes. That's apart from the holiday washing and ironing and the usual chores. It's nice to get back into routine again!

Better get going!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Just one of those days

I knew it was too good to be true. The queues for the tunnel only started half a mile from the crossing. Good. Even then, traffic was mostly moving. Good. When it did slow down, I was in the outer lane which then branched off into a separate lane from the inner two (because of motorway maintenance stuff) and which was moving at the speed limit of 50 mph. Good! Great, in fact.

So when I found I had to go sailing past the exit for the A12 (because I was in a separate outer lane and couldn't get across to it), you can imagine the most unprofessional utterance I spoke as I realised - it wasn't something I'd want the children in my class to hear, that's for sure! However, no real problem, I just joined the M11 and went that way. Longer but I did know the route.

When I got home I unpacked my stuff and then popped to Morrisons for a few necessities. And couldn't find my debit card to pay for them . . . Now, as Morrisons is just over the road from school and anyway it wasn't the assistant's fault, I refrained from making any strong comments and just thanked my lucky stars I had a credit card with me and could remember the PIN.

Back home, checked all my stuff and no card, so I phoned the bank and got a delightful, polite, quietly spoken gentleman with a strong Asian accent. Could I hear him? No! Could I understand him? Not terribly well. I don't know who apologised more, him or me, but we did get there eventually. Card cancelled, new card to be sent, five working days, blah, blah, blah!

I hope the rest of the day goes better! I hope yours was better too.

Friday morning

Goodbye, Streele Farm.
Hello again, Chelmsford.

Strange mixed feelings about this. Streele Farm Dairy is very much a home from home. It's warm, welcoming, very well appointed and, of course, set in beautiful surroundings. I am going to miss it at home. I would never choose a home with thatch because of the expense in maintaining it, but it's fantastic to be able to stay in a thatched cottage. It's fun to watch the rain dripping off the thatch in great sploshes as you gaze out of the window.

It's wonderful to know that this little group of homes is not surrounded by hundreds of other homes. My friend, J, and I argued about whether it was really 'country'. She reckoned it wasn't, because it wasn't isolated enough. I reckon it's just about right to me. On its own but with others within a short driving distance. I could stay here quite happily were it not for the cost and the need to commute to Chelmsford every day. :0)))

Cullen skink. Now there's an interesting name. To me it smacks of ferret and spinach with a touch of smoked haddock. Goodness knows why - it's just the way the words sound! I looked up the recipe this morning and discovered that it's really a fish soup (and I was right about the smoked haddock) so, as I have a bit of smoked haddock left over in the freezer here, I am going to have a go at making it this evening. Hopefully it will be as nice as the recipe sounds.

I shall be shutting down soon, packing up the laptop and taking it to the car. See you all again in Chelmsford!!

Photo: I think I've already posted this but I'm posting it again. Streele Farm Dairy - great holiday home!

Thursday, 26 August 2010

It had to happen!

When I was a youngster, I was piggybacking my younger brother back from the tomato nursery one evening where mum had sent us to buy some tomatoes for a packed meal the next day. I stepped on an uneven bit of pavement and over went my ankle. Ouch - very ouch in fact. It swelled up and was pretty sore. Now, normally I'd have been taken somewhere to have it looked at, etc, but that particular evening we were packing to go away on holiday the next morning, early, plus other complicating factors and there was simply no time for any medical stuff. This was something that Mum regretted later, because it left me with a weak ankle that regularly turned. As a result, the other ankle also became weaker over the years and, one way and another, it's been a right pain!

I've been very careful this holiday. I've stepped out carefully on surfaces that are less than even and have avoided any ankle problems - until today. Walking towards a hopeful looking bramble patch I stepped on a stone and over it went - my ankle, not the stone. Ouch - very ouch, as it always is. Because it hasn't happened for a while (losing some weight has definitely helped) it was worse than usual and now it's all stiff and aching - just in time for the drive home. Marvelous!!!

But the sun did shine this afternoon for a short while and we haven't had any rain since lunch time. And I have loads of blackberries and some sloes to compensate for a stiff ankle. With any luck it will settle overnight and be OK tomorrow - fingers crossed.


Last day at Streele Farm. Home we go tomorrow , Mum and Dad and I, back to everyday life again. It's been absolutely lovely here, despite the less than favourable weather, but I'm starting to long for routine, order and familiarity. Most of us, I think, are creatures of habit at heart and thrive best in our own normalities.

So - today! I'm really not sure what we will be doing. At the moment it's still raining after a very wild night, and although the wind has calmed down a bit, it's still pretty strong. We will see how it all develops: we might go out and we might not. We will see.

One thing I do want to do is pick more sloes. Sweffling posted a sloe gin recipe for me (many thanks, Sweffling) and I know I don't have nearly enough yet. I'll take the chance on them not being completely ready, I think, and if I have any left over, she also gave me a recipe for sloe jelly which looks interesting. I'll also grab some more blackberries, if possible - you can never have too many of them!

Photo: an edited picture of a sunrise or a sunset - I forget which.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Wednesday evening

Because I was up very early, at about seven-ish this morning I drove out up the Streele Farm road and picked berries for about forty minutes. They're just about dropping off the branches now and I managed to find a great load. They're ripening so quickly now. After driving on to Tescos for a few bits and bobs, I returned at about 8:45 to find Dad up and Mum still in the bedroom, albeit getting herself together slowly. So we all breakfasted together, which was nice. However, I then started feeling very weary. Not tired exactly, just bone weary, so I stayed in while Mum and Dad went out for a stroll around before the rain started. It was nice to have some time to myself and again in the afternoon, while they drove around. I think they were hoping for some short walks but by then the rain was just too hard for comfort and they came back for a nice cuppa and a snooze.

When one lives alone, one does, I think, get used to it and to have others around more or less all the time, as I have had over the last few weeks, sharing personal space and interrupting the customary silence, can be wearing after a while. It sounds rather selfish, I know, but I have to be self reliant or life could be very difficult, and sharing decision making is something I'm not used to nowadays. I think that was all the weariness was and, having had a bit of quiet me time, I feel a lot perkier again, thank goodness. Now all we want is for the rain to stop and the weather to perk up too. At the moment it's raining steadily and solidly and looks to be lasting for some hours to come. Oh, well, look on the bright side: if it rains through tomorrow at least we will have plenty of time to gather everything together, pack and get the dairy back into some order again.

Photo: It was nice at sunrise this morning.

Wednesday morning

Sissinghurst is just lovely. It was a medieval manor house, then quite a significant Tudor residence visited by both Mary and Elizabeth in their day. It then fell into ruin until taken over by Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West with their amazing vision for how the buildings and land could be combined with the available resources, financial, creative and inventive, to make it all happen. The garden is what people go to see. The buildings provide the perfect backcloth for the perfect explosion of colour, shape and variety that is the garden - or, rather, gardens. We walked from garden to garden, around and through the rose garden, the yew walk, the aromatic herb garden, the nuttery, along the moat and into the utterly amazing white garden with its huge swathes of wedding white flowers and silvery green foliage: Vita spent her last days in her bedroom in 1962 looking out over her beautiful white garden - I can't imagine a lovelier sight to comfort as one faces the last journey.
I will go back there. It's the sort of place that one wants to visit in season, out of season, all the year round. In the height of summer it was, of course, fantastic, but it will be beautiful in the snow, in the rich golds and crimsons of autumn, in the early year when the bulbs herald the dying of winter . . . and I mourn that I live too far away to make a regular day trip a valid proposition.

Photos: from Sissinghurst, of course. They really don't do it any kind of justice.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Tuesday evening

It stayed lovely all day, we got to Sissinghurst and had a lovely time: now I'm too tired to say much so I'll just post a few photos and say more tomorrow!

Tuesday morning

A cold morning with wonderfully clear skies and a promise of a fine day. Fingers crossed! It would be wonderful if we could get to Sissinghurst on a fine sunny day but it looks as if Mum didn't sleep all that well last night, so may not be up to it. I will have to wait and see.

I can't believe there's just three more days here and in only just over a week I will be back at school. Where has the time gone? I'm sure the holidays never zoomed past so quickly in the olden days: they seemed to stretch away to the horizon, endlessly alluring. Now it's a quick glance and they've gone! I could blame the government (after all, doesn't everyone else), global warming, the recession, but I suspect it's got more than a nodding acquaintance with the getting older syndrome and the undeniable truth that time is relative, not absolute. Such a shame . . .

So - today. A nice slow start, definitely. I might get dressed soon and go on a blackberry hunt before mum and dad wake. Mum was up when I emerged but has now gone back to bed. I hope she's managed to get back to sleep for a while. Then a friendly discussion about the day over breakfast. Then we will see. Aaaaah - holidays!

Photo: Earlier this morning.

Monday, 23 August 2010

F M C: Pink Lemonade Cordial

This didn't actually come from a foody mag, it came from one of the four 'rubbish mags' (my name for them) that I succumb to each week. Tesco had some raspberries cheap so I grabbed them to have a try. It really was delicious, made half and half with sparkling water and should be wonderful with sparkling white wine. It does need to be chilled for maximum deliciousness.

Basically it's caster sugar (about 300g - ish), two lemons and one orange, all chopped into bits, quite a lot of raspberries (the recipe said 500g, I only had half that and it was still scrummy) and some water (about 300 ml).
Bung it all in a saucepan and slowly bring to a boil. I then let it simmer for a time and used a potato masher to squidge it all down. Then allow to cool before pouring it through a sieve, squeezing down with a spoon or ladle to get all the juices through. Discard the resulting pulp.

It keeps for a week in the fridge and is definitely one I will do again.

Monday evening

J left this morning and got home safely. It really was very nice indeed to see her again and I hope she feels she's had a rest and time out for a few days. Mum and Dad arrived here mid afternoon, the weather cheered up remarkably through the day and the sky is now clear and was beautifully blue half an hour ago. Twilight beckons now so the blueness has gone, but it's lovely and calm; there's hardly a breath of wind.

Mum and I went on an amble around some of the fields, watching out for country pancakes and picking a bagful of blackberries and sloes as we wandered. They're now in the freezer. I've decided that I may as well try my luck with the sloes, as they just fall from the hedges otherwise and there's loads for the wildlife to share with me. I have recipes for sloe gin and sloe jelly and I reckon they're well worth a try.

The weather forecast is good for tomorrow so I'm very much hoping we can go to Sissinghurst, if Mum and Dad would like to as well. If not, I'm sure we'll be off somewhere really nice anyway so we can't lose.

Mum and Dad turned up with enough vegetables and fruit to feed the whole of Rotherfield. From the garden they picked and brought six large corn cobs (delicious), enough runner beans for two meals, three yellow courgettes, a good sized bunch of carrots, some tomatoes and some windfall cooking apples. They also brough a large melon that is slow to ripen, loads of potatoes, five lemons and two bags of clementines. So this evening we feasted on corn on the cob for starters, followed by the chicken pie, roast potatoes and runner beans, and it was all absolutely delicious. This is the way to live!
Photos: Ivy around the cottages

Monday morning

. . . and I wish I could take wizarding world photos to show you how the trees and bushes are twisting and turning wildly in every direction in the very strong wind. It was very dramatic an hour or so ago but is now calming down somewhat and there doesn't seem to have been any damage done within sight. I have no idea what it was like overnight - once the hearing aids are out, a bomb could drop nearby and I'd likely not notice it, so a mere howling wind in the trees doesn't stand a chance!

Changeover day today - J leaves and Mum and Dad arrive. For me it will be a day at home, a most welcome chance to potter and rest. I will need to do just a little bit of clearing up, some ironing, boil up the remains of the chicken and make the component parts for the chicken pie this evening and maybe brave the wind and rain to pick some blackberries! Nice, gentle, friendly, familiar stuff.

Talking of chicken - that scratch stuffing was really quite nice and I'm glad I recorded it here. When I get home I will have another go at it and do a bit more formal measuring of amounts before recording it in the appropriate recipe folder. I have quite a large collection of recipes now, gathered from all over the place, although I guess that at some point I need to go through them and delete the ones I'm never going to want to use.

It looks as if that strange fruit on one of yesterday's photos is a medlar. It's not something I've ever seen before - thank you very much to Rachel for identifying it. And thank you to Diane for the info about how to find all the different backgrounds and so on. I'm having fun with them!

Photo: A Photoshopped view of Scotney castle

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Bateman's from the lawn.

Interesting pathway

In the orchard

Anyone know what these are?

The garden

Bateman's was the home of Rudyard Kipling. A sandstone house, built in 1634, Kipling fell in love with it when he visited at the start of the 1900s and bought it in 1902. He lived here for the rest of his life.

It's a lovely old house, still containing Kipling's possessions - his books, furniture, pictures, etc, are still there to see, just as they were when he lived here. After his death, his widow continued to live there and left it to the National Trust on her death in 1939.

One of the interests is a water mill which still works and grinds flour on two days a week. Sadly, today wasn't one of them and they had sold out of their own stoneground bread flour.

I'm sure the wider grounds are lovely too, but in the pouring rain we had a quick dash round and then came home again! I've been before, in much better weather, and it's well worth a visit if you're in the area.

Holiday roast chicken

I'm old fashioned enough to feel that roast chicken needs stuffing - not cooked inside the bird nowadays, but to go with the meat.

Being on holiday, I am missing my herbs and other seasonings - normally I would create a concoction using some sage from one of my bushes for the main flavour. However, I couldn't, so I did this and it seems quite nice.
I put half an onion, some green leek leaves and a bit of carrot, all chopped small-ish, into my mini-chopper and zizzed to a mush. I then gently fried it in a little butter for a short time.
I made breadcrumbs in the same way, adding some lemon zest, then chopped up some spam too. It all went in a bowl to be mixed up together. I also added lemon juice, olive oil, mixed herbs, salt, pepper and some plain flour, cooked a bit to taste, then formed the resulting mush into four stuffing 'patties' which are now chilling in the fridge, ready for gentle frying this evening.

For the chicken, I made some lemon parsley butter which I pushed under the skin of the chicken breast (I always do that now and it does make a difference to the flavour), I put the other half of the onion and what remained of the lemon into the cavity and then covered the chicken with streaky bacon. It's now also resting in the fridge, absolutely ready for popping in the oven at a appropriate time (although I'd like to have time to bring it up to room temperature first). It looks good: I hope it will smell and taste good too.

Sunday morning

. . . and guess what! No prizes for guessing - yes, it's raining. What a surprise, eh? I feel sorry for all those at the V this weekend, if it's going to be so wet there as well.

What are we doing today? Actually, I don't know yet. Somewhere where there's an interesting indoors, probably, which is likely to rule out the Sackville-West gardens at Sissinghurst. We will see.

Photo: On a tree at Scotney Castle. These flowers were larger than my two open hands, placed side-by-side; they were huge!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Saturday Evening

The 'house' at the top of the hill.

The old house/castle at the foot of the hill

The house and ruins

J and I ended up going to Scotney Castle, a National Trust property not too far from here. It was nice - deliberately 'picturesque' with a house at the top of the hill and 'ruins' down at the bottom, which, at some point in the past, had been deliberately ruined to provide views. There were some pleasant walks in 'prettyish wildernesses' with stopping and sitting places which gave us plenty to look at. A walk round the house, a nice lunch, exploring the gardens and ruins and a cuppa made for a very pleasant and not too expensive visit. Being NT members does make a big difference!

Back in the dairy again, the weather can't make up its mind. It is windy and the sky looks fearsome but then, suddenly, patches of blue appear and it looks as if it's going to be sunny for a short time.
I hope tomorrow is better, weather wise.

Saturday morning

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain!

J arrived yesterday late afternoon after a journey that wasn't quite as simple as we had hoped. She settled in and then we took a little stroll around the immediate grounds before dinner. She liked the meatballs - not that they were balls by then, having mostly disintegrated, so it was more like a turkey bolognaise thing. Nice - I will do it again. There was plenty of taste and texture and turkey is a lot lower fat than beef mince.

As for today - no idea. I was hoping for a bit of sun so we could swim and then maybe walk along the private road a bit, but I'm not that masochistic, not in this rain. I know, I know, some would enjoy a good stroll in pouring rain, but I'm on holiday and I don't! I love wind, fog, snow (especially snow) but rain is a pain. My glasses get covered and I can't see where I'm going. Someone ought to invent little clip on windscreen wipers for glasses - I bet they'd make a fortune!

Photo: Rain!!!

Friday, 20 August 2010


Friday morning

Hunting in crocodile country can be


The weather misery that was yesterday morning lifted into quite a pleasant afternoon and a very pleasant evening. We set off for Crocodile Woods, fold up chairs over our shoulders and picnic bag in hand, found a flat place and got set up. Tomato soup (tinned!) tastes wonderful when eaten in a plastic cup, out of a flask, with bread to dunk. Then DG looked for his crocodiles while DD and I read, chatted and picked berries while the sun came out to play. So we packed up, went back to the cottage, DG changed into something slightly less muddy, we went off for a good swim and it was just lovely!

By the time we emerged from the pool, it was early evening and DD went off to get some food for today to save her needing to shop when she gets home. DG and I went to the games room for a while. Rocket stomping came after that and then dinner! All in all an energetic time was had by all.

Looking at the strength of the sun shining into the kitchen, it looks as if today is going to be beautiful. Isn't that so often the way - miserable and/or indifferent weather for much of the week and the day DD and DG go home it decides to be promise good stuff.
Never mind, she doesn't have to be 'out by ten' and can stay for a swim if she likes. The main problem with that will be will avoiding the rush hour at Dartford and then, unfortunately, hitting the V traffic on the A12. For the last two year I have had the misfortune to time my going home with V - this year it's DD's turn!
So it's all change: DD and DG leave and J comes for what I hope will be a relaxing weekend for her.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Thursday lunchtime (more or less)

It rained. It blew. It was sunny for a few minutes, then it darkened over again. I think swimming is off now, but the picnic is made and we will probably wander forth shortly and DG can hunt for those crocodiles!

Just to brighten up the surroundings, there are some lovely flowers in the landscaped gardens and here are a few shots to add some colour what has turned out to be rather a dull day.

Thursday morning

I am distraught! DG didn't like my turkey meatballs. Well, tough - I did, I thought they were very tasty as was the tomato sauce I concocted to go with them. I'm very pleased there were enough left over to freeze for the weekend too. A £2.00 tray of turkey mince went a very long way when mixed with finely chopped onion, breadcrumbs, garlic, lemon juice and chilli (the very lazy kind) with a little salt and pepper. I forgot to add herbs so I added them to the sauce. I formed them into balls, dusted them over with plain flour and then baked them in the oven.

When the sauce was assembled I added a quantity of the meatballs and then simmered them for about half an hour.

The sauce was finely chopped onion, celery and carrot, softened in butter. I turned the heat up, poured in and boiled away a glass of white wine and then added a can of chopped tomatoes, some water and some Marigold. That all got zizzed into a thick, textured sauce. Seasonings and herbs were next, followed by what was left from DDs meal yesterday - puy lentils, peppers, mashed sweet potato - and that all simmered away too. After that I removed DDs potion to another pot and added her veggie sausages to that, added some of the turkey meatballs to mine and DG's and let the whole lot simmer away slowly. I served it with spaghetti and grated cheddar and it was yum (I thought).

D has just wandered in and asked me if he can have his first croissant of the morning. We have some to use up and decided to have them for breakfast but I had forgotten until he asked. So it's in the oven thawing, and 'I can wait' said he, nobly!

The sun is doing his best to shine through some high cloud after a very misty, mysterious early morning. It would be wonderful if he succeeded because we have some great good weather plans today - swimming followed by a picnic in the wood at the bottom of Blackberry Lane and berry picking on the way back. Then, sadly, DD and DG will have to do some packing and sorting out before DG cooks dinner for us.

DG is now munching his way through his first croissant, applying home made marmalade with great relish, bless him! I have to remind myself that this is the lad who, in past years, wouldn't touch any mixed up, messed up food and everything had to be in separate piles on his place, not touching. He's certainly come a long way since then but maybe meatballs in sauce were just a step too far .

The photos are of the misty start to the day. I'm glad I caught it: it was beautiful but the mist has all disappeared now.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Wednesday evening

Private road to the farm, brilliant for blackberry picking.

The grounds have unexpected ponds and mini-lakes to discover and enjoy.

View from my bedroom window.

. . . and it's been a truly lovely day.

The 'red sky in the morning' turned into a day with plenty of sun and some cloudy intervals, a refreshing breeze and a very pleasant evening.

I went shopping early, took the camera with me and also picked some blackberries en route, within the perimeter of the farm grounds. When I got back, we all went for a swim which was super - cold at first but when the sun emerged it was great! After that we all showered, dried hair, etc, and then set off for lunch at the Mark Cross Inn. I had hot lamb ciabatta with mixed leaves and mint mayo followed by Eton mess and it was all absolutely delicious.

By the time we got back all I was fit for was a power nap, which turned into a 90 minute snooze, while DD and DG went out to have fun with a '400ft stomp rocket' from the Science Museum (although why it was in imperial measure, I will never know). I gather it was 'brill'.

This evening I am chilling with some chilled dry white while creating dinner and totally relaxing. As I said, a lovely day. Not exciting, not busy, not challenging, just lovely. One of those 'perfect' days to remember for a long time to come.

Wednesday morning


It's a much more pleasant morning with a sky that looks - well, hopeful! The first photo above was taken just before sunrise and there are definitely breaks in the cloud, it hasn't rained and, you never know, we might get a swim at some point today. I hope so: DD and DG have just two more days and, between the knee and the weather, we've only managed one swim.

Glancing out of the window, the sun is almost rising and the fringes of the clouds are turning pink and fluffy. It's wonderful to have the time and lack of pressure to simply sit and watch nature work her daily magic. Restful, relaxing and invigorating.

It's now that I had a whiz camera with filters and telephotos and stuff, rather than a very old bog-standard Sony whatever. Most of the time it does me fine and I love it; just occasionally it doesn't capture what I want to see.
It's just past six now and the sun has arrived. Fingers crossed!