Saturday, June 26, 2010

Warming Up

Despite some cloud in the sky the weather is getting warmer - and warmer! It was a year ago today that I left Leeds to come and stay in a hotel in Morecambe (the Elms at Bare - sadly now closed). Beloved and our firstborn moved our belongings out of our Leeds home the following Tuesday, and my first step into our new home was made on Wednesday July 1st (after a lot of furniture had been arranged to make it look more familiar). The weather was just about the same as it is now - maybe even more sweltering, for I had to ask for a fan to be placed in my hotel room as it was too hot to sleep at night.

Was very pleased this morning to hear from Cheesepare again. Thought we had lost you CP. Am pleased you still find this blog readable. Not sure if Steve could move 'wot has been writ' over to another site if some of it is still missing. Maybe I could run two sites, and start repeating myself over again on the newer one, omitting the boring stuff.

Perhaps also because I am familiar with what I write about (whether or not it is accurate, although I try to be), that I find my words boring. Been there, done that, heared it all before sort of thing. But have been writing for so long now that early work (missing but saved in 'documents') could well be brought back to life.
Anyway, my intention is to start learning how to take photos (well at least can do that) and get them on to the comp. (can just about do that, but not always cut and paste), and then get them onto my blog site (not had much success so far). Gill (slightly computer literate), our daughter (she can put up pictures and certainly send them via email), and our firstborn (he knows how), will hopefully be able to teach me over the next week (or so) so will be photographing our party dishes and eventually you will get to see them.

Pleased to hear the home-made beer is successful Kathryn, if it works out cheaper than pub or supermarket prices, then it will probably continuing being made, maybe different types. Mild, bitter, lager or home-made 'own-brand'. The latter is worth aiming for. Nothing like improving on the manufacturers. Food, drink or otherwise.
Pleased also that you are now having more garden to play with. This is a very good time of year to get cut price plants, and if well watered before (and after) planting they should romp happily away. Water itself is now becoming a problem in our region, and when I watered some pots yesterday and noticed water running out of the holes beneath, realised that each should be stood in a bowl or tray to catch the escaping water. Have taken to standing the smaller containers in a bucket containing about two inches of water, and letting them soak up as much as they need, then keep replacing the pots, one by one until they are all well moistened. Then stand them in the shade for the rest of the day. This really seems to avoid losing excess water by drainage and evaporation.

We can also conserve water by mulching the soil once we have produce planted directly into the ground. This can be old carpet, black plastic, bark chippings, gravel etc... just make sure there is a hole large enough round the stem for the plant to grow through. Unsightly but useful is another trick - push the open top half of an empty lemonade bottle (bottom cut off) into the soil close to a plant, then fill this with water instead of watering the soil in the normal way, this gets the water close to the roots. A 'trickle' watering could be done by leaving the cap on the bottle, and either making a hole in this, or just sticking the point of a knife into the plastic a few times around the neck so the water slowly drips through.

A recently read tip is to keep a bucket in the shower, to collect any water that flows past our bodies. If the bucket is big enough, maybe we could stand in it as we shower!!! If having a bath, just don't pull out the plug, instead scoop up water into buckets and use this to water the plants.

It is said that this 'grey water' is safe to use for watering plants, but for those who wish to clean it slightly could fill a garden sieve with fine sand and pour the water through this into yet another bucket. Just make sure we have plenty of buckets seems to be the order of the day. We have several buckets, but sadly none have handles. So Beloved has the job of lifting them when full of water.

The programme you mentioned on food grown abroad for supermarkets SweeterRita was a repeat (did mention it the first time it was on and wrote quite a bit about it the following day -so no need for me to say it all over again), but for those who missed the programme, worth taking a look - it is probably on iPlayer.

Ignoring the economics (cheaper to buy some produce from the supermarket than that nationally/locally grown), there is still, as you say, nothing to beat the taste of produce that is home-grown, picked and eaten within a very few hours. No other way can we eat food that is so fresh. So always worth going back to the good old days when everyone seemed to have a veggie patch/kitchen garden.

There was no free herb booklet with our July 'Kitchen Garden' mag. It was not in a wrapper, so maybe Beloved got a rogue copy. However - serendipity being what it is - yesterday - when clearing up - found a small paperback bought years ago, on every culinary herb worth growing, so sat and read that from cover to cover.
Still feel that parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint, chives and bay are the only 'basic' herbs that I would use regularly, with marjoram and basil also growing on my windowsill 'just in case they are needed'. Dill is 'interesting' but rarely used, coriander we haven't yet got a taste for, and tarragon is one still not tried.
In Leeds grew lovage, lemon balm, Sweet Cicely, angelica and borage in the garden as well as the above, but these were used more for 'floral' decoration than herbal use, although they were used from time to time as culinary herbs. Lovage is particularly good as it makes a tall and striking plant, with a strong flavour of celery, so can be used for flavouring in stocks and soups instead of the 'real' thing.

A year ago, what with 'down-sizing' and the feeling this was our last nesting place, my ill health and the misery of moving, really did wonder if it was worth planting anything at all for would I live long enough to see it mature? Not that I had a death wish, it was more the fact of moving that made me feel my days were coming to an end. The fact that our children feel we ARE old, didn't really help. Because (to us) we are not old - and when they reach our age, they will feel the same. In my youth, people the age they are now (in their fifties) were considered old, very old, so its all relative.

Other than problems with my leg, certainly feel a lot more chipper these last couple of months (obviously due to weight loss), so am hoping I can last a couple more years - even more if the gods allow. When young, think we will live forever. Now 'old' there seems a mad rush to fit in as much as possible in the time left. Including keeping chickens!

Just have to edit in something here. Towards the end of the last para the word 'old'there' had not had a space left between the two words, so the spellcheck highlighted this and came up with several alternative words, the first being 'elderberry'. This has reminded me that yesterday noticed all the elderflowers were open on the bushes and so time now to make elderflower champagne, elderflower syrup, and the flower heads themselves can be dipped in batter to be fried and eaten. Elderflowers can also be dried or frozen, to use later in the year.
A reminder that when making the 'champagne' to always release the pressure in the bottles after the first two weeks. It will keep building up, so keep checking and release as necessary - otherwise bottles will explode or the caps blow off, or plastic bottles may split. Always hold the top of the bottle away from you (preferably over a sink) so that now injury or damage is caused. Depending upon the weather, the natural yeast in the elderflowers can be quite strong, so allow for this.

Today is 'erect the futon' day (it comes in a kit so that will be Beloved's job although he may want me to hold things for him). Myself will plant out the remaining tomato plants in containers outside (found another large polystyrene box that will do for some). We have two unused growbags, so enough compost. Containers will be checked to see if they need watering. Have to say the later planted ones - where water holding and plant food granules were add to the compost- certainly need watering less often.

Am pleased that the trailing lobelia (very small plug plants when bought) are now beginning to grow fast and hang over the sides of the containers/baskets, and are now in full flower. Bought as blue ones, they seem to have a few white and purple ones included, so happy with that. One hanging basket (we have four - as yet not hung) was overfilled with Busy Lizzies, so is bursting with bloom, and this fits exactly into the top of an empty 'terracotta' (plastic) container, so will probably leave it like that - at knee level instead of hanging.
The other baskets will be hung at the end of the week, so they won't need watering for a couple or so days. Have bought a couple of 'thingys' from Lakeland that will lower the baskets to make it easier for them to be watered, so no need to ask Beloved to lift them down for me.

Surprisingly my face is still slightly swollen. Maybe it is the geraniums that are causing the allergy for having to touch them each day (don't HAVE to - could wear gloves but need to find out the cause), when watering and moving around might be the reason my face has not gone down. Although - having said that -just enough swelling left to make me look younger(or so I like to think) as any lines are now 'botoxed' out. Shouldn't really grumble, should I?

Yesterday B took me out for a meal. We intended to go to a local restaurant in Bare, but when we got there it was shut - their hours now being 9.00am (early breakfast!) to 5.00pm. Maybe they opened later at the weekend, didn't check that.
When we first came to visit Morecambe, we did eat an evening meal at this restaurant and it was very good. Yesterday we ended up at the Hest Bank Inn/Hotel/pub where the meals are always good. Well, normally. Perhaps yesterday I was too critical, but my large field mushroom starter came with a goat's cheese, herbs and garlic topping which tasted distinctly rancid. B tasted some and said it was the goat's cheese, and probably this was the reason, as it seemed to improve the more I ate. Did not like to show my ignorance by complaining, for it probably WAS the type of cheese used. As this morning I have had no adverse effects, am assuming there was nothing wrong.
Beloved's starter was a prawn cocktail, more unusually served in a half pint old-fashioned dimple-type beer mug. The bottom half filled with shredded lettuce, the top half filled and piled up with prawns. Lots of prawns. A marie-rose sauce served in a little (very little) dish at the side. Looked different at least, but meant that B was left with a lot of lettuce which he didn't really need, want (or eat).

Considering the sole idea was to go out and eat fish and chips, Beloved decided his main course would be Beef and Ale Pie - with chips. Hardly a 'pie' for the casseroled meat was served in a shallow plate with a square of puff pastry plonked on top, the chips served separately in a bowl. Also served alongside was a dish of mushy (or crushed!) peas.

Myself made the mistake of ordering the 'lock keepers platter', mainly because it contained no carbohydrate other bread (which I didn't eat). Desperate for some battered fish and chips, my will power was strong last evening, so made a different choice, Nothing at all wrong with the meal, there was just too much of it, even for my large appetite (or is my stomach shrinking). And just HATE to leave any food on my plate, mainly because it has been paid for.

Served on a board, my meal consisted of were three large thick slices of home-cooked ham, a pork pie,a large wedge of Cheddar cheese, a sliced apple, a good sized bowl of salad (mixed leaves, tomatoes, red peppersetc), a bowl of coleslaw (carrot, cabbage and red onion), and a tray of pickles and chutneys (Branston pickle, sliced cooked beetroot, piccalilli - and also pickled onions). Tucked between the food was also a large thick slice of good artisan white bread and a pack of butter. Am sure there was something else as well - but in the end left one slice of ham, a quarter of the pork pie, half the pickles, half the salad, half the coleslaw, two-thirds of the cheese, and the bread and butter. Pity I didn't ask for a doggy bag. Don't know how much it all cost, don't even care as B was paying.

Felt really 'pogged' when I got home, and felt I'd eaten enough to last me all of today. Certainly the thought of food wouldn't enter my mind at the moment. All I am regretting is that I didn't weaken and have the fish and chips after all, for people at a table nearby had this and it looked GORGEOUS.

The restaurant is at the side of the canal, and many boats were moored there. Suggested to Beloved that it might not be a bad idea to buy a narrow boat, or cabin cruiser 'to widen our horizons'. He actually thought it might not be a bad idea, especially as a cabin cruiser could go along the canal to Glasson Dock and then out to the river and the sea. Must work on him re this - although for myself would prefer a narrow boat as an 'escape hole' where I could go 'to get away from it all', and this would also make a good 'second bedroom' for visitors, and/or holiday home for friends.
Perhaps I will win the lottery (sorry - called Lotto now) and then afford to buy myself a 'houseboat'. But am I too old, and is it too late? You wouldn't believe how frustrating getting old is turning out to be. All the things we can now do (or like to believe we can), and not enough time left to do it.

Another disadvantage about growing old is the noticeable difference when we get into the sun and begin to tan. Once upon a time I had smooth arms with an even tan and this looked good. Now the sun is drying my skin so longer smooth, and my arms - now tanned - are more 'mottled' with darker brown spots, and even lighter ones, due presumably to old-age pigmentation. Remember my Dad's arms looking exactly the same, so in a strange but good way find my own arms constantly remind me of him. Which is nice.

Yet I keep being told about people who are in their nineties and still got their marbles, and so there is a possibility of a further ten years of useful life left to me before I begin to feel really old - and maybe another ten living in an old people's home before I pop my clogs. Or maybe not. If you had been standing at the side of me you would have seen me sit back and give a heartfelt sigh, thinking of what might, or might not be.

No good thinking about the future, might as well get on with the present. "Live for the day" is what is often said, and probably best I start thinking along these lines. Not of course with food - this always requires advance thinking/planning/purchasing/making if only to make our money go further.

The morning began cloudy, but now - nearly 9.00am, the sky is clearing and the sun is out. Another warm day, much of it am hoping to spend in the garden, getting browner and more freckled (in my case 'speckled'). Between times, moving indoors and doing more clearing up.
At least have a trolley in here now laden with party food (of the bottled and packet types (olives and pickles, cheese biscuits and tortilla chips) and a butler's tray filled with party bowls and platters (just so I don't have to waste time getting them out nearer the day).

As said to Beloved the other day, when it comes to entertaining (buffet or dining) 90% of the work is in the advance planning an preparation, the actual cooking on the day taking relatively very little time at all. Have had enough years of practice doing buffets, so this one is a doddle. Despite me going on about it all the time.

It's just that we haven't entertained at home for YEARS so really looking forward to this one. If it goes well, this this is just the start. More barbies later in the year (Indian summer), and certainly a charity dinner party in October (the JST are asking members to host these, asking guests to pay £10 a head for their charity). Almost certainly we will be throwing a New Year's Party (we had many of these in Leeds). Hopefully smaller (free) dinner parties in between. Once I have the bit between my teeth, who knows where the entertaining will stop.

But today starts here, and the more I do the less to do later. Gill arrives tomorrow before lunch, so any last minute clearances she can help with (being very familiar with my clutter).
Hope to hear from more of you before my final posting tomorrow, then a week's 'rest' from writing (with me writing is the most restful thing I can do - so who knows, I might need to come back and have a chat with you just to relax). Until tomorrow - enjoy your day.