Monday 30 April 2018

Pretty in Pink [And Black!]

In my childhood home, we always had a tin of black Cherry Blossom shoe polish, and nowadays, I have some green Cherry Blossom 'renovation cream' for my favourite Clarks brogues. 
A recent post by Kezzie reminded me that in Japan right now it is the end of the Cherry Blossom Season [find out more here] It is the time of hanami [viewing] Families and friends go out to look at the beautiful blossoms, and picnic under the trees, sit in the park and play music, and sing...for a brief few days, everyone celebrates these delicate flowers. Every year, the trees bloom, wreathing their branches in pink clouds - then fall, carpeting the grass with petals, all in the space of a fortnight.

Kezzie said there are two cherry trees in her school grounds, and she taught her pupils to sing Sakara, the traditional Japanese song celebrating the beauty of these blossoms. She went on to say
"Then a day later, at playtime, I walked through the playground to see a multitude of young children under the Cherry Blossom with their hands out stretched catching the delicate pink petals as they fell like confetti and screaming in wonder and awe.  The cutest was one child who stood there, saying, in an awestruck voice, "Sakura, Sakura!" over and over again. Oh what a joy to see that the lesson you have taught has stuck in such a way."
What a thoughtful, gifted teacher Kezzie is - and how good to think that these Essex children are learning to enjoy the beauty of nature in the same way as little ones in faraway Japan.
I wonder why the Mason Brothers first decided [in 1906] to name their prosaic black boot polish after these fine pink petals? 
and I wonder why the logo on the lid is a bunch of cherries - not the actual flowers?

CB polish is still going strong and is the only remaining British shoe polish manufacturer, producing in excess of 2 million tins a year, regularly winning the "Best Shoe Care Brand of the Year" award.
Thank you Kezzie, for inspiring this post!

Sunday 29 April 2018

A Prayer For Those Who Do The Catering

Lord, it’s been such a busy weekend, preparing so much food for that event.
But everything got done in the end
It feels sometimes that throughout the ages, women have been slaving away in the kitchens, preparing feasts for others –usually men - to enjoy…
The Bible is full of these stories-

  • Abraham telling Sarah to go and make bread and roast a calf for his visitors at Mamre.
  • Abigail making all those fruitcakes for King David
  • Esther producing a banquet for King Xerxes and wicked Haman
  • And of course, Martha making a meal for Jesus, and complaining about it. I can understand how she felt.
But Lord, please
remind me that I am blessed to have food to prepare like this, when so many go hungry
remind me that it is a privilege to serve like this, and what I do for others, I do as unto you

and thank you Lord, that YOU have prepared a feast for ME – a feast of abundant life and rich blessings.

And this is all of your grace, not anything that I have done.
And you call me to enjoy it, saying “Come, everything is ready!”


Saturday 28 April 2018

Clutching At Straws

Today I am sorting out catering for a big Baptist Event, whilst Bob is organising the PA. Fortunately the venue has its own gear - we couldn't fit food and PA kit into the Aygo. It would have been a struggle even in the dear-departed Skoda.
I am extremely pleased that delegates have been asked by the organisers to bring their own refillable water bottles and hot-drink mugs. All my 1 litre swing-top water bottles will be going so that they have water on hand. It is important that we try as hard as we can to set a good example about 'disposables'. We won't have proper crockery/washing up facilities.
People will collect paper lunchbags, and sandwiches wilI be wrapped in paper not plastic. Accommodating the 'special dietary needs' people who are having boxed salads has been rather more problematic.

But this has highlighted another dilemma with which I am currently wrestling...
Plastic straws.
I heartily endorse the decisions of many of the take-away chains to stop providing these.
But here's the 'mocktail bar' equipment. I've been doing the A-bar for years now [since the late 1980s]

I have a vast collection of glasses- and usually drinks are served with an umbrella, a piece if fruit [on wooden cocktail stick] and a plastic straw - usually a regular one cut in half. I'm happy to give up the umbrellas, not quite so fussed about the fruit-on-a-stick [you can always slice the lemon and hang it on the rim of the glass] But the plastic straws?
You see, when I was doing these bars on a very regular basis I decided to invest in proper glasses and the other equipment I needed. I did a humungous bulk purchase on these a number of years ago, as it seemed good economic sense at the time. [Liz will tell people that I brought up my family with 'an Iron Thrift'] When I say a humungous purchase, I mean just that - thousands of brightly coloured bits of plastic. An event could easily get through 200 half-straws in an evening. I don't think I have bought any straws for a decade. I still have plenty neatly stored away. They are not just for the A-bar, they have also been frequently used for craft activities in school or church.
I am not posting another distressing picture of turtles suffering with straws in their nostrils. But I am aware that our oceans are full of shoals of these discarded hazards.
My question - what do I do with all the straws I currently have in store? Dear friends, please can you share your thoughts on this one? I have various solutions before me...
  1. I just continue using them as before. Leave worrying about the planet to David Attenborough.
  2. I leave them in the box in the loft and just forget about them.
  3. I refuse to use them ever again, and chop them up into small pieces, then put them all immediately in the wheelie bin [sadly the landfill bin, not the recycling one]
  4. I burn them all on a bonfire, to avoid sending them to landfill. 
  5. I only use them for craft activities
  6. I use up the stocks I have - but display a sign by the bar saying something like "single- use is better than no-use. Rather than waste these, I am using up my existing straws, but once they are gone, that's it!"
  7. Something else?
I'm really a bit uncomfortable about all these responses. 
What would YOU do?

Friday 27 April 2018

It Was Mush of a Mushness

Before Easter, I spotted this Nigel Slater recipe in the Guardian, and decided it looked both filling and economical. However, the sausages and beans purchased at Cornerstones were eaten up at different meals, it has taken till now for me to try it out. We greatly enjoyed it as our meal on Wednesday evening. NS says it serves 2-3, but we ate 60% as part of a 'main' meal, and felt the remaining portion would divide into 2 for a lighter lunch. 
Confession - my gravy was way too thick - I realised afterwards that I'd omitted the Marsala [because I didn't have any] and forgot to add any other sort of liquid in its place. So the gravy was a thick oniony mush. The butterbeans in the 'toad' cooked to a creamy mush consistency - and although the outside was crisp, the inside of the toad had a delicious mushy texture. Bob declared the combination of the three mushes actually worked surprisingly well. He also said that chopping the sausages up meant the meaty flavour was well distributed throughout the dish. 
My thyme sank into the batter - perhaps I should have reserved some to strew elegantly on top before bringing the dish to the table. But it was a satisfying, if somewhat mushy, meal. [Mine pictured  above, Nigel's below]
Nigel Slaters Sausage and Beans Toad-in-the Hole
The recipe
Set the oven at 240ºC. Fry 4 Cumberland or herby breakfast sausages in 3 tbsp of oil or lard until evenly golden brown. Make life easier by using a pan, about 22cm in diameter, that will later go in the oven [I used my oval Le Creuset dish].
Remove the sausages from the pan and slice into thick pieces. Drain a 400g can of butterbeans, but don’t rinse them.
Make a batter by whisking together 2 eggs, 150ml of milk and 150ml of water, 125g of plain flour and a little salt and pepper. Set aside. Roughly chop 1 tbsp of thyme leaves.
Put the sausage pan in the oven and leave until the fat is smoking hot, remove from the oven then tip in the sausages and return the pan to the oven for 10 minutes.
Pour the batter over the beans and sausages. Scatter over the thyme and return to the oven and bake for a further 25 minutes or so until risen. Enough for 2 or 3.
The trick
The heat of the fat is crucial. Make sure that it is hot to the point of smoking before adding the sausage and then, 10 minutes later, the batter. The intense heat helps the batter to rise.
The twist
Not so much a twist, but a toad in the hole really does require some gravy. Peel and thinly slice 2 medium onions, and soften them with 3 tbsp of olive oil, add 2 tbsp of flour, cook for a few minutes then pour in 500ml of beef stock, then a glass of marsala or medium dry sherry. Simmer for 15-20 minutes on a low heat, then add a couple of pinches of sugar, plus salt and pepper, and serve alongside the batter pudding.
Not one but two very generous friends from the church have blessed us with gifts of homegrown rhubarb this week. 
I spent Thursday morning baking for the freezer. Three lots of Rhubarb Windows, [click on THISlink for the recipe] plus some crumbles, and a dish of roasted rhubarb to stir into my home made yogurt.
If and when I do get some teaching, it will be reassuring to know that I have puds in the freezer. I need a sweet treat after a day in the classroom. Thank you friends for your kindness!

Thursday 26 April 2018

Pigs; Both Salt And Peppa!

I cleaned and refilled the stoneware salt pig in my kitchen this week. I do love this efficient bit of kit - it keeps the salt clean, dry and easily accessible. Dave's hand carved spoon is so useful for scooping out the quantity I need.
I always thought that the name salt pig came from the domed shape like a pigs head, with the snout on the front. 
However, I have recently discovered that pig is simply an old Scottish dialect word for pot

The other word I have just learned is the Anglo Saxon word spōn which means a chip of wood - and is the origin of our word spoon.

The other pig round here is of course Peppa Pig. Peppa Pig World is not too far away from Ferndown, but I gather it is quite expensive, so we're in no rush to take Rosie. She is, like many other 2 year olds, very fond of this little pink cartoon character.
When we were looking after her at Cornerstones, she asked if she could watch CBeebies. However the only PP we could find was on iPlayer- and in Gaelic.
"Put it on anyway" I said to Bob. The programme started, and Rosie did not seem at all bothered by the wrong language. Then she shouted "Peppa Pig Muddy Puddle!"... and the next picture to appear on screen was Peppa Pig and a muddy puddle. She clearly knew which story it was, just from the pictures. I know I think our grand-daughter is gifted, but I am sure she hasn't learned Gaelic yet!
I learned the word spōn from this book. I first read about the author, Barn The Spoon, on the Spitalfields Life blog, and Jon has kindly lent me his copy to read. I'll review it properly once I have finished it!

Wednesday 25 April 2018

A Real Pea-Souper!

Did you know that the term 'Peasouper' for those awful, thick London fogs was coined in 1849 by Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick? Our capital has suffered from heavy fog for centuries. The Thames basin is prone to mist, and even in the medieval period this was made worse by domestic fires burning wood and ‘sea-coal’ brought by boat from Newcastle. Elizabeth I proclaimed herself “greatly grieved and annoyed with the taste and smoke of sea-coales”. In 1661, John Evelyn complained that sea-coal had turned London into “hell upon earth”. 
His proposal to move industry outside the city and to create a green belt of aromatic plants and hedges was ignored, and so, as London expanded to become the largest metropolis the world had ever seen, the fogs grew steadily worse.
In the last century, there was the Great Fog of 1952 [well described in ‘The Crown’] which claimed 4000 lives, and resulted in the passing of the Clean Air Act. 
10 years later, in December 1962, there was a nationwide fog lasting 4 days. The death toll was in the low 100s [bad enough] and the public were warned [most had TVs by then] to take proper precautions – like these young chaps from Manchester!
Why the discussion of fog, when the weather these past few days has been bright and sunny? Because I have been using up some of my wild garlic to make pea soup!
Very quick and easy, lovely for a light lunch. I had half a small, stale baguette to use up - the heel was diced , and then the remainder brushed with oil and oven baked to make huge crisp croutons.
Pea and Wild Garlic Soup
Serves 2
1tbsp oil
1 small onion, diced 
500g vegetable stock
200g frozen peas
20g wild garlic
½cup diced stale bread
salt & pepper

1- heat the oil in a large saucepan and sweat off the onion for 5-10 minutes till soft and translucent.
2- add the stock, peas, bread, and chopped garlic [reserve a few flower heads for garnish] 
3- bring to the boil
4- simmer for 10 minutes
5- puree in liquidiser or with stick blender. 
6- season to taste. Reheat if needed
7- ladle into warmed bowls, garnish with a drizzle of oil and flowers
or allow to go cold, serve chilled

Tuesday 24 April 2018

That Makes My Skin Itch!

Family conversation on What'sApp...
Steph and Gary posted a picture of two glasses of honeymoon champagne.
Liz posted a picture of her office desk, saying "Not jealous at all". 
Bob commented on her computer "Mildly envious.
Jon then posted a picture of his desk, "Liz's is tidier than mine". 
I posted a picture of my desk, adding "And mine!" 
Liz said "That makes my skin itch!"
Here is my dreadfully untidy desk
There really wasn't much workspace, I must admit. But on Friday, I got up early, and prepared for the Supply Agency to ring. For the third day in a row, no call...[well, it was only the 4th day of the new term] So I set to, determined to sort things out.
Doesn't that look better? Everything is just where I can reach it. I hope Liz's skin will stopped itching now.
I have also dealt with a whole load of obsolete filing - much shredding of agendas and minutes etc. The recycling bin will be very full on Wednesday.
I re-discovered my packet of WW2 postcards which I bought in IWM North last August. I've stuck them along the shelf temporarily - but I shall probably send them to people in a while.
Bob didn't post a picture of his desks in the family conversation [he has two- one at home and one in his church office]
But I'd already taken one of him working earlier in the week.
I am not surprised that his desk is tidy, but how come he manages to get a rainbow too?

Monday 23 April 2018

Still Turning...

Last week, Bob's sister Denise and her husband Kevin dropped in en route to their holiday. It was so good to see them. In the past month we have seen 16 different family members, which is lovely, considering we are all so busy, and so spread out across the country. 
We got to talking about TV and the fact that like us, D&K like the "Eurocrimes." Denise is a great linguist, and probably doesn't need the subtitles as much as I do. We were talking about 'Spiral- the French cop drama which returned to BBC4 in January after a three year break. In France, the series is called Engrenages, which means 'gears'. I prefer the English title, as I love spirals...
Being a Maths geek, I'm fascinated by the way that the Fibonacci sequence occurs in so many place in nature, in the form of a spiral

 The patterns in sunflower seeds, ferns, snail shells, romanesque cabbages, galaxies, the DNA structures, cobwebs...

Truly wonderful.
I like using spirals when I am doing creative stuff too. It is so much easier to doodle or to crochet a spiral rather than to  make perfect circles!
There's something wonderfully organic about the way this shape just grows and increases.
Some people produce messages in spiral form.
 Above- two alternative versions of a favourite Bible passage. One starts at the edge, the other at the centre. Below, an interesting presentation of someone's New Year Resolutions.

I'm not sure if 'Shetland' comes into the Eurocrime category - but up in those northern isles, there are some amazing ancient Pictish carvings, involving intricate spirals.
My birthday gift from Denise and Kevin was a silver necklace. It is lovely [thanks D&K]The leaflet in the case says the design was inspired by these. Shetland carvings.
Everywhere I turn, I seem to find spirals!

Sunday 22 April 2018

To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn...

When Bob sold his motorbike, it left a huge space. Well two actually- the first was in his lifestyle, he no longer had the opportunity to go out and enjoy a ride, tune out from all the things on his mind, and just burn up the miles...and the second, a huge space in the garage. 
But then he found a woodturning lathe, on sale locally. The gentleman concerned was in poor health and could no longer use it, so was selling it, plus loads of tools, for an extremely good price.
Bob loves old tools, he loves working with wood, and it seemed a good purchase. There was now room to house it in the garage and he had a new hobby to replace biking. Wood-turning
But he needed to learn the skills - so for a combined birthday-and-Christmas gift, I arranged for him to go on a wood turning course. He loved it. It was a whole day, one-to-one with a master craftsman.
He was taught basic techniques, and tool maintenance, and he came home with some practice pieces, including a lovely bowl and some blanks to work on. The bowl is now at Cornerstones, and has been much admired.
His first task was to build a new lathe-stand, fit for someone tall - it is important to work at the correct height. But finally, the lathe was up and running. Bob's first solo effort was another wooden bowl. Obviously, it had to be for a very special occasion. 

Isn't it lovely? I have made a poster and put it up in the garage, over where Bob works at the lathe. It is a picture of some vintage tools, and this verse from Jan Struther's lovely hymn

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled 
at the plane and the lathe,
Be there at our labours, and give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord, 
at the noon of the day.

Saturday 21 April 2018

Happy Birthday, Ma'am

The Queen is 92 today [that makes her just 3 months older than Jim-next-door]
Here she is cutting a previous birthday cake with Nadya H.
Whether or not you are a Royalist, you have to admit that she has a very full diary for a nonagenarian.
As Matriarch of her family, she's got a lot going on at home to keep her busy, quite apart from Royal duties.
Her husband Philip has only just left hospital after a hip replacement.
One grandson is due to get married next month - and the other should be announcing the birth of his third child any day now.
Those are all good news stories.
On a less happy note, her favourite corgi, Willow, had to be put to sleep last weekend. Willow starred alongside HM and Daniel Craig/James Bond in that amazing Olympics Opening Ceremony.

She announced yesterday that she hopes Prince Charles will succeed her as head of the Commonwealth. She has been a great champion for this fellowship of nations, and I hope peace and harmony will continue to be the order of the day with this one.
Weddings, babies, illness, pets, concerns for one's children...these are all features of ordinary family life with which many of us will identify. May Her Maj be blessed with a birthday full of live, love and laughter. I hope they won't expect her to blow out 92 candles though!
Long to reign over us, happy and glorious, God save our Queen!

Friday 20 April 2018

Card Sharp

I love the Sue Ryder Charity Shop on the edge of Fakenham. This is where I bought that sheet music. My other purchase recently was a plastic bag full of greetings cards.
The bag was quite heavy, and cards front and back showed this track through a snowy field. 
The info said that Norfolk artist Columbine Winstanley had produced a range of paintings showing the beauty the English countryside for the Quality Card Company
The bag wasn't sealed - so I took out the stack and looked - there were various different designs. They were printed on high quality card, and were blank inside. And the bag was priced at £1.50.
I queried this at the till, and was told the low price was due to the lack of envelopes - so I happily handed over a £2 coin.
When I got back to Cornerstones, I checked out the contents.
Six different designs - three landscapes; the field, some cheerful looking cows, and an empty swing under some trees - but the majority were 'floral' snowdrops, irises, and a bunch of autumnal fruits and foliage.
I think they are lovely
I counted them - 80 altogether. I've purchased bought some white C5 envelopes online. The cost per card&envelope comes in just under 2p . Bargain!
I have already used some as notelets - writing beautifully with my fancy new fountain pen.
But I plan to use my BigShot diecut machine to print off some 'sentiments' [happy birthday, best wishes, with thanks...] to turn others into regular greetings cards.
I send quite a lot of cards in the course of a year - some posted, others hand-delivered. It is good when I can plan and make a card specially [eg for Steph & Gary's Wedding] but on the other hand, to have a stack of good quality ones ready-to-go is always useful. I wonder how long this CS bargain will last me?

Thursday 19 April 2018

Bouquet Garni

Do you remember The Herbs - a children's TV programme from 1968? It was written by Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington. As with many TV programmes, some of the script was quite sophisticated - I suppose that encouraged adults to sit alongside the children and watch with them [never a bad thing]
There was Lady Rosemary, Bayleaf the Gardener, Parsley the Lion, Sage the Owl, Dill the daft dog, Sir Basil and Constable Knapweed.
I have never considered myself much of a gardener - but I have realised that I am not too bad at growing herbs [although I never seem to manage to get anywhere with basil or parsley, however hard I try]
I wandered out into the garden after lunch yesterday and realised I had a reasonable crop of eight herbs. Bob said I should also include the wild garlic in my list - we have a patch of rampant ramsons - but they are nothing to do with me, they came of their own accord. They bring my total to nine. Here is my 2018 crop thus far
Clockwise from the top
mint [label hidden!]
wild garlic
golden thyme [not to be confused with Golden Time, which is a manic Friday afternoon activity in many Primary Schools]
common thyme
lemon balm
That's really not too bad, for someone who struggles with cress on a flannel,is it? Some potentially good flavours to fling into my summer recipes. I also have quite a few young nettles, but am unable to convince Bob of the merits of Nettle Soup, so I cannot really count them as a cooking ingredient [yet]
Do you grow your own herbs ?
Which ones, and how do you use them?

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Cup Final

Despite the good efforts of Hugh F-W et al, we are still astonishingly bad about reducing the number of disposable coffee cups which end up in landfill. 
It is two years since HFWs battle bus hit the streets to alert people about this.
2.5 billion cups a year currently go to landfill in the UK
However, I do believe that at last we are beginning to make some progress. A charity called Hubbub, founded by two guys named Gavin Ellis and Trewin Restorick [yes, honestly!] has organised two cup-recycling projects in Manchester and London. The Hubbub website goes a lot further than cups, and is worth checking out. There's a useful guide to switching to a reusable cup. Here's their infographic showing the benefits of recycling 'disposable' cups. The cups put in their #1MoreShot bins in Manchester went to make tubs and garden furniture for community gardens.

Waitrose have been giving free coffee to Loyalty Card holders for some years now- but last week announced that although they are continuing this scheme, customers will need to bring their own cup in future [but if you forget, you can buy one instore for £3]

A number of coffee chains have at last started giving a discount to people who bring in their own mugs - Pret being the most generous! Bob and I have been working really hard to change our habits in this respect. We make a pot of coffee at breakfast - measuring the quantity carefully for two mugs then - and enough left to fill our two reusable travel mugs. That way we not only avoid buying a disposable mug- we also avoid buying overpriced coffeehouse brews! Our travel mugs came from Starbucks, and we are very pleased with them, Liz tells me hers is from Robert Dyas. 

Next week we'll be at a conference organised by the Southern Counties Baptist Association - he's doing PA, I'm doing catering . The SCBA has made a point of asking all those attending to bring mugs for their hot drinks, and their own water bottles - both of which they will be able to refill throughout the day. 
Have you switched to a reusable mug yet?