Tuesday 31 July 2018

Little Things


I attended a funeral today, it is the second one in six weeks.   

The first one was for a friend who had been a Royal Marine Commando, a mountain guide, a teacher, and a gentleman.   He was taken prisoner during the Korean War and was imprisoned for almost three years.    During that time he faced daily beatings, starvation, terrible illness, hard labour, and long periods of solitary confinement.    Somehow he survived.

Little wonder that, after he was finally freed and returned home, he left the service and sought isolation in the Welsh hills for a few years.

He had no religious beliefs, so his service was held at the crematorium, without hymns.    However, he was accorded a guard of honour, dipped flags, and an official Royal Marines bugler to play the Last Post.  It was simple, respectful, and it suited the lovely man I had come to know.   

The most poignant moment of all came right at the end, when almost everyone had gone outside to chat and mingle, before moving on to the village pub.   

Very quietly a young RAF man walked through the almost deserted crematorium room, stood in front of the coffin (normally removed, but temporarily left in situ, at the request of the widow) saluted,  bowed his head and spent a few moments in contemplation.      It was the moment I almost lost my composure.   

Today's funeral was for another friend - the man who organised all the Royal Marines tributes for the first funeral.   

Again, a lovely man.   If you ever saw the original 'Mr Chips' film, that could have been him.  He was quiet, scholarly, kind.     As a little boy, during the war,  he was passionate about aircraft, making models, watching out for them in the sky, even when he should have been down in the air raid shelter with the rest of his family. 

As soon as he was old enough, he joined the Fleet Air Arm and became a pilot, flying all manner of aircraft, in many different countries of the world, achieving the rank of Lieutentant-Commander.

His funeral service was held at the parish church in Louth, with full accompaniment from the choir.  He had been attending choir practice when he became ill and died, so  you can imagine how emotionally charged that was.

This was followed with another short service, held at the crematorium.   

He was accorded full respect and some highly decorated uniformed officers attended.   At the end there was a fly-past by a Spitfire aeroplane, an acknowledgement of his years of service.

Once again, the young RAF man* attended.    He quietly paid his own respects to his friend, long after most people had filed out.

The sight of a young man in his prime paying such sincere and private respect to two old warriors was almost my undoing, tears which I had held in check almost found a way out.   It was far more moving than any number of buglers or Spitfires.

*I should say that the young man in question is a farmer's son, serving in the RAF.     He knew both men very well, these were his own farewells, not official duty.           

Monday 30 July 2018

When your Fridge/Freezer Breaks

The recent storms have brought some very welcome rain, the plants are all looking much happier with their drink of soft refreshing rain, rather than the more recent glugs of hard tap water.       

Unfortunately the rains were accompanied by very strong winds, with even stronger gusts,  a recipe for disaster for one rain drenched Rowan tree, which came down yesterday lunch time.    Close examination revealed that the poor tree was diseased, something which was not visible on the exterior.          It crashed down and the top most branches brushed down against the pear tree, luckily no damage was done and no one was hurt.

The fridge/freezer in the Boot room had stopped working some time during the storms and hadn't  the courtesy to tell us about it.   I managed to salvage some bits of food, but much more had to be thrown out.      Perhaps the most annoying bit (other than the waste) is discovering just how much we rely on our refrigerators these days, especially in summer.

After sorting everything out, cleaning, throwing, salvaging, etc. my head was a whirl.       I decided to bake bread, that most soothing and pleasing of occupations, especially when I have something new to try.    So this first photograph shows you what my kitchen table looks like when I am simply baking, no clearing things away to make a less cluttered photograph!

I had read an Elizabeth David recipe for making a cottage loaf - nothing new there, you may say, and you would be correct.     The interesting thing was that she recommended that the bread be put into a cold oven.

The recipe is a very simple one:

One and a half pounds of strong flour, half a pound of wheatmeal flour, half an ounce of yeast, three quarters of an ounce of salt (I used a bit less!), one pint or a little less of warm water.

The only mixing instructions:  Care must be taken not to make the dough too slack.

I will write the recipe out on my other blog, sometime soon, with full baking and making instructions. 

I didn't end up with a picture-perfect cottage loaf, but the bread is good, and the process of kneading the dough calmed my mind, so did a goodly slice of freshly baked bread slathered in butter.

Of course now I am wondering whether this cold oven start would work on other bread doughs.

Saturday 28 July 2018

All Hands on Deck!

Written on Friday 27th July      We have had rain, lots of it; thunder and lightning, ditto.    So far the power has been off six times, short outages, the longest one being no more than 10-15 minutes.   

It is now early evening and the sky is very dark and ominous again, only to be suddenly illuminated by enormous forks of lightning.    Meanwhile, it sounds as though baby elephants are tramping along the roof line or, perhaps, children are using their beds as trampolines and then catapulting onto the bedroom floor, just as my children used to do when they were young.   This is not the sound of children being mischievous, it is thunder.      Toby and the cats are not happy.    Too tired to continue writing tonight...

Written Saturday 28th July

Yesterday started with a thunder storm and torrential rain, then it cleared away and we were left sweltering and 'glowing' as the heat and humidity rose.     It wouldn't have been so bad,  if we hadn't made arrangements to have the tree men in to help do the trickier bits of felling some roadside trees.  One man turned up, with assorted chainsaws, ropes and pulleys!

It is not the best time of year to be taking down trees, but for practical reasons it had to be done before autumn.

The first tree came down, so did the Lincolnshire post and rail fence...hmmmn!   That wasn't part of the plan.

Daughter, granddaughter and I left them to it, we headed into Louth for a coffee and to do a little shopping.

We got back a couple of hours later, to find two trees down and four men working hard, with scarlet faces.      They were melting in the heat and humidity.    We made them stop and take a rest.   

These trees were vast great things, not ancient, just big.      One tree was in a dangerous state, the others came down because there is work to be done in that area.   

I hate taking trees down, so we always make up for it by planting new saplings in Owl Wood.

Son No 2 and his wife turned up, so did SiL's father, they joined in.     Suddenly there were eight people working and clearing.   

Sawing branches and trunks, dragging away the smaller branches and leaves to be dealt with later, keeping the lane traffic safe as the trees came down.   

It was easier to drag the debris along the lane to Owl Wood, even my daughter got stuck in and helped - and she doesn't do that very often.      It was all hands on deck, as the storm clouds rolled in again.    The people on the far side of the lane were passing through, as they did a walk for charity, we provided a bit of entertainment for them, a word of encouragement.

We all worked well as a team, we just wanted it done.     It was a crazy day to do it, hottest day of the year.   Cold drinks, cold cloths, and dogged determination made it possible.

Eventually all that was left to do was some sweeping up along the lane, the rest of the work could be safely left for another day.   

Just in time. 

The really big storm rolled in and we were treated to more thunder, lighting, heavy rain,  and power outages. 

We know how to have fun.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Kitchen Garden and Owl Wood Journal

We are still managing to harvest enough for stir fries and salads, but the plants are definitely suffering under the blazing sun and the lack of rain.     I find that the best way to get my grandchildren to eat mange tout, peas and tomatoes, is to ask them to go out with a colander to pick some for me.
They always succumb, and end up munching.

This doesn't work with the courgettes or cucumbers, unsurprisingly.

The old Bramley apple tree is doing best of all, but then it usually does - whether we remember to do the wassailing ceremony, or not.

I sometimes forget, then feel guilty, but the old apple tree does us proud anyway.    Thank goodness.

I always let a couple of leeks go to seed, the bees love the flowers, so do I.   Just looking at this photograph shows me that I may have left a few too many this year.

Not that the bees are complaining, they are buzzing around them quite happily.

Enough of that, though.     I have finally got round to having a play, making some botanical dyes, just for fun.   Each winter I usually end up making angels and fairies which are sold to help raise funds for local causes.  

 The trouble is that I soon become bored with making them, so each year I have to find some fresh angle.     This year I decided to have a bit of  fun and have a go at dyeing my own fabrics with things from the garden - I have used rosemary, lavender, mint, flowers, blackcurrants, etc.

The results have been pretty, but subtle. 

I need to do it a bit more seriously now.   

The early results of my experiments have been beautiful, but the differences in shades don't show up well in a photograph, although they do make an interesting page in my Owl Wood journal.

This weekend I shall redouble my efforts, try for some different colours.   I could read up about it on the internet, but that would take the fun out of it.

Now I have a dog sitting, gazing at me.    Those brown eyes are telling me that it is time to take him for his morning walk, before it gets too hot.   

I hope you manage to stay cool, wherever you are.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

John Smith

I took a small trip out, yesterday.    My intention was to visit this church, just a couple of miles down the road, but in a different direction from my normal wanderings.       It is the church where Captain John Smith was baptised, back around 1580.

Unfortunately the church was closed.    It had a team of workmen in,  treating it for woodworm.    I'll leave the visit until all the fumes have died down - a month or two, perhaps!

The village of Willoughby is one which is/has been, quite unmistakeably, wealthy.      It still retains the big houses and that neat, well kept appearance, even the grass and the trees look different from your regular country yokel village - my village is definitely one of the latter.

John Smith, such a common name.           

However,  this John Smith was an explorer, an adventurer.      He left home at the age of 16, ran away to sea and began a life of adventure, during which time he served as a mercenary in the army of Henry IV of France, fighting the Spaniards,  fighting the Dutch, and then the Turks.

He went on to help found Jamestown, mapped the Chesapeake Bay area, and the rest is history.    He died in 1631, in London.

More about his life and adventures another time.

Thank you for all your comments, I am a bit late replying to them, but I will catch up. 

Monday 23 July 2018

Lettice Cooked on MasterChef?

Another fairly old recipe book,  fairly old because it only dates back to 1992.    It was brought out in association with the baking competition, MasterChef which, at that time,  was hosted by Loyd Grossman.     

I haven't cooked any recipes from the book, but it has earned a place on my bookshelves because one of the contestants is a fellow blogger.     

You may well already know her...    Lettice of Idle Thoughts.  

Over 2000 people applied to take part that year;  the judges tasted almost 350 dishes and travelled the length and breadth of the country in search of talented contestants.    Lettice sailed her way through the preliminaries with her usual style and panache.

She reached the regional heats for 'The North', I'm not quite sure of the geographical definitions for that one, but never mind.

Her menu:

Hot Smoked Wild Salmon Sauce on a Green Salad

*  *  *

Oxtail in Port with Root Vegetables and Hedgerow Jelly
Bubble and Squeak Parcels

*  *  *

Baked Bramleys with Cobnut Stuffing and Cardamom Custard

...described by the judges as being 
  "Gosh that's good"

Judges were John Harvey-Jones, Josceline Dimbleby and Loyd Grossman.

Lettice won the heat and went through to the semi-final.

Her menu:

Spinach and Anchovy Pate with Wholemeal Soldiers

*  *  *

Pheasant Pie with Potato Pastry
Creamed Butter Beans
Carrots flavoured with Caraway
Broccoli Puree

*  *  *

Lemon and Lavender Sorbet

 "A good experience"

Judges were Sue Lawley, Anton Edelmann and Loyd Grossman.

Once again, Lettice's food was judged to be the best and she won through to The Final.

Cream of Lime Soup with Coriander Croutons

*  *  *

Fillet of Beef with Cherry and Berry Sauce
Parsley Profiteroles with Horseradish Cream
Asparagus with Chive Butter
Mashed Eddoes

*  *  *

Carrot Tart with Ginger Sauce

*  *  *

..."An invention worth inventing"
 "The Beef and Horseradish Profiteroles need little else" 
 "Great looking rustic, honest pudding".

Judges were Richard Shepherd, Clement Freud and Loyd Grossman.

Lettice just lost out to another contestant this time.

If you happen to stumble across the book you will find a few more details about each of the contestants, their menus and all the recipes...and if you are puzzled because there is no one called Lettice in there ... well, the menu would give it away!

Who would have thought it?     Our delightfully crazy, flighty, dreamy extrovert bloggy friend is not only inordinately fond of question marks, but is also a tip-top cook?      There's lots more, but those stories are not mine to tell.

So when Lettice tells you that she has had the builders in, and that she has fed them, she won't just have made them a quick sandwich or fed them a manky shop-bought pork pie,  they will have been fed like royalty.   

Which leads me to wondering about the rest of you, your hidden talents and claims to fame...

Sunday 22 July 2018

Friends Sleeping Together

Scenes like this really gladden my heart.   A rescue semi-feral cat and a rescue dog cosying up together.      Toby Too with sparky Sparky.

Toby Too sharing a moment with Millie, another rescue cat.   Her favourite bed is my old wooden bowl, it's just big enough for one, but sometimes Toby Too just needs the reassurance of another creature, so he makes do with the floor.

Sometimes it is cats only.

Then again, even a dog can make himself cat-sized if the shooters are out and about and he needs his big sister to reassure him.

Grandson No 1 with my old Toby.   They went everywhere together.   Love.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Paradise with Aztecs

"Just make sure you get my best side" she said.   

I did what I could, given that she was feeling too hot to move.

Earlier in the day I had suddenly remembered a recipe which I had read and wanted to bake - the trouble was that that was a year or more ago.   I had filed it away in my head for future use, but couldn't remember which book it was in.        I scanned the shelves, eventually my brain cooperated enough to let me know that it was probably in an old Women's Institute book.

Me: "I have a dozen of those, I need more information."

Brain: "Leave it with me.   Don't pester.   I'm working on it."

Which was when I took the dog for a walk, let my thoughts ramble around the countryside.

My brain cooperated.   I 'saw' a colour,  then a glimpse of a wire spine.  Red book, wire spine.

I headed home, through the fields of golden barley.   

The book I sought was one of the old WI books gifted to me from the estate of my old friend, the village beekeeper.   It had belonged to his wife Hazel; she had been a nurse and midwife, then during her retirement years she taught riding for the disabled and also encouraged local children to learn to ride.    Back in the day when there was a real sense of community in the village.

This particular recipe had intrigued me because it came with instructions that it was not to be cut under 6 months of baking.      Which, if I have counted correctly, means that it won't be ready in time for Christmas, darn it.

I baked it anyway.   

Paradise Cake

It is just a large fruit cake, with a couple of slightly more exotic ingredients.

5 oz sugar
4 oz margarine + 1oz white fat
5 oz beaten egg
1/2 oz s.r. flour
5 1/2 oz plain flour
4 oz crystallised ginger
4 oz crystallised pineapple
4 oz cherries
4 oz citron peel
1/2 oz ground almonds
2 oz chopped walnuts
1lb sultanas                                              Recipe:  Moss and Fenwick WI 1957

Cream together the sugar and the fat, gradually add the beaten egg.   Add the flour, together with the remaining mixed ingredients and mix together lightly.    Bake at 360F for two hours and when cold wrap up and put into a tin for at least six months.   Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.

I'll let you know, in January/February or  maybe March...

Meanwhile, this is for Susan at e-i-e-i-omg blogspot  Aztec Coookies - chewy, full of good things.

This is a Sue Lawrence recipe, taken from her On Baking book. 

Aztec Cookies

170g/6oz walnuts, roughly chopped
284g/10 oz desiccated coconut
113g/4oz dried apricots (no-soak variety) roughly chopped
113g/4oz dark* chocolate, roughly chopped
1x397g/14oz tin of sweetened condensed milk

*The recipe calls for dark chocolate, chopped.   I use any variety, sometimes chopped or in chips.

Heat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas mark 3.

Roughly chop the apricots, chocolate and nuts.  Mix together in a large bowl and, using a wooden spoon, beat together until thoroughly mixed. 

Using two tablespoons, drop about 20 blobs of the mixture on to a buttered baking tray and gently flatten down the tops (I usually use a fork for this).

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.    Transfer at once to a wire rack to cool.

Packed with goodness and a little bit of naughtiness...

Thursday 19 July 2018

Blackmail by Email

Blackmail by malicious email. 

A couple of days ago my husband received an email from someone who claimed to have an explicit video of him.

The emailer addressed my husband by name, included a password he has used in the past, and meandered on to the real point of the exercise, which was to demand money.      He had 24 hours to pay, then after that the video would be sent to all my husband's contacts.

The blackmailer explained that the money should be sent by Bitcoin, and there followed a description of how one could obtain them.

Tick-tock.  Time is ticking. 

This is part of a new scam.     If you receive such an email do not respond to it.   Do not panic.

The police advise that you should change all online passwords and ensure that your computer security anti-malware and anti-virus software is up to date.

Do not pay a ransom.

Contact the police, or report it anonymously to Crimestoppers.

(Of course we all know this already,  but it is always worth a quick reminder!)

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Hot Stuff!

Up until a few days ago, Lincolnshire had basked in beautifully warm weather, not the baking hot temperatures which have toasted other parts of the country.    We were very happy.     

Then along came the humidity, plus a few degrees of extra heat, the air became heavy and moist - add to that all the tiny flies which come off the fields, when harvest begins, and things can begin to get a little unpleasant.

No point dwelling on the unpleasant though.      

At the weekend I took two of my grandchildren to one of the neighbouring villages,  they were holding their annual craft fair.

It was a hot, hot day, bright sunshine and deep, deep shadows.    Nothing stops these two though, race down the lane, turn at the arched red door...beautiful music is made behind that red door.  Seriously.     It is a recording studio.

Past charming old houses...

...down to the huge old rectory and on to the church.

This was taken earlier in the year, when they held their plant sale - always a brilliant place to pick up some bargains for the garden, including sweetpea seedlings.

The handsome church was built in the Georgian style in 1738, on the site of a larger building.

My granddaughter, aged six and a half, got the bargain of the century.    Some girls had set up a stall to raise funds for charity and were selling cakes, books, dvds, bric-a-brac, and Barbie things.     A Barbie palace, a coach, caravan, car, furniture, bits and bobs, plus several horses and goodness knows how many Barbie dolls.      The price?  £10 the lot.    

Luckily their mother was there, so we checked again - yes £10, for everything...would you like us to put them into bags?   (I imagine the subtext was please, take it all away, it has cluttered up my home for too long.)   Some Barbies have had a haircut, there are odd bits which are the worse for wear, but even so!

The girls may have had a small extra donation from Gran.  (Proceeds were for a very good cause.)

Back home, to a rapturous greeting from Toby Too, he was also feeling the heat but was still trying to get someone to kick a ball around with him.

The sweetpeas are coming in thick and fast now.   I was surprised to find that they are almost all hot and pink in colour, could have sworn I chose pale and ethereal this year!    I can't complain, they were a bargain.

Even when it is hot, people still want to eat - alas!    The cake tins were empty, so was the bread bin.

I made another batch of these - Aztec 'biscuits', surely one of the easiest recipes - just chopped apricots, walnuts, chocolate (I often use choc chips) and lots of dessicated coconut mixed with condensed milk and then baked for 20 minutes.

I don't eat them, but somehow they disappear at a rate of knots from the biscuit tin.    Husband and grandchildren find them irresistible.

I also made a batch of bread - I prefer sourdough, but this is milk bread, much softer and it also keeps well.

Today is a little cooler, which makes Toby happy.     The fields are looking ripe and ready, poppies everywhere, the smell of hot barley is in the air, even on an early morning walk.       

I'm not complaining, I like the kind of heat we have here (not the humidity) but I am glad that I don't have to work in it...and if I happen to nod off after lunch ... so what?