Tuesday 12 February 2019

Up and running

Not me, darlings, my other blog.  I just couldn't face dealing with it yesterday, though I had plenty of time.  I had a sense of despair at the thought of it.  I'd perked up by the evening however, so looked up the details and cracked on with it this morning.  It took quite some time with a helpful chap in IT support on the host website and now I've got a much better deal for less money.  He tried to point me in the right direction to set that up myself, but I knew that wasn't going to happen and pleaded uselessness.  Just as well I did because, it turned out, there was a fault after all and he had to disable *something or other* to get the blog back.

I appreciate this stalwart old blog, though, and was glad to use it.  So I'll double-post sometimes, for the benefit of those who prefer to come here.  The 'official' site is, again, razorbladeoflife.co.uk, all the same.

Thanks to you kind people for leaving comments while I've been here.

Monday 11 February 2019

As the Bard said, what's .......

I can't now remember why, at dinner, Tim told me the Italian for onion.  I was intrigued though, because it's nothing like the French, which the English is derived from.  I looked it up in several different languages and I'm still puzzled.  It seems that both the Spanish/Italian/Portugese/Romanian come from the Latin, but so does the French, from a completely different word.

Time was, I'd have done all the research and discovered what I wanted to know.  Now, I'm not sure I can be bothered.  I will remain intrigued, without quite enough zest to mind.

We were talking about names, too.  I know several people who've chosen to change their name, for one reason or another.  Brenda was 70 years old when she finally decided to change to Zella and, such was the strength of her personality, no one ever called her Brenda again.  Sophie was called so by her husband-to-be, who mistook what her name actually was (not his fault) and said that Sophie suited her far more than Janet, and so it does.  Dorothy changed to Jane because Dot rhymed with Stott and she'd been teased for too many years - her mother (and Sophie's) never accepted it though, so which you called her depended on which side of the family you knew better.

Most people seem not greatly to like their given name.  I liked mine, growing up, because of the Z, mostly.  I enjoyed the slash - slash - slash of the Z, like Zorro (I was a child addicted to television, so have always been tolerant of computer games and so on), I liked the ë diaeresis, that the name was a Greek word, that it was distinctive and I didn't mind too much that no one knew how to pronounce or spell it, if they could remember it at all.  I quite happily answered to Snowy, Suzie, Zo or anything else, and still do.  Indeed, my friend Sophie and I were quite used, as adults, to answering to each others' name.

I really do call my sister Wink, or Winkie.  But her name is Melanie, though she's usually known as Mel nowadays.  Why she's Wink is quite another story, however.

Thursday 7 February 2019


Wince, our gardener, is such a nice man.  He's worked here for nearly six years, having been at the same job from the age of 15 until 60, when he was made redundant because the business closed.  He didn't want to look for another job, so decided to do odd jobs - just what we needed.

He rescued me, many years ago, when I fell into the icy river and, though I could stand, couldn't get out, and we'd always passed the time of day (what an odd expression, but you know what I mean).  He always lived at home with his parents, then his mum, never married, though he has got a girlfriend   and now he lives alone since his mother died a few months ago.  He's very interested in nature, conservation, photography, engineering and music, but it's not easy to know him well, he's quite self-contained.

He was such a help to me after Russell died.  I'd been really struggling to keep the garden going - mostly, the grass cut - for several years but, even though I thought I'd sell and move on, I didn't want the place I'd lived happily for nearly thirty years to be neglected.  So I bought some new equipment and Wince was very pleased with it.  He isn't as much of a gardener as I (theoretically) am, to tell the truth, and has sometimes dug up choice plants when he is carried away with the weeding, but that's accidental.

When he arrives on a Thursday morning, he wants to know if I have a Plan, and professes to be disappointed if I haven't.  I can usually tell what he has in mind, though, because he brings a wheelbarrow with any tools that I don't have and he does - today, it was a hedge trimmer because Rose had some tidying up in mind and Wince correctly surmised that I didn't have many jobs for him.  Often, I've mentioned two or three things that need doing, sometime in the next few weeks at his convenience, and he's done them all by the end of the day.  He just never stops.  Today, having done the pruning and tidying that Rose needed, it suddenly poured with rain - so he took himself off to the barn and split logs until the rain stopped.  Then he said he'd finished an hour early, so wouldn't take a full day's money.  As I said, such a nice man.

Wednesday 6 February 2019

Food, glorious...

LX and Vagabonde have triggered more thoughts of proper English food - how could I not have mentioned scones?  British scones, not American ones, which are more like our drop scones, I think.  Simply butter rubbed into flour with a little sugar and mixed into a dough with milk.  You can add an egg and you can add some raisins or sultanas, but you don't have to.  Gently roll or pat it out, not too thin, cut into rounds with a cutter or simply divide into pieces with a knife, put on a baking sheet and into a hot oven for ten minutes or so, while you put jam and whipped cream or butter into dishes and make tea.  Simply perfect.

We love our cakes, the traditional English cooks.  They tend to be variations on a theme - whisked sponge cakes, either baked in a round tin or in a flat rectangular one, when the filling is spread on and they're rolled into a Swiss roll; or else creamed butter and sugar, egg added, then flour, with whatever flavourings you want.  The tradition is to cook in two shallow round trays, as a Victoria sandwich (you can sandwich with fruit and cream or butter icing) - but it was much this mixture that I steamed into a sponge pudding.  We loved fruit cakes, as everyday or rich as we wanted - I don't often make cakes, but when I do, the simplest is a boiled fruit cake, where you put the butter, sugar, dried fruit and some water in a pan, simmer it for a while, then cool and add eggs and flour, then bake.  There are pound cakes, Dundee cakes, Simnel cakes, gingerbread, parkin - parkin is a fabulous one, made with oatmeal - lemon drizzle, chocolate sponge, coffee and walnut ... it's a wonder we're not all fat.

Oh.  So we are.

We like preserves, too.  Do other countries make chutney?  I don't know if they do, to the same extent.  I've had mango chutney in India and some very spicy pickles.  Tim and I had pickled walnuts with our pâté and cheese for lunch.  I've never made them, because you have to have a walnut tree so that you can pick the walnuts when they're very young, before the shells have started to harden.  My father loved pickled walnuts but I didn't eat them for years, until I noticed a jar in the local deli.  Now, I buy them until they've sold out that season's produce.  Piccalilli (sp?) is one that I've never seen in another country.  I've not made that either, but it's mixed vegetables in spiced vinegar with the addition of turmeric, basically, I think.  My mother didn't make preserves generally, except pickled red cabbage.  I've not found the perfect red cabbage yet.  I made some, but I'd had to get a commercial mix of pickling spices and it had too much chilli in, it was wrongly proportioned and wasn't a great success.  We do make quite a range of chutneys and pickles, though.

I mentioned toad in the hole - the same batter is used to make Yorkhire pudding, which is so delicious that a lot of people nowadays eat it with any roast meat.  Correctly, it only goes with roast beef and is made in one big tin, not individual ones.  But hey.  Whatever anyone likes.

What I do love is a fresh seasonal vegetable.  I won't buy imported asparagus.  If served it, I wouldn't refuse to eat it, but it's one of the few things that, as far as I'm concerned, has to be locally grown and in season for me to buy it.  It's a traditional Norfolk crop, which is just as well.  I was telling Tin the other day about a meal I cooked in May or early June, coming up to 16 years ago.  I bought a whole fish from the fishmonger - I'm not sure if there were three or four of us, but it was big enough for the family and I baked it whole, seasoned with home-grown herbs.  I had dug up the first new potatoes, picked the first peas and some broad beans.  Everything was fresh and seasonal and simply cooked.  It was immensely special, as meals go, for that reason, and we all enjoyed it.  But, looking around, I realised that no one in my family knew why it was so special.  First potatoes and peas, all homegrown herbs and veg, perfectly simple fish, perfectly cooked - the only person I knew who would have felt exactly the same as I did was my mother, and she'd died in March.  

Tuesday 5 February 2019

Glorious food

I still haven't sorted out my other blog.  I've probably lost half my lovely readers, who've stuck with me all these years and I'm sorry.  But it's rising to the top of the list, that job, as long as nothing more pressing happens tomorrow.

Tonight, we had kippers and roast potatoes for supper.  I remember my mother being a bit shocked, when she accidentally called on our neighbours, back in about 1964, at about 6 o'clock, and found them tucking into their evening kippers.  They were a breakfast dish, as far as she was concerned, possibly lunch at a pinch, but not appropriate for the evening meal.  I reckon that kippers are suitable at pretty well any time of day, though.  There's a saying somewhere that a British breakfast is just about right at any time of the day, and I'd certainly go along with that.

LT and I were talking about typically English - moving away from the whole UK as we're both English - dishes, the other day.  Roast beef, obviously, and actually roast any meat, including game.  Also fish - fried fish in batter and chips, grilled sole, kippers and bloaters, fried roes, they're all straightforward food for people who like to see what they're getting.  Whitebait.  Herring in all its forms - two of which, maybe three, I've mentioned already.  Cabbage.  Carrots.  Good honest bread and home made puddings, such as suet puddings, sponge puddings, rice puddings, syllabub and trifle.  Tim and I slightly disagreed about macaroni cheese - I said that macaroni has certainly been used in this country for over 500 years, so it counts, but he reckons it's very similar to meals in Italy and other countries; which I don't think matters - but there we go, let's compromise on cauliflower cheese.  Pan haggerty and lobscouse and bubble and squeak.  Liver and bacon - bacon, actually, the proper stuff.  Black pudding, tripe and onions, kidneys and other offal.  I've never eaten lights - lungs - though I cooked them for my dog, who adored them.  Shellfish - oysters, mussels, winkles and so on. Broad beans (fava beans, darlings) and fresh green peas.  Potted meat, sausages - how could I have taken so long to mention sausages?  Toad in the hole.  Steak and kidney pie.  Steak and kidney pudding.  Pork pie.  Stilton cheese, Wensleydale, Cheshire, Cheddar, all the delicious regional cheeses that guarantee I can't become vegan.  And eggs.  Fried, poached, scrambled, coddled (does anyone coddle an egg nowadays?  I don't), meringued - ooh, proper puddings can take another sentence.  Queen of puddings, Eve's pudding, burnt cream (yeah, there's crème brûlée but we share with our French cousins), apple pie, apple crumble, rhubarb fool, strawberries and cream, baked apple, gooseberry tart.....

Having said all that, our cookery is inspired from all over the world.  Why should it not be?  Sometimes I decide, or Tim decides, to be inspired by a single country, but mostly we're all over the place, in a good cause.  If it's good, we'll cook it and we'll eat it.  

Monday 4 February 2019

The darling dozen come for lunch

The whole family came to Sunday lunch, which went very well.  Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding etc, followed by Proper Steamed Sponge Puddings and custard.  As traditional English as you can get.  Jam sponge and chocolate sponge, and almost everyone had a little bit of both.

Later, I went and played on the Ups and Downs with Zerlina, Gus and Rufus and, after they had all gone home, I was tired out.  I had a bath and came down again and couldn't really stay awake.  Asked if I was hungry, I had to say I'd rather go straight to bed, which I did before 8.30 in the evening.  The cooking did take a lot of effort, but I swung into action with energy and good cheer (the potatoes just didn't want to roast and I had to fry them into crispness in the end) and I was vastly grateful that LT took over all the jobs that weren't actual cooking - including hoovering, sorting out drinks, tidying, lighting fires ... honestly, he just cracked on and took all the burden - but, though I wasn't at all tired all day, I just unravelled by 7 o'clock.  I'm old, darlings.  I don't mind being old, I've always had a good many older friends and I've always appreciated them, but it can be a bit disconcerting to feel the age one actually is.

Anyway, the Baby Belling cooker not having quite come up to scratch in terms of potato roasting, I've ordered a new table-top cooker.  Splendid as the Aga is, I can't fit everything in and it's occasionally useful to have something else - and, in the summer, I aim to turn the Aga off altogether.  I've also, recently, bought a new, useful toy - I have nowhere in the house to dry more than a small amount of washing.  If the weather isn't suitable to dry everything outdoors, it has to go in the tumble drier.  But I found a firm that makes two-tier racks to sit on top of the Aga, plus an extra rail in front and - though it was expensive - I bought them all and they actually are very good.  It's a bit of a faff to carefully fold each item and lay it on top, but I haven't used the tumble drier this year yet.  

Friday 1 February 2019

Z's week. Or Z's weak, possibly, who knows?

Sorry to say that a week has gone by and I've done nothing about the other blog.  I limit the stuff I deal with in a day, and it wasn't top of the list on any of them.  It's a nuisance, and sometimes frustrating, but the only way I can plod through things without getting overwhelmed.  Next week, I'm sure.

I typed out a list of 28 lots for the next auction today - it's not until October, but I've got more than half the lots booked in already, as well as a couple of potential new buyers.  I'm not sure how long I'll carry on with the sales - I do them out of nostalgia and friendship, mostly - the work involved is not so very arduous but it does take quite a lot of time, for what that's worth.  I'll plod on year to year, for the time being.

The family is coming to lunch on Sunday - it'll be my Christmas menu of roast rib of beef etc; it having been the first time we've been all together since then.  When we went to the butcher today, he'd had a run on ribs of beef, which was a bit alarming.  I was busy planning an alternative, but he kindly went and phoned the wholesaler, who can put in an extra delivery tomorrow morning.  One of the good things about local shopping.

Actually, the proprietor of the butchery died suddenly a couple of weeks ago, of an aneurism. It was sudden.  He was very involved in local affairs; having been on the council, a former Mayor, Town Reeve, he raised a lot of money for charities and catered at many local events.  His is the last butchery in the town, so we hope his wife will decide to keep the shop going.  There are two other butchers and an assistant there, and we think she will.  A couple of farm shops, which do their own wild boar and goat, some game and chicken, but not everything, there is certainly scope for a butcher.

We are quite lucky for food shops in Yagnub.  There's a fishmonger, whole food shop, deli and greengrocer within a few yards of each other.  There are also a good many places to eat out.  Our favourite opened again today, having been closed during January so any refurbishment can be done and the owners have a break.  So we hot-footed it down there for lunch.  Which was splendid.