Archive for August, 2010


Relish

So the mango chutney was actually full of win when served with pork, especially in a sandwich the following day. It was so good, in fact, that S- claimed a jar to keep for us – something that never happens.

I highly recommend.

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Mango mango

We had some friends round this weekend for a barbecue on Saturday night. Debauchery naturally followed in the form of homemade schnapps, however that isn’t the point of my tale.

As a ‘thank you for having us’ present, we were given a box of perfectly ripe mangos from the London fruit market and some Indian sweet delicacies. Despite the fact I’m not the world’s biggest mango fan, this is possibly the best gift anyone could have given me. As a non-native fruit, I tend to avoid mango – well, not avoid per se – because I’m not sure of its season, or what I can do with it other than slice it into chunks and nom. Having a new, shiny ingredient to play with has been brilliant, especially in such large amounts.

So I dutifully turned to my old friend google and decided on mango chutney with apples (as they’re in season now) and chilli (which is growing in my garden. I also attempted my first sorbet in the ice-cream maker, something I’m very much looking forward to because it came out perfectly. The chutney, on the other hand, was less so.

For some reason, the recipe called for a painful quantity of vinegar – which I dutifully added – and I think that as a result, the pectin in the apples struggled slightly to set the mixture. In the end, I started grabbing any old fruit from around the kitchen, including raisins and the juice of a lemon, in the hope it would set the pickle.

This worked, to an extent, though without accompaniment, the chutney is still too tart for my tastes. I will be trying it with pork tonight though, so will report back on my progress. If anyone is interested in the recipe I used, it is on the BBC good food website.

Normally, an unsuccessful pickling attempt would put me in a foul mood automatically. ‘Luckily’ though, the worst possible thing happened this morning which put my mediocre chutney into perspective.

The kettle died.

People say that everyone has some kind of crutch, for when the world gets too hard. A hot, leaf-based beverage is certainly mine. We do have a back-up kettle for the hob, which is something of a relief, however it takes forever to boil and for some reason, tea never tastes quite right from it. C’est la vie. Mum is kindly donating a spare kettle in due course, so for the moment, I will be frequenting the local pub for non-alcoholic drinky-poos.

Nature Abhors

In gardening, nature gets pretty angry when you plant the same crop in the same place for too many years in a row. That’s why we end up with things like tomato blight, and why our ancestors developed the rotational crop system. Different vegetables take and return different things to the soil, meaning that over time the earth becomes saturated with some nutrients and totally deficient in others. That is, unless we change our crops regularly.

It sounds odd, but I’m starting to wonder whether the same thing applies to hospitals. The one I work in is a rather new construction, but statistics show that though it was built on the principles Florence Nightingale set down, the outbreaks of MRSA and c.diff are significantly less than in older – equally Nightingaled – buildings. Logically, I can’t see why it would make a difference – we transport waste off site, the place is well-ventilated and we’re not taking anything from the earth in that particular place*. Still, is there something about having so many sick, dying people in one small area for such a long time which nature detests? I guess no matter how well you clean something, you’re always going to miss some kind of bug, and because wards are specialised you tend to get a lot of the same viruses in the same place. Is our health service just badly gardening diseases?

I digress, though.

Work is starting to get to me now. I still love the job, but I’m finding it harder and harder to put distance between myself and the work at the end of each day. In the bleakest possible terms, it’s like being haunted by all the things you couldn’t do. Despite the fact I’m going to do my nurses training next year – which will allow me to offer more help than, ‘I’ll get another blanket/bed-pan/wheelchair/nurse/doctor/priest’ – I know it won’t be enough. I’m not God. I can’t make it all better with a wave of the hand and of all the hard lessons my post has taught me, this is the hardest. People are going to hurt, going to die, in spite of my – and everyone else’s – best efforts. Even though I know it isn’t true, right now it just feels as though every day is a big fat fail. I need to start forcing myself to see the positives, rather than the things I have no control over. Learning how to do that though – well, it’s going to be tough. I hope I’m strong enough to stick it out.

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*Even the laundry is done off-site.

Revelation!

Taking a digestive and adding a slice of white Stilton with mango tastes exactly like cheesecake!

Ahem. In other news… The interview yesterday went well enough, and I got a call from the post-wheel-change job. Whilst they were unable to get the funding to train me to a level they needed, they very much wanted me on the ward and so are keeping my application and will contact me directly if a job becomes available. It’s a success of sorts, though no x-ray induced super-powers for me yet.

I had an awesome cooking day when I got in too. I made muesli for S-, though rather disappointingly it didn’t go down all that well. Despite being raw it apparently has the consistency of porridge. Anyhow, I also made a dark-meat sauce for the Christmas hampers – bramble, plum and cinnamon – some real Mexican tortillas, a chicken and bean filling and finally some stracciatella ice cream. Today’s offering of chicken pie seems rather modest in comparison. No matter though, it should be tasty enough. I need to sort myself some pea and ham soup for lunch too, so maybe when I’ve finished that I’ll feel a bit less like a cheaty cook.

When Friday rolls around I’m going to be all about the lavender short-bread, humus and falafel – though obviously not at the same time! Can’t wait!

Another day, another rant

Last night I stayed up late, planning what to plant in my garden. I drew up a list of things that me and the bees would like to eat and based all the new sections on rotary crop systems and companion gardening. I even incorporated a fertiliser crop of comfrey in order to make use of the otherwise dead space beneath the trees. I was very excited.

Of course, the following day we get a letter through saying that our rent is due to go up. Don’t get me wrong, I know people have got to make a living, and I know that we’ve just had our bathroom fixed, but it’s hardly fair that a watertight room which should have been habitable in the first place constitutes increased rent.

I want to stay here. I mean, I really want to stay here, but what if we could get a mortgage with cheaper monthly payments? Suddenly the house doesn’t feel like mine any more and I find myself clicking on estate agent websites. I don’t suppose it’s about the money at the end of the day, it’s just a reminder that this wonderful field and the hedgerows around are all transient. Everything is though, right? Maybe this wonderfully idyllic part of our lives isn’t meant to last.

In other news, I filtered off the first bottle of our very own homemade schnapps today.

No one else had a hand in making this lavender concoction, so I’m more than a little proud of how it’s turned out. Well, aesthetically anyways. I filtered it out at 9am this morning so couldn’t bring myself to try any. It smells clean and heavily perfumed though – reminds me of fresh washing. I’d expected something purple, but I really love the amber colour and look forward to trying it – as the book suggests – ‘diluted’ with champagne.

I also shelled some walnuts, however didn’t realise that the innocent-looking green husks create an immovable black dye. My fingers now look like I’ve dunked them in a vat of filthy engine oil. Coincidentally, I have another job interview today. Neat bleach won’t remove this much though – I’ll just have to hide my thumbs somehow.

Easy. One hour.

Umm…. no. Not easy. And definitely not one hour.

Early this morning I began sewing together the pre-cut pieces of New Look’s 6347th pattern. The envelope claimed that within one hour, I too could be wearing a slim, figure-skimming strappy dress.

Truth be told, I’m not really sure what went wrong. I don’t know whether the previous evening’s debauchery and numerous carnation chicken vol-au-vents caught up with me, or whether my sewing machine is actually the devil incarnate. Either way, after five hours of hard labour, I finally had a messy version of the dress on the pattern envelope.

This is the thing I am least proud of having sewn to date. However, it was always supposed to be a functional, comforting sort of dress, rather than one to go out in and in that respect it really serves its purpose. I have never worn a softer fabric and I am sure that had I made the correct size to begin with that the heavy knit would hang beautifully.

Slightly more successful have been my new attempts at schnapps. I actually bothered to read the book we have about the different kinds you can make – something I’ve been putting off because it’s in Danish – and have now got some lavender and elderberry stewing in the kitchen.

The rest of today will be claimed by a roast chicken and some windfall fruit which needs to become jam. I feel it’s a profitable way to spend a Sunday afternoon…

Potentilla Erecta

Don’t you just love latin plant names?

The curious little flower called the Potentilla Erecta – sniggering at this point is acceptable, if not mandatory – is an amazing thing. Also known as bloodroot, the yellow flowers ooze a deep, red juice when squeezed. When dissolved in alcohol for a month, they imbue an incredibly pretty crimson colour and make me a very happy lady.

Schnapps from Potentilla Erecta

Not (just) because I’m squiffy, I might add. The beautiful liquid in the picture is blood-root schnapps, made from these humble wild-flowers. It’s one of the many things I’ve been making from produce found around the hedgerows of my lovely field.

It was S-‘s father who put this particular concoction together, but rest assured that when nettle season comes again, I will have found yet another use for my favourite plant. And armed with the book Mum gave me about wild foods, I think the next few weeks stand to be rather plentiful and interesting. I’m already enjoying windfall apples from over the garden wall next door, walnuts from my very own walnut tree and some cherry plums from the village hedgerows. The brambles and elderberries are coming through now too, so I’m excited to pick those for jams, schnapps and crumbles.

Cherry plums, windfall apples and elderberries

Of course, reading this, everyone will now know what they’re getting for Christmas.

Speaking of gifts, I’ve been sewing baby clothes recently because S-‘s brother is waiting on his second child. I’ve made a little sun hat and a matching dress, though I’m told it’ll be far too big for a new-born. I’ve only seen two baby-babies in my life to date though, so that’s my excuse. Anyway, children grow.

If you’re interested in having a go, these are the patterns i used:

Hooray for the interwebs! Somewhere online, someone is bound to know how to do the thing that you want to do!

Cyclists

Apparently, it’s perfectly acceptable to drive my vehicle down a regular road, side by side with another so we can talk. It’s also perfectly acceptable to push said vehicle through a crossing when there’s a red light as long as I’m not in it. The best thing though, is that when there’s traffic, I can just mount the pavement, honk my horn and scatter pedestrians until I’m free of it all.

Oh wait, I can’t. I’m not a cyclist.

It’s not a case of sour grapes – I’m prepared to sit in my Micra in traffic because it’s a damn sight better than getting chatted up by the fen-folk on the bus.  I just hate how those self-righteous cycling gits seem to think that because their vehicles aren’t spewing out exhaust that they can ignore the highway code and do whatever the crap they like. If I ever find out I only have a day to live, not only am I going to honk my horn while the horses are crossing in Newmarket, but I’m also going to spend the day acting like a cyclist in my car. Let’s see how long it takes me to get arrested for driving in the dark without lights on…

*Twitch*.

Spares

So there we were, curving nicely round the rotary traffic system in front of the hospital. We pulled off, nice and controlled and S- flicked on the indicator to pull over. Husband misjudged the distance though, skimming the curb with his front tyre. A loud, gunshot-bang followed, and gingerly I set foot outside.

Barely audible over the rush of the morning traffic, I was only just able to hear the distinct and dreadful hiss of air escaping. The tyre on the near-side wheel was no more.

Thinking fast, we whacked the car out of gear, pushing the wounded Polo off the grass bank while there was still a little air in the tyre. We made it to a concrete drive-way entrance and set about rectifying the damage as best we could.

After much swearing, we were finally able to free the jack and spare wheel from Volkswagen’s all-too-well-designed prison and employ them to our advantage. After the mechanism holding the wheel in place, the hub-cap caused the most difficulty, requiring a combination of a small wire key and brute force before we could get to the necessary bolts.

But time was not on my side. Hands covered in a thick layer of car, I left Husband to finish the job as I had an interview in the hospital.

Despite the fact I’ve been working there for 3 months now, I had no idea where I was going and stumbled through the corridors with distressed eyes on my oily hands until someone kindly pointed me in the direction of A&E*. I followed their advice, despite the fact I needed the x-ray department, simply because I didn’t know what else to do. Happily, my sojourn meant I stumbled on a sink. Leaving a grey line around the basin, I set off again, following the ever-illusive signs to my destination.

When I finally did find the reception I was meant to find, the interview went well. I got a few laughs from the panel and didn’t embarrass myself too terribly. Or so I thought. Arriving home, I nipped into the toilet, only to be confronted by a soft grey smear on my cheek and the ghost of tyre-tread on my left shoulder.

Before discovering my somewhat dishevelled appearance though, I nipped into town to check out the haberdashery in John Lewis and almost lost the entire of my bank-balance to a pair of Levi 501s. I’m not normally a brand-conscious sort of person – I’m still wearing clothes I bought when I was 13, afterall – but something about these jeans made me want them more than I’ve wanted anything in a long time. Perhaps it was the 28 inch waist, rather than my previous pair of jeans which sported the number 34… Thankfully, I managed to resist until getting home when I saw the exact same pair on ebay, second-hand, for £2.99, rather than the store’s £80.

The plan this afternoon is to clean up the house, sew a peg-bag which won’t drop to bits like the current one, and generally get the place looking a bit presentable. It’s a fairly tall order for one woman, but I shall try anyway. Mostly it’s an excuse to whack the stereo on full, blasting cheesy 90s rock.

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*Accident and Emergency, the equivalent to ER for my friends across The Pond.

More sewing

I’ve been sewing again, and am not set to stop for a good long while. I’m trying to find a good pattern/model for a cooking dress, I need to get myself into gear to make a bat-wing, draw-string dress for mum, not to mention two skirts for myself*.

So here, for your viewing pleasure, are my latest creations. The first is a simple pleated skirt, made for a friend, and the second is an apron created for www.cakesbymisti.co.uk

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* One with cars on, and one with retro Sonic the Hedgehog.