Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Let battle commence!

Glorious weekend weather meant only one thing: the first mowing of the lawn. Despite the fact that our lawn is largely moss and weeds, there were some straggly clumps of grass loosely embedded in the surrounding mud, so I got out my push mower. And promptly cursed it. The undulations of our lawn and the weird grass mix make mowing it a real chore, even if it does look considerably better afterwards. Much cursing, swearing, and sweating was involved; I really must remember that Sunday passers-by in the lane probably don't want to hear the fishwifely torrent of abuse that I aimed at the wretched mower and weeds.

Apparently, it's a lot less bovver with a hover, so it's off to B&Q (or another chain of DIY store) to get one at the weekend. Sod the environment.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I wish Blogger had Smellovision

One unexpected bonus of attending the talk was the half-time raffle. Once again, my small investment in a couple of tickets paid off, and I selected a set of gorgeously scented primrose plants. Over the past week, I've been planting them out in "junk" containers, as per my new book, "New Container Style" I'm rather pleased with my reuse of a couple of empty Vanish containers, a biodegradable bowl with a split in it, and two Tate & Lyle tins ... and so far, the plants seem pretty happy with their new homes. Or, at least, they haven't died. Yet.

I blame the farmers ... and Thatcher, of course

Off to the conservation group meeting on Tuesday for the AGM and a talk on the River Itchen, our local chalk river. Interesting stuff -- the nature of ephemeral pools, the ecological disaster that is the American crayfish and its destruction of the native English crayfish population in all but a few areas, and the challenges that rivers face in the UK. Unsurprisingly, farmers and fishermen are often to blame: the former ploughs massive fields in the wrong direction, causing huge amounts of topsoil (240 tons) to be washed into the river during heavy rainstorms; fishing clubs over-manicure the banks of rivers, so their members can pretend that they're actually fishing from their lawn; and fish-farms over-stock areas, causing an abundance of predators to turn up, seeking the riverside equivalent of KFC or a drive-thru Maccy D's. Let nature take its course was the message of the evening -- although that would also mean that two-thirds of Portsmouth and one-third of Southampton being under water in 50 years' time, pretty much everything up until the M27. No great loss, given the parlous state of the Southampton's football club and the new traffic jams occasioned by the opening of the new four-floor IKEA? Well, perhaps -- although it would also mean the loss of some large areas of (currently) freshwater wetlands and the M27 is pretty handy for getting about the south coast.

Most impressive, as with the barn owl presentation last autumn, is the passion that the presenters show for their topic. They may not be the most expert of PowerPoint slide creators -- as an editor, the multiple fonts and sizes had me sitting on my hands, feeling very tense -- but they live and breathe their particular area of expertise, working in the same field (or rivers, in this case) for 30 years. Sod the celebs and footballers; these are the real heroes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Kitchen woes and miracles

On Sunday, I broke my favorite knife. It was a small ceramic knife that I bought in Tokyo back in 2004 and oh so carefully imported back to the Netherlands. Sunday afternoon, I was using it to open a pack and it slipped from my grasp and broke on the floor. Ceramic knives: wonderful for chopping things, never go blunt, extremely easy to break. Boo!

"Suddenly, I'm not half the knife I used to be ..."

Monday evening, I managed to tear off part of the nail on my little finger with my vegetable peeler. I've cut into the nail bed and now have the fingertip wrapped in a rapidly greying plaster. Yes, it is painful.

On the plus side, however, I have achieved my goal of perfect mashed potato. Mash is my favorite food, bar none. When it's good, it's sublime; when bad, a lumpy waxy mess. The key is the potato ricer. On Saturday, I finally purchased one at the Steamer Trading cookware shop in Bournemouth, and I used it for the first time yesterday. Bliss! Ordinary boiled potatoes were quickly and easily transformed into a pile of riced potatoes; hot butter and milk were beaten in, generous amounts of salt and pepper added, and then the whole lot consumed within minutes. Fluffy gorgeous mash -- just like the Best. Mash. Ever. that is served at Quaglino's. Roll on a carb-tastic 2009! Potato ricers: You owe it to yourself to buy one. You won't regret it.

FYI, Steamer Trading was excellent; lots of stock, friendly staff. Of course, in retrospect, I really needed to go there on Monday, AFTER I'd broken my ceramic knife -- as they had a wide selection of them. Curses.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


It's not the most exciting vegetable to turn up in the veggie box, swede (or rutabaga, for my American friends). It's yellow, slightly watery in flavour, and generally lumpish. It makes a decent-enough addition to a stew, helping to bulk it out, or can be made into a reasonable mash, with a generous dose of cream and butter, but apart from that? It's just swede.

Until now.

Last night, I opted for my fail-safe method of treating anything bland (e.g., tofu, fish, potatoes) and boiled some slices till tender, coated them in egg and spiced breadcrumbs and then deep-fried them till crispy. Served alongside some coconut rice and leftover Asian-inspired coleslaw, it was SWEDE!!! Wonderful, wonderful swede!

Stick to the roads, lads!

A beautiful spring day; a walk in the countryside; an encounter with some furry beasts — some cute ...

Others slightly more scary.

In fact, the bullocks looked harmless enough, sans horns, but we decided not to chance walking through their field -- largely because we weren't entirely sure where the path ended up. Dangerous place, the countryside.