Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Vichyssoise Soup (a.k.a. Leek, Onion & Potato Soup)

4 large leeks, washed, split lenghthways and sliced finely
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced into small pieces
2 oz butter
1.5 pints vegetable stock
0.5 pint milk
salt & pepper

To garnish
1.5 tbsps chopped chives or parsley
2 tblsps cream or creme fraiche
  1. In a large, thick based saucepan gently melt the butter. Add the leeks, potatoes and onion, stirring well so that they all get covered by the melted butter. Season with salt and butter. Put the lid on the saucepan and sweat the vegetables over a very gentle heat for about 15 minutes.
  2. Add the stock and milk, bring to simmering point and simmer gently for 20 minutes until the vegetables are cooked. )Be careful not to have the heat too high or the milk will boil over.)
  3. Cool the mixture slightly then puree it, either with a hand blender or in a liquidiser or food processor.
  4. Add garnish to serve

This soup can either be served hot (Leek, potato and onion Soup) or cold (Vichyssoise Soup). Either is delicious.

This recipe originally came from Delia Smith's book on Soup, although I've made it so often I think of it as my recipe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Up to London yesterday to buy some curtain fabric. I've just started a Soft Furnishing Workshop and last Wednesday evening was my first class. Following that I had to think what project to start off with and after some pondering decided that I would make some curtains for the main bedroom. This room has one wall with a window alongst a door that leads onto the patio at the back plus another (ordinary sized) window at right angles to it on another wall. I decided to make one set of ordinary sized curtains, plus a second set which would run from all along the back wall of the room right down to the floor. So I knew I would need a fair bit of fabric. The place to find the best selection is, of course, the John Lewis store in Oxford Street and so it was to there that the Husband and I set out.

After spending a fair amount of time looking around I decided on a curtain fabric with a pattern of lilac and light purple Iris flowers on a white background. How much yarn? 17.5 metres in all, plus the same length of lining fabric and the Header tape. When we set off for London the Husband was saying pessimistically "this lot is going to weigh a ton to get home". Fortunately I was offered the shop's delivery service, which I accepted. This was for delivery within 24 hours. OK, that was yesterday morning and at 7.00 pm today day the delivery has yet to arrive. I am not too worried, however. The class is not until Wednesday evening. If the parcel does not arrive by early afternoon I'll just pop down the road to the shops and pick up a metre of fabric, and accessories, and spend the evening at the workshop practicing making a cushion cover "professionally" (obviously I know how to run one up in a "home made" fashion).

What I don't understand is why curtain/furnishing fabric is becoming so difficult to find. The shops that used to sell it are still around - they just sell only ready-made curtains instead. That's why we went up to John Lewis, although their second floor used to be full of furnishing fabric and now has areas which sell ready-made curtains and other furnishing items. Obviously soft furnishing as a craft is dying out, probably because many just don't have to time to make their own curtains, cushions etc.

The Husband had his own agenda for going with me. He also started an adult education class last week - one in Interior Design on Thursday mornings. He is not deterred at being the only male in the class. Anyway, as a piece of homework they were given a black and white picture of a bedroom and asked to suggest colours to be used. He has really thrown himself enthusiastically into the challenge. I estimate that, compared to the amount of time I spent deciding what what sort of curtain fabric to buy, we must have spent at least four times as long looking at paints, curtain fabric ( a 20 cm sample was purchased), bedlinen (pictures of which I later had to download from the store's website and print off for him) and carpets (he got a free sample of his final choice). If he plans to do this for the rest of the 30 classes he can go up to London on his own. It was exhausting. (And what made it doubly trying is that looking at the samples this morning in daylight he has decided that they don't really match as well as he thought.)

Anyway, we were both shattered today and so we've taken things a bit easy. This means that he decided to burn a few CDs of collections of music, where all the songs are ones he would want to listen to at the same time, like us all most pop CDs have one or two songs you want to listen to a lot, compared to the rest that you only want to listen to occasionally (if at all)He has a fair number of CDs of pop music (although not as many as the 3,000 or so that he has of classical music). So, I've been unable to get near the computer all day until now, and have had to move piles of CDs off the computer table so that I could reach the keyboard.

One infuriating thing was that he wanted to buy a piece of music from iTunes, namely "Crying in the Rain" by Art Garfunkle and James Taylor (?). When I tried to buy this from iTunes they refused to sell it because it was "only available from their US store". Whatever happened to the World Wide Web?

Housework this morning and both cats promptly ran away from the vacuum cleaner. I wouldn't mind but if I'm out in the garden with the lawnmower they run towards me and I have to chase them away. They clearly don't understand which is the most dangerous machine.

I am exasperated about cuttings. The ones I took from a root cutting of my Chocolate mint plant are beginning to show and look really healthy. However, the ones from the French Tarragon have just died. Guess what? The Mint is hardy, the Tarragon - not at all. With our bad winter frosts the likelihood of it surviving outside is very small. SIGH

Sunday, September 25, 2005

You Should Be Attentive Today

Do not go after the past,
Nor lose yourself in the future.
For the past no longer exists,
And the future is not yet here.
By looking deeply at things just as they are,
In this moment, here and now,
The seeker lives calmly and freely.
You should be attentive today,
For waiting until tomorrow is too late.
Death can come and take us by surprise--
How can we gainsay it?
The one who knows
How to live attentively
Night and day
Is the one who knows
The best way to be independent.

from the Bhaddekaratta Sutra

And something I need to remind myself regularly.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Art and Confidence

There was an article in The Times newspaper earlier this week which really made me think. It was written by Grayson Perry who recently started a weekly column in the paper's Arts section. In 2003 Grayson Perry won the Turner Prize, the UK’s premier modern art prize. At the time there was a lot of publicity about him winning the Turner prize (but that this publicity was aimed much more at the pink frock that Mr Perry wore to the award ceremony rather than his skills as a potter). Anyway, his columns in The Times are really thought provoking, the one this week is a case in point.

He was discussing the fact that so many people seem to rely on others to tell them what is actually going on, and especially what is beautiful and significant, as they lack the confidence to make up their own minds and to express their own views to the real world. He has a real point. Many seem to prefer to allow “experts” to tell them whether or not, for example, a picture or other work of art is a work of a genius or just a pedestrian work not worthy of real attention. Why can’t people make up their own minds? The answer? They do not have the confidence of their own opinions because they think that if they don’t make sure that what they are admiring is considered by “experts” to be a masterpiece then they are demonstrating their own “ignorance”. But why? The point is that personal views on what is beautiful, ugly or just striking are entirely subjective and will differ from person to person. The picture that you find as beautiful may well be different from the picture that I find really “speaks” to me. Even if you are a real expert at art and know what you are looking at your opinion does not make my own personal choice of art invalid. Surely the only thing that matters is the amount of enjoyment I feel when walking, for example, around an art gallery and find certain pictures that give me pleasure when I look at them.

I am not educated at all in art. But, to paraphrase the ultimate clichĂ©, I do try to look at what gives me pleasure. One thing that just makes me smile however is a trip the Husband and I made to the National Gallery in London last year for an exhibition of pictures and drawings by Raphael. In the exhibition was one picture by Raphael’s father Giovanni Santi. Both of us really admired this picture and spent quite a bit of time looking at it. Interestingly Kenneth Clark, in his masterpiece television series “Civilisation”, describes Santi as a second rate painter. Ha! I have absolutely no intention of withdrawing my own personal opinion of that picture.

It is an odd thing. I lack self-confidence in many ways, especially socially, But where art is concerned I do know what I like.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Decision is Made

Since I wrote the last entry (below) I have been considering the situation of how to highlight the recipes that I've posted in this Blog. This consideration has been about the most I have been able to do as I have been felled by a virus thing that has been doing the rounds in this area. I suspect that I've got it as my immune system is still a little wonky due to the shingles (will it EVER go away?). So, I've been feeling more than a bit achy and weary and have been able to spend only short amounts of time at the computer. Once I made my decision I took short periods of time to set up another Blog called Moment after Moment - the Recipes. This is where I will be posting the recipes that were originally posted here.

I will still be posting recipes here first in the future because cooking is to me an integral part of life. Come to that eating is essential to us all and find it baffling that some people (and I'm speaking generically here and not pointing a finger at any specific person) do not find food and its preparation and cooking really interesting.

I could have accepted a friend's offer to allow me to post my recipes in their cooking Blog (thank you CopCar) but decided that I would prefer my own space, where I can take full responsibility for everything that goes on. Also, to repeat what I have said before in this Blog, there are significant differences between the UK and the US not only in the measurements and methods of cooking but also, to some extent in the actual make-up of the ingredients (i.e. the gluten conten of the flours used). To include in one Blog recipes from two such different countries (in terms of their recipes) would just confuse the innocent reader.

This current stage may not last forever. When I was having yet another burrow through the help pages provided by Blogger I found a page where Blogger members could vote for future changes to be made to Blogger's Blogs. The top one on the list was the addition of Categories to posts on Blogs. Needless to say I immediately voted for this enhancement.

Just to repeat my second Blog, specifically to act as a database of the recipes that originally appeared here, is called Moment after Moment - the Recipes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Blogging, Questions that have arisen

I hesitated for some time before I started a blog as I wasn't sure whether I would continue with it in the long term. In the end I started it, have enjoyed it and want to continue. But I am beginning to find a problem with being with Blogger.

Amongst the things I post are recipes, lots of them. The trouble is that as time progresses they are beginning to become lost amongst the other posts. So I searched Blogger Help and Blogger Knowledge to see if it is possible to add Categories to my posts so that it is easy to find specific types of subject what I wrote (a slight nod to Ernie Wise there), like recipes or posts about cats. However, I can't find any trace of Categories at all in Blogger. A search amongst the many blogs that are in my Favourites and that I look at regularly shows that none of the ones who use Blogger display Categories. So my assumption is that Blogger does not provide this facility.

So, where do I go from here? There seems to be few options:-
  1. Continue as I am - not really possible because as time progresses the current problem will just increase until it is impossible realistically to find things in the archives.
  2. Set up a separate Blog for recipes - not really what I want to do. Cooking is such an integral part of my life that separating it out would be both artificial and, I fear, to the deficit of both that new blog and my original one. It would also be cumbersome for me to manage, I suspect (although CopCar is managing her new one fine).
  3. Find a new Blog host - Hhmmmm... this might be an option, if I can find another blog host that is easy to use and doesn't cost me anything. Which are the good ones?

Well, these are the options. Has anyone any advice for me on this?

Monday, September 12, 2005

Things about me

A friend sent me one of those questionnaires about yourself that you fill in and send back so that they can learn more about you. Here are some of the questions and my answers.

What is your name? Val

Were you named after anyone? The name Valda originally came from an ex-girlfriend of my father. He chose that name for me because he liked it (well, that's what he told my mother, {smile}).

Do you wish on stars? I'm not a great believer in wishing.

When did you last cry? Hard to tell ...I do cry at things at times

Do you like your handwriting? Yes, though it's fascinating how it's changed over the years.

When is your birthday? ** February 195*

What is your most embarrassing CD? Not sure I've got any, although I blinked at the number I've got by Karl Jenkins

If you were another person would you be friends with you? Hopefully

Do you use sarcasm a lot? No

Would you bungee jump? Not sure, though if I took off my glasses I wouldn't be able to see the height. If I kept them on I'd probably lose them during the jump.

Do you untie your shoes when you take them off? I tend not to wear tie up shoes

Do you think you are strong? Sometimes, sometimes not

What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Chocolate or vanilla, depends on my mood

Shoe Size? 6 1/2 (UK)

What is your least favorite thing about yourself? My tummy...much too prominent

Who do you miss most? My cat Tigger, he was with me for most of my (single) adult life when otherwise I lived alone.

What color pants and shoes are you wearing? A long denim skirt and a pair of sandals

What are you listening to right now? Nothing, I love the peace of silence

Last thing you ate? 2 pitta breads with some taramosalata

If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Red

What is the weather like right now? Warm and sunny

Last person you talked to on the phone? My mother

The first thing you notice about the opposite sex? Their eyes and whether they look kind

Favorite Drink? Filter Coffee, black, no sugar

Hair Color? Light Blond/Brownish

Eye Color? Blue/grey

Favorite food? Chocolate

Last Movie You Watched at the cinema? Mr & Mrs Smith

Favorite Day of The Year? Not sure I have one.

Scary Movies Or Happy Endings? Happy Endings

Summer Or winter? Depends, both can be nice. Just No snow, ice or fog.

Hugs OR Kisses? Both

What Is Your Favorite Dessert? Cold Chocolate Soufflé

Where would your ideal house be located? In the English countryside, although I might stretch a point if I had the opportunity to live in the Tuscan countryside

What Books Are You Reading? "Courtesans" by Katie Hickman. Fascinating, these were women who really broke out of the moulds set by Society to become independent in their own right.

What did you watch on TV last-night? DVD of old Frasier episodes

Favorite Smells? Herbs, especially rosemary and mint.

Favorite Sound? Sibelius Symphonies, especially Symphony No 2

Rolling Stones or Beatles? Beatles

What's the farthest you've been from home? Amsterdam

What's something you want to do before you die? To do the Diceman thing and travel around making decisions based on throwing a dice.

Favorite Movie? Groundhog Day

How many piercings: 2 (1 in each earlobe)

Place of birth: Wimbledon, London

Ever been to Africa: No

Been in a car accident: No, thank goodness

Croutons or bacon bits: Croutons

Favorite day of the week: Sunday

Favorite restaurants: Don't particularly have one. It depends on my mood (and my budget)

Favorite sport to watch: Absolutely none.

Favorite fast food restaurant: Don't go to them

How many times you failed your drivers test: 0

Which store would you choose to Max out your credit card ? I don't max out my credit card (although it gets a hefty wallop from Amazon at times.)

What do you do most often when you are bored: Read books

Favorite TV shows: Doctor Who, Lost, House MD

How many tattoos do you have: 0

How many pets do you have: 2 cats, Pickle and Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter

A Good Slowcooker Recipe

Sticky Chicken

4 tsp salt

2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp onion powder

1 tsp thyme (I have used oregano or basil instead)
1 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 large roasting chicken
1 medium chopped onion

In a small bowl, thoroughly combine all the spices. Remove giblets from chicken, clean the cavity well and pat dry with paper towels. Rub the spice mixture into the chicken, both inside and out, making sure it is evenly distributed and down deep into the skin. Place in a resealable plastic bag, seal and refrigerate overnight.Stuff the chicken with the onions; place in the crockpot and set to Low all day long.

This is an excellent recipe I use when I know I will be busy during the day but would like to serve everyone something nice for dinner. The skin of the chicken is lovely and spicy and the flesh is well cooked and delicious.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Good old Nimrod

Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter is really in our good books at the moment because after years of trying he has caught, and disposed of, a squirrel. I looked out of the kitchen window to see him crouching on the patio with the creature in his jaws.

I am not sure just how loudly to laud his actions because about 50% of the population of Great Britain look at the grey squirrel's big eyes and sweet face and say "Aahh" and think it looks cuddly. The rest of the population, including this Household, see a squirrel and think "Tree Rat". A squirrel is just a rat with a big bushy tail. Admittedly it can be seen doing tricks, but these are usually attempts to pinch the food left out for the birds and are just an indication of what a thieves they are.

We've had intimate experience of a squirrel August last year, possibly this one I'm not sure. When we investigated some scratching and rustling that we heard in the sitting room of our house. Our investigations led led us to discover that a squirrel had moved into the eves of the house. I put Nimrod into a cupboard that led into the eves in the hope that the cat would chase it out. He didn't succeed unfortunately as we saw it the next day getting into and out of its lodging via a small hole. So the Husband hammered the hole shut and a couple of hours later we saw the squirrel making determined efforts to get in. Failing, it then saw the open window to the Stepson's bedroom and headed towards it at a rate of knots. We had to yell to the Stepson to close the window quickly to stop the squirrel getting into the house. I am not sure whether this was the squirrel we had dealing with last year - there has been at least two recently playing on our fence and in our trees. At least the squirrel population of our garden is reduced by one.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Marinade Recipe for Lamb

When I got home from the Gardening Club on Friday evening the Husband told me that he had invited his parents, sister, brother-in-law and niece to a Barbeque the next day. Fine, no problem. So I did a quick Google for a recipe for a marinade for the lamb loin chops we decided to buy. Luckily I discovered a really good marinade recipe here for which I already had all the ingedients. It turned out to be a real success, as was the family gathering. A good time was had by all.

Here is the Marinade recipe:-


1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. rosemary
1 c. thinly sliced onions
10 bay leaves
1/4 c. chopped parsley
Beat together oils and lemon juice. Peel and smash the garlic and add to oil mixture along with other ingredients. Toss with 5 pounds cubed lamb or spread over a butterflied 7-9 pound leg of lamb. Marinate for at least 8 hours in refrigerator (overnight, too). Baste with the garlic marinade during grilling. Makes about 2 cups.

I managed to find a site online which told me how much olive oil, vegetable oil (I used sunflower) and lemon juice to use. Instead of the dried herbs I used fresh, straight out of the garden. The recipe is well worth doing again.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Chelmsford and District Gardener's Association

The gardening club in Chelmsford that I belong to is called the Chelmsford and District Gardener's Association. It meets the First Friday of the month at the Link, Trinity Methodist Church, Rainsford Road, Chelmford, Essex, UK at 7.30 pm.

Events in 2005/2006 are:-

2nd September 2005 - AGM and Member's evening

7th October 2005 - "General Horticulture" by Margaret Willis

4th November 2005 - "Trees" by Neil Catchpole

2nd December 2005 - Christmas Social

6th January 2006 - "Potentially Hazardous Plants" by Ben Page & Roger Prentice

3rd February 2006 - "Garden Photography" by Marcus Harpur

3rd March 2006 - "Autumnal Colour in Sussex" by Roger Claydon

7th April 2006 - "Gardens of the City of London" by Sue Sincock

5th May 2006 - "Slugs & Snails & ..." by John Llewellyn-Jones

I'm a member of the Society. The meetings are really enjoyable. New Members are always welcome.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Hairdressers

Most women go to the Hairdressers at least occasionally, a lot go regularly. I am one of them. I go once a month where in addition to having a cut and blow dry I also have a semi-permanent colour (to cover any grey hairs). I am lucky, the hairdressers is literally five minutes walk from the house and they are excellent at what they do, for example my hairdresser is a real expert at colouring. I have been going there for about nine years approximately and am extremely happy with the service I have there. What I have found over the years though is that the shape and colour of my hair does not stay exactly the same each time I go, even though I haven't changed the style for some time. My hair grows very fast indeed and so I am not surprised that sometimes the shape looks a bit different.

Yesterday I had an appointment at the hairdressers and saw my own hairdresser when she had just returned to work after having a baby. She looked hard at my hair and said "Hmmm...". So I was not really surprised when she suggested a "slight change" to the colour to be used on my hair. When my appointment was over and my hair dry so that I could see its actual colour now it was not the light blond that it had been but instead a warm, somewhat darker blond.

I think she was right, the colour does match my skin colour better than the former colour and I know that it was the right change to make. The thing is that every time I catch a sight of my reflection in a mirror I stop dead. It still looks very different to me. The Husband doesn't seem to have noticed the change at all. Men!