Guests for lunch

The pastry for the turnovers was too thin and the almond honey crust on the chicken was burnt. However, the creme brulee was, to quote Amanda, the best she’d ever had.

I was very stressed first thing so, when Mirinda went to pick Amanda and Carlos up at the station she suggested taking them for a coffee on the way home. I thought this was an excellent idea.

Lunch was planned for 1pm; by 1:15, I texted Mirinda telling her to get back quick as the chicken was burning. Well, the crust on top of it was, anyway. I couldn’t start the entree pastries (cheese filo parcels and the spinach turnovers) until they arrived so I left the chicken to warm and served up 15 minutes later.

Everyone loved the entree and were complimentary about the main course (almond and honey crust on chicken on a bed of royal cous cous) but I wasn’t happy with it. Though, I was very pleased with the cheese parcels which I haven’t made for years but were perfect. Dessert went down very well and Mirinda told the old story about how critical I was when it came to creme brulee.

What did get a lot of praise were they little pecan cakes. The plan had been to make the pistachio cakes I trialled last weekend but Waitrose were out of pistachio this week so I changed it to pecan. An excellent switch – they were delicious. Perfect with coffee or tea or just because they were sitting on the coffee table.

While we enjoyed the pecan cakes, Amanda and Carlos told us all about their new house in Portugal, showing us photos and taking us through the rooms. It sounds lovely. It’s in the country, near a couple of windmills. It looked as lovely ass it sounded. They’ll be using it for holidays (we’re invited the next time we’re in Portugal) with the eventual idea to be to retire there.

Eventually, it was time to go for the obligatory country walk. Given the weather and Carlos’ numb leg, we decided to go easy on them and go around the park instead. For city types, it was pretty much like being in the countryside anyway. The dogs loved it – particularly Emma who walked the entire way around without a lead and at a great pace.

Let me in!

It was a lovely day (though we didn’t get to eat any of the cheese I’d bought for afterwards), enjoyed by all.

Cheers

Oh, and under my tough brulee scoring regime, I give mine 8/10. I thought the custard needed to be a bit thicker and the burnt sugar wasn’t burnt enough. I hate when there’s individual sugar grains.

Mixer death

Last night we had a lovely dinner with Sally, Mark, Kate and Will. They are coming to the end of their European adventure and enjoyed our dinner last week so much that they wanted to visit us again. This time, at home.

I bought a whole load of mince and pasta and cooked up a storm when I arrived home from work. They arrived at about 7pm and we sat down to dinner half an hour later.

And what a lovely night we had. Lots of chat, food and wine. A highlight was me having a go at Catholics to find that not only is Mark a Catholic but he has two sisters who are sisters in a nunnery. He didn’t take offence and, instead joined in the general dislike of organised religion. Oh, how we laughed.

Sally told us that the kids have been left alone to make their own minds up – Sally is a realist, like me. I said it shouldn’t be too difficult to make their minds up given there’s plenty of evidence for no religion and none for the existence of imaginary friends.

It was a lovely night, my fascist leanings aside.

First thing this morning, however, things started going wrong from the off.

I have been planning the menu for our lunch tomorrow for a week and today was to be devoted to preparation. I’d planned it to perfection so that I’d be finished in time to go for a walk with Mirinda, Day-z and Emma. As well as wanting to go for a lovely walk, it was also to be Emma’s first long walk somewhere other than the park. Sadly, I missed out.

The first thing that went wrong was the early morning arrival of Clive and another guy called Jai (I think) who were going to, finally, lay the bonded aggregate on the top steps off the terrace. My plan had included going shopping first thing in the morning. Because Mirinda was off for her guitar lesson, I had to stay at home with the dogs and to be on hand for any questions.

Needless to say, the path tops were not laid today. Eventually, Dave turned up and the four of us stood around waiting for someone to make a decision about whether to start or not. Finally, Dave determined that the screed wasn’t dry enough to start work. Besides, no-one could find the primer that has to be painted on first. (The primer turned up on Sunday when I found it in one of the boxes that were delivered last week.)

So, no work done, everyone left, saying they’d be back first thing Monday morning. No sooner were the out the door than I was off into town.

Having bought half the shopping I needed (the weather was too sketchy to take my wicker basket) I quickly started making my creme brulee custard for tomorrow’s dessert. Everything was going extremely well. And then I turned my hand mixer on. The blades turned as they were supposed to, spun a few times then they stopped. Nothing I did made them turn again.

I was devastated. Not only because I’d lost one of my favourite kitchen tools but because I had a load of eggs and sugar ready for beating.

It was nearing lunchtime and Mirinda’s return. I knew I’d have to go into town and buy a new hand mixer but decided I’d go after lunch. Which I did. And that’s why I missed out on the walk.

After lunch I once more walked into Farnham, bought a new mixer and the remaining groceries for tomorrow.

Back at home, I immediately went back to the brulees, wondering how on earth people made them without electrical aids. It was then non-stop until it was time to make tea.

What a day. Last night was so much easier.

Slings and arrows

It’s not often that I find an actual maker of a model during my research at the Science Museum but today I did. And not only did I find his name but also his life story. An extraordinary life, at that.

His name was Andrew Webster Kiddie and he was born in 1843 in Dundee. He was the youngest child of the manager of a power loom factory. At the age of three, he moved to Spain when his father was offered a job in a factory there. Consequently, Andrew was educated in Spanish. By the age of 13, he didn’t speak English and his father had decided to send him to the UK to finish his education. Andrew had other ideas.

A friend of the family, one Captain Wardell, had taken an interest in the boy, taking him canoeing and camping in the Spanish wilds. So, when it came time to move on, Andrew asked his father if he could go to see with the ‘good’ captain. For reasons unknown, his father agreed and gave him £3 pocket money for his travels.

The two set off on horseback, crossing the country to the port where Wardell’s ship was moored. As they took up residence on the ship, Wardell heard the money jingling in Andrew’s pocket and told him he had better look after it as the crew would no doubt steal it from such a young lad. Andrew happily handed it over.

Things were fine as the sailed along the Spanish coast, stopping here and there, Andrew serving as an interpreter. Once they left Spanish waters, however, things changed. Wardell, it seems, was the epitome of the awful captain. He beat Andrew for any reason he could think up, depriving him of food, leaving him to keep watch over the shiop when everyone else enjoyed themselves ashore. Then, to cap it all off, when it was announced that the ship was going north to the cold north and Andrew asked for his money in order to buy a hammock and some warm clothes, Wardell told him there was no money.

So, wearing only the summer clothes he left Spain in, Andrew suffered the frozen north of Russian ports. Life was pretty dire and he decided he didn’t want to spend his life at sea any more.

In the meanwhilst, Andrew’s father had been posted back to England and Andrew was determined to go and live with him. Wardell told him he couldn’t. He had spoken to the ship’s owners and had had Andrew indentured for a three year apprenticeship. By the time they arrived in Sunderland, halfway round their circular trip, Andrew was desperate.

The owners came aboard in Sunderland to inspect things and to make sure their money was being spent wisely. Andrew took the opportunity to tell them of his terrible treatment at the hands of the captain but his complaints fell on deaf ears particularly after Wardell told them that Andrew was a thief and a liar. Things looked grim for poor Andrew and his ship mates told him he should leave because Wardell wouldn’t be happy. Andrew decided to jump ship the first opportunity he had.

On land, not knowing anyone or speaking any English he set off to find his father who was 220 miles away. Andrew managed to cover the distance (still in his original clothes) in ten days, surviving on carrots and turnips, hiding and sleeping in hedgerows each night. His resilience paid off and, eventually, he found his father.

Naturally, Wardell had already told his father how awful he was and that he had jumped ship but, to give him his due, Mr Kiddie ignored all of the accusations and took Andrew back, sending him to an English school.

Because Andrew couldn’t read, write or speak any English, he was put in an infant’s class, something he didn’t like. He begged his father to let him go to work. His father wasn’t keen, saying he needed an English education but eventually gave in to his son’s nagging.

There followed a succession of jobs in various engineering companies. Andrew was always the best at his various jobs and he would quickly become the best paid. But he would get easily bored and move on and up.

By 1865, he’d decided he’d prefer to have no boss and so set up his own business in Southport making furniture…and various other things.

At some point he realised he enjoyed making models. He rather liked yachts (he’d sail them on local ponds and even founded a model yacht group in Southport) but he also made models of buildings and towns.

He was also a prolific inventor, gaining patents for such things as segmented shop signs and a machine that sliced and buttered bread. Before sliced bread, of course.

Reading his autobiography, he sounds like a quiet, unassuming man who just wanted to sit in his shed and potter. And I’m very glad he wrote it all down.

Spanning the years

This morning I had a lovely email from Yvonne, who took the table last night. I thought I’d share it because it’s rare to get a response from things we Freecycle.

Hi Gary

Just wanted to say thank you for the lovely table. We managed to fit the table through our window to get it in and it looks great in our kitchen.

Best wishes to your super cute dogs and thank you again.

Yvonne

They were such a happy, loved up couple, that I’m sure having to take the table through a window was nothing. Even in the rain.

That was a lovely way to start the day. The rest was a bit of a slog as I cleaned up, ready for the dinner party tomorrow night.

I was on a bit of as deadline because tonight I was going to see a band I’ve wanted to see since I was a teenager. It was after I heard All Around my Hat that I first became aware of Steeleye Span. (It’s important not to confuse them with Steely Dan, an American band that I couldn’t stand at the time. To be fair to the band, this was mainly because my girlfriend at the time insisted on playing Reeling in the Years over and over again. They were also very middle of the road, something I abhored as a youth.)

Anyway, Steeleye Span have been going for 45 years and tonight they performed in Guildford.

They created a fusion of rock and folk that is still fresh today. The personnel has changed a few times over the decades with only Maddy Prior as the constant presence. And what a presence. Her voice (though not as fresh as it once was) is fabulous.

Of course, seeing as they’ve been performing since 1969, the average age of the audience was a bit older than me. In fact, Dawn walked into the auditorium claiming she had brought the average down by at least a decade. Cheeky woman. There were a few younger members of the audience but I think they were carers for their elderly grandparents.

Going out was joyous for a few reasons. Firstly, it was lovely seeing Dawn, something I only manage to do rarely these days. Secondly, I was really looking forward to seeing Steeleye Span. Lastly, it meant a night out, away from the dogs.

It was a big test to see if I could leave them both for over three hours. They seemed to have passed with flying colours. Naturally, when we returned and Dawn came in for a coffee, the dogs went a bit manic, but overall, I think I can start leaving them without worrying.

Maddy Prior

Bags of tiny rocks

Today I had to stay in to wait for a delivery of gravel. Builder Dave ordered it on the weekend and it was due sometime today. By ‘sometime’ they mean between 8am & 6pm.

There was a brief moment (well, half an hour) when I had to take Day-z to the vet for her kennel cough squirt up the nose, but other than that, I stayed in.

Day-z hates the squirt up the nose, as did Carmen. In fact, Carmen would happily put up with anything the vet did…except the squirt up the nose. Day-z, on the other hand, generally doesn’t like anything that involves her head or her bottom. Today was no exception. It took both of my hands and one of the vet’s to keep her still for the millisecond it took her to squirt the stuff into Day-z’s nasal passages.

Of course, I apologised for Day-z’s bad behaviour but the vet assured me that all dogs hated the squirt up the nose but, unfortunately, it’s the only way that the stuff works. That must have been a weird thing to test. Anyway, at least it’s over for another year.

Back at the house, and somewhere around lunchtime, there was a knock at the door. Ah, I said to the dogs, that must be the gravel. It wasn’t. It was the other stuff needed for the step tops. Two big cardboard boxes. One with a bonding kit, the other with the primer.

It wasn’t until quite late in the day that the gravel arrived. There was a ring at the bell (it’s interesting that some people press the bell and others knock) and a tiny little old man stood there, all gap toothed and grinning.

“Gotcha rocks,” He said, somewhat maniacally, paying no attention whatsoever to Emma who I was holding.

He then unloaded the bags from his van, one at a time, and piled them by the porch. He tried to fob me off with the plastic and the pallet but I managed to deter him from this line of folly. As he put the final bag down he remarked that he was getting too old for it. I could only sympathise; he looked about 70.

And so, the makings have arrived. When I let Builder Dave know, he emailed me to say they would try it Saturday week if the weather remained rain free. He then emailed me a little later to say he’d found a guy who works for him who has laid this sort of surface before. For this reason, it might be completed earlier in the week. I don’t know why.

I was surprised that Nicktor didn’t come round tonight – we’d sort of planned it – but, to be fair, I was happy not having to be particularly sociable. Day-z has been waking me up every morning at 5am and, given I don’t get to bed much before midnight, I was pretty tired.

I saw Neighbour Dave and Gail today and asked them if they could hear Day-z and Emma in the mornings. This was something that was worrying Mirinda. They were surprised, said no, then asked if I could hear Rodney. Apparently, he does the same thing and wakes them in the early hours to go outside. They have taken to sleeping downstairs with him (on alternate nights) so the other one can get some sleep. As Dave said, they’re making a rod for their own backs. I can only agree.

Eventually, Emma will sleep through and I can sleep again.

Mirinda was in Birmingham today, visiting a university. She emailed me through the day to say that Sally and family would be dropping into Farnham on Friday night to see us. So, I’ve planned dinner for them. Looking forward to it. It’s so good having a kitchen that we can entertain with. Oh, and a very big table.

Speaking of tables…our old one has gone to a very good and deserving home. A young couple (Yvonne and her husband) came around tonight to pick it up. I’d put it on Freecycle as soon as the new one arrived and they were right in there going for it. They’ve just moved into their first home together and they have no furniture. Well, now they have a very nice first table. They were very pleased…and fussed over the dogs A LOT!

Splish splash

Following Tiler Mark’s ‘no show’ on Sunday, I was not surprised to get a phone call from him saying he couldn’t put up the kitchen splash back. I was rather surprised when he turned up just after lunch to finish the bathroom splash back.

The problem with the kitchen is because the tiles are glass. Glass, being see through, cannot be stuck using the conventional grooved trowel because, clearly, the grooves look awful. This restriction not only affects the trowel type but also the adhesive. Because the adhesive can’t be grooved, in order for the tiles to stick sufficiently, a silicone adhesive has to be used with a flat edged trowel.

Tiler Mark told me how he found this out. He was tiling a bathroom using gold leaf, glass mosaic sheets. He prepared the wall, smeared the adhesive on with his grooved trowel and stuck the first sheet on. He suddenly realised he could see the tracks through the tiles. He immediately pulled the tile sheet off, cleaned the wall and the tile sheet and breathed a sigh of relief that he’d seen it so quickly.

Anyway, he asked Tile Shop Dennis to order some of the adhesive and will put up the kitchen splash back as soon as it arrives. Hopefully this won’t take too long.

He only took a few hours and soon the bathroom was finished. I think it now looks complete.

Perfect

The other big news of today was a couple of emails from Builder Dave saying he’d ordered the aggregate, resin and mixer for the gravel step tops! We’d almost given up hope.

Yet more baking

Today was a bit of an experiment day, preparing for next Sunday’s lunch party. Unfortunately, Mirinda has told her friends that I’m decent cook, so it has to work.

Mirinda was working from home so I braved the rain and wind and went shopping. (I also went up again to pick up Mirinda’s dry cleaning.) Back at home, I started baking.

First up, I made about 20 little pistachio cakes. These will be to have with coffee after lunch. They are amazingly delicious. I made the mistake of putting them on the coffee table while we watched the TV later and they nearly all vanished. So, they were given a pass.

Next up I had to prepare the filling for some tiny spinach turnovers. They look exactly like apple turnovers except quite small and filled with spinach, raisins, anchovies, pine nuts and garlic. While a bit fiddly, they’re quite easy to make and turned out perfectly. Clearly, I’m definitely getting the hang of my cookers.

The idea is to serve a couple of the spinach turnovers with my famous filo cheese parcels with something green as a garnish and a drizzle of cheese sauce. That will be the entrée. According to my official taster, the turnovers are delicious and perfect. They also look quite clever and that’s very important as well!

I also jarred up the mincemeat, ready for their eventual destination in little shortcrust pastry cases.

Late in the day, we took the dogs up to the park, where Emma managed to get filthy. Every puddle is deeper than she is high so her hair changed colour from caramel to mud. This meant her second ever bath. She wasn’t impressed but was rather keen on the fuss once she was dry and soft and a delight to stroke and cuddle.

Day-z only had muddy feet which were easily cleaned. Besides, she’d had a bath in the morning to try and clean up her tummy rash and wasn’t really what you’d call dirty.

And I feel I have to report that Mirinda was nowhere near as stressed as she used to be (pre-Mindfulness) and seemed to switch off with her laptop.