Baby steps along the fermentation road

Sarina left Starbucks today. Sarina has always been a source of great joy for me. If feeling a bit miserable or sad, I could always rely on Sarina’s beaming smile to change my mood instantly. She was also one of those few baristas who learned my order very quickly.

Like Gracie before her, she has the ability to flood a room with her warmth and happiness. I’m dead jeal of everyone else who’ll now be recipients. :: sad face ::

After my sad tears of farewell (and slight laughter at Chantelle’s almost complete lack of a voice at the moment) I headed for the shops then home as the rain started falling like so many icy, wet spears of mood indicators.

The weather today, in short, was crap. All day. Wet crap, in fact. Bad for dog walking or garden working but excellent for Fermentation.

We’ve been reading and hearing a lot about the the human microbiome recently and how it can determine your overall system be it healthy or not. This has led us towards finding foods which improve the microbes within ourselves.

It’s easy enough to do when it comes to fresh green leafy vegetables (we eat a lot of that) but it starts to need a bit of work when it comes to the fizzy stuff. Like kefir.

I’ve heard a lot about kefir on The Archers and, frankly, I wasn’t that enthused. Most characters have reacted in a way that I would associate with the eating of live snails but I tried some today and, actually, it’s quite nice. Naturally I’m talking about the plain, simple, full fat and unadulterated kefir. It’s like a watery Greek yoghurt. And it is the easiest thing in the world to make.

I have ordered some kefir culture in order to make a couple of glasses every day for us but they will take a few days to arrive. In the meantime, I am trying fermenting vegetables, another great source of good microbes and, again, incredibly easy with a great taste to match.

Easy, of course, once you have the indispensable cabbage weights.

Things of simple beauty

These plain glass discs keep the veg below the water while allowing some oxygen in and gases out. I now have four of them. I used the first one today in a jar of fermented veg comprised of baby courgette, fine French beans and broccoli spears. They will be ready for eating in about five days though the jar will need burping every now and then.

First attempt

I’m going to start making my own sauerkraut as well but I have to wait for some bigger jars which should arrive tomorrow. Sauerkraut is one of the best sources of the good microbes and is really easy as well. I’m amazed that the best things are generally the easiest.

Kefir, for instance takes 24 hours and is as simple as pouring out a glass of milk. And the kefir culture lasts forever because it feeds on the lactose in the milk you keep feeding it. So, not only simple, it’s also very cheap.

On the cold front, my throat is the only thing left. (Oh, and a slight sniff which I find annoying. I have no idea how these people who constantly sniff can stand themselves.) I’m almost back to my usual, healthy-mad fighting-fit Best I Can Be.

Good luck, Sarina!

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Some people take no joy in walking their dog

Today was absolutely beautiful. Wall to wall sunshine, nice and cold with a light breeze, happy smiling faces nearly everywhere. It was a joy to walk into town. It was equally a joy that I was feeling well enough to do it.

Most days I wonder about the Miserable Dog Walkers of Farnham Park but on days of perfection I go beyond wonderment and stand at the gates of incredulity. Generally they are the ones with earplugs firmly cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity while their dog roams around on its own, occasionally having to run after its owner because they’ve managed to walk 150 feet further on.

My reader should not get me wrong. This is not a complaint or a moan or anything like it. I just feel sad, really. Sad for the dog mostly. One of the things the girls seem to find joy in is running back to me, before darting off again. I like to imagine that they’re happy in the knowledge that I’m enjoying the walk with them.

On a day like today, I am definitely enjoying it with them. The world looks sparkling and clean as if new and un-abused by the harsh realities of life. Living in such a place, in such a time, how could one not take joy in a walk with a creature that only gives love?

Still, it takes all kinds I guess. I just feel for the dogs and tend to make a fuss of them whenever I see their forlorn and questioning faces.

Meanwhile in Farnham, I have to wonder why South East Water didn’t arrange to do whatever work they’re doing across the access road behind Waitrose at the same time as the other contractor did last year. I remember writing about this road blockage as it went on for yonks. Hopefully this won’t last quite as long.

Fortunately not a major artery

On the way back from the shops, the day was so beautiful (and Mirinda was at home with the girls) that I sat opposite the fort for about ten minutes, listening to the children play (it’s half term so there were many of them) and reading. It was sublime.

Mirinda went into town herself later so she could order some non-bifocal glasses for computer work. She finds the angle her neck requires to maintain in order to look through the correct part of her glasses very difficult to maintain. Rather than buy new frames she thought it would be a good idea to use an old pair and took some in to the optician.

I took the girls to the park and thoroughly enjoyed their company.

“Hold me back!”

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What is a chef’s most important tool? Answers at the end of this post.

There’s a few things in my kitchen that, following the advent of lo-carb, I figured I’d never use again. The bread board, for example. I mean I have a cutting board for veg, one for meat and another for fish (I’m ignoring the various cheese cutting boards) but in a life spent without the evils of bread, what good is a bread board, right? Well, I reckoned without the amazing Sarah Wilson.

Sarah is an Australian woman who has quit sugar. Her first recipe book which also details why and how she completely changed her life was a runaway bestseller. I’d never heard of her until last Sunday when I spotted her second book, I Quit Sugar For Life, in WH Smiths, somewhere I only go when I have to.

I flicked through and thought it looked a good fit for us so I bought it. I was really looking forward to trying a few of her recipes and reading her story. She is an amazing woman and someone I’d really like to meet and talk with. Her website is here: Sarah Wilson. She is well worth a look at.

Anyway, one of the recipes that really made an impression on me was her Paleo Inside-Out Bread. Of course, bread is a huge carb-fest and has been thoroughly abandoned except for very, very special Celebration Meals. But Sarah’s bread has no wheat in it. It has no sugar in it. It has very few carbs in it. I had to try. So, today I did.

To be fair, it’s more like a baked sandwich given the contents but that just makes it even more perfect. Unless you like olives, parsley, courgette (zucchini) Parmesan cheese and ham (though I used prosciutto because of the minimal processing involved), you are not going to like it but, it is seriously delicious.

And, best of all, it doesn’t take long. There’s no yeast so there’s none of that pounding and leaving in a cupboard for ages to double then repeat, yadda, yadda, yadda. No, you mix your dry ingredients, mix your wet ingredients then, basically, put them all together, stick them in a loaf tin and, half an hour later, you have a loaf that looks something like this:

Paleo Inside-out Bread

Now, to be fair, given the last remnant of my cold is a deadening of my tastebuds, I only have Mirinda’s opinion but she gave a very firm double thumbs up as she tried a number of slices to make sure. She would have given it more thumbs but she only has two.

Here it is with a few slices removed:

It was quite lucky that I didn’t throw this away…

…because it served it’s purpose well!

Without getting too obsessed with Sarah, can I just say that anyone who is serious about their health and longevity should give her a read. The beauty of her food is its simplicity, goodness and general lack of the poisons with which most people fill themselves.

(As a side issue…I saw a story the other day about a brand of baby oil that people are being told is carcinogenic and, therefore a concern that people are using it on their kids, which is rightfully scary however, I find it odd that the same people seem to have no problem pumping poison INTO their children’s bodies. That’s not a value judgement because it makes no difference to me but I do find it extraordinary. Anyway…)

To be honest, I’m really looking forward to having my tastebuds back so I can taste it for real. Which moves me nicely onto the question in the title of this post.

It was a question I first heard in an episode of CSI. When it was asked, I said “My knife” at the same time as a character in the episode. Both of us, however, were wrong. As a second character stated, categorically and correctly, a chef’s most important tool is the tastebuds.

While I was making the loaf, Mirinda took the girls to Thursley and sent me this amazing photograph showing an atomic mushroom cloud rising above the bog. I couldn’t not include it.

OMG! Gary left the gas on!

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Foreign names in foreign hands make strange names

I decided it was a good idea to do very little today. I spent the first bit in bed then, while Mirinda strummed her guitar at class then dined at the Holly Bush, I lay on the sofa watching Netflix and dozing. It was obviously the best thing to do given my delicate condition.

Late in the day (and before I made dinner) I decided to try a little research into why the Smallbones’ children were named after Russian battles (see yesterday). Sadly I was unable to find a definitive answer but I did unearth some more fun facts.

In 1859, William and Charlotte Smallbones had a son. He was baptised Ernest Inkerman Smallbones. The Battle of Inkerman was fought in 1854 and was a turning point in the Crimean war, resulting in the Siege of Sebastopol shortly afterwards.

(As a sidelight, the Thames Ironworks under the earlier name of Ditchburn and Mare, built a ship for the Russian government called Inkerman. It marked the first iron ship built by the company and was in about 1837-8…

“She was a small vessel of shallow draught of water, and was so great a success that the new firm immediately afterwards obtained orders for several small vessels to run on the Thames above London Bridge. – from Ditchburn’s obituary”

…and was so sleek and fast that she was successfully used by the Russian government to chase down pirates and other ne’er-do-wells in the shallow waters bordering the Crimea and Black sea. I have been unable to discover whether it took any part in the extensive sea battles of the Crimean conflict…it’s just interesting.)

Digging a little deeper (though still annoyingly shallow) I have found a few chaps called Smallbones who served in the Crimea. I have no idea whether they survived or died but I figure the name could be a good link. Anyway, my theory was that William Smallbones either served in the Crimea himself or one of his close relatives did (I have no evidence of either of these things) and, in honour of the British victory at Inkerman, decided to give his son a memorable middle name.

As romantic as that sounds it’s also possibly not likely. William and Charlotte had quite a few children and a number of them had significantly odd names. In order, they were: Nelson (1849), Albert (1851), Charles (1852), Alice (1854), Clara (1856), Alma (1858), Ernest Inkerman (1859) and the remarkably named Bonaparte (1861). (It’s important to note that most of the dates are generally approximate and taken from census returns.)

Nelson Smallbones gave all of his kids ordinary names but his son William called his first son Nelson, presumably after his own father rather than Horatio.

The most unfortunate child must have been Bonaparte. Imagine being a British child named Hitler (as his first name) not long after WW2. Well, I figure it would have been just about the same. Bonaparte was not the most popular of people in Britain at this time even though he’d died in 1821. So you can imagine what poor Bonaparte Smallbones must have gone through. Maybe it toughened him up: Maybe he went by the name of John.

However he managed survive, he also managed to get married, settle down and have a brood of his own, all with non-military names. I do have to wonder about the romantic sounding Eveline Sapphire Smallbones but Fred, Ada and Arthur were all pretty normal.

Of the other male children of William and Charlotte, only Ernest Inkerman Smallbones carried on the strange names ideal of his father (or mother). There was Balaclava (1896), Colenso (1902) and Sebastopol (1904) but they all came later. First up there were at least six others. They were Ernest Inkerman (1885), Margaret K, Mable, Grace A, Lily C and Agnes A.

That may seem a bit strange but not if you consider that the first male child was named after his father then the next seven children were all girls. Then come the final three boys, all named after battles. Balaclava and Sebastopol in the Crimea and Colenso during the 2nd Boer War (1899).

Of course all of them (including Inkerman) are also towns so they could be named after them but the battle link is a bit hard to ignore when three are in Russia then, suddenly, one of them suddenly points to South Africa.

Interestingly, both Colenso and Sebastopol joined the army after WW1 both within a week of one another. That was even though their big brother Balaclava had died during the conflict in 1918. Perhaps they figured they’d be safe.

Moving a lot further forward…Colenso managed to survive the army life then whatever else was thrown at him, eventually dying in 1992 at the age of 90 and still residing in Surrey. Sebastopol wasn’t quite as lucky. He died five years before his older brother in 1985. Both of them married – Colenso married the wonderfully named Edith Faithfull in 1927 at Send and Sebastopol married Lily Turner in Dorking in 1929.

And so, in conclusion, what do I have? No much, I admit. Perhaps William Smallbones was a military history nut. I can imagine him sitting young Ernest on his knee and telling him the history of his middle name, and the names of his brothers Nelson and Bonaparte. He may then have followed on with the history of the Crimean War. Then, in memory of his father’s ‘hobby’ Ernest decided to name his own sons after battles as well.

Of course, we’re never going to know but it’s fun nonetheless. One thing that I do know is that Smallbone is quite a popular name in Surrey. In fact our butcher in Downing Street is one of them.

UPDATE: Since writing this I have also discovered that they had another son called Alma, who was named after the eponymous battle during the Crimean War.

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Work was not the brightest idea

Retrospect eh? It always knows everything with crystal clear precision. It’s just a pity that it doesn’t turn up before you do something. Like today.

I woke up feeling much improved and I really wanted to go to work so I made Mirinda a cup of tea, took the girls to Sue and headed off for Woking. Apart from a runny nose, strange sore throat and very torturous cough, I didn’t feel that bad. I even met Kirsty on the way and we chatted about our mutual plumbing problems with London flats.

I commiserated with hers as it’s yet to be fixed meaning that someone has to be on hand to empty buckets full of water from under her sink in order to stop it raining in her downstairs neighbour’s kitchen. For someone with an almost constant drip, she seemed uncannily cheerful. I’d like to think it was seeing me…

Anyway, all was well. I plugged myself in and managed quite a bit fruitful research which included the discovery of the amazingly named Balaclava Smallbones.

The transcriber had assumed that Balaclava was some sort of nickname and added that it might be a chap called Frederick Smallbones or Fred. But he had it the wrong way around. Old Balaclava went to war and was called Fred by his mates but he was baptised Balaclava. Just like his brother who was baptised Sebastopol Smallbones.

I’d love to say that I found out more delicious details about this amazing family but apart from a father whose middle name was Inkerman, I have yet to make the connection between the Smallbones and the Crimea. (For anyone unfamiliar with the period, the battle at Balaclava was where the Charge of the Light Brigade occurred in all it’s gory.)

At lunchtime I sat in the lunch room and had a coffee. I hadn’t bothered with food given I’d not eaten since Wednesday and I figured another day wouldn’t kill me. This is apart from the fact that I wasn’t in the least bit hungry. And I don’t believe you should eat unless you’re hungry.

After my coffee I returned to my computer and started feeling steadily worse. I left early, heading for the station with all the grace of a plague victim but without the buboes. I stopped off at a Superdrug for some cough mixture only to find that Superdrug appears to have more makeup than actual drugs.

Eventually I asked someone who, understanding the desperate croaks of a man in need of some sort of throat soothing tincture, showed me where it was hidden. I thanked her and bought it.

Then I was sitting in the waiting room at Woking Station swigging my evil looking mucus ridding cough mixture. An old chap sitting opposite me hugged his wife a little closer, worried I was some strange demented junkie with a cough fixation. I wasn’t bothered, though it rankled when I realised they were heading for Farnham and should have realised I was one of them.

Anyway, eventually I arrived home to a mystified wife. I took myself to bed and went almost immediately to sleep. And so I remained. At one stage Emma joined me. But that was it.

The cough mixture seemed to work though.

In sad news, Arthur Hassell died today. Like dad, he has been suffering with emphysema for years and it’s only been a matter of incurable time. Poor Andrew. I know how it feels.

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Today was mostly spent in bed, cuddling cockerpoos.

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Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick, sick…

Stupid bloody cold. I thought going to the gym would sweat it out of me. It just made me feel worse.

Possibly the highlight of the day was walking home with a lady who told me all about her life as a researcher in South Africa and her son’s experience of scorpions while wearing thongs (she called them flip flops). She told me about having to float out into the middle of a lake to take samples for whatever she was studying. The guide had omitted telling her about the hippos.

It was quite the entertaining walk home.

The rest of the day passed by in a sofa ridden blur culminating in a bed ridden blur.

I did manage to take the girls to the park (it’s not their fault I’m ill) mainly because it was such a beautiful day I thought it would cheer me up.

Avenue sunshine

I guess it did a bit. And, of course, the girls always cheer me up.

At one point an old dog manage to steal Emma’s tennis ball. To be completely honest, she saw the other dog and dropped her tennis ball for him to pick up and run away with. The other dog’s owner managed to get the ball and surreptitiously returned it to me, telling me that his dog shouldn’t run because he had a bad back. The dog, not the owner.

And that was about it for my day. I didn’t even eat anything…well, apart from a light lunch.

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What do we want? Votes for Women! When do we want it? A century ago!

Today marked 100 years since some women were given the vote here in Britain. Everyone was crowing about it all over everything today. Which is great and they should however, not once did I hear anyone say that New Zealand did it first (in 1893) but not just for ‘some’ but for all.

It’s important to remember that NZ was a former colony of the Empire and it would appear it outgrew it’s colonial roots by realising that classing half the human race as inferior was just not right.

But enough historical foibles, today I went to the gym then raced home to Skype with mum. I then stayed in for the rest of the day, pottering around, houseworking, etc.

The day was lovely (though still very cold) and, after lunch and another episode of Altered Carbon, we headed up to the park where we met a beautiful black Labradoodle called Banjo.

Banjo was very boisterous, wanting to play with Emma and Freya. Emma was more keen on her tennis ball but Freya was happy to tumble about and generally run circles around him.

Talking to Banjo’s owner she told me that he was only eight months old (which explained his boundless energy) and that he’s named after Banjo Patterson, her husband’s favourite poet. I must have looked quote surprised because she told me she only mentioned it because she recognised the Oz twang in my accent.

I was tempted to come out with:

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

…but refrained. I merely mentioned that Banjo was the perfect name for him. And then they bounced off on their way.

I started feeling a bit cold-ridden late in the day and took a Lemsip to bed. I realised I haven’t had a cold for over two years. I’m hoping it will be gone by the morning.

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Three men fix a fence then continue the work of four

Squirrel Tree from behind.

I fear that Sally is getting worse. This afternoon she reacted to the girls as if she’d never seen them before…just like she did last week. We met her as she was returning from a walk with Milly. Then, when we finished our walk (about an hour) we met her going out again. She may have forgotten that she’d already been. Then Mirinda said she saw her and Milly on a walk when she (Mirinda) walked to the station at 8:30. That’s quite a lot of walks.

I guess I’ll just do the neighbourly thing and keep an eye on her. There’s not a lot else I can do. I have been instructed to tell her which house in our street has the spare key to hers for when she forgets…which she does. Poor Sally.

Anyway, there were no memory lapses for me today. Gardener Dave turned up bright and early, as usual but somewhat flustered. The thing is, Gardener Dave is generally quite chilled so seeing him a bit stressed was unexpected. When queried he explained that one of the gardeners had called in unexpectedly sick and now three of them had had the work of four divided up between them.

So Gardener Dave was accompanied by the Schumanian and the new young guy (I think his name is Andy). Even though stressed, they managed to get the fence fixed within the allotted time though they didn’t hang around to do anything else as they usually do. They were quickly off to the next job.

The fence needed fixing because of the big winds we had a few weeks back. The centre post had started to go. Dave (and crew) stuck a couple of stakes in from the back in order to give the fence some stability. Eventually the fence will need to be replaced but in the meantime, this will do.

Most of my truly exciting day was spent filling and emptying the washing machine but there was a glorious bit in the middle somewhere when we all went to the park.

The weather, I should explain, has turned very cold with icy blasts from the north causing temperatures to plummet this week, making it the coldest of the winter so far. In fact, I heard on Radio 4 this evening that Moscow had a record fall of snow on Sunday, the biggest in 60 years, and it’s caused major chaos. Given Moscow regularly has snow, it has to be something quite extreme to cause chaos!

Anyway, nothing quite like the Russian capital here in Farnham. Though the clouds looked a bit snow laden.

Apart from the temperature, the only hint of Arctic conditions was the light fall of frozen rain as we headed home. It was a good job I’d decided to wear my jacket – normally I’d only wear a fleece – and wear my leather hat.

Of course the girls didn’t care. I often wonder about people who put coats on their dogs. Unless it’s in order to avoid an FSI like we used to do with the poodles. Emma and Freya just run around a lot. They don’t have time to feel the cold.

I did manage a bit more work on the Surrey in the Great War stuff I’ve been doing at the History Centre but otherwise it was all housework.

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Fiona’s garden centre prediction proves incorrect

The weather has once more turned very cold. In fact, Neighbour Dave predicted snow next Wednesday. We shall see how that goes however, it was certainly cold enough for some today. The only thing missing was the delivery system – there were no clouds all morning.

I had a big shop to do this week because the gardeners are coming tomorrow and I’ll be in charge (Mirinda has a big meeting day and will be leaving before they arrive) so will not be able to go shopping until Snowday…I mean Wednesday. So I bought lots of pork. (I’ve just discovered that the one foodstuff that is consistent across long lived communities is pork. Pork and a general lack of sugar. Oh, and a glass of red wine a day with dinner. I reckon I can manage all three of those things easily.)

When I managed to get home, having visited just about every shop in Farnham for various hard-to-buy-anywhere things, Mirinda was busy chatting to Bob and Fi. I was in time to hear Fi declare that we’d be going up to the garden centre because that’s what we do EVERY Sunday. Mirinda didn’t help that impression by claiming we needed to buy some grass seed.

After lunch we popped up to Odiham armed with cash to see if we could buy the mannequin we couldn’t get last week. And, joy of joys, it was still there. We have christened her Clara and she has taken up residence in the Green Room…I mean Denise’s Room. Or Fi and Andrew’s Room.

Naked Clara

The reason for the mannequin is in order to display a very old wedding dress which once belonged to Mirinda’s Great Grandmother, Clara (thus the reason for the name) and which she retrieved from Dural when we were over last April. And, unbelievably, it fits perfectly…if somewhat rumpled.

I’ll give it an iron during the week but have to be very careful given its age and material (silk).

Clothed Clara

While in the wonderful Allsorts antique shop, Mirinda also bought a lovely yellow jug to go in her library. It eventually wound up on the Doll’s House shelf.

Rather than head straight home (or to the garden centre) we decided a walk and a pint were in order.

We had a few choices but decided to try The Bell which is off High Street (yes, Jenny, it’s actually called ‘High Street’ in Odiham) and directly opposite the church. It’s a little pub, very much the sort of community hub that a town pub should be. Mind you, it doesn’t feel like that at first glance.

The carpet is old and manky looking, the people all stare at you as you enter and there was a chap smoking in the little covered area you have to pass through to enter the pub. Not that long ago, Mirinda would have walked in then turned around and left immediately. But first impressions can often be completely wrong and this was definitely the case here.

The Bell is a lovely little pub, full of townspeople buying tickets in a meat tray raffle and laughing and chatting about this person or that. They have a display cabinet full of darts trophies which seems to indicate that they put up quite a decent team for whatever local competitions exist in these here parts. (I particularly liked the sign which read “Use other door. Darts in progress.” which was needed because the oche was right in front of the entrance to the pub.

The beer was good (a Thwaites interestingly given the brewery is in Lancashire) and Mirinda’s white wine spritzer was exactly as it should be. And, most importantly, the fire was ablaze and the pub was delightfully warm and friendly.

I told her to smile

We managed to drag ourselves away from The Bell and headed back home where I made lemon and dill crusted salmon, Mirinda worked on her DBA, the puppies lazed around and none of us went to the garden centre.

The real Clara on her wedding day, 2 July 1913 along with husband George.

During discussions regarding the German Shepherd problem, Neighbour Dave told Mirinda that he’d managed to kill one of the rats. In a rat trap. Apparently it was Gail’s favourite. I’m not sure how anyone, apart from Willard, could have a favourite rat.

With regards the German Shepherd issue, Dave had an unsubstantiated claim that one of them may have bitten a jogger. If true, that is terrible though I’m inclined to think it’s possibly an exaggeration.

Mirinda also talked extensively with Dave about his glasshouses, helping her decide which type to get for our garden.

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