Christmas traditions.

No matter how hard I try to resist the Christmas traditions and trust me, there are years that I do, they always seem to pull me back into their warm embrace. This year for instance has been one of where I have valiantly tried to fight off the traditions knowing as I do that hubby may not be well enough to partake of much of the traditional food. And I have talked myself senseless about the ridiculousness of making a huge Christmas cake, christmas pudding and roasting a turkey just for son no.1 and I. And I even have a plan to do a luscious lasagne which with luck would be soft enough for hubby to eat with sides of fresh garlic breads toasted in the oven and a home made coleslaw for others.

But then I started to mooch around the cupboards and realised I had enough dried fruit for not one, but two Christmas cakes and… a christmas pudding. And a quick reconnaissance of the butter, brandy, fresh citrus fruits and eggs revealed that I had enough ingredients to make said Christmas cakes without going to the shops! Well you can’t ignore a push like that from the spirits of Christmas past and so I set to work and started the process of soaking the fruit in brandy.

There are two cakes carefully wrapped up in greaseproof paper having been lavishly anointed with brandy waiting for a couple more dosings before the next stage of the marzipan and icing. One for hubby and one for Dad.

Hubby has made the Christmas pudding today and this is resting overnight before being steamed for 8 hours. Apparently he used to make Christmas puddings at school, he made one and he was so happy with it he went on to make more and more, said his mother to me once, whilst wiping a bead of perspiration off her brow at the memory of eating them all. As it is, I have got two puddings to steam tomorrow, which I am not sure how that has happened as last year with the same recipe I only made one pudding… I think it is best not to ask questions at this point.

And some how, due to the requirement of having to spend some Tesco vouchers before they expired, and only remembering at 3.00 a.m. whereupon I made a mad cyber dash to secure a home delivery before they ran out of time. I have ended up with a turkey in my freezer, as well as a ham to boil, streaky bacon and sausages.

The Christmas spirits must have been whispering all good things to me in the dead of night, just the mince pies to go!

Snow!

Just an aid memoir that we had snow in November! I can’t ever remember that happening before. I wonder if it is a sign that this winter is going to be colder than normal. With us having such mild winters I think there would be deep shock and probably some ill equipped people in the way of warm clothes and footwear were we to experience the winters we did as a child in the early 80’s. With one particular winter where it was still snowing heavily in March! The country nearly came to a standstill because of the terrible weather, and school children were still expected to walk the nearly three miles to school, no days off for a bit of snow in those days.

Needless to say we are well prepared in the mandycharlie household. The chimney was swept a couple of weeks ago, fuel and firelighters have been bought as have candles, the cupboards are full, emergency long life milk is in the cupboard and I have plenty of flour for bread. I love winter but I don’t want to go out when it is slippy, I have no sense of balance at the best of times, something to do with small feet for my height I suspect.

So I shall tuck myself up with my knitting and my Christmas baking and all will be well with my world.

The end of November.

The last two months have been quite difficult. Hubby’s diagnosis of cancer and treatment rocked our little boat at the same time Dad had a very nasty fall and was hospitalised for three weeks where he had a bit of a turn and we nearly lost him, followed by rehabilitation. Hubby’s recovery from surgery is going well and we are now onto the next stage of his treatment with intensive radiotherapy. To that end he has had a tooth removed that may cause trouble in the future and will be having his mask made at the end of the week.

So for the most of October and November I have felt pretty tired. But now I feel recovery, which has been long awaited and very welcome.

We have managed a little jaunt to the German Market in Birmingham. The first try met with disaster when hubby eager not to miss the train decided that not having been out for weeks meant he was as fit as any athlete and sprinted for said train. Of course that did not end well and he face planted onto the path. I knew non of this as I’d been dropped off to get tickets whilst he parked. And the first I knew of it was a man covering his face walked past me as he was being led into the ticket office by a young lady was wearing one of my hand knit hats… I’d never have recognised him if he’d been wearing a commercial woolly hat. I exclaimed ‘that’s my husband’, and immediately realised there had been an accident. Needless to say the paramedics were wonderful.

On the second try a few days later we managed to get to Birmingham successfully and had a lovely day. A little light shopping in Selfridges, mainly so that I could look at the latest winter edits from Chanel as I love both their eyeshadows and lipsticks and with the closure of so many department stores over the years this is now the nearest to me to indulge in my small twice yearly passion for Chanel make up. Which was followed by a lovely walk in the dark and twinkly coloured lights to admire the wooden cabins and all that they offered.

A meal at Mrs Chews at Grand Central was a success with hubby able to eat the seabass and rice and homeward bound content with having done over 10,000 steps each, which I think was a wonderful achievement for hubby.

My computer is up to date!!!

It has been so long since I logged onto WordPress that I could no longer log onto WordPress. After a couple of days trying to work things out I realised that actually, it was probably because I hadn’t upgraded my system in forever. So I have just spent the last couple of days doing that and I will endeavour to post a few belated blog posts about the plot and the odd recipe that I haven’t got around to posting and other little ditties.

The reason for the gap in writing is two of the main characters in my life have both had life changing events at roughly the same time, at the moment they are tag teaming to see who can create the most amount of worry, stress and anxiety in me, whilst desperately trying not to, but not being in control of their health they can only watch on the side lines routing for me and holding me up as much as they can, for which I then feel really guilty about.

My anxiety is very high, I’m barely sleeping and I have a feeling things are going to get worse before they get better.

Fortunately I also have some very dear friends who are routing for me. So when Noelle sent me this beautiful stained glass Angel, I just wept and wept and when I came to, I rang Noelle and told her what a precious, beautiful gift that was absolutely perfect this little Guardian Angel was and thanking her I wept and wept some more. I am nothing if not a little bit over dramatic when it comes to matters of the heart, but the girl is, what the girl is and you really wouldn’t want me any other way.

She is now hanging from my five armed candelabra above my bed where she will look after me and mine while we sleep, and I can gaze at her for ‘Bon Courage’ as Noelle might say.

I can feel her gentle spirit working already.

Pigeon Pastilla by Honey and co.

It was my turn to choose a recipe for Noelle and I to try our hands at. And as it was hubby’s birthday I decided to push the boat out and choose a recipe that I hoped he would love as I know he enjoys pigeon very much, it just requires a bit more effort in sourcing the ingredients.

I found my pigeons online from Ox close fine foods and they did a lovely job of sending them with lots of ice packs so they arrived quite chilled.

After poaching the pigeons in the aromatics I removed the flesh, and roughly chopped along with the hazelnuts.

Then made the pie mixture and started to fill the pie.

One birthday present wrapped up ready for the oven.

And out it pops all golden and lovely.

And it slices very nicely.

But they say, the truth of the pudding is in the eating.

And this is where the recipe falls down. Firstly no seasoning is mentioned, So I seasoned lightly, I wished i’d added more salt and black pepper. But the biggest problem was the hazelnuts, I wish I’d roasted them before adding them. Every mouthful the flavour of raw hazelnuts took over. It was very disappointing with the effort that had gone into the pie. Nowhere in the recipe does it say they should be roasted and I think it is almost an unforgivable oversight to ruin such an expensive dish. Very disappointing. If you happen to like the flavour of raw hazelnuts, then maybe this dish is for you. Would I try this dish again? Yes, if I came upon a surplus of pigeons but there are other Pastilla recipes with a sweet egg formulation in the filling that call to me to try first. Maybe hubby’s next birthday!

Waiting.

Sometimes in life that is all you can do, wait, for a change to occur. Personally I find waiting to be almost therapeutic, which is why I have no problems in waiting in hides for the wonders of nature to appear before my very eyes.

I’ll not lie, that last lockdown, well, it bulldozed me. Mainly because I’d then been in almost continuous lockdown for over a year, as many of us have been due to concerns with ours or our partners health.

And then I found I was stuck, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I didn’t knit, I haven’t sewn and at its worst, which was for many weeks hubby did the cooking. And to be perfectly honest I have no idea what I did. I know some days I was up for a maximum of a few hours, before returning to my den to hibernate once more.

At this point, I was thinking, do I need to go to the doctors? Do I need antidepressants? So I decided I’d wait.

And at one stage I seriously doubted that I was going to be able to click out of it without some sort of intervention.

But I tried to keep going. I joined a slimming club, and rejoined my swimming pool, but that didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, they are closing and the hygiene is becoming extremely questionable and I’m no prude, I take the rough with the smooth, but when your skidding across the flour because its slimy, noooo. So I joined another swimming pool and that one is lovely and clean. Started a new dog walking regime and started cooking again.

And then it happened.

And I have no idea what happened, but last week, half way through the evening my brain cleared.

I didn’t think much of it, it wasn’t like a big bang or anything, just a change in perception. And I’ve had to think about when this happened to try and realise what if anything did happen.

The next morning, it remained.

I’ve been a bit startled. I’ve been waiting for it to close down again, but it remains.

It is early days, but I am hopeful, that change has occurred and will continue.

I’m going to toddle off to the allotment this weekend, and I’m so glad that hubby has kept it going for me.

And you know who you are, for those that contacted me in my quiet time,

thank you.

Aquarium.

Hubby and I have been talking intermittently for the last 25 years of getting a freshwater aquarium. I think there was even talk of setting up a salt water aquarium at one stage but after reading up about that particular adventure we both shuddered and closed that idea firmly away. Salt water aquariums are intense, a friend of my sons recently lost his extensive coral collection because his heater broke and the temperature of the water changed too quickly while he was getting a replacement. I think it was about two degrees, he was devastated.

So during the last lockdown we finally bit the bullet, chose a tank and started to set it up. It’s a slow process.

First set up tank on a firm base and strong floor, water is surprisingly heavy, this set up weighs well over 24 stone. Next put in substrate and slowly fill tank over 24 hours, you don’t want to fill a tank and find out it leaks like a sieve. Then leave to settle with pump going and start to dose with add water conditioner and dose with bacteria daily.

Dose with a few hardy fish, guppies are a good choice. Some people do fishless cycles, adding ammonia and bacteria to cycle their tank, but this is a big tank and we will have fair warning of any ammonia, nitrite, nitrate spikes. Note the tiny spry that accidentally came with the male guppies, we successfully grew her on, she turned out to be a female guppy ‘Quelle horreur” and was carefully returned last week, I do not want a tank full of babies.

Continue to add more plants, start adding C02 and plant food regime along with investing in lights for plants, add dragon stone and red moor root that has been soaking for weeks to remove the tannins. Test water daily and keep up with the water changes. One memorable day we did have a spike, we have since learned it was nothing to worry about, but we did a 50% water change twice, back to back. Nightmare! Took hours.

As tank begins to settle because the microbes are growing, this takes a couple of months. Slowly adding more fish.

Until eventually your dream starts to come true. I just have one more type of fish to add which I’m looking for and then it will be fairly complete. In my minds eye I wanted tiny fish shoaling through plants and natural structures along with a balanced eco system. I added shrimps the other day, Dad was most amused we had been shopping for three shrimps, loving the idea he couldn’t wait to come and see and yesterday sat transfixed by them.

Toast

As suspected the Balkan cheese bread makes excellent toast. This was perfect as a light lunch after such a sumptuous dinner. It hit a very savoury note and was lovely with just the merest scrapping of butter.

Balkan cheese bread recipe by Honey and Co.

Balkan Cheese Bread by Honey & Co.

My friend Noelle chose as our next bake Balkan Cheese bread by Honey & Co in The Baking Book. I must admit that I drooled a little bit at the idea and when Noelle presented her bake, I could almost smell its cheesy goodness, it looked so good. But then I went down with some lurgy and I’ve been out of action for over two weeks! But soon enough I felt better and after getting back into the swimming pool my appetite recovered and I felt a feast was in order to memoralise this lovely bread and also in memory of some of the loveliest lunches we have had in Turkish restaurants in London. They are such a great place to go for lunch with their piled high fresh salads and just baked and warm breads on every table, the pomegranate molasses salad dressings, the humous, the taramasalata, the freshly grilled meats. One always feels as though one has had the most decadent of feasts when one leaves their friendly restaurants. So in the spirit of feasting I got hubby to rummage in the deep freezer for some hogget lamb chops i’d seen recently, whilst I reread the recipe.

The dough having risen through the leeks and cheese just before basting with egg wash and more cheese!

And soon we had this beautiful bread fresh from the oven, it smelt so good.

Whilst I was prepping the lamb and covering them with some Harissa spices in the theme of Middle Eastern, hubby made a lovely humous with a paprika oil. Next he chopped salad whilst I put together a pomegranate molasses salad dressing and our lamb was ready to be cooked in a scorchingly hot oven.

What a feast!

The Balkan Cheese bread was so good. It was soft and cheesy with a lovely note from the leeks and spicing. I think it would go well with all manner of soups and salads, it would be perfection for a pack me up to take on days out and I’m really looking forward to the left overs as I think it will make the most amazing toast. It is definitely going to become part of my repertoire to enliven week day lunches and suppers.

And so (or should that be sow) it begins again.

April, ’tis a funny month. One never knows what one is going to get. As is Easter, one never knows whether it is going to be early or late. And within that differentiating spectrum I have always held dear to my own premise that the majority of the allotment must be done by Easter bank holiday Monday. One can always pick up plants for the garden at home and mow the grass, but to catch up on seed sowing and digging at the allotment, well that is a task in itself. There are many that use the full moons as their aid memoir to allow that slight trigger in the brain to remember tasks. And so it was with me, I looked at that this month, but then the next day after a full moon was cold and harsh, so I again stuck to my Easter regime. Whatever works for you is what I say.

It has been a struggle, but we have got there. But there have been changes. We have decided not to grow parsnips, carrots, garlic and onions from now on. These all require hand weeding, as does leeks and beetroot but they are worth it to us. Although we love these vegetables, we know that the wear and tear on us is simply not worth it, no matter how delicious they are.

So instead, we have put in a couple of rows of raspberries, a much more worthwhile crop I am sure you will agree and also I’m growing from seed some globe artichokes. Globe artichokes are most interesting to grow, they are like fingerprints, you never get the same plant twice, some fruits are spiky, some round leaved, some larger and some smaller.. successful plants are then grown on and used for cuttings. In my last plot I had quite a selection of them, it’s time to try my hand at this again.

And then apart from the usual vegetables, plus a couple more broccoli and purple sproutings to try I have gone with some herbs. We will see how well I do with those.

But the new potatoes are in, always a good start.

The kale keeps on going. A good veg in that hungry gap. Any veg at this time of year is one we are most grateful for and one I don’t tend to crop too much early on, lest I get tired of it.

And we have a delicious late cropping purple sprouting, I must check last years notes to find out which it is. I love a purple sprouting, something to look forward to in that hungry gap of the year.

The chives are growing, the mint is sprouting, spring is on its ways.