Friday, February 28, 2014

Fresh peel, achievement and tools


Managing  to get myself out of bed and breakfasted in time to get to Pembury Hospital for am echo cardiogram at 8.45. It may seem a small achievement but it  is something I am dreading because the mornings are so difficult  and time consuming. Thank you Milo for being outside the front door in time for a lift to the hospital.

A projecting floor board with loose nails has been threatening to trip me. With a box of well manged tools some counter sunk screws and the  ingenious use of  a piece of slate, son-in-law Dom levels it off neatly leaving a smooth path from my  desk to the hall. Here is a man who loves and understands tools. I am full of admiration.  If I am dependent on such acts of skill and kindness I couldn't be dependent on nicer people

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Singer, tamarind and daphne

Waiting to sing.

Mackerel and coconut curry. An ingredient which I have not used until now is tamarind paste. I had not associated mackerel with India, but it substitutes well I suspect for an equivalent in Indian waters. Thank you Anjum Ansand for another new experience.

A spray of daphne placed on fireplace in front of a mirror keeps catching my eye. It looks Japanese, a pleasing sight, all day.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cat story 2, resolution and parsley sauce


Cat story phase two from the archives.

Today's resolution is to see if tomorrow  I can take photographs of the objects I spend my day idly staring at in a perpetual state of lethargy.

Lunch with neighbours Milo and Virginia. My fellow guest is their friend Biddy who has just undergone in close succession  two hip operations to say nothing of other unspecified illnesses.  A crocks' gathering.  We flatter one another: How well you're looking! We keep ourselves cheerful with small talk and managing to laugh. The art of small talk at such times is not to be easily dismissed. Parsley sauce with boiled ham and lovely new potatoes. I had forgotten the pleasure of a well seasoned, old fashioned parsley sauce.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In the beginning, anaemia and pomegranate

The beginning of a story about a cat.

Doc rings to say that my haemoglobin count is low. I that why, I ask him,  I spend so much time staring in front of me without doing anything else? Yes, he says. He says he will ring later to say whether I should still increase the new medication, which may be causing the anaemia

A large  pomegranate greets me this morning. I roll it about on the table to loosen the pods within. I peel it as carefully as possible  to reveal the structure of the pods, which I begin carefully to pull apart allowing the pips to separate easily and the pith to be discarded. This seems to me to be the sum of the wisdom which I have accumulated over the years from my own experience with pomegranates and the advice of others.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wagtail, turmeric and The Sound of Music

Pied wagtail investigates.

For the lentils I prepare today for daughter Pippa I find some fresh turmeric which I chop up small and use instead of the powdered stuff recommended. The house is infused with a its invigorating scent.

I have never seen The Sound of Music. And I don't think I want to.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sandwich, singing and bag

I too have a weakness for sandwiches.

Full marks to France for its performance of La Marseillaise before the Rugby match against Wales.The team knew the words too. But almost predictably Wales was  hard to beat as a choir.

In the newspaper an advertisement for an all leather  "manbag".  We used to call it what the illustration reveals to be a satchel. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Art, cold water and freedom

Art re-made.

A woman's voice on the radio touched with laughter reminds me of cold water flowing over smooth stones.

Free is a mighty word. Protesters in Independence Square in Kiev speak of being free. The leaflet on my doormat offers a free pizza if, for a mid-week delivery, I spend more than £100.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hats, late and dream

Hat stand at farmers' market from archives.

I arrive an hour late for appointment with GP. He is forgiving, takes me my blood and promises to ring me on Monday to tell me if I can take more of the new pills which are going to cure me.

For once I remember one of my dreams . I am awake enough to make some notes. I a walking along a road in a strange city. Which one I try to guess? I pause by a narrow street almost vertical. At the bottom is a miserable dirty river. Beside the street is a table, on the table a magazine. The wind flips the leaves of the magazine. From where I stand I look for a dome. Perhaps this will suggest the name of the city. No dome. Instead in the distance is a tower. The tower reminds me of  Seville Cathedral. Perhaps that is where I am. For some reason I  an worrying about the table with the magazine and the wind constantly turning over the pages.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Drinking, pathos and lentils

Spanish drinking water - one of many street covers from the archives.

Help. I must begin to talk to normally for a moment.  I hear myself answer the telephone in a pathetic "feeling sorry for myself voice".  Outside the window a song thrush is celebrating a bright end to a wet day. I listen and learn.

Cooking again for brother, Ken I experiment with something new as far as |I am concerned with lentils, Channa Dahl. Until now  lentils for me have been confined  to small orange seeds which quickly make a  mush familiar from Indian restaurants and Puy lentils, the hard green pulses used largely I think in European cookery, quite different and with a taste of their own. Channa dahl comes I think from the Punjab. They are large, yellow and require to be cooked for at least an hour. The wait is rewarding. You simmer the lentils with coriander, turmeric and garam masala. This breaks down into  "a thick lentilly mass with the individual pulses still discernible" I quote from Anjum Anand whose book Indian Food Made Easy, I have been using And from which I have learnt much. To this mass is added at the last moment, cardamom pods, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, mustard seeds, desiccated coconut and chilies quickly fried at the last moment. We agree this is the most successful vegetarian venture yet. The photograph of the dish in the book looks good. It tastes better.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Walking, flying and sources of power

The curious act of walking.

Outside my window a silver car on trailer sails by it wheels just touching the top of the hedge.

The two bracket clocks in the house chime at almost the same time. Satisfying, but you have to question the need for them. I have lost count of the clocks in the house which monitor the time on radios, computers, telephones and TVs  and which are remotely regulated. Is clockwork still needed? Perhaps it is. Imagine the absence of batteries and other sources of electric power.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Mud, simplicity and triumph

More jetsam on Thames mud

For vegetarian brother Ken a simple dish of lentils and spinach spiced with turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic and garam masala. He says it isn't simple because he follows and detects the different flavours. I am flattered. But it is simple.

After Ken leaves I immerse myself for the once again since since the harsh times begin  in Schubert's String Quintet. While it is playing I it get dark. As it gets dark I note a flash of lightening followed by a roll of thunder. With what triumph the last movement raises the spirit!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Jetsam, ivory and kindness

Jetsam on Thames mud.

 I wake sometimes worrying about the declining population of elephants. The papers are full of the threat to their survival which originates entirely it seems from the burgeoning  demand from China's middle class for items carved from ivory. International law forbids the slaughter of elephants and the sale of their tusks, but rampant greed appears to be winning the battle. Campaigning too even when it is led by the British Royal Family is losing out. We are witnessing a crime against a rich  and magical  inheritance.  Yet I couldn't help noticing in the paper with great sadness an emotional call by Prince William for the destruction of the entire collection of antique ivory in the Royal collection. Old ivory is sensibly excluded from the ban on the sale of tusks. To destroy meticulous and beautifully executed works of art would be another crime.

In the Pembury Hospital coffee shop an ambulance driver noting my problem in getting up from the table where I am siting next to hers, proffers help. "There you are young man," she says.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Chimney perch, roast and denouement

Chimney perch

Sunday roast with Milo and Virginia and family. Sun shines on on us as we sit and talk at dining table. A bonus for tradition.

Find myself looking forward to The Archers where a true soap episode is imminent. How will the awful Helen react when she learns that her lover is as bad as we have always known him to be?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Structure, texture, football and culinary heritage

Composition: structure and texture.

Two football  players  Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney remain in my memory from my childhood when the game was much loved and widely respected, not least by me, in a way completely different from today. Both men received knighthoods, unusual in those days. Above all they brought skill and standards of excellence to their sport without the taint of riches. They are worthy heroes. News of Tom Finney's death at the age of 91 strikes an astonishing contrast with the culture of football today. Finney was a plumber and continued to run his business  while he excelled on the field. He always played for the same club Preston North End. Compare that with the record of a modern footballer. Yet he is acknowledged as one of the greatest players of all time. Old men may lament that things ain't what they used to be. And sometime old men are are right.

Thinking back on the recipes which my Mother cooked for us as children, a stained and battered cookbook comes to my mind this morning. It is by a food writer now forgotten called Elizabeth Craig. Its faded cover was mauve and I can just now  picture it in the kitchen drawer where it was kept. From this book came the puddings and stews and pies which I remember form the years of World War 2 and the post war years. My Mother loved this food, which she was introduced to at school in England, where she arrived as a small child. She was good at producing it though it contrasted with the Middle Eastern and oriental  recipes passed on to her by her own Mother. As I think about that forgotten  book this morning it testifies to the curiously mingled culinary heritage which  I have at my disposal and is now being pursued and augmented with new influences by my children.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gold, kindness, better

Gold from the archives.

Seldom have  I been more grateful for a small kindness that seemed to be a huge one. Foolish enough to leave off a painkiller this morning. I have to call on the help of neighbour Pammie. The cup of tea and sandwich she makes for me is a life saver.

Although the GP is  away today he rings me, kindly and helpful as ever to tweak the painkiller. A better end to a bad day.

Gold from the archives.

Seldom have I been more grateful for a small kindness. After being foolish enough to leave off  a painkiller this morning I had to depend on my neighbor Pammie to make me a cupo

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dry, transformation, The Archers

Summer thirst. No water shortage now.

Just recently the word confit referring in French cookery to the preservation in fat by a process of slow cooking of such meats as goose and duck, seems to have spread to  the slow cooking  of root vegetable such as potato and turnip. I have seen no recipes but having heard the method referred to, have tried it myself and found it rather good. Today turnips - a dull vegetable I always thought - poached in duck fat and anointed with a touch of honey and a little lemon juice. A remarkable transformation.

After more than 20 years I have given up watching East Enders. The quality of writing and acting has deteriorated. I'm still loyal to The Archers though  and unlikely, after 40 years or so, to stop following the ups and downs of the inhabitants of Ambridge. Though I refrain from serious  criticism of soap operas, I have the impression that the Archers is improving. If asked about my addiction I say that the majority of Archers' characters are rather unpleasant and not without the sour edge of truth. I find myself half believing that they exist.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Watching, roast cod and taking care

Watching the sea.

For Ken I prepare a Punjabi style roast fish in a spicy yogurt sauce. Ken brings two juicy cod fillets. A  paste is made of fresh ginger, mustard seed, poppy seed, yogurt, powdered coriander and chopped coriander leaves. I roast  the cod with a layer of the paste on each fillet, which is topped by pieces of ghee. A little lemon juice to finish off. Fluffy  rice to keep it company.

"Take care" is what people say to each other in troubled times such as these when rivers burst their banks, the coast crumbles under huge waves and vast areas of farmland becomes lakes. It's not the sort of thing I normally say, but today I catch myself with the phrase on my lips.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shelter, indignation and confit


So much indignation on the radio, on TV. Energy wasted!

Toby stays the night. I roast a duckling. Instead of cooking the bird whole, I follow my new routine. I joint the duck, and having pricked the pieces all over brown and crisp them, The breast which requires little cooking and should be served pink I reserve and set aside. The legs and wings can now be cooked very slowly in the fat as for a confit. Additional fat can be used to confit turnips or other root vegetables. Although I have used this method for  game birds and for chicken it seems to me that applied to a duck in can scarcely be bettered.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Frieze, waves and calm

Frieze. More from bridge people archive.

All night  the wind blows through  the branches of the lime tree. Sounds of waves breaking. Wake to  hear only the the alarm call of a blackbird flitting by outside the  window. The wind has dropped.

A calm atmosphere prevails at the The Three Chimneys - a pub where the food is invariably simple and well cooked. Whence the tranquillity? Although it is Sunday and all tables are occupied, people converse quietly and -  how could one possibly know? - seem to be talking sense. This goes for regular drinkers and people having lunch. Then you realise. No music or sound system of any kind. Sometimes it is only when it is absent that you notice the ugly and the superfluous.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Bridge people, fish and chips and

Bridge people from the archive. It is is Blackfriars over The Thames.

Chores interrupt Pippa and Dom's visit. So instead of going to the pub we decide to sample the produce of the Down Town Fish Bar opposite the Compasses. It deserves  its good reputation. Generous pieces of cod firm to the touch in crisp batter and chips which stay hot and crisp. Because we feel that fish and chips is picnic food, we decide to sit round the dining room table and eat it straight off the grease-proof paper. No washing up! Disgraceful.

All night  the rains beats against the windows. I picture the weather map now almost a permanent feature of  BBC forecasts. Circles of arrows dancing across the Atlantic like whirling dervishes  on their way  to swallow our frail island and its inhabitants.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Silver 3, cricket and tact

Third in the series of  Silver photographs which, with a recent interruption I have fished from the archives.

Good news that the new chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella is a cricket lover. Though it is not a game widely know in the country of Microsoft's birth, he learnt, he says, as much about management from playing cricket in  Hyderderbad, India, the country of his own birth. If only cricket remained the sport it used to be, a byword for honesty and fair play. It does remain a team game where individual skill, tactics and strategy are balanced against endurance and concentration. Not everyone understands its complexity. Nor the stately progress of a test match, or the rough and easy game of village cricket.  But  sour political attitudes are being allowed to creep in to the conduct of the game.  And new and  brasher forms of the game are changing its image. Is it pure fantasy to wonder if the association with Microsoft, loose as it is, might in some mystical way begin to set things straight.

On my way home in the rain from a neighbor  I stop by the hedge as a blackbird lands a few feet from my head. We remain still he and I. He, unwilling to move as the raindrops fall about his bright eye fixed on me. And I, from a sense of tact and respect. I am glad to say that it is I who leaves first . 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Passing heads, paper and sliced bread

From my desk I watch through the raindrop-splattered window a head bob past over the hedge and now a jaunty umbrella.  No one passed slowly every one is hurrying with urgent purpose.

For a while I was quite pleased with the thought that I had been able to track down in Shakespeare's plays the two uses of the phrase "burning daylight" meaning to be in a hurry, with the help of a hefty and charming book called Shakespeare's Words. I bet you could have googled  it, says a friend. We try. He is right. But I love the book no less and given the need I shall use the book before Google in future. Provided of course that it  is to hand. Problem of  loyalty already.

On a whim I buy a packet of white,sliced bread. No such object has entered the house for as long as I can  remember. What is my purpose? I think it must be to reproduce the sort of sandwich or slice of buttered toast found in high street cafes, which I have never found unpalatable. At home I make myself a cheese and Branston pickle sandwich. My teeth sink into mush. They meet no resistance. This simply will not do. Yet thousands of people would be disappointed to find their bread of a different texture. Food for thought.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Consultants, marmalade and communications

Computer problems continue. Christo is still  working on the Sony which he takes home to attend to overnight. That leaves me with the iPad. Thank you Steve Jobs.

While the computer consultant is at work,  I go round the corner to advise on marmalade production. Peter and Pammie are new to marmalade making. I suggest that they adopt the method where the oranges are cooked whole and cut into strips of preferred size afterwards. Pips and pith are placed in a muslin bag while cooking is in progress to ensure that pectin is transmitted.  When all is done including the troublesome business of establishing the setting point, I watch with a mounting sense of achievement as the jars are filled and stay with my neighbours long enough to establish that the amber jam one settled in jars is neither liquid nor of a toffee-like texture, but has become rather a glowing and trembly jelly in which the strips of golden skin are suspended. The marmalade consultant returns to find the computer consultant has been less successful.

Almost two weeks after seeing a specialist at the hospital, a definite course of action has not as promised arrived by post. A relief then to see  my GP, Doctor Koshal, who explains clearly and sympathetically what he has been able to glean ( he has learnt even less than I from the consultant) about the progress of my cure. I feel better already on the strength of his intelligence and communications skills alone.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Three thousand posts, alarm and taste reconstruction

With surprise I see that  I will today have completed 3001 posts on this blog. Statistics is not my best subject but I suppose I should feel some satisfaction.  I am not complacent.  Dumb persistence in wanting to chalk up something on the board to justify my existence is the best I can claim for motivation.

I still totter about the house. So, perhaps just for the time being, something called a personal alarm now hangs about  my neck. If I fall over and can't rise to my feet I press a button in the middle of the pendant,  people will rush to my help and voices will promise me relief, probably the most powerful incentive that I could possibly have to remain upright.

Apart from the alarm installation, this  morning is spent  reconstructing a taste sensation. My daughter Pippa and I prepare a dish from my childhood, a favourite of my Grandmother's. It consists of chicken cooked  in a sweet and sour sauce composed of masses of  grated onion, garlic, chili, ginger, coriander, cardamom, tomato, cinnamon, sharpened with  wine vinegar. The taste,  intriguing and complex as memory itself, comes wonderfully alive  when we sample it with a bowl of rice  over lunch. I have promised  Proustian words  associated  with it for Pippa's new family recipe blog.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

washing up, shopping and daylight

 I prepare a dish of Bengali style aubergines for my brother Ken who is a vegetarian. The vegetable is spiced with cumin, chili, turmeric and the like and served in a yogurt sauce. We eat it with a fluffy basmati rice. I ask him if he is bored while I am preparing  it. He appears to be perfectly happy to watch and chat, and lends a hand from time time. The best part of the exercise  for me is after the meal when following my instructions he washes up and puts everything away in its place. So that humouring my present tidiness bug he leaves the kitchen is spotless.

Shopping this morning with Peter and Pammie. Strange how well the supermarket trolley doubles as a   Zimmer frame. Not that I need a Zimmer frame, but given my aches and pains which still persist, it serves a dual purpose. Shopping remains a pleasure for me as I plan a meal for visitors tomorrow. I think it was Jane Grigson who said that 80 percent of the skill of cooking lies in the choice and acquisition of the right  ingredients.

We are talking about Shakespeare. Ken says he remembers reading that while many phrases used by the Bard have become part of English idiom, a lot that might have succeeded have slipped through the net. He gives as  an example,  "we burn daylight", signifying "we're wasting time." We reflect on how up to date the words sound today.  Where does Shakespeare use them? With the help of a book called Shakespeare's Words, we trace the phrase, which appears twice in the plays, to The Merry Wives of Windsor and to Romeo and Juliet.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Therapy, sport and Minnesota

Problems with uploading (or is it downloading) photographs. So no more archive or even new stuff until next week. But beautiful things are still around, even  if they are not illustrated. Today Christo Skelton, who  sorts out computer problems not only sets my lap top on the right course, but, with his company,  provides  therapy for me as well as for my machine.

Watching sport on TV is for me rather like drinking. It is best done in company. In recent years rugby though not a game I played myself as I did once football, has appealed to me much more than football. Normally I would not spend an afternoon watching either rugby or football. But this afternoon watching Italy put up bold fight against Wales  in company was a stirring experience. And a pleasure totally unexpected.

Reading about the human  brain in a detailed article in National Geographic is scary. Using an organ to learn about its own  mysteries and intricacies is too much for my frame of mind at the moment. I give up and turn to a lengthy article by the wonderful Garrison Keillor about  his family in  Minnesota.  I remember years ago being  entirely captivated by his book on  the deliciously named fictional  Minnesotan town of Lake Wobegon,where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all  the children are above average". Keillor started his career as a broadcaster on Minnesota Public Radio. I know know nothing about Minnesota, not even precisely where in it is. But it strikes me as  representing the America I  would love if I loved America (and well I might love it if it were like this). In Keillor's prose meanwhile I can hear the slow, spare accents of a people who are not in hurry and are not going to hurry for anyone.