Monday, 30 August 2010

The walk to work, sometimes.

My modernist tube station forecourt
Tomorrow's Tuesday, back to work after an extra long weekend for the English, at least. Not the Scots. (Don't know about the rest of you.) I'm fortunate that I have a variety of different streets I can walk down that all bring me home from the tube station without sending me a long way around. Many gardens to observe, flowers to make me smile, bodged porch conversions to make me frown.
But sometimes, I take a long way around just to see what's there. Why should we get home the fastest way possible? Why not stick in a few more steps just to see what happens?
When I'm in central London, particularly in the City, which still has a load of interesting little alleyways that it's easy to dash past, I sometimes stray along a route I've not explored before. Sometimes, when I know it's faster to get the tube, I get the bus instead, just so I can see what's out there.
Doing everything as quickly as we can doesn't necessarily lead to the most rewarding of lives. The pursuit of success, as defined by the usual Western guidelines: big stuff, muscular legs and more money, is turning out to be a bit of a let-down.
This Tuesday, even if it's raining, take a walk and notice something that's never caught your eye before. Wonder how it got there. Come back here and write about it.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Free Fruit (Year 2)

The darned blog has cut the edge off the recipe. I'll stick it on Twitpic.

So off we trotted, back down to the Grand Union Canal, the bit that runs through Hanwell. This year there were even fewer fruit pickers but more rabbits. So far we've processed about 10kg of blackberries. (They are called brambles in the north, but I realised that southerners had no clue what I was talking about when I called them that; we northerners are bilingual and also speak southern, owing to there being a lot of it on television.) We went back thre weeks later and added around 4kg of apples and another 12kg of damsons.

That picture, that's what you do with them. It's a recipe from my Auntie Dolly's 1930s cookery and household management book. When your relatives are poor, and all you inherit is one book, then you treasure it a bit more than if you get a whole houseful of stuff to sort out . Possibly. Anyway, it's really useful for doing retro things like preserving damsons.

Today, I picked 700g of quinces off the shrub in the front garden. They are just cooling downstairs after a good stewing. Next I'll shove them through a sieve to make a puree, and I might eat it like that with yoghurt, or possibly add a bit of sugar. They are scarily tart. I bet loads of you have a quince bush in the garden; they get bright orangey red flowers in spring, have evil thorns and make little yellow knobbly fruit about 5cm in diameter.

Back to the damsons. I did the damson cheese with them! It's currently sitting in little Pyrex pots in the kitchen. It's dead tasty with real cheese, and my claim is that it neutralises the cholesterol because of all the acids in it. I've been putting it on the Mini Baby Bels I bought to get myself a free spacehopper. (Act fast, they've got 15000 to give away, and all you need are the codes off two packs of 12 or four packs of six.)

By the way, the recipe recommends WAY too much sugar IMHO. I used as much as you can see in the picture and chose demarara because it gives the damsons a toasted caramelish taste. It still tastes pretty sweet; well, it does when you compare it with the fruit leathers that have none at all.

If you want the recipe for jam from page 473, just let me know.
Anyway, go get that fruit! It's all falling off trees and wasting.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Going on Your Holidays

One of the many great things about holidays is that you see places like this and think to yourself, "I could live there; that would be brilliant!" before you go home and decide that you're quite happy living where you already do. (It's in Granville old town, Normandy, built around 100 years ago.)

This year we set off in the little Renault Clio to Picardie and Normandy. We got the ferry, stayed at a fabulous little hotel right on the Somme estuary (Les Tourelles) opposite the bird sanctuary - those gulls can make a noise - then off down the autoroute to a farmhouse at the other end of Normandy to meet up with all 14 of the Randell family, complete with six children and teenagers. Here, we ate, drank, played an advanced form of tig called budge, swam, mopped the floor, had a quiz and went cycling down an old railway line on converted bogies. On the way back, we stayed in Honfleur and awarded ourselves a day out in Deauville and Trouville, places I've wanted to visit for as long as I've known they existed. Hercule Poirot has much to answer for.

I took masses of stuff to do: books to read, books to write, knitting kit, swimming stuff. I even packed four bottles of ink (Diamine in Lavender, Marine, Hope Pink and Vermillion, assuming that I would be writing so much that I'd need to fill up. I didn't.

I did finish a pair of socks though, and knitted matching scarves for the three girls' teddy bears. As seen here. (Patrick the Panda wasn't present for the modelling session.)

Anyway, I found that after twelve days of not having to worry about much except for remembering to drive on the right and wondering which ice cream to choose, the benefits of holiday time began to flow my way.
I've now got an ending for a book. I was struggling with it. I wanted something that wouldn't just wibble away into futility after spending all these months seeing if I could make the beginning and the middle interesting. Suffice to say that I'm quite content with it. Then I had an idea for the series, at least another six outline stories for the next few books. (Got to get a publisher for the first one yet, so let's not get too carried away. But that's not the point.)

Holidays are there to clear out all the rubbish from your head that builds up while you're working, to allow your adrenaline levels to fall. For the last several years, all my holidays have been spent worrying about all the work that was piling up for me when I got back. This time, now that I'm working at a reasonable, steady rate, I've had the most constructive break in ages. I did this by relaxing, apart from the occasional four hour drive in torrents of Norman rain, and giving myself time for all the thinking I'd already done to unravel itself into clarity. The lesson for me is that if I want to be a bit creative, I mustn't allow my work rate to get silly every again, so when I go away I'm looking forward to the life I'll come back to. That way, I can calm down and tick over nicely, then interesting ideas might happen all by themselves.

As for the ice creams, they included caramel with salter butter, violet, blackcurrant, dark chocolate sorbet, dark cherry sorbet, fromage frais and Deauvillaise: vanilla with chocolate chips and crystallised orange peel marinated in Grand Marnier. Oh yes.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

The Joy of Socks

I knit.

That's a sock, photographed on the seat of a French railway carriage attached to a small steam engire that goes around the Baie de la Somme, slowly, after half an hour of apparently aimless chuffing. This sock is now complete and I'm 15cm into knitting its friend. (Technical stuff for knitters: it's made with bamboo yarn that I got from in the US, a great place that sells ends of batches at low prices.)
I saw a great t-shirt advertised on Facebook this week that says "I knit so I don't kill anyone". Although I don't think I'm in danger of murdering my friends, family or colleagues, there are times when knitting definitely relieves the danger of going bonkers. Christmas, for example. Or while waiting for a small French steam engine to get itself going in the morning.

I often use my knitting time to think. If I've got to work out a way to finish a chapter, unravel a knotty problem or just calm down a bit, out come the needles. This week I've been teaching a little lad to knit. He has learning difficulties and I really didn't knink he would take to it. Usually he races around like a puppy on Mars Bars with his volume set on 11. Instead he's been sitting down next to me repeating our mantra:
"Through the stitch, round the back and through the needles, down down down and make the loop, you are the weakest link, goodbye!" (Knitters will understand.) If your hands are occupied with something constructive, it seems to quieten your mind. It works with me, and it seems to be working with him, although I can't leave him alone with it, or stitch slippage will occur and holes will appear.

If I costed in the time it takes to knit a pair of socks they would come out at around £1000 a pair, but that's one of the other reasons why we ought to do it. You appreciate your clothes when you've put that much effort into them. Just going to the shops and buying them, where's the satisfaction in that?