Friday, October 31, 2014

Going Out

Nellybert are going out with the Banjos tonight. For a meal. Jazzer phoned at lunch time and suggested it and, as always, my first impulse was to refuse.

Go out? To eat? I'd much rather stay home, wash down the bookshelves, clean the spice rack, bottle the elderberry, watch Last Tango in Halifax, bicker with Bert, eat toast, then go to bed with the iPad and a Sudoku puzzle.

But I gave myself a good mental shake and said,

Go out? To eat? We'd love to.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Changing Rooms

Bert and I have been busy bees this last few days. He is working on a wall unit for Young Rooney and is quite obsessed by it. Then, in the evenings, he spends an hour or so sanding down the wooden floor in what was previously Pearlie's room. It will return to what it was, my own sitting room. I'm looking forward to it. I will have an open fire, rugs and cushions. We can't have cushions in the sun room as it opens on to the yard and the dogs and Bert and the visitors carry all the dirt of the day in there. And for some reason all the cushions end up on the floor. Bert has just one left and it is covered in sawdust. My sitting room will be a haven of comfort and cleanliness. I told Bert so and he disputed it but he will see.

Meanwhile I've been cleaning and sorting. I have found my long lost passport and all my nicest cushion covers. I have went through my gigantic ironing pile and recycled at least half of it. That's one way to cut down on the ironing.

A young friend called today and I brought her in to see the progress and she was amazed at the amount of books on the shelves. She asked if I'd read them all and I had to admit that I hadn't. I told her that I started collecting books in the early seventies and that back then I used to put my name in them and the date I acquired them. I picked up an ancient Penguin and opened it to show, in my best juvenile handwriting, that it was named and dated 3/3/73. Over forty years on my shelves and still to be read.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Country Girls

I have been to Belfast twice this week and I may go again tomorrow.  On Tuesday Bert and I went to Smithfield Market, then to the outskirts to collect some flagstones from a friend. We got a little bit lost on the way back but in a good way. Getting lost is just another way to see new places.

I went yesterday with Bert's cousin, the one formerly known as Pearlie's favourite niece. She had a medical appointment but, to make it more fun, we went up early to check out the vintage stores on Botanic Avenue and get a bite of lunch. I chose a cafe that specialised in Middle Eastern food and, I am sorry to say, we were served by a waitress who thought it amusing to mock favourite cousin's strong accent.
You're a wee country woman aren't you?

She then proceeded to speak in an accent that she thought approximated FC's. It was rather awkward. I expect we should have complained bitterly but then we country women aren't like that. Not nice wee women like FC and Nelly anyway. I took a dry tone with her and FC lightly remarked that she hadn't expected to be insulted. Our server realised that she had overstepped and was the soul of politeness and attentiveness thereafter. Despite it all I enjoyed the food (FC didn't) and I might go back.

I seriously considered leaving a complaint on the cafe's Facebook page this morning but decided against it. I liked everything about the place except the server's unprofessional attitude. McCooeys are hoors for slagging country folk. I'll be ready for her next time. If she's still there.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Family Meal

Nellybert have the decorators in. Well, to be honest, just the one decorator, Banjo Man, and he keeps breaking off to drink Guinness and play his banjo. I'm not complaining. He is doing a wonderful job and we're not even paying him. So the house is a bit upside down. It didn't help that I pulled all my wine out to do stuff with it and that Bert has been on lock down in his shed building a dog house for Jazzer's incontinent dog. Working man suppers had to be made (lots of meat and potatoes) and, consequently, I'm rather behind with household chores.

Today I'd planned a Family Meal. And I needed Bert to help me prepare. Bert, when he takes the notion, is a good focused cleaner. He likes to throw things out, he likes to lecture me on how my cleaning routines are haphazard and inefficient. He cleaned the scullery, threw lots of things out, spent at least 40 minutes in it. Meanwhile I haphazardly and inefficiently cleaned the rest of the house, baked a cake, made fifteen scones, a stack of sandwiches and mopped the scullery floor. That's teamwork.

London Sister is visiting. We also had Martha, Evie and their parents, Hannah Banana and three family dogs. Family Meals are great. They consist of a lot of different kinds of food, mismatched fancy china and a family.   Zoe brought terrible things from Ikea, herrings and Swedish blood sausage. Bert and Dave fell on them with glee. I tried not to look as I concentrated on my scone, piled high with Les' delicious damson jam and whipped double cream. The cake was a triumph. It was an apple sponge made with a combination of Les apples and Lidl apples. It actually fell apart when I was removing it from its dish (should have lined it) but I managed to piece it together and joined it at the seams with runny icing.

From now on Family Meals shall be the order of the day.

Afterwards the girls brushed their teeth and put on pyjamas all the better to be straight up the stairs and a bedtime story as soon as they got home. Then we took some photographs. I was in such a good mood that I even forgave London Sister for looking every bit as young as my children.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Shared Space

Eighteen demijohns of home made wine sitting on the kitchen island and one of hard cider which has started to ferment. Yippee! I have made an important list. Four demijohns needing racking and three needing bottled. 

I was hoping Bert would go out tonight so I could make a start on the wine and then clean the floors but he has chosen to stay at home to finish some decorating. How could I complain. This is going to be my own wee sitting room. Banjo Man is helping him. I am a very fortunate woman indeed. So far, I haven't had to lift a finger. It used to be a sitting room and we had just got it the way I wanted it when Pearlie needed to move in. This was something I wasn't expecting but I am sure it was at the back of Bert's mind all along.

I said to him the other day,

We're each going to have our own sitting room! 
And we  already have our own bedrooms.
We could have a bathroom each if we wanted.
This marriage is going to last forever!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I'd Rather (Not) Go Blind

For a while now I haven't been able to enjoy looking at the heavens. Even on the clearest night the stars would not stay still for me. When buzzards flew above this house, which they often do, I've not been able to see them as sharply as previously. Looking into the distance seemed to strain my eyes. Using binoculars did not help. I couldn't get them to focus. Maybe it was time to get stronger spectacles?

Yesterday while driving into town I thought my glasses were fogged over and, while stopped at traffic lights, cleaned them. I picked up Hannah and on the way home it felt as if my lens was dirty. I knew it wasn't. I closed my left eye and all was fogged, closed the right, could see clearly. Closed the left again and it was as if my lens was smeared with Vaseline. I made an appointment with my optician when I got home and saw her today. I have a well advanced cataract in my right eye. A year's wait for free treatment. I'm not sure what to do.

Only the other day I was thinking that the quality of recent photographs had deteriorated. No wonder! I've been using a half blind eye to focus them.

When I left the optician I felt so sorry for myself. Ten pounds heavier than I was, penniless, going blind, sore achey shoulders, getting old. I had to give myself a mental shake. Sure if I lived a hundred years ago there wouldn't even be any treatments, never mind free treatments! I have options. I spent the rest of the day rooting up sunflowers, preparing my garlic bed and chatting to the younger generation. And the younger generation told me that their grannies have all had cataract operations and are doing just fine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Adventures In Cider Making

At primary school one of the stories in our Wide Range Readers was Johnny Appleseed. As I remember, Johnny was presented as a jolly hobo who wandered the length and breadth of America with bags of apple seeds which he planted everywhere for no reason other than benevolence. And this is how Johnny Appleseed is generally known. I never gave him another thought until I read The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan.

Pollan's work shows how people and domesticated plants have formed mutually beneficial relationships. His chosen plants are the apple – our desire for sweetness, the tulip – for its beauty, marijuana – which intoxicates us and the potato which nourishes us. Each of these plants has thrived through selective breeding and genetic engineering. It was a fascinating read which I'd recommend to anyone who takes pleasure in growing – anything!

The section I enjoyed the most was the one on our desire for sweetness and apples. Pollan had a lot to say about Johnny Appleseed or, to give him his true name, John Chapman. The tale I had from school was over simplified. John Chapman was a fascinating man. But he didn't just wander around the United States planting seeds willy-nilly. He planted nurseries of apple saplings and sold them to farmers. When a nursery was established he left it in the hands of a manager and moved on, planted another nursery and continued in this pattern. He made a decent living. Now an interesting fact about apples is that they don't grow true from seed. Indeed, if you were to take an apple and plant the several seeds that it contained, each seedling would be entirely different from the others. And most would be sour. Apple trees that produce sweet fruit may only be propagated by grafting. So the vast majority of John Chapman's trees would have produced sour fruit. So why did people buy them in such large numbers? Because sour apples are just what is needed to produce hard cider and applejack. Our reading book never mentioned that.

Which brings me to my own recent experiment. I've been wanting Bert to make a cider press for ages but he has yet to get round to it. So I was rather pleased when a friend sent me a link to a method of producing cider without using a press. I gathered my apples, a mixture of Bramleys, crabs and dessert apples. Mostly Bramleys as they are what I have at hand. They are not ideal for cider but it is just an experiment.

The recipe uses a juicer instead of a press and we happen to have a sturdy masticating juicer which makes it easier still.

Hard Cider From Whole Apples

What You’ll Need:
  • Apples, pears, or crab apples (to be mixed with sweet apples.)  About 15 lbs. of fruit gets us about a gallon of juice.  Must be fresh and organic.  Try to include some crab apples or tart apples with your sweet ones for a better, more balanced flavour.
  • A juicer. 
  • A chopping knife and cutting board.
  • A large sieve and a clean kitchen towel.
  • Demijohns, a funnel, a siphon hose, rubber bungs and airlocks.
  • Sugar
  • Swing-top bottles
  1. Wash your fruit well with plain water. 
  2. Cut your apples into quarters.  This is mostly just to check for bugs or other issues with the apples.  Discard or cut around any that have an infested core, and cut out major bruises. You don’t need to worry about coring or taking stems out– the juicer will do that for you.
  3. Start juicing!  As your juicer pitcher gets full, pour it through a funnel into a sterilized demijohn.
  4. Once you have juiced all of your fruit, taste the juice and add sugar.  At least a cup of sugar to a gallon of juice, more if you like sweet cider.  During the fermentation process, the yeast will eat the sugar (both the fructose from the fruit and the added sugar) and turn it into alcohol– so this step is both for flavour and alcohol level.  Those of you in the USA may not really need to add much sugar, as most of the apples there tend to be really sweet.  You can add more sugar later if the brew is turning out too dry or tart for your taste.
  5. Put a rubber stopper and an airlock on your demijohn, and let it sit for a week.
  6. Rack your cider– siphon it into another sterilized demijohn, leaving the yeasty sediment in the bottom of the first one, so you have a much cleaner cider in the new demijohn.  Taste it and see how it’s doing.  If it’s already tasting pretty dry, you can add some more sugar before you put the airlock back on.
  7. For a sweet cider, bottle after a week. Three weeks or more makes a drier end product. Fermenting it this long means that it won’t be very fizzy in the end– but you can also add a little sugar just before bottling to regain some carbonation.  The next step is to bottle your hard cider.  Use the siphon hose to fill swing-top bottles. The type of bottle is really important, since it lets out small amounts of the pressure that builds up, so you don’t burst any bottles.

For those of you in Northern Ireland all the specialist equipment needed can be purchased at Hillstown Farm Shop near Ahoghill (and Randalstown) or Nature's Way in Belfast.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Devil Makes Three "Old Number 7"

Banjo Man was the first person, actually the only person, who enthused (raved) about this band. Last night he made me watch this video on YouTube and I have to admit I was impressed. Banjo Man and his band Dogg Ruff String Band  have been doing their own version of Old Number 7 for a while now so I've heard the song a few times.

There was this other band too... racking my brain now. Phoning Jazzer now. Futurebirds. Now I know why Banjo Man has grown a long beard. He is going all modern Americana. I think he even has a Pinterest page of decorated beards on the go. Can't wait until he is plaited, beflowered and beaded for it will certainly dilute his current White supremacist look.

Is that not a darling beard? The wonderfully named Cooper McBean who plays tenor banjo and guitar with The Devil Makes Three.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Morning Pages

I am so behind with everything including blogging. One thing I am way ahead of is contact with family and friends, and that has to be more important that chores, hobbies and blogging. Isn't it? I maybe should check the polytunnel today to see if anything has died.

During the week I did find a moment to read Oliver Burkeman's column in the Guardian Saturday magazine. I found the idea intriguing and discussed it with my sister asking her if she'd read it or, if she'd even heard of it. Turns out she had and had found it a very helpful exercise when she was going through a hard time. So, I began. Matty always said that her children followed each other 'like sheep'. But I'd say that if one of the sheep has found a good way of being, why not follow her?

Three days in and I'd forgotten how difficult it is to write longhand. My wrists and shoulders ache. My first insight? I hate the shelves and wardrobe in my room. I suppose I'll have to do something about that.

Right now I am writing this on an iPad and the weight of it is killing me. More blogging tomorrow. Devil Makes Three on YouTube.  When did my life get so exciting?

Friday, October 03, 2014

Insider Knowledge

I have just finished watching the first two series of House of Cards. Essentially, as far as politics go, it was complete toodle but, as a drama, it was  tremendously enjoyable. The acting, particularly the two leads Spacey and Wright, was tremendously good. Kevin Spacey has created a marvellous, Machiavellian villain.

So that's me a-waitin' on my next fix of House of Cards and Game of Thrones. And speaking of Game of Thrones, Season 5 has been shooting recently here in Northern Ireland. I'm not enough of a geek to know if location shooting is still going on but I am enough of a geek to have enjoyed a recent conversation with one of the extras. He wasn't able to tell me about what was going to happen, said that if he did he'd be contractually obliged to kill me but he did tell me about some of the previous season's shoots. For instance, y'know that highly erotic scene back in Season 1 where Daenerys Targaryen first got it properly together with Khal Drogo? They were actually supposed to be glamping in a luxury yurt befitting a warlord. Where the romantic pair actually were was in a cowshed somewhere in Buckna.

I was unable to pick my informant out in his scenes in the actual show. He said he was the one with the big black bushy beard. Not helpful. Not helpful at all.

Once upon a time in Buckna