Friday, January 29, 2010

Cleaning the Spice Cabinet

I sit here this morning and type, my fingers smell of ground ginger, cinnamon and garam masala. I've just finished cleaning out the shelves on which spices are kept.The cupboard is half emptied. What a jumble!

As I am still trying to fill up my days, today's activity was inspired by a detour to Brighton Grove Food Store in Newcastle yesterday. I love love love this place!

I knew that the shelves on which our spices are kept has been neglected. Over the past few years as other things have taken me away from cooking with fresh spices, the spices have grown old and less vibrant. Some spices had become caked in their tins while waiting to be used. Others just smelled of dust. We have a collection of small tins with fitted plastic lids. They belonged originally to The Man of the Place, souvenirs from his poverty stricken college days in Birmingham. Over the years as spices were used up, we refilled them with fresh spices from small packets purchased at Brighton Grove Foods. That packet of ground ginger was only £.85 yesterday! Buying ground ginger at a large chain supermarket would have been more than £2.00 and I am positive that the contents would not be as vibrant. This particular shop has a very high turnover of spices and I am guaranteed that whatever I buy will always be at the hight of its potency.

When going through the narrow aisles trying to remember what I needed (I should have written a list) I am always tempted by interesting things; flakes of dried garlic, harisa, jars of jack fruit (in syrup). I was very good and left a bulk of what was tempting me on the shelves and bought the replacement spices. I wasn't completely immune to the lovely things there. They have a produce section where I got a huge bouquet of fresh corriander (cilantro), a halal meat counter and at the front checkout you can get a few ready-made samosa and freshly made Indian sweets. I bought three bottles of mango lassi from the dairy case and seven vegetable samosa (one to eat on the way home and three each for the guys). The burfi looked so fresh and tempting that I had to get a half a dozen pieces for the family.Back at the house, the old spices were removed from the tins and thrown away. The tins and lids were carefully washed and dried and refilled with new spices.

Turning to other spices, I realized that I had enough paprika to fuel all of Budapest for a week! I had two jars of very old paprika that I didn't realize I had. When I compared the colour of this forgotton paprika to the paprika I purchased in Budapest in May, I was shamed! It was barely red at all. That got thrown out and the jar refilled with the new stuff. Compare the colour of the packet on the left with the jar of Safeway brand paprika on the right. No comparison! There was also a half used tube of paprika paste from my attempts at proper Hungarian goulash and an unopened tin of smoked Spanish paprika. Those were thrown out as well. Why did I buy all this paprika? Smoked Spanish paprika? The mind boggles! I'm down to a normal amount of good paprika now. If I return to Budapest in the spring, I hope I don't lose my marbles and buy more. Maybe I buy it after the days spent wine tasting which may account for why I don't remember buying it.

Now that the spice cabinet is clean and tidy and contains nothing but fresh and non-out of date things, I realize that we are enjoying a rare sunny day today. Time to make a start on the greenhouses!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Burns Night here at Whitelees

Robert Burns, regarded as Scotland's national poet was born on the 25th of January 17, 1759.

Over 250 years on, his works are still widely used. Auld Lang Syne on New Year's Eve may be the most recognized

There is a celebration of the Scottish Bard's birthday each year, Burns Night. Drag out the good silver, brush aff the kilt and take the good sipping whiskey from it's hiding place.
We have a quiet celebration here at oor hoose. The vegetarians outnumber the meat eaters (me) so I boil up a vegetarian haggis along with the neeps (turnip or rutabaga) and tatties (potatoes).I had a particularly large turnip that took me ages to split in half. It was at this point that I feared my knife would be stuck. It reminded me of the countless times I've had a wedge stuck in the firewood I'm splitting. I did get the knife through the turnip eventually. I have a larger kitchen knife. I will use it the next time I'm splitting a monster like that one.

I had a little dram of whiskey on my own. The Man of the Place doesn't like the stuff and George wasn't interested.

There is a volume of the complete works of Rab Burns on the shelves. My own rendition of Ode to a Haggis is lamentable and did not wish to inflict it on the ears of my dear ones so the book stayed undisturbed during dinner. I read a few poems later by the fireside.

I visited his final resting place earlier in September when my dear friend Anne visited from the US. He is buried at St Michael's in Dumfries amongst a forest of great Victorian headstones. Initially stuck in a quiet corner as fitting his impoverished state, he was moved to a grander spot later and given a mausoleum. Anne is good at visiting, enjoying the ONLY dry weather we had all year. We had lunch at one of Mr Burn's favourite watering holes, The Globe Inn in Dumfries. Which is a quick walk from his final resting place. We ate in a beautiful and ancient oak paneled room.

As Rabbie Burns lived what were to be his final years in Dumfriesshire, you can't really move around here without bumping into a plaque or notice that he'd been there. Even our favourite chip shop in Annan has a notice stating that a poem was written within their walls.
Caerlaverock Castle, down on the coast has a bit of graffiti that may or may not be his. The year fits easily. I like to think a young, dark haired poet having a snoop about the ancient ruins and scratching his initials there.

The date is observed well in Scotland and by Scots the world over. The traditions vary from place to place and from country to country but a few things stand. Haggis is served, whiskey is drunk and poetry is read. My kind of celebration!! I have adopted Scotland as my home and will always observe Burns Night.

They're Off!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Little Surprise

I've been filling the days with little jobs I have been meaning to do. I've been dusting the house - even getting behind the radiators. I am appalled at the amount of dust that gets built up behind radiators.

I've also been going through the dive photos from July and identifying the little fishies in the pictures. I've been deleting the photos that are way too out of focus. I was all set to delete this out-of-focus photo of a nudibranch, the Varicose wart slug (a really unpleasant name) Phyllidia varicosa when something else in the photo caught my eye.I blew the photo up and discovered that what I had was a more in-focus photo of a Sebree's pygmy goby Eviota sebreei !!I was so delighted that I literally bounced in my chair! This is a photo of a 3 cm adult. They are actually quite common but so tiny that nobody ever notices them.

I'm not a good nature photographer, but I am keen. If you want to see the other photos, here's the link. Peggy's Photos

This photo was taken on the 14th of July at a dive site called Marsa Shouni Soroya near Port Ghalib in Egypt.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chimney Fire

Relax! It is out now and the house is still standing.

Boy it was scary though!

With the cold snap we've been having, it was thought that lighting the old range would be a good idea. This range is connected to the chimney we ended up capping in 2008 as we had jackdaws trying to nest there. Since the extension was completed and we use our lovely oil fired boiler to heat the house, this range has been out of a job. This is the first winter in a few years we have thought about lighting it.

It turns out that we weren't fast enough with the chimney cap and there was a half-built nest in the chimney. We were wondering why the fire wasn't drawing as it should. I just assumed that the chimney was cold and that when it warmed up, it would draw better. . . . .

Well it warmed right up The room this range is in started to fill with smoke. I thought perhaps the wind had changed and the smoke was being blown in. I shut the doors to this room and cracked the window open to let some of the smoke escape. Then I heard the fire roar inside the range. I mean louder than normal. To make things even more dramatic, burning twigs started to fall down the chimney and onto the range. Yikes! Chimney fire!

I put a call into the fire department and then went to the kitchen and got a dishpan full of water.

I was flinging burning twigs back onto the range if they bounced onto the carpet. The water was there to manage any embers that I couldn't get.Where the burning sticks were coming from.

By the time the fire department arrived, the chimney fire had burnt itself out. It turns out that the flu to the range isn't as attached to the chimney as we had once thought. This is why I had the scary rain of fire. A call to our pal Kevin the builder/plasterer is in order I think!

The room this range is in is quite kippered. I'm trying to get rid of the smell of smoke. I've cleaned the windows, and dusted. I remembered that we had a bottle of Febreze in the kitchen. With this cold weather (and it is probably old) the product has sort of set into a jell. The bottle of fabric deodorizer is soaking in warm water for a bit to see if that makes it fluid once again.

So, that was yesterday - bonus for getting to see firemen! Lesson for the day: Have ALL the chimneys checked and cleaned every spring, not just the ones you use regularly.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Winter Eases

It didn't snow today. The temperature got up to a balmy 4 C.
This first picture was taken yesterday. We've had snow since the 19th of December and none of the snow has yet to melt off the roof. All the extra insulation that The Man of the Place put up there has really paid off!

While going out to the chicken run with the water, I heard the sound of running water just as I was going out the kitchen door. The running water was from the drain!! The pipes had thawed enough for the water to drain! The bathroom is back in working order.
Meanwhile the colder winter temperatures mean that from time to time the cat and the dog will share space in front of the fire.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Cold Problems

I don't want to always be moaning about the weather. I don't mind snow and I can deal with much colder temperatures than we have at the moment. As I have mentioned before, any condition that freezes the mud is fine by me. However, not everything around here is as hardy as this northern gal.Our drains have frozen. I'm pleased it isn't water pipes that have frozen, but I fear those could be next if we're not careful.

I went into the bathroom just before dinner and noticed that the bathtub had a bit of standing water in it from a drippy tap (faucet) and the bath plug was not in. That is not good. I hoped for a hairball or some other non-frozen clog problem but I feared the worst. I ran some hot water into the tub and got the plunger out. Plunge plunge plunge plunge plunge plunge plunge plunge plunge plunge and . . . . nothing. Just lots of grit coming up - eventually a leaf came up as well. I had plunged as far as I could plunge. As illustrated above, the drains to this bathroom are external - and there is a big old freeze in them somewhere.
This is the tub full of warm, dirty water after the failed effort to plunge the clog away. I have put a call in to the plumber, but I suspect his time is at a premium with burst pipes and frozen drains.

Meanwhile, George and I saw an actual snowplow come by the house! Twice!!! Sadly the plow's blades were set too high and it looks as though nothing was actually plowed up and there was no grit or sand sprinkled on our little lane. *sigh* Why is nobody prepared for this weather? Is it such a big surprise that we've got snow in the winter? Sheesh! We haven't even had a full foot of snow!

Polly and I continue to enjoy the weather. Polly should have sound effects when going for a walk in the snow. The sound effect would be a *boing boing boing* sort of sound. I cheer up just watching her.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Warm Memories

The mercury has plummeted. Walking out the chicken run to fetch the waterer in for the night, the snow squeaks underfoot. That old familiar squeak alone can make me feel cold.
Circular batfish
Platax orbicularis

This is the sort of weather for indoor things. As I have loads of time on my hands over the holidays, I have finally begun to upload some diving photos onto Flickr. I am trying to do this systematically. I am uploading them in the order that they were taken. I then am adding in the name of the fish in the picture (including the Latin name as I am a bit of a nerd) and the dive site.
Banded Snake Eel
Myrichthys colubrinus

We had ten days of diving during our holiday in Egypt. The first day out I did not bring my camera. I wanted to "get my chops back" before adding in the additional distraction of a camera. Having a camera is a distraction to diving and one becomes less aware of things. Ones discipline has to be sharpened and you have to know to look up and look around between shots and not get to involved in photography or something bad could happen.Network pipefish
Corythoichthys flavofasciatus

I took the camera on the second day's diving. It was a trip to Abu Dahab, a wonderful shore dive that was a short drive from our hotel. Imagine a little sandy bay with a coral reef to the right with a gentle slope into a vast area of sea grass in the centre. The temperature was in the mid 40's C, not a cloud to be seen and only a gentle breeze to stir the beach towels on the shore.

Sea turtles are the big and most reliable draw to this dive site. For me, once I've seen a turtle, I was much more interested in getting back to the reef where life and colour was almost exploding.

Hawksbill turle with 2 remora
Eretmochelys imbricata - turtle
Echeneis naucrates - remora

We had two dives that day with a lovely break for pizza and a nap between dives. The sun was scorching hot and naps were had under umbrellas. Where's a time machine when you really want one?

Lined butterflyfish
Chaetodon lineolatus with
lovely orange Anthias
Pseudanthias squamipinnis

The hawksbill turtle is rare and critically endangered. Having said that, most of the turtles we saw on this holiday were hawksbill turtles with the occasional green turtle thrown in for good measure.

We had an excellent day with no accidents and no sunburn!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Happy New Year!

All the best for 2010!
Me and the Man of the Place, George and the assorted pets hope you have a wonderful year ahead with nothing but nice things.

I am finally uploading the photographs I took in July when we were diving in the Red Sea. That particular holiday was the highlight of our year. They'll be up on Flickr. The Flickr badge is on the right side of the blog here. Click it and have a look for yourself. It is nice when it is all cold and snowy outside to sort through photos of a particularly lovely HOT holiday.

We had more snow today. As it is the first of the year, we thought we would go for a walk to see a local and ancient spot, King Schaw's Grave. Sadly the unplowed state of our little lane meant that we didn't make it. We walked the dog up to the frozen duck ponds instead.