Monday, 31 January 2011

In Which There Are Guests, and Books

Most of this week has involved work, which while necessary, yields little in the way of interesting blog material (especially as this  isn't, and isn't intended to become, a Law blog)

However, as the weekend approached things became more interesting. My mother had booked in to do two, one day patchwork workshops just down the road from me, so she and my dad invited themselves asked whether they could come down for the weekend, and I of course was happy to have them.
I was able to book Friday afternoon off work, which meant that I could get many of the dull weekend chores out of the way before they arrived, and also to take my car into the garage to have 2 new tyres, tyres being one of those things which cars do seem to need on a fairly regular basis.

All of which meant that once they did arrive, I was able to enjoy their company without having to do much housekeeping.

Saturday was a cold, grey day, with intermittant rain, so my dad and I stayed home, annd read the papers and (in my case) chopped up oranges for a new batch of marmalade.

In the evening, I'd invited my dad's cousin, who lives in Bath to come over to join us for dinner, so I wanted to make a 'proper' meal  - I made roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings, and then a lemon meriengue pie for dessert, (and drafted my dad in as chef's assistant to help with potato peeling and the like!)

We had a nice evening of food and conversation - at least, I did, and everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves!

On Sunday my mum was at the second of her two workshops, but it came a beautiful, clear, bright sunny day, so my dad and I decided to go over to Stourhead to go for a walk.

I love Stourhead, and it is always good to see it, and to see it change with the changing seasons. The last time I visited was in October, when the woods were a riot of copper and crimson and gold.

This time, the colours aare much more muted - the beeches and acers are bare, the rhodedendrons and yews have foliage, there is much less variation in colour, although  there are a few trees with vivid red or yellow bark, making them look aalmost as if they are burning.
On the other hand, the naked trees have wonderful skeletons, and there are beginning to be snowdrops under the beeches. We walked up to the obelisk, which is on the South side of the lake- there are views back down to the lake, and  to the huse (which is not open at this time of year) aand then walked  down, and around the lake. There was still frost around where the sun had not yet reached, and patches of ice in the lake, and the smaller ponds, and above it all, a perfect blue sky.

I saw a pair of great crested grebes on the lake, who seemed to be doing very well catching numerous little fish, as well as the usual ducks and geese.

As much as the walk, and seeing the changes to the place, I enjoyed having the time with my dad, on a one-to-one basis, which tends not to happen very often!

Later in the day, we (he & I) ventured up into the loft to retrieve some of the boxes which my sister has been storing there, and which my parents are takng to her, now she has a loft of her own (The boxes were originally in my parents' loft, moved to mine when they moved house, and are now slowy returning to her - althoug I still have 4 or 5 boxes in my loft...)  and also used his cunning little widget to work out where the wires run n my walls, so that I can hang some more pictures without worrying I am about to hammer a nail through an electrical cable, as I understand that that tends to end badly..

Then, my mum got home (with more, partially completed patchwork panels to finish at home) and we had a relaxed evening.

All in all, a most enjoyable weekend. Although it turned out that I had not got the marmalade quite right, as by this morning it was still showing no sign of setting, so once my parents had left, I decaanted it back into the saucepan and tried boiling it a little more, to see whether that will encourage it to set as it ought. It tastes absolutely fine, so it is really an aesthetic issue, but despite that I hope that it will set this time round.

And the books I mentioned?

I was lucky enough to win a copy of Martin Millar's book 'Lonely Werewolf Girl', in French ('Kalix: La loup-garou solitaire') when Martin gave away a couple of copies on his blog, and it just showed up. New books are always good. New books which come free from the author are best of all, and what better way to practice my somewhat rusty French than reading such a good book?

I also just learned that I won 3 SF novels, trasnslated from Japanese, in a draw run by the Science Fiction Fantasy Translation Awards blog!

Aren't I the lucky one :-)

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Marmalade Time

It's marmalade season again, and having bought some Seville oranges 2 weeks ago, I now have both the time, and the energy, to actually make the marmalade (or at least the 1st batch - I have bought lots of oranges this year, so should be able to make several batches.)

One of the things about marmalade-making is that while it isn't difficult, it is time consuming. although it does make the house smell wonderful as it is cooking, and for me, it's an evocative scent as it reminds me of my grandmother, who always made marmalade (I never made any, until after she died)

This morning, I had some errands to run in town first thing, so didn't get started until lunchtime, and I spent most of the afternoon on it, one way or another. (although this did include a lunch-break and a waiting-for-the-dishwasher break.)

Still, by about 5 p.m. all was completed - I have 9 large & medium, and 3 small jars full, (I used 2lbs today, as  that's the right quantity for my largest saucepan) and I have at least 4 lbs of oranges left so should be able to make twice as much more, although I may have to wait until next weekend, as I find I have fewer empty jars than I thought, and the only 2 shops I know of in town which sell jam-jars are closed on Sundays.

So, for anyone who fancies having a go at making their own marmalde, this is the recipie I use.
3lbs seville oranges
2 lemons
6 pints of water
6lbs sugar


1. Wash the fruit thoroughly

2. Halve the oranges and lemons and squeeze out the juice and pips. Put all of the pips, plus and pulp & pith/membrane which comes away into a muslin bag & tie it up. Leave the bag soaking in the juice for now.
3. Cut the peel up (however thickly or thinly you like your marmalade)

4. Put the peel into a preserving pan or large saucepan with the water and the bag of pips & pith. Save the juice.
5. Bring the peel to the boil and simmer until the peel is very, very soft. (it should be soft enough that a piece rubbed between your thumb & finger will disintegrate). This will take up to 2 hours and the amount of liquid will have reduced by around half.(slightly shport time for smaller quantities)

6. Remove the muslin bag and squeeze so all the liquid runs back into the pan.

7. Add the sugar and heat gently until the sugar is all dissolved

8. Bring to the boil & boil rapidly until setting point is reached (if you have a jam thermometer, the temp is 105 C / 221 F. - if not, put a couple of saucers in the freezer before you start stage 7, then test by dropping a little marmalade onto the chilled saucer, leave for a moment then push the puddle with your fingernail - the top should wrinkle. If not, boil a bit more and try again)

9. Stir in the juice

10. Remove from heat and remove any scum from the top with a slotted spoon.

11. Leave for 10-15 then stir to distribute the peel and put into clean, warm pots (pots straight out of the dishwasher are fine, or alternatively, wash them very carefully then warm them in a cool oven)

12. Cover the top of the marmalade in each jar with a waxed disc then leave (covered with a clean tea towel) until completely cooled.

13. When completely cool, cover with a cellophane cover and (if you wish) a screw top.


Obviously you can increase or decrease the quantities, as long as you keep them in proportion. You normally get approximately 1lb marmalade per orange - these quantities will yield around 10lbs of marmalade. - I tend to make it in smaller batches as I don’t have a preserving pan, and find that about 1-2 lbs of oranges is as much as I can do at any given time in the largest pan I have, what with the boiling sugar.

If you want to get fancy, you can add ¼ pint of whisky or of Cointreau at stage 9

If you want, you can add the juice with the water at stage 4 - saving it to the end makes the marmalade taste a bit more tangy, which is why I do it, but you don't have to.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

In Which I Fail to Give Blood

I realised yesterday fternoon that I had booked an appointment, before christmas, to toddle along and give blood yesterday.

I wasn't feeling overly enthusiastic about it: after several days of mild, but very wet weather the cold has returned, and heading out again after achieving the sanctuary of home was not appealing. But hey, I said I'd go, so I went.

Even when you book an appointment, thwere is always a good deal of waiting around, while they double check that you know who you are, and that you haven't been doing anything risky, like stabbing yourself with rusty nails, or sleeping with the wrong people (which always bugs me, as while I understand the rationale, I'm not convinced that the evidence still supports a view that gay/bi people present a greater risk, justifing refusing their blood. But boycotting the Natonal Blood Service would result in their being even less blood availbale for those who need it, so I don't)

Anyway, I passed the "not being anaemic" test, and got as far as the needle being stuck in (which isn't easy. My veins are tricksy and always awkward to find, but they usually manage.) and got to the point of some of my blood coming out, then the nurse decided that I was starting to bruise, so she stopped it.

Here's the odd part: although they had only got about a teaspoonfull at this point, it appears that (i) because they actually got the needle intto the vein, they aren't allowed to try again in the other arm, and  (ii) becasue they got a little bit of blood, they have to treat it as a donation which means I'm not allowed to donate again for 4 months, just as if they'd got a whole pint.

So, a rather frustrating evening all round. (and she was right. I do have a bruise. although  I do bruise awfully easily)

Oh, and despite my annoying evening, if you're eligible, and you don't already give blood, do consider doing so. You can register here

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

In which I Fall in Love

Last weekend I got an invitation to go to Birmingham, to visit my cousin and her husband, and to meet thier beutiful son, who is now 3 1/2 months old. My sister also lives in Birmingham, and our other sister was visiting her, so the plan was for us all then to meet up together foor Sunday lunch.

It was a lovely, low-key weekend. I drove up on Friday night, met baby J (And fell in love with him) Then I cuddled him some more, and played with the cats.

On Saturday we mostly stayed home, with a brief foray out to give J some air & to do a little shopping, then on Sunday we drove over to my sister's house for lunch. We all took it in turns to cuddle J (who really is an exceptionally well-conducted baby, and cries only when any self-respecting baby would)

And then, after a delicious meal, and a lot of conversation, I camme back home. It was a horrible drive - loads of rain, and spray, and surface water, but I got home in one piece, and without too much delay, so it's all good.

Meeting J for the first time was undoubtably the best thing which has happened this year (so far).

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

In Which There is Marmalade, Insurance and Meh

It is marmalade season again, so on Saturday morning I ventured out in search of the elusive seville orange. They aren't always easy to find, but happily I managed to track some down, and bought around 5lbs, which ought to let me make a decent amount of marmalade, once I summon up the energy to do all the necessary chopping and squeezing. I think I had fewer oranges last year, and as I recall it took a looong time.

Unfortunately I sem to have aquired one of the many nasty bugs going around - I have a head  chest cold, but mostly the evil little thing  LURKS, so I keep thinking I'm getting better, then when I do something (you know, like getting dressed, or going to work) it turns out that actualy, I'm not better at all. I just FELT better temporarily becasue I wasn't doing anything. Which sucks.

Luckily, if I don't get to the point of being able to make the marmalade within a reasonable time, I shall be able to freeze the oranges until I'm feeling better. (Since the oranges will be juiced, and the peel boiled to make itt soft, the fact the the freezing will make the oranges go soft is, if anything, a benefit rather than a disadvantage.) but that does not stop it being irritating.

The other (also irritating) think which has been occupying my time is the car insurance. As I mentioned on my last post, the time has come around for renewal - my existng  insurers sent me renewal documents with a bill for renewal which equates to an increase on last year's premium of almost 40%.  Now, I was expecting an increase, as I'm aware that insurance premiums generally have gone up, but that seemed to me to be taking the mickey in a big way. Shopping around, the lowest quote I found was 20% LOWER than my last year's premium (so about £150 cheaper than thier renewal) and although I haven't gone for that one, I have found a quote which costs just £20 more than I paid last year (and , as it turns out, has slightly lower excesses than either last year's insurance, or this year's renewal)  But I resent having to spend so long ploughing through
quotes, and the greed, and complete lack of any concept of rewarding  customer loyalty which makes it necessary. Grrrr.

Oh, and did I mention having to go through my tax return to send that back? It really does make for a fun week. *sigh*. The last thing I want to know is how much of my money  have to give to the government so they can piss about spending it on MPs second homes, and on endless rebrands, and tax breaks for rich doners, and legislation to reduce civil rights and court cases to defend doing those things, and wars we should never have countenanced, while at the same time refusing to pay for essentials stuff like schools and libraries and legal aid and support for the most vulnerable in society, or anything else which might make for a better, or more equitable society. Paying tax is never going to be fun, but  paying to watch things being torm apart REALLY sucks.


Rant over.

Friday, 7 January 2011

A New Year, and a Mystery

So, we're nearly a week into 2011, and so far, it feels pretty much like 2010 did.

Except for the Mystery book. My Volume 1 of the Absolute Sandman. It was waiting for me on the door step when I got home on Sunday - a brown paper parcel, tied up with string, addressed to me correctly, but in  unfamiliar handwriting. Postmarked from Deal in Kent. (and I don't know anyone in Deal, in Kent) No return address.

Inside, no card, no letter, no order slip, nothing.

I wondered, at first, whether my bother had sent it, or one of my sisters, as part of my Christmas present I mean, I'dd have been surprised, because they ech  already gave me a present, and I would have expected any of them to have said something when I saw them at Christmas, but it was all I could think of. The only other person I would suspect of sending me luscious books also already sent me a christmas gift (of books, natch)

So. Mystery. VERY odd.

Other than that, the year seems to have started with outbreaks of my office, people are dropping like flies - in my department, 3/6 people are off sick. Since Wednesday,  I'm the only fee-earner who has been in,  so I have been a little busy, and aso feeling rather crappy myself. I have been very firmly telling myself I am NOT ill, I am NOT coming down with anything, and I do NOT have an incipient chest infectiopn, but I don't find myself very convincing. *sigh*

Still, at least there is a weekend now. I was planning to make marmalade. It is marmalade season, but I may have to leave that and just collapse, I  think.

And it is that rather depressing time of year. My car insurance is due - my existing provider wants £365, so they just lost my custom. Thats a 40% increase on last year! And given I have been driving nicely, and haven't done anything expensive in the past year. I can't believe that insurance costts have gone up quite that much. So now I need to faff about getting other quotes, which is boring and time consuming. and I shall have to do it all over again for the hosue insurance soon.

Oh well. At least I still have left over Christmas chocolate.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Christmas is over, 2011 is here

I'm back home again, back to work on Tuesday, so I've a day at home to straighten things out, then a short week at work.

The social side of things started to quieten down a little after Tuesday, as family  members had to leave. On wednesday I did some experimenatal cooking - I thought it might be nice to make a pie from some of the left over ham & turkey - and was a little surprised, on checking my mum's supply of cookbooks to find no recipes for ham and turkey (or even ham and chicken) pie. So I made one up. And also made a pie with a hot-water pastry crust, which I've never made before. it turned out very well, to my pleasure and surprise! I may have to try a real pork-pie soon, to see whether I can do that.

By Friday I was the only one of the 'children' still at my parent's house. On New Year's Eve we went to the sea side around mid-day; first to a little bay where one can sometimes find cowrie shells. We weren't expecting to find many, as the tide was coming up, but to our surprise there were 100s. -  and not just in the rock-pools and the nooks and crannies att the bottom of the cliffs, where they usually are, but right at the water line. Between us, my mum and I found over 200, in less than half an hour. This made me happy. The shells are, of course, completely useless, but they are pretty, and they remind me of my grandmother, who liked them.

We then went for a short walk along Woolacombe beach, which was bleak and breezy, with lots of dog-walkers and one or two hopeful surfers, despite the total lack of surf!

Later, we used up the last of the christmas turkey in a rather tasty curry, and, havung no parties to go to declared Midnight and the new year at 11 p.m. and shared a bottle of (rather nice) prosecco to celebrate the past year and toast the new one. Not the most exciting New Year's Eve ever, but nice, in it's own quiet way

I spent most of New Year's day curled up with cramps and a selections of books-of-my-childhood. I hope that this is not sn Omen for the year ahead. I'm chosing to belive it isn't. (and I suppose that if one has to put up with such things, doing so at a time and place where you don't actually have to do anything, and where other people bring you occasional cups of tea, and make meals, is not a bad plan...)

I decided not to make any New Year resolutions, as it is just depressing when they get broken, and this time of year, and cold weather, are not conducive to new stuff, at least for me. I could perhaps stick to a resolution to snooze more, or something similar, but that doesn't seem very worth while!

I was a little jumpy this morning, preparing to drive home, seeing it start to snow again, but  fortunately none of it settled, and the drive home was uneventful. And waiting for me were two parvcels - one containing my copy of Rigor Amortis (direct from one of the authors!) and the other containing Vol 1 of The Absolute Sandman (which was totally anonymous, but which I suspect is part II of my Christmas present from my brother,  much as the idea of a secret admirer may appeal,  don't think that's a likely explanation....)

I like parcels containing books. They make coming home after Christmas much less dreary! So does finding a box of chocolates that I apparently didn't send to anyone for christmas, and will now tragically be forced to eat, myself :-)

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope 2011 brings everything you hope for.

I have not done a proper "review of the year" post, but wish for all my friends that the good things of 2010 continue into 2011, and the bad are left behind.

Love & hope,

Marjorie x