90. We’re Busy Doing Nothing

I am so sorry, you’re probably thinking I’ve poisoned us both with all that old food and that’s why you didn’t get a cocktail recipe at the weekend. Fear not, I’ve just been remiss and neglected you all. And before JD tells me off for the title today, we are very busy. I just like the song, it’s sung by Bing Crosby in the 1949 film “A Connecticut Yankee in King’ Arthur’s Court” based (very loosely I suspect) on the book by Mark Twain. Sing along now…

Post 89 received a few comments that I should reference. “Shower caps” are available from Ikea, they look much more robust than the ones I’m using. https://www.ikea.com/ch/en/p/oevermaett-food-cover-set-of-2-silicone-light-blue-70461936/. I cannot agree regarding Hobnobs, I won’t tell you the remark that JD made but I’ll send the next packet straight through to Wiltshire! Finally, some boxes of wine do indeed hold 12 bottles but more and more I’m seeing boxes of six (unless my reputation has gone before me and they think that’s all I can handle). I was under the impression it was due to EU regulations and maximum weights, such as we had many years ago in our profession, before computer submissions became the norm.

So, what shall we get up to today?

Post 88 on 18th April, ELEVEN DAYS ago, left you waiting for a cocktail. Who guessed the magic ingredient? Not Aperol (which comes next in my alphabet) but Amaretto. You can find (non alcoholic) Amaretto biscuits as well as the drink, the word apparently means “little bitter” (I don’t speak Italian so didn’t know this). I’ve just found out, while doing my research, that 19th April was Disaronno Day last year so I’m on trend for this year! http://www.disaronno.com/en/news/disaronno-day-2019. This is the brand I like (others are available, maybe I should try them). It has a very distinctive shaped bottle which I’ve finished off (there was less than an inch in the bottom) and thrown away so no photo of it I’m afraid. Here’s a magnificent wisteria instead.

Bearded iris and wisteria

Amaretto is an almond flavoured liqueur (from almonds or apricot kernels) which I love (as well as the biscuits), especially after a good dinner in front of a roaring fire. However, there’s no excitement in that for you so what mixture did I come up with? After I’d dismissed the shots (see Post 86 on 7th April), I was left with nine possibilities, although there are many others on the internet. I’m not a fan of egg white or cream in cold drinks and the ones with tea seemed like a cheat from Prohibition. There were a few with just Amaretto and one other ingredient (lemon juice, Irish whiskey, tequila) which I didn’t like the sound of. This left me with three: Cosmic Bliss, Bad Attitude and Big Red Hooter. How to decide between three such wonderful sounding names? Let’s look at the constituents of each: the first has orange, lemon and lime juices; the second FIVE other spirits (gin, rum, tequila, triple sec and vodka) plus Grenadine, as well as three juices (cranberry, orange and pineapple); the third has merely tequila, Grenadine and pineapple juice. Decision made, I need my five a day and don’t have any pineapple juice. Cosmic Bliss it is! As I’m trying to see the Starlink (Elon Musk’s satellite train) when it passes overhead this is very appropriate as well.

Cosmic bliss!

The rest of the time has mostly been taken with routine tasks mentioned previously so of no interest. I’ve made lemon and cardamom drizzle cake as well as caraway seed cake. Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m trying to use up the spices that we have in the cupboard, this is a great book to have as an inspiration for recipes. Author Dhruv Baker (what an apt name!) won MasterChef in 2010 on UK television (for anyone not au fait with such programmes, including me).

Adie has not eaten anything she should not have (to the best of our knowledge). The garden and lambs continue to grow. The vegetable seeds I ordered before I left London (see Post 84 dated 27th March) finally turned up so I’ve planted those as well as some old ones I found in the shed, we’ll see what comes up. The rain that has now arrived is most welcome. Also looking back at that Post, I see that I said I’d missed the daffodils. Not so, yesterday I came across these in the garden.

Pheasant’s eye narcissi

George had his birthday last Friday. We were expecting to be celebrating in Seattle with a crowd of sailors. Instead George is still “on his tod” in London so we held a virtual party with his Godparents, a couple of friends and us. (If you’re not familiar with this saying, it’s Cockney rhyming slang for being alone. I didn’t know where it came from so looked it up. There was a US jockey called Tod Sloane at the end of the last century. Sloane = on your own). We tried to get together on WhatsApp but that only allows three people, so George had to set us up on Zoom, while the rest of us ran around turning on our computers. Lessons learnt: as well as not trying to WhatsApp too many people, do not leave your wine in a garage behind an electronic door. If there is a power cut you’re stumped! (I’m glad to say we do not have any electronic locks so we had plenty of champagne to toast George).

And finally, in case you want to know how the lambs are getting on, here’s two of them yesterday aged eleven days.

89. Life In The Time Of Covid-19 (2)

Good morning class, today we have a special day on home economics, so sit up straight, settle down and don’t fidget. Before we start assembly, we have a couple of announcements. First, to Ed, we didn’t mean to bring back those horrible childhood nightmares of SP (we cannot bring ourselves to put it in full). We hope no other ill effects were seen from the last blog post. Second, a huge well done to JT, who correctly spotted the Dalek ice cube! Have a piece of cake as a reward next time we meet! (We shall ignore the other suggestion made by JT, which should mean five minutes’ detention under other circumstances). The other ice cube was of K-9: there is also a Tardis one but it wouldn’t fit in the glass. This was not actually that difficult a quiz question if you’ve seen my freezer. (I’m not sure if it’s featured in an early post so here it is again if so).

My freezer

Let us acknowledge the patron saint of us all, Sir David Attenborough at the beginning of this long period. He exhorts us to lay aside our foolish ways and save the planet by not wasting anything. Today, in homage, we are therefore going to address how to reduce waste and as a by-product, save money (Possibly, although you may just be driven to drink).

Our first stop is the kitchen. As we are now into week 4 of the lock-down, we have all sorted our spices and herbs into alphabetical order, tidied the wine rack and defrosted the freezer and listed all contents of this and the fridge. What’s that at the back, your wine rack is already empty? You’ve drunk it all in the first month? In these straitened times we all have to apply discipline and exhibit strong morale. Stick to buying one case a week and you can’t go wrong. As a case is only six bottles, you can decide before opening it which day will be purgatory sorry your day of rest.

Full marks if you played the “Chocolate sauce or gravy?” game instead of throwing away the unidentifiable items! We have been able to use up some packets that we found lurking at the back of our cupboards: first some gnocchi from 2013 which made two very nice meals, then a jar of miso paste that went very nicely with some aubergines and finally, top marks to JD for using the jar of butterscotch sauce which we bought in 2004: he combined it with rum to make an extremely nice sauce for some pineapple. Next up, a hardly aged tin of condensed milk (from 2009) from which I shall be making kulfi. Additionally we finished the family pack size of Weetabix that our house sitters kindly left for us. Other food to finish: on his way home at the beginning of this month JD could not find digestives and as an alternative bought Hobnobs. Can anyone explain the attraction of these? I have been forcing myself to have one a day, it’s like having sawdust in your mouth. But we’re not wasting them!

Finished!

Also in the kitchen, try not to waste other things. I decided we are using way too much clingfilm and bought some reusable covers. They are very good but still made of plastic (the beeswax ones seem to be sold out) and resemble nothing so much as shower caps: next time you’re staying in a hotel, remember a shower cap can serve other purposes!

Alternative shower caps

Out of the kitchen, let us go to laundry and sewing. When we iron items, it is SO useful to enable us to go through our wardrobe and highlight those items that could do with a little tender care. I managed to dispose (tenderly) of four tea towels at the weekend when I spotted the holes in them. (These were caused either by extreme age or the mouse that Polly brought into the kitchen and set free some time ago). We are now down to our last 50 (tea towels, not mice), including the one featured in Post 47 way back in September 2019.

Last of all, having done all the ironing and much as we hate to tidy (yes, I’m talking to you), remember all those items you bought and kept the box in case they were faulty and you had to send them back? Now is the time to go up into the loft and find them all and bring them downstairs and throw them out! It is a wonderfully satisfying feeling. Here are (some of) ours. The newest is a mere two years old and the oldest was bought in 2012. All well out of warranty, with some thrown away as unable to be repaired.

Empty boxes from the loft

Now that we have all finished our tasks for the day, how about a little fun before bedtime? Our other patron saint, Sir Robin, has had long experience of self-isolation and has given us handy insights here: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/insights-from-sir-robin-a-person-who-chose-extreme-isolation. You can have hours of fun learning all the necessary nautical knots before you set off with Clipper next time. https://www.firstclasssailing.com/sailing-knots is a useful starting place but there are plenty of other sites.

And for our final prayer before bedtime, we shall recite “Little Lamb who made thee” by William Blake. On second thoughts, maybe we should leave biology lessons for tomorrow.

88. California Dreaming

That’s as near as we’ll get, dreaming about it. I should, in normal life, now be on my way to Seattle. A crowd of us were due to fly early on 18th April to wave the boats in. Instead, we’re not waving at anyone unless it’s at a neighbour across the road. To quote the song, “All the leaves are brown”: no they’re not, it’s Spring. “And the sky is grey”: well yes it is. We’re having rain for the first time since I got home, quite enjoyable except that the temperature has plummeted about ten degrees. OK, maybe plummeted is an exaggeration but I’ve had to get out my jumpers.

Who you looking at?

Before we get any further, I think I should warn you that there will be no cocktails in this Post. I haven’t made any since last weekend (but I probably will tonight) so next time I’ll let you know the next mystery ingredient. (If you squint at the photo in Blog Post 86 from earlier this month you might just be able to make it out). There may not be flowers either. However, there is (look away now) a scary picture of me channelling my inner Struwwelpeter or shock-headed Peter (thankfully not the finger nails). I’m ahead of the curve in terms of letting my hair revert to its natural colouring, but I may need to give myself a buzz cut if this lockdown goes on for much longer, or ask John to do it for me. I used to say I wanted to do this and have it dyed green like a billiard table (odd child) so maybe now is my chance?

Yet another bad selfie

What am I going to talk about, you ask. What I did with my week? I could tell you about Strewwelpeter. He is the protagonist of a children’s book written in 1845 by a German author, Heinrich Hoffman and served as a warning to children who misbehaved. He was the inspiration for Edward Scissorhands. https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/original-struwwelpeter-illustrations-childrens-moral-lesson-book

A cocktail (Corpse reviver no 9)

Now that I look back at my diary, we did have one more cocktail on Sunday night, not long after I finished the last update. Here’s a picture to prove it. Despite my disdain for off-putting names last time, this is called Corpse Reviver No 9, with Sambuca, Aquavit, Cointreau, Vermouth and lime juice. Possibly required after looking at my early morning selfie above. You wash the glass with the Sambuca then throw it away. Or drink it. Then add 30ml each of the other ingredients. I have some special ice cubes which I used here, see if you can work out what they relate to.

What do these ice cubes look like?

Am I going to have to find the previous eight for you? Time will tell. The second ingredient along the bar was thus Akavit, from Sweden (yes, I am so anal that they are in alphabetic order, to help you work out the next one). There are lots of aquavits / akavits available, the name can be translated as “water of life” and others are eau de vie and whisk(e)y.

On Easter Monday we got up and poor Adie was being sick. Later, we found John’s little bag of salted caramel Easter eggs was missing. I had bought these some time ago and given them to him to have on Unicef when Easter Sunday arrived. George says Qingdao ate theirs the day after they sailed. JD kept his and of course Easter on board never happened. We had a few but Adie had more. She somehow managed to leave a stream of silver foil wrappers in the garden, which was a bit of a give away (unless JD did this and tried to blame the dog?). As she was throwing up and the chocolates were not dark chocolate, probably not much chocolate at all once you’d taken the caramel and salt into consideration (and boy were they salty), there was no point taking her to the vet (who would make her throw up or pump her stomach).

I started to knit, not flowers as threatened in Post 87, but a jumper. I bought the yarn (alpaca) over a year ago and the pattern I had decided on at the time I now decided against, so that meant hours on the computer trying to find a pattern I like this year. You may get to see it one day. I also made a chocolate coffee cheesecake which you can see, decorated with redcurrants from the freezer.

Cheesecake

Talking of currants, John decided to rearrange the flagstones in the fruit cage so he could move the currants (black, red and white) and stop them growing into the mesh every year. This is a demanding task and is taking place over a number of days. Here it is part way through. The cage is not to stop the birds (in fact, two bull finches were flying around inside it yesterday) but to stop Greta eating the raspberries as she then starts scratching. She also eats most of the alpine strawberries growing around the garden before I get the chance to pick them.

Black, red and white currant bushes

Two days after eating the chocolate eggs, Adie blotted her copy book once more. This time it was a few Macushield capsules and she gave herself away again, not by throwing up but by having bright yellow paws and muzzle. At least she should have good eyesight!

Me? Steal food?

The most exciting part of the week is about to be discussed. John wandered around to see what other jobs needed doing and came back to let me know that Kate’s three pregnant ewes had produced seven lambs. There is one set of triplets. They are a cross between Ryeland (mum) and Herdwick (dad) so we are excited to see what their fleece looks like (easily excited here). Ryelands are the very fluffy sheep (“teddy bears”) you get when you ask a child to draw a sheep, with a fine fleece that was used for clothing. Herdwick are the grey hardy sheep with white faces and quite a coarse fleece, often used for carpets. Herdwyck means sheep pasture in old Norse. https://www.herdy.co.uk/the-farming-year/all-about-herdwicks/ and Beatrix Potter kept a flock, as they are native to the Lake District and she was keen to preserve their heritage.

I cannot decide which photos of the lambs I like best so there are a few scattered about this Post, I hope they brighten your weekend. (As I don’t eat lamb, there are no roast dinners)! I’ll try to get them as they grow up and leap into the air as only young lambs seem to do. These are all within 24 hours of them being born.

And now I’m off to make that cocktail I mentioned. I have sixteen recipes to choose from, I’ve not looked at all the ingredients to see how many I can actually make (or adapt). Ciao! (That’s a clue).

87. Happy Easter 2020

Rather a different Easter for everyone this year, not allowed out to visit church or friends and family. Who managed to get Easter eggs? I ordered some online but forgot to allow for our post being redirected still, so George has ended up with way too much chocolate for one person.

In addition to my cocktail experiments I’ll give a few photos of the garden to cheer you up. The header is of the supermoon we had the other night, so-called pink but not in colour. It refers to some US flowers that are pink in colour and blooming around now. I think I’ll call it my daffodil supermoon.

I have received comments about the size of our drinks bar. All I can say is, wait until you reach our advanced age. People give you bottles for Christmas, Easter, birthdays and any other event they can think of. When you go on holiday and taste the local speciality you enjoy it so much you bring bottles back, not thinking what it will taste like in dark dank Somerset. When shopping you might spot something that looks interesting (the plum and clementine gin we finished last week being a case in point). You cannot abide waste so don’t throw it away, especially as alcohol doesn’t go off. Finally (I think, there could be other reasons I’ve not thought of yet), we have the space.

Before I forget, I have been informed by JD that I got the race details wrong. I have all the dates and stops correct but I’ve put some of the Legs in the wrong place, a bit like Eric Morecambe playing Grieg’s piano concerto with “Mr Preview” (Andre Previn): all the notes but not necessarily in the right order. If you want to watch it and have a laugh here’s the link to the three minute sketch from 1971 on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMPEUcVyJsc. (I’ll sort out the race details when it happens).

To the garden. In a normal year I’d buy lots of bulbs and our industrious gardener would plant them up for me, so we’d have a wonderful display all year round.

As I wasn’t here when the bulb catalogues came out, nor intended to be here now, this is the view this year. I cannot even go to the garden centre and buy anything. I hope it’s not the same empty pots all year, it’s going to be very boring. Maybe I could move them around every month, or knit flowers now that I’m not knitting Unicef and Qingdao beanies? Hmmm.

Having depressed myself with the bareness, let’s return to the cocktails. You’ll remember that the first was Maiden’s Dream, which consists of equal quantities of absinthe and gin with a third of grenadine. The recipe said to make it in a long glass (highball or Collins for those of you who like to be precise). We decided that these three ingredients on their own were possibly a little bit too alcoholic so added ice and sparkling water. Here’s the result, I think it’s an acquired taste. A little aniseedy as you’d predict plus a little fruity. (JD asked if we had to keep taking selfies of us drinking so this is just the glass. Normal service will be resumed later).

Maiden’s Dream

Back to my flowers, normally (sorry, you’ll probably be getting this word a lot in the next few months) I’d have hundreds of tulips everywhere, and the pots above would have alternate colours, different each year depending on my mood when I bought the bulbs. You are advised to buy new bulbs each year as they are bred to not be as vigorous in subsequent years, so I put the old bulbs around the garden and see what comes up (literally). Here are a couple, I cannot remember the names but probably have a list if you need to know.

Tulip A
Tulip B

Not quite the dazzling display I’m used to. Next year maybe…

As my Dream didn’t tally with the Maiden’s Dream (whoever she was), a couple of days later we decided to try Rimbaud’s Left Hand. Intriguing who thinks up these names. On your behalf (unless you studied French literature, in which case apologies for all the errors) I did a bit of research. I’m not a Wiki addict so tackled Britannica. Some years ago in the late 1990’s I bought possibly the last paper version, comprising 32 volumes (three being indices) and I’ve a special bookshelf for them, but these days I use the interweb. I’m sure nothing has changed from the paper version as he died in 1891. Arthur Rimbaud was a French poet: I find his poems rather difficult to comprehend, even when translated into English (and I guess more so in their native French as I never got beyond what were then ‘O’ levels and I think are now GCSE’s, at 16 years old). At the age of 27 he declared he’d given up on the idea of work and would dedicate his energy to being a poet. Good job George doesn’t read this blog, I’d not want to encourage his ideas!

There’s a lot of guff about visions and consciousness and (here we begin to come to the point) he underwent fasting and pain, drink (including absinthe) and drugs in order to experience hallucinations. He got involved with Verlaine (another French poet) and his wife in a menage a trois initially. Verlaine and Rimbaud had a tempestuous relationship, running off to London at one stage. At the end of their relationship, Verlaine shot Rimbaud in his LEFT HAND and was imprisoned for two years. Hence the name of the cocktail (why you’d want to name a drink after someone’s maimed hand I’m not sure but I’m only a scientist). The cocktail officially is equal parts Aperol, Benedictine, Absinthe, lemon juice and pineapple juice with some rose water dropped into the centre. As we didn’t have all of these I created Rimbaud’s Right Hand: Aperol, Drambuie, Absinthe, and double Tropical juice (mostly apple and orange when you read the ingredients but a little pineapple, mango and passion fruit). I did have the rose water so that’s OK. Here I am drinking it (in the correct Martini glass) in JD’s greenhouse. It was delicious. I’ll try it again once I’ve been through the rest of the bar.

What else have we been up to? Chatting to people, trimming dogs, cutting grass, piano practice, clearing out stuff we always said we’d do, all the usual things you do when confined to quarters. I’ll introduce the second cocktail ingredient next time. A bientot!

86. Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb

Remember me telling you about our garden produce in Post 85? Here’s the meal we had on April 2nd: rhubarb and ginger cocktail (R&G gin, lemon juice, R&G jam, shake with ice and decorate with a tiny stick of rhubarb), mackerel with rhubarb, then rhubarb and marmalade sponge pudding. Interestingly the original cocktail used marmalade instead of rhubarb and ginger jam so continuity across the meal.

Making the rhubarb and ginger sour

Going back to the original purpose of this blog for a moment. On April 1st, with no joking, Clipper published an updated schedule. The plan is to re-start the race from Subic Bay on 21st February 2021, with Leg 6 resuming and taking in Sanya (arrival on 25-26 February), Zhuhai (arriving 5-6 March) then Qingdao (arriving 19-21 March). This will be the new end of Leg 6 (instead of finishing at Zhuhai). Leg 7 will then be to Seattle (arriving 19-24 April) and Panama (27 May to 1 June). Leg 8 includes Bermuda (arrival 15-17 June) and Derry-Londonderry (8-12 July) then finishes in London on 24th July 2021. Those of you with long memories (or plans to travel to this stop) will notice that we have lost New York (very careless) and will finish roughly two weeks before (but one year after) the intended finish date of 8th August (2020). Obviously this is all subject to change but that’s the route and timing for now. I’m not making any plans until nearer the time.

And drinking it

Day 16. Saturday 4th April. Finally finished all our unpacking. Still to go round the house and replace all the blown light-bulbs. They seem to delight in keeping the light-bulb manufacturers in business. I have four boxes of spares: small bayonet, large bayonet, small screw and large screw. I still seem to always be missing the one that JD wants when we need a replacement. Made the marmalade sour on which the above cocktail was based, with plum and clementine gin. Having sorted all our spirit bottles, from absinthe to whisky (Scotch), I’ve decided to make this a cocktail blog for the time being. If I become increasingly incomprehensible you’ll understand I’m sure. I’m ignoring shots as they don’t last long enough. Looking back, I see that without realising it, this has been an underlying theme for some time.

Marmalade sour

Before I get onto the alcohol recipes, the bird life here is expanding, even if I cannot take photos. A long-tailed tit tried to fly through the (closed) window, offering a good view of its undercarriage. JD saw a charm of goldfinch (I think that’s the correct collective noun) in the orchard. As usual, we have constant buzzards mewling and being mobbed by the rooks. In addition, we are beginning to embrace modern technology, with JD resuming his physio with his personal trainer via the computer. He says it’s much better than being in a class and it saves about an hour travel time. Good job I “mended” the internet last week.

Absinthe to whisky (Scotch)

As well as unpacking, I’ve audited the kitchen under-sink cupboard and the freezer (after defrosting). I went onto the local council website and discovered that the recycling centres are closed, so reminded myself what I could recycle at the kerbside (not that we have kerbs in the wilderness). I told you this blog would become boring.

So, to the first bottle in our store: absinthe. You only use drops in most recipes so yes, thanks Chris, it is still the same bottle for my birthday xx (I forget the exact number) years ago! I did make Midori and absinthe sorbet not long after receiving the bottle, it didn’t freeze and tasted aniseedy and melony at the same time. Not bad but maybe not to be put on the favourites list.

For those of you who have never heard of it, absinthe can be a vivid green spirit classically made with wormwood. As with so many spirits, it started life as a medicinal product, curing malaria. It tastes of aniseed and when water is added goes cloudy. Its main association (to my mind) is with Toulouse-Lautrec, with his hollow walking stick full of absinthe, and the Belle Epoque in France in the late 1800’s. You prepared it for drinking with a special absinthe spoon, on which you placed a sugar cube and let water drip through into the glass of absinthe. According to an exhibition at The Tate, it was apparently known as “the Queen of poisons” and the name comes from Greek meaning undrinkable. https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-5-autumn-2005/drink-fuelled-nations-art

Are your salivary glands watering? It could be up to 80% alcohol, definitely lethal, and was said to cause hallucinations due to the presence of thujone, a chemical in wormwood (or maybe the alcohol content alone?). It had such a bad reputation that it was made illegal. I’m happy to say that mine is clear (no contaminants) and a mere 53%. If you want to try some, look here: https://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/c/358/absinthe

Putting all that aside, I have a great app on my phone called Mixology so I consulted that for absinthe recipes. I chose ones where we have all the ingredients and shortlisted 14. NO, I’m not going to try them all. Well, not all at once. I then reduced the list further to those that used a reasonable amount of absinthe, not just a couple of drops. I dismissed two due to their names: Death in the Afternoon (although champagne and absinthe doesn’t sound too bad) and Corpse Reviver (gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, vermouth and absinthe). Not suitable under present circumstances. The names in general tell you something about absinthe: TNT, Hiroshima, Earthquake, Monkey Gland, Flying Fortress, Peep Show. I’ve decided to try two, purely because I like the innocuous-sounding names: Maiden’s Dream and Rimbaud’s Left Hand. No, checking the cupboard, Rimbaud will have to wait another day as I’m out of pineapple juice.

What, you want to know what it’s like before you rush out (or to the computer) to buy your own bottle? Tune in next time.

Proof that we also eat: rhubarb sponge