93. The Darling Drinks of May

A long time ago, in a Galaxy far far away… Oh sorry, that’s the beginning of Star Wars. Well, in France in May 2019 which seems about as remote, we went and bought champagne for the big birthday bashes mentioned briefly in Post 24 of 8th May 2019. It might as well be a far-away Galaxy, let’s face it. Anyhoo, we had gone to Roger Brun champagne in Ay as it’s our favourite “every day drinking” champagne. (I’d like to lay claim to that phrase but it unfortunately belongs to a pal of ours so TM Val). We still have some left and today’s cocktail (which I will come back to) has this as its base, but any champagne (or, I guess, sparkling wine generally) will do.

Why have I been so silent? No update for over ten days. Life has been so exciting here I’ve been too busy to type. Not as exciting as battling a Death Star, obviously, but in terms of everyday life it was a welcome change. A few months ago I won a FitBit in the local charity lottery. I finally got around to setting it up and linking it to both my phone and my health insurance. I get points for this which I think results in me having a cheaper premium next year: remember to ask me if you find that sort of thing interesting. I also volunteered for a health check which gives me more points. As I can’t go into a pharmacy and have samples taken, this involved being sent a kit with which to extract my own blood. Told you I’d had an exciting time! A nurse and I had a meeting on the computer and she told me what to do. I had two tubes to fill with blood, a bit like Tony Hancock in the blood donor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niHr5jXEpNE which I’ve just watched for the first time in many years and still find it funny (but un-PC in places). My first two fingers didn’t want to bleed, it clotted very quickly and just managed to fill the first tube. I then ran my other hand under the hot tap, stuck the lancet into the third finger and it wouldn’t stop bleeding for about twenty minutes. I’ve yet to get the results back but I’m still alive. And I had to make my own cup of tea afterwards!

The main excitement for JD was re-designing the compost area. We had a few bins for grass cuttings but they’ve slowly been falling apart. You can see one of the lambs on top of one at the end of Post 91 (9th May), enjoying the food. I’ve got a picture of before here, at the moment there is no after as it’s still a work in progress.

Run down compost area

The sheep (but not the lambs) were shorn (sheared?) last weekend, they now look like goats to my eye, all big heads and skinny bodies instead of the teddy bears they usually resemble.

On Wednesday we had our first visitor since we’ve been allowed to see people! Only one of course, and we sat outside, a suitable distance apart, chatted and had afternoon tea. I’m not sure I should have made our friend a pot of tea and cake, or whether she should have brought her own. My instinct told me to be sociable so I provided refreshments. Then, the next day, another visitor! Two in one week! This was slightly more official as our boilers had needed servicing earlier in the year but coronavirus intervened. Again, loosening of the rules (guidelines?) meant this could now happen, with precautions. The dogs both greeted him warmly but us humans kept our distances.

Lupins

I had ordered a lot of plants to put into my pots (see Post 87 dated 12th April) around some dahlias I found. On Tuesday, 40 petunias and five phlox arrived, followed by 72 lavender plugs a few days later. Meanwhile the tomato seeds I’d sown into pots were beginning to get their first set of proper leaves so needed re-potting into bigger pots.

Lavender plugs

In addition I have three peonies to plant out. We had two in the garden but they seem to have died a death, along with the peach, the crab apple, two of the blueberries and possibly the apricot. The last gooseberry has disappeared. I’ve ordered replacements for these, let’s hope we get some rain before they arrive in the autumn. I don’t think I’ve seen any serious rain since I came home.

Lavender pots

Having had no rain and with a good weather forecast, we decided to have a BBQ. This is quite an expedition as we have to take all the food, drink, cutlery etc up to the barn where the BBQ is kept. It would be a lot easier to bring the BBQ down to the house but the views are not as good. We also get a fair bit of exercise at the same time. I took my laptop with us to watch Rusalska being beamed from Glyndebourne. We missed watching the first half as the sunlight was too bright!

How to see opera in the lockdown

The following night we had a takeaway. This is much more exciting than it sounds as not many places close to us are still operating. Matt’s Kitchen in Bruton is providing a limited menu on Friday and Saturday each week: we’ve eaten there in the past and always enjoyed the food so thought we’d give it a go. Highly recommended but I need to tell him to vary the menu for more repeat business.

Cocktails: at the end of the last blog post we had one called Hai Karate. For those of you (us) of a Certain Age, this was an aftershave in the 1960s to 1980s. As you’d expect from those times, the ads were of men splashing it on then being chased by girls. The drink did not have that effect on us, I’m happy to say, and was a more pleasant aroma than the reviews seem to suggest for the original. Mix 30 ml each lime, orange and pineapple juices, 60 ml rum, 5 ml maple syrup and a dash of bitters. I used Angostura bitters for this, http://angosturabitters.com/our-story/ which is possibly the one most people will have lurking in a forgotten cupboard. Like so many alcoholic beverages, it was invented by a medic, Dr Johann Siegert, to help with stomach problems. I didn’t know that Angostura is a town in Venezuela. Dr Siegert was Surgeon General to Simon Bolivar’s armies and perfected his recipe in the 1820s for the soldiers. Before too long it was being exported to the UK and used in cocktails.

So we are almost up to date. At the beginning of today I mentioned Roger Brun champagne. I decided I’d better do a champagne and bitters cocktail this weekend after the request on the last Blog Post. Not the classic one, that would be boring, so I found one called “Prince of Whales”. I cannot work out why, there’s no ambergris included and the quantity is not cetacean-sized. The name is somewhat academic anyway as, of course, I’ve amended the recipe. It should have been Madeira, Brandy, triple sec and Angostura bitters all topped up with champagne. Instead it was 20 ml Chinese wine (a bit like sherry), 20 ml cognac (OK, that is brandy), 7 ml triple sec (no change there), a couple of splashes of Hotel Chocolat cocoa bitters, all topped up with blanc de blanc Roger Brun champagne (that is, made only with the Chardonnay grape, no Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier). Any thoughts on the name I should give it? Both cocktails were very enjoyable, I only hope you’re not going back to work tomorrow if you decide to try them both!

92. Life In The Time of Covid-19 (3)

As you can see from today’s title, my imagination is not up to scratch this morning. I have a few items to cover from previous posts before I see if I can get into gear. It’s also getting difficult finding appropriate photos at times now that I’m not going anywhere, not even to the shops. You’ll get a lot of flowers, trees and sheep / lambs in the next few months. First though, for those of you who read this because of the sub-title (something to do with boats if I remember that far back), there are some items on the Clipper website you might like to read.

On Qingdao, with George, was another Circumnavigator known as Frankie. He’s one of the Chinese Ambassadors and sailed the first Leg of the last race (2017/18). His story is worth reading and there is a video in the article which features a certain George Dawson a few times. Here’s the link: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/a-life-changing-story-new-video-showcasing-the-story-of-qingdao-ambassador-frankie

Medlar tree

Back in Subic Bay, we left two of the professional crew to look after the boats: Jeronimo, the skipper on Punta del Este, and Hugo, the mate (AQP) on Ha Long Bay. They are there for who knows how long as current planning is that the fleet will sail mid-February 2021 (nine months from now). Here’s how they occupy their time: https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/life-looking-after-the-fleet-in-the-philippines

A year ago this week was Crew Allocation Day in Portsmouth. Blog posts 24 to 26 (on 8th, 18th and 19th May 2019) cover the details as they were at the time, if you want to go back that far. Alternatively, the Clipper website brings back a taste of the event. See if you can spot OBB in the photo that heads the article (but remember, no beards!). https://www.clipperroundtheworld.com/news/article/new-beginnings-reflections-on-crew-allocation

And before you ask, I can’t see them and I know roughly where they were.

…It’s now afternoon and I’ve thought of a Post title but it would mean going back and re-writing the first section so I’ll see if I can use it next time. Back in Post 90 (29th April) I tempted fate by showing a picture of our wisteria, which is about four years old, and referring to it as magnificent. Of course, that led to pictures of truly magnificent ones being sent to me. Thanks everyone, wait a few more years and we’ll be able to rival you! Maybe. Also in that post I referred to needing my five-a-day. One unkind soul (who shall remain nameless but has the initials JD) verbalised what you were all thinking: that I was saying I needed five spirits a day, as in the cocktail Bad Attitude. I’ve still not made that one as I was obviously talking about fruit and vegetables. Honestly, what do you think of me? (Don’t answer that). Luckily, as well as using the drinks in cocktails, one of OBB (again, nameless…) is using the rum in puddings (banana or pineapple) and the whisky in steak dishes, so the bottles are slowly emptying.

Foxglove

In the newspaper this week was an article telling us that cocktails and baking were no longer fashionable, we’ve been in lock-down so long and we’re bored with it all. We haven’t had a cocktail since the Bois de Rose in the last blog post, but I’m planning one or two for this weekend. We are rather spoilt for choice as the next two bottles are similar: bitters. These are used, like the absinthe, in tiny amounts as flavours rather than main ingredients. One is the classic Angostura bitters and the other a Hotel Chocolat cocoa bitters given to me by George one birthday some years ago. I think I’ve found a recipe that uses both. More next time. As both are over 40% alcohol I don’t think they will go off. Unlike (possibly) the Hobgoblin stout I gave JD the other night. When he read the label he discovered it was best before 2017. I told him, that’s not bad in this house. That’s not “you will be really ill after this date”. However, I did play safe after making a ginger cake. The tin of black treacle I used stated something along the lines of throw the tin away once it’s been open for three months. As it was closer to three years I thought for once I’d better play safe. (It was almost empty). I’ve looked up on the Tate & Lyle website why it is such specific wording and apparently for this and the golden syrup cans, pressure can build up and it may explode. I wish I’d left it (outside) now, it could have been exciting.

I’ve knitted a new item this week, as shown in the next photo. It’s doubled over so there’s a pocket for coffee filters, tissues or whatever you feel best. We can throw them away after use as I can knit more quite quickly, although the I-cord was a pain to make. Oddly enough, I have some coffee filters left over from a Spanish holiday long ago: they are priced in pre-Euro currency. I’m sure they can’t go off? No best before date anyway.

This photo also shows my latest hair style. It’s beginning to remind me of when I had long hair, as a little girl. I hated it, the brush was always tangling it up and it hurt. My mum used to use Vitapointe, I wondered if it’s still going so I checked. Amazingly, it is still available and is THE product for curly (frizzy) hair. I think I should get some and report back, although at its current length my hair is not yet tangling. https://www.makeupalley.com/product/showreview.asp/ItemId=142646/Vitapointe/Unlisted-Brand/Conditioner

All seven lambs

As is now “normal”, a picture of the lambs to end.

91. Let Us Remember

Yesterday was VE Day, 75 years after the end of the Second World War in Europe. What we are going through at the moment may feel like we are suffering by being stuck at home but it’s nothing in comparison. We will get through this and our homes, the cities and all other places will look the same. When I first started working in the early 1970s, there were still bombsites around that had not been rebuilt, used for the most part as car parks. That is unimaginable now.

Without planning to, we spent yesterday planting a couple of oaks that John’s father had grown from acorns and given to us, along with a load of other oak and horse chestnut seedlings, a number of years ago. How these two were not planted out I’m not sure, but they have been growing in pots at the front of the house for the last few years. With hindsight it’s appropriate that two English oaks, nurtured by a Second World War Navy rating, should be planted on VE Day. We have two corners for the other oaks and horse chestnuts but these two have gone to fill gaps in the hedges. In years to come, they will just be part of the countryside. Looking further back, English oaks were used for the keels of ships in Elizabethan times. We can be thankful that we do not have to face the thought of all our trees being chopped down for such purposes.

But you don’t come to my blog to read history or serious subjects. What about the cocktails? All in good time. All the jobs we were doing we’re still doing, everything seems to take an age when there’s no urgency. I did try a remote piano lesson on Zoom but we were getting some strange feedback. Possibly my (very untuned) piano, possibly my playing, let’s be charitable and say it’s a problem we can solve. It does concentrate the mind when you know someone else is listening. I might have an appreciative audience outside but maybe these partridge are deaf to my music.

Not spotted by Polly

JD had his birthday in the middle of last week so I tried a cocktail out in advance. This week’s ingredient is Aperol, an Italian aperitif. For those of you who have never come across it, this is the bright orange stuff that people in the UK “discovered” a few years back and made into Aperol spritz (Aperol with prosecco and soda water) to drink in the long hot summer evenings. Well, I could be boring and stick with that but I thought I’d be a bit more adventurous. The Aperol website says the colour is due to a blend of sweet and bitter oranges, accompanied by a secret mix of herbs and roots. The recipe was perfected in 1919. https://www.aperol.com/en-gb

Polly relaxing

Go back to Blog Post 87 of 12th April and you’ll see that I’ve already used it in Rimbaud’s Right Hand. Can’t do that again. I came up with ten new recipes, some still with absinthe. I guess both were around in about the same era. There’s one called Scotch Bonnet which includes Tabasco. I don’t know if the Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper is used in Tabasco but it’s not my idea of a refreshing cocktail. An Aperol Royal is similar to the Spritz, with champagne. I decided upon a slightly more festive one for John’s birthday, called Bois de Rose. Mix 20 ml elderflower liqueur, 7 ml Aperol, 30 ml gin, 7 ml lemon juice and top up with pink sparkling wine. Very enjoyable.

Despite my cake making, we had a professionally made one for the actual birthday. I have also been making desserts, mostly of the mousse variety so I can prepare a batch to freeze, otherwise we’ll be eating the same thing for a week. I was allowed to cook for JD’s birthday (I usually eat what has been prepared for me) so we had smoked salmon with pink grapefruit, grouse and lavender & maple syrup bavarois, which is a mousse to you and me (well, certainly to me. You can decide what you’d prefer to call it). As we couldn’t have a proper get-together, there were a lot of parcels delivered from the family for JD to unwrap on the day. Mostly food and wine so we’ll be OK for the next few months in lock-down.

And there I think I’ll call it a day as the cocktail hour beckons once again. The sun is shining so we can drink al fresco and call it a sun-downer.