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!

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.