Sunday, 5 April 2020

TW3

Saturday
I started Saturday enthusiastically with my planned activity; Sour Dough Bread ...

Unfortunately this was nowhere near as successful as I had hoped. The end product was edible, but I don't think I knocked back the dough sufficiently and ended up with loaves that had large voids, rather than a more light and consistent texture.

It went well with 30%'s Fish and Chorizo stew in the evening, but it was certainly nothing to crow about. I plan to make another attempt next weekend, but, if I am going to put the effort in to making bread by hand, I think I'd rather go with a recipe that uses yeast.  They're more reliable and without the faffing around maintaining starter cultures.

Another activity that didn't go to plan was my attempt to mow the lawn. The mower started, ran for a few seconds, died a death and then refused to start. I performed a few basic checks and determined that the spark plug had died. The air filter looked well overdue for cleaning too ...

A service kit was ordered, but it looks like the lawn will go untouched until next weekend at the earliest.

The day wasn't a complete failure. TP and I managed a pleasant walk around the Three Miler and I did some preparatory work for the beekeeping I have planned for tomorrow. Supers and Queen Excluders* were removed from the shed and a hive was prepared** for relocation to Kathy H-R's garden early on Sunday.
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* Modern hives are modular allowing a beekeeper to add or remove sections depending on the Colony's needs for space and nectar storage. Supers are sections that are added to the top of the hive where the bees will store nectar and convert it to honey. A Queen Excluder is a wire grid that prevents the Queen from moving up in to the Super and laying there.
** The hive entrance is closed of and the floor and crown board are strapped tightly to the hive body to prevent any escapes. A car full of annoyed bees is never going to be fun!

Sunday
At eight o'clock in the morning TP and I loaded the hive in to the back of the Land Rover and headed over to Kathy's house.  The hive was set up in a matter of minutes and we were soon removing the foam entrance block and heading back home for breakfast.

I'd planned to complete my first proper inspection of my hives today, but I needed to wait for the weather to warm up before that happened. I therefore occupied myself by attending to the pork loin that I am curing.

The loin was removed from its bag and the cure mixture was washed away with cold water. It was then dried off, wrapped in muslin and hung from a hook in the kitchen. It will hang there until the end of this week before it is smoked.
After lunch I grabbed my smoker and hive tool and headed out to look at the hives. TP accompanied me and we spent a pleasant hour assessing the state of each of the colonies.  Three of the four in the garden were doing incredibly well with large brood nests and fresh stores of nectar and pollen. Each of these had a Queen Excluder put over the Brood Box and then a Super was added to give the colony more space. 

The fourth hive was not so prolific. There are no concerns, it is just smaller than the other Colonies and it will be a two or three weeks before it needs Supering up.

I then returned to Kathy's garden and inspected the hive that had overwintered there.* The Colony was a reasonable size, so an Excluder and Super were added.

The remainder of the day was spent with a minor reorganisation of the garage before 30% and I joined a virtual Cocktail Party for a couple of hours with some old friends from our College Days. We had met up recently at a rather significant event and, since then, have made efforts to stay in touch more frequently than we have previously.

We had an absolute hoot, courtesy of Zoom Conferencing Services and were all quite "relaxed" before we disbanded and headed off for our respective Sunday Dinners.  Another event is planned for next weekend, with the agreement that we will all "dress up".
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* The hive I moved this morning will be given a few days to settle down before I disturb it with an inspection.

Friday, 3 April 2020

It's Alive!

And on the 6th day Badman said "let there be life" and there was life ...

Sour Dough Starter
Close up showing bubbles of carbon dioxide
I'll acknowledge that it is a very simple form of life*, but my sour dough starter is most definitely ready for use. The recipe has produced about a pint of starter plus the half pint that I froze on day #4.

Unfortunately I actually had some work to get on with today, so this was put in the fridge until tomorrow when I will make my first attempt at a sour dough loaf.

I also made up another batch of tomato soup in a free hour I found in the early afternoon. We're really pleased with the results, so I've jotted down the recipe for future reference.

1 lb, 8 oz ripe plum tomatoes, quartered
10 fluid oz chicken stock
1 medium potato, finely diced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 tsp dried basil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt and black pepper

1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan
2.  Add the onions and potato and cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes until they are softened
3. Add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes
4. Add the stock, garlic, basil and seasoning
5. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes
6. Liquidise with your weapon of choice**
7. Add a healthy glug of single cream and serve

These quantities will make a couple of pints of soup. I actually tripled the quantities and ended up with nearly four litres.

Well, that's about it for today.
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* Mind you, it's a few evolutionary stages beyond some of the people I've seen in the media recently.
** You can freeze the soup at this point in the recipe

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Waste not, want not

A combination of the panic buying public fuckwits, empty supermarket shelving and being confined to home has tended to make us more focussed on our store cupboard than we usually are.

30% and I are batch cooking more than normal, thereby making sure that we have plenty in the freezers and limiting the frequency of our shopping trips.

Today 30% headed over to a nearby Farm Shop to pick up some fresh vegetables. This establishment has a reputation for being a little on the pricey side, but that's not the case if you know what you are doing.

The shop is part of a local estate that hosts game shoots and, quite surprisingly, the majority of the Guns have no interest in taking the pheasants and partridge home at the end of the day.  The Shoot Organiser is quite happy to give the birds away "in feather" and over the course of the season our freezers become well stocked with free pheasant breast fillets.

Another shop secret is the waste vegetable bin.  Overripe and wilted stock is not seen as saleable and is removed from the displays and is placed in a bin "round the back".  30% discovered this little gem and our chickens have reaped the benefits, being rewarded with a regular supply of greens, bruised apples and so on.

Today she popped out to the bin to collect some chicken treats and came across several pounds of overripe tomatoes.  These were brought home and we took a look at her spoils ...

After a wash and wipe they were found to be perfectly acceptable and I spent an hour or so knocking up four litres of tomato soup. The only ingredients I needed to add were three potatoes, three onions, a glug of Olive oil and a pint and one half of Chicken stock. I think my total investment is less than £1 for ten or twelve servings of a rather tasty soup.*

Whilst still on culinary matters, today is day five of the Sour Dough starter preparation. The recipe instructed me to remove half of the starter and discard. I couldn't bear to just throw it away, so this is now carefully labelled and placed in the freezer. It means that I can thaw it and create another starter that will be ready for use in about 24 hours if I decide to do this again.

Having split my starter in half, I added 150 ml of water and whisked in 150 g of white, bread flour. It was then covered once more and placed in a warm spot. Apparently it will be ready for use tomorrow.
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* I do acknowledge that the cost will go up when I add a liberal helping of single cream, just before serving.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Sour Dough day #4

With very little to keep me occupied at work it seems that a few of my colleagues are doing their best to fill more of my time.  Their current approach is to make things unnecessarily complicated and take the most circuitous routes to achieve the simplest tasks. Ho-hum!

As it says in the title, today is the fourth day of my Sour Dough starter recipe. 180g of strong white flour, 100 ml of water and 40 ml of milk were mixed well together and added to the starter culture. It was then covered and now needs to be left for another 24 hours at a "warm room temperature". More on this tomorrow.

In other news, 30% took delivery of ten cubic feet of polystyrene beads as our bean bag is looking a little deflated. I inspected the enormous box and advised her that all I could see was a huge amount of polystyrene packing material with no sign of her actual purchase ...

She was about to phone the supplier until today's date registered.

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Short of material?

I tend to start my day in a leisurely fashion with a cup of coffee whilst I catch up on the news headlines.

I was about to say "my media outlet of choice is BBC Breakfast", but I think I'll rapidly correct myself and, instead, and describe it as "one of the least worst options for the morning news bulletin".

Once you've absorbed the BBC's choice of morning headlines you are left watching a series of quite bizarre journalistic articles punctuated with mundane vox pops all of which repeat on a 30 minute cycle.

It must be stated that there is far, far more going on in the world than could ever be ascertained from BBC Breakfast.*

Anyway ... to the point of today's rant ... Obviously the majority of the main news items are related to the Coronavirus pandemic.

However, it appears that the BBC have now abandoned any effort to collate and present real news stories, as this morning it seems that the Editors have given up and just let Dan Walker and Louise Minchin prattle on about interesting shit that they had seen on Facebook the previous evening.

Give me strength!
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* The one thing I can say for this TV show is that it does increase my heart rate as I am usually in full on rant mode after watching about ten minutes of their bumph.

Monday, 30 March 2020

The makings of a fine bacon sandwich?

It was yet another quiet day at "the coal face", although a reasonably straightforward request for support did arrive.  I leapt on it like a ravenous wolf, before any of my equally short of work colleagues could dash in and take this morsel scrap.

Twenty minutes of admin were necessary to log the work and arrange the necessary calls before I was, once again, left with very little to do.

30% headed out for essential groceries leaving me to occupy myself ...

It is day #2 of the sour dough starter preparation and a few minutes were spent whisking 120g of strong, white flour in to the milk and yoghurt mixture. It has now been covered and will be left at room temperature for two days. By Wednesday I should be able to see lots of small bubbles and it should smell "pleasantly sour".

30% returned from her mission and reported that the local Farm Shop was very quiet, as was the Butcher's. She had had a successful trip and presented me with a large loin of pork ...

Previously we had discussed making some more bacon and a quick rummage through the store cupboard had uncovered a pound, or so, of cure* all mixed up and ready to go.

I am now using a curing method given to me by a local pig farmer; Mick The Pig. The method involves massaging the loin with a few handfuls of cure, ensuring that all surfaces have been well rubbed. The loin is then placed in a vacuum bag** and a couple of handfuls of cure are spread on the upper and lower surfaces of the meat. The meat is then sealed and left in the bottom of the fridge for six days. It needs to be turned over once a day.

At the end of this process the bacon will be removed from the bag and washed and dried. It will then be wrapped in muslin and hung up for a few days before smoking.***

More on the bread and bacon, over the next few days.
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* A 50:50 mixture of salt and brown sugar mixed with ground aromatics; Bay leaves, Coriander seed, Black Pepper, Star Anise and Smoked Chipotle Chilli flakes
** Apparently a Ziplock bag can be used as an alternative.
*** I thought you ate bacon ... groan !

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The staff of life

Self isolation/social distancing has resulted in a very quiet weekend and there was no way that I could make tidying the office and walking the dogs interesting.

Despite being at home most of the time, the very fact that I am not allowed out, except for exercise and essential journeys, does have an impact and there were points over the weekend when I did start to feel somewhat constrained.

The weather has changed significantly and the warmth earlier in the week as been replaced by a bitter blow from the North. As a result there was no way that pottering in the garage or messing with the bikes was an option.*

I needed something to pique my interest and a recent impact of panic buying may have provided the solution.

We have used a bread maker for most of the bread we eat for the past 15 years. Our cupboards normally have plenty of flour and yeast, but our pot of yeast is running low. At the moment the shops have none in stock as the panic buying fuckwits have obviously bought every pot they can lay their hands on.

At this point I should advise that we are not in dire straits, nor are we at risk of starvation. The local shops have plenty of bread and BBQ Dave has given us a tub of yeast that will last us a few weeks.

However, this shortage got us thinking and we decided that making a sour dough loaf might be an interesting diversion and possibly be the way forward if the current movement restrictions remain in place for any length of time.

Obviously our bread maker is of no use at all for making a sour dough loaf,** so it looks like I will be making bread "hands on" for the first time in many, many years.

I thought back to the last time I made bread by hand and it was probably back in 1983 when I was a student living in a grimy, damp, shared house in Park Lane, Wolverhampton.  For some reason I got it in to my head that making bread would be more economical than buying it and I started to make my own wholemeal loaves using the most basic of baking equipment.

Despite the cold house, the lack of experience and a complete absence of loaf tins, I produced some fabulous bread that was appreciated by my housemates.

Anyway, back to the present, I dug out a sour dough recipe and it is fair to say that it didn't occupy that much of my weekend...

Step one was to warm 175ml of skimmed milk, add 75 ml of live yogurt, stir, cover and put in a warm place for 24 hours.

It will take about 5 days for the starter to be ready to use, so next Saturday could be a busy day.
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* I hate being cold. I love cold frosty and snowy weather and am happy to be out in it wrapped up in the finest warm weather clothing, but I loathe trying to complete a task and be distracted by that whole body discomfort of feeling cold.
** There are bread maker recipes for sour dough loaves, but they all include measures of dried yeast, which, to me, seems to be somewhat contradictory.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Toast

After our rescue mission on Monday, TP is now enduring a period of self isolation to minimise the risk of infecting me or 30% with the Covid19 virus.

He's not showing any symptoms, but he has been out and about for the past couple of weeks, so this is just a precautionary measure.

His confinement is far from arduous as he has a spacious bedroom and his own bathroom and he is able to get outside for fresh air and exercise.  Meals and snacks are ordered via WhatsApp and are delivered on a tray and left outside his bedroom door.

Fundamentally, it is like he's in a hotel where room service is the only option for food and beverages.

As TP is totally dependent on us for nourishment I decided that his meals should be assembled with, shall we say, a creative flourish.

His preferred breakfast is a mug of black coffee and a slice of toast with peanut butter. Rather than simply cut the toast in to approximate halves along the centre line, I decided to mix things up a bit.

On Tuesday his breakfast slice had been cut in a "V" and Wednesdays was a rather random sort of zig-zag.

Today I may have peaked as I presented him with a slice of toast cut in to 32 roughly equal pieces about 2cm squared ... he wasn't amused.

Tomorrow I'm thinking about combining toast, peanut butter and coffee in a delicious breakfast smoothie.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Messing around with a few numbers

Thursday was slightly busier than Wednesday and I spent the morning trying to get to grips with a rather complicated cost model that a frolleague had developed back in 2019 for a piece of new business.

Apparently there is a problem with the specification of some servers and the ones that are being installed need to be removed and repurposed while new hardware is brought in to replace them. I've offered to help "Tel" out by updating his model as, and when, the costs arrived.

After some initial head scratching I soon developed a basic understanding of how the numbers were presented and collated and started to record the new data.  It then became clear that the quote was not as straightforward as initially thought and we are not clear on whether the price, the quantity or both are being increased.*

I now need to sit and wait while we get the Supplier to be a little more precise on the costs and how they are changing.

As a result I had a fairly slow afternoon and enjoyed another walk with the dogs in the glorious sunshine. The local lanes have finally dried out and I no longer need to restrain the dogs to prevent them getting filthy.*** They had a wild time bouncing off each other as they charged about, begrudgingly coming back when I called them in as we encountered other walkers.

And that is just about it for today.
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* The quote identifies the affected line items and advises the amount that each will increase. It details both price and quantity, but doesn't advise whether "p", "q" or both are increasing. The price appears to be the same as the preceding quote, but it is possible that they are just doubling their price!**
** This is network hardware after all!
*** I enjoy a walk, but am not so keen on spending twenty minutes hosing down and drying two reluctant Standard Poodles afterwards. This does happen frequently over the wetter months, but I do try to minimise post-perambulation canine ablutions as much as poss.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Nothing to see here

It is fair to say that work is very quiet at the moment and the two requests I picked up last week were quickly resolved, with no real need for me to get involved.

A frolleague; "Tel" is in need of some assistance and we had a quick chat about it this morning, but there is nothing much to do until some fresh costs come in later in the week.

As a result I had a very quiet day and the only thing of any significance was a walk around the Three Miler in glorious sunshine with TP and the dogs.

The lack of events, occurrences or situations have resulted in me trawling my photo archives and presenting a picture post.

Cocoa Pods - Arenal, Costa Rica

I do like an unusual botanical subject and this one was taken in 2018 when 30% and I were touring Costa Rica. These are cocoa pods and were surprisingly large, being eight to ten inches in length and tightly packed with the cocoa beans.

As I mentioned last Tuesday, our holiday in Costa Rica will always be tainted by the loss of Tyson while we were away.  We did have a lovely time and some amazing experiences, including seeing Olive Ridley Turtles hauling themselves on to shore to lay in the starlight.

But, as I said, it will always be a great holiday that we wish we'd never taken.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

A Blast from the past

30% headed in to work early this morning, as she wanted to get ahead with a new service that is likely to be needed without delay.

As she left she pointed to a thawing pack of stewing beef and "suggested" that I might like to use it as a basis for tonight's dinner.

Now, many years ago I used to cook a mean beef stew, but that was a long time back and the details of the recipe were a little hazy. I wandered over to the cupboard that houses the cook books, but could find no sign of the little pamphlet that documented this culinary treasure.

I was left with no option and simply had to wing it. This is what I did ...

Beef Stew

1kg Stewing Beef (cubed)
3 medium onions (chopped)
4 carrots (sliced)
2 heaped dessert spoons of flour
Salt and black pepper
1 pint of Chicken stock
3-4 tsp Worcester Sauce
3 or 4 Bay Leaves
3-4 tsp Dried Thyme
2 handfuls of Pearl Barley

1.  Coat the beef in the seasoned flour and brown in a frying pan
2.  Once browned, remove the beef and set to one side
3.  Add the carrots and onions to the frying pan, adding more oil if necessary
4.  Saute the carrots and onions for 5 - 10 minutes until they start to soften
5.  Add the stock, Worcester Sauce, Bay Leaves and Thyme to the pan and bring to the boil
6.  Add the beef to the simmering pan of carrots and onions
7.  Add the contents of the pan to a slow cooker and cook on low setting for 6 hours. Add a little extra stock or water if the gravy needs thinning
8.  a couple of handfuls of pearl barley can be added two hours before the stew is to be served, if desired

At seven thirty dinner was served and, what can I say ... "I've still got it".

Monday, 23 March 2020

Dunkirk

Let me set the scene ...

TP holed up in deepest, darkest Cardiff.  Cases of Covid19 on the increase. An announcement of movement restrictions expected imminently.

As I am sure you can imagine, 30% was in full on "mum mode" and resources were to be mobilised immediately for a recovery mission.

Putting crappy jokes aside for a moment, TP's lease expires in the very near future and his workload has completely dried up.  Based on current Government advise it would be virtually impossible for him to locate another room to rent, let alone move himself or pay for it for that matter.

Early in the afternoon 30% and I headed down to Cardiff in the Defender and her Mini.

TP was well prepared and most of his belongings were already packed and piled in the hallway ready for loading.  It took an hour, or so, for us to cram our vehicles to the proverbial gills. We managed virtually all of his stuff with the exception of his home brewing vessels and an aged Sony flat screen TV.

We were back on the road before three o'clock and we were all back home safely by five.  TP actually seeing Army vehicles heading in to Cardiff as he left!

TP is now self-isolating for the next week and both 30% and I are relieved to have him back at home.

Our timing was perfect, as later that evening Boris Johnson announced the initial set of movement restrictions.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Weekend Round-up

 Saturday
Social Distancing/Isolation is now the new normal and, to be honest, it hasn't made a huge difference to 30% and me.

I have been a home worker for fifteen years and am used to, and actually enjoy, the isolation, using the 'phone, instant messaging and e-mail for work and social contact. 30% is much the same and fortunately we actually enjoy being at home together.

I am not so naive to not be aware that that several weeks, or even months, of social distancing will be tough to bear, but at least we both have some experience of living this way and it is not such a complete culture shock as it will be for those that head out to a place of work every day.

We spent the morning cooking up a batch of Bolognese and other culinary activities. I then nipped out to fill the Defender with diesel as the price has plummeted over the past few weeks.

Lunch followed and then we headed out around the 3 miler with the dogs and this is where we saw the impact of SD.   The lanes around the village are just like they are at Christmas with walkers I have never seen before.  People are clearly feeling the need to get out of the house now they are unable to escape to their places of work.*

A kip on the sofa followed the walk** and I then released the porn mower and trimmed the lawn.

The evening began with a G&T followed by a steak dinner and a night in front of the television ... trying to ignore it and read tablets, magazines and other alternative forms of entertainment instead.
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* We are bumping in to dogs that we have never seen being walked before. They are easy to spot as they are all on leads and have quite a surprised expression on their faces.
** This is the law.

Sunday
A quick breakfast was consumed before I returned to the kitchen, knocked up a batch of pea and ham soup and tidied up the aftermath.

30% had headed out to the supermarket to take advantage of her NHS staff card in the hope of picking up a few store cupboard essentials that we are running short of.

And that just about takes care of Sunday morning.

In the afternoon we eventually headed out around the Three miler. I say eventually as 30% had to pop over to the local surgery where key staff are working at the weekend to prepare for the next set of Covid19 initiatives. It appears that she has a new role involving the set up and support of the new services that will be needed as self-isolation of vulnerable patients takes effect.

We eventually hit the lanes with the dogs and it was rammed with families out escaping the confines of their homes. Yesterday I said that it was like Christmas, but I was definitely under calling the number of people out on a walk.* I think there are two or three times the volume of Christmas walkers.

Several hours** later we made it home and settled in for the afternoon. I cleaned my shotgun as it looks like it is going to be months before any of the local shooting grounds re-open ... unless, of course, this really is the dawn of the Zombie apocalypse?

It looks like we will be heading down to Cardiff in the next couple of days to collect TP and his belongings. His lease expires in the next couple of months and he has little chance of picking up freelance work in the current environment, so has decided that home is the best place to wait this out and then start afresh when it all blows over.
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* Why do their bloody kids feel the need to take a scooter out on a country walk? I wonder whether the thought process is as follows ... " I don't wanna go outside, I don't wanna go for a walk, its boring out there ... I'll take my scooter/skateboard/bike that'll minimise the effort and minimise the time away from the TV/tablet/'phone."
** That's what it felt like after 30% felt obligated to chunter on to each and every one of them.

Friday, 20 March 2020

All is well

Well, at least it is on the beekeeping front.

The weather was reasonably fine today and shortly after lunch I found a spare half an hour to pop down the road to see Kathy H-R.

I dropped off a small parcel of groceries that 30% had picked up for Kathy and then I took a quick look at the hive that sits in her front garden.

It was going to be a quick peek at best since a cool wind was blowing and I didn't want to chill the colony nor any brood that might be developing. I got the smoker lit and gave a few puffs at the hive entrance. I could see worker bees taking in pollen, which is usually a sign that the queen is laying and that there are larvae to be fed. So far, so good ...

I lifted off the hive roof, noting that the colony had eaten most of the 2.5 kilos of candy* that had been provided as emergency winter feed. This was another positive sign.

I lifted the hive crown board a centimetre or two and gave the colony another couple of puffs of smoke. The crown board was then lifted and I was rewarded with a marvellous sight. The colony covered eight or nine of the brood frames, which is a good size at this point in the year.

I inspected a few of the frames in the centre of the cluster of bees** and saw a healthy patch of capped brood. That was all I wanted to see and I quickly closed up the hive, hopefully without chilling it too much.

All six of my hives have made it through the winter.  I just hope that we get a mild dry Spring with plenty of blossom and flowers ...

... I've already been asked about whether I can supply some mini jars of honey for wedding favours.
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* A soft sugar paste, very similar to fondant icing.
** This is the warmest part of the colony and where the queen and the brood nest are most likely to be found