Monday, 25 August 2014

Stuff of Life...and More Assemblage

I know that it's meant to be a blog about renovation but I can't resist the occasional guest appearance of a cooking blog.  I do, after all, aspire to be Nigel Slater.  So, as I was saying in an earlier post, I am an assembler.  Yes, I admit it.  My cookery is OK but I am best at salads.  Of course, I took these pictures a while back and can no longer remember the recipes that I used but will endeavour to describe them as best I can.

For this first one, I sort of borrowed from two Waitrose salad recipes and added halloumi.  Roasted tomatoes, then a dressing made by softening celery in a frying pan with olive oil then adding lemon juice.  Then mange tout, asparagus, lots of parsley, black olives and spring onions.  Probably other stuff too.

Of course, I must also mention the bread in the picture above.  It is S's world renowned walnut and honey.  Delicious.  Here it is in all it's glory.

Note the beautiful concentric patterns of this loaf.  Now that S has moved beyond Baking 101, he has started to think about his presentation as well as content.  It's a bit like maturing as a teacher really.  Note the beauty of these examples below.

I should mention that, on the rare occasions that bread is leftover (i.e. when H and D aren't here), then the squirrels enjoy it too.  It must be the walnuts.

Back to assemblage, this was a table arrangement that took my fancy for a photo.  Olives, tomato, cheese and bread from the local Deli (S's day off), asparagus from the man with the stall in the alcove by the butcher's (which I should have taken out of the plastic bag for the purposes of art!) and some lemon drizzle, also from the Deli.

And this was some roasted veg that I thought looked pretty and rustic.  A sort of ratatouille with courgettes, peppers, onions, aubergines and herbs from the garden.  Perhaps next year it will all be from the garden.  We live in hope. 

This was a torta di pistacchio, again courtesy of Waitrose magazine and Giorgio Locatelli.  I had three goes at the pastry.  The first time I used shop bought.  You had to bake it blind.  I dropped it when I was checking to see if it was cooked.  Very Great British Bake-Off.  The second time, I used shop bought and decided that the instructions didn't really mean bake blind by putting beans (or pasta in this instance) into the case while it cooked initially.  Not that I'm saying Giorgio's recipes aren't clear, of course.  It collapsed.  The third time, I had to use my own pastry.  And go back to the blind baking plan.  It worked. 

Stuffed peppers.  Prepping in the garden again.  What a great summer we've had.  Even though the temperature has plunged to single figures now - late August - and I even thought of putting the heating on last night.

And a yummy cheese board to finish.  Coffee anyone?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Tanks for the Memory

S thinks that he gets a bad press in this blog.  That I represent him as a killer of baby birds, pet dogs and plants.  I merely report the truth as I see it.  I apologise if that seems harsh in any way but as cub reporter of this parish, I abide by the wise words of the long serving editor of the Manchester Guardian newspaper, C.P. Scott, who said in 1921: "...but facts are sacred".  And they are.  So, over the next two posts, I intend to report further facts and, in so doing, to showcase some of S's greatest achievements on this renovation to date.

The first triumph was the replacement of the water tank.  I went to get H's room ready for one of her many and welcome returns the other week.  There was a strange musty, damp smell.  I checked her 'wardrobe', the ex-server room.  There had been a fan in the window that has been removed, leaving a circular hole in the pane.  It has been made weatherproof with sellotape.  I wondered if the system had failed and rain had got into the room.  It hadn't.  And it hadn't rained either.  Then I happened to look up.  There are many faults in H's room but the ceiling is not one of them.  It is pristine.  Correction.  It was pristine.  There were two damp patches.  What the....?  I couldn't think what was above her room that could be leaking.

Damp Patch
Another Damp Patch
The investigation continued up to the top floor and to the water tank.  Water was pouring down the beam to the ceiling below.

Wet Beam
The first thing that I did was to insist on moving H's bed so that it was no longer positioned below the tank.  I remember reading something about someone lying in bed and the tank of hot water above them bursting.  They died as a result of the scalding.

We emptied the tank by siphoning out the water with the garden hose, which trailed down the roof, down three floors across the garden and into the shrubs.  And then we tried refilling it.  It reached a certain point and then started to leak again.  We figured out that it was leaking at a certain point so we had to keep refilling the tank to that point every time someone used some hot water.

Did I mention that it was Sunday?  It always is when these things happen.  There is some universal law.  Let us call it A's Law.

On Monday, S set to: he found a similar tank, removed the old one and replaced it.  Just like that.  And had to make it all fit by putting in new piping.  A very neat job and a great relief.  Tanks, S!

This Tank is no More
Lovely New Tank
Further Proof of Loveliness of Tank

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Assemblage and a Daylesford Diversion

Nigel Slater always claims to be a cook who writes, rather than a chef.  I can't even claim that, I think.  If I were ever mad enough to apply for Masterchef, then I would be accused of simply assembling food, rather than cooking.  I am an assembler.  I can chuck things together and they taste quite nice, sometimes, but my cooking skills are not great.  This grieves me.

We have recently discovered Daylesford Organic Farm near Stow-on-the-Wold.  Amongst other wonders, they run cookery courses there, including a Chef School in October, requiring six evenings of commitment over six weeks.  But it is a busy time of year for me and, much as I'd love to go, I know that it will just add to my stress levels and reduce my pleasure in the experience.

(Before pontificating more about the assembling of food, a quick advert for Daylesford, if you fancy a trip out and some great food.  There is a wonderful store, selling organic food from artisan suppliers and lots of produce from the farm itself.  There is a marvellous refrigerated cheese room, which stinks, but sells wonderful local cheeses.  You can visit the farm to see how the animals are kept and how the food is produced.  They also sell kitchen equipment and accessories.  There is a garden shop, a spa and one of the most expensive clothes shops ever.

The highlight for me, though, is the great restaurant, selling fresh and delicious food, open for breakfast, lunch, tea and, on Fridays and Saturdays, supper.  (A word that I usually find intensely annoying - it's dinner, isn't it?  We're not living in a Jane Austen novel!  However, I forgive them in this instance because the food is so good.)  They cook before your eyes, using a stone-clad wood burning oven with huge stainless steel flues disappearing up through the ceiling and beyond.  The chef places the food in skillets, moving it either nearer to the heat or further away according to how great a temperature is required.  The decor is plain, simple and stylish.  White, light and bright.

For the greedy reader who appreciates foody detail, when I went with H for lunch, we had three salads, the best of which was raw slaw with toasted cashews, chilli, ginger and soy dressing.  Delicious.  And assembled.  I must try it.  I think it fits my skills.  And, luckily, H bought me the Daylesford cookbook ('A Love for Food: Recipes and Notes for Cooking and Eating Well') for Christmas so I have the recipe.

When I went with S for supper, we had the most brilliant farm baked bread and hot cheddar dip.  A sort of sophisticated, deconstructed cheese on toast (although the bread wasn't toasted).  Then we also shared a starter: buratta (mozzarella cheese), heritage tomatoes, mint and sourdough.  Yum.  Then I had lemon and thyme wood roast chicken with salsa verde, heritage tomato and basil panzanella salad and he had charcoal grilled hanger steak, watercress, rosemary potatoes and balsamic dressing.  To finish, ice cream for him and strawberry jelly and strawberry sorbet for me.)

So, having gone off on a diversion to Daylesford, I'll leave my thoughts on the art of assemblage for another day - and try to remember that this is a renovation blog and not a restaurant review!

Monday, 4 August 2014

View from the Bridge

With scaffolding there for the repair of the lintel, I took the opportunity to clamber up the ladder for a bird's eye view of our house and garden.

The View to the Shed in the Church Yard

The Sycamore Tree Overhanging the Gin Terrace

The View Towards the Road

Down on the Gin Terrace
The Higgledy Piggledy Roof Scape

Close Up Corbels and Plaque

View Down
Looking Back to the Long Room on the Top Floor

Stone Tiles


So, the blue tit finally fledged and the builders came back.  The old and rotten lintel was removed, stonework repaired and then a very sturdy piece of oak put back.  Of course, it now shows how bad the pointing is on the rest of the wall.  But that is life at the Old Rectory.  No sooner is one problem solved than another appears.

Monday, 28 July 2014

On Builders...

They are sensitive creatures, builders, we have found.  You have to treat them with care and approach them with caution.  With their artistic temperaments, you cannot expect them to simply turn up for work when they say.  Or even, in fact, to say when they will turn up for work.  They are whimsical will-o'-the-wisps, living in the moment, social butterflies who flit in, create scenes of chaos followed by beauty and then they leave with no promise of return.  We daren't risk upsetting them by badgering or criticising or demanding.  We coax and wheedle and compliment and please them with tea, three sugars, cake and biscuits.

They arrived this morning to mend the lintel.  Unannounced, they suddenly appeared in the front garden.  Trying not to frighten them off, I quietly unlocked the front door and ventured out.  They were twitchy but let me approach.  I managed to get quite close without them shying away and warned them of the suspected nest behind the lintel.  One went up to check and, yes, there was a baby blue tit curled up in its nest, fast asleep.  S, the ex-nuclear bomber pilot, would have had them remove the nest and get on with the job.  After all, how much is that scaffolding costing per day?  But the tender hearted builders could not inflict such suffering.  It would upset their delicate sensitivities to murder a baby bird.

With pained expressions and a faint air of relief, they got back into their truck and trundled off into the June sunshine, not to be seen again until the blue tit has fledged.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Open Gardens

The gardens at a village two miles north west of the town where we live were open on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th June as part of the National Gardens Scheme.  Thousands of gardens throughout England and Wales open their gates each year in order to raise money for nursing and caring charities.  Many of these gardens are not normally open to the public.  Keen to get ideas for our amateur efforts at the Old Rectory, S and I went along.

The first thing that caught my eye was the old telephone box.  If you look closely, you will see that it is no longer used for making telephone calls - well, surely everyone has a mobile phone now - but rather it is the village lending library.  This appeals to me enormously as an ex-librarian.  You can take the girl out of the library but you can't take the library out of the girl, so there are few things that warm my heart more than a shelf of books.  And such a brilliant way to save that old red phone box.

In the first garden that we visited, we were transfixed by the screening off of the working area, fascinating creatures that we are.  I am currently a student of Monty Don, English television presenter, writer and speaker on horticulture, having now read two of his books and currently slowly working my way through The Ivington Diaries inbetween reading novels.  This is the story of his own garden near Hereford, on the border with Wales.  I am currently boring everyone to death by quoting Monty all the time - Monty says that you should restrict the roots of the fig tree so that it fruits, Monty says that the hostas are stressed in pots and should be planted out in the soil, which will make them more resistant to disease, Monty says that mushroom compost is the best...and so on.  Well, Monty also says that every garden should have a work hub with compost bins, areas to mix compost, store wheel barrows and so on.  We must obviously create one and I'd like it to be next to the gardening shed and screened off, rather like the one in the picture below.

View from the Back..
...And View from the Front
Other ideas gleaned from this garden were this rockery below.  Which gave me heart that even S and I can have a go at laying a wall like this, bearing in mind that we currently have piles of stones strewn around the garden, the remnants of the fallen wall.

We liked the look of this shrub but don't know what it is.  Some kind of viburnum perhaps...?

The third garden that we visited was truly magical.  On a slope at the edge of the village with a wonderful view across the Wiltshire countryside, you enter through a rose covered arch.

There was a shaded area to the left with a pond and watching statue standing by.

At the bottom of the slope was another rather larger pond with a boathouse and a rowing boat.  Even though it was a pond, not a lake and, therefore, not a very large expanse of water in which to row a boat, it was very romantic.  The thought of lolling about reading in the gently rocking boat on a sunny day was very appealing.  Or sipping an evening glass of prosecco whilst leaning on the balcony waiting for the barbecue to cook.

In the next garden, we were impressed by this apple tree through which a rose had been growing for the past thirty years.  It was a mass of white and smelt glorious.  The owner of the garden walked around with us.  I envied his retirement and he redressed that envy by telling us about his dementia, how he could no longer remember how to drive and, with no bus service to this village, had lost his independence and was reliant on his wife.  We asked him the name of a plant in the garden and he said that the ability to recall such things was long gone.  It was a dark cloud during a pleasant day and we left his side feeling rather more subdued.

The next house on the itinerary was not simply a house but rather the Hall, the stables of which have a very French feel, I think.  They give me the sense of being in Normandy, rather than Wiltshire.

Although not all of the grounds were open and, sadly, not the wonderful orangerie, which I have visited in the past, visitors were welcome to go into the walled kitchen garden.  I do like a kitchen garden.  I love to see rows of vegetables and to admire fruit bushes.  In a lean-to greenhouse, they were growing almonds and peaches.  In the garden itself, I was much taken with the idea of arches of apple trees.

And swathes of Nigella, love-in-a-mist.  More romance.

This reminds me that, as we have started planting up some of our beds, we have discovered that one plant is not enough so I have started buying three of everything.  Except now that I stand back and look at the bed by the gate, I'm starting to think that three isn't enough so might up that number to five.  At least.

Anyhow, some ideas gained.  Some charitable giving.  And some rather nice blueberry cake and a cup of tea.  A grand day out.