Monday, 30 December 2013

51: Dumplings

All over again, we had an unusual Christmas dinner: japanese style dumplings, prawns o skewers and katsu curry, all made by Amy, with help, under supervision, from me the sous-chef. I think my efforts on dumplings count as a new skill, I'll definitely try them again.
For anyone who wants to try, it's quite easy but fiddly. You can get the skins from an oriental supermarket, there's a good one in Guildford, and stuff them with almost anything. We used minced pork, spring onion and soy sauce.

Moisten the edge of the skin,

put a scant teaspoon of stuffing in the centre

fold in half, then pleat one side against the other, pressing the edges together firmly.

Fry until the bottoms are crisp, then add enough water to cover the bottom half and boil with a lid for about five minutes, the remove the lid and simmer until it's dry.


Amy found magic glasses for us all, making light points turn into snowmen, reindeer or gingerbread men. Can anyone work out how it's done? All you can see examining the glasses is opaque spots, even under a                                                                                    microscope.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Recipes

Last year I put a couple of recipes, & thought I'd do some more. They're simple, tried and tested old favourites. My style of cooking is a bit imprecise, and usually in a single pot for easy clearing up! I hope someone tries and enjoys them.

Edible Brussels sprouts
Boil briefly, max 5 minutes, then toss in butter, lots of fresh ground pepper, chopped frozen chestnuts (Waitrose is the only place I've found) tinned are too soft & sweet, and some cranberries. Sizzle gently until the cranberries start to disintegrate. You could add bacon bits, but our only sprout lover is a herbivore!

Caribbean Bananas
Soak a handful of raisins/sultanas or whatever in a couple of tablespoons of dark rum with a tablespoon of dark brown sugar, the richer & stickier the better, a tablespoon of mixed peel and of desiccated coconut, a generous teaspoon of mixed spice & the juice & grated peel of an orange and a lemon. Leave for a couple of hours in a covered ovenproof dish, then add 1-2 bananas per person, depending on how stuffed you all are, more rum if it's too dry, spoon the sugar & fruit over the bananas and put it in the oven while you eat the main course. Serve with an excess of thick cream. At least two of your five-a-day!

Mince-pie Crumble
Use your favourite crumble topping, but add a few ounces of really cheap muesli, it's crunchier than plain oats, and you don't need the fruit & nuts. Any fruit works, (Laura uses apple & raspberry) but a particularly nice mixture is apple, sultanas soaked in grape juice, mixed peel (home made from my vine & frozen) and 2 very generous teaspoons of mixed spice. The sultanas absorb the juice so it isn't soggy, and the grape juice give a wonderful red colour, maybe add angelica to the top after cooking to make it really Christmassy, or is that OTT?

Enjoy them

Friday, 20 December 2013


After two terms I'm just beginning to get the hang of throwing pots, it's all to do with keeping your wrists straight! In one of our classes only one other (expert) person turned up, so I had Julie's full attention for two hours, very helpful but hard work.
The shapes are definitely improving, but the really fun bit is experimenting with glazes and metal oxides. Here are some of the latest batch, what do I do with dozens of little pots?
                                    For any other aspiring potters, I'll describe what I've done

BTK then Transmutation, unpredictable but sadly never gold! The red & green inside are glass.

Intense Black outside, Shiny White inside. I didn't record blue so I'm not sure if I added blue or if it's a reaction between the other two. I'll experiment next term.

Shiny White with Bristol on the outside.

The best one, in shape and colour: Intense Black outside, Mid Shiny Blue (very runny) inside with gold round the top

Matt Turquoise with the top dipped in Cobalt Chun

Barium green glaze with rather too much copper carbonate.

Intense Black with gold, very runny at the top.

Redwings, turquoise and purple.

Three treats this week, first a persistent flock of redwings Turdus iliacus (is 10 or so a flock?) on my Cotoneaster acuminatus. I don't really mind them nicking all the berries, they're such beautiful & rare visitors. I need to clean the kitchen windows in case they come back, the photos are not brilliant. The cotoneaster is a Himalayan native, but redwings aren't, they learn fast!

Second, but sadly no photo, six kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) this week, probably the same 1 or 2 as they were all on the same stretch of canal on the margin of Woking. That's more than I normally see in a couple of years, they're so fast just a flash or brilliant shiny turquoise, a colour I love to wear, maybe not the shiny bit.

Finally a reward for having fun, always good. I've visited Clare & growing brood a few times this year as it's so nice watching the little people growing up, especially when you're not in charge of discipline! These flowers arrived as a Christmas present, with a note saying "Thanks for the support" What a treat!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Christmas is a'coming... and orchids

Christmas is a'coming even if I'm not ready! The wreath's done, with holly berries this year, thanks to our                       new Garden Club. Until the '87 storm we had a holly tree, but never any berries.

One more fused glass creation, to replace the spider-infested penguin (it's a long story) for the top of the                                                                              Christmas tree.

Just to add to the decoration, the Paphiopedilum I was given for my birthday a couple of years ago is in full                                                                          flower.

                                                          I particularly like the furry ovary.
My moth orchids are always in flower, they seem to go on for ever, flowering for 6 months at a time is not unusual. Lots of complicated advice is given on their care, I find a very sunny windowsill and neglect works. They get water about once a fortnight, fed a couple of times in the summer and leave the flowering stems as  buds sprout from the stalk when the first flowers have gone, only cut it when it's brown & dead. I've even had a whole new plant from the top of a stalk.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Burial ground

An update on our Moslem burial ground over the last couple of months, I've been a bit lazy about taking photos.  

It's getting on, but there's still a lot to do, I suspect the landscaping will start in the spring. The local community police officers seem to be keeping a high profile at the moment, I hope the vandals stay away. Psychologists say that something in good shape is less likely to suffer, lets hope so!

Fused Glass

 The end of term again, stained & fused glass are both totally addictive. The downside is the precision needed in cutting so the bits fit, but I'm improving.

Dichroic glass is the most amazing stuff, micro-layers of metal or oxides, developed by NASA. The results are variable, totally unpredictable, but always beautifully coloured and shimmery. The colour you see looking at it is totally different from the colour looking through it. The Romans sort of had it, not the electro-vapour coated one we have, but the two different colour stuff.

This one's an experimental window-hanging, multiple layers of glass, the top layer tacked on rather than fused in. The sparkly fish are dichroic glass.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

More from the Gower

Wales in December doesn't really bring to mind a T-shirt stroll along the coast, picnicking in the sun, but unpredictable as ever, that's just what we had.

Just enough of a shower to make spectacular clouds and rainbows, in this one what appears at first sight to be a reflectiion is offset from the bottom of the "real" one, unlike a proper reflection, any explanation anyone?

I think this is a kestrel from it's black tipped tail, but I'm happy to be corrected.

M identified these as stonechats, he's usually right!

Late/early Christmas!

Having a virtual flick through photo albums I found these Christmas cake pictures from September, long since eaten!

Not quite as daftly premature as it seems, Rosey was off to Antarctica again.


The walking club had out traditional Christmas weekend at a Youth (!) Hostel in the Gower, the weather was better than you could reasonably expect in Wales in December, and the food one of the best meals I've had. the mushroom in cream sauce in filo pastry starter

and pear tart were beyond words. Anyone with a few days in this area should check out chriskeenan the caterer, he does courses and things. No problem to transport all the stuff to a tiny YHA kitchen, it would be a good mega-birthday or wedding celebration.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Unconnected Pleasures!

Sometime ago I mentioned teasels as a brilliant garden plant, for its flowers, and persistent stalks. here's another reason: Goldfinches, so shy that any movement makes the scarper, but through a window you can see them enjoying the last seeds. Not brilliant photos as the windows needed cleaning.

The South bank is always worth a visit, at this time of year there's a splendid Christmas market, although the prices ean it's for looking more than actually buying.

Books, nearly there!

            I've now got to 55 mind-improving books, 5 to go to my 60 target, but I'll continue to tell you about good (or particularly bad) ones.
               Al-Khalili:Pathfinders looks at the history of science and maths origination in Arabic cultures, Persia Syria &c. It’s quite solid going, but with lots of fascinating bits of information. Many words like algorithm, algebra, gibberish and of course our numbers and the concept of zero are all their ideas. Seleucus, a Babylonian around 190 BCE came up with the strange idea that the sun, not the Earth, is the centre of the solar system.
 Knapp:Potted Histories is a lavishly illustrated large-format book looking at the main plant groups through classical illustrations. A brilliant idea, but the text is a bit meatless, and often doesn’t relate to the illustrations. The end-notes after each chapter would be much better if incorporated in the body of the text, but the snippets of history and about the people are good value.

 White:Natural History of Selbourne  consists of Gilbert White’s letters, mainly about birds from the 1770s & 80s. The language is quaint, particularly in respect of mating habits, very delicately alluded to, and he uses old spellings like oeconomy. It’s hard to imagine such precise observations of, for example the feeding-on-the-wing habits of swallows without access to binoculars or a camera, or observations on migration (sometimes wrong) with no electronic tags, no wonder there were so many mysteries. Even Linnaean classification was in its infancy, so anyone could, and did, come up with whatever Latin descriptive name seemed apt. This is still causing confusion. I love all the quotations from Milton, don’t see that much nowadays, and from erudite textbooks in Latin too, as a normal thing for the educated. Fortunately translations provided, it taxed my rather old O-level!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Great niece&nephew

I spent a couple of days visiting the rapidly growing little people, Alec is quite an independent young man when it suits him. I loved the way he took me home from the park the long way to visit the tea&coffee shop. Sadly only chocolate coated coffee beans, perfect for me but not really for a not-quite-3-year-old. He was very good, just saying sadly on the way out "I didn't have any of those things". I wonder what's done to them to make them so crispy, a coffee grut left in the cup sticks to your teeth in an annoying way.
B is at the interested and interesting stage now, really notices people and smiles very readily. she was also over excited at being left with a babysitter, demanding to spend the evening exploring the kitchen windows, or possibly just our reflections. The vanity to come!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

colour change.

As autumn slithers into winter, the maple by the tiny pond creeps from a genteel burgundy to a rather tarty scarlet, enhanced by the softening yellow Agapanthus leaves. Maybe the change is akin to Jenny Joseph's wonderful poem about the lost restrictions of age!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

November sunshine.

I was given a bunch of South African flowers the other day, one was this yellow Protea, resembling its Australian cousin Banksia, a bright sun in the grey. It has strange & complex mating habits!

A native sunburst on the margins of Dartmoor, did anyone see the dire weather forecast for last weekend? Well, apart from an excuse to produce some of the best brief rainbows I've seen they were wrong!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


You might have spotted that I'm slightly obsessed by the little British native orchids from previous posts ( I found another broad leafed helleborine in a little crevice of soil between the paved path and canal bridge the other day). I have several Phalaenopsis, the supermarket moth orchids, which flower for months before having a brief rest  then starting again. They're brilliant house plants, and thrive on very little, they're so easy to get to flower again: just ignore them, leave dead-looking stems until they're dry and brown, the side buds sprout. They're more compact than the Cymbidiums, the previous top-seller. I also have some success with Plieones, the little tree-dwellers familiar to anyone who's done a spring Himalayan trek. Until this year I've failed with all the others, although one year I nearly had one until Mrs Mop (aka Ghengis Khan) broke off my only ever stalk by dusting it! I was watering the other day and found a flower stalk on a Zygopetalum, and Paphiopedilum. Two at once, it's been an odd summer. The Paphio (Slipper Orchid) has a very soft slightly furry stem, if Clare saw it she would 3BT it as like Bettany's newborn skin!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Kew & camouflage.

Fruitfulness, definitely, mellow? More vibrant and dramatic. Kew is always good for visual treats.

The IncrEdible display this year included the giant willow sculptures, correct in all details as you would expect.

This chap obviously has ears designed for camouflage in the bud scales of his Magnolia tree!