Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dan, fully clothed at last - well sort of.

OK, I promise, no more references to my nakedness.

As my long awaited week off draws to a close, I feel very grateful for everything I have. It has been heavenly here, even with the crappy weather, the endless battle with slugs (sorry, salting them now, there are just too many) and rescuing snapping lupins. I have loved every minute of it.

Tomorrow I drive the long drive to Devon for 3 nights and then drive back again on Sunday night (probably get home about 3 in the morning, but I still opted for that) when I am home for 2 days only. I go to Devon with some trepidation, because last year when I was in this particular location I was bitten by a tick and found myself with the huge bulls-eye rash that is Lymse disease. Apparently it is on the increase, so I will be very aware of it in the future and I urge all you out-door types to always look out for the tell tale rash. At least I know what to look for this time around. I remember being in the hospital having my blood taken for testing at this time and a very uncouth young phlebotomist shouting over a full waiting room, as I sat blissfully in the chair, sleeve rolled up, 'which phial is it for Lymes disease?' I could almost feel the waiting room shift their chairs slightly away in horror, not quite knowing what this was. She then whispered to me in a loud stage whisper, 'I had impetigo at my sisters wedding!' I smiled at her as I wondered the relevance of all of this! That was Croydon Mayday Hospital for you. At the same hospital, a young Indian doctor was checking out the rash and went onto the internet to look at photos of lymes diseases rashes with me, one of which was a poor unfortunate woman, totally naked with a huge rash on her arse. The doctor said faintly, 'Yours doesn't look quite like that'. Couldn't help but reply, 'what? my arse?'

I have been blissfully lazy this week, in fact yesterday I fell asleep mid afternoon for 2 hours. I have never quite got over the guilt of lazing around when others are going to work (I don't let it stop me, obviously) and I always think I should be doing something.  Today has been slightly different as I got on with some paperwork that needed doing, upped my internet usage requirements (BBC I player takes a lot!) and generally prepared myself for another fortnight of travelling.

Reading all of my favourite blogs has been one of the best bits. I love catching up with your stories, seeing what you are doing in the garden and checking out new recipes.

So, bye for now, will touch base again on Monday, unless I find the miracle of a good free internet connection while I am away.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dan naked

Ha ha, made you look! I had more views on yesterdays blog than ever before! Was it the promise of my nakedness? Now I see how advertising works! Don't worry, there will be no nakedness on this blog, perish the thought, wouldn't inflect that on anyone.

First off, huge thanks to Kris who solved the problem of people getting weird login and password requests when viewing my blog. Hopefully it is all resolved now and you won’t get that any more, but do let me know! I took the opportunity at the same time to go through my list of blogs I follow and remove those that have broken links and to ruthlessly remove those that have not blogged for 9 months or more.

Now, who can resolve all the other blogspot issues?

I watched ‘the food factory’ on tv last night, anyone see it? For those that didn’t it is a programme in which popular supermarket products are taken and broken down to their basic components and then re-made. It used to be hosted by Jimmy of Jimmy’s Farm fame but now he obviously has better things to do (such as look after his farm) and it has changed its format to include the dubious help of two Saturday night ‘celebrities’, obviously, what is an information programme without the appearance of a couple of z listers these days.
Last night’s episodes saw them learning how supermarket orange squash and powdered tomato soup are made. The first thing that struck was the regular use of the word factory. How unappealing a food becomes when you start thinking in terms of factories.

Surprisingly, the orange squash was actually made almost completely from oranges, but it involved crushing and boiling in a vacuum and spinning and pulping using machines made from lawn mower pieces and cement mixers. Here is where the programme missed a trick if you ask me. They neglected to mention at any point that it is possible to make cordials and squash quite easily in your own kitchen. They, purposely it seems to me, made it seem impossible to ever do yourself at home. Having just made elderflower cordial it struck a chord with me that wouldn’t the programme have way more value if it perhaps showed the viewer how to actually do something useful? Of course, this would probably not be good television. Shame on you BBC.

The tomato soup was a bit more disturbing, mainly because of the amount of salt and sugar that went into it. I have nothing against powdered cup-a-soup really, except that I don’t actually like it, but I can see the use of something you can mix with boiling water for some people, that is fine. What the programme succeeded in highlighting to my mind, was how little nutritional value there is in such food. So I don’t think it tastes all that good and does zero for you except pumps a lot of salt and sugar into your system.
If anything was inadvertently designed to put me off supermarket ready made stuff even more, then it was this programme. Not saying we need more cookery shows, there are enough of those. Just perhaps that programmes like this could point out how easy it is to bi-pass the cup-a-soup completely and make your own.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Key lime pie and dancing naked under a full moon.

I made my key lime pie yesterday, delicious it was too, made from from Hairy Bikers recipe which you can find below.
My friends ate half and left me with the other half in the fridge. Shame, I will have to eat it all. One slice gone with lunch. I also made 4 litres of elderflower cordial yesterday afternoon too, will bottle it tomorrow.

Finally a day free of rain! I was out at the first sociable hour, cutting the front and back lawn. I planted up some iris that my mum brought over yesterday and some marigolds that I grew to help out the tomatoes. I don't think any insect would bother with the toms quite honestly, they are a bit sad looking. I am hoping that the sheer numbers of plants I have will at least provide some sort of crop, even if each plant doesn't produce much.

All my roses are now covered in buds, can't wait to see them come out. The climber is my personal favourite and personal triumph considering it is on a North facing wall. research does pay off!

Had a chat with my neighbour this morning, he asked me how my time was in Guernsey. I had to wonder how he knows so much about me considering that I have never offered the information that I even went to Guernsey at all. I wonder what else he knows or thinks he knows about me and where his source of information is coming from? The other day the gardener chap that I have coming to do some work for me later this summer knew what I did for a living and even the names of the operas I was in this year - more information I have never given (especially since I had never spoken with him before in my life). It made me chuckle. It's to be hoped I never decide to take up witch craft and dancing naked under a full moon, although it might be fun to try, see what they make of that.

Key Lime Pie

(I used the cheapest value digestive biscuits I could get which were about 39p and I didn't bother with cream of tartar because I didn't have any, also vanilla essence has always done me rather than vanilla extract, makes the whole thing very cheap to make)

For the base
For the filling

Preparation method
1.     Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
2.     For the pastry base, finely crush the biscuits by placing into a plastic bag and bashing with a rolling pin (alternatively, pulse to crumbs using a food processor). Transfer to a mixing bowl.
3.     Melt the butter in a saucepan, then pour over the biscuit crumbs. Add the sugar, then mix well to combine. Evenly spread the biscuit mixture in a 23cm/9in pie case, making sure to cover the sides of the tin as well. Level off any excess biscuit mixture.
4.     For the filling, whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together the lime zest, lime juice and condensed milk until smooth and creamy, then mix into the egg yolk mixture. Pour the mixture into the pie case.
5.     In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed from the bowl. Gradually fold in the sugar, vanilla extract, salt and cream of tartar, then whisk again until stiff peaks form. Spoon the meringue mixture over the filling in the pie case, using a fork to form the meringue into peaks.
6.     Bake the pie in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the meringue is golden-brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Place into the fridge to chill completely before serving.
7.     To serve, cut slices of the key lime pie and serve with a scattering of blueberries and a few spoonfuls of whipped cream.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Murder He Wrote

What a strange day, sunshine one minute, torrential downpours the next!
Last night saw me rush outside with emergency bamboo canes and string. One of my treasured lupins had snapped in the sudden awful wind and I was not going to stand by and lose any others! I got drenched and the long lupins attached with string to canes look a little odd, but they are safe now. phew.

Today has seen me fall asleep in front of Murder She Wrote, how annoying, I don't know who did it or why? Maybe it doesn't matter.

I'm sure that dear old Jessica Fletcher worked it out.

I have been invited out for dinner again at a friends house and I have offered to make them a keylime pie. I watched the Hairy Bikers make it the other day and as I am a big fan of lemon meringue pie I thought I would try this as it looks similar but possibly even better. I'll let you know how it goes.

I also bought the ingredients to make the golden pork roll that I found the recipe to on Sarina's blog. That will probably be made tomorrow, looks delicious. Meanwhile I made a sausage casserole that I had with new potatoes and cabbage from my mums garden last night. Was delicious with plenty of leftovers for another day.

So a good lazy weekend of cooking, garden rescue, murder and of course, eating lies ahead!

How are you spending yours?

Welcome to Michelle, my new follower and thank to all you others that pop in regularly.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Week Off

Thank you for your comments everyone, it was indeed a lovely weekend and I am looking forward to a whole week off now! Mother John, I will update you when there is something to update (which there isn't right now!)

So Guernsey was a success and it was even sunny which makes a nice change, as I have now come back to rain and cold again - what is going on!

Me rehearsing Papageno. Look at my poor broken finger but I've now removed the bandage, hooray.

and the same bit in performance - attempting suicide because I didn't get the girl yet - don't worry, I do in the end.

The garden looks happy enough though even with the poor weather. I have been out tying up the climbing rose at the front - I always dreamed of a cottage with roses growing up it and now I seem to have my dream as a reality. I think I will shop for some more roses because I love them so much, will grow another climber up a different wall.

I did a rather dubious looking soil test before I went away and it seems my soil is very acidic (although not sure how much I trust the b and q test as it just looked soil coloured for a long time). I think if this is the case I am supposed to add lime to the soil so I will do some research this week, sounds good for some azaleas though and I do love those.

My broken finger is now without bandage and although it is a bit stiff it seems just fine, it seems I will play the piano again!

This week is going to be all about laziness and enjoying myself. I hope we have a bit of good weather because I would really like to spend some time in the garden.

The Elderflower champagne is coming on nicely. I let a bit of gas out when I came back today because I believe exploding bottles is a big problem with it and it seems to be fizzing up nicely. Elderflower is still out here so when we have a dry day I will collect some more and make some cordial. It is delicious and great for presents too. I think it is lovely on a dark cold winter day to have a nice taste of summer elderflowers. Can't believe how much it goes for in the shops when it is so cheap to make, but I am glad not everyone makes it because it leaves more flowers for me.

Will catch up with all your blogs now. Bye for now.

Sunday, 17 June 2012


Hello everyone, another lovely weekend at home (not lovely weather, but you can't have everything). On Saturday I went to friends for a roast dinner - it was requested that I made my coffee and walnut cake because it went down so well last time! I must say, good company and good food made a happy day.

Saturday night was one of those nights when sleep won't come, I was still up and reading at 2.30 because I just couldn't get sleepy and when dreams finally did come they were of the strange variety, about a pair of twins and an oboe - make of it what you will Freud. So yesterday morning I awoke with grit in the eyes and a raspy throat and throbbing head that signifies lack of sleep. My mood did improve when I opened the curtains and saw a ram, 3 sheep and 2 lambs wandering around opposite the house. Not sure where they had wandered from, but they seemed quite happy and were fortunately more interested in the grit container than my lupins.

They brightened my day.

I was very lazy yesterday and spent most of the time lying in front of the tv watching afternoon films and Gardeners World on i-player. Cooked a couple of pork chops with new potatoes and drifted around. It was heavenly. The only low point was buying my car tax and a couple of train tickets which set me back £200. Have you ever noticed that however frugal you are, some things cost massive amounts of money compared with what you actually live on?

So today, I am up very early (5.30) as I am off to the airport for a quick trip to work in Guernsey for 3 nights. When I am back on Thursday, I am back for 8 days though - hooray! Let's hope for some good weather finally. Not sure if I will be online - it depends if internet is free in the hotel or not. If not, I will catch up with you all on my return.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Elderflower Champagne

I have made elderflower cordial for years now, this is the recipe I use and I urge people to try it, because it is wonderful stuff and lasts right through to next elderflower season if you make enough of it.

For a change, this year, I have made elderflower champagne.

There is a bewildering amount of differing recipes out there so I made a sort of version based on two different ones I found and will know the results in a fortnight.

Here is basically what I did.

Take 7 litres of water and stir in 1.25 k of sugar. Heat the water slightly to help dissolve the sugar completely into there. Now you add your elderflower heads. The amount seems to depend on how much elderflower flavour you want, so I added about 10 good large heads of it, but more and less seems acceptable.

Add the zest and juice of 2 lemons (I zested then squeezed the lot in, and threw the squeezed lemons in whole as well and 2 - 4 tbsp of cider vinegar (although white wine vinegar is used alternatively if you want). Then cover with a cloth and leave for 2 to 3 days. If you don't think that it is fermenting after a couple of days then you can add a small pinch of ordinary bread yeast.

I am now at this stage, having done it 3 days ago. Today I will strain the liquid through muslin and then bottle it up. Left for a couple of weeks now it should make fizz and then I is ready to drink, will tell you what the results are.

I have never brewed anything before (unless you count the 40 litres of bitter I secretly brewed in my wardrobe when I was 15 - wonder if my mum ever knew?) so am looking forward to the results of this very simple process. Sounds just the thing for a hot summers day (if we ever have one).

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Here are some photos that go with yesterdays pots post.

These are my collection of free pots that a kind soul gave me on freecycle. They are absolutely brilliant and after a small clean up will be able to hold so many lovely plants. There are 11 in all and anything that costs nothing is brilliant as far as I am concerned. I have already planted a minature ivy in one and 2 tomato plants in another. Saved myself a bundle there.

This is my climbing rose. Taken nicely and will need supporting very soon. Next time I am back I will see to it. It will look gorgeous when it's crimson flowers come out on the front of the cottage.

This is the Tess of the d'Urbevilles rose bush that my mum gave me for my birthday, Sorry, took the photo before I trimmed the grass so it looks a bit messy. This too has taken well and is covered in buds so will look lovely in a few weeks. This one is crimson too I think. I have a yellow one in the front garden too, also with lots of buds.

Some of the lupins I planted a few months ago have begun to flower. I love lupins and am so thankful that the slugs seem to be leaving them alone.

The plum tree has leaves although it looks a little stringy. Seems to be happy enough. More than can be said for the tomatoes next to it, very unhappy I would say. They have not liked all of this rain and cold.

That can't be said about the potatoes, they have loved the rain and cold! Can't wait to be eating those!

This photo shows a very happy apple tree, with lots more potatoes thriving under, I have banked them up as much as I could but there is nowhere else to bank now! Onions on the right and my peas growing up the canes at the back. Looks a bit of a mess, I know, but everything is happy - including me.

Happy pots of rosemary, tomatoes and a blackcurrant bush. Salad leaves growing in the back in an old wooden bread bin. Some less happy tomatoes around the side.

My happiest tomato, some thyme and a box hedge at the back there.

Finally, lovely Scarlet at Beyond the Nook inspired me the other day by making home made pizza and garlic bread. Now hers looked so delicious that I copied her and thought I would give it a go. OK, so hers gets 10 out of 10 for presentation and mine gets about 2 out of 10, but it tasted good. Scarlet's fed 3, but me being a naturally greedy man ate it all myself (over 2 meals - honest). I made a smaller garlic bread and with the remaining bit of dough whipped up a foccacia. Better than take out. Thanks Scarlet.

So that is my photo diary complete. I am back to London for 2 night tomorrow, doing two performances and back home on Friday.  Hope the weather remains nice.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Kindness of people

Today was my first foray into the world of Freecycle! Wow!
I put on a wanted add for anyone with any terracotta plant pots etc and within 1 hour I had an offer from someone 5 miles away for loads. Just went up to get them this evening and I am amazed! I have a car full of terracotta pots, porcelain pots, massive ones, medium ones, strawberry planters. Now I love freecycle. Tomorrow I will get them out and give them a good clean (weather permitting) and take some photos.
What a wonderful service, and how nice of people to just give these things away, it is heartwarming.

Another kindness this week was that someone gave me an i-phone. Now I must admit that I was a bit blase about this gift at first, because I am not actually that interested in them, but it was only after the amazement of some of my friends that I realise just what a gift this is and how much it is worth. My friend could probably have got £250 for it if he tried to sell it but he was happy for me to have it. As much as anything, it now means that when I go away I can take it with me and connect to the internet and keep up with all your lovely blogs.

Being at home has been blissfull. I have two days away working this week and then back for the weekend, so no complaints here.

Did I mention that I have booked the man to do my decking and put up my trellis? That will be done in the next few weeks which really excites me. I love my garden more than I can say and getting the structure in will now enable me to get in some of the plants I really want. Meanwhile, my roses are thriving, got lots of buds on one, my apple tree is in rude health and my potatoes peas and onions are all happy as larry. The only thing not that happy are my wonderful tomatoes. They desperately need sun and are looking so sad. I will be heartbroken if they don't perform well because tomatoes are my favourite thing!

Well tomorrow i will try and get some photos going and show what is happening out there and my lovely new pots.

Saturday, 9 June 2012


It is true that the British do talk about the weather a lot, but how could anyone be surprised by that when it is so bad! It has rained constantly since I got back from Paris and doesn't look like there will be any let up for days yet. It must have been all that talk about drought and hosepipe bans that had someone up there laughing and getting their own back.

I have been very productive the last 2 days as I have hired and booked a man to do the construction work in the garden. My dad is gifting me a very large proportion of the work as a new house present, which makes him pretty awesome and me a lucky man indeed. Work will be at some point in within the next 2 months so I am very excited about that. Once the structural part is dealt with I can really get to grips with how I want the garden to be. Mostly it is just the decking  which will make great use of the space where the slope is and will lose me no actual garden planting space. Also a couple of trellis' which will provide me some much needed privacy and somewhere to grow lovely things up. The rest of the work I can do myself, but I don't have enough faith in my abilities to concrete in structures that have to last against wind and rain.

Plants are growing like mad, although the tomatoes really just need some sun now, looking a bit sorry for themselves in this rain. Potatoes are crazy and onions and peas.

I bought myself a lovely book on amazon (well I say bought, I actually paid for it by doing surveys online which has amassed me an amazing £30 so far in amazon vouchers). It is called Sweet Peas for Summer by  Latitia Maklouf and is full of such lovely ideas for gardening, creating gardens from scratch, lovely ideas for pots and climbing things etc. If you see a copy in a library I give it my complete recommendation.  She has a blog which is also quite good.

I am itching to get outside and do some work now, but not in this rain!

I hope the rain isn't spoiling all of your weekends. I am home until Wednesday and so nothing could spoil that for me!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Hello again

Hello everyone, I am sorry about the lack of posts this week, when I went back to London for my final week I didn't bother to take the laptop as I knew that I would have enough luggage to bring back on the train this weekend without it, so now I have to catch up a lot on all your blogs.

Its so good to be home. Having said that, I am going to Paris tomorrow for a performance and won't be back until Thursday or Friday, but from now on I am always coming home straight away.
The weather is terrible, raining and I actually put the heating on for a bit this morning because it was so cold and the house could do with a bit of heat to cheer it up.

My dad is coming over later, he is not very well any more but he gets so excited about plans for my garden that he loves coming over to talk about it and hash out ideas. He likes to quietly sit outside on a chair with a sketch pad drawing ideas and because he can't walk very much any more he is content to do that for hours when the sun is out. He has had a few heart attacks and a stroke and bad arthritis but never complains about anything, in fact I have never heard him complain in 39 years. I think that my garden 'project' has given him a new lease of life. His plans range from doable to completely out of my price range, but I will meet him somewhere in the middle. Decking has never been my favourite thing but I actually think that he has hit upon a good idea by building out a small deck over the slope at the house end, this will make a good use of an area that is difficult to work with, without actually losing any of the garden space that I could use for planting, also would solve the privacy issue in one fell swoop. I think I will lay some plans, price it up and get saving.
Everything is growing beautifully, the potatoes have put on another 5 inches just in the last week and will get one more covering with soil now. Peas look happy, tomatoes are mostly planted up outside now and I just a few more to do. The climbing rose is absolutely wonderful, as are the lupins and apple tree.

Someone sent me a BBC news report about a stabbing in South London, in which 5 people were attacked and stabbed in the middle of the day. Where this happened is just a 5 minute walk from where I used to live in London and really helps make me grateful for the new life that I am carving out here. The last 8 weeks has been difficult, I won't lie to you, but you know what, it has all been worth the effort for what I have in my home life now, yes, it would have been easier if I had been living near to where I was working, yes, the commuting was horrible and I was quite stressed and miserable at times, but coming home is what makes it all worth while. The mentality of people who have such enormous disregard for human life, that they think stabbing someone is ok just confuses and saddens me and I know that these things happen everywhere, but the fact that it happened right in my old stomping ground really affected me somehow. Life is so precious.