Monday, 25 August 2008


I shouldn't, really
I'm sitting outside, in front of a slowly-dying fire, with the last glass of well-it's-a-school-night-oh-what-the-hell wine.

What the internet is for
I have 19 minutes of battery time left because I've used the rest looking up silly pictures of greyhounds. As you do.

Temporary freedom
Bank holiday weekend here in the UK, so only back to the grind tomorrow.

It's already getting dark - it always throws my timing out this time of year - this is 10pm dark, but it's actually 20:18. sigh.

On the up side, the bats will be out soon. I've always been a bat person. I think they are so beautiful - the way they fly, and twist and turn on a dime. Or a ten pence piece even :)

Yummmmm. Cheese.
Our friends H & J came over as we decided we needed to bbq, summer or no summer. The food was a pulling together of whatever was in the fridge, but it was good. On the menu:
- pita grilled with garlic oil
- halumi, grilled and dressed with lemon and the good olive oil
- tabbouleh
- sausages, English
- sausages, Spanish (chorizo)
- marinated chicken breasts, grilled and shredded for wraps with homemade mayo and salsa (tomatoes, corriander/cilantro, parsley, chillies, lime, red onion)
- stilton and crackers/biscuits
- lashings of red wine

A new leaf
I am going to be so good at work this week - I really am. I'm going to clear all those project left-overs from my completed (a-HEM) projects and clear my slate for all the new stuff that's piling up in the pipeline. That's not just a bad metaphor, it's really the way it works - being the person who does the stuff rather than the person who pontificates about it I am often the last to be officially informed. Even though I'm responsible for delivering multi-million pound projects on time and on budget. Thank god we have a well-oiled gossip infrastructure.

We picked 10 pounds of blackberries today and laid down two more gallons of wine. It is a spectacular year for blackberries this year - the wine gods are smiling upon us.

Vroooom 2
oooh - a bat! *grin*

And so to bed
now I need to go drink at least 2 pints of water, have a bath and go to bed.


Friday, 15 August 2008

Kentish Pic

This was taken in July, as we biked back from our monthly meat gathering expedition at Luddenham Farm. It's a perfect bike ride - just enough hills to make you feel like you worked for your pint at the end. We went back last week and all the grain was yellow. I bet if we went this weekend it would be gone.

Luddenham Farm is why we still eat meat without huge guilt paroxysms - although not organic, they raise their animals traditionally and feed with what they grow on their farm. You can walk around and see the animals - and yes, they do look happy. Happy pigs are a pleasure to behold. They sell their own meat on the farm, butchered to your specifications, should you have any. The lack of middle man and packaging means that ethical, well-hung meat is affordable, if you're careful about what cuts you are buying. Although they sell the best sirloin I have ever had. Ever. Cut from (I kid you not) the biggest hunk of meat I have ever seen - hung to perfection and enough to make our chef-y friend James salivate and immediately increase both his previously requested steak thickness and amount.

Buying and eating ethically is difficult at the best of times, and in the tug-of-war between locality, organics, gm/not gm, and animal welfare, I often find it hard to make decisions. It's easy not to bother - to go to Tesco's and buy whatever - after all, as a human, I am uniquely adapted to shove down guilt and do it anyways. Luddenham Farms makes decision making enjoyable, and we are supporting our local community to boot.

Not to mention the lovely bike ride!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Rumtopf update

We added 1 lb dark cherries and another 1/2 lb sugar today - our first check on how it's doing. It smells AMAZING. It tastes AMAZING (shhh - it was only a a tiny taste - for science - honest). The strawberries have turned white. One forum post I read said that within days, the rumtopf was no longer rum. I see what they mean. It is already delicious.

One slight concern is that the fruit floats, thus making it difficult to keep covered by a finger-width of rum. Some sites recommend putting a saucer in to hold down the fruit, but our rumtopf narrows at the top so this is not particularly helpful. We do it anyways, if only to be able to legitimately lick our fingers, but I hope this is not going to be a problem. The eminent CJJ Berry writes, "If you want to make a particularly good job place a plate over the fruit so the fruit is submerged if the shape of the pot allows it." This does make it sound optional.

In other news, I have stripped the dried lavender flowers off of the first batch that I've dried this summer - the whole downstairs smells like lavender - we are all especially calm this evening!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

do cats get lonely?

It is silly season*, and to celebrate we are looking after our friend's cats for 3 1/2 weeks while they gallivant about Austria on bicycles. It's not hard, granted - especially since N does everything as I am "working" (or hungover, or sleepy, well - you get my drift). But I was getting concerned that said felines might be missing the companionship of humans. Pining, if you like.

I used to be a cat person, but we got a dog 18 months ago and he has slowly been re-aligning my allegiance. This has been aided by the fact that we have a pebble/gravel walkway to our house that is often festooned with cat shit. Three cats live in the flat upstairs. These two facts could be unconnected...

So, to dispel any pining that may or may not have been taking place, we decamped this afternoon to our friends' lovely sunny garden where we forced (forced!) ourselves to sit in the sun and read the papers, drinking several of our home-brewed (from kit) ales. What good friends we are!

The cats completely ignored us.

*for non-uk readers, this refers to the period in August where the establishment hikes off to France/Tuscany/Suffolk and in their absence the whole country supposedly goes to pot. Signified by a plethora of news stories of barking dolphins and what not.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Behold the RUMTOPF!

Whoohoo! Major score in the charity shop this afternoon - a real honest-to-goodness, straight from euro-kitsch heaven itself - RUMTOPF!. I realise the element of surprise is somewhat defused by the post title, but hey.

I will explain, although you may not find that this solves any qualms you may be currently experiencing about whether I have finally slid into full-scale tweed-and bowler-hat mad-dog Englishness - no, my pretties, that will be reserved for when I join the WI or start brewing my own ale - oh wait - I already do that. Anyways, a RUMTOPF, being of course German, (I know, you know - but - emphasis, eh?) would be far from your general bowler-hatted English person's eccentricities.

CJJ Berry, in his unparalleled tome, "First Steps in Winemaking", gives a recipe for RUMTOPF, which he describes as "...a truly gorgeous idea which, once you have tried it you will never fail to repeat each year." Basically, you layer soft fruits, as they come into season, with sugar and rum, leave it for months (or, you know, as long as you can) and traditionally eat at Christmas. Online opinion seems divided over whether the fruit or the rum is the best part - I will reserve judgment but if I were betting I'd go for the rum.

Then I found out you have special jars for this stuff - and I am a sucker for any cooked-fermented-baked-canned-brewed item that requires a unique vessel. If I were to let fly this obsession, cooking in my kitchen would quickly become impossible due to the mountains of bundt pans, pudding molds, rosette fryers, etc. Luckily, I am prevented from such extravaganza by a budget more suited to a Carmelite nun.

So the rumtopf went on that special, overcrowded brainshelf labeled "if I see one in a charity shop one day" - and today, we did. WHOO HOO!!

BTW, the tacky/cool green-stemmed glass beside the rumtopf was, along with 5 siblings, also a charity shop catch. The two women at the till told us they were hock glasses. "You know, Hock Glasses". We nodded, "oh, hock glasses" we said. N looked especially impressed by this information. Once outside, I asked, "what's hock?" to which N replied that he had absolutely no idea. I looked it up when we got home - German wine. Huh? Anyways the glasses are too small for wine but perfect for the liqueurs we are busy blending and just made for RUMTOPF!

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Wine Racking

Freshly racked wine - cherry, rhubarb, ginger, gooseberry.

It's a cloudy, rainy-ish Sunday, and a perfect day for racking off the wine we've been making. We have two gallons ready for their second rack (gooseberry and cherry) and two gallons ready for their third (ginger and rhubarb). I suppose we could bottle the last two at this point,but I figure, when in doubt, rack again. We can be patient.

The ginger wine tastes fantastic already - a warm glowing taste that will be perfect after a walk in the winter, or mulled with brandy and spices. It could still clear a bit. The rhubarb wine is an amazing pale pink, and very sweet. It also packs a hell of a punch. It has cleared well, but another few months won't hurt it.

The cherry wine, though still extremely young (i.e - still in nappies!) already tastes good enough for us to make instant plans to buy enough cherries for a double gallon batch before they're out of season.

The wine making thing started as a bit of fun - a neighbour had glass demijohns sitting around and we thought, well why not? It is easy, and fun, and in terms of bang for buck, it would be hard to beat.