Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Norfolk Round 1

I drove up early on Monday morning, arriving at The Chapel at 7. The garden, as you can see, is looking beautiful. There were too many instructions on looking after the house for my small brain to comprehend at that time of day but thankfully I had been left detailed notes. Detailed that is until I needed to find out where the bin liners were, how to work the washing machine, and what the phone number was for the Cottage Hospital. Swaffham, geographically Norfolk, does not feature in the Norwich Directory. It prefers to ally itself to the Cambridge edition. Delusions of Academia maybe?

When I returned from taking my stepmother to the station dad was at home with the Occupational Therapist who was testing him out and measuring up for handrails, ramps, zimmers, sticks and shower accessories. My goodness the NHS is good in North West Norfolk. He was taken back as he was not being discharged until Wednesday and I visited again later. I've never seen a cleaner, friendlier and more efficient hospital than the Swaffham. Naturally of course it is about to be closed down.

I had to spend the first of my two solo nights on Monday. I barely slept. It was dark and it was mostly eerily quiet. In fact it was terrifying, especially as there was intermittent dog-barking and I couldn't decide whether this was a good or a bad thing! I think I managed 2 hours kip.

My 83 year old aunt who lives a few miles away invited me for supper the following day and it was great to revisit the home where I had spent so many childhood and teenage summers with my merry band of 4 cousins. She is a wonderful cook, the inspiration for me ever to start cooking, the instigator of my marmalade-making in fact. She, my 87 year old uncle and the eldest cousin enjoyed a very good sausage and white wine casserole and a gorgeous rhubarb crumble. So lovely to be cooked for as well!

The second solo night was better. But not a lot. 4 hours sleep I reckon. Dad returned home with my aunt early on Wednesday having changed all the arrangements at the last minute. He then proceeded to do lots of things he was told by the OT not to do. *sigh*

On the whole though he looks great and, having been in hospital the best part of a month, is overjoyed to be back where he belongs. My sister pitched up late last night, I left Norfolk at 3 this morning. I cannot wait for a good sleep tonight, bedtime will be early.

Awaiting me here was a letter from the Metropolitan Police informing me I'd been done for speeding on the A40 when I was taxiing my chum to Paddington a couple of weeks ago. 6.30 on a Sunday morning. Heigh ho. So much for feeling flush.

The second stint begins on Saturday evening. Anne has just posted her Facebook status as "Caring for the elderly and trying not to get wound up". I know how she feels.

But the garden, and the wildlife, are very pleasant. Or should that be pheasant?

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Norfolk adventure begins on Monday

The last three weeks have seen many twists in the "will we won't we" saga of going to Norfolk to look after my dad following his hip replacement on May 9th. But it's finalised. Even though dad is still in the Cottage Hospital I am off to take the first stint from Monday morning to Wednesday evening, my immediate task being to deliver his wife to Kings Lynn for the Eurostar journey to meet her new granddaughter in Paris.

The inmates here are grumpy about having to cook for themselves so I propose to leave a Crunchy Lemon Pie and some of Suelle's Brownies to assuage my guilt. The freezer is full of sausages, frozen veg, pies etc. and the larder is stuffed with healthy options but I fully expect them to have takeaways until my return.

Meanwhile Anne and I are to be given my stepmother's Waitrose card plus PIN number to cover all our expenses up there. Suspect this may be a Bad Move on dad's part! Still, it means our petrol is paid for - we both have to take unpaid leave - and it would be very rude not to take advantage of such a generous offer.

There is a bit of a snag if dad isn't out of hospital. Lovely though my dad's converted Wesleyan chapel is, there is no getting away from the fact that it is in the middle of nowhere and I am a bit afraid of the dark. I shall not have Ozzie to protect me as he is a wimp of a traveller and usually throws up before we've got to the end of our road. My stepmother reassures me that it is the lowest crime area in the country, their only brush with felony being when all 5 of their lawnmowers were stolen early one morning. (No. We don't know why my dad is so fixated on lawnmowers either).

Meantimes Anne has decided. Because it's an old chapel she thinks it's full of ghosts and has already decided to decamp to my aunt 4 miles away at bedtime.

This could be a very character-building venture. I am looking forward to his beautiful garden though.

And to eating whatever I fancy for once.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Jamie Oliver's Fish Pie

Today, Sunday, was the final of the Twenty20 World Cup. As it started at 4.30 pm and lasted around 3 hours it was clear that dinner was going to have to be something that looked after itself.

I have always thought I make a mean fish pie. I poach mixed fish in seasoned milk, turn that milk into parsley sauce, add chopped hard boiled eggs and peas, top with mash and grated cheese and bake for about half an hour. It is virtually foolproof and always goes down well. The cat likes it too. However I have been hearing rave reviews from all quarters of Jamie's Fish Pie in his Ministry of Food book.

I read the recipe, it looked much less faff than mine. It also used a lot more fish than mine and I could see it was going to cost a lot more than mine! However I was feeling flush - a friend had needed a taxi to Paddington at 6 am and had paid me handsomely - so I took myself off to Morrison's (who do good fish at half the price of Waitrose) and bought exactly what Jamie suggested. King prawns, undyed smoked haddock and salmon fillet. The recipe was a doddle. My only deviation was to grate the vegetables in my processor (I didn't want bloodstains in the pie) and to use ready-grated cheese. I added spinach as Jamie suggested. And I covered the mash with the remainder of the cheese too. I served it with spring greens.

It was really, really tasty. There were 3 of us. It would feed at least 6! Chris thought it was miles better than my usual effort. Grrrrr! Mind you he hadn't twigged there was chilli in it or he wouldn't have said that. And the chilli made it so good I think.

And of course we stuffed the Aussies in the cricket. A very satisfying day all round.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Rowley's way with rhubarb

Le Café Anglais in the old Whiteley's building in Bayswater is one of my favourite restaurants and I also like Rowley Leigh's writing very much. As soon as I saw last Saturday's recipe for Strawberry and Rhubarb Pie in his Financial Times column I knew I would have to have a crack at it. Soon!

Today was a good day to experiment. I woke up to an email telling me not to attend my first school (SATs again), I was only doing one hour out of three at my second (same reason) and then I had a short afternoon session because I teach recorder to two classes of Year 3 children whose attention span is not great. (Nor is their recorder playing). Lots of time for messing around in the kitchen then!

I shopped for strawberries before school. Ugly great things they were too, even though they were British! I prepped the fruit and made the pastry after my first school visit of the day. I do like it that Rowley doesn't mind you using the food processor for pastry. My hand-made stuff is disgusting, I will never have pastry-makers hands.

I followed the recipe to a T, unusual for me. And it was very tasty. The pastry was absolutely fabulous and the pie was not at all soggy which I'd worried about. It would, however have benefited from smaller, sweeter strawberries. But if I had those would I bother to put them in a pie? I think not. I'll definitely make it again though. It's one for when the whole family are round. As an aside, Chris likes rhubarb pie very much and he didn't think adding strawberries improved it. He still went back for seconds though!

My dad phoned from hospital today. He has stopped hallucinating and has reverted to being the miserable old bugger we know and love. Tomorrow he is being transferred from Kings Lynn to his local Cottage Hospital at Swaffham. It is good news all round.
Now, can someone tell me how to put the pictures within the text and not at the top? I didn't seem to bring up the same options this time and when I tried to insert an image it still went to the header.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Monday ramblings

I hoped to start this blog with a picture of a lovely rhubarb cake I made yesterday. Sadly I managed to burn the top and it certainly didn't look as good as it tasted. Here is the recipe. Take note of the comments re oven timings, in other words watch like a hawk.

The rhubarb was the first picking from the garden this year. We ate it as a warm pudding with vanilla ice cream and the remainder will do as this week's cake for Chris at lunchtime. Thank you Suelle for pointing out this recipe in your blog.

The blessed soon-to-be-discontinued SATs have enabled me to have Monday morning off. I shall mourn their passing! I am awaiting two phone calls today. One from the Doctor's surgery giving me a bollocking about the alcohol levels in my bloodstream, and the second from my stepmother giving me news of my dad's very slow progress following a hip replacement. I am on call to race up to North West Norfolk if needed.

Tonight's dinner will be Rigatoni sausage bake. The title sounds a bit grim I know but it is unbeatable as a family meal. The presence of fresh spinach, grated carrot and the grated celery stick I usually add, convinces me it's healthy enough as well. I am grateful to my friend Kim for passing it my way. (Looking at the picture it's clear it could have done with another 10 minutes in the oven).

I shall cheat and use ready-made cheese sauce. But that's because the school I visit on a Monday afternoon has not absented me from SATs and I shall be knackered.