Saturday, 28 July 2007
The visit to the surgeon was quite straight-forward, given that it was a long time coming. In April last year, just as Tamarian was having her's removed, my gall bladder decided to flair up quite painfully. It took me a day or so to work out a) that it wasn't just an episode of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and b) that I really was displaying all the "6 F's" (fair, fat, female, fertile, forty, family history). Saw the GP, had some tests, got a referal to see a surgeon privately. That's when it all got complicated - the surgeon was retiring and the only time he could operate was when we were in Miami (no way! We were going to a wedding). Go back to GP and see his colleague, Dr Bitch, because he's not available. Dr Bitch and I don't get along - she thinks I'm a problem patient, I think she's a very bad doctor. Dr Bitch does not refer me elsewhere as requested. Six months of dropping into the surgery every few weeks to ask for my referal letter ensue. Eventually go to see my GP again: explain the problem and less than 4 weeks later, I'm seeing a surgeon on the NHS.
After the appointment, I went home to pick up a picnic and drove into Town for that evening's Prom Concert. AAARRRRGGGHHHH! I was too early! I'd forgotten Red Ken had extended the congestion charging zone until I went past the entry sign. Glanced at the clock - 2 minutes to 6! If I'd been two minutes later, it wouldn't have cost a penny. Instead, I had to go through the rigmarole of phoning up to pay the £8 congestion charge. £8 for two minutes! I swore all the way to the Royal Albert Hall.
I don't mind paying tax, I don't mind paying for parking, but I object to the Congestion Charge since it's just a money-raising exercise which has done little to ease congestion in London (hello? How about sorting out the parking problems and the traffic lights).
Thursday night's Prom Concert was Tippett's Triple Concerto, Delius's A Song of Summer and Vaughan Williams's Symphony No.5. The Tippett was boring, the Delius was beautiful and the VW, well I loved every second of it. It was floaty, multi-layered, melodic music. Listen here until next Thursday.
Jan asked "What is Prom?", since the British use the word in a completely difference sense to the Americans. In Britain, it's used as a short form for Promenade Concerts, an annual event in their eleventy-third year (here is a history). The idea is that the Proms are open to all and not just upper-middle-class classical music lovers, with a very cheap standing-room only section (the Arena and the Gallery at the Royal Albert Hall) for which tickets are only sold on the day.
Oh, and the "Prom Socks"? Well, they're socks that I knit at the Proms..... :o)
Friday, 27 July 2007
The day, as they say, can only get better. At least the sun is shining and the sky is blue. I've got lunch with the Duffers Golf Society this afternoon and there will be cricket on the radio.
Tuesday, 24 July 2007
It's all the Yarn Harlot's fault! If Stephanie hadn't filled my (virtual) ears with the joys of knitting socks and then gone on to show pictures of The Sock at concerts, I might never have considered knitting at the Proms.
To minimise disruption to other concert goers, I knit the socks on bamboo needles and avoid knitting in the very quiet bits.
Here are a couple of shots of the socks I knitted at last year's Prom concerts.
They're made from left-overs. I only had 35g of the paler blue, so combined it with some scraps. If you look carefully, you can see that the toes and half of one heel are knitted in black, whilst the bands are in navy.
To finish, this is a photo of this year's Prom Sock knitting kit, showing the Opal self-patterning yarn I've mentioned previously.
Ironically, I didn't actually cook Kate a curry whilst she was staying with us. I wasn't sure whether her son would like it. So today's recipe is dedicated to her: White Fish Curry.
White Fish Curry is what we're having for dinner tonight. Like most of my curries, it's versatile and can be cooked with other vegetables than those listed in the ingredients (only the onion and garlic are compulsory vegetables). In fact, today it'll be dominated by the larger of these two whoppers from the courgette bush.
They were small when I last looked at the bush on Thursday, before we went away for the weekend. However, four days of constant, heavy rain later and I've grown a rounders bat! That's a full sized rolling pin beside them.
I sliced the larger of the two and used it instead of the mushrooms in the curry.
White Fish Curry
WW points about 3.5 per serving (including rice). Serves 4.
1 cup easy cook brown rice
500g skinless, white fish fillets, cubed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g mushrooms, sliced
3 bell peppers, sliced (preferably green)
250ml low-fat plain yogurt
1/2 inch of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground chili
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon corn flour
1) Prepare all your vegetables.
2) In a small saucepan combine the rice with 2 cups of boiling water. Bring back to the boil, cover and simmer for 25 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, combine the chili, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric and corn flour in a dish with a small amount of water and mix to a paste.
4) Coat a frying pan with the oil and heat. Fry the onion, garlic and ginger until softened. Add the mushrooms and fry until they make water and the water evaporates. Add the peppers and fry until softened.
5) Stir in the fish. Stir-fry until the fish turns white.
6) Add the spice paste to the pan and fry until the aroma rises. Pour over the yogurt and stir in well. Bring to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally until the rice is cooked.
7) Divide the rice between 4 plates and serve the curry over the top.
This is what it looks like in the pan:
Friday, 20 July 2007
Thursday, 19 July 2007
Oh, and if you know a young girl.... Hug her and tell her she's beautiful.
The day was topped off by the late Prom concert at the Royal Albert Hall, which started at 10.15pm. Ancient choral music, mainly a capella: Striggio's Ecce Beatam Lucem; Lassus' Aurora Lucis Rutilat; Tallis' Spem In Allium; and Striggio's long lost mass Ecco Si Beato Giorgno.
The BBC has the concert on "listen again" until July 24th, here. Please listen, if only to the Striggio mass - it's beautiful, soaring music which was believed lost and hadn't been performed for 400 years. Half an hour of musical heaven accompanied by some very rare musical instruments: a double-bass trombone and a lirone. The mass has 40 different vocal parts. I floated home at midnight.
Wednesday, we were at the Proms again. This time, it was the combined orchestras of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orchestre National de France, under the batton of Kurt Massur. Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings and Bruckner's Symphony No 7. Big, bold, full bodied music. It was hard to believe that Bruckner died before even silent movies were widespread - the Symphony sounds like it was written for a blockbuster film score. Again, it's on "listen again" until July 25th here. Poor man, Bruckner kept his composing dreams alive for 15years whilst he was vilified by Vienna's biggest critic, Eduard Hanslick. I hope Hanslick choaked on his pen when he heard the 7th.
PS: On a knitting note, I haven't started my "prom socks" yet. As last year, they're to be made from leftover sock yarn - this time it's 35g of an Opal silk, self-patterning yarn in cream/blue/mustard/yellow/brown tones for the leg/ankle, which I'll couple with honey coloured yarn for the foot part of the socks. I've just finishing off sorting out the yarn to ensure that I have an equal amount for each sock.
Wednesday, 18 July 2007
Had a friend visiting from Australia from Thursday to Sunday with her 5-year-old son. We did many of the tourist things: London Eye, Harrods, a hop-on-hop-off bus tour (the red tours are best - real guides); caught up on a serious amount of each other's lives; and had a Brunch BBQ on the Sunday where I tried (and failed) to round up as many old friends as possible. Sadly, we missed out on a Duck Tour because they were fully booked. Also the BBC have closed all of their walk-in shops (they now only sell on-line), so her son couldn't be rewarded for his excellent behaviour with Underground Ernie merchandise.
The highlight of the BBQ was a classic Australian desert: Pavlova.
4 egg whites
0.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 cups castor sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence/extract (get the real one not the artificial)
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon corn flour (cornstarch)
300ml whipping/double cream
1 cup (approx) soft fruit to decorate - I use raspberries
1) In a large, grease-free bowl combine the salt and the egg whites and whisk until soft peaks form.
2) Gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time and whisk until combined. Be careful, unincorporated sugar will cause the pavlova to weep syrup.
3) Put the oven on to preheat at this point. Pre-heat it to 120 degrees Celsius.
4) Separately whisk in the vanilla essence, vinegar and corn flour.
5) Line a large cookie sheet or pizza tray with non-stick baking parchment (professionals add a layer of rice paper on top). Spoon about a third of the egg mixture onto the parchment and form a thin circle. Spoon or pipe the remaining egg onto the edge of the circle to form a rim. You need a reasonable hollow in the middle.
6) Bake at 120 degrees Celsius for 1.5 hours. Leave undisturbed in the oven to cool overnight (if it cools too fast it will crack).
7) Gently slide the pavlova from the baking parchment onto a presentation plate. Professionals slide it over on the rice paper, then cut away the excess rice paper.
8) Whip the cream and use it to fill the centre of the pavlova. Decorate with the fruit.
a) I use vanilla sugar: place a vanilla pod into a large jar. Cover with sugar, screw on the lid and leave for a minimum of 2 weeks. Keeps indefinitely.
b) The vinegar makes the meringue chewy, whilst the corn flour makes the outside nice and crisp.
c) The electric beaters/whisk is essential, which is why I've included them in the ingredients. They don't have to be an expensive set though. Mine cost £10.
d) The beaters and the bowl must be free of grease or the egg whites won't form peaks. Clean them with vinegar if you have any doubts.
e) Break the eggs over a separate bowl, adding the whites individually into the mixing bowl. Any trace of egg yolk will stop the egg whites forming peaks and ruin the meringue.
f) I use the egg yolks for cakes or pancakes.
Monday, 9 July 2007
The First Law of Knitting is always check your gauge.
Knitters: What is the Second Law?
The needle size given in the pattern is only indicative. Always use the needle size which gives you the correct gauge.
I know this. We all know this. So why am I so damn stubborn? Why, after knitting 5 swatches at 5 different needle sizes, did I still insist that the correct needle size was too large and attempt to knit the waist-band of this on needles 2 sizes smaller?
Naturally, I got 16 reps into the lace pattern on the waist-band before I measured it and discovered that it was 40% too small! Three day's work wasted. The pattern calls for US size 4 needles (3.50mm), whereas my swatches tell me that I should be using 4.50mm. My brain says "That's much to big! A whole millimetre? No way. You must have swatched it wrong!".
DH helped me frog it last night, before I thought to photograph it for posterity (it is a very pretty lace pattern). I'm currently, stubbornly, knitting a large swatch on 4mm needles to prove that 4.50mm is too big.
PS: Oh, yeah, guess what? 4mm was too small. I knew that already! [sigh]
Friday, 6 July 2007
At lunchtime on Wednesday, a colleague took me into Reading to Hobbycraft to buy some jewellery equipment. (My grand plan is to make some stitch markers, possibly to sell, but I didn't have the right stuff.) Whilst I was waiting for her to find her own crafty bits, I wandered the yarn aisle.
I don't normally recommend Hobbycraft for yarn; their selection is usually rubbish. To them, knitting is a token craft - an afterthought - limited to a couple of shelf-stacks and deeply un-trendy. But something on the clearance shelf caught my eye. It was pink and fuzzy.
It sat there with its siblings, naked to the world. I pulled out all nine skeins - between them were two ball bands: Patons' Studio Mohair DK, 50% mohair, 50% acrylic; made in Australia less than 4 miles from where I trained as a nurse.
The sign on the clearance bin said £1.49 a ball.
I rescued them all.
- Pam (it's enough for a sweater, but I have no idea what to make. LBYM, too.)
The words came spilling out of me at a hundred miles an hour. I don't think the police telephonist had any idea what I said. It was 6.15pm, the busiest time of the evening, and without so much as a splutter, my beloved Toy car stopped working in heavy traffic. Unfortunately, we were already stationery - so there was no momentum to carry me to the hard shoulder and out of immediate danger. I put on the hazard lights and tried to solve the problem from the safety of the drivers seat.
This was the forth time in five days the engine had cut out. And the twelfth time since November. I'd called the RAC out twice; taken the car to two separate garages and the last time he'd been under the microscope was 20th June. Provisional diagnosis - an intermittent problem with air in the fuel lines, "but we can't figure out why or trigger an occurrence".
On Sunday, it nearly put paid to a 200 mile round trip to visit my SIL. The RAC mechanic said "in these cars, it's always the o-ring on the fuel filter", covered said o-ring in silicon sealant and taught me how to bleed the air out. First chance I could, I made an appointment for the garage to change the o-ring on Friday afternoon.
On Tuesday, I was whizzing along an empty stretch of the M4 at 70 miles an hour when the revs dropped to zero and the engine cut out; pulled over to the hard shoulder, checked the fuel lines - whopping big bubble - bled the air out and drove home. On Wednesday evening, it wouldn't start - whopping big bubble again, bled the air out and went to a quiz.
And here I was on Thursday evening, desperately trying to bleed the air out, whilst the traffic was getting faster and heavier around me. As the crow flies, I was two miles from the garage where he was booked in. "Please, Toy, just start!" No luck. The engine was turning over but nothing was catching light.
The police telephonist kept my talking whilst organising the highway patrol to rescue me. "You're in the fast lane?" "Yes." "Stay in the car. Is your seat belt done up?" "Yes." "Are the windows wound up?" "Yes."
At this point, a woman in a grey car nearly took the left rear wing off, swerving at the last minute. I sat there shaking.
"I can see some lights." Two St John Ambulance officers pulled up on their motorcycles, blue lights flashing. (Very brave of them. St John are unpaid volunteers.) They talked to the telephonist, got me out of the car and behind the central barrier. Then the Highway Patrol arrived, stopped all the traffic and pushed the Toy to the relative safety of the hard shoulder. I wanted to hug them. I desperately wanted a hot drink, too.
By the time the RAC arrived, I was snuggled into my black coat, standing on the side of the road, and had stopped shaking. "I can see what the problem is: you're out of fuel." "No. There is at least 3 litres in the fuel tank. I've only done 30 miles since the red light came on and the range is at least 60 when that happens."
He checked the fuel lines. Some air, but not enough to demonstrate that I'd run out of fuel. He bled some diesel out of the filter - it was fine. He tested the line between the filter and the tank - no blockages. Finally, he flipped up the back seat, pried off a hatch and opened the fuel tank from the top. He pulled out a white canister (the "module") and proceeded to take as much of it apart as possible. More diesel poured over the roadside.
Wedged in a crevice of the module, under the intake, was a triangular piece of paper about the size of half my thumbnail. That was the culprit.
The mechanic put the Toy back together and told me to start the car. The engine started ran for a few seconds and then died. I said to him "maybe, this time, I really am out of fuel". He said, "No".
We moved onto option 2, which was to tow the car to the garage by attaching a bar between the two vehicles. It meant that I had to stay at the wheel and steer. Gingerly, we pulled out onto the M4. A couple of lorries and a coach ignored us and tried to mow us down. Finally, a nice driver let us out. I was hyperventilating.
For four miles, I watched the corner of the vehicle 6 feet in front of me, unable to see anything except the white line beside it. We drove off the motorway and wound back on ourselves to get the garage, all the while doing at least 40 miles an hour. My left foot was pressed hard to the foot-rest to stop me trying to slam on the brakes and the clutch.
The RAC mechanic drove me home and dropped into the garage this morning to explain his diagnosis. When I phoned at lunchtime to find out when the car would be ready, I was told "You know what the real problem is? You were out of fuel!".
Thursday, 5 July 2007
This is a savoury version of Bread and Butter Pudding; to accompany it, I’d serve a green vegetable like broccoli and, maybe, some oven roasted cherry tomatoes (put the tomatoes in when there is only 30 minutes of cooking time remaining). The recipe serves 4. If you omit the butter and use skimmed milk, it is 4 WW points a serving. Use 4 egg-whites instead of whole eggs and it is 3.5 WW points a serving.
You can, of course, omit the tuna if you don't like it.
Wholemeal Bread - 4 slices
Butter 1 tablespoon
50g Cheddar Cheese grated
Sweetcorn - 1 cup
1 can Tuna in brine drained & flaked
Eggs - 2
milk - 1/2 pint
3 or 4 grinds of pepper
1) Butter the bread and cut on the diagonal. Arrange the slices in a lasagne dish (approximately 5 x 8 x 2.5 inches or 12 x 20 x 7 cm in size).
2) Flake over the tuna. Making sure that some gets between the slices. Repeat with the sweetcorn and the grated cheese.
3) Beat together the milk and the egg until well blended. Grind over some pepper. Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread mixture.
4) Allow the pudding to rest for approximately 10 minutes. I use this time to preheat the oven to 180 C – when it reaches full temperature, the resting time should be over.
5) Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until golden and set.
6) Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
I tend to restrict my coffee drinking to the mornings - not because of "caffeine - can't sleep" issues but because after 3 cups or so of the rubbish they have at work, my tastebuds start to protest too much.
On the weekends, on the other hand, I'll only drink 2 or 3 cups but it's good coffee (on a recent Saturday after 4 cups of filtered coffee, I was buzzing so much DH had to scrape me off the ceiling).
Tuesday, 3 July 2007
I've currently got several 40g balls of Opal self-patterning sock yarn, which are too small to knit another pair for me (all left over from pairs of socks), plus 2.5 x 50g balls of cashmerino in winter white (from the famous " lets go back to Hay-on-Wye to buy the book sweater").
My plan is to use the cashmerino to knit a matching hat for the sweater (almost sewn up - picture soon). With the sock yarn, I've purchased a skein in a complementary color and will churn out some socks for me.