Sunday 31 August 2014

Going for a vintage bus ride, discovering exotic foods and getting to see Bailey again

It has certainly been a weird few weeks. We are STILL waiting for our conveyancer to
Vintage bus Park and Ride to
Pevensey Food and Wine Fair 
exchange contracts - it was going to be last Tuesday, but nothing had happened by Friday so we're not moving out tomorrow after all. Maybe next Monday ... ? It is so frustrating! If you are planning to move house into or away from the Polegate area, do use Archer And Partners estate agents - they have been friendly and helpful. Unfortunately I cannot offer anything like such a strong recommendation for Hobson and Latham conveyancers.

We have done pretty well catching up with people before leaving though, some deliberately and some by lucky coincidence. A lovely evening was spent with Linda at Hailsham's Chapter 12 wine bar on Wednesday. We only meant to have a drink or two after work, but much nattering later, we'd missed dinner and were still in situ. Fortunately they serve delicious tiffin slices!

Friday night was spent in Eastbourne for a farewell dinner with the Procurement Team, my current temp contract. We went to Toreros on Terminus Road for an appropriately Spanish themed tapas meal. I was touched that they all went to such effort!

Yesterday, we treated ourselves to an afternoon out at the inaugural Pevensey Food and Wine Festival. Using the Park and Ride got us two journeys on the above pictured vintage bus. Now I know there are many buses considerably older, but this is just the sort that was trundling around Nevill Estate in Lewes where I grew up so it brought back memories to ride it again. The Festival was pretty busy and we spent an hour or so chatting with the Cajun Dawgs who were the opening band. I enjoyed going round the varied food stalls and bought a walnut sourdough loaf from Judges Bakery of Hastings, and an excellent Jamaican Goat pie from Brambletigh. Kush Cuisine had a stall there too and I've got a couple of jars of interesting looking spice blends to take away with us - Bajan Fish Spice and Cocoa Spice Rub. The only stall that was obviously missing was one selling decent coffees and teas. There were multiple wineries and breweries but, as is so often the case, no luxury non-alcoholic beverages. Maybe next year?

Today we've been packing more boxes. There are 21 already and we thought we had gotten rid of most our stuff. Not so minimalist after all then! We cleared some space by taking a few boxes of bits to Bailey and checked that everything seemed ok for us to move in. Fingers crossed for next weekend.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Who I Am by Pete Townshend / The Long Song by Andrea Levy / The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer

Pete Townshend: Who I AmPete Townshend: Who I Am by Pete Townshend
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Phew! It's a relief to click 'I'm finished' on Goodreads for Who I Am because I seem to have been reading Pete Townshend's autobiography for weeks. At over 500 pages, it is far too long for the amount of material incorporated which is a shame as a good edit down to around 300 pages could make this a far more gripping insight.
Instead we get some good Who stories early on, but once Townshend departs from his interesting supporting cast, all we are left with is an insecure boy apparently trying to fill the emotional vacuums in his life with sex, alcohol and endless shopping (houses, boats, studio gadgets). Full of grand ideas and wearying protestations of his own importance, Townshend cares little for any other people around him and is frequently dismissive of even the fans who have 'kept him in cheques' (nice one, Roger!).
For such an artistic and literate man, the writing is surprisingly basic, mainly brief disconnected chapters that offer little reward for the long slog of reading them all. A shame.

The Long SongThe Long Song by Andrea Levy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I registered a book at!

The Long Song is set in 1800s colonial Jamaica and manages a wonderful duality in that it tells of a life lived through the last years of slavery and on into freedom, but without becoming another book about slavery. Our protagonist, July, is born to a field slave mother on a sugar cane plantation and is abruptly taken to the house at eight years old when she catches the missus' eye. Through her reminiscences, we are introduced to a outlandish social structure with many more subtle layers than just that of masters and slaves.

I love how Andrea Levy draws us into her characters' lives by way of gossip and chatter. The minutiae gives a fascinating illustration of their world and the device of the elderly July talking makes her story all the more real. Major historical events do happen, but just out of sight so this is always a novel of people not facts. I was completely hooked and read the whole book in just over a day!

The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline (Enola Holmes Mysteries, #5)The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Case Of The Cryptic Crinolene is the fifth book in its series, but the story is sufficiently self-contained that it didn’t really matter I hadn’t already read the previous four. Enough back story is explained that I soon caught up.

The young adult adventure is set in the late 1800s. It seems pretty accurate historically – was SOS used that early? – and imparts a strong sense of the period and its social attitudes. Although obviously there is some steampunky unrealism in that the young Enola would not have been treated with the equality she frequently enjoys, this does not detract and the tale would be much the poorer with total realism!

I was a little concerned that Sherlock’s little sister was purely a marketing device and I still don’t feel that this ‘connection’ to the famous character is particularly beneficial. Enola is a great character in her own right and doesn’t need the overshadowing. Mrs Tupper is fun and the portrayal of Florence Nightingale is interesting, but other surrounding faces seemed two-dimensional.

The mystery itself has good pace and, as enthusiastically read by Katherine Kellgren, makes for an entertaining listen. It is detailed enough to maintain interest and does not overstay its welcome. I hope Enola’s other Cases are on audio too.

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Thursday 21 August 2014

I've been given a beetroot!

Which isn't something I get to say every day! Big thanks to Maisie-at-work for the gift from
her allotment. I'm looking forward to the eating of it in my salad lunches next week.

For anyone else who’s counting as well, I’m down to just ten working days to go already! I am a tiny bit torn as I’m enjoying Procurement and my colleagues seem to appreciate me. I got a lovely email earlier in the week from Alison-upstairs which really made my day: “Thanks so much for all your help Stephanie. I shall miss you when you go.” Alison is working on the Pevensey Food and Wine Festival and the Coast and Country Walking Festival, both of which look fun btw and we’re planning to be at the Food and Wine one on the Saturday. The Cajun Dawgs are playing around lunchtime!

Alison’s comment reminded me of one of the themes in Cmdr Chris Hadfield’s autobiography, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. You might remember I listened to this on Audible a few months ago. He spoke of aiming to “be a zero” in any team situation; the options being to be a minus-one (causing more work than you do), to be a zero (neutral), or to be a plus-one (always positively contributing to the team). Obviously actually being a plus-one is the ideal, but Chris gives great examples of when his over-enthusiastically striving for this led to generally being a PITA to colleagues! Now he believes that aiming for zeroship is the most effective way to work and his explanation is inspiring. The best impressions can often be made without rocking the boat. Hopefully my colleagues will remember me as a zero too!

Monday 18 August 2014

Closing the musical circle

Blues skies again after the rain
Dave played guitar regularly at the Six Bells Folk and Blues Club and at White Horse Folk amongst others up until a couple of years ago and it was due to these Sussex folk club gatherings that we initially found each other. At the beginning, I was nervously singing a cappella and Dave is an amazing guitarist so a mutual friend suggested we make sweet music together! I gave up on the singing fairly soon afterwards – too scary! – but some eleven-and-a-half years later, our relationship is still going strong. Awww!

I mention this because were invited to an unusual party yesterday which was also attended by several friends who have been around since ‘the beginning’. The party was unusual for two reasons: firstly because the hosts, our friends Simon and Lesley, rarely give big parties; and secondly because the venue was a dramatic Moroccan-style marquee erected in their paddock. (The ponies were relegated to a corner of their normal space, but didn't seem to mind too much!) For me, the event seemed particularly apt as the closing of a circle, this part of our lives being marked by similar music and company to its inception. We weren’t sure who would be there but as it turned out, we were given the chance to say our goodbyes to people we might not otherwise have seen before we departed. Dave hardly left the stage for the first couple of hours. He was in demand to accompany others and I was so proud seeing and hearing him play.

Dave Greene and Simon Watt playing the marquee

Monday 11 August 2014

Spiced poached pears recipe

I mentioned our never-ripening pears a few posts ago and, in order to prevent them being
Pears poached in red wine 
all blown to the ground by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha, we've started poaching them this week. This recipe is very simple - basically everything in one pan and then leave it to simmer. The ingredients below will generously serve two and the pears are just as good eaten cold as warm.

2 firm pears
1 cup water
1/2 cup red wine
3 tbsp honey
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp lemon juice

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Put them into a saucepan with all the other ingredients, bring to the start of a boil, then lower the heat and leave to simmer gently for about an hour.
If preferred, you can then remove the cooked pears and boil the sauce down to a thick syrup. Serve with cream or ice cream.

The great thing about poaching is that it seems to work better for unripe pears than for ripe ones. I like to use Conference pears because they still keep their flavour even through the wine. If you don't eat them all straight away, the reddened quarters look fabulous on an upside-down cake or in a tarte.

Sunday 10 August 2014

I do like to be beside the seaside

We had a lovely day out in Hastings yesterday, wandering along the shingle by the fishing
A view from Hastings beach 
boats and doing our own trawling in the multitude of antique shops and independent boutiques. I saw the most gorgeous long beaded waistcoat which fitted and was only £18. I couldn't decide when I would ever wear it so it is still there - if you're looking for one?

We made the trip because Dave's daughters were visiting for the weekend. I was impressed with Southern Rail's Groupsave ticket which got the four of us from Polegate to Hastings and back for £19.60 without any delays, and without having to risk our new car's suspension in that ramshackle car park past the Stade. I was less impressed by the Buskers Festival which I had seen advertised for the whole afternoon and thought would be entertaining. We had imagined four or five little acoustic areas, each with a roster of invited players and maybe a variety of stalls in between. What we actually got was a couple of acoustics balefully attempting to be heard over the PA from a single stage where, as we arrived, a woman was murdering the Skyfall theme. There wasn't even any audience seating in front of said stage to encourage us to hang around. We wandered on to see actual fishermen on actual fishing boats - I love that Hastings is a working fishing town and long may it remain so. I was briefly reminded of Alvor harbour which has a similar sized fleet.

We lunched at Isabella where we were served excellent Turkish meze dishes. Our first choice of Harris' Tapas restaurant has sadly closed down, but they recommended us to Isabella and I'm so pleased they did! Make sure to have the Saksuka if you visit. Then more wandering including buying a handful of greetings cards from a tiny gallery, and a couple of gorgeously almond-scented soaps. Dave spotted a divine vintage picnic set in its own case with delicate china plates and metal cutlery. We would have needed staff to carry it around for us, together with table, chairs, linen and appropriate foods, in order to do it real justice though. Maybe in another lifetime!

Friday 8 August 2014

Flotsam by Troy Blackford / Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss / The Scare by Robert Shaw

FlotsamFlotsam by Troy Blackford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Twitter friend mentioned Flotsam this morning and, intrigued, I clicked through, read other reviews and bought the collection straight away. The six short stories are probably best described as dystopian-fantasy-scifi-horror. Pretty genre defying! It's also just 59 pages so easy to devour in one sitting.

The first offering, The Oblong Man, is only a single page so more of a sketched idea than a full story, but the other five are good and, at working out at just 30p each on Kindle, well worth the price! My particular favourites are On Another Level and Three Types Of People.

Thanks for the tip @HeatherDorcas

The ScareThe Scare by Robert Shaw
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Scare is an American high school horror tale with an interesting mix of contemporary and gothic settings. It does get gory and very sexual so unsuitable for younger teens. The characters are well drawn considering how many there are and, although a misogynistic boys-protecting-girls theme keeps recurring, the female characters are allowed to do more than just pout, scream and die! I particularly liked Shaw's descriptions and imagery. His story is not stunningly original, but makes for an entertaining escapist read.

This book was recommended to me on Twitter back in May and I've unfortunately forgotten who by. If you happen to read this review, please make yourself known - I like your taste in fiction!

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Wednesday 6 August 2014

Potential stopping off points in western France

It seems a lifetime ago since I was last counting down the working days left before undertaking a wonderful adventure. In reality, not even a single year has passed. I am amazed to think back on everything that we have achieved in such a short space of time and, of course, how much our outlooks and dreams have changed in response to our travels.

Dave has been doing a fantastic job over the past few weeks of outlining our journey for the
Sunset rocks at Tregastel 
autumn and winter ahead. Obviously, our plans are still up in the air until we get definite confirmation on the house sale, but there has been much pencilling in going on nonetheless. We believe we will start in France this year, travelling down the west coast from St Malo to see the standing stones and dolmens around Carnac. We have planned before to visit this ancient site, having got close(ish) when we camped on the Pink Granite Coast around Perros-Guirec and Tregastel in 2010. I only recently discarded a pretty biscuit tin I purchased in a Regional Products shop in Tregastel – the biscuits, of course, having vanished far more quickly. I do love a Regional Products shop! However back then we only had a couple of weeks and liked the peninsula so much that we didn’t venture further afield. This year will be our chance. Our friends Steve & Frances kindly lent us their guidebooks which are crammed with information and evocative photographs. I can’t wait!

Other potential stopping-off points include the Ile de Re just off the coast by La Rochelle. Every review we have read of this island heavily sings its praises and hopefully the mass influx of summer tourism will have quietened down some by mid-September. Keep up with my blog to discover if we are as enamoured by the idyllic villages and harbour fronts! I’ve just remembered that I need to check out photos of the bridge ahead of the journey there. I have an illogical phobia of high bridges (and lower bridges and bridges with gaps between the planks and …). Do you remember the scene in GBH where Michael Palin’s character doesn’t drive over the bridge? Well, I’m not quite that bad, but images of a trio of panic-inducing moments from last winter are flashing though my thoughts as I type this now! The road to Sopalmo definitely takes the prize, but that’s because I didn’t drive to the Civil War guns situated high above the sea between Puerto de Mazarron and Cartagena. If Dave hadn’t had the wheel, we would not have got there! That is somewhere I wouldn’t mind returning to though and this time with a torch so we can actually walk around under the guns and see the firing mechanisms.

There’s so much world to see!

Thank goodness I've only twenty-one working days left – and, yes, I’ve already deducted the Bank Holiday!

Saturday 2 August 2014

Banana bread in a bread machine recipe

I got lucky this morning! Passing the little greengrocers at the Triangle in Willingdon I spied
Freshly baked banana bread 
a trug of almost overripe bananas on offer at just £1 for the lot. I snapped them up and ended up with 14 for my pound. Bargain!

I decided that banana bread would be their perfect use. However, Dave's slow cooking his excellent Pork with Fennel Seeds in the oven and this takes all day. I definitely don't want to interrupt the pork as that would not be to my benefit at all. Thinking hard, I had a vague recollection of seeing a recipe using the bread machine somewhere. A quick search turned up two choices: Banana and Peanut Butter bread in One Hundred Bread Machine Recipes or Banana and Walnut bread in our machine's own instruction booklet. Having neither peanut butter or walnuts, I decided that omitting the latter posed least risk of ruining its recipe! I was right - we both agree this banana bread is delicious and it's going so fast, I might find myself baking another loaf tomorrow.

2 tbsp melted butter (I used margarine)
1 tbsp milk
1 cup mashed banana (I used 5 because they were quite small)
1 egg
1 tsp grated lemon zest ( I tried but life is too short for zesting lemons)

Put all these ingredients into a bowl together and mix until well combined. Place the mix into the bread machine pan.

Dry Ingredients:
1.5 cups plain white flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Mix together the dry ingredients and place these into the bread machine pan too. Our machine has a Quick Setting which is a total of 1 hour and 40 minutes, about 80 minutes of which is actually baking. This is what I used and hopefully you can find a similar setting on your machine.