Thursday, 7 February 2019

The Southwood Garden of St James's, Piccadilly

Church by Christopher Wren - the chap who built St Paul's cathedral and any number of other churches

After the last meeting of the Bookclub at the Club, where the subject discussed was 'Novels based on historical characters', I meandered a little around the area.  Not far from my club there is Piccadilly, and a church with a little market with stalls that mainly sell craft items and bric-a-brac. 

I occasionally wander among the stalls, but this time my eye was caught by several statues looming in the distance in a little park adjacent to the market.  I went to explore a little, and while the park itself is nothing special, I did enjoy the various statues by a modern artist erected there.

The photos are self explanatory, I hope!

Bring your worries to the little green caravan

Emily Young sculpted these

I really like this - reminds me of Etruscan statues

And also of the statue that features in the film Midnight in the garden of good and evil

I always like me a compost heap

Someone gossiping on her mobile, I guess

The market stalls

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Prepping for Brexit - Musings on our Degenerate Life Style

When I first decided to guard myself against the potential shortages of the post-Brexit apocalypse, I took stock of my provisions - and noticed that there were almost none.

What stores I had were the result of my culinary hobbies and eccentricities.  I have six gallons of home made elderberry wine, a consequence of me making more wine than I drink.  Ditto for jams and pickled fruit, and chutneys.  I like to make such things much more than I enjoy to consume them, so they pile up.

But aside from that I had no stores.  When I was down to my last toilet roll I bought another pack (of 4).  When a toothpaste tube had almost been squeezed dry I rushed to the shops for reinforcements.  As for food, I almost only use fresh ingredients, and go shopping several times a week.

The freezer is full of hard to get ingredients, like organic suet for making steamed puddings, and left over cooked foods and cakes.  Also, as a result of my recently acquired addiction, of frozen cherries (they leave the freezer very quickly, though, so I am not sure that counts as storage).

I have some large glass jars in the kitchen for flour and oatmeal and such like, and these, too, I would top up when they ran dry.

So this new Brexit situation required not only that I create some storage space, but also that I changed my eating habits.  Because I can't store fresh food.

Living on croissants, fresh berries, steak, and salads, is not an eating style that can be sustained from tins and desiccated pulses, with the odd smoked sausage thrown in.

Now you may think that I should do what anyone else I know who is prepping does - continue with my normal life, and if there are indeed shortages after Brexit, figure out what to do with my provisions.  However, hopefully there will be no shortages, and my accumulated stash can be donated to the nearest foodbank.

That is not the way I do things!  Instead I have started to train myself already in the new ways.  It is hard going, and I slip often, but nevertheless a new way of life is being created.

This evening, for example, I have dipped into my dried peas jar and irrigated a cup full of them, to soak overnight, and be boiled up with the usual odd and ends, as well as a piece of smoked bacon I sourced in a Polish delicatessen.  I am unsure how many meals that will provide, it is all part of the learning process.

Unlike the younger generation I actually know how to lead that sort of culinary life - it is pretty much what we did at home when I was young.  Lentil stew, pea stew, white bean stew, all properly herbified and elevated with a bit of sausage or bacon was served often in my childhood.  Indeed, I often cooked this myself.

I remember, once when I was about ten, I was on a longish visit with relatives.  They needed to go away for a morning, and I was put in charge of making the bean stew.  Unfortunately for all concerned, in my parents' house the beans were bought in a tin, and just heated and mixed with the other ingredients - I had never encountered dried ones.  But my aunt gave me dried beans - and neither of us realised that they needed to be soaked overnight.  I cooked and cooked and cooked those beans, but they continued to be rock hard even after four hours.  I was not asked to cook again in that household!  I am still not sure whether this was my or her fault .....

Anyway, since then I have learned a lot.  For example, pulses from a recent harvest need no or just an hour long soaking.  But the older pulses get, the longer they need to soak.  And it is wise to cook the pulses first, and add other ingredients later, so as not to overcook the latter.

Breakfast is another meal that needs to change.  No more bacon and eggs!  The bacon will have to be reserved for soups, and the eggs (powdered!) are for cakes and pancakes.  Although I have a quantity of pumpernickel bread and Scandinavian crisp bread, these have to be used sparingly, if only because my store of butter is limited (a mere 24 tins).  So I have started to revive the habit of our ancestors, and gone in a big way for porridge-type grain slops. 

They are easy to make.  Just put a quantity of grain groats into a thermos flask, add a few nuts or raisins if you have them, perhaps a pinch of salt or sugar, a bit of fat or milk powder if available, and pour hot water over the lot.  Close thermos, shake a little, and leave.  A few hours later there is your food, all ready and cooked.

We are led to believe that in the olden days people ate their grains mainly in the form of bread, especially before the potato got an inning in Europe.  Personally I am sceptical.  The amount of work and fuel required to turn groats into flour, to prepare the dough, and then to bake the bread, is vastly greater than to just toss the groats into a pot and leave it near the fire (put it into a sort of Wonderbag!) and go to bed (or work the fields).

I think for most of our ancestors' lives bread was a luxury food, mainly consumed by the nobility and city folk.  Your average peasant would have stuck to one pot cooking, tossing into it whatever food was available. 

Despite of all that I have written above, I do not plan to live quite as simply as our ancestors during the Bexit apocalypse.  For starters, I have way too many pots to be content with that!  I also have laid down luxuries unaffordable to medieval peasants, like tea and sugar and Katzenpfoetchen.  Then there are my six kilos of mint fondant, which I can eat as well as trade.

Besides, I do believe that there will be some few little things available from shops or law-disabiding neighbours, like the occasional jar of Miracle Whip, or the odd bit of venison (hopefully not someone's pet).

I hope that this new eating style will reduce my carbon footprint, and will cure me of the decadent habits I had fallen into these last few decades.  Cakes on weekdays, coffee made from real coffee-beans every morning, unlimited supplies of tea, three meals a day, blueberries and water melons in winter, and a bag (or two) of frozen cherries every day - deep down I always knew I would eventually have to abandon this sybaritic lifestyle.

From now on cake and real coffee will be strictly for Sundays. On other days I shall have to contend myself with bread and butter (with luck!), porridge, thick lentil stews, and chicory coffee.  This degenerate life has to have an end.  We have become enfeebled and uncompetitive by dissolute living, brought on by the absence of a cleansing national crisis.  But it is not too late.  As soon as I have eaten all my cherries I will turn over a new leaf and become a better DB.

Brexit shmexit, I plan to prosper regardless!

PS  I am not cutting down on tea - virtue has its limits!

Saturday, 12 January 2019

60th Birthday - Why I Love My Colleagues!

DB at 60 - who would have thought I'd last that long!

My decorated desk - please note that the boxes to the right are not full of my effects!!!  And the huge bin is not intended to be filled with my accumulated rubbish prior to my  leaving my job.  I am staying right where I am!!!

The best thing about work is colleagues - my kind  of colleagues, obviously!  Lord knows I have had some bad ones in my time, but now, in the twilight of my years, I have really hit pay-dirt.  They are, one and all, wonderful, dependable, funny, intelligent, and hard working - and best of all, they always have my back (with that one exception, obviously).

So a few days ago, when I arrived at work, all innocent and unsuspecting, I was confronted with a fabulously decorated birthday-desk, and numerous be-smiled colleagues, all full of good birthday wishes and congratulations.

In addition to decorating my desk, they had purchased a box full of desirable presents, and took me to lunch later that day.  There was also cake.

I was deeply moved, but managed to cover this up by insulting them all, both individually and collectively.  As a final birthday indulgence, they all accepted the invective.

Like the Queen, I have two birthday dates.  The one that we celebrated in the office, and the official one which will be celebrated with the Triplets in three weeks' time. We will do the St Pancras Tour, and photos shall be shared!

Aside from enjoying being made much of, no particular benefits accrued to me upon reaching 60.  Extensive googling revealed that I am entitled to local free bus fares (since I have a commuting season ticket I don't need this), and free medicine prescriptions (I don't take drugs).  The only real advantage is that the gas board have put me onto their Frail & Vulnerable List - if I have an emergency I will get preferential treatment!  I don't feel all that frail, but what the hell.

Quite frankly, if I had known how few benefits I get by turning 60, I wouldn't have bothered!

Balloonish reflections on the office ceiling

The early stages of the Great Decorative Effort

Overexcited Triplet attaching balloonish decorations

Dismissive colleague turning her back on the DB-honouring celebrations

Some of the gifts were wholly inappropriate!

A happy DB with a favourite colleague - bare is the back that has no colleague to guard it!
PS  The scarf is Astres et Soleils, by Hermes.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Saving the Planet - The Wonderbag!

Friday my new Wonderbag arrived.....

I got terribly excited, and unpacked it immediately.

It came in an innocent looking box

The Wonderbag was shrink-wrapped

And came with a little cookbook

The instructions are clear - first fluff up the stuffing inside of the bag!  This can take quite a while.  I took about 15 minutes, being of a thorough nature.  And don't forget to fluff up the lid!

The result was this pouch like bag - looking rather like a pet haven

The bag can be washed (carefully!) or spot-cleaned, but nevertheless I took the precaution to line it with a kitchen towel - better safe than sorry!  In the event there was no spillage.  I also added a silicone pad, to protect the bag from the hot bottom of the pot.  You can just use a folded up towel, but I like to do things properly.

Then I prepared a beef and vegetable stew.  Browned the beef, added the veggies, then cooked it for 15 minutes until all the ingredients of the stew were thoroughly piping hot.  The Wonderbag only works if the food you put into it is hot - it works like a thermos.  If you put lukewarm coffee into a thermos flask, it will not get hotter!  If you put food that isn't thoroughly hot into the Wonderbag it will not cook properly.  Please note that cooking in the Wonderbag does not reduce the liquid in the pot, since there is no evaporation, so you need less liquid than when cooking on the stove or in the oven.  And no steamed-up house when you make bone broth, which needs to be cooked for ten hours on the stove, or 15 hours in the bag!

I set the pot (with lid! onto the silicone mat inside the Wonderbag, and covered it over with the towel

Then I added the Wonderbag's lid, and fastened the string until I had this neat little package. 

Sitting on the marble slab in the Keeping Room, looking smug. I tried to get a bit of warmth from it by hugging it, it being a cold day and all, but no chance - the insulation really works!

A close-up - the Wonderbag has handles, in case you need to transport it.  Some people use it to transport food for a Church Social or family gathering, where large quantities of food are required and need to be kept hot (or cold!).

The ruler is 18 inches long

After six hours I opened the Wonderbag!  By the way, the pot looks tiny but is actually the widest one I have.  Perspective can play hell with photography!

Perfectly cooked stew!

To summarise, the Wonderbag utilises an old practice of cooking food without using any energy, except at first when the pot is heated.  After the pot and its contents are thoroughly hot, they are put into a heat retaining vessel - in this case, an insulated bag.

In the olden days, people used boxes filled with hay for this - the Haybox.  Basically, you can use the Wonderbag like an electric slow cooker - but if your electricity cuts out, the electric slow cooker goes cold, why the Wonderbag keeps going.

I wonder whether the Wonderbag is popular among Jews - it should be quite useful for keeping the Sabbath.  You just heat up the food Friday lunch time, and on the Sabbath you got a nice hot stew!  You could have multiple Wonderbags, one for each meal.  Perhaps one could even keep a number of small pots in one large bags?  The urge to explore should be indulged!

And how did I come across this idea?  I recently re-read the Wilhelm Busch Album, which is by the man most famous for his drawings about Max & Moritz, the evil little boys.  In one of the stories, a bachelor visits an old friend, who invites him to dinner - and the meal has been kept warm in the feather-bed of the family - see photo below

Image may contain: drawing

Inspired, I started to Google, and came across the Wonderbag.

I give a link below if you want to buy one.  They are made in South Africa, and for every bag the company sells they give a free one to a poor women in Africa.  Using such bags can cut the fuel needs of a family by 80%, and since many women in Africa still use wood which they have to laboriously gather for cooking, these bags save them both time and money, which they can spend on other things (like school fees).

What's not to like?

The one draw back could be said to be the size of these bags (mine is the biggest one, they have smaller ones as well).  I keep mine inside a spare washing up bowl and it is out of sight and not in the way.  Other people use them as a sofa pillow when not in use, and pets have been know to utilise them as desirable sleeping quarters (perhaps not hygienic, but well, in a household with pets their hairs and tiny residents get into everything anyway).

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Prepping for Brexit - the madness continues

After a delivery from Waitrose

There seems to be mainly three types of people now.

One type are the Brexiteers, who think that Brexit will be a success simply because Britain is great, and opportunities outside of the EU abound.  There is no reason to prepare in any way.  All will be well.  To prepare is treason.  To doubt is blasphemous.

Then there are the Remainers, who think that Brexit had better be a failure, or else.  To prepare for it is to accept that it will happen.  And it will not happen, because if it happened it would be simply too ghastly to comprehend.  There will be no Brexit, damn it!

Basically both sides are in denial of reality..

And then there are the rest of us, who watch this near universal ostrich-like head-in-the-sand attitude with amazement, and wonder whether our fellow denizens of this sceptred isle have taken collective leave of their senses.

What ever happened to the level headed, pragmatic, sensible British approach to life?  I swear I will end up to be the only genuinely English person around here if this madness continues.

So there it is.  I am one of a select few who hope for the best but prepare for the worst.  Having been raised with stories about war time shortages, I decided to stockpile whatever items I can afford and feel I really need.

Now I have a small house, and storage facilities are limited. Utilising the attic or lean-to conservatory would be inadvisable, since this could attract vermin. Cupboards are already full of the accumulated debris / treasure of decades of charity shop finds, and the under bed space is dominated by additional clothes.

I am not really a hoarder.  It is just that when I see a good quality item, made in England 30 years ago, of the style I wear, which I know I cannot buy new ever again, at a cheap price - well, I jump right in.  And it is a wise habit, I do believe.  About ten years ago I finally discovered a type of trousers that look good on me.  Within a year they were discontinued, and I cornered the market on them on Ebay.  And now they are no longer to be had anywhere, including re-sellers.  So my dozen or so trouser-stash will keep me in leg covering until I die, or so I hope.

Anyway.  The point is, storage space for Brexit preparatory hoarding of essentials is limited, unless I want to turn the Little House into a grocery depot - I am fond of watching Open all Hours, but that is not really the look I strive for.

Luckily I only need to prepare for myself, so the additional storage needed is not excessive.

This is what I did.

Part 1 - The Keeping Room (formerly known as the Dining Room)

Since my kitchen is tiny (I really mean tiny - 108 inches / 270cm long and 70 inches / 178cm wide), so storage and work space is limited.  Therefore I decided to turn the dining room into a sort of auxiliary kitchen, to utilise for storage, and I also now use the dining table for kneading dough, shredding cabbage, and - more in a later post - park my Wonderbag when in use.

However, the room is still primarily a living space, and not a storage/work room. Therefore I purchased/re-purposed two pieces of furniture to store tins and bottles in:

The above is an old Georgian Plate Warmer.  It is made from mahogany, is lined with zinc, and has shelves with slits in them.  The idea is that plates are warmed in the kitchen, and then kept warm in this cupboard.  However, if the cupboard keeps plates warm it should also keep tins cool, went my thinking.  I originally bought it for preserves, but I transferred some of them back into the fridge to make space for tins.

The second cupboard is basically a wash stand with the legs sawn off - the legs have little wheels!  Washstands are usually a waste of space, on account of the tall legs, but with the legs cut off the stand is only 19 inches / 50cm tall, and this enabled me to put the plate warmer on top of it.  This cupboard is amazingly capacious, and holds ten bottles of olive oil, 24 tins of sweet corn, 20 tins of evaporated milk, 24 tins of baked beans, 20 tins of corned beef, 24 tins of chopped tomatoes, 10 tubes of tomato concentrate, 4 jars of chicory, and 2 tins of cream of mushroom soup.  Amazing or what?

The dry goods storage facility needed to accommodate more bulky items, like rice, dried pulses, sugar, etc.  Also, while tins come with their own protection (ie being tins) dried groceries come in bags and can potentially be mined for sustenance by non-DB consumers.  Therefore they needed to be placed into tins.  I therefore bought 10 large Japanese tea tins, 3 lebkuchen tins, and one mega-huge Tetley tea tin, and filled them with my dried food.  In choosing the tins I sought to pick those that would blend well with their surrounding, and I think it might be granted that I have achieved this goal!

Two Japanese tea tins stacked and labelled
Ten Japanese tea tins, stacked and labelled - note the plate warmer on top of the wash stand on the right

Close up shot

I have now put the couscous steamers, Mongolian Firepot, and etagere, back on top of the cupboard, in front of the tins.  Note the blue tin in the far right top corner?  A Tetley's teabag tin full of sugar.

Lastly, I piled my three lebkuchen tins - now devoid of lebkuchen, which I fed to my colleagues, since I needed the storage space) on top of my wardrobe cupboard:

They don't fit in quite as well as the Japanese tins, but their corner is a dark one and they are not too noticeable.

Part 2 - The Kitchen

Although I had pretty much already utilised storage space in the kitchen to the max, I nevertheless managed to squeeze in another shelf, above the door, to accommodate 6 old Whittard tins.  They were used in the Whittard of Chelsea shops to store tea and coffee, and are quite capacious.  I filled them with Ostfriesentea (my favourite), Buisman's Coffee Enhancer (only to be had in Holland), dried egg powder, marzipan, and mint fondant.  In case you wonder why one person needs 6kg of mint fondant, I have you know that, according to Unca Scrooge (Onkel Dagobert/Onc Picsou) mint bonbons make excellent trading goods - I might need them in case I have forgotten to hoard anything I need.

Also in the kitchen, I made sure that every glass storage jar was pretty full:

The kitchen cupboard is also rather packed:

And a one gallon bottle, which I had planned to use for sloe gin, but didn't need after all, turned out to be perfect for storing rice in:

Since I had to turf some preserves out of the plate warming cupboard to accommodate my tins, I needed to create space in the fridge for them, which I accomplished by putting the potatoes and onions in a little vegetable rack:

Not quite full yet, but these things only keep for so long and there is no point to hoard too many of them.

Part 3 - Secondary Spaces

The front bedroom was also pressed into service.  I stored all the toilet paper, kitchen rolls, and household chemicals on top of the four poster bed.  However, this looked a bit plebeian, so I surrounded them by books - you can't even see the stuff now:

The little pot cupboards that is supposed to hold a chamber pot for emergencies was also utilised:

Shampoo and conditioner, hair spray, soap, tooth paste, deosticks, Scho-ka-kola, and dried milk - about a year's supply of each.  It is amazing how much one can fit into such a tiny space.  The chamber pot is now in the Mouserleum - just in case they turn off the water supply.

The bathroom can hold about a fifth of my toilet paper supplies:

That's 32 roles!

Lastly, having found a space for everything, I discovered to my horror a large 3kg bag of pasta that needed tucking away.  After much head scratching, I popped it into yet another large tin, and shoved it under a chair in the Parlour:

Can't be seen unless one kneels down to search for dropped mint fondant bonbons 

So there it is. I am almost done with my supplies.

I hope you feel inspired to lay down some yourself - not just for man-made disasters like Brexit, but also for other emergency, like being snowed in or falling sick.

Since I was in that sort of mode, I also bought a small wind up radio in case of a power cut, three tanks of 18 litres each to store water in, and water purification tablets.  And 60kg of smokeless coals.  Also 9 tins of Scho-ka-kola.  And my sister contributed 6 jars of Liebig's meat extract, which one can live on practically forever.  Plus I bought a Wonderbag, to save fuel.

And if some clever clogs tries to storm the house and steal my supplies, I shall use the egg-shaped coals as ammunition for the trebuchet (catapult) I plan to build in the garden.