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Making the most of the hot weather with a lovely Sunday evening barbeque. The dogs were a bit hyper — Blitzen became completely obsessed with a giant bag of giant marshmallows! — but there were no disasters and they didn't manage to swipe anyone's food.

With Glastonbury close on the horizon — D&P had just driven back from setting up their stuff ahead of the start of the event — we got to discussing festivals and, much to my relief, a couple of the others announced that they weren't really into them either. Someone said that they didn't like not having somewhere quiet to go and recover from grumpiness, hanger, hangover, whatever, and that festivals had all the downsides of camping with all the downsides of being somewhere really busy and noisy.

A said that she'd signed up for a deal a while ago where you could do up to six festivals for Oxfam over a summer and had put her name down for both Glastonbury and Reading. But what had seemed like a good idea before her first festival didn't seem quite so attractive afterwards and even while she was still at Glasto, she decided she wasn't a festival person and bought her way out of going to Reading!

I was tempted to ask whether the Proms or Glyndebourne fell within the meaning of the act. They both call themselves festivals, so surely they must be in...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
After a very gentle run to start the day, I met up with friends who were having a combined birthday lunch. Navigating the Exeter traffic — typically fine, provided you don't want to leave the city or drive anywhere within it — exagerated by the effects of Easter, with five of us packed into a Citroen C3 — not an ideal configuration! — we made it Kenn in around quater of an hour.

We had lunch at the Ley Arms, with most people going for some sort of roast; I went for a rather nice vegetarian nut loaf with all the trimmings. The company was good and I caught up with a former colleague I hadn't seen for quite some time and who seemed on better form than they've been in a while. After we'd finished eating and with the weather more than warm enough to support sitting outside, we decamped to the garden for post-prandial teas and coffees which came complete with a supporting bowl of Smarties.

We went our separate ways at around half-past three, with the others heading off for a walk in Haldon forest. I had vague plans to go climbing and head on to a barbecue down by the river, so I got a lift back into Exeter with L, who was also planning on spending his afternoon at a BBQ. In the end, none of it happened: I got home only to discover that I was far too tired to manage anything athletic and far too over-fed to cope with any more food, so I ended up tucking myself up at home with a book.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Very enjoyable Sunday dinner with P&D and their lodger and D's dad. P had cooked a massive roast with a huge array of vegetables — my plate was piled just as high as everyone else's despite not having any meat! There was much talk of Christmas along with an assurance that today's meal was nothing like as large as their full xmas and that I ought to come along to their not-Christmas dry-run for proof!
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Another evening of top-roping with L — we're trying to get into a routine, at least when he's not on call. The usual mix of easy stuff with a few more tricky things — I on-sighted a new 6b+ to keep in practice.

Afterwards I went to the Waterfront to meet up with JC&F and AC. I skipped food — I'd had a pretty hefty lunch & didn't think I could justify a big supper — but the others went for sea food; the general opinion being that it was very nice indeed, if you like that sort of thing..
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Eva Wiseman in the Observer on the comforting power of a nice cup of tea:

I prefer tea to drink. Not the taste, of course. Because what does tea taste of, really? It tastes of what I imagine eBay tastes like. Like an old book, fallen in the bath. And not the burning sip, of course, because it is never the right temperature, first being scalding and then almost immediately being tepid and a huge disappointment. And not the “Britishness”, of course, because that whole myth is Ukip- ish and twee. No. I like tea for the ritual and for the settling down. Also, it is home. It is like building a fire when lost in the woods – you put the kettle on, and there you are.

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Small things often have a life-changing power. Such as the discovery that you can de-seed a pomegranate by giving it a good walloping...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Hurried into town, noting in the process how much improved Warwick Road is now that the large office blocks no longer put in premature shadow in winter, and headed to Waterstones to equip the kids with new books. After humming and hahing over a few things, I finally found something for everyone and headed home. The place wasn't particularly crowded with last minute shoppers; I guess most people must be more organised than me!

Spent the afternoon making cranberry sauce after we were given two free packets of berries by the greengrocer. I used Nigel Slater's classic recipe with a few other bits and pieces to make life a bit more interesting. The results met with general satisfaction during a blind taste test — in particular I'd been under orders to avoid anything too citrusy, following a long-ago incident when pater had made a particularly tart batch of cranberry using orange juice — and the results were put aside to await Christmas Day.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Went swimming at the university in the morning — something I definitely need to do more often — and had a gentle rest of the day. Made macaroni with sage-roasted squash baked in a cheese sauce for supper, which seemed to go down successfully, and decided to make a start on my Christmas shopping tomorrow.
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Finally having a bit of spare, I tried out one of Ruby Tandoh's pie recipes from last weekend's Guardian.

I'm pleased to be able to report the results were extremely successful and was surprised and pleased by how easy the pastry crust was to make and how well it it came it out. The filling, too, worked very well: the carrot, garlic and spices combined to produce a very nice veg puree with the leaves — I used spinach in place of chard — providing a nice contrast, and the aubergine adding heft to bottom and top.

Although it was a bit of a hassle to prepare, I'm definitely going to make it again — preferable on a day when there's a good, long drama on the radio to keep my brain occupied...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
End of an era today, with the old supercomputers brought down for the last time. To mark the occasion — and the imminent departure of the vendor people — a group of us arranged to go out for supper at the Bay Leaf. The food was good, with even W, a true curry maven, pronouncing himself impressed with a garlic paneer dish which they augmented for him with a couple of naga chillies.

Suitably fed, we shed a few people and continued on to the nearest watering hole — George's Meeting House — where the others swilled back a few pints. I pushed off at about half-nine, W left shortly after when his girlfriend and two month-old son came by to pick him up, with the others planning to round off the evening with a few whiskys...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
For no terribly good reason, a sudden impulse decision to try a new vegan flapjack recipe. Unlike most recipes, this substitutes stewed apple and mashed banana for the golden syrup, sugar and butter binding of the standard version, and for no terribly good reason, I decided to use pumpkin seeds in place of the recommended dried fruit.

vegan flapjack

The results were surprisingly good. Not as a sweet as normal flapjacks and, yes, somewhat heavier and chewier — none of which are bad things in my book — and just the thing to see me through my early evening run...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Stayed for the first part of the evening event, with a fantastic Greek feast from Paul — with a "sort-of-moussaka" for the non-meat eaters. There was even a fantastic cake in the shape of the DWS wall:

I think it's pretty safe to say Izzy was more than a little impressed...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Having discovered that I actually quite like tofu, I've been trying out some of the recipes from last weekend's Guardian. So far my favourite is the tofu miso hummus — although I made it with peanut butter because I had a giant drum of the stuff already open — and the tomato salad (with agave standing in for honey). I'm planning to give the others a try but I need to work out what to substitute in place of the mushrooms.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Braved the cold for a run first thing. On the way back I saw an extremely large bird of prey loitering around Top Green. I'm not entirely sure what it was but it was almost entirely brown with dark feathered legs and, I think, dark under wing areas.

The bulk of the morning was taken up with an endless stream of questions from mater about the precise method used to bake potatoes — surely the simplest of things to cook, since they can be put in the oven at more or less any temperature and left until the give when you squeeze them — but apparently not. Lunch was somewhat purgatorial and I got stuck next to my niece's boyfriend while the others talked about such fascinating subjects as pensions, the merits of the local pubs and, god help me, the county's different breweries.

After an uneventful afternoon we had yet more potatoes, mostly reheated from lunch, for supper with the threat of another round of bakers for lunch tomorrow. I'm starting to reach the point, as seems to happen every Christmas, where the thought of eating another potato or slice of chewy white bread fills me with horror; I feel as though it's been a week since I ate anything else...

Non-traditional nativity
At some point in the last twenty-four hours, our nativity scene became noticeably less traditional. I certainly don't remember any of the gospels mentioning the presence of a dragon in the stable...

Just as my sister and family started to get ready to leave, it began to snow in earnest: firstly large, sleety flakes; later with fine snow that settled on the roofs of cars and in the trees; but I don't think it's forecast to last.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
My sister and her new baby came round first thing to wrap presents while the other kids were elsewhere. She made light work of a huge pile of things for the boys and it was enough to inspire me to wrap the things mater had bought for me to give to the kids.

Bea wraps up
My sister makes wrapping up look easy...

Presents round the tree
When she was done we had a small collection of presents round the tree, but the bulk of things she'd wrapped up went in a couple of sacks to go home for the boys to open first thing tomorrow.

While my sister was wrapping up, I took a few photos of my new nephew. He was born towards the end of last month, a couple of weeks early so he's still pretty small for age, but that doesn't seem to have stopped him developing a hefty pair of lungs!

Bobbie in his chair
I think this is my favourite: the boy sitting quietly in his carry-chair. The photo isn't quite as it came out of the camera: I had to crop out the huge, very bright danger label warning against using the chair in a seat equipped with an airbag!

Baby photos galore... )

The uncle arrived in time for lunch: largely bread, cheese, and salad, but with a seriously good home-made courgette soup to start with. I have to admit to a certain scepticism about the idea of courgette soup, but it actually worked extremely well. I think I might try to locate the recipe.

After a gentle afternoon, during which the parents prepared the stuffing and listened to the carols from Kings while I sloped off to read, it was my turn to make supper. Somehow, over the years, we've built up a tradition that says that on Christmas Eve I have to make fondue while the others have some sort of nasty shop-bought fishy starter. It's not a great chore — fondue isn't much more than cheese dissolved in hot wine — but it's always a bit more difficult than normal when others are constantly asking when you're going to be finished or whether there is anything else you need.

In the end everything passed off more or less peacefully and my cooking seemed to be acceptable. Let's hope this is a good omen for things to come...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Off to Lapworth for the traditional Christmas canal walk and lunch at the Boot. Rather daringly, we reversed the usual direction and did the whole thing anticlockwise. Despite some doubts about the various turnings, this was a great success, not least because it actually gave us a decent view of Packwood House.

Packwood House looking brooding and gothic on an overcast day. It's not hard to imagine it as a backdrop for a Sheridan Le Fanu novel...

Packwood stables
Packwood's stable block, which normally goes unnoticed because we traditionally turn east at the main drive to leave the house behind and walk along the avenue to cut through to Chessetts Wood Road.

Lunch was nice — I had courgette pancakes as a starter with a Mexican bean chilli as my main course — and our waitress was particularly good, picking up on our desire not to be placed close to a rather rowdy group of people out for their works Christmas lunch and offered to move us to a quieter table. I suppose it serves us right for going out before Xmas, but this year's date was determined by T&J's flights and Christmas falling on Thursday.

Pater in a Christmas hat
Rather than crackers, The Boot provided red and white Christmas hats for everyone. Pater wore his like some sort of Victorian nightcap — something his carried off in fine style!

At the Boot with the Coxes
Our table at the far end, away from the rowdier elements. Although the photo hasn't done J any justice and D has been completely hidden by T, I like it for the reflection, which captures pater and gives a good view of the rest of the dining room. Regular readers may notice that we're actually sat at the same table as last year...

Lunch was only slightly marred by an argument about who was going to drive home. After reluctantly agreeing, pater promptly ordered a giant glass of wine, ensuring he'd be over the over the limit. Fortunately mater had time to switch her order to tomato juice to allow her to do the driving — I'm no longer on insurance, so I couldn't offer even if I'd wanted to. But because mater doesn't like driving in poor light, we had to cut and run partway through coffee leaving the others, somewhat bewildered, to finish their lunch alone.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
A lazy day of staying in, thanks in part to the removal of the steps from in front of the house. So instead of disturbing the builders, busy setting up the shuttering required to cast the new stairs, I've read, snoozed, listened to the radio, and made myself something nice for afternoon tea:


The scones were made using a slightly modified version of one of the Guardian's list of 10 best yoghurt recipes from sometime last year. They came out extremely well: the yoghurt added a pleasantly tart quality and the layering worked every bit as well as promised.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Lazy morning followed by a walk along the canal at Hatton. It wasn't a brilliant success — the nephew spent the entire time playing on his DS — and we didn't walk for any great length of time, but lunch was nice.

Hatton Locks
A bad camera phone photo of part of the long flight of locks on the Grand Union Canal at Hatton.

Once we got back I went to the station — a walk that was probably longer than our canal-side one! — to pick up a reservation for tomorrow. For supper mater and pater rustled up some curried green beans from Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty and some sort of fried aubergine with yoghurt from one of Madhur Jaffrey's recipe books. Both were excellent and complemented each other rather well.
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Walked to the university for a spot of bouldering at Bear Rock in the sports centre. The place was empty at first and I pottered along working my way through the V0-V2 problems, although the grading seemed a bit random and the problems felt rather reachy — both of which were confirmed by someone I got talking do during my warm-down and both of which I've noticed on previous visits. The room is also let down a little by poor lighting which, coupled with the lack of tags on the walls, make it hard to tell where problems start and finish, and sometimes which holds are in. But on the other hand I liked their circuits board very much and finished up with three long loops.

After a gentle afternoon, mater and I made lasagne using autumn veg — carrots and butternut squash roasted with sage and a couple of cloves of garlic — and béchamel sauce fillings. The results were extremely satisfactory, although I now wonder whether recipe might be even better with blue cheese in place of cheddar, but that's probably impractical and expensive when making a large quantity...
sawyl: (A self portrait)
Tried out Ruby Tandoh's recipe for blueberry yoghurt loaf from Saturday's Guardian with extremely pleasing results:

A cheeky bit of cake... )

Unable to find almond oil at short notice I substituted with sunflower oil and almond essence without any detrimental consequences, but I don't think it would have come out nearly so well with the note of almonds: it combines with the lemon zest to give a layered flavour, with the sharpness of the blueberries contrasting nicely with the sweetness of the cake. And it really is as easy as the recipe makes out: mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, combine and bake...


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