The dog days of February

These are the dog days of February. The light filling out but still too cold to do much outside.

I had caught a quick twenty minutes yesterday afternoon to dig over roughly the rest of the veg patch so this afternoon I thought I would dig out the compost.

This a once a year occasion. We keep a bin in the kitchen for vegetable waste. It gets filled with old teabags, banana skins, apple cores, potato peel and all the general dross that gets thrown away in the kitchen. Once a week I take it out to the end of the garden and tip it out into a green bin. Every few weeks I give the mix a stir. This only disturbs the worms but if there is a child watching they enjoy the squirming mass of of pink white worms being turned over.

All the worms produce something. A dense heavy pungent soil that lies at the bottom of the green bin. We dug it out this afternoon and spread it over the veg patch. The worms seemed to be shocked at being out in the cold air and turned down back into the soil dragging their goodness with them. There were odd bits that had not been digested, avocado stones, mango pips and small blue elastic bands. We picked the bits out and threw them back into the bin for next year.

After that hard work out in the cold we came in to make a ginger cake from the same recipe used a few weeks ago and hit exactly the same mistakes as last time – why only 25gr of flour did it really need to be in the oven for an hour and half. This time we negotiated by memory and instinct and it came out fine.

Having made it we put it to one side whilst we ate the fish pie.

Birds in the garden and potato croquettes

Yesterday afternoon I spent half an hour outside sawing logs for the fire. After cutting my way through a particularly thick log I paused for breathe and looked back at the garden. As I did so a goldcrest flew across the pond into the branches of the yew tree that overlooks it. The goldcrest paused there for a second then flew into the buddleia. As it did so it seemed to tumble in the air, halting then flying on again. I think it had been intending to fly down to the pond for a drink before being spooked on seeing me standing there.

The birds in the garden are waking up to the imminent spring. I saw two blue tits inspecting a hole in the wall as a spot for a nest. They nested there a few years ago although they were spotted by a cat before who would then sit on the top of the wall waiting to swing a paw in the split second they flew out of the hole.

In the garden this morning the birds singing was almost overwhelming. There seemed to be noise coming from each corner as if the change in the light was recharging them.

Last night I had only the two girls to feed so I made them potato croquettes. Five large potatoes cooked in their skins and allowed to cool. They were then peeled and mashed and mixed with a good few handfuls of grated cheese and an egg with a seasoning of salt and pepper. I rolled them into a short squat sausage shape and these were then covered with flour, dipped into a beaten egg and then breadcrumbs before being deep fried.

I allowed the oil to get too hot so they started to burn on the outside before being cooked to a volcanic heat inside but the girls still ate them up with a tin of Heinz Baked Beans.

There were a few left for a snack later this afternoon.

Pollock from Wards

It has been a raw morning. It snowed for about ten minutes at 9.30. It was beautiful snow. Great big flakes half an inch across. They drifted down slowly. There were only a few of them and they stood out in the hard clear light of the garden. It didn’t stick and after a few minutes it had turned into a thin fine sleet.

I went into  Birkenhead on a shopping trip to buy for new shoes for younger daughter. Before heading into the centre we stopped at the butchers in Oxton for a pound and a half of stewing steak and then at the grocers for onions, celery and potatoes.  All good for a warm stew for Monday night’s supper.

The shoe shopping took an hour and took me into corners of Birkenhead centre I hardly knew were there including a quick five minutes in a deserted House of Fraser. The HMV is in the process of closing down and I found myself wandering through trying to find a bargain with everything 30%. But anything worthwhile had been taken already and the shelves were down to the dregs. It was all a bit depressing.

In all I think we looked at shoes of one sort or other in about 12 shops and of course ended up buying a pair we had seen in the second shop. It was proably better than being at home and supervising revision.

The wandering around shoe shops was broken up by a brief visit to Wards. I am planning on a sustaining fish pie tomorrow and was intending to make it only with haddock – an even mixture smoked and fresh. But next to the fresh haddock they had some great fillets of pollock so I bought that instead. The pollock we catch in Ireland tend to be small and their flesh can be watery. These fillets looked good and firm.


A quick trip to Wikipedia tells me that a few years ago Sainsbury’s took to renaming pollock colin so that customers would not be embarrassed asking for either because it might be thought they were asking for bollocks or because of its reputation as a cheap fish.

I also learn that year-old fish are traditionally split, salted and dried over a peat hearth in Orkney, where their texture becomes wooden and somewhat phosphorescent.

In Ahakista there are big ones to be had amongst the rocks beyond Carberry Island and part of the fishing competition is measuring up to see who has caught the biggest.


Musical thoughts for the kitchen

It is a while since I have spent a Saturday afternoon in the kitchen cooking and listening to loud music. These days are usually done best with a bit of planning. The morning spent on a trawl to Wards for fish, Edges for meat the grocers and The International Store for the rest of the food. There will be a plan in mind and having got my ingredients I will more or less know what I am doing. There might even be lists involved.

Having got lunch out of the way it will be time to start. Hopefully at this point the rest of the family will have dispersed and I will be alone for an hour or two. Time to indulge in one of the few decisions I made all by myself when we built our new kitchen – speakers in the ceiling. There are two of them positioned over that small zone between the oven and the chopping board. Perfectly positioned to deliver total volume as I am cooking.

Somewhere I have lined up a long piece on the music we should listen to as we are cooking and the risks involved. Playing air guitar with a sharp knife can give a whole new meaning to sticky fingers and getting carried away playing air drums (it can be done) with a pair of wooden spoons just makes you look silly.

Anyway this year I have tried to be more parsimonious with the buying of new music but there are already a few good candidates that should speed along the cooking. Top of the list so far will probably be the new Nick Cave album and in particular Higgs Boson Blues which this afternoon had me adopting guitar hero moves at loud volume in the front room to be caught by the eye of a member of the Merseyside Police delivering home safety leaflets through the front door. Nick Cave would then be followed by Matthew E White and his take on blue eyed blissed out soul – sounding like a bastard child of Plush and Spiritulised. The next two on the list are also on Jagjaguwar and are Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra – all weird skewed guitar ridden pop – the world needs more of this sort of thing.

I am looking forward to that Saturday afternoon.


A brief aside – as I write this the rest of the family are sat elsewhere watching old episodes of Sex & the City, younger daughter closing her eyes and blocking her ears at the nasty bits.