Monday, 28 March 2011

Will I ever be trusted with diamond earrings?

Clocks have sprung forward, well some have them have! I have only briefly owned a watch which I used as a stopwatch for timing paid parking but after a couple of years it vanished towards the end of the last century. Clocks now seem to be everywhere and there are some unchanged since the last change and one in the phone is still on European summertime! You can see I hardly ever use my mobile except for emergencies or to get my friends mother to open the door if I visit and she does not hear the door bell. For someone like me who is not a natural morning person, extra light in the evenings is a real bonus.
At last a little warmth in the air and a chance to get some gardening done. The weedy strength weed killer could be sold as plant food! Nobody would notice the difference! About ⅔ of the early vegetable seeds and potatoes are in and my garden helper is going to get some later things going in pots while we are away. Julie prefers to travel in the cooler months so missing the spring display is the price we are paying. It has been warm enough to sit out for our coffee, once even too hot after ten minutes since we are not yet used to it. I tried the same when visiting friends only to end up sitting on the ground as the over wintered chair gave way shredding my gardening pants exposing milky white thighs and black knickers! Got a good laugh out of it which my old self might not have done. They were my favourite hand me downs from Julie and had forgiving waist band, rags now.

I used to photograph artworks but nearly everyone now has a go at it themselves. It is my own fault, I used to explain how to go about it while I was working since all my clients were friends, soon became friends if we had not been before. A rare call to spend a day in a painters studio, 12 hour day leaving us both exhausted, clearly not as young as we used to be. The hundred mile round trip through the spring countryside was a bonus as was her eclectic musical tastes which parallel my own so we covered Santana to Simone and Gregorian to Glass, a few tracks seem to have got stuck in my laptop!

The ten year census forms arrived and had to be filled in today. I have always felt bad about these since I felt like a non person. The questions have been set by idiots many completely useless like the number of rooms without any idea of the size! Open plan living has become more popular reducing the numbers! We filled it in as best we could being a same sex marriage due to political stupidity in legislation and I claimed 2 hours per week work which is about right for the last two years! Nearly every question had an answer somewhere between the available boxes. Interestingly they say nobody reads individual forms yet the prosecute those who don’t fill them in properly, that does not compute!
Look forward to see if there has been an increase in the Jedi Knight following this time, it was a very popular religion choice last time.
Lunch was spent comparing losses of friends and listing those now on the way out! Friday we said goodbye to our most colourful friend and Julie gave one of the addresses at the memorial service. 

I got her to rewrite it after the first read through, very dry and solemn compared to her usual style. Jokes were inserted at my request and we had the place laughing out loud. If Henny had been organising it herself she would have had a gospel choir singing for us and no doubt got them to do it for free! I gave my ticket to the civic reception to a friend then picked them up later to go to the house to drop her ashes under a tree in the garden decorated by a small proportion of her hat collection, I am sure she would have approved of the belly dancing at the party afterwards by another of her close friends.

To mark the event I wore my favourite dangly earrings with gardening implement charms. One of the could even be down that hole with her right now. Clearly it is going to be a long time before I am trusted with diamond earrings.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Ladies who lunch...

Humans are strange creatures, our lives can turn just on the meeting by one special person at the right time, or not! For no logical reason we can deny ourselves is simply attainable pleasure which others would take for granted daily that which we could deny ourselves stubbornly for our whole lives. Today I finally attained something only briefly tasted many decades ago, only humans could be this stupid!
I was in my early teens and new that a local girl could easily give me the pleasure which I so longed for, I knew she had granted several others already. We didn’t know each other too well and she will slightly haughty so it took some courage and a little time before I found the way to ask her and was more than a little surprised when she said yes. To say that I was more than a little disappointed when she called a halt after only a minute or so is an understatement, perhaps she saw the pleasure I was having. I knew it was going to be good but had no idea it would be that good! We parted and I don’t think we ever spoke again. For some reason I never met anybody who could quite facilitate the same experience and though I briefly tried to go out of my way to seek it I soon gave up and assumed I would never have a chance to prove that those initial feelings were as good as I remember. That is until today.
In this modern world you can meet people online and chat away and get to know each other more easily than a random face-to-face encounter in real life. Sometimes this virtual foreplay can lead to actual 4D encounters in real life and today I had one. Being older and more sophisticated we set up a date and met up and had a marvelous lunch in a highly recommended Thai restaurant. Being perverse we both chose something Japanese! Exquisite Bento boxes pleasing both the eye and the taste buds then the indulgence of a little desert. At this point we left to head to my place for coffee after a quick walk through the old town town.
This is all dull everyday stuff, people do it all day everyday but to us it was special.

Muscles and coordination are not quite the same as they were in my youth that the physical joy when it came I don’t have words to describe. How could I have denied myself this pleasure for my whole life? Thank you Louise.

It may be an antique of a bike and like me, past it’s prime, but it rides like that short ride I remembered from all those years ago, what joy and joy to come with my wonderful present. Once again thanks Louise.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Pancakes are not just for Tuesdays!

Pancakes should not just be a once a year treat for Shrove Tuesday.
When I first came to Scotland I was disappointed to discover that they thought the pancake was about 2 ½ inches diameter and rose to about a quarter of an inch in thickness during cooking. Quite acceptable, but to me not as much of a treat as the thin pan sized pancakes which I used to make with my mother when I was a child.
Basic proportions, makes enough for about three people as desert, pictures are double quantities and we started with savoury fillings then sweet.

Four ounces plain flour sifted
Two eggs
One fluid ounce of light cooking oil plus milk to make Half a pint
Pinch of salt if you want
Originally the recipe was half a pint of full fat milk but over the years I have come to prefer the cooking oil and skimmed milk mix.

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the two eggs and a very small splash of liquid mix then whisk until smooth.
Continue adding liquid whilst whisking until you have a creamy even liquid batter mix.
Some people say to let it stand  for a while before using, it will slowly become slightly more elastic in the finished pancake especially if you have saved some of the mix in the fridge overnight. If you’re in a hurry don’t worry you can use this mix straightaway.
Do you really need a well seasoned frying pan to make consistent pancakes. If you’re really keen you will keep one especially for this job, if you’re a little bit crazy like me you will keep two high up out of anybody else’s reach!
 Heat the pan, the  trick is to find the correct heat for your pan, it is something of a medium heat and once you have it set and remembered for the next time you will be able to make pancakes all night without ever touching the control again.
Some people use butter in a pan, I prefer a light cooking oil. Add a few drops to the pan and once heated wipe around with a small wad of kitchen paper, I’d wipe around the pan with this before each pancake.

Finding just the right amount of batter for each pancake takes a little trial and error, if you can find a small ladle which is just the right size you will never have to think again. You want just enough batter in pan to be able to cover the bottom with a rotary tilting action. Slightly loosen the edges of the pancake with a spatula or  blunt rounded kitchen knife, let it cook until it stops steaming then if necessary fully loosen and turn it over. 
Now you have encountered your first major decision, are you going to be a pancake tosser or flipper, the more flamboyant will probably choose tossing whilst the more demure like myself will be happy to flip it with a spatula. Even if I wished to toss my pancakes my pans are cast-iron and my muscles have wasted away!

You can do serve them straight to the table, I find I can cook them about as fast as a table full of dinner guests can consume them, alternatively you can pile them up in a warm oven with sheets of waxed or silicon paper between.
Now all you have to do is decide what to top them with.
The classic Lemon juice with a sprinkle of sugar or maple syrup is always popular. One of our favourites is thick Greek yoghurt with fish eggs though we have been unable to find them in the shops this year. This week we had them with a prawn cocktail mix and another batch with mushrooms in a white sauce with a dash of the soy. Only your imagination will limit the possibilities.
 If a small kid could make these, anybody can. Enjoy.


Spring and winter at the same time

This is usually out in December

In the end we only ran a hotel service for five days before our absent-minded professor got himself organised with accommodation closer to the University where he will be working for the next two months. They say fish and guests go off after three days with Richard this is not quite true, He is a font of interesting information and once he had overcome the jetlag and was excellent at washing dishes. It gave us an excuse to invite people around to eat and my readers know how infrequently we do that! If only he would learn to put down the toilet seat and lid!
Just tidying up the garden to get it into the state where it is safe to leave when we go away for Easter has been exhausting. If ever there was anything called male privilege it has to be strength and muscle tone! I love the slimmed down arms and hands but the strength is just not there for cutting through branches and raking and digging. All my carefully nurtured nails have snapped off one by one and a soft skin scratched and full of splinters from the blackberry vines. We have been lucky with a mild dry spell of weather and feel that I am on track to get some things sown and planted in the next few weeks, choosing what to grow that can be ignored while we are away is a bit of a challenge so we may end up with a lot of beans and potatoes this year. Tomorrow the weather forecast is suggested we may get another fall of snow, not at all surprised since they have been snow and hail showers on and off all this week. My chainsaw friend has been away in London all week to oversee an exhibition of his work from the last 40 years so I have been unable to get rid of all the accumulated wood and clearly now it would be best to take out a few more trees before too much more growth starts up.
Several people have referred to annual fat day instead of pancake Tuesday though who needs to wait for this annual event to make a few pancakes? At first I thought Richard was going to leave on Tuesday morning and I made pancakes on the Monday but that didn't stop me making an even bigger batch when he was still here on the Tuesday! Guests are often surprised at how quickly they arrive at the table once I start cooking but I do keep two cast iron pans just for making pancakes. I think I'll do a separate post on how to make a pancake, I might even put some tags on the post to see if I can draw in some extra readers just for the hell of it.
We were in a hurry to get out the other day and at the last moment I realised I had forgotten to put in some earrings and without thinking picked them up and slipped them on the holes, it is not long ago that I swore it was an impossible job without the aid of a magnifying mirror and a good light. All these little things add together to complete the picture of my new life. Nobody can say that it's perfect and for many of you saw it would-be surprised by how dull it appears but for me it is beyond anything I could have imagined just a couple of years ago.
Those few years ago there were times when I wondered how sensible it was to go through all this turmoil for the few years which I have left. There were days great sadness this week when I heard that Gracie Hunter had suddenly died. She was a little bit older than me and enjoying every moment of her new life and had just moved into her new seaside apartment on the south coast. Keep up much of their energy into helping and supporting others and I like many had an open standing invitation should I be passing away and had expected to sometime this year. She will be greatly missed by many. She was lucky to be staying and having fun with her friend Taz  when her quick end came all of which I am sure sure would be most grateful. Sympathy for poor Taz.

Roadside crocus Edinburgh


Sunday, 6 March 2011

Busy, busy, busy.

 Gallery Glasgow

It is some time since my last post and the world seems to be intent on falling into chaos. Our quiet life plods on.
The season is turning towards spring again with longer light and green shoots appearing causing the annual panic to tidy up last year's growth before all becomes chaos. Time to do some serious weeding, so serious I had to borrow a chainsaw! This speeds up gardening more than tenfold and if I hadn't completely blunted the chain I'm sure little of the garden would survive. Last year I noted the start to rot in the base of a large tree but could not bear to cut it down until the birds had the chance to eat all the berries then we had a period of such intense rain I could not get cut it down and had to hand back the chainsaw which had a brand-new chain, I was out of luck this time since my friend has just spent two weeks devastating his own garden? Luckily I have been forgiven for wearing out the machine since I used the wheelbarrow to transport a huge pile of wood to his store. The days of being able to wield such a machine about effortlessly are long gone and I have slept well for two nights now from sheer exhaustion. People often talk of male privilege and I have always denied having any since I never lived any kind of male life but perhaps I should count the musculature created by testosterone as the one male privilege I did enjoy without realising it.
After numerous cancellations because of winter snow and unavailability of the doctors at the gender clinic we finally made the trip west. Better organised this time we stayed over for the night with family taking our very last decent bottle of wine as a token offering, 1928 bottle of Maury, it is supermarket wine for us from now on sadly.
The clinic just seems to want to keep an eye on you once you're on their books. At this stage there is little they can do but check your blood to see that there are no adverse reactions to the HRT and in that respect all is fine. As for any timetable towards GRS they are completely hopeless and as in the dark as we are! Strange games are being played between the funding bodies and the three surgeons who do this work. Perhaps I should repeat that to show that I haven't made a mistake, three surgeons for a population of 60 million! They call it the "national" health service but there is no national about it, countless regions have been created and each one makes up its own rules at random about what it will and will not do. They make it sound like a game and call it "the postcode lottery"and few win.
I listened intently to be exasperated story given to me by the doctor. The closest surgeon is 350 miles south and they have never used him but tend to use somebody 500 miles south who has quite a lot of surgical slots available. Our health service buys up some of the slots at a high price and the remainder are available for private patients at a lower price. The number of available slots for Scotland has been reduced and the health service refuses to buy any more of the available places. Last year very few were able to go from Scotland and four patients had to be held back to be added to this year's quota. You don't have to be a genius to see that this is all getting out of control…

Well that was over a week ago and life has been busy and those frustrations have melted into the past, what will be will be. Gardening is taking up a lot of my time and my new  delicate skin and nails are taking a toll. They have taken a little time off to visit the noise of the city and packed in a little culture and  smart cafe life followed by a meal in an Italian restaurant with a glamorous friend. In the galleries and kept meeting  people we knew who had never heard the news, as ever nobody even blinked!

 National Galleries Edinburgh

 Edinburgh Castle

We stayed overnight in somebody’s flat, even remembered to bring the keys this time! Before collecting a friend from the airport we were able to visit an exhibition of the work of August Sander and his portrait of the German people mainly before the Second World War, it was far too honest to be popular with Hitler and his books were destroyed.
What started as collecting a friend from the airport has once again turned into a hotel situation! Having a house guest is fun for a while especially if it is an absent-minded professor who keeps us entertained but we are hoping he is able to find a replacement for his failed accommodation arrangements.

One a.m. Early to bed for me, Sunday lunch party to organise when I get up…