Wednesday 25 September 2013

Excellent Nosh!

I love food (who doesn't?), and I am regularly treated to my Mum's wonderful home cooking. On the weekends when RJ is with me, we always have some nice dinners, such as the quiche I made the other day, and we often go to one of our favourite restaurants to treat ourselves to something delicious after work.
Even with all that going on regularly, there are still some outstandingly great meals, marking special and memorable occasions. One such meal I was invited to last Saturday.

It had been the birthday of one of my friends. Her sister's boyfriend is a passionate cook in his spare time, and an engineer when he is at work. He has turned his hobby into something more than that; people can rent his cooking skill for their own dinner parties, and he has a properly equipped kitchen at his home, complete with a professional-type stove and oven. The birthday gift my friend received from her sister and said boyfriend was that they were going to host a dinner party for her and those friends she chose to invite. I was one of the lucky ones!

Here is our menue:
Appetizers. In German, this is called "Gruß aus der Küche", literally "greetings from the kitchen".

Butternut squash soup. The two bits in the middle are chestnut mousse and apple mousse. I particularly loved the chestnut mousse.

Prime boiled beef with beetroot, potatoes and horseradish. The beef was so tender, it nearly melted in your mouth!

Steamed pear and radicchio with honey dressing, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and Blackforest ham. A combination I would have never thought of, but it worked very well.

Guinea fowl with shallots, parsley dumplings and forest mushrooms. First time in my life I've eaten guinea fowl. The parsley dumplings alone were worth being invited to this dinner!

Stupidly, I forgot to take a picture of our dessert. It was plum dumplings with chocolate icecream and whipped vanilla cream.

There was sparkling wine before the meal and wine to accompany it, but of course there were also non-alcoholic drinks. Everything was home-made from scratch, including the chocolate icecream. We felt like princesses, being served everything without having to do a thing - our job was to enjoy, and enjoy we did!

Afterwards, I was sure I would not need to eat for a whole week, but of course, on Sunday, I had my regular meals again.

Monday 23 September 2013

What We Did Saturday

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while already know that my Mum is a sock-knitting maniac, and maybe you also know that we just love to have a stall at a book sale or similar.
Therefore, I did not have to think twice when my Mum asked whether I wanted to join her for an afternoon of selling her hand-knitted socks.

The jumble sale was held in the courtyard of this impressive building:

It used to be a mill, one of the biggest ones in my part of Germany; wheat was ground to flour at the same spot from the year 1471 until 1996. Of course, it was a very different building back then; this one dates from 1903 with extensive renovations after a fire in 1930, and then once again when in 1996, the vast complex of buildings was turned into spaces for culture, living and several "green" enterprises such as a supermarket for environmentally friendly produce.

Last Saturday, many stalls were set up, most of them selling used toys, children's clothes, old crockery, and other bits and bobs they wanted to get rid of. Ours was the only socks stall, and the only one selling unused stuff - everything else was (at least!) second-hand.

For two hours, nothing happened. We did not sell one single sock. Several people stopped at our stall for a little chat, admiring the beautiful socks; some even said we were offering them too cheap for all the work that had been put into them (not to mention the high quality wool my Mum always uses). Well, their kind comments were nice, but did not empty our table or fill our little money box.
I went and bought myself a cheese sandwich.
I drank water.
I went and bought myself a mug of coffee.
I drank more water.
I went and bought myself a piece of home-made cake (chocolate and cherry... yummm!).
I drank (you guessed it) even more water.
I went and bought myself another coffee.

Finally, someone bought a pair of socks!
We ended up selling several pairs, plus one of the baby hats, getting at least the fee for the stall covered. We were not entirely sure what the problem was, but we think that most visitors went there looking for cheap, second-hand stuff for their kids, and not brand-new, hand-knitted socks that you could almost call artisan work.
Also, it was a lovely, sunny afternoon, not cold enough to induce people to buy woolly things.

Anyway, we had fun, were outdoors in the sun and fresh air, had plenty of time to talk to each other and the other stall owners and visitors, and do not consider it a total waste of time.

Soon, my Mum will re-open her Etsy shop for those socks; I am going to reactivate the link to her shop here on my blog then. And maybe we'll try again at a sale nearer Christmas time.

Sunday 22 September 2013

A New Dress

Of course, I did not really need a new dress for work, but when I saw this one on ebay, put there on auction by a lady whom I have gotten a dress and a pair of shoes from before, I decided to bid on it, and ended up highest bidder (which wasn't very high at all).

The lady who sold it lives only a ten-minute walk from me, so I went to pick up the dress after work. I have seen enough of her household to trust everything from there being spotlessly clean; nobody in that household smokes, and there are no pets.

Last year in June, I showed you this dress on my "Fashion Calendar"; it is the above-mentioned one from the same seller.

The dress was brand new, never worn before, with the original shop label still attached. I like the colour and the cut (the belt was my own addition, since it was a little too lose-fitting without it). The colours are, I think, very well suited for this time of the year. And it is cut generously enough to allow for a long-sleeved top to fit underneath, so that I can still wear it when the days get colder.

Saturday 21 September 2013

Read in 2013 - 36: A Double-Barrelled Detective Story

"A Double-Barrelled Detective Story" was - of course! - yet another ebook I found for free on Amazon's kindle shop. Mark Twain wrote it in 1902 (at least that's the publishing date; he may have written it earlier than that), and it even has its own wikipedia entry.

Until I looked it up on my blog, I didn't realize that it's been almost a year since I read anything by this author; you can find my review of "The American Claimant" here, if you are interested.

The picture shows the book cover published on the Project Gutenberg page and not the one I saw when I downloaded my copy from Amazon.

At the start of the book, the reader meets a young couple very much in love in the year 1880. Things take a very bad turn, though, when not long after their wedding, the husband commits a terrible crime against his young wife. He flees the scene, and she is left to bring up their son on her own.

As the son grows up, he is trained by his mother for a special purpose: revenge.
Most of the story deals with how he goes about this task, and several chapters come in the shape of letters he writes to his mother while hot on the heels of his father.

The appearing of Sherlock Holmes on the scene marks the story's pinnacle; after that, it does not take long for everything to end in a rather satisfactory manner.

If you are looking for Mark Twain's usual humour in this short novel (approx. 180 pages in print), you could be disappointed; yes, the whole thing is a satire on the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and there are some quite funny bits in it, but it is not quite what I expected.
That does not take away from it being an entertaining read, and I guess that is one of the few ebooks I keep on my kindle and do not delete after reading.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Tocco Rosso

If Hugo was 2011's Summer Drink (I wrote about it here), then Tocco Rosso has the potential for being named that for 2013. I only tried it once, so far, and that was two weeks ago, when summer was already showing signs of ending. By now, it has well and truly ended; for several mornings this and the past week, I have had to wear a coat for my way to work, and am even thinking about gloves, what with my hands always being so cold.

Back to Tocco Rosso now! It is a combination of Campari, elderflower syrup, prosecco and soda water and comes garnished (like Hugo) with a twig of peppermint. Less sweet than Hugo, but still sweet enough for me to like it, it is very refreshing, and I am sure I'll have it more often next year, now that I know of it.

Our favourite ice cream parlour serves it, and this is where my Mum, my sister and I enjoyed this drink two weeks ago.

Tocco Rosso is, as you guessed, Italian and means "red touch" or "a touch of red". I may put it on the menu for my next cocktail party :-)

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Read in 2013 - 35: What's Tha Up To Nah?

For the sequel to "What's Tha Up To", once again Martyn Johnson has put together many snippets from his life on the beat in the 1960s in Sheffield, interspersed with his thoughts about how things have changed since then for the police and the people they are supposed to be looking out for (and not always for the better).

For some reason I can not quite put my finger on, I enjoyed the second book a bit less than the first one. Maybe I should have left more time between them, or maybe I simply wasn't in the right mood. Still, if the author decides to have a third book published, I am quite sure I will buy and read it as well.

In the previous book, we accompany Martyn Johsnon on his first day as a 19-year-old bobby on the beat, and from then on, the reader is lead through many events that have taken place over the years, not always in chronological order. Some of the characters we were introduced to in the first book make an appearance in the second one, and more than once, the author refers to something that he wrote about in the first book, but you can still read them independently from each other without getting confused.
Not really confusing, either, but maybe slightly annoying to an impatient reader is how Mr. Johnson often digresses. He starts a chapter saying that this and that reminded him of some event or other, but it takes him several pages to get to the point of what he was reminded of.
His writing is as if you were listening to an elderly friend or relative, whose narration is not meant as much to impart facts, but more about reminiscing and then adding their comment about how different things are today. This is charming, but can be slightly overdone.

The author never pretends to be a "proper writer", he does not have much in terms of formal education (left school at the age of 15), and you won't find elegant descriptions and fancy words in his books. Instead, you will find sentences like this one:
I love history, although I hated it at school and as a metal detectorist of many years I would love to find the battle site.
Everything in this book has really happened; some of the stories told are funny, others tragic and very sad, but even with the most gruesome things happening on his beat, this bobby tries to bring forth the good in people, and rules are never there for their own sake, but can be adapted to make life a tiny bit better for the less fortunate.

As I said, I did enjoy this book, just not as much as the first one. But that is not necessarily Martyn Johnson's fault.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Read in 2013 - 34: Life in the Backwoods

This account of her life in the Canadian backwoods in the 1830s by Susanna Moodie left me exceptionally grateful for being able to live the life I have, in the place where I am and at these times (which are always "bad", depending on who is talking, and were always "way better back then").

Imagine yourself giving up, for the second time in your life, almost everything you have built up for yourself and your family; the first time, you left your homeland (England) to emigrate to Canada, and the second time, you leave behind a well-established farm in order to settle in the Canadian backwoods.
There, you have to build your dwelling (I hesitate to call it "house") with your own hands from scratch; you need to fell trees to make a clearing big enough to allow for a few meagre acres of soil where you then sow wheat and potatoes, hoping and praying they will grow well and you'll be able to eat from your own produce the next winter.
In the meantime, you have to pay almost all your money for the wages of those helping you with your tasks, and what does not go into wages is needed for food and goods you can not produce yourself.

Your nearest neighbours are at least a mile away through the dense forest, where bears and wolves roam, and you are just glad that the Indians who live in that part of the forest are friendly and helpful. 

Severe weather conditions and some very unlucky accidents make sure you only get a very meagre first harvest, and more than once, your family barely manages to survive when hit by disease and averse circumstances.

The political situation means your husband leaves you for many months in order to join the military, and with all this, you give birth to and raise five children.

Who would want this kind of life? Not me, that's for sure!

And yet, Susanna Moodie (whose wikipedia entry can be found here) still finds pleasure and joy in this hard life and considers herself better off than some poor people she learns about. She does her best to maintain a healthy family spirit within her world, and when, some years later, her husband is offered the position of sherriff and the family relocate to a town, she shows to feel very attached to her humble home in the woods and not ready to face "the world" and its shallow pursuits.

Susanna Moodie has a knack for describing people and places in much detail, and rather poetically at times. According to her own words, she wrote about her life in the backwoods in the hope of having others who intended to start afresh in Canada better prepared for what was ahead. She describes
[...] Canada [as] the best country in the world for the industrious and well-principled man, who really comes out to work, and to better his condition by the labour of his hands; but a gulf of ruin to the vain and idle, who only set foot upon these shores to accelerate their ruin.

Monday 9 September 2013

Read in 2013 - 33: What's Tha Up To?

Since I so enjoyed the first six books of the "Teacher"-series by Jack Sheffield (click here for the review of the first book), when I saw "What's Tha Up To?" in a bookshop in Ripon in July, I simply could not resist - especially since it was part of a "3 for 5 Pounds" offer.

Subtitled "Memories of a Yorkshire Bobby", this book by Martyn Johnson is exactly what it says: memories of a policeman in Yorkshire. The author worked as a policeman in Sheffield in the 1960s; he started in 1962, when he was 19 years old, and those were indeed different times!
The police had very few cars in use back then, some motorbikes, quite a few push bikes, but most of the work was done on foot. Mobile phones did not exist, but each bobby was required to ring in at the police station from police boxes placed all over town every 20 to 30 minutes during their shifts so that they were always being accounted for, and if they would not meet their scheduled calls, their colleagues knew they were in trouble and sent reinforcements.

A lot of what Martyn Johnson and his colleagues experienced was only possible because they walked every inch of every road on "their" beat every day and every night. That way, they got to know all the people living in the area and befriended many of them. They saw the kids grow up, they helped them to safely cross the road to school, and years later met them again when they went to or came from the then thriving steel works, something Sheffield was famous for.
Sometimes, they would meet them in less favourable circumstances when they were called in to restore order at a brawl in a pub, or to a "domestic". They knew who was likely to be behind petty theft and burglary, or who was driving without a license; they knew who nicked coal out of sheer necessity, and who stole out of greed.
His view of walking as opposed to driving reflects my own; I once wrote about why I do not drive on this blog.

The author describes funny incidents as well as serious, tragic, dangerous and very sad ones. We are with him when he has to deal with his first body and when he struggles to come to terms with a particularly tragic accident. But he also invites us along when he sets eyes on his future wife for the first time, when he befriends two lads who were stupid enough to verbally abuse him on one of his first days on the beat, and when he shows the ropes to a new colleague who is fresh from police school and very full of himself.

Sheffield is portrayed in much detail the way it used to be in the 1960s, with every street name, pub, shop, and even the full names of many people given. Everything in this book really happened, and while Martyn Johnson is a lot less poetic than Jack Sheffield, while at the same time he digresses more often (but always comes back to his original track), I really enjoyed reading this, and am looking forward to the second book. Another good thing for many readers will be that he does not overdo it with the local dialect. In written form, it just never comes across as good as the author intended it to be, I think.

You can find out more about the author on his website. Let me finish this review with a quote from the book:
I can honestly say that I've never been bored in my life. If you've ears to listen with, eyes to see with and a brain to think with [...], you should never be bored.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Late Summer / Early Autumn

Let me once again link back to the same post I mentioned in my previous post: this one, which has several pictures rather similar to the ones I am going to show you now.

Similar, yes, but not identical, as even the same place never looks exactly the same twice, with subtle changes happening with the time of day and year. 

As usual when we go on that walk, my Mum and I took the train to the nearest small town with a train station and walked the rest of the way, which takes us about an hour. This time, it took us a bit longer, since the day turned out to be really warm - hot, even - and we were not prepared for that. In the morning, it had been raining and it was chilly and overcast, so we were both carrying cardigans and wearing shoes (not sandals) and did not have any water with us.
Tackling the hilly bits of our walk (and some of them are rather steep), my poor Mum was panting behind me, causing me to want to ring my Dad so that he would come and pick us up with the car (he did not have his mobile switched on anyway, I later learned), but Mum said it wasn't that bad. Instead, we rested on several benches along the way, and once we arrived at the allotment, both drank a LOT of water before we were ready to do anything else.

We had been invited to join one of the allotment neighbours for coffee and cake (it was his birthday), and after enjoying their hospitality for a couple of hours, I went off on my own again for another hour of walking.

 This one is for my sister, who I know likes this house very much:

The pictures I took then are, I guess, really quite similar to the ones I took last year, but not exactly the same. I would have liked to walk further, but I was expected back at the allotment at a certain time so that we could go home - my Dad had been on the allotment since the morning, and certainly was ready for a shower and a meal.

The tomatoes are, of course, from my Dad's greenhouse, while for a change I did something besides walking and picked the blackberries myself. Some of the tomatoes I have already had last night, with fresh basil leaves from the potted basil on my windowsill, and balsamico cream; of the blackberries, I have just enjoyed a handful for breakfast on my muesli.

It was possibly the last time this year that we went on this particular walk, which is one more reason for me to hang on to the memory by writing about it and looking at the pictures.

Monday 2 September 2013

Bits of Home Life

Last year, my first post in September was this one, showing a walk I very much hope to repeat soon (maybe this Saturday).

Every year, this time of the year when summer more or less quietly slips into autumn fills me with a mix of melancholy at having to say good-bye to summer for another year and looking forward to the wonderful colours and beautiful light only autumn can bring.

September started well for me.
My orchid shows five beautiful blossoms:

I made a delicious quiche for RJ and my dinner:
(Sorry about the fuzzy close-up - I was in a hurry to sit down and eat...
I posted the recipe here.)

And I met this little fellow on the window sill (yes, I know, it needs repainting) and have no idea about his name:

Probably one of you can enlighten me here; he was maybe 3 cm long, brown with orange-golden speckles. After watching him for a while and seeing that he showed no intention of getting out into the sunshine again, I very carefully placed my fly swat next to him, so that he could crawl on it, and gently shook it outside, so that he had an incentive to get off, which he very politely did.

September is going to be filled with interesting and good things to do: I shall be working a small local trade show which is held for the first time (one day only), RJ and I are going to meet friends for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, and there is a long weekend in Dresden going to be booked towards the end of this month, the occasion being a birthday party invitiation from another of RJ's friends.
Plus I plan, of course, on going for runs and walks whenever weather and time permit.

What are your plans for this month?