Sunday 27 July 2008

One Local Summer week 8

No picture this week. I went to Turner's Farm Shop today, which is about a mile away from my house, and when I came home I had a great lunch of a cheese sandwich with onion marmalade and seedy bread. The bread was from a baker in Chipping Sodbury, the cheese from Shepton Mallet and the marmalade from Wincanton.

I am making it my mission to shop at Turner's as much as possible in the future. It seems that, 20 years ago when the ringroad arrived, the farm was set to become several lanes of it. They duly rehomed all their animals and closed production, only for the route to be changed ever so slightly. So the farm was spared (you can see the farmhouse from the ringroad, though) but they had to start from scratch.

The little shop is absolutely crammed with fresh fruit and vegetables, and a large amount of booze, including Black Rat, which was my downfall cider the first weekend I ever spent in Bristol. They stock quite a lot from Jon Thorner's, which I mentioned in a previous entry. I am at odds here - I want to support them, but there's not a lot of local food. Some of their eggs come from Birmingham, for example. But, there's probably enough local produce to provide one meal a week, at least, and everything looked really fresh and tempting.

My two favourite things about the shop were the large quantity of tasting plates dotted around (it was on the strength of one of these that I bought the onion marmalade) and Jess's Ladies Milk. I love the idea of a dairy farm that knows each cow by a name and can trace much of the herd back to the original three founding cows. Very cool!

I tied the tomato plants to canes today. They have really gone from strength to strength since we finally got around to planting them out, and there are a LOT of tomatoes on the Italian baby plums. I'm sorry I only bought two of them, now. The third plant I bought was a micro tomato. We put that in a hanging basket (but didn't hang it, because we're contrary like that) and it didn't grow at all. I'd given it up for a bad job, but it has about a dozen tomatoes on it and they're already ripening. I am amazed! I'll take some pictures tomorrow. Next year I'll buy four, I reckon they could all go into one basket and still produce plenty of fruit.

Of course, next year I'll have that whole kitchen garden in front of the house :p

Thursday 24 July 2008

Just one more

I have mad baking skills now, too.

Lamenting the demise of the Cupcake Bakeshop, I attempted my own cupcakes, cobbled together from bits of recipes on that blog. Hence - strawberry-filled cupcakes with white chocolate frosting.

I garnished with half-strawberries, but sadly they did not last long enough to be photographed in their completed state.

They were very tasty. I sort of don't want to do the Wii Fit body test this weekend now, though.

I <3 Planet Green

Ever since I started using iGoogle and became minorly obsessed with finding cool and interesting RSS feeds to add to it, I have been reading blog posts and articles on New Scientist and Treehugger. These have been quite eye opening, and also quite depressing - today, for example, I read about the tar sands project in Alberta and how the water ends up so polluted they have to use propane cannons to keep the ducks from landing in it; and yesterday I read that almost a fifth of the energy used in the USA goes on growing and transporting the population's food, because the average Yankee eats twice his daily recommended calorie limit.

I know I'm in a glass house on that one.

However, James, my maths-teaching car share buddy, did some quick sums when I told him about the article this morning, and worked out that - since America produces 25% of global emissions and has roughly 7% of the world population - 5% of the total energy of the world is going on feeding 7% of it. Does that sound right? According to those numbers, if everybody ate like an average American, the whole of the world's energy would go on food production and people would still be....well, not dying of starvation, since you don't need 3700 calories a day to survive, but you get the point.

Anyway, it's all very well to be smug and locavory and "Oh those disgusting Americans thank God I'm a Brit" about it but, actually, we still eat a lot of meat and most of our food has done a lot of miles before it reaches our plate and I still throw quite a lot of food out (sorry, Gordon) because I like to buy the nice-looking salad and fruit but I sort of forget to eat it. And let's not forget those 250 miles a week I commute.

Don't worry Mr Z, I'm not going to reduce the amount of meat in our diet (and I hope I'm across the desk from you when you read this, so I can receive the full benefit of your icy cold eyebrow raise and frosty "You couldn't if you tried"-esque comment).

So, I spent some time today browsing around the green guides on Planet Green. I was semi-inspired by a thread on Ravelry about line-drying clothes - Ravelry being at times painfully America-centric, the thread was mostly about whether your neighbours will think you're a hick if you do the completely sensible thing and make the sun work for you a little (to be fair, most contributors were pro-line drying but it really pisses me off when I hear people complaining about stiff clothes, as if the slick, static-filled clothes the dryer spits out are better - and it REALLY pisses me off when people complain that the sun bleaches them, like a dryer doesn't.....)

(This was meant to be a short update but I am evidently rant-filled today).

So, anyway. Greening my laundry. I refuse to own a tumble dryer, so I'm halfway there. I wash everything except bedding and towels at 30 degrees. I don't see the point in fabric softener. I only use half the recommended quantity of detergent - the boyfriend of somebody I trained with, a committed eco-vegan, talked me into this, arguing that detergent companies tell you to use way more than necessary, and that most dirt on clothes is just sweat and therefore no detergent is required if your clothes aren't greasy....I haven't quite taken that leap yet. Half the amount, on a 30 degree wash, removes all stains except the ubiquitous antipasti stain, in the same place on most of Mr Z's t-shirts.

However, it seems I can green it further! I was most excited to come across this recipe for laundry soap, made out of common household items. One of which is soap. Normal soap. Normal the drawerful I have in the bathroom?

I am excited by this prospect. I am not a big lover of bar soap, I find it really drying (I suspect palm oil is the culprit, since Lush's new palm-free formulations don't have the same effect). Yet, I have, in my years as a Lush fan, stockpiled a fairly large quantity. This sounds like a summer science project to me. You can even use the liquid stuff to wash dishes!

Solar panels it ain't, but every little helps.

I am also eyeing the front garden and thinking that half the lawn could be removed and the space used to grow salad vegetables and keep chickens in an Eglu. I think it would look tidier than the current excuse for a lawn, and it gets more sun than the back. Also,
we need to keep the back garden for the hammock and the cat and our poorly-attended barbecues. I think Mr Z is a bit anti, but perhaps I'll just do it one day when he's not looking. It makes good sense.

Revising History

I watched a film at the weekend called Kingdom of Heaven: the Director's Cut. This marathon of a film was so long, it actually contained an interlude - apparently Ridley Scott added 45 minutes into his cut, and the result was three and a half hours long.

Mr Z thinks I should know better than to watch any epic which claims to be historical, as it's a bit like him watching anything computery - it's too easy to find fault with it. Fair point. However, I have a penchant for historical fiction, so surely films can't be that different, right?

I'll gloss over the painful anachronisms and ambiguities and skip straight to the bit which irritates me the most. And I should also add that Kingdom of Heaven is not alone in this fault - Robin Hood, both the Kevin Costner version and the BBC version, is also guilty. It's this idea that crusaders did not agree with the Crusade. It's popping up more and more. They go and fight in the holy land, but they don't believe in it, and they think it's a waste of life, and pointless, and so on and so forth.

I don't think I subscribe to this. For a start, I don't think many people at the time would have suggested that the Pope was encouraging mass suicide for no good reason. For another thing, they had a completely different belief system and the Crusade was the way to heaven (something KoH made a point of repeating, but then seemed to forget) and God was calling people to the holy land. They didn't have an understanding of the Muslims. They didn't think the holy places should be shared for the good of the people. They certainly didn't recognise that the holy places had originally been Jewish and therefore they belonged to neither the Christians or the Muslims based on that logic.

I suppose I am being quite subjective. I can't know that none of the Crusaders felt like this. But I can't believe that the vast majority did - how would they have scraped together enough men for half a dozen different crusades? - and the stories of returning Crusaders that are coming out of Hollywood all reflect this view.

"Yes, I had to go and fight the Muslims. But I didn't want to. It's a vanity thing. I hate killing. We're all the same really, no matter what our religion is. I don't care who's wrong or right, I don't really want to fight, no more."

Hmmm. KoH further pissed me off by having a final say about how the Crusades went on for x number of years, and the conflict in the Middle East continues today, as if the 400 years of relative peace in between never happened, and the current issues all stem from the Holy Roman Empire claiming its holy places.

This, then, appears to go some way to explain where this revision of the history has come from.

"Look! We've been fighting over this land for 1000 years! Can't we all just get along? None of the Crusaders really meant it, you know. They all felt really bad, but it was the Pope's idea, and he was so powerful back then that nobody could say no. We can tell the truth now because he's losing parishioners faster than rats can jump off a sinking ship. Did you see he even had to apologise for kiddy-fiddling clergymen last week? Advocating contraception in the developing world can't be far behind. But anyway, the point is that nobody ever thought the holy land was worth fighting for except some loony in a mitre, so the land is OBVIOUSLY not worth fighting over. So, stop strapping that bomb to your body, get out of that tank, let's melt down those missiles and make them into see saws and put Palestinian children on one end and Israeli children on the other. More importantly, stop bombing us, because we might be giving huge amounts of money to Israel but it's not OUR fault they're using it to buy weapons - as we've already said, we don't agree with fighting over it at all."

This is all just my opinion, you know. And term finishes tomorrow and I might be slightly brain dead. It does get on my tits when people skew history for their own agendas, though. That said, I suppose a crusader coming back covered in the blood of Muslims and screaming about how much he loves killing the infidel and can't wait to get back out there, farm pigs named after the prophet in a Meccan mosque and have a pop at Saladin is not particulaly PC.

More historically correct, perhaps, but more likely to attract a fatwah.

Sunday 20 July 2008

One Local Summer week 7, a couple of whinges and a bandwagon


I haven't had a lazy Saturday morning for what feels like ages (in reality, it appears to be a mere fortnight - time moves more slowly at the end of term, I'm convinced of it) so I stopped at Whiterow to buy the fixings for a good Saturday brunch. Bacon, sausages, eggs and bread all came from there.

The meat products Whiterow sell are made by Jon Thorner's, a farm empire based in Shepton Mallet, which also supplies them with cheese. I was most disappointed, as I unwrapped the pecorino romano I am so fond of, to discover that I'd been so focused on the "Head Office: Shepton Mallet" label that I'd completely missed the "Country of Origin: Italy" label. BOOOO. I feel swindled. I have had a good browse around their website and under the Local: Fish tab, they mention Scottish salmon and potted shrimp from Morecambe Bay. These places are not local to Shepton Mallet!

I intend to go down there in the holidays and have a good look at what they've got in their home shop. It is easily within 20 miles of here, so at least the bacon and sausages are local. It's frustrating, though, when companies say they're one thing and then are quite obviously another.

It seems there are two competing bandwagons here - local, and organic. Springleaze, another farm shop I drive past, used to do all local stuff, laid out in a barn, not particularly fancy, but it did the job. Then they went upmarket, organic and got a cafe. Now, in spite of claiming the majority of their produce is locally sourced, they've got tomatoes flown in from Holland and Scandinavian cheese. I can see them doing very well, since their entire range - down to the tinned pulses - seems to be organic, and that's a good niche to hold, I suppose. But it's not so good if you don't really care about organic, just about keeping food miles down. It's a shame the two seem to be largely mutually exclusive.

I am currently hating my neighbours and their screaming children. There must be half a dozen squalling brats between the two houses that back onto our lane and they were up, screaming, until nearly 11pm last night. And they're young kids, not teens. Then they get up at about 10am and start screaming again, and this lasts all day. It's getting impossible to sit with the window or the back door open. I have a strong desire to play some very loud and very rude gangsta rap with all the windows open, but fear it would bring me down to their level.


In knitting news, I've really got to stop starting new things before I finish the old ones. I got the bug for new projects, thanks to the scrubby, and so I ended up casting on for a clapotis on Tuesday. It's seriously addictive, I am four repeats through the straight section already. I love dropping the stitches! Plus, the Lion and Lamb may be my favourite yarn of all time. In an attempt to squirrel a ball from the four I purchased for a pair of handwarmers or something, I read up on the knitting of the clapotis, and skipped an increase row. I also binned the stitch markers and did the drop rows in purl on the knit side etc, which makes it go pretty fast. I started trying to twist the stitches either side on the wrong side as well as the right, but either I'm not doing ptbl right, or I need to practise more, because my stitches ended up looking pretty wobbly, so I stopped.

I am surprised by how motivated I am to finish the project, considering I hate knitting scarves. Perhaps I am just eager to join the other bajillion people in the world who have knitted this. Next: that Drops jacket which has also been knitted a bajillion times. Yay for bandwagons!

Monday 14 July 2008

There's a Gravy Train out there somewhere

I'm very excited, but trying not to be. There are new specifications for all the GCSEs from 2009 and my old team leader rang me on Friday (mainly to find out how close I'd got to earning the coat and how many more responses he could expect me to mark) and asked me if he could put my name forward to the publishers as somebody that might be interested in working on the new text books.

I might have capered quite a bit. I'd be a published writer! My very first choice of career, and I'd finally have achieved it. But, I'm really trying not to think about it, because it's most likely to come to nothing. Still, it's a good sign for the future.

I have now earned the coat. There were 60 responses left to mark last night, and I am sort of hoping they will have been completed by the time I get home so I can finally put the marking to bed for this year and get back to actually having a life. I intend to go to dinner and cocktails with my friends tomorrow night, and hopefully to Mamma Mia some other night this week.

Then there will be knitting. Much knitting. I'm having an attack of the must-FOs, even though Marianne is ticking on nicely, so I put an extra 6 inches on the garish sparkly skinny scarf I've been knitting from this pattern, and also made

<-------- one of these.

Pattern: Dishcloth Duo
Yarn: Wendy DK cotton from Shaw's the Draper's
Mods: The yarn seemed skinnier so I went down a needle size to 4.5mm. Next time I might try a provisional cast on and three needle bind off. I really do hate seaming that much.

It's supposed to be a dish scrubby. I don't much see the point in knitting dishcloths, perhaps because Mr Z insists on using a green scourer to wash up everything (yes, even glasses....yes, even for wiping down the counter, in spite of the fact it doesn't absorb anything). However, I have had in in mind to try and knit some reusable cotton wool pads for make up removal, much like these, made from towel offcuts. It turned out to be a really quick knit - about half an hour, including seaming, and stopping to concentrate on exciting bits of Heroes - and works really nicely as a make up remover. It's abrasive enough that I don't have to really scrub the make up remover into my face, but not so abrasive as to leave my skin red. I intend to make a lot more, maybe with some little string bags to wash them in, to give away as gifts next Christmas.

Fun little knit! Now I am planning what to knit for the Ravelry Olympics, and wondering how much knitting time I will have if we do remodel the kitchen this summer as planned.

Thursday 10 July 2008

£138.45 down

£36.55 left to earn. I hope there are that many responses left in the system.

This is very motivational. I should try and fall in love with something I'd never normally splurge on every year. Last year it was those amazing boots from Duo, but that all ended in tears when they were revealed as having the worst customer service/turnaround time ever (srsly - if you have boots on back order from them and they say 4 weeks, IT'S A LIE. They meant 4 months).

I wonder whether it will be the same this year, and I'll do all the work and the damn coat doesn't fit right, or is of poor quality. That would be just my luck.

Maybe I can find a nice discount somewhere.

One Local Summer week 6 - 2 meals

I finally pulled my finger out and made gnocchi on Monday (I used that recipe without the basil or the sauce).

It was a lot easier than I expected, though the dough was very sticky, and it was slightly bizarre in that I put the remainder of the dough in the fridge to use up for lunches later in the week and unlike pastry, it got softer and soggier as time passed, so that when I finally got it out again I had to add even more flour. These were some very healthy gnocchi - they have that wholemeal flour taste.

I served the gnocchi with a pork chop from
Norwood farm and a home made pesto, into which went a big bag of the very peppery Whiterow rocket, a very healthy slug of garlic olive oil, and a fairly large quantity of locally produced pecorino romano, with a very strong cheesy taste.

And a handful of unlocal pine nuts. Sssshhh.

I whizzed all this up in the blender and then stirred it through the gnocchi. It was very strong. Neither of us could finish our serving....I had my doubts about Mr Z liking it in the first place, but the truth was, I probably put too much pesto on the gnocchi and it was overwhelming. I finished up the leftovers for lunch the next day - much to the disgust of my colleagues, who said it looked so disgusting I should go an eat somewhere else (but this is par for the course with my lunches, which quite often look awful but taste great) - and it was better cold and with a quantity of the pesto left on the plate.

I cooked up the rest of the gnocchi last night and will serve it variously with salsa, a creamy mustard dressing...anything I can find in the fridge, really. Gnocchi. It's the way forward.

As well as cooking up the gnocchi, I also made a mostly local meal for dinner - potato gratin (non-local onions) with mustardy sausages and broad beans. I used up the last of the pecorino romano on the potatoes and it was much better than the usual cheddar. I will definitely be buying more of that.

I decided last night I should subscribe to a vegetable box scheme. I looked up Abel & Cole, who are always putting leaflets through my door, but then thought I should shop around a bit, so I started searching and found this great tool for locavoring. Even better, the great tool told me about a farm shop a mere mile away from my house. I could bike there! Well....I could. We'll see. Maybe in the holidays.

Top marks this week also go to Cooper's, the supermarket local to where I work, who, I noted yesterday, have a whole cabinet of meat from a local farm - and even have a big sign up saying, "This farm is only 2.2 miles away from Cooper's!" It's a semi-independent supermarket and I fear that, if we end up selling our school site to the developers, one of the giants will move in an Cooper's will be no more. I think there should be more shops that sell knitting yarn, local meats and out of date chocolate repackaged and discounted.

This week I am also loving....

Igoogle. Having finally worked out how to reap RSS feeds, there's no stopping me.

Extra marking. Strangely. I am up to £75 worth of additional work now (I finally was able to work this out when they sent me the item fee, 2 full weeks after my request) - roughly half way to that Boden coat, then.

Naps. Nuff said.

Year 10 work experience. My timetable's dropped to 12 lessons, out of a possible 25.

My impending birthday. I'm going to Blackpool for the riding of rollercoasters and the drinking of gin, in celebration of the turning of 30.

Vertical gardening.
Want. Can't manage the garden I've got already, but want anyway.

Hypermiling. I may be really pissing off the drivers behind me with my enormous gap between me and the car in front and my coasting down hills and up to traffic lights, but I can already see the difference in my petrol consumption. Impressive.

Not much loving....

The weather. It's too rainy! I hope the sun is being saved up for August.

Work. How is it possible there are 12 more get ups until the summer holidays? Whose bright idea was that, eh? The kids have given up, I've largely given up....having my full quota of classes back next week for the first time since February (student teacher has also gone now) may well be the end of me. Bring on more naps.

Sunday 6 July 2008

OLS week 5 - triumphant end weekend

I spent my weekend here -

Well...I did spend most of my time out of this halls bedroom, but it was the penthouse room number 43 of Ripon Hall at Leed Trinity & All Saints for me this weekend.

I am slightly concerned that, between this and the Bath Uni conference last week, I have spent 4 nights out of the past 11 in a halls bedroom. Really, after living in Commonwealth for a year, I thought I had done my bit for student accommodation, but it seems this will be a recurrent event in my life.

Anyway, this room was hooge but didn't have an en suite, but it DID have a fridge which was nice. I was there for the 20th Annual Schools' History Project Conference. It was every bit as exciting as I had imagined, particularly because Sarah, my PGCE student from last year, and Rachel, who I trained with, were both there also, not to mention countless people from the School History forum. I went for curry with them on the Saturday night but felt vaguely awkward, in that "I'm always gobbing off online but don't really know what to say to you irl" way. Especially since, in the bar on Friday evening, they were all talking about their babies. And this was men. It was like some bizarre role-reversal moment. I am quite socially inept in such situations. Even after the curry, I ended up back in the bar with Sarah and a couple of teachers from Taunton (one of whom bore an uncanny resemblance to Dr Who - Sarah and I spent most of the weekend catterwauling the theme tune at him whenever he was off guard) drinking triple gin and tonics and talking about bizarre sexual practices. It turned into, "I know a more disgusting one than you" quite quickly.

I also went to quite a lot of lectures and workshops, I hasten to add. It wasn't all reminiscing about my days on the chatline.

Most exciting of all was this sign in the refectory -

How exciting! I ate local all weekend long! I think this really means that, on top of those three local meals I cooked for myself last week, I can add the 5 meals I ate whilst away. Score! Not sure how local the tinned tomatoes at breakfast were...but it's so nice to see large-scale eateries committing themselves to locavoring too. I love universities for being such pioneers of new and better ways of doing things.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

One Local Summer Week 5 - meal 2

I've managed to have my favourite breakfast for the past 2 days in a row. I thought asparagus season was over, but I found some at Whiterow this week that was grown in South Petherton...or maybe it was South Molton, I can't remember and I've thrown the label away. Both of these places are somewhere down the M5 and South Molton is exactly 100 miles away, because I drove Mother Hand there a few weeks back to see her friend being ordained.

So, I lightly roast the asparagus in a little olive oil for 10-15 minutes depending on how tender it was to start with, and then sprinkle it with ground pepper and a little balsamic vinegar, and serve it with buttered toast and poached eggs. The dairy things were made at Whiterow and the bread is from a local supplier committed...etc. It was really good bread this week: sometimes it's a little bit stale.

I really love this meal and refuse to eat it with asparagus flown from overseas, because it just doesn't taste the same, so it's a very seasonal brunch for me. Because of activities week at school I don't have to be in until 9am, so I've been getting up at 6am to mark and having a leisurely breakfast in the sun before leaving around 8am. It's been very civilised and I'm getting a taste for starting work later....or maybe living closer. Today was even better - I met the kids there so I didn't have to leave until 9.45am. Result! The car came in very handy for a coffee run to Sainsbury's, at which point I realised I was even closer to home than I thought and had driven a really long way round.

The best thing about this meal over the past 2 days is that each day I've had a double-yolked egg. I can't even remember the last time I had a double-yolker - 2 in 2 days is very lucky!

Yesterday we did high ropes and I fulfilled a 10-year ambition to do the leap of faith, where you climb up a pole and jump off to catch a trapeze or ring a bell or some such thing.

I've wanted to do this since I went on a high ropes team building exercise with Camp Black Hawk on Camp America in 1998. I was really excited to finally get the chance. The instructor assured me that, even though she wasn't roped to anything on the ground, she would stop me from falling. She's the slight blonde looking up to the left of the picture.

Mmm, yes - I did have my doubts. I managed to catch the trapeze and, predictably, promptly let go, since I don't even have the upper body strength to do a press up, let alone catch my body weight and hang suspended in mid air. I began to descend to the ground....and did not stop. Luckily the ground broke my fall. The instructor was dangling 30 feet up in the air, looking absolutely horrified and breathless from the cursing she'd been doing on the way up. The other instructors were there almost immediately. The other teachers were right behind them. It must have looked a lot scarier than it felt - I actually hit the ground at very little speed at all and was not at all hurt, or winded, or anything. They were overly concerned. I suppose it's lucky I wasn't just a little heavier. might be time to try a little harder to lose weight.

It was terrifiying to do the stunt, but felt amazing. I started to feel very sick and shake all over about halfway up the pole and it took me a little while to manage to stand up....the pole is very wobbly. Then I didn't know if I'd be able to jump off. I just kept telling myself, you could do this easily if the pole was 3 feet high, and there's no danger of falling. That works mentally, but there's no controlling the physical reaction. I felt violently sick for at least the next hour and was unable to eat my lunch. That must be the whole fight or flight thing I keep hearing about.

The kids were very sweet. "Just sit there and drink your juice, Miss, and you'll feel better." "Wow, Miss, you're so brave - I'm going to have a go now!" "Ha ha! Looking, there's a bit hole in the ground from Miss's arse!" Well...maybe they aren't all that sweet after all.

There'll be a deeply unflattering video clip coming soon.

I'VE FINISHED MARKING! Very exciting. I played the Rocky theme for the last 10 responses to get me in the mood. Now the overtime can begin - I've seen a lovely coat in the Boden autumn preview and need to find £175 from somewhere. I'm a bit pissed off with the exam board, though. They've sent some quite blunt emails, asking examiners to commit a certain number of overtime hours and reiterating that we'll need to keep accuracy high, etc etc - but at no point have they mentioned the overtime rate. It's such poor business practice, not to mention bad manners. Can you imagine it happening in another industry?

"Oh hai. Do this extra work for us. You have to tell us exactly how many hours you can do, and we will hold you to it. Do it RIGHT. We're not telling you how much you will get paid, nor will we answer any emails you send us asking, and when you call, we will fob you off with another email address to which nobody will reply....but pls do it because we're desperate plskthxbai."

What's depressing is that it's absolutely par for the course - I don't know why I'm letting it bother me. It's so predictable. And I know I'll do it, because my ego has been well-massaged by both my team leader and my old team leader who assure me that I'm very accurate this year, and it would be enormously helpful if I'd mark more. So, I'll do it for them. But's just so disappointing.

SHP this weekend. So. excited. Whoever knew a History Teachers' Conference would be the highlight of my month?