Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Before spring appears in nature outside, it manifests itself in our bodies and brains.
Even thought the temperature of around 10 degrees outside is winter cold, the same temperature in springtime seems warmer.
A blanket comes off the bed. Winter socks seem too thick. You look around for lighter shoes. The neck scarf is not always necessary. Gloves are left at home. In the kitchen potatoes begin to sprout. Onions have a soft core.
Outside plants, shrubs and trees are still reluctant to come into bud. Even catkins are still to appear. Although the mornings and evenings are marginally lighter, a longer day is still needed before nature really makes a move.
The garden, seen outside the window, is still in its winter guise. But in one’s body there is the feeling that the new year’s work awaits.
Bamboo posts need straightening and ties reinforced.
The lower content of the compost bin needs to be extracted for rejuvenating the upper soil in plant, tree and shrub pots. Some must be put on to the ground and loosened in with a fork. And some needs to be put in a bin for mixing with soil for new plant pots and the buckets for new potatoes. With plenty of good home-made compost, no other fertiliser should be needed. Leaves that escaped the early winter clear-up can now be put into the emptier compost bin, along with any bagged-up leaves for which there was no room in the autumn.
Away in the loft, the last vintage of wine grapes has been fermenting and resting over winter in its demijohns in readiness for bottling. Late bottling has the advantage that the wine might have passed its malolactic “fermentation” stage. It is time to act, to bottle, to cork and to inscribe the labels with the vintage year. Will it have been a good year for red wine? (2011 certainly was.)
Birds feel the springtime urge more than humans. They start to feed and fly in pairs. Favourite nest boxes are eyed up, inspected, and the openings prepared yet again by beak-hammering.
The male blackbirds patrol the boundaries of their territories, running up and down on the side they own, while the male of the adjoining territory runs with him along his own side of the boundary. The hen blackbirds are making up their minds about nest sites. They bath a lot to look their best. They are early to nest in springtime, and have already started before other garden birds – except for magpies who are putting together their twiggy nest balls in bare trees.
The tin of seeds must be sorted out, and new packets bought in anticipation of crops as good as those depicted on the packets. And seed potatoes must be bought to grow in soil or buckets. They must be left in the light to chit but not to send out pale, straggly shoots in a dark place.
It is the time of anticipation and planning.
Yes, spring is in the air.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Curried Eggs

There are some very simple, quick to make, reasonable in cost and excellent to eat dishes about. This is one of them.


You will need:
Oil (any cooking oil)
Flour (plain)
Curry powder (Madras mild or any other)
Stock cube (beef or chicken)
Soy sauce (for colour and salt)

Hard-boil the eggs (1 or 2 per person) by bringing them to the boil from cold water and giving them exactly 10 minutes boiling after that.
As this is happening, in a bowl mix, say, 3 heaped dessert spoons of flour and 2 of mild curry powder (or paste). Mix them well.
Put oil in a saucepan and add the flour/curry powder mixture. Add a stock cube. Stir this together, and after heating it through, add, say, a pint of water, and then some soy sauce for colour and saltiness.
Now whisk this well and keep whisking until the sauce is smooth, scraping inward any mixture caught in the lower side edges of the pan. Keep whisking occasionally.
The sauce will thicken. Dilute it with water to obtain the desired thickness, as some like a thick sauce and some a thin one. Test the sauce.
Now comes the time to fine-tune by adding any (or none) of the following: peanut butter (excellent), Worcestershire sauce (excellent), Tomato ketchup (also excellent), more soy sauce or salt. You might even want to add more chilli (powder).
Keep testing, adding what you will. But it shouldn’t need any more attention.
You will by about now have strained the water from the eggs, rattled them around the saucepan (in one kept specially for boiling eggs) to break up the shells, added cold water, and left them for a little while to ease the shelling process.
Add peeled eggs to the sauce. Eat.
Any sauce left over will make the start of a soup by adding water and stock cubes. You might want to fine-tune the soup. Do this as above.

Monday, February 13, 2012

A Nasty Burn

After a recent blog about my medical inventions I’m on to a medical matter once again.
Incidentally, just after my heart pacemaker had been fitted, I went into my local Tesco supermarket and set off the thief alarm when entering and leaving. Perhaps it was the power of my new pacemaker’s battery that triggered it. Having warned the management of what might happen in future, I then went in and out without alarm - presumably as the battery’s power had declined.
What I now write about is the efficacy of a childhood remedy.
Whenever we happened to burn ourselves as country-bred children in the late 1920s and early ‘30s, butter was applied to the burned surface of our skin.
In a rush a few evenings ago, I wanted to change the position of a pot that was cooking in the oven, leaving a very hot empty pan on the top of the stove in the process.
With thumb and forefinger of my left hand I inadvertently touched the scorching metal of this pan, burning the skin badly as I did so. Margreet, who witnessed it, swore that my skin had burnt itself onto the pan.
So I dashed to the refrigerator and rubbed the exposed end of a slab of butter on the wound, coating it thoroughly.
I kept the agonising burn open to the air and covered with the melting butter for the next two hours, until the excruciating pain had subsided.
Margreet, who was rather dubious of the success of this English country remedy, thought that a large blister was forming on my thumb and a lesser one on the adjoining finger. The hurting areas were certainly very red.
I kept the wound in the open air and covered in butter until bedtime, occasionally re-applying the soothing unguent throughout the night.
The next day revealed a thumb and forefinger as if no burn had ever taken place. The area was a little sore, and nerve endings on the thumb’s skin somewhat shaken.
From then on I was using the hand as if no trauma at all had occurred.
It had been a miraculous recovery, and one that had confirmed the efficacy of a country remedy. It also proved that in an era of rather primitive medicine, mother really did know best.