Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Odd Job Man

I get up early on most days, earlier as the mornings become lighter. So at 5.30 on this particular late spring day I was at my computer, working on a blog and turning it into hard copy for alteration and correction. The on-going, almost abstract pastel of a “Landscape Recalled” could wait.
            Ablutions, then the collection of the newspaper and breakfast for us both either in or on the bed followed at around 7.30.
            I did not have to think about cooking as it was my week off. I had odd jobs in mind.
            Over the previous two days I had carved a piece of wood to fill a hole in the large wooden sculpture of “Lovers” that had rotted and was being restored in the garden. The wooden wedge was glued and hammered in place. Now it needed only filler and a coating of black bitumastic paint – which I did. Mice had been using this hole as their front door – but no longer.
            After washing up in the kitchen I thought that I might clean the drains – a periodic task that keeps the house in working order.
            The u-bend drain on a small basin fills with junk and furs up with limescale over time. The judicious use of spirit of salts, scraping with a screwdriver, rubbing with a scourer, and the insertion of a bottle brush does the trick. Dirty wastewater now part filled a plastic basin with unpleasant material that in normal circumstances would have been washed away had the basin been large enough to provide an adequate head of water to flush it.
            Nearby is a shower drain to be cleared of hair. The drain hole contains a simple device that catches hair before it can clog an inaccessible waste pipe. This, again, is not a pleasant job, but a periodic and necessary one.
            And as I was on this drain-clearing business, the coarse filter on the clothes-washing machine had to be cleared and cleaned. Drains done. Satisfaction ensured.
            A dormer window needed attention. So as this was becoming a real odd job day, I was on a roll, using putty to fill the gap between lead roofwork and window frame. When the combination occurs of a strong east wind and rain, water runs off the lead covering and is then blown up behind where it should, in normal circumstances, drip down outside. When this happens, some rainwater appears as dirty liquid to run down inside the window. So I hoped that my putty treatment would work.
            Putty was also used to fill gaps on and around the outside of an old window frame, where paint will be needed later.
            Since starting to resuscitate the large, wooden, “Lovers” sculpture in the garden, the kitchen table inside the house had been covered with tools, brushes, and several tins of preserver, hardener, bitumastic paint and such. Now, with the sculpture restored, after weeks of work, I could at last clear the table and get rid of the rubbish and newspaper protective covering.
            My recently employed hearing aids (which take some getting used to) told me in blips that the batteries needed changing. Which I did.
            Then, as I had the spirit of salts at hand, I dealt with limescale that had built up around the waste plugholes in bath, bidet and basin, and in the lavatory. With a high lime content in London water, this is a regular task. Spirit of salts is dangerous to handle, can destroy plumbing joints, and has noxious vapour. So I used it sparingly, wore rubber gloves for protection, and was careful not to breathe in any fumes.
            Back to the computer, Margreet had made a few editorial suggestions, which are always spot-on and helpful. So I could, at last, put the piece (on “Sculpture Restoration”) onto a 3 ½” floppy disk (Windows 95) for her to convert into modern computer-speak in her much more modern machine. She will choose when to cast it forth into the ether.
The catch on the lock of our lovely little shed (some would call it a summerhouse) was not securing the door. So with saw, file and screwdriver, this had to be rectified. And the thin brass hinges on a clothes cupboard had sprung, and needed a few blows with a hammer to put it right.
            A couple were coming for 6 o’clock drinks, so I started to make a special "house” cheese pancake, which gave me time to plant out some tomato and runner bean plants that had been nurtured from seed in pots on the kitchen window sill. Then I watered the garden.
            We showed our guests the newly sprouting mistletoe growing from the bark of our apple tree in a pot, and gave them a conducted tour of pictures. The latter can take ten minutes or so to an hour or two, depending on time and/or interest.
            It had been quite a busy day for an 88 year old when coming to think of it. But it’s best not to.
            How, I wondered, can anyone run a house properly without an odd job man (or woman) about the place?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Caper Sauce

We were eating slow-cooked roast mutton with a quantity of caper sauce (boiled is probably a more usual method of cooking mutton with caper sauce), when our guests remarked on the deliciousness of this traditional combination. It was not the timing of the slow cooking that they wanted to know about, but the recipe for the sauce. 
Make lots of sauce when you are about it, as it may be heated up again in a double boiler for cold mutton, and also used for making an excellent soup and other dishes
Capers generally seem to be sold in rather expensive small glass jars. But from an Asian-run grocery shop they are obtainable in larger jars and at a reasonable price.
And being generous with capers is part of the sauce’s success.


You will need:
Stock cube
Plain flour
Pepper and salt
Dijon mustard

I seldom measure anything when cooking. But to give an indication for making the white sauce, melt a heaped dessertspoon of butter in a saucepan, adding a stock cube, 2 heaped dessertspoons of flour, pepper and salt. Mix these ingredients together with a whisk.
Add a pint of cold milk, whisking all the time, adding a little Dijon mustard as you do so.
When the sauce thickens and begins to bubble, note its consistency. It might need the addition of a little cold water or milk to thin it.
Now add 3 dessertspoons of capers and a little of their liquid. Heat it all through.
The sauce may be kept hot in a double boiler – or in a basin above just boiling water.
Use the hot sauce again for when you serve cold, sliced mutton.
Mashed potato goes well with this “Olde English” dish.

For caper soup, simply add more milk and water and another stock cube or two.
The sauce also goes well with slow-cooked cockerel, or boiled or roast chicken.
Add chopped hard-boiled eggs as a sauce for steamed fish.
I have also used the sauce successfully by coating barely-cooked thin slices of beef with it and then baking the result in the oven.