Sunday, October 26, 2014

Another goal realised

On my Life List, I've had all sorts of things appear. One, which I mentioned earlier, here, was to learn to play the piano, which has been on the list a long time, and which i'm doing.

A recent addition has been sampling Scotch eggs. Yes, that gay Welsh raconteur as Tom Gowans calls John (how I miss Tom's blog, Hippo on the Lawn, and hope all is well by him); anyhow, yes, the inimitable John of Going Gently, mentions scoffing Scotch eggs on occasion, and I thought it might be nice to try one and see what I thought.

Of course, we've no Tesco's or Sainsbury's nearby where I can just pop around and try one, and sometimes searching for recipes online can lead one down a crazy rabbit hole. Some months back, I had a wild hair about wanting to get an old Watkins cookbook and bid for two of them ebay. Very low bids as I had been outbid on several and decided rather than win both, i'd have low bids so I could be reminded to up my bid if need be. Well, as it turned out, it seems I hit the off week for others who wanted Watkins cookbooks, because I won both, one a 1936 edition and one a 1948 edition. Many of the recipes are the same, and in the 1948 edition, there was a note pencilled in saying that there was a one-dish recipe on page 167. I turned to see which recipe she could have been looking at, when I realized as I turned the pages, there was no page 167. She must have made the note for herself so she could remove the page for her files. That led me to wonder even more about the recipe, when my eye fell on page 166, and there, as plain as day was a recipe for Scotch eggs.

I had no need to convert metric measurements and scanned the list of ingredients. Not many of those, either.

Now, at this juncture, I should point out that I think of recipes more like guidelines or starting points. I rarely follow one exactly, and if it expresses the least whiff of a dire warning that all steps must be followed exactly, I usually don't bother with it.

This had none of that, other than to mention that Watkins pepper and paprika could be used as a seasoning along with plain old salt. Still, I wanted to follow the recipe closely since John hadn't magically teleported to my house to give me the ins and outs of what made a good Scotch egg great and to oversee my efforts.

I have a pig coming to my freezer next month, and my goal between now and then is to use up what's in there to ensure adequate room, and to use up the last cuts from the half a pig I got last year.

So, I made some substitutions. I used ground pork rather than sausage, I omitted the salt, pepper, and paprika because I forgot to add them and by the time I remembered, I had already wrapped the meat around the eggs. The recipe called for a pound of sausage and six hard boiled eggs. My package of ground pork was about 12 ounces or three-quarters of a pound, so I figured 4 eggs would be enough. The recipe called for boiling the eggs 30 minutes then cooling. I thought 30 minutes excessive and boiled them 10, removing them from the heat and then after 15 or 20 minutes transferring them to a bowl and into the fridge to cool. I don't like the grey-green ring that can form around hardboiled eggs when they're cooked too long, and wondered if I should have scooped them out of the warm water before I did.

The recipe also called for bread crumbs. I don't usually have those on hand, and the few times I need bread crumbs, I either crush some saltine crackers, omit the bread crumbs, or scramble to find something else. In this case, I used corn meal, figuring that I needed some sort of breading, and corn meal was sturdy, which would help keep everything together, or so I hoped.

I peeled the eggs carefully, smooshed the ground pork in my hands and carefully covered each egg. One egg kept poking through, but the rest worked out all right, and I dipped each over large meatball in the raw egg and dredged in corn meal.

The recipe called for frying in hot fat. While I do sauté any  number of things, I don't deep fry, and broke out a 4 qt (nearly 2L) pot with its lid and used about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease. I lowered the eggs carefully after patting a little more corn meal on each.

The troublesome egg did lose part of its pork sheath, and in the appetizing looks department I don't think i'd win any awards, but the troublesome egg did provide me with a visual of just how long it took the pork immediately touching the egg to cook, which was helpful since the recipe didn't. For those wanting to try this at home, I started out on high heat and after about 3 minutes, turned it back to medium heat (current cooker is an electric model). Everything seemed thoroughly cooked in 17 minutes, but for extra insurance, I didn't scoop them out until nearly 20 minutes had passed.

I ate the troublesome egg first. It was tasty even if there was a slight grey-green around the yolk, and the ground pork to egg ratio was a little less since part of its pork covering had fallen away. I was still hungry, having waited longer than usual to eat, so had a second one. I picked the most appetizing looking one of the bunch, and this was tasty, too, with a more favourable pork to egg ratio in every bite. I had mowed the lawn and cleaned out the gutters at the back of the house before lunch, and hockey is later this afternoon, so I should be sated until I get home about 7 pm. On a less physically active day, one Scotch egg would suffice.

The verdict? I like these, and shall try making them again. I can see where sausage would be tastier than plain ground pork, so next time around i'll either use sausage or remember to season the ground pork. I liked the taste the cornmeal added to the whole shebang, and am glad I did fry them rather than bake them, which I had considered doing.

I don't see myself making these often, but as a treat, when I want something filling for lunch, I can make a batch, and that can serve me for most of the work week for lunches. I've got one to heat up tomorrow so I can assess if it reheats well. I use a toaster oven for reheating and doubt i'll ever go back to using a microwave. Yes the latter is faster, but the former heats more evenly, and with something breaded, the breading doesn't get mushy.

I wish John were here to sample one to let me know if what I made is close to the mark. Just curious if it is. But whether it be or no, i'm not sorry I attempted to make them, so that is a success in my book.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Small town living

I grew up in a small town. It's not everyone's cup of tea because it can be hard to be anonymous there. I remember as kids if we decided to hitchhike (something we were forbidden to do), we'd put our thumbs down when we recognized the car, because we didn't want someone telling our parents we were hitchhiking. So yes, we'd pray for strangers to pick us up. Tick another thing I never told me parents because it would cause too much worry.

Indeed, even now, my hometown looks like something from a Norman Rockwell painting, and the first time Himself was there, we were driving down Main Street. I was doing the driving so he could look, and while it did my heart good to see the familiar street once again, Himself was agog as we passed the butcher's shop. One of the clerks was carrying a lady's groceries to her car. Himself remarked on it, and I turned to look.

"Oh, that's Don!" I cried, happy to see a familiar face, as it had been a long time since I'd visited my hometown.

"I feel as if we're in a live-action Norman Rockwell painting," said Himself, and I turned to look at him. I simply felt that spirit of community I always had in my hometown. And it made me keenly aware how that spirit was missing from where we were then living.

I currently live in a small town, and like my hometown, it too has a large summertime population. More tourists here than we had at home, and they mix with the summer people. Once the summer is over, and by summer's end, I mean Labor Day as opposed to the calendar's 23 September, there's a collective sigh of relief as the roads are suddenly not as clogged with out-of-state license plates crawling along gawking rather than driving up to speed.

The respite is but a breather before the "leaf peepers" as they are known come to view the gorgeous fall colour as the leaves change from their summer hue. Where I am now, peak season is late September or early October. In my hometown, it's mid-October. This week's Nor'easter has blown down many of the leaves, so late leaf peepers here will have precious little colour to see on the trees, but plenty on the roadways.

There are any number of merchants here who are open seasonally, and many have end-of-season sales. I've taken advantage of those sales to snap up Christmas or birthday gifts, and there's a more relaxed air walking into their shops. Some will say how their season went. Some lie about how their season went, but I think this year's season was a pretty good one for many.

One of the places that happens to have a seasonal sale is a local furniture store. They have nice items, reasonably priced, and also offer decorating services. They deliver for a fee, and I think it's free if you're within 10 miles. I'm outside that 10-mile circle, but have stopped in from time to time to see what they have. Earlier on, I found a lovely chair that I really liked that would be ideal in the bedroom. It was made for someone shorter, so yes, I can sit comfortably and have my feet touch the ground. I hemmed and hawed about getting it, decided that while I liked it very much, it was in the want rather than need category, so didn't get it.

Then I received their post card in the mail about their seasonal sale, and went looking. There was the chair. It was half off, and I had the money, so snapped it up. Since I have a truck, I could take it home myself and save the delivery fee, so we worked out when I could pick it up.

Once I got it home, I discovered, much to my dismay, that all my doorways are just a bit too small. It took some finagling, but I finally got it in the house. It's currently in the dining room, where it shall stay until I have the bedroom upstairs ready for it. Himself is still not able to help move it as he is still recovering from his shoulder surgery, and I do think I'll need someone to help me take it upstairs. It's not all that heavy but rather unwieldy for me to carry myself AND negotiate the steps, because I'm not in the most graceful set of God's creatures.

When I picked out the chair, several of the furniture store employees' faces fell. I apologized if they had their eye on the chair as well. "Oh, we can always order it for them if they want one," the woman who was writing out the slip said. They nodded forlornly, and I got the sense that they had hoped to get it at the discounted price, too, which probably now wouldn't happen.

Within a week of purchasing the chair, I got a lovely note from the furniture store, thanking me for my purchase, hoping I enjoy the blue chair very much, and they enclosed the decorator's card, in case I had any questions or needed help. Yes, some might be more cynical and say it was just a way to promote their business, but I was touched by the simple, hand-written note. I can't tell you the last time I got one from any business, and there've been any number of them where I spent more than I did on this chair.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Another Box Ticked on the Life List

Years before the movie, "The Bucket List," i had something i called a Life List, which were things i wanted to do before i left the planet. All sorts of things have appeared on that list over the years, and a surprising number have been realized. Not all are noteworthy, and some have been there for quite some time.

I've mentioned before how i am mechanically retarded, yet that never stopped me from listing that i wanted to build my own harpsichord and learn how to play it. This seemed farfetched even with my overactive imagination, but its closely related "learn to play piano," seemed a bit more realistic, much the way that my going to the moon is a greater probability than my going to Pluto (which i still consider a planet).

I'd forgotten about wanting to learn to play piano; it's been on the list even before i ever started writing things down on it, but one thing and another occurred, and i never lived in a space where i had access to a piano or even a keyboard all the time. I could pick out melodies and read G (treble) clef, but that was as far as it went.

I've also mentioned how i'm on facebook. I joined only after a fife and drum acquaintance encouraged a group of us on a email list to join, as it would be a great way to stay in touch during the off-season, and have since reconnected with some childhood friends and acquaintances. I've also joined some local bartering and selling sites and have found any number of things.

Earlier this summer, there was an ad in the paper for a concert where sea shanties and other folk music was going to be performed, and on a lark, i went. I had a lovely time, and Kat, the presenter had an open house at her gallery down the street from the venue after the concert. I went, and she invited me to stay afterwards as the musicians who performed, herself, and her husband were going to have a sing along, did i want to join? Yes, i did. I didn't have an instrument to play, having left my penny whistle at home (my fife wouldn't have tuned with any of the other instruments)so i sang along, sometimes harmonising sometimes not. Kat sat at the piano and played. She has a sweet singing voice, and watching her play the piano while she sang reminded me of that long ago item on the Life List. It was a cross between a pang and a yearning.

About a month later, i saw a number of ads for pianos. Some for free (you haul away), others for a nominal fee. After the fourth one, i decided i needed to pay attention to these ads, but the one that had called to me most was now three weeks old, and i felt funny about calling, sure that someone else had scooped up the piano.

While on facebook, i happened to click on one of the local bartering sites, and there was a listing for a piano in exchange for helping out at the church where the piano was. They were renovating, so plenty of ways to help out.

Before i could think twice, i sent a message saying i was interested. But, being mechanically retarded, i didn't feel comfortable helping with the renovations unless it was grunt work. Could i possibly give them some money instead so they could buy some nails or something to help with the construction?

This was a satisfactory substitute, and the woman said they really just wanted the piano to go to a good home. A parishonner's mother had died and left the church a baby grand piano, so they didn't need this upright one anymore.

I asked if the piano had wheels and its dimensions. Yes, it had wheels, and the dimensions were perfect. I could get it through the door. My friend, J, was going to help me move it. We could do it, because after all, it had wheels.

Of course, the day i went to get the piano, the skies looked threatening, so i was sure to have tarps on hand to cover the piano. I had borrowed my neighbour's trailer, and it had a ramp, so i envisioned that we could push it down the ramp onto 2×10 boards and lay them like railroad tracks to the door. Getting it up the slight incline then over the back steps through the house would be the toughest part, but i had a good bit of line, we could tie it round, and one could push while the other pulled.

When i got to the church there were quite a few folks working on the renovations, so a group of two men and two boys moved the piano onto the trailer quite easily. One was impressed by how i could back up the truck. Well, it was easy since we'd taken off the trailer and moved it to the spot and then i backed the truck up. One of the ladies there liked my truck and had a few questions about it. How much could it tow? 6300 lbs. What was the mileage like? about 20 mpg, a bit less in winter, but i'd gotten it to tow the boat, which it does beautifully. The mileage concern wasn't the driving force in my decision to get it. A few remarked on the tiedown system in the truck's bed. Yes, it's quite handy.

And so they bade me well, i gave them some money and thanked them, and away i drove. I called J when i got back, and we discussed the Plan to Unload. I won't bore you with all the details, i'll say simply that on paper it looked like a good idea but reality demonstrated something a bit different. It took an inordinate amount of time to get the piano halfway to its destination when J had had enough. I thanked her for her help, could see that she was really done in, and after she left, i moved it myself a bit more, but couldn't manage the incline by myself, and i'd never manage the up over the steps and through the back doorway. A couple sailing friends were free, and within 10 minutes of their arrival, the piano was in the house. I now understood very clearly why movers ask if one has a piano when one is moving households and why there's a premium.

After that, i went online to facebook and right away saw an ad for music lessons on one of the local pages. I called, left a message, and wanted to see if there were other places, perhaps one a little closer. There was. And before i could call them, the other called back. We talked a bit, and i could tell that this man would be a good teacher for me.

So, four days after the piano came into the house, i went for my first lesson. That was in early August.

I've been playing nearly every day since then. Sometimes only 15 minutes, but i go over the new material i need to work on, over the material i've already worked on, or both. The cats have decided the piano is all right. They both love the bench, Phoebe likes sitting on the top of the piano from time to time, and only once has each cat walked on the keys. Each looked surprised that they could make the noise.

In the first few weeks, each cat would sit when i played, as if to make sure i was practicing. Now, they sometimes sit with me, and sometimes ask me for food, or to be let in or out, much the way they do when i'm on the phone.

Bass clef is still a strange, new world for me, and in some places i've written the names of the notes to help me know where i need to be on the keyboard.

I'm still in the key of C major at this point and getting into the world of syncopation. Currently, i'm all thumbs; i know what it should sound like, but getting my fingers to coordinate is the struggle for this week. I've a feeling this will be a struggle for a little while yet, but i'm okay with that. I didn't have any illusions of being a prodigy, i just wanted to be able to play. And now i'm learning how.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Brains....I need brains....

When i saw this picture someone posted on facebook, I immediately thought of John Gray over at Going Gently. Hope you enjoy it, John. Maybe you can do the same with the Berlingo?