Preliminary Lakes Route

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I’ve been asked to post a mudmap of our planned Lakes District walk. So here it is. There’s a rather small version iframed below too. The last two days (yellow and cyan) are very vague, I just threw in some random lines really. This starts on July 12th at the blue marker. The dark blue line is a steam railway, everything else is walking. The intention is to do about 10 miles per day (FYI: long days, no hurry, very wrinkly terrain in places.) If we find this is too easy, we’ll cover more ground, if it is too difficult then perhaps less. The current plan loops us back to our departure point well within time, so we have a lot of flexibility for timing. It’ll probably all change drastically once we’re on the ground and have the first couple of days of walking behind us!

Belated Postcard from Barcelona

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

We went to Barcelona a couple of weeks ago. As always I had big plans to write about this, but all I’ve really managed is to write about Barcelona’s excellent Mercat de la Boqueria (coming very soon.) In summary: it was an excellent trip. Kat and I went with my sister, and we met up with a couple of other Aussie friends over there.

(Shamelessly stealing my sister’s “postcard” approach.)

From the towers of Segrada Familia, through to sangria.

Segrada Famillia, Towers
Segrada Famillia, Spiral Stair

Day 2

Distant Segrada Famillia

First thing on the second day was a stroll up the hill behind the hotel, we had an hour or two to kill being earlier risers than our travelling companions. The Hotel Catalonia Park Putxet, where we stayed, was just fine as a sleeping venue, though perhaps a little noisy. The best thing about it was the location, close to Lesseps metro station (good for getting to most of the city), a stroll from Gaudi’s Parc Güell, and parc del Turó del Putget, just a block away, offers an excellent refreshing morning hill climb with wonderful views over Barcelona.

Above all, the second day was the day of The Picnic, and oh what a picnic it was. Jamón, cheese, chorizo, fruit, and bread from Mercat de la Boqueria plus wine we picked up along the way to our picnic site. We were going to catch the cable car up to Montjuïc, but the line thwarted us, so we walked. Inadvertently taking the back way through the service entrance of some hotel/restaurant at the other end of the cable car line.

Picnic Goodies

Once up there we found our spot: a bench with an excellent view over Barcelona’s coastline. We camped out here, good food and good company for several hours. Highlights include an apparent police chase (on foot), and a buck naked old man with budgie smugglers tattooed onto his arse… and a phenomenally large penis. Finally we wandered further up the hill, then caught the metro home (they have an interesting sloped metro line running up and down the hill.)

Picnic Spot

After a quick cleanup at the hotel we headed out again to visit the Picasso museum, then then ate a late night paella before returning “home” to sleep.

Day 3

The day of Parc Güell. First we quickly wandered through the park, then climbed a seemingly endless staircase before sitting down to enjoy the view and snack on melted coffee-bean chocolate, cherries, bread, and Roquefort cheese (well, I think I ate almost all of that!) We then continued on a circumnavigation of Parc Güell before re-entering the “highlight” area of the park and paying closer attention to said highlights.

View From Hill Bahind Parc Güell

We spent most of the rest of the day drinking German lager at some random pub in a hotel district, before eating “Tarantino” pizza, then finding a bar in the gothic quarter and drinking until the metro stopped (at which point some of us taxied home, while other silly people – me included – walked for about an hour to get to the hotel!

Simply Enjoying Some Beer

Day 4

Kat was ill this morning, which was somewhat of a blessing for her I think. The rest of us found our way to Barcelona’s modern art museum. In the end I think I’d have rather been sick. We wandered the whole museum, eternally hoping the next room would offer something worth the visit. But all we found were things like rooms full of TVs displaying “white noise” (bullcrap) with visible compression artefacts. The highlight of this museum was an OK, for Barcelona (i.e. excellent for England), espresso at their café. Sorry… but what a complete pile of bollocks.

Dried fruit and sweets, better than modern art
Cheese, infinitely better than modern art

Kathlene had recovered by this stage. We met up outside Mercat de la Boqueria, and bought some lunch in the market. Then meandered our way down to the beach where we enjoyed sunlight, sangria, and cocktails for much of the rest of the day. Finally heading back inland for dinner at a traditional Catalan restaurant (actually a small chain, offering quite decent food) and then home. In bed at 1AM, an early night!


Day 5

Really only half a day, since our flight departed at 14:30. We got up early and headed to the market, which I’ve written much about already and I’ll hopefully post that in the near future. We wandered down to the harbour, saw the modern swing-bridge open to let a small yacht out, then zigzagged back through gothic quarter streets (via lunch and icecream) to a metro station. Then train to the airport, then flight to Luton, bus to Hitchin, and early bed.

All in all it was an excellent, if tiring, holiday. I expect, and hope, to visit Barcelona again – if only for their brilliant market!

Market in the morning
Jamón! Jamón!


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Morning tulips at 08:20


Midday tulips at 12:30


Afternoon tulips at 16:00


As is the typical English terrace-house style we have a tiny patch of land out the front that I call, entirely jokingly, “the front yard.” Most people seem to do one of three things with their “front yard”:

  • Grow weeds/grass/hedges.
  • Pave or concrete it.
  • Store excess junk (seriously, right in front of their house.)

Then again, some people aren’t completely soulless and like to enjoy the sight of arriving home, and generally improve the look of their street. I like to think myself one of these. We get the best sun out the front, so it is destined to grow leafy summer herbs and perhaps a chilli or two. Normally I’m an entirely practical gardener, but thought: why not herald in the spring with tulips! ’tis t’ dreadful British weather ‘at does it y’.

These tulips were bought as bulbs last October, kept in the fridge until late November (we were in Australia), then planted out. Aside from that very little was done, the pots were filled with a 50/50 mixture of sharp sand and potting mix the previous season. So easy even a total retard ought to manage it.

The boxes I have in at the back are also full of chives, which I intend to let flower (we have plenty more out the back – chives are less flavourful if you let them flower.) The one in the middle has a nice spring growth of French tarragon too (roast chicken is on the menu next weekend I think.)

Up against the wall are dianthus (Iced Gem), geranium (Elizabeth Ross), and ajuga (Chocolate Chip – the one with the blue flowers.)

Odd one out.

I was expecting only the crimson pointy tulips, somehow this one got mixed in. By luck alone it ended up in the middle of one of the terracotta pots and works rather well visually.

Pot of crimson.
Crimson close-up.

Chunky Beetroot, Celeriac, and Potato Soup

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Here’s a great soup for these dreary early-spring days. I make soup about once a fortnight, keeping a rolling supply in the fridge and freezer (sometimes supplemented with supermarket soup!) Typically I just pop down to the local greengrocer and work out my soup based on what they have, as is the case with this one.

  • 50g Unsalted Butter
  • 250g Dry Cured Unsmoked Back Bacon

Chop the bacon into pieces about 1cm square. Then fry in the butter until the edges are all turning brown and crispy.

  • 390g Brown Onion, 2 onions, 440g before peeling
  • 125g Celery, 2 sticks

Dice the celery and onion into pieces no more than 5mm to a side. Add to the frying bacon and, on a lower heat, cook through translucent until browning.

  • 776g Celeriac, 1 large Celeriac > 1kg
  • 925g Potato, 6 medium Wilja potatos (Deseree would be fine)
  • 300g Beetroot, 6 small beetroots

Peel and dice all of the above into roughly 5mm-per-side cubes. Toss with the browned onion, celery, and bacon.

  • 8g Fresh Oregano, a small handful
  • 14g Garlic, 6 cloves
  • 4 dried Bay Leaves, quite large
  • 1 tbsp fresh ground Black Pepper

Finely chop the Oregano and Garlic and add to the pot, add the bay leaves and pepper.

  • 1.3lt good Beef Stock, make your own or buy a liquid stock
  • 2.5lt Water

Add the liquid, bring to a boil, reduce to a casual simmer, then leave simmering for at least an hour, util the potato should is breaking down. Give it a sturdy mixing with a whisk, breaking up the potato further, which will thicken the soup slightly. Now it is time to carefully add salt, “to taste.”

This should give you about 4 litres of soup. Weighing in at about 160 Calories per 300g serve (8g protein, 22g carbs, 4g fat.)



Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

After not having written anything here for some time I break my silence merely to mention that I’m migrating to a new server right now. In the unlikely event that this causes a problem (i.e. bounced email) you now know why.

I shall endeavour to write something somewhat more interesting in the less than completely distant future.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I enquired about the availability of plots in the allotments around the back. Apparently there is a 29-long waiting list. The allotment only has 27 plots. That must add up to quite a wait! A pity, as the allotments are all of a 1-minute walk away. I’ve followed up by asking about the Old Hale Way allotments in the north of Hitchin. Will be interesting to see what the waiting list there is like. It is a much larger site with 141 plots. Unfortunately it is probably a 20 minute, or more, walk disant.

There’s a funny coincidence in the name. My final highschool was Hale, in Perth, and that makes me, I suppose, an Old Haleian. Speaking of Old Haleians, people in the family may be interested in a Dec08 news item about Bruce Bennett.

Anyway, might just have to do what I can with the tiny patch of shady mud in the back yard again this year.

Feeling tired after spending several hours assembling Ikea furniture. My sister flies in on Saturday and will be staying for a while, so we got some new furniture. It showed up today, a load of flat-packs. Just in time too.

Kat and I took the day off, Friday and Monday as well. An extra-long-weekend of our own making so we can Get Some Stuff Done(TM). I have a shopping list as long as my arm, and a TODO list that is even longer.

Anyway, up early tomorrow so I can fit in drinking espressi before picking up a hire car for the weekend. It is nice to have a car once in a while.

Got the Whole Process Wrong?

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

I have to wonder, sitting down just now, at practically 19:00 on a Sunday, to relax somewhat for the first time this weekend, if I have got something terribly wrong here. I cannot stop, any moment not spent doing is a moment wasted. Even my relaxation now is limited. I do find writing this note quite relaxing, but I have a stew on the stove and work, of a sort, that must be done before dinner – lest I let people down, which is the sinniest of sins.

Today’s horridness starts at about 10:30, because that’s the appallingly late time that this lazy monkey got out of bed. The weekend alarm is supposed to be for 08:00, dammit, isn’t that lazy enough already? (My weekdays start at 05:30, so 08:00 is pretty damn generous.) 2.5 hours wasted from the outset. After cooking breakfast, cleaning up, and heading out, I should not have sat down for 30 minutes to have coffee. Sins upon sins.

We inspected some furniture, since we generally lack in this department and my sister is moving in in a couple of weeks. Would be nice if she didn’t have to live out of a suitcase. Then, not immediately fulfilled in the wardrobe department, we did some minimal grocery shopping.

Once home, and it is about 14:00 by now (where does the time go,) it was time to cook. Soup first, a beetroot and celeriac job spiced with cinnamon, juniper, bay and a bit of cayenne. Steak and kidney hotpot next, kidneys are a bloody bugger to prepare. Suddenly it is 17:00 and time to clean. Dishes, and sweeping, and mopping, sigh, oh my.

Quarter to seven and I’m sitting in this chair, writing this text, a little exhausted already.

Now I have a website to create!

How do people do it? As introduced: what’s wrong? Should I not cook, succumb to the soporific monotony of shop-bought meals and soups? Sleep much less? Perhaps there is something extremely wrong with my time management – a constantly niggling fear of mine. The food I make does us for a week. I feel I’m being efficient here, but right now I feel maybe this is foolishness.

Anyway, I’m wasting time. I’ll contemplate cooking less, in an effort to achieve more. Cooking, after all, achieves little more than momentary enjoyment. Too large a time cost, not enough payoff? Are other things I could do, ostensibly more valuable in the long-term, a better use of my time. The blueprint is that ultimately we must be content, possibly even happy. I have a feeling that somewhere in my head something is miswired, ultimately I must be just plain busy. With anything, to the point that perhaps my subconscious prioritises on busywork over effective work.

We must achieve. Effectiveness is key. But, without prescience, how much hope do we have of choosing to execute even semi-optimal long-term-productive actions? One thing is stupidly obvious: inactivity will achieve nothing. And to me inactivity is synonymous with passivity. But labelling something as passive is not always so easy. (Take TV for example: I don’t own one as a matter of quite thoroughly considered principle, but I’m not going to say it is absolutely passive and I often feel there is a facet of modern culture, social depth, and learning that I have chosen to ignore in this instance. I can see, and even regret, bad sides to every “good” decision I make.)

So, in short: I must do, Do, DO. In the hope my doing is valuable? Or perhaps just because doing is the ultimate excuse.
I could have, but I was busy.

For the Love of Food

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Busy, busy, busy. I’m having trouble finding the time to write things up these days. The obvious culprit is 2 hours of daily commuting. I don’t regret choosing to be a commuter, not in the slightest, but loosing time is always frustrating. Part of my time is spent on the train, so maybe I should get myself some sort of teensy laptop (but with a keyboard I can negotiate) and make some use of the 70 or so usable train minutes. At the moment I use them mostly by reading news/blogs/stuff on my iPhone.

This weekend, leveraging our recent discovery of a good old fashioned butcher here in Hitchin, has been somewhat full-on in the kitchen. On Saturday I picked up 2 trotters, 2kg of pork belly, some bacon, and some bones from Mr Fosket, the aforementioned butcher. His bacon is excellent, the lack of such bacon is what prompted me to start making my own, but I’m not equipped to smoke bacon myself. So now I know where I can get what I want in the smoked bacon department – cut a succulent half centimetre thick, it fries without any shrinkage or leakage. Perfect stuff. But that’s just breakfast.

The bones were for stock of course, and consisted of a sawn up set of rump bones. Since his supplier had forgotten to drop off the marrow bone I’d asked for last weekend. The rump bones were enough to make a well flavoured litre of stock though, which did me for the weekend. The stock, you see, had a destiny – a warming winter minestrone!

The minestrone was a simple affair, 2 onions fried up with 25g of EVOO and 100g of my own pancetta-alike. Just lightly browned before adding, 5mm dice: 3 carrots, 2 small zucchinis, 4 sticks of celery, and a small bag of beans. Herb-wise I added a tbsp each of dried oregano, basil, and fresh-ground black pepper, plus 6 finely chopped garlic cloves. For liquids, the stock, 700g passata, a 400g tin of chopped tomato, and about 1 litre of water. For carbs, 250g of pre-boiled (for 30 minutes) and rinsed pearl barley. This lot simmers on the stove for about 45 minutes I guess (until the veggies are all cooked, but the carrot still retains a little bite. Simple stuff, about fourteen 300g serves of soup – I should be able to skip soup making next weekend since I have 6 serves of previous soup in the fridge and freezer.

The main event of the weekend, however, is bunny-brawn. Two bunnies I was given by a guy down the pub, two trotters, an onion, a large parsnip, some herbs. The trotters I clean well, trim of any hairy parts (between the toes!), halve, then split longways. These are simmered for about an hour, just covered with water, and skimming off the scum that forms until it stop forming. Then everything else is added and the water is topped up until it is about an inch above the bits. Herb-and-spice wise, 4 bay leaves, and a bouquet-garni of 8 cloves, 1 tsp juniper berries, a heaped teaspoon of black peppercorns, and the same of corriander seeds. Bring to a very gentle simmer, weight down the content of the pot by submerging a small plate on top of everything, and simmer for hours. I simmered this for about 4 hours (enough time to go out for coffee and shopping.) Fish out the bits with a slotted spoon and put aside to cool, strain the stock through some muslin, and put it back on the heat to reduce – to about a quarter of its volume probably. I reduced it until it turned into a fairly firm jelly when a tablespoon of it was put on a cooled plate in the fridge for about 5 minutes. I also added about a tablespoon of green peppercorns (in brine) to the stock as it neared the end of its reducing. Tear up the meat, skin, and fat being careful to extract all the bones. Then roughly chop the meat, add the stock, and spoon into moulds of your choice. Refrigerate, eat. A proper brawn is made with a pig’s head of course – I’ll give that a go someday. Apparently brawn ages well, and is often better after a week than the day after you make it. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Finally, just now I’ve popped a sourdough loaf into the oven. That’s my latest thing, I make a sourdough loaf every Sunday. A slice of bread a day for a week for each of us. This is pretty much the only way I can get good bread and have a relatively confident nutrient info for it, supermarket bread is crap, and good artisan bread comes without nutritional information. I keep a rye sour on the go, pulling it out of the fridge twice a week (Tue, and Fri, say) for a top-up and overnight revival. On Saturday evening I use it to kick off a wheat sourdough starter, and finish off the loaf on Sunday.

Oh, I also have another pork belly salting now, the one I mentioned I got from the butcher. This will be my fourth salted belly! The last one came out very much like pancetta, it was hung in a fairly breezy spot next to an open window for about a month. Which reminds me, I better salt my belly now, and then get to bed.

Sometimes I wonder why I don’t just order a pizza.

My Chapel

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

We went and had a closer look at that chapel yesterday. It really is rather nice, even seems to be in pretty decent condition.

The last couple of passed planning applications are available online, the UK is pretty good with that sort of thing. Thanks to land registry information we can also see how much it last sold for.

So, the previous owner got planning approval passed to convert the place into a two bedroom home back in April of 2006. At the end of the year it was sold for £315,000, no work having been done. Failed dream? Perhaps the owner found out exactly how much it would cost to actually have the work done. Perhaps the whole aim was to get planning consent then sell it on.

The current owner doesn’t seem to have been happy with a 2 bedroom conversion. And in November 2007 got planning permission to convert it into a 4 bedroom residence. Four bedrooms? It is a 6m by 14m rectangle! The planning permission comes complete with architectural diagrams [PDF], the owner was going to fit all this in by digging out a basement. Clearly he had, or thought he had, deep, bulging, pockets.

I guess the pockets weren’t as deep as expected, here we are a year later and it is back on the market. This time for 285k, that’s less than a 10% drop since, pretty much, peak prices. Could maybe knock off another 10% – could even be worth putting in a 250k offer. Though, for me, 200k would be more realistic. But even then, what of the cost of actually making the place a home? It would have to be astronomical, surely. I should get a guy down at the pub to browse the plans, and see what he thinks. Probably pointless though, getting a mortgage is hard enough right now – borrowing even more on speculative post-conversion value? Probably more likely to get a “yes” asking a banker if he’d like a stick rammed up his backside. And where would we live in the meantime? Would the council let us live in a caravan on site? The poor old neighbours would think the pikeys have moved in. Not bloody likely.

The council is a whole other ball game of course, their way of ensuring only the “right sort” get the place is to make it twice as expensive to do anything. The trees are all under protection orders of course, which is fine by me, I want the trees – but of course this means you need to consult a qualified arbourist before you so much as step foot in the direction of one of them. Before a single bit of work is done, scaffold-grade protective barriers must be erected around the trees at a British-standards specified distance (also requiring specialists no doubt.) Of course, the other thing you have to do is pay for a full archaeological survey of the site – and probably have an archaeologist around while you dig out the basement, assuming you have the money to go all the way with that plan (in reading all the fine print, it seems the archaeological survey condition is only on the basement-plan approval, the 2 bedroom one doesn’t have it.)

The site itself is quite large, at a third of an acre, and has housing all around it but separated by a good buffer of space. It is just crying out for a lush yew hedge – which would have to be acceptable, yew hedges and churches are like bread and butter. There’s a site layout plan in the council records as well. Given all the trees there is probably limited scope for a productive garden, but I’m sure I could manage something.

As for the history of the site, it is part of the old Caldicott School site, that page includes some history including when the chapel was built (1909.) Locals in the pub tell us its most recent public use was as a youth club, mostly used as a boxing gym. That’s when it was under control of some kind of youth trust, before being sold into private freehold (with preservation conditions attached) to raise money or something.

Potential galore, for someone in possession of both dreams and money. Enough dreaming for now though, back to work tomorrow and on to the finalé of 2008. Must try and just forget about it.

Bought a bottle of 18yo Glenlivit today, only one 10,000th the price of the chapel, it’ll just have to do I think.


Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Christmas hey? There goes another one of these “year” thingys, almost. It has been more than 3 of the things since I first left Australian airspace
for these antipodean (relatively speaking) shores. Shores, hah, midlands more precisely. Six months in Aylesbury (good ducks), 2 years in Rickmansworth (good looks, zero personality, HHGTTG fame), now 8 months in Hitchin. Hitchin is the sooty gem of the lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place.

Where are we now? Kat continues to toil in the “City”, without the infamous London “city” bucks (though they’re reserved for the privileged few these days.) I get by in my little techno-world, haphazard in a way, knowing how to poke the damn computational devices where it hurts. “Our” three bedroom terrace house suits us like an empty suit of medieval armour to a hermit crab. We rent, we vent, and get on with life.

I keep starting to write about what I’m up to, but never get to finish. Last weekend it was roast pheasant, beef and lambs’ liver shepherds’ pie, and butternut and sweet potato soup. Lately I should write about my roast Xmas duck. Crispy spiced skin glazed with orange, honey, and elderberry jelly. But the time escapes me. Perhaps my enthusiasm for writing up my kitchen shenanigans departs, perhaps the numbers add up to zero. It really does take a lot of effort and time to get it right. I should get around to saying something about my “pancetta” too, brilliant stuff. And I stewed a hare two weeks ago. I think I’m living my life from desk to kitchen these days, with a regular detour via the pub. If I can convince myself to spend some money, ever so hard, on a less cumbersome laptop I may be able to use my hour-per-day on trains to get some of these thoughts to text.

Pubs hey? Hitchin is full of the things. But if you’re here go to The Nightingale, around the corner from the station on Nightingale road, and, given the time, The Half Moon, a mile down the main road but, also, always a purveyor of fine ales. For some reason The Sunrunner carries all the “real ale” glory for Hitchin, buggered if I know why, numbers do not equal quality. And quality is all you’ll find at the other two.

Here in Hitchin we ever have our eyes open for a place of our own. And just now a real doozy has been thrown in front of us. By chance we took a loop up over the hill today, over Windmill Hill and down via Highbury. Near the roundabout what did we see? A chapel, for sale. For sale! A chapel!

A little investigation leads us to believe it is on the market for £285k. Which is, possibly, just barely affordable to us. But it is probably an empty shell of a building, not suitable for habitation. Certainly not something I’d ever subject Kat to (I could probably happily live in a culvert myself – so long as it has electricity and landline/3G.)

Seriously though. Near the middle of town, only a little further from the station than we are now, a third of an acre. No idea if it is freehold/leasehold, or of other pertinent details. Is it listed? “Conservation area,” must be. Is there a basement, photos indicate it is likely. How bad is it inside? Sure, it isn’t on the scale of my earlier castley postulations, but ever so more realistic. Tantalisingly so. Damn it.

Anyway, merry new near, and such. I hope life, and business, goes well for all. Over and out. Monkey boi.