Archive for the ‘A to Z’ Category

P is for…

POPULAR!

Ok, anyone who loves feeding people knows that, illogically, you feel that when people praise your food they are, by default, also praising you. I think that might be why I like feeding people so much.

Last Sunday, when I had my first day at Ham House, another volunteer who’s been there for 15 years was talking about his oven being broken. He said he would normally bring a cake in every Sunday to put in the tea room for when the volunteers have their breaks.

A ha! thought I. I see an opening for a new cake-baker and, potentially, a new most-popular volunteer.

With my sights set on one day inheriting Ham House (who wouldn’t want this as their holiday home?)…

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…and becoming the 3rd Countess of Ham (I’m sure that’s a thing), I thought I’d become temporary cake-provider.

Now, the night before, having made my fabulous plan, I went to my kitchen to bake a cake…. And found I was out of sugar. What a loser. Who lets themself run out of sugar?! So I made a loaf of bread with loads of different spices and seeds and took along one of the chutneys I made at the farm.

When I got to Ham House, I dropped the goodies in the tea room with a note before going to bake for the visitors.

I headed to the kitchen with the volunteer baker for that day, who I would be shadowing. We baked two different types of biscuits, using 17th century recipes that we didn’t change at all (apart from baking them in an electric oven, of course).

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One was a carraway and coriander biscuit. And could I stop calling it carrot and coriander when speaking to visitors? No, of course not! And they’d go, “O, carrot and coriander biscuits? Interesting!” And then I’d be like, “O no, sorry. Carraway and coriander.” And feel silly.

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The other was called a knot biscuit, because of how the dough was rolled into strips and twisted or knotted together. They had carraway, ground mace and fennel seeds in them.

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Here’s a close up of my prettiest knotting attempt.

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The baking smells brought visitors and other volunteers down to the room, following their noses. Although it was a much quieter day than the previous Sunday I had worked, we still had a decent amount of people come and linger, chatting about the history of the kitchen.

Every so often, I brushed a stray bit of flour off the beautiful elm wood table which, they think, has been there since the early 1600s and I’d think of the people who had worked at this table before me and think how interesting it would be if the table could talk.

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Once we’d finished baking, we stayed to the end to talk to people about the recipes and what 17th century food was like. It was good fun because food is a thing most people can connect with because most people cook so I ended up having some quite in-depth discussions, speculating on the occasions when the biscuits might have been eaten and what with and were they dipped into a hot drink or eaten after dinner as a digestive, etc etc.

When I popped to the tea room at the end of the day to check on the bread and chutney situation, the loaf was now a few crumbs on some napkins and the chutney was half empty. One of the gardeners was in there and she asked if I was the one who baked the bread and said the gardeners had loved it! They snaffled half of it in about ten minutes and loved the chutney! Even the lady I was shadowing on the baking said she had tasted it and enjoyed it!

So I think that means they love me too, surely? Isn’t that what that means? What to bake for next time though? Suggestions please.

Signing off, Laura Maisey, (future) 3rd Countess of Ham and Lady of the Manor at Ham House.

O is for…

I’m handing over to my regular guest blogger today for O. here goes. Enjoy it…

 

O!

 

The title might seem a bit strange since all the other letters so far have referred at least to a word or phrase.

Some of you might remember a post from 2.1.13 called Toponymy where I told you about the furthest points north, south, east & west in mainland Britain. The info came largely from a really interesting present I was given at Christmas – A Dictionary of British Place Names (A.D. Mills). For this week I’ve decided to return to it and have a look at some of the entries under the letter “O”.

First entry in the “O” section is Oadby (appears as Oldebi in the Domesday Book of 1086). The “-by” ending means village or farmstead and the first part is the English version of the Scandinavian name Authi.

Another one is not exactly a place but it gets an entry because of its geographical and historical significance – Offa’s Dyke. It was a rampart forming the boundary separating England & Wales. As you may know Offa was the ancient king of an area called Mercia during the latter half of the 8th century AD. He was quite an aggressive king conquering large areas of central England and finally Wales. He built the 150 mile long Dyke to stop the Welsh sending raiding parties into English (=’his’) territory. Mercia was a large kingdom occupying the Midlands area of England: its southern border was with the West Saxons (just east of Bristol area) and East Saxons (a much smaller kingdom north of the Thames and south of the area inhabited by the East Anglian peoples). Mercia’s northern boundary appears to have been at least as far as a horizontal line through Liverpool but may have extended much further up before meeting the southern boundary of the kingdom of Northumbria (today the NE of England).

There is a 177 mile footpath you can walk if you fancy it that follows the line of the original dyke. Lonely Planet have nominated the dyke as one of the must see sites for 2013. It has also been listed in the top ten great wall walks “in the world”. (The rest can be seen here: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/themes/best-in-travel-2013/the-worlds-greatest-wall-walks/ )

Those of you who know your history will remember that the area of North Wales is very probably where King Arthur’s ancient kingdom (5th/6th century) of Avalon was located. The locations of many of the stories about Arthur can be traced to places in the North Wales area. One of the books I’m reading at the moment is called The Keys To Avalon (Steve Blake, Scott Lloyd) and it does a fantastic job of debunking many of the claims about King Arthur (father Uthyr Pendragon, mother Eigyr) being related to areas in the south of England around Glastonbury and even as far north as Scotland. They do it simply by returning to the original Welsh source documents used by the early writers and showing how misinterpretations of some words have caused misleading info to bed itself into major historical works. It also shows how political manoeuvring in some cases and straightforward commercialism in others contributed to some areas or places being claimed as the “real” locations of parts of the Arthurian story. It’s a good read but you’ll need perseverance to keep going through some of the necessary but difficult sections of Welsh etymology.

I was surprised to read the entry just a bit further on – that of Ogbourne Maizey. It had an entry in the Domesday Book as Ocheburn (stream of a man called Occa) and later as Ocheburn Meysey. This latter name comes from the family name de Meysey. It is first mentioned in records just after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and has a variety of spellings: Meysey, Meysy, Maisie, Maysey & lastly Maisey. It is first recorded in Gloucestershire having been given Lordships of the manors of Hampton Meysey & Marston Meysey by the Conqueror himself. Tradition says that the de Meysey family came over with William the Conqueror. It appears to have come from Brittainy (or possibly Normandy). The family does have a crest & coat of arms so it seems LLM may have some very important ancestors. However treat this information carefully as it could be seen that your family displaced existing lords of the area of their homes and lands simply because of its connections to the conquering nation which gave grants of land to its own people. I’m wondering at this point, as LLM has just done a volunteer stint at a massive country house estate (Ham House), whether she is actually subconsciously returning to her thousand-year old ancestral roots. Something in her genes might be saying: “I belong here!” Hmmm… I wonder how long before we will have to address her as “Milady”?

Next is Old Wives Lees; this has to be one of the most unusual village names. Originally called Oldwoods Lees no-one seems to know how it became corrupted into its present form. The highest point in the village is called ‘The Mount’ and this area was used in the film Last Orders (2000) starring Michael Caine & Bob Hoskins. The Pilgrims’ Way – a 132 mile footpath from Winchester (Hampshire) to Canterbury (Kent) – passes close by and was used by those going to the Canterbury shrine of Thomas à Beckett (Archbishop of Canterbury 1162-1170 who was murdered by supporters of Henry II).

Oswestry (Shropshire) means ‘Tree of a man named Oswald’ and I suppose you can see how easily, over many years, you get from Oswald’s Tree to Oswestry. There is a possible connection to St Oswald who was king of Northumbria in about the 7th century although it is clearly in Mercian held territory (see Offa’s Dyke para above).

Odd as it may seem there are 3 places in England called simply Over: one in Cambridgeshire, one in Cheshire, one on Gloucestershire.

Next a couple from across the Irish Sea: Owenavorragh (in county Wexford) meaning “river liable to flood” and Owendalulleegh (in Galway) meaning “river of two milch cows”. At first sight you might be tempted to think they have Welsh connections because the start of both is “Owen” but the etymology splits the names after the first two letters. “Ow” meaning river.

Final entry in the “O” section is Ozleworth meaning ‘Enclosure of a man called Osla’ or surprisingly ‘enclosure frequented by blackbirds’.

And there you have it a brief survey of some interesting places beginning with “O”.

N is for…

NIBBLES!

There has been a work-based emergency so I don’t have time to write much. I thought I’d just show you a few of my favourite things I’ve eaten recently.

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Beautiful bruscetta at the deli

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Turkey escalope with a fried egg and shaving of truffle (the little black bit on the yolk) at Jamie’s Italian

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Tarte Tatin in Paris

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Chocolate and pistachio biscotti that I made at home

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Fig and walnut bread, also homemade

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Asparagus and pea risotto at one of the restaurants at the Paralympics last year

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Sea bass dish in Trastavere, Rome, last year. Amazing.

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Pig’s head and rabbit terrine at The Bingham

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Jerusalem artichoke and truffle risotto at the Savoy

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Afternoon tea at The Tea Box

400!

Good morning everyone. Today is quite a significant day in my blogging career. It’s half way to 800. It’s two times 200. It’s one more than 399 and one less than 401. Not guessed it yet? Well, let me tell you.

It’s my 400th post today!

Now you’re either thinking one of two things about this fact.

1. Wow, that’s impressive. What a lot of interesting things she has to say.

2. Omygoodness, that’s a lot of nonsense.

To mark the occasion, I debated a few different possibilities. The favourite amongst my friends was to stuff 400 mini marshmallows in my mouth and photograph it. As I am sadly lacking in mini marshmallows and the shops open late on Sundays, I shall have to shelf that idea until it’s time for another significant post, 500 maybe?

The next idea was do something with 400 of my worms, I’m not sure what. Put them on a plate and photograph them maybe? But as the worms have only just been put in their new home (a proper worm bin as opposed to their previous home, a saucepan) and they were very naughty before then, I feel they need a bit longer on the naughty step before being allowed to join in the blogging fun. Honestly, it’s like having hundreds of naughty little schoolchildren. I’m like a babysitter. The other night I came home from an evening out and they had escaped and were everywhere – the kitchen floor, the outside toilet, the garden, some were even hiding inside the mop. Naughty worms.

I thought about climbing 400 steps but I’m quite comfy here on the sofa.

I thought about drinking 400 cups of tea but I’ve heard that you can drown yourself if you drink more than 26 in a day.

I thought about reading a page from 400 different books but it’s my first day at Ham House today so time is limited.

So I thought I’d refashion a post I did ages ago, called Things I Have Learned. For the following to make sense, you’re best reading the original first. And, if I’m clever, I’ll make it exactly 400 words. Look, it’s Sunday morning and it’s the best I can offer. Get over it.

Here goes…

1. My post is never as big as I think it is (or rather, ‘hope’ as I look longingly at other blogs and their posts filled with wisdom and then at my little silly ones about Taylor Swift).

2. Most people are a little bit bored by blogs about how to blog. As a new blogger, I lapped them up. Now I’m not really so keen. I don’t get anything about the blogger in these ‘advice’ blogs.

3. People like to shorten words (e.g. ‘NaNoWriMo’ or ‘NaBloPoMo’ or ‘NeeNorNeeNor’)

4. Missing a typo is horrible. Especially if the typo is talking about someone you did yesterday instead of something.

5. Writing a post that people notice is a fine art.

6. Most bloggers thrive off the drama in their lives. Cause then they can blog it.

7. Blogging makes you feel better.

8. Sometimes, blogging all your problems is the worst thing you can do.

9. Making your own chicken stock is more trouble than it’s worth. (No, I know this doesn’t relate to blogging but it’s still a fact.)

10. If you can’t make it good, don’t post it. Save it til later and sort it out then.

O! And one more…

11. Denying the existence of a rubbish post doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Umm. It’s not 400 words. It’s way more. O well. Shoot me.

L is for…

LOVE!

Now, there’s a lot of love between my colleague, Mimi, and I. You might be wondering if you remember the name Mimi from a previous post. And you would be right. For it is Mimi of Falling For You fame. Tabasco-breast Mimi, if you will.

Now Mimi is like my long lost sister. Ish. Kind of. Our surnames are a bit similar and our signatures are similar too. So you see, a lot of love.

After a few months of working together, we were on a shift one day and it was handover time. At 3pm, the evening shift starts and the morning shift finishes. It was at this point that a company who delivers our packaging decided to bring everything we had ordered for that week. As there was loads of stuff, I told the evening shift person I would stay to unpack it, save them trying to do that plus everything else you need to do on an evening shift.

As I got started, I clamoured over all the boxes and was kind of wedged in with my back to the big fridge, unpacking stuff. Mimi, with her coat on ready to go, leaned toward me with one arm outstretched.

O, we’ve reached that stage in our relationship, have we? I thought, as I responded to the invitation to hug. This is nice. This is how we say goodbye now.

I really went for it actually, embracing Mimi and knowing that this was a significant moment for us. We were now, officially, best friends. (Mimi says I was a bit like a limpit, clinging onto her.)

A pause followed. Then Mimi spoke.

“Get off. I’m trying to get to the fridge.”

“O, I thought you were… I thought you were saying bye.”

She laughed vigorously, assured me that she wasn’t going in for a hug and could I please move cause she needed to get the fridge.

Hurriedly, I unclamped and stepped aside a little, while she put something away in the fridge and bustled out, saying bye as usual.

I’ve not tried the goodbye hug again. But still, there’s a lot of love.

K is for….

KERFUFFLE!

Which is what these worms are turning out to be. Bloody worms. Bloody I’m-so-environmentally-aware-and-do-my-own-composting worms. Yeh, right.

Firstly, the company I ordered my worm kit from promised to get it to me in 3-5 days. 8 days later and they finally arrived. A basic worm kit consists of the bin with all its trays and taps and this, that and the other, a carpet thingy, some worms, some worm feed and a fibre block thing.

When I opened my box, I had worms, a carpet thingy, worm feed x 2 and a fibre block thing. Hmmmm…. I’m missing all the main bits, as in the bin to put it all in.

And so I went online, to the value starter pack with its picture of a person putting some food waste into a worm bin. Then I looked at the small print next to it and in fact, the basic value pack consists of only what I got. Hmm… So the picture of the person putting food waste into a worm bin actually shows nothing that you even get in the kit you’re buying.

So I searched around the shop, because obviously now I need to buy a bin and send off for it, as my poor worms are just chilling in a bag next to the outside toilet. I am sad for them. So I looked for a bin to buy. And I looked. And I looked. And I slowly grew more enraged.

Where is the BLOODY bin for these bloody worms? What’s the point in selling me these stupid worm feeds and carpet thingy to put in my bin if it’s not bloody possible to order the bin separately?!

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(my bag of worms)

I gave up on them in a rage (not before sending a carefully worded email telling them that they need to just send me a bloody bin and ask me for some money or they’ll be sorry… Yeh…) and went to Google. I googled ‘vermicomposting’ and ‘worm composting’ and ‘worm bin’ and ‘where to buy a worm bin’ and came up with lots of worm suppliers. Wormsdirectuk promised me so much but then just offered me some worms.

I don’t bloody NEED any bloody worms, do I?! I got worms coming out my ears. I need a bloody bin to put them in.

After lots of searching, I found a DIY worm bin website and will probably just go and get a few square plastic buckets tomorrow and drill holes in them, as I’m assured the worms will love that.

And so, Wiggly Wigglers and wormsdirectuk, I shake my metaphorical fist at you and curse the website you walk on. You have fooled me! You fooled me into thinking that environmentally conscious companies like yourselves, who are assisting me in my quest to live a more useful life, would be fabulous too. Fabulous and friendly and fuss free. I thought my interactions with you would be of people in the know, whispering secretively about our passion for all things green, helping each other and making it easy for us to move forward in our quests.

But no. You sent me a bag of worms and some worm feed in a cardboard box and then left me out in the cold. I banged on the door and asked to let back in the party but you opened the door only to punch me.

“Take your stupid worms and get out of here! Figure it out for yourself!” you told me.

Well, worm people. This lovely quest to use worms to compost my food has turned into a right KERFUFFLE.

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(the worms in their temporary home, a big saucepan)

J is for….

JET PLANE!

As in Leaving On A….

When I was 18, I decided to go on a gap year. I really decided who I went away with in a bit of a panic. Anyone else I knew who was taking a year out before uni had arranged it already. So panic set in and I applied for the first thing I saw. Thankfully, it was brilliant. Before we left, we went on a training course on a little island off the coast of Scotland.

My favourite favourite song, at this point in time, was Leaving On A Jet Plane by Peter, Paul and Mary. When getting to know everyone else on the course, one boy, who was probably the most fun ever, revealed that his favourite song was Leaving On A Jet Plane!

Omygod, no! That’s my favourite song! No, it’s my favourite song. Omygod, we’ve got the same favourite song! This is like fate! It’s totally fate. I love the version Bjork did. Do you remember it? No, I didn’t know she’d done a version. I like the one by Peter, Paul and Mary. Wow. Same favourite song. This is amazing. We’re like so best friends.

And so we went on our gap years, me to Africa, Joe to China. And we spent a few years being here, there and everywhere. Until finally, inevitably, we both ended up in London. And we are still good friends, in fact we met for dinner last week.

And there have been various songs that epitomise different times in our relationship. For example, Cool by Gwen Stefani and Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt will always transport me back to the time I spent in Beijing with Joe, around the time that both of those songs came out. On the day I flew home, we walked down a quiet road near his hutong singing loudly and when I got in a taxi to leave, the unfairness of constantly living so far apart really got to me.
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(Us pretending to be fabulous pianists in a hotel in Beijing)

And now we live at opposite ends of the same tube line in the same city! Although we’re no longer 18 and no longer act as if we’re on drugs that make you hyper, I knew that song meant something when we discovered it was both our favourite!