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Lofty, closer to home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

Lofty, 10 mins from home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

The hoped for trip to Romania gets ever closer; a few health and other hurdles yet to overcome but increasing optimism has prompted me to create a Facebook ‘group’ where I can keep a running diary during the trip. The group is ‘public’ so anyone can see it, but only I can post on it – that makes sense as it is intended to be a diary of the trip. Of course anyone will be able to ‘like’ and ‘comment’ and I hope they will. I’m hoping too that I might be inspired to create a few more haiku too.

The Facebook group is called Lofty2Romania – ‘Lofty’ (1972 VW crossover Bay) is, of course, camper’s name (given by the previous owner due to his high top). He has a standard 1,600cc air-cooled engine but has an LPG conversion, done by Steve Shaw at Gasure, just inside Wales the other side of Chester. Definitely recommended; the only downside is losing the storage under the rock and roll bed, mostly taken up by the LPG tank.

I may do the occasional post on the new Facebook group as things progress towards 26 July. I’m hoping Lofty doesn’t get too excited as although he knows the Yorkshire Dales, N Yorks moors, Yorkshire coast and the Lakes very well and has been as far as Cornwall (with us), he’s probably a bit jealous of his little sister ‘Mini’ (1975 classic mini) who took us to Romania and back, camping, in 2006 without a minute’s trouble, even taking hub-cap deep potholes in the Rodney mountains in her stride (I did this same trans-Romania route on a push-bike in 1994; no chance now!).

Mini

Mini - my 1975 classic miniMini will probably have a bit of treatment while we are away; her original suspension cones are rather hard after 40 years and the state of Britain’s roads now, and those ridiculous speed humps, cause her (and me) a lot of agro, especially while recovering from surgery twice this year (I’d probably have been able to drive her much earlier had the suspension been softer). I’ve only been able to drive her for about a week and have yet to drive Lofty since the surgery at the end of May.

picture showing some of the hairpin bends on the trans-fagaras highwayLofty will have to do even better than Mini in some ways though we don’t expect potholes on the trans-fagaras highway, by which we intend to cross the Fagaras mountains, visiting blogger friends we’ve never met in person.

Paint, seat, exhaust, petrol pump and …

At the moment Lofty’s still getting some new clothes (ie coats of paint – rollered). He’ll probably get a few more flowers and butterflies too. The driver’s seat needs new seat pad, back pad and cover; in fact he’s needed them for years now but maybe sitting more or less on the springs is not a good idea for a 4,000+ mile journey. For the past year I’ve not been able to do it because of the health issues.

He’ll be making a trip to Gasure soon to have a new exhaust fitted and while there have a dicky petrol pump replaced. It may not always be possible to find an LPG station on the trip though hopefully most of the time as he’s much more economical on LPG. I reckon I’ll need about 1,000 litres of LPG during the trip; it wouldn’t be much less petrol at almost twice the price!

Harwich to Holland

At the moment the intention is to go via Harwich to the Hook of Holland. Hull would be great, as I’ve done before but not with the camper, but the cost is ridiculous now. A leisurely trip down to Essex then a sleep before taking an early morning ferry, at about 1/3 of the price, makes sense to me. Anyway, I love being on the sea so a daytime sailing is much more attractive.

Back via Weimar?

To Romania we will be taking more or less the same route as with Mini 9 years ago – down the Rhine through Germany then Austria and Hungary. However, I’m hoping to come back via Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic then what was East Germany where I was last some 40 years ago. I really want to visit Weimar though it will not be the same. I vaguely remember playing a piano said to have been played by Liszt and Wagner (was this at the Elephant, now a top luxury hotel, or the Erbprinz – now no more?) and sitting at a table, certainly the Elephant, at which Hitler was said to have held meetings with the Nazi hierarchy. Not in a museum; they were just there.

Wish us luck to be able to make a start on 26 July.

 

It’s a while since I wrote anything about food so, having used some recipes picked up from bloggers I follow, the Chef Mimi Blog, My French Heaven and Rabbit Food, as a basis for some meals, and really enjoyed them, it seemed an ideal time to return to one of my favourite themes. But before that …

Tea

I should have a ‘grump’ about the marketing of Yorkshire tea. When I was unwell last year I completely ‘went off’ the 1/2 litre of very, very strong coffee (very sweet) I previously thought indispensable to get going in the morning, so began to drink tea (no sugar) first thing (about 6.00). At this time I also changed from ‘normal’ Yorkshire tea to ‘Gold’ Yorkshire tea (a bit stronger) but, although the shops were stuffed with teabags of the stuff, finding loose leaf tea proved very difficult. Then Taylors of Harrogate, which markets the brand, began a big push, joining up with Classic FM radio, sponsoring concerts, etc, but it was still difficult to find packets of loose leaf ‘Gold’. I wrote to Taylors pointing out that this was a cardinal marketing sin. Customer service were very helpful but that’s not the point. I have now found that the biggest Tesco supermarkets keep it though often there are only a couple of packets, if any, on the shelf. Today I found eight; I bought the lot!

Some like it hot – especially French chickens

I’m grateful to Chef Mimi as although in the past I followed My French Heaven closely I missed the ‘My Tangy Green Chicken’ in February last year. I’ve been roasting chickens for 60 years or more but I learned something surprising – to roast the chicken at 480degF ! Funny to find a chef in France using Fahrenheit (I know); we don’t even use it now in the UK – near as dammit 250degC. I suppose I could have used this temperature, unknowingly, when I was cooking on an old coal-fired range some 50 to 60 years ago (my grandmother used butter-tub slats, so wood soaked with butter, thrown out by the local coop, to get a high temperature; the oven bottom was red!) I don’t think my modern oven reaches quite 250; I shoved it on max and that’s what I’ll use in future.

Having found a free-range corn-fed chicken and all the other ingredients for Stephane’s (My French Heaven) recipe I followed his Tangy Green Chicken recipe. Wonderful. I did use olive oil, not the canola oil he stipulates, but other than that followed his recipe faithfully. Not surprisingly many queried his stipulated temperature but he was adamant. Rightly so , the result is wonderful. Chef Mimi made some changes for her ‘Roast chicken with olives‘, partly because all the ingredients seemed not to be readily available in her part of the USA, but I’m sure that her version is delicious too.

Rabbit Food

I’ve mentioned before that my wife and I eat ‘veggie’ twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, so it’s always good to find something different without meat. Corrie-Louise will also give you a laugh on her Rabbit Food blog. Her recipe for ‘My Mum’s Red Pepper Lasagne‘ looked interesting but finding that it had no white sauce (I always make bechamel), to me one of the best bits, I decided to make just the pepper and tomato ragout from her recipe and serve it with a less work-intensive pasta, or rather two: whole wheat spaghetti and the little twirled ‘trofie’. Her recipe uses fresh tomatoes but I used tinned – less work – and rather then cheddar I put a good helping of Parmesan on top. Very tasty! (No idea what quinoa is).

 

Another 75 word story submitted to Paragraph Planet.


Meet at six? They agreed. Always the same coffee shop. Two minutes to six I was there. Six precisely another arrived. We sat, small talk, holding the exciting news until our trio was complete. The third appeared, outside, tidying rush-disarranged hair. A wayward bus swept her off her feet, through the window, depositing a bloody, eternally motionless mess before us. I always told her she would be too late for her own funeral, I thought.


My previous, first, attempt – ‘Playing the trout‘ – was featured on Paragraph Planet on 18 June. I’m not going to explain my prompt for this one.

Time travel from chat

to chat in another time

anaesthesia


 

One of the most interesting, and far from unpleasant, things for me about having fairly major surgery is the experience of having a general anaesthetic. I had my latest yesterday and the magical experience prompted the above haiku.

I am chatting to a couple of nurses and an anaesthetist – chatty, cheerful, communicative – in a pre-op room at the Yorkshire Clinic. Then I time travel. I am in some other place, chatting to some other person – a recovery nurse. Did I take just a microsecond to make the journey? The clock says it is more like an hour. Magical!

Hernia repair

I was having a hernia on my left-hand side fixed (‘open’ surgery) following a similar procedure on the right almost exactly four months ago, which I described in detail in a subsequent post.

I will not describe the most recent procedure in such detail. Suffice it to say that despite having the team in Romania well prepared to deal with any urinary problem (see post mentioned above), this time I did not need it. The post-operative pain was (and still is until pain-killers kick in) quite a bit more severe than on the previous occasion, but I immediately felt (and, I am told, looked) far better and this time I was able to come home only four hours after surgery.

To me the left hernia felt smaller than the right but the surgeon (Mr R B Khan) told me that it was, if anything, larger and the bladder was pushing through, which probably gave rise to the pee problem. That it is now back where it belongs will probably help with the other – prostate – problem too.

Romania trip

I hope that feeling so much better means I will be well recovered enough to make the intended major trip to Romania in the camper, and tackle Fagarasanul, in the summer.

The Romanian doctor who attended me last time – Dr Aurel Sbarcea –  was not on duty, doing his alternate fortnightly stint in Romania, nor did I see the Romanian nurse, Adriana, this time.

But, again, I cannot praise the staff at the NHS Hernia Clinic at the Yorkshire Clinic enough. They are simply great!

Malham Cove, N Yorkshire from close to the rock fae

Malham Cove, N Yorkshire (click the pic to see larger)

A wonderful sunny Yorkshire day rounded off a great week with a trip to Malham for Lofty, the VW Bay camper, to show off his new MOT and annual LPG service by Steve at Gasure (highly recommended) the day before. During the week the first session on the eggs2iPads project, in which teenagers introduce potentially isolated elderly people to the wonders of internet on iPads, was a resounding success (see below).

Malham Cove is one of the many wonders of the Yorkshire Dales and that I was able to do the necessary walk (about 2.1/2 miles – nearest parking is in the village) makes me glad I went through with the hernia operation in January and gave a welcome boost to my ‘enthusiasm’ for the follow up op next week (otherwise there’s sure to be a problem with walks in the future). The pictures are by my wife Petronela as mine, on film, won’t be available for a while (for the classic photographers, an XA4 – colour film – and XA – black and white – in my hands).

A plate with a slice of quiche, lemon drizzle cake and fruit cake in the 'pop-up' cafe in Malham Village Hall.

Quiche, lemon drizzle cake and fruit cake in the ‘pop-up’ cafe in Malham Village Hall.

An ‘Animal safari’ in the village meant there was a very large number of visitors and many Morris dance ‘sides’ performing. But, for me, the highlight apart from the Cove itself was a ‘pop-up’ cafe in the village hall. A really tasty quiche (baked by ‘Rachel’) followed by a slice of a wonderful poppy seed laden lemon drizzle cake and a slice of fruit cake (bakers unknown), all washed down by a cup of freshly made tea, was a bargain at a little over £3, all to raise money for local causes. I felt I deserved a day off from my diet, first ever, having lost over 3kg in a month by cutting out cakes, puddings  and chocolate (ouch!). I had put on 12kg due to the hormone treatment for the prostate problem.

At the Cove itself, I wondered at the climbers inching their way up the sheer face but was even more impressed by the magnificence of a Peregrine Falcon standing guard over her chicks, seen thanks to the powerful spotting scopes set up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Lofty needs a new petrol pump – a definite requirement for the planned Romania trip in case I cannot find LPG – as he’s not happy running on petrol at the moment. As he almost never runs on petrol a cheap pump should do. His exhaust system also needs renewal so as Custom & Commercial have a good discount offer over this holiday weekend my order will be going off later today.

Teaching grandmother – from eggs to iPads (eggs2iPads)

The eggs2iPads team

The eggs2iPads team (there’s one more not in the pic). Click the pic for more on this project.

The eggs2iPads project got off to a wonderful start on Thursday teatime. Five enthusiastic but potentially isolated elderly people came to my village’s (Menston) Menstone club to get together with the ‘eggs2iPads’ team of six 14/15 year old youngsters (all Explorer Scouts) to experience and learn to use programs like Skype, and more, to stay in touch with distant relatives and friends. For more on this project click the picture.

Surprise of the session? No-one seemed to have heard of the expression ‘Teaching grandmother to suck eggs‘, from which the project title was derived of course. I must be getting old!

Wonderful Yorkshire cheeses

Worth mentioning that our session at The Menstone was followed by the first meeting of the Wharfedale Fine Cheeses Cheese Club, at which Caroline Bell, daughter of the founder of Shepherd’s Purse, cheesemakers of Thirsk, introduced their range of wonderful cheeses of which the blues are my favourites. Companies like this are showing we Brits can compete with the French and have something other than Cheddar and Stilton.

I abhor cheeses with ‘stuff’ like cranberries introduced (making a favourite – Wensleydale – dreadful to my taste) so am unlikely to be impressed with the Shepherd’s Purse lavender infused). But the blues – wonderful. Again, for more on this go to http://menstonvillagewharfedale.com.

 

I’m writing this in Germany, using the WordPress app on an iPad mini for the first time, so anything could happen. However, a great week began a week ago last Saturday (2 May): I discovered a new ‘Writers Club’ looking for a permanent venue and arranged one in my village. Sunday the ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ came through my village – a massive turnout, wonderful community atmosphere, to applaud the riders through. Then, I decided to abandon my usual ‘Biftek hache a la Lyonnaise’ hamburger and experiment  with making a hamburger ‘Romanesc’ which turned out to be a big hit with my Romanca (ie Romanian lady – wife) so I’m going to tell you about it.

Writers Club

I think it’s fitting that my village, Menston, in which Lassie was created (by Eric Knight, a Menstonite) should become the ‘home’ of a Writers Club, though the club was first formed in a nearby town which has an increasingly renowned literature festival – Ilkley. What might be really surprising to many people, though not to me, is that the club was initiated by a young woman, a graduate in Behavioural Psychology from Bradford University. Not surprising? No, that isn’t; that the club was started in this tyke’s county by a Romanian might surprise most people.

Ruxandra Busoiu, founder of the Writers Club. Pic by club member Bob Hamilton.

Ruxandra Busoiu, founder of the Writers Club. Pic by club member Bob Hamilton.

She’s Ruxandra (what a great ancient Romanian name that is!) Busoiu and in a very busy life she’s aiming to write a novel. Another member is a mathematician who runs a software development company in the town of my birth, Shipley, now almost absorbed by the Bradford metropolis; he has written a book – not fiction – and been published; he’s also a pretty good photographer. Then there’s a journalist, and now there’s me – blogger, former journalist, occasionally attempting a haiku and a couple of short stories, yet no urge to write a novel. The first meeting with them was nothing short of inspirational so I’m really looking forward to our next meeting on Saturday next, close to my home.

A ‘Romanian’ hamburger

The hamburger with baked potato, pickled bell pepper and pickled unripe tomato

A ‘Romanian’ hamburger?

I often joke with my wife that Romanians (Romanians in Moldavia that is) eat bread with everything. including bread, and cannot cook a dish without a liberal dose of dill. So a very large handful of fresh dill (in fact frozen – one drawer of our freezer is almost full of the stuff), finely chopped, was next to the mixing bowl with just under a lb (400g) of good, lean, minced beef.

The lean beef needs some fat and I usually add butter, but for this ‘Romanian’ hamburger I added some finely ‘chopped’ slanina afumata (smoked pork back fat) bought from the Romanian shop in Leeds Kirkgate market.

A good dose of boia de ardei dulce (sweet paprika) was added after mixing the meat with some gently sweated finely chopped onion with chopped garlic, a little salt and pepper and a pinch of cimbru (thyme).

Formed into two thick rounds, seared in a very hot pan then cooked on a lower flame until just pink inside. The pan was deglazed with red wine for a sauce. Apart from a baked potato, the other accompaniments seen in the picture are pickled gogosari murati (pickled bell pepper) and gogonele murati (pickled unripe tomato), both from the Leeds market shop.

As I said, my wife rated this experimental hamburger very highly and has requested that it be regularly on the menu.

 

 

 

Lofty, VW camper, at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley, 10 minutes from home

Lofty at the Cow & Calf, 10 minutes from home

First hurdle on the track to the planned long trip to Romania in the summer has been successfully jumped; Lofty, our 1972 ‘crossover’ VW Bay camper got his MOT last week after being laid up for several months due to my health problems.

He started (on LPG) easily enough; the brakes had seized but not seriously so this was not a major problem; he needed quite a bit of welding underneath though (chassis legs, outriggers and one inner sill). The front, including a ‘new’ beam, was done last year but the floor under the passenger seat needed a pretty large replacement welded in. All done by Frazer at Wormalds in Otley. He now just needs his annual LPG system check (by Gasure in Chester, who did the conversion; worth the trip to get Steve who really understands LPG and VW campers) to ensure he’s fit enough to make the 6,000 km (4,000 mile) plus round trip.

Transfagarasanul

We hope to ‘do’ Transfagarasanul, which the Top Gear team dubbed the best driving experience in the world).

Part of Transfagarasanul, the trans-Fagaras mountains highway, over 100 miles long in all

Part of Transfagarasanul, the trans-Fagaras mountains highway, over 100 miles long in all

The serpentine route across the Fagaras mountains stretches about 90km (60 miles) and reaches a height of 2042 metres (6693 feet).  This is not the highest road in Romania, that’s the Transalpina which goes up to 2145 metres (7050 feet), but we will not have the time to do the two.

I’m hoping for some good weather in May (looking out today on a deluged Tour de Yorkshire route not more than 200 yards from our sitting room window) so, with no undercover space, I can tart him up a bit. A little filler for a few bumps and scrapes on the outside then a couple of rollered-on coats of paint, a good clean inside, new pads and covers for the seats and, if there’s time, some paint in there too. I’ve got a few more flowers and butterflies for him too.

It’s a race against time: I have surgery again on 29 May but, based on the recovery time from the previous one at the end of January, I should be just about fit enough for the trip starting at the end of July but certainly any physical work on cars needs to be completed before the end of May.

Classic Mini

Mini - 1975 classic miniMeanwhile, Lofty’s younger sister Mini has been behaving well and last Friday got a dose of clean good oil and new filter after a week of running on cheap supermarket stuff with a new filter to clean out her innards (automatic gearbox). The engine steady bushes were replaced with ‘posh’ polyurethane ones from Moss (super pig to get in) so the engine is not now shaking around but that has put the noise up quite a bit.

A new filter mount to front cover gasket with the new O ring with the oil filter has completely cured the oil leak which was annoying my neighbours (communal car park) and now there’s not a drop from her overnight, hot or cold.

If she’s lucky, she’ll get another lick of paint too.

Apology

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted here. A lot to catch up on after the hospital visits and recuperation. I hope to post more frequently in the coming weeks and during the Romania trip.

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