Lanzarote 2022 – César Manrique pilgrimage

Taking full advantage of non-term time holidays for the first time in 10 years, we headed to Lanzarote to stay at HPB’s Santa Rosa site. Rather used to the “spectacular historical building” side of HPB, the “pool based resort” version was a bit of a shock to the system, but our upper floor apartment boasted a sea view as well as the pool, a full sun balcony and the standard well-equipped self-catering kitchen. (I did use the butter dish, couldn’t find the soup tureen but didn’t use the rolling pin.)

Santa Rosa HPB
You can definitely see the pool and just about see the sea

Our main purpose of heading to Lanzarote was a cultural pilgrimage of the sites of César Manrique, a Lanzarote-born artist who had a 1960s vision for tourism on the island and built some des res resorts but whose vision of classy, artsy tourism eventually gave way to mass package holidays. Our resort certainly catered well for the English-speaker hoping not to have to deal with anything unspeakably foreign; but we were able to find the vaguely authentic without having to trek too far.

One feature of the island was unfinished and derelict development. The island has been hit by a planning scandal which saw notable politicians jailed for bribery and development malfeasance and the upshot is large scale half-finished projects. Driving to our digs we passed a huge number of empty, windowless buildings with flapping tarp, and the skyline view from our balcony was a huge concrete shell.

Santa Rosa HPB

All my Santa Rosa pics

We visited 7 César Manrique places; some took well under an hour to get around, others were worth a longer stay.

Fundacíon César Manrique (all photos)

This was Manrique’s home up until the end of the 80s. Large rooms carved into rocks with passive ventilation, a view of a volcano and many, many rooms with banquettes built into walls with cushions on top. Some wag on the 4Square checking in app had labelled it César’s shag palace and the view of him running bunga bunga parties everywhere started to colour my appreciation for the interior design. All his rooms could certainly lend themselves to orgiastic pursuits.

Fundacion César Manrique
View from upper floor down into a pool in a lava cavern

For the past three years, the Fundacíon has filled the rooms of Manrique’s house with photos of Manrique using those rooms. This detracts slightly from a purist attempt to appreciate the mid century interior design, but certainly gives a strong flavour of the life once lived here.

Fundacion César Manrique
Fundacion César Manrique
I never knew César Manrique had made a sculpture of your girlfriend!

A big feature of his art was kinetic sculptures that either move in the wind or use the wind to change shape when you’re not looking; and each of his major installations had a huge sculpture announcing it.

Fundacion César Manrique
Never the same sculpture twice
Fundacion César Manrique
After a few days driving, you started to navigate the roads by the sculptures

Monumento al Campesino (all my photos)

The next sculpture along was a Monument to Fertility overlooking an installacíon praising Lanzarote’s farmers for all they did to bring forth abundance from lava fields. As you can clearly see, the sculpture is a representation of a farmer with with a beast of burden (probably a camel) tilling the fields. It is painted a brilliant white and made from abandoned water tanks from ships.

Monumento al Campesino
Monumento al Fecundidad

The monument gives great views over the complex underneath: a row of workshops and salesrooms for artisans, a restaurant, and dug into the ground, a really massive dining hall. Really massive dining halls turned out to be a feature of many of Manrique’s sites.

Fabulous idea but in application… well several of the shops were empty. The leatherworker had a nice leather worked sign saying back later. There was a cochineal beetle dyeing workshop and a tempting soap maker but the tiny bars were €7 each.

The place was whitewashed and treated with the traditional green Manrique wanted to be the only colour on buildings on the island.

Monumento al Campesino
White and green, as per tradicíon
Monumento al Campesino
Giant underground dining hall #1

Casa Muséo César Manrique (all my photos)

On a drive slightly off the beaten park to small town in the mountains. The Fundacíon CM was in his house up until the late 80s and the House/Museum was the luxury pad Manrique developed from 1988 to his sudden death in a car accident in 1992. As such the interior design was beginning to have a different feel. Still an outdoor pool and a house looking in on itself. A millionaire artist on an island choosing a house with no views was a definite decision. The house was laid out, apparently, exactly as he had left it on his death.

Casa Museo César Manrique
His ‘n’ his sinks
Casa Museo César Manrique
Manrique’s drinks cabinet. I could work with this.
Casa Museo César Manrique
His huge studio in the garden.
Casa Museo César Manrique
Pool with 80s plastic furniture

Cueva de los Verdes (all my photos)

Technically I think this site was not César Manrique, but the work of another 60s artist who developed a path through lava tubes and a series of rooms within. The bilingual tour lasted 50 mins, and had a truly excellent joke they asked us not to spoil à la Mousetrap. There was even a concert hall halfway around.

Cueva de los Verdes
Cueva de los Verdes
Cueva de los Verdes
Sorry, underground photography with no flash.
Mirador del Rio

Mirador del Rio (all my photos)

I knew the word “mirador” as “viewpoint” from Madeira holidays. This viewpoint is built high into a mountain with a view over to one of the tiniest Canary islands. Again the interior design is spectacular, built around the views. There’s a beautiful bar with modestly priced snacks and drinks.

Mirador del Rio
Mirador del Rio
Mirador del Rio
Some people brought their own lunch
Mirador del Rio
Steps to gift shop

Jameos del Agua (all my photos)

We’d tried to visit this first thing in the morning only to find it absolutely heaving – carpark very full, several coaches there – so we pulled a Uey in the carpark and went over to the caves instead, which was also very full but extremely efficient at moving groups through the site.

Jameos del Agua
Jameos for underground lava tunnel, agua as in water

I’d heard a few of these sites described as Bond villain lairs, and this one was perhaps the Bondiest of lairs. It’s the same huge lava tunnels through the rock as the caves above, but this is set out as a huge underground dining hall, access to a huge freshwater pond filled with white crabs that live here and nowhere else on the planet. (I don’t understand how bright white tiny crabs living on jet black rocks haven’t been fished out of existence by birds… but actually there weren’t all that many birds in evidence anywhere on the island). Beyond the nature pool is a swimming pool like a larger version of Manrique’s own home, and beyond that is a massive auditorium with banquettes carved into the rock.

Jameos del Agua
Tiny endangered crabs
Jameos del Agua

I didn’t quite get how this was supposed to work as a resort because there wasn’t any accommodation. It would be a great place to see a show, have a meal, get a drink… then what? A bus back to Costa Teguise?

Jameos del Agua
Pebble themed bar
Jameos del Agua
Huge underground concert hall

Castillo de San José (all my photos)

This is an ancient fort in the capital town of Arecife, given the full César Manrique treatment. Upstairs is a small modern art museum MIAC with a few interesting pieces and downstairs is… what by this point was becoming familiar as the Manrique dining hall / bar vernacular. The bar was laid out the same as the Mirador and the Jameos del Agua – and later too, the Jardin de Cactus. Same mirrored alcoves (from a different material). Same cupboards and fridges, same hinges on perhaps a different wood. The same vast fine dining scale as the Monumento and Jameos. The staff in all of the places wore the same uniform (and almost appeared to look alike!)

Castillo de San José
I might have critiqued it for being samey but I’m now wondering if I can do out the back wall of my conservatory in homage
Castillo de San José
Castillo de San José
I did enjoy the art #butisitart
Castillo de San José
I loved the placement of this piece in a stairwell so you could appreciate it from many different angles as you went up and down the stairs.

Jardin de Cactus (all my spikey photos)

It was a jardin. With Cactus in it. Meh. Well I wanted to be meh at the start, and it was a little samey, as much horticultural variety as could be provided from just cactus laid out in a terraced basin. But there were some waves of Manrique magic overlaid.

Jardin de Cactus
Jardin de Cactus
Another bar, but this one with cactus
Jardin de Cactus
Famously mad toilet door signs
Jardin de Cactus
Kinetic art
Jardin de Cactus
Massive roadside sculpture
Jardin de Cactus
Cactus crenellations on top of the walls
Jardin de Cactus
A historic windmill that seemed to have made cornmeal / polenta
Jardin de Cactus

We even ate cactus themed tapas there!

Parque Nacíonal Timanfaya (my full eruption of photos)

Timanfaya

We were completely in two minds about visiting this place. On the one hand – chicken cooked over volcanic fumes, another amazing lookout spot, twisted volcanic rock, volcanic demonstrations. On the other, horrendous online reviews about two hour queues, food poisoning from inadequately cooked volcanic chicken and T’s recollection that it had been awful 15 years previously.

In the end we decided to go and took the precaution of arriving not too long before it closed for the day. A brief queue before we were allocated a parking spot. A slightly strange twist that the main attraction was a bus ride for which a face mask was compulsory – the only covid shadow over the whole week really. No mention of this at any other point than immediately before you got on the bus; happily the gift shop sold masks for under a euro, so hurdle easily crossed. The bus tour was good – some really other-wordly views of lava formed rocks that looked like they had only barely cooled, and an English / German / Spanish narration that covered the bases and had some lovely colourful German idiom (“unterirdisches Grollen”)

The volcanic demonstrations were simple but effective – if we put a bush in this cave it bursts into flames in about 3 minutes, if we pour water down this tube, BOOOM, insta geyser.

The restaurant had a lot in common with all the other large viewpoint dining rooms – there was an à la carte menu but we ate a perfectly respectable volcano-grilled chicken panini from the snack bar at the self-service tables.

Timanfaya
Timanfaya
Timanfaya
Timanfaya
Timanfaya

Restaurants

Over the week we mostly cooked and ate in the evenings in the self catering digs, but we also lunched at very reasonable prices at the Mirador del Rio, the Jardin de Cactus, Timanfaya and the Monumento al Campesino. We had great evening tapas at La Tabla and a good Italianish mean Restaurante Sausolito, both in Costa Teguise.

Separate post to follow about the beaches and sea swimming.

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Taking a nephew to Paris 2022

Album of photos

As a student, I lived in Paris for six months in 1999 and as a teacher I was a staff member on four coach trips there, so I’ve some experience of the city and of young people. I’d offered to my brother to take the oldest nephew for a half term trip there at some point. The initial plan was when he was 11, and Nectar points were converted to Eurostar tickets for October 2019, but some pandemic wave or other prevented this from happening. It’s just been possible now to reconvert Eurostar vouchers to tickets and try for a February dash.

And it was EPIC. The nephew was supremely well behaved and adventurous and endured an extremely dense itinerary across Paris over four days. We visited the old classics and I also included a huge range of things I’ve wanted to do for years but never quite got around to.

I am writing up the list here as much as an aide-mémoire for myself because we got through so much… and there are two more nephews…

Sunday arrival, after dark

Drop bags off at hotel, chosen for cheapness and proximity to Gare du Nord. This was an Ibis (an old favourite of mine, reasonably priced, huge continental breakfast). We used Ibis Gare du Nord, 122 rue Lafayette, which turned out to be ideal. 300m from Gare du Nord which meant we could get all over Paris – walk to Sacré Coeur, take RER to catacombes and Stade de France. Just a few paces down rue Lafayette is the Église St Vincent de Paul which was JUST beginning to have cherry blossom, and the Métro station Poissonière which goes directly to the Louvre and from there, the ultimate touristy destinations of Métro line 1. A sneaky building over the road is actually a métro vent hiding behind a façade.

Immediately after dropping bags off we went for a walk. My thought was that we’d been sat down and masked for five hours at St Pancras and on the train, so a bit of time stretching legs and breathing normally was required. The hotel is about 3 miles from the Arc de Triomphe with interesting things en route and a nice chance to absorb what the city feels like and the styles of buildings. So off we set.

At this point we also noticed how many awesome French cafés and restaurants there were right outside the hotel with also some Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Italian choices.

We walked almost as far as Opéra Garnier and stopped for dinner at Restaurant Le Royal, 8 rue Lafayette… including frogs legs, which nephew bravely tried. To be honest, I’d never had these before and probably wouldn’t have ordered them or been brave enough to eat them myself if it hadn’t been for showing off. But they are basically garlicky chicken wings, although they are very obviously very froggy in appearance. My main was a souris d’agneau (lamb mouse? it was a shank!) with a ratatouille and a cheese burger for nephew.

The waiters here were extremely friendly and helpful, and chatty. We bumped into one waitress outside in a fag break and she persuaded us inside. Paris waiters are notorious for brusqueness if not rudeness, and for switching to English at the merest hint of an accent in your French. Many friends of mine have felt slightly snubbed because waiters essentially refuse to speak French to them. Despite a French degree and a decade teaching French, I am no exception and almost all Paris waiters switch to English for me too. I assume this is just because they are absolutely working at full tilt and rushed off their feet and it is simply quicker to switch to English and more likely they manage to bring the food you actually want without the complication of changes. Perhaps because we arrived at this café so late after most people had gone, the waiters had more time to be friendly and chatty and help the nephew practise his French. Which was lovely. They were also amazed we had walked “so far” – about 2km at this point.

On past the Opéra building with a mini lecture about fly towers towards the Arc de Triomphe and our first view of the Eiffel Tower in night mode with its search light. The plan had been to climb the arch for a night view of the city but we arrived too late in the end and the ticket office was already closed. Instead we went down into the métro, bought a Paris Visite ticket each (13 year olds count as adults here…) and planned a route home to bed.

Since the route back to our hotel involved changing at the Louvre stop anyway, we got out there and went upstairs to look at the pyramid and the Louve palace from the outside.

Back to the hotel for bed… breakfast…

Sunday – Fitbit – 18,090 steps, 68 flights of stairs, 13.14km

Day 2 – Monday

The only trip I had planned from the UK in advance was a guided tour of the Stade de France, as nephew is v interested in football. Unfortunately there weren’t any guided tours in English in the time we were staying there so we had to do a tour in French with me translating highlights to nephew as and when required. I was highly dubious of this part of the trip, but in fact it was fascinating. Even though I have no interest in football, the infrastructure elements were really amazing and the tour really pushed my “finding out how things work” buttons. On the way we were shown cranes that turned out to be the construction of the 2024 Olympic pool and village so perhaps the next nephews will get some very different views! The visit includes the pitch, the on-site jail (!) the players’ changing rooms, the presidential suite and a special look at how the stands can be retracted – which takes 6 days to do!

Train back to the hotel and a walk up the many many steps to Sacré Coeur from the side. First through the wedding dress district of Montmartre – many dress shops and a few groomsmen outfitters too. Up the top for savoury crêpes in the place du Tertre and a strange encounter with a street artist.

Down the funicular (why down?? up would have made more sense!) which we did free with our Paris Visite métro cards but would have been free anyway as for some reason the barriers were unstaffed and open. A few more streets to the nearest métro station and away to the Grande Arche de la Défense.

I lived in Paris for half a year and used Métro Line 1 pretty much daily, but I only ever knew Défense as the terminus of the line, so this was the first time I visited. It’s quite impressive. Unfortunately the roof visit is closed on Mondays. So we just wandered around the huge plaza and gawped a bit before heading back onto the métro to the Arc de Triomphe which this time was open, so we climbed the steps to the top. Legs seriously hurty by now after 3km of walking around the stadium and climbing stair cases to Montmartre as well as the enormous spiral staircase here.

Views, selfies, a grey sky view of the Eiffel Tower. Back down the steps and onto the Métro. I wanted to see if the ice rink was outside the Hôtel de Ville again this year (just to look, not to fall down on) and I also wanted to wander around the amazing department store BHV. Nephew was dubious why anyone would ever want to go shopping but was a convert once he discovered there was pretty much a whole floor of computers and phones…

It turns out the huge square in front of the Hôtel de Ville de Paris is actually currently a vaccination centre for Covid. Sign of the times!

At this point we got back on the métro (so helpful to have unlimited travel during the whole stay thanks to Paris Visite tickets) back to the hotel and out again to look for a café for the evening. This evening I was less decisive than Sunday night and back to my old habit of wandering for miles past many places that would have been fine. Part of the excuse was actually nephew quite fussy on food front so we did check menus before going in and eliminated a few ideas. One pizza place looked ideal but was rammed so we wandered, and turned a few streets and let ourselves get delightfully lost – one of my favourite Paris activities normally but perhaps not ideal late at night with a young teen and when starving! We eventually found Pizza Capri, 49 rue Richer, late in their service and for a while had the place to ourselves. Another excellent, very friendly waitress, jokingly bullying nephew into ordering his own food and saying some whole French sentences. Strangest nephew question of the whole trip “what’s a tiramisu?”

On our way home trying to get unturned around, discovered our hotel is also very easy walking distance from Folies Bergère…

Monday – Fitbit says 26,955 steps, 136 flights of stairs, 19.57km, 4,500 calories expended

Day 3 – Tuesday

The night before I had booked more tickets. This seems much more important in covid times than normal. The weather looked a bit grim for Tuesday so I tried to switch my mental plan around a little and go the Louvre on a grey day and save climbing the Eiffel Tower for the following, sunnier day. This turned out not to be possible as the Louvre was sold out for Tuesday. Well worth bearing this in mind – book ahead and book more than a day ahead.

So we ended up heading for the Eiffel Tower anyway, definitely an expected highlight for nephew. I have only ever gone up the Eiffel Tower by climbing the stairs of Level 1 and 2 – and you actually cannot prebook tickets for this. There were no queues to speak of when we eventually got there.

I planned the day with a bit of a walk to start with because I wanted to see my old studenty neighbourhood. (I had an amazing address in the 7th because I had a crummy maid’s apartment without my own bathroom.) We took the métro to Place de Concorde and walked over the Alexandre III bridge down to les Invalides, past my old address on av de la Motte Picquet and my old stamping ground the rue Cler. Then on to École Militaire to walk the Champ de Mars to the Eiffel tower. A couple of KM but oh, our legs at this point after days of walking and stairs!

Opposite the old École Militaire is currently a wood and polythene building called the Grand Palais Éphemère, which was a surprise to me… Googling at home, I discovered it’s a temporary building hosting things from the Grand Palais (I’ve never been there…) which is being refurbished ahead of the Olympics, and the temporary building itself will be an Olympic venue before being removed at the end 2024. Remember the Eiffel Tower was also intended as a temporary building but somehow has lasted since 1889!

Up the Eiffel Tower stairs. This was harder on the old legs than the last time I did it with a school party! The new exclusion zone around the pillars of the tower worked fine but there were serious bag checks and airport-style metal detectors to get through first. So, we climbed the stairs, admired the view and I used the facilities there for the first time in all my years visiting. A lift to the very top, the photos and a new one for me – an attempt at video calling home. It didn’t quite work as it was busy and windy at the top, but the call was placed from beneath.

Down the lift and stairs again, much easier than up! And across the road for a very trashy snack lunch from a street stall selling French hotdogs and other snackery. Then down the steps to the Eiffel Tower stop on all the various boat tours.

There are many options and most are fine with turn up and go plans. I chose Batobus as it looked like it was the next one due to arrive and it runs a plan like many cities have open-top sightseeing buses – you can hop on and off and your ticket is valid all day. In the end we just sat and did a complete tour, happy to see the sights and happy to be sitting down and resting our legs for an hour. I did mentally pencil in the sculpture garden just before the turning around stage for something that would be interesting to do on a subsequent trip.

Nephew had been interested in the Statue of Liberty and the fact that she was a gift from France to the United States. I was able to share that there is a small copy of her on the Seine – in fact we saw it from the Eiffel Tower – and that she is held up by a miniature Eiffel Tower structure inside her designed by the same Gustave Eiffel. Unfortunately the boat tour didn’t go as far as that on its return, so visiting Madame Liberté is also something pencilled in for a future trip.

Batobus eventually returned us to our starting point on the quai under the Eiffel tower and we got out and walked along the river bank to another old favourite of mine, the Sewer Museum. You can walk down a set of concrete steps to a mix of tunnels, some of which are bespoke museum and some of which are working sewer tunnels with actual sewage flowing down them to the huge riverside collection tunnel which takes most Paris effluent for treatment outside and downhill from central Paris. (Most, because like London, in stormy weather the whole system is a little overwhelmed and just dumps into the river.) Most of Paris has a network of sewage tunnels that follow the street pattern even lower down than the métro tunnels. If you want to work up a detailed understanding of sewage you can spend half a day there reading all the panels (they will give you a printed English translation of everything if you ask) but you can get a basic understanding and walk along some mock alleyways in an hour.

We were ahead of my mental schedule when we left the tunnels so we continued our walk along the river, past the American Church and a bunch of embassies in search of the Musée Rodin. I had booked tickets for this in the expectation of doing it the following day when we were planning to see a bunch of different museums, but a quirk of the prebooked ticket is that it was valid for ANY day after purchase, not a specific day or time. This visit was more for me than the nephew – despite living very close to its beautiful location near les Invalides, I had never actually visited. I’ve never been inside the Invalides either! The museum has many of his sculptures including many different versions of The Thinker, the Burghers of Calais and the Gates of Hell, many outside in a well tended garden as well as a large house of statue and paintings. One of these paintings is Van Gogh’s Père Tanguy. I was unable to get nephew to recreate the pose of any of the statues and he was previously not aware of either Rodin or Van Gogh so wasn’t super interested.

Our next stop was a return to the Grande Arche de la Défense and this time it was open to the public. At the foot of the tower was a ticket booth with a really chatty saleswoman and somehow a conversation started on the back of her asking me which départment of France I was from (this is a frequent question at venues like this as they track visitor origin data). We ended up each showing off in various languages, so I gave her my best Italian attempt, due biglietti per favore, and she gave me a long blast of response in Russian which I could understand none of!

Unlike the leg challenge of the Eiffel Tower, the only way to the top of the Grande Arche was by a set of amazing lifts that only had buttons for level 3 and level 35. The view at the top is good, much of it beyond actual Paris into Grand Paris. There are the skyscapers that are banned from actual Paris, including one still in construction. I’d never been up here before so the enormous exhibition space was a surprise. When we were there it was an A-Z retrospective of a paparazzo photographer Daniel Angeli – the one who took the famous photo of the Duchess of York with her foot in a Texan’s mouth – which was included in the display. There was a whole panel of Johnny Halliday, which led to a conversation that went “He’s like a French Elvis!” / “Who’s Elvis?”

The sun was beginning to set at this point and the next idea to carry out was to find a nice spot with a good view of the Eiffel Tower when she does her hourly sparkle session. This happens for five minutes after the hour, every night time hour. I thought returning to the Place de la Concorde would be a good bet so we hopped back on the métro. Unfortunately, it was 6.30pm and all of the very many offices all around la Défense had just kicked out. The métro was very full indeed and the nephew was a little freaked at peak time megacity mass transit. By the time we got to Place de la Concorde, we were very grateful to return to the surface and breathe. We were in time for the 7pm sparkle and we sat on bollards and watched.

Then it was time to eat. But Place de la Concorde is not full of budget eateries or eateries at all, and is slap bang in the centre of some of the most expensive real-estate on the planet, so we walked. Again. Again for ages. We took streets north and east, and walked through Place Vendôme, famous for extreme luxury brands, and it was entertaining to window shop on the way. It was also interesting to know what brands the nephew knew and didn’t – Gucci and Balenciaga and even Chanel were on his horizon but Patek Philippe was not. I guess I’m not getting a watch for Christmas again.

Ultimately with enough up and right we ended up on rue Étienne Marcel, having explored the menus outside a bunch of cafés and restaurants until ‘appy ‘our posters at Café Étienne Marcel drew us in. Ribs for the little ‘un and a caesar salad for me. This place was busy and the waiter here was not up for a chat. At dessert o’clock he brought us a tray of pâtisserie to see what was available and for me it was a Paris-Brest which was absolutely delicious and the teen took a tarte au citron which went a long way towards his 5 a day #beatscurvy. A quick stagger from there found a métro stop on line 4 which took us back to the Gare du Nord and an easy walk back to our digs on what had been a really epic day of walking and climbing.

Tuesday – Fitbit says 28,376 steps, 75 flights of stairs, 20.57km, 4,602 calories expended

Day 3 – Wednesday

Wednesday was booked in as our giant museum day so up early for timed tickets at the Louvre. I got slightly turned around at the métro station and ended up following signs for the Carousel du Louvre, the underground shopping centre tacked on the huge underground space beneath the giant glass Pyramid. This turned out to be a really quiet back way of getting into the museum with next to no queuing at all. There was a short hold up for bag check but then it was easy enough to walk right into the museum and around. The place was very busy, people everywhere. A visit to the Louvre is always two museums in one – the building itself, and what that tells us about pre-Revolutionary France, and the contents. Our route took us through the basements where there is a display on the mediaeval foundations and walls of one of the earliest fortress palaces on the site, up through some of the extensive Egyptology collections (personally I always try and find the mummified cats, but the layout now puts mummified dogs as one of the first things you see.) A giant timeline had me trying to work out when the Egyptian artefacts were from compared to the timeline for construction of the Louvre itself… was Ancient Egypt really so many thousand years before European civilisation was kicking off? Some of the Egypt material is unbelievably old. After Egypt we headed through some amazing halls with amazing contents – no hyperbole, literally gilded walls hosting crown jewels – before heading to paintings and the main event, the Mona Lisa. I think she has been relocated since the last time I saw her in the 90s as it all felt very different. (The Louvre was never on the itinerary for the school trips I was on after 2010). Now she essentially has a huge room to herself, she is mounted alone on a wall with a long snaking queue ahead of her for people hoping to get ten second directly in front. The queue looked too long for us and was full of people ignoring some amazing paintings on every other wall just for a little alone time with la Joconde. I got a perfectly adequate photo side on without queuing and it still looked like she was looking right at me.

This was enough museum by this point so we exited through the gift shop in search of a café, returned to the basement level and found… a Starbucks. This was very much what the nephew wanted so we headed down for some sort of sugary American blender horror and reacquainted ourselves with the outside world shortly after.

We came outside to some of the best weather we’d had all week – a shame we weren’t able to do the Eiffel Tower in the sun – and were ahead of time on our ticket for the next stop, so had a lovely walk along the Jardin des Tuileries. Along the way I got the best photo of the nephew all week by tricking him into photobombing a selfie, and we saw a fab bronze sculpture that looked like a realistic fallen tree. We also walked past another giant temporary venue that will be something Olympic in the fullness of time.

Our next appointment was the Musée d’Orsay, which we reached by walking over the footbridge that had been under construction in 1999 when I regularly walked home from the Marais to my digs in the 7th. Nice to finally see the finished bridge! Our timed tickets took us into the Orsay with very little fuss and we walked up and down the central sculpture hall to start with. The French approach to ticketing was different in every single place we visited – for some, the teen was a full price adult, in other places he was free. The Orsay was the only place where he was free and I got a discount on MY ticket just for taking him!

I was very taken with the display about the Opéra Garnier at the back with a huge cutaway model and mentally pencilled in a guided tour for a possible future grownup visit. Most of the art was leaving the nephew cold but he was taken with a bloodthirsty depiction of an African execution, all swords and heads bouncing down stairs, and as we turned around again we discovered we had completely walked past another version of la statue de la liberté as we came in. I particularly wanted to see the boatloads of Monet and Van Gogh that are here, and loved seeing the Floor Scrapers in person. I might see if I can turn my cameraphone pic into art posters for my house. The poppy field painting that I had been attempting to teach colour theory from when I was suprisingly timetabled to do art last September was there, as was creepy “let’s have a picnic while our lady friends strip” Déjeuner sur l’herbe – I knew the painting but I had no idea it was absolutely huge! There was also a Whistler exhibition so we made the acquaintance of Whistler’s Mother.

Somewhere around here, nephew let me know that he’d not heard of any of these painters ever and the only painter he knows about is Picasso, so I googled a bit to see if we could find any Picasso. The internet suggested there was loads at the Orsay but a conversation with the information desk finally led me to understand that had been a temporary exhibition that finished years ago. There was however a Musée Picasso not a million miles away…

We left the museum and went across the road in search of lunch. There was a fancy café with lots of staple French cuisine that didn’t look palatable to the teenager and Le Royal Orsay which was offering pancakes, including the special savoury sort with the buckwheat flour which I’d been raving about previously, so we went there. After our tasty meal, our neighbours in the café engaged us in conversation so I had quite a long chat in French about visiting Paris and London, living in border country and fearing invasion, Russia and Ukraine, and Brexit, before heading back on my phone to chart a course for Musée Picasso.

En route we passed les bouqinistes selling postcards on the river bank so picked up a bunch for later use, and as I got my bearings I noticed a few things we could easily visit with only a slight déviation. The most obvious between the two points was the cathedral of Notre Dame which had had its huge years previously and so clearly was not yet open to the public. It was interesting to see the cranes and construction portakabins and hope that their work will be done soon.

If you’re here, an interesting but devastating monument just around the corner that I’d not seen before but wanted to was the Mémorial des Martyrs de la déportation, an installation to remember French victims of the holocaust deported to extermination camps after the Nazi occupation of France.

We walked on through the Marais, past some old familiar haunts and the Dr Who doors from City of Death (1979) and got to the Musée Picasso with an hour to spare before closing. It was a bit of an interesting beast. There were some Picasso works there but a lot of the space was for video installations of him talking, and an entire floor not of Picasso at all but of Rodin, including yet another version of The Thinker – in stone this time, not bronze.

My final plan for this day was another high up panoramic view, this time from the top of the Tour Montparnasse. A new discovery this trip was how amazing Google Maps is at understanding the Paris transport system and it found that there was a bus directly from the Musée Picasso to the Tour Montparnasse. So another Paris first for me was using the Paris bus! On the way, we were treated to a bizarre conversation in English between two elderly ladies who liked going to exhibitions and who thought Boris was a good PM because he exemplified the English sense of humour so well.

Leaving the bus and walking to the Tour took us past a post office and after an unsuccessful attempt to use the machines I got the evergreen delight of reusing a phrase learned for GCSE thirty years before, je voudrais des timbres pour des cartes postales pour l’Angleterre. This time it led to a slightly baffling conversation about what sort I’d like, would I like Mariannes? Oh no, I don’t have any Mariannes, I’m going to have to give you self-adhesive ones, are you sure you’re OK with those? My mind was partly taken up with self-congratulation on remembering the French for self-adhesive and partly worried that there might be a good reason for me to prefer the elusive Marianne over the autocollant, but we eventually got out of the post office alive and fully equipped for postage.

Another speedy lift took us to the enclosed viewing level and we sat in the café as night fell completely. We were writing the postcards – nephew by hand, me using my app – and we spent at least an hour and half on that, and it was rather nice looking up occasionally to see how the city beneath us had changed, swapping ideas on what to put on cards and texting parents to get addresses. Eventually we surfaced from the concentration and realised we’d missed Eiffel Tower Sparkle O’clock and that we would have to hang around a bit to see 8pm, but that was OK, and we headed up to the very top outdoor floor to get ready. It was a bit of a surprise to find an ourdoor ice rink up there, and I’m afraid at this point I actually said no, we wouldn’t skate. There was a choice of roller blades or ice skates for those who were, and the surface seemed to be made out of tiles, not actual ice. The vibe up there was pretty much unaccompanied teen, but it wasn’t rowdy or unpleasant and we spent 40 minutes walking around and waiting for the grande dame de fer to do her thing. Shortly after, the roof terrace was emptying and we decided to head back to digs and find food there.

Directly outside the Gare du Nord there are a lot of options for eating and we walked up and down a bit and looked at menus and tried to avoid being accosted by over zealous waiters before we settled at a place called Au baroudeur patient, who lured us in with a promise of a table with a view of some football match or other. We ate a spag bol, a rare steak frites and we “shared” a plate of snails which came with some rather exciting cutlery to hold the slippery shells still. At the end of the meal, people at the table next door engaged us in conversation again – it turned out mainly to be a charming young maths post-doc who had just secured a research post in Australia who really wanted to practise his English, but who had pretty strong skills on that front. We explored non-Euclidean geometry for a bit and taught him some vital Australian slang like “throw another sheila on the barbie!” and his friend fell asleep, which was our cue to return to the hotel and sleep.

Wednesday – Fitbit says 25,254 steps, 38 flights of stairs, 18.33km, 4,301 calories expended

Final Day – Thursday

Our final day allowed us a slightly later start to pack up and put our suitcases in the hotel luggage store before heading on the RER to Denfert Rochereau for the famous Catacombes. This was the most expensive trip of the weekend, barely any child reduction, and although it had looked like we were on time for the timed tickets, we took a wrong turn out of the RER station and showed up too late. The website threatened that the tickets were not valid 15 minutes after the face time, but we were sent to the back of the queue with slapped wrists and eventually allowed down there. There was an option of half price on-the-day tickets but not taking that option proved the right decision as they were completely sold out by the time we got there. We opted not to do the audioguide and I read some of the panels and translated fragments where necessary. It’s a bizarre and creepy place. When you surface you are a long way from where you went down into the ground and it’s not immediately clear how you return to the start, but we sorted it eventually and headed to a café for our final elevenses. Café Daguerre on a corner somewhere brought me a double espresso and I ordered for the teen and got him a citron pressé – something I’ve seen in books and on menus but never actually ordered. It took a LOT of sugar added to the lemon juice before we got to something he could drink, but it was good to know that we had #beatscurvy for another day.

Then that was it – métro back to the hotel to reclaim baggage, postcards posted on the way back to the Gare du Nord, then the long slog of baggage checks, 5 separate checkpoints to cross the border, a long sit in departures and a long sit on the train, and our French trip was over.

Totting up the fitbit data suggests I dragged the poor long suffering nephew through 71km or 44 miles of walking in three days, le pauvre petit garçon!

Christmas food 2021

Some highlights from my kitchen over Christmas.

Christmas food 2021

Last year I was very well organised and wrote a guide for Christmas food for one or two people. This year was loosely based on that but went adrift a bit and there was a bit too much food waste in the end.

Christmas Eve I went bellringing at St Marys and stayed for 9 Lessons and Carols, which was all lovely. The plan was to have the oven working on baked potatoes whilst I was out, but on my return I discovered I had set the oven to come on but left the spuds on the side. I also realised walking from the church to the car that I’d completely forgotten about cauliflower cheese. The plan was to buy frozen free flow, but that hadn’t been available so I just moved on. I was able to duck into Sainsburys on Clumber Street (how long has there been a Sainsburys on Clumber street?!) and pick up… a head of broccoli. So far, so close.

Christmas food 2021

Anyway, home to the preheated, empty oven which I added a large bacon joint, made broccoli cheese from scratch, and microwaved the jacket spuds and finished in the oven.

Christmas food 2021

And it turns out microwaved jackets are not as bad as previously thought.

Christmas morning was also bellringy; on return I opened this pint size bottle of fizzy Italian cider in place of the usual Norman fizzy bottle. (500ml rather than 587 and bought before the all the daft wiffle about pint size champagne from Downing Street)

Christmas food 2021

Turns out the cider was quite a bit stronger than the usual barely-more-alcoholic-than-apple-juice and I subsequently lost a bit of Christmas day to napping. Lunch was… a tray of pigs in blankets…

Christmas food 2021

and after one of the Die Hards in the evening I used pre-Christmas duck fat to sauté cubes of spuds to have with steak, frozen greens, and creamy mushroom sauce, plating shortly before midders.

Christmas food 2021

A few days later we hosted friends chez T and we ate…

A tray of bulgur salad with chick peas, celery and red peppers

Christmas week party

Homemade smoked mackerel pâté on slices of cucumber (variably sliced… some way to thin to support a quenelle of pâté)

Christmas week party

A tray of puff-based canapés as described this Eurovision hors-d’oeuvres post…

Christmas week party
Christmas week party

… except I timed it slightly wrong and burned the tomatoes beyond all hope of recovery

Christmas week party

And trifle

Christmas week party

So much trifle

Christmas week party

a litre of jelly,

Christmas week party

no sherry because children present, a block of off-brand Ambrosia zhuzhed up with some gelatin to try and get it to set.

Christmas week party
Christmas week party

Eurovision bingo, cocktails and bbq #linkdump

I’ve been using Meg Pickard’s Eurovision bingo cards for over ten years now. “Oompa loompa levels of fake tan” has entered into the lexicon.

I have possibly allowed myself to be too closely linked with cocktails in some people’s minds. Perhaps I need to dial back from all the photos on #socmed! But my neighbours asked for suggestions for Eurovision cocktails and here were some suggestions that crossed my radar:

BBC suggest Purple Rain – as a single drink or as a jug cocktail

Gin Club have a few suggestions here – two champagne cocktails (not a huge fan) – Waterloo Sunset and Bucks Fizz – and a colour changing horror which require butterfly pea flowers, which I had previously never heard of.

Randomly heard on the radio this afternoon that Bob Dylan liked a Kamikaze which is very doable

This lovely list of “retro” cocktails might also inform. Crème de menthe arrived this week as part of my attempt to get the ingredients for the insane Difford’s mai tai (although bugger, I now see I was supposed to buy white crème de menthe) so grasshoppers might feature tonight…

Over on facebook there were requests for Cobb bbq recipes that might fit the theme too. My quick google turned over a couple of marinade ideas for chicken – this Portuguese chicken recipe looked good and so did this German dark beer one.

TBH though it is a little hard to fit all of this in on Eurovision night. Watching the songs and reading Twitter takes up nearly all of the available time. Good prep is the key I guess.

Wanderlust

I had been feeling the urge to travel even before the pandemic. I did manage a wonderful escape last summer to Normandy and Brittany to a very different sort of holiday. Having got away there was much less pressure to Do Stuff as most places were still closed, so I had 10 days at the beach swimming in the sea every day and then spending the whole day reading, drinking coffee and thinking about what to cook. I’ll happily do that again and again!

It does presently feel that this year will be a write-off for any sort of travel. The school Easter and May weeks of holiday fall before the current timetable even for overnight stays with family. The summer holidays are the next big thing – have booked choir week in Gloucester but really only thinking at this stage it’s 50/50 whether that can possibly run, what with my choir having its fair share of vulnerable members, singing being rather suspect anyway in terms of filling the air with particles and whether the cathedral will be ready to reopen to visitors.

An American friend has floated the idea of coming to stay with me for all of August, and that’s theoretically fine – not least since it should prompt me, after 15 years in my house – to finally and properly sort out a spare bed. He can also stay on here by himself again theoretically to feed and drug cats and chickens while I’m away singing in Gloucester. But the amounts of theory here – travel from America being OK by August?? And is that it for me for travel this summer?!

So October would be next and mentally that’s very-lightly pencilled in as time for the promised and delayed trip with nephew to Paris. The Eurostar tickets were booked with Nectar points for last August and now I have vouchers which are valid until the end of 2021, again with a few assumptions, not least that Eurostar survives until the end of 2021!

Then winter? Last year’s ODL Hogmanay didn’t happen and I would very much like to do that again. Maybe a Christmas trip away to a Swedish log cabin the snow…

I’ve been feeling a long time that I haven’t travelled as much as I would like. Like returning to a favourite restaurant where the decision is always between eating what you always have and know you like or branching out to something new which might become a favourite or might not be as good as the tried and tested, travel is always a decision between returning the old favourite of France or getting further afield. I feel I really should branch out beyond Europe as even in my most distant travel I’ve never really left the EU. (Well, technically once when I had a weekend in Prague in 1999, and of course much more distressingly now that all of the UK has left).

I’d toyed with the idea of visiting my American friend in California and possibly then driving north from SF up the western coast towards Oregon and Washington to wave at a Canadian friend just over the water. I’d be looking at several thousand pounds just for the fights and one way car hire so it would be a holiday that would need some saving for! The last time I spent anything like that on a holiday it got me 6 weeks camping on a road trip around France and Switzerland. And I really want to do that again too!

When I’ve had conversations with better travelled friends about widening my horizons, I’ve asked for recommendations. Where in the world gives the best travel? Where would you go back to? Latin America comes up a lot as the most interesting place to visit and I’d be down for that.

I’ve not been independently to Germany since 2008 when I had a long weekend in Munich. So many parts of Germany I’ve never even seen. I’m quite tempted to go and see the north east coast. I’ve not been to Berlin since 1999 on my year abroad. I hear they’ve finished it now? It was awash with cranes when I was last there. Even the parts of the Rhine where we go on school trips are amazing and I would be super happy to go back there with adult friends too, maybe even wander around the castles we deem too boring for Y7.

We were planning an Easter trip to Vienna in 2020 that fortunately as it turned out never quite got as far as booking anything before the impending lockdown became more concrete. Would certainly be happy to reheat that plan again.

Maybe the Fernweh is more serious than that and I need to take steps into much more substantial foreign experience. Maybe it’s almost time to reconsider working abroad? There are plenty of posts for teachers in overseas schools around the world. But is that a young person’s game? Once you’re settled with mortgage and menagerie is there still the chance to take a long term post somewhere else?

Christmas dinner meal plan when cooking for one or two

@ianvisits tweeted a few days ago that someone was writing ideas on how to plan for Christmas day for 8 and that this wasn’t fair for the numerous people who needed to cook and eat for 1 over the festive period. My first thought was that recipes for 8 could well be 4 people eating the same thing over several days and wasn’t that unreasonable, but over the last few days I’ve been mulling over what a meal plan would look like for one over Christmas. I’m probably going to be in my support bubble of 2 for a couple of days this year, but I’ve spent Christmas alone in the past and would be entirely happy to do it again. Everything below would easily double to feed two, and would be a monumental, gut-busting and freezer filling feast for one. Which is what you want over Christmas, no?

The plan is for 3 or 4 days’ worth of food, and would be quite hard to fit in the fridge! I have been eating a diet which is supposed to be low in complex carbohydrates, but I might well park that over Christmas and eat some bread. I mostly shop in Sainsburys – I think I am planning to order online ahead of time and click and collect on the 22nd.

Christmas Season 4 Day Leftovers Bonanza

Sometime prior, eg Christmas Eve Eve – have a duck confit based meal and reserve lots of the duck fat. Also some time prior, you might like to look at this and make things like speculoos fudge, mulled wine truffles, Christmas martinis, choc orange martinis…

Start Christmas Eve afternoon by making the pudding you want on Christmas Day. I think I am making a pear frangipane tart, something like this maybe. (In the past I’ve made this awesome tarte bourguinonne, but have had request to not go mad on chocolate this year).

Another good thing to get out of the way on Christmas Eve is washing up the glasses you want to use over the festive period, especially if there are some that don’t get used all that often that might be dusty. I’ll be washing the Santa teapot at this point too.

For Christmas Eve dinner, while the oven is still recovering from the tart, bake a small bacon joint, two baked potatoes and a cauliflower cheese large enough to do two meals. If you like making it properly, roux, the works, do that. If you don’t, then buy the amazing free flow frozen cauliflower cheese in bags. It’s a bag of separate cauliflower pieces, each one coated in a cheese sauce, so you can put as many or as few as you like in an oven dish. As it cooks, the sauce melts and browns and turns into a really respectable cauliflower cheese. Add another vegetable of your choice. Green beans? Carrots? Whatevs.

Once it’s roasted, serve the dinner. The bacon joint turns into 4 portions, slices for Christmas eve and 3 other portions for the following day. Cut two portions to cubes and 1 to slices and put them in the fridge when they’re cool.

Defrost the frozen scallops for tomorrow in a dish in the fridge.

Christmas morning, I want bagels, smoked salmon and cream cheese. I’ll buy smoked salmon trimmings that are much cheaper, there’s no need for fancy slices here. Just toast the bagels, mush the fish and cheese on top.

This is also good time now to start drinking, because it’s Christmas, and for once, you’re allowed. For the last few years, I’ve started the day with Norman or Breton sweet cider, because I like it and it comes in champagne style bottles which allow for a feeling of celebration. I don’t really like champagne and this cider is also far far less alcoholic, making it a great breakfast drink. I thought ahead while I was camping in France over the sweet spot of the summer hols when we were allowed, and added some to my supermarket order. Last year I enjoyed using the carving knife to sabre my bottle and some of the glasses were augmented with things like crême de mûres sauvages or Clementine gimlet syrup.

Breakfast and the first bottle out of the way, suitably replete for an extended period out of the kitchen doing whatever awesome Christmas for one things you might want to do. A film, or phoning family or whatever. Ironing, or reading whilst you’re still sober enough to do so. Last year I went bellringing, but this year no so much.

You might want to get the lunch roast out to warm up to room temperature at this point.

Roughly two hours before you want your dinner, get going in the kitchen.

I’ve just scheduled scallops with romesco sauce as our starter this year having been inspired by this week’s Masterchef. Apparently you can make it in 20 minutes, and make a small amount of the sauce out of store cupboard ingredients in a Nutribullet smoothie blender. If you buy frozen scallops you don’t even need to spend 5 minutes opening and trimming them, you just need to remember to defrost them the night before. If you don’t, you can apparently do it in 20 minutes in a bowl of warm water. I will probably look at the plan in three weeks’ time and be completely baffled why it’s there. This recipe has it out of fresh ingredients, but I’m planning to make with sun dried tomatoes and peppers out of a jar. I’m also going to make at least 2 portions of the sauce.

I want to roast a chicken. A turkey is too much for one, and a chicken augmented with slightly more christmassy trimmings is enough for me.

The lunch sequence is roughly like this:

  • Oven on
  • Check the chicken cavity is empty and add a chopped lemon, onion and carrot
  • Chicken in
  • Parboil spuds for 10 minutes. Make waaaaay too many, they’re delicious cold from the fridge over the coming days.
  • Drain then shake the spuds with flour, put into roasting tray with the duck fat from earlier, and into oven for about the final hour of chicken roasting
  • Make and eat the starter at this point somewhere
  • Get the pigs in blankets and and stuffing balls in 30-40 minutes before serving
  • Put the leftover cauliflower cheese in to reheat
  • Take the chicken out when it’s cooked and let it rest.
  • Check the potatoes. If they’re not done enough, turn the oven heat up.
  • Make gravy
  • Start boiling your additional vegetables
  • Heat your serving plate (eg put it in the sink and run the hot tap over it – the oven is busy and too hot!)
  • Open the wine, if you’ve waited this long!
  • Carve the chicken, taking off just what you want for this meal.
  • Plate the rest of your feast.
  • Eat
  • Open the kitchen window and set the oven to pyrolitic clean

The dessert was done yesterday, remember? It could reheat in the oven’s residual heat. A vanilla mascarpone would go well with it – scrape a vanilla pod into a tablespoon of icing sugar and beat into a small pot of mascarpone.

A few hours for non-food Christmas activity. Queen, reading, film, presents, thank you letters, walk/stagger…

Fridge the now cold chicken and all the leftovers.

In the evening, cheeseboard, granary rolls, bits of leftover chicken, some of the leftover bacon joint. Chutneys, leftover pudding. Crunchy salad veg like raw carrots, peppers, celery, radishes all keep in the fridge much better than leaves; they could be chopped with a dressing. Remember cheese freezes, so maybe buy the several different sorts you want but chop half of them for the freezer before you start eating.

Boxing Day

This morning we are starting with poached eggs and with them the remains of yesterday’s romesco sauce. Perhaps with bagels if you feel the need for something crunchy.

Boxing day lunch – or maybe a picnic if you want to get out there somewhere – is the same as Christmas Day evening – cold cuts, rolls, salad, cheese, leftover pudding.

At some point on Boxing Day, find some time to strip the chicken carcass and make stock. Put all the chicken meat back into the fridge. I make chicken stock with my Pressure King Pro electric pressure cooker, so the bones and bits from the chicken, reserved veg peelings, salt, pepper, celery, carrots, bay, any herbs I have knocking about, in the machine for 2 hours, then cool. You’ll need 500ml stock for this evening and the rest can freeze.

The evening meal is risotto, made from the stock above, a portion of Christmas Day’s chicken, a portion of Christmas Eve’s bacon joint, the stock, mushrooms and dried porcini mushrooms if Santa was generous. Is there still leftover pudding? Then have that.

On the 27th December, start with more of the salmon/cream cheese bagelly goodness.

For lunch use a portion of the chicken to make coronation chicken and eat it with the spare baked potato you roasted on Christmas Eve.

In the evening use the final portion of bacon joint cubes and the rest of the eggs to make spaghetti carbonara. I sometimes put mushrooms in my mine just to annoy Italian friends but also to try and get past the idea that otherwise there are no redeeming health features in the meal at all.

So there we have it. Five days of eating like a king!

Christmas Eve Eve

Confit duck with sauté potatoes

Christmas Eve

Bacon joint with baked potato, cauliflower cheese and veg

Christmas Day

Smoked salmon, cream cheese, bagels

Scallops with Romesco sauce

Roast chicken, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, pigs in blankets, stuffing, sundry veg, gravy

Pudding

Cold cuts, rolls and cheese board

Boxing day

Poached eggs with Romesco sauce

Rolls with cold cuts and cheese board

Risotto

27th December

Smoked salmon bagels,

Baked potato with coronation chicken

Spaghetti carbonara

Outline shopping list

  • Duck confit in a tin
  • 750g bacon joint
  • 2 baking potatoes and large quantity roasting potatoes
  • frozen cauliflower cheese or ingredients to make
  • carrots and green beans, sprouts if you must
  • bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon trimmings
  • frozen scallops
  • jars of sundried tomatoes and roasted peppers, flaked almonds, garlic, olive oil
  • medium whole chicken
  • pre-prepared pigs in blankets and stuffing balls or ingredients to make your own
  • ingredients for a dessert or a microwavable Christmas pudding
  • mascarpone, vanilla pod, icing sugar
  • granary rolls
  • cheeseboard and chutneys
  • crunchy salad veg
  • eggs
  • risotto rice, porcini mushrooms, onions
  • mayonnaise, curry powder, sultanas or dried apricots, mango chutney
  • spaghetti

Solar panel performance – 2018 and 2019

Forgive me reader, it’s been over two years since I last blogged the annual performance of my solar panel. Again.

Solar panel annual output

A photo this time rather than a screen shot as since I upgraded my computer I have been unable to re-download the software that would allow me to connect my new computer to the controller. This is rather annoying because I paid extra for the computer control facility. A reader kindly reached out with a solution but it didn’t work with my then computer set up and I ran out of enthusiasm for fixing it.

In 2007 I read that graph as 2,700kWh so sticking a finger in the air and estimating from the graph I will consider 2018 as 2,900kWh and 2019 as 3,200.  Interesting levels of extra sun! Nottingham Energy Partnership have an Energy Costs Comparison table. I neglected to look at it last year, so will have to use the data from July 2020 now to estimate the financial value of the heat we got from the sun. I use the gas rate of 4.75p/kWh, since if the water were not heated by the solar panel, it would be heated by gas. The gas rate has increased by 0.15p since I last wrote one of these posts.

That means the solar panel gathered around £138 in 2018 and £152 in 2019.

The running total to the end of 2018 is therefore £1,646 and at the end of 2017, £1,798.

September sees the thirteenth year of operation.

There are all sorts of flawed assumptions being made to come to the usage figure, so take it with a fairly large pinch of salt.

If you are considering a solar panel of your own, whether for hot water or to generate electricity, and you live vaguely near Nottingham, do please get in touch with Sungain at Nottingham Energy Partnership, who would be delighted to let you know what to do next. You can also follow them on Twitter, and they also have a very helpful service on their website that lets you compare your electricity and gas tariffs and see if you can save money.

Buckets more information about my own solar panel under this link.

And a declaration of interest: I’m on the board at Nottingham Energy Partnership, where they very kindly describe me as an “energy expert.”

More food

Food I

I’ve settled into a normal routine of one big cooked meal in the evening with a variety of snacking throughout the day and evening.   Managing to go a long old time between supermarket visits – I went on Wednesday not because I’d run out of food but because I had some slightly specific ideas about what I wanted to cook over the bank holiday weekend. Specifically I wanted a chicken, which I was pleased to get.

Most things I wanted were in the supermarket and I again managed to spend a small fortune – in the long run although it’s only food for one person, it was a shop for two weeks’ food, so I suppose it’s not too bad really. I also found a rhubarb plant for the garden which is now planted… I wonder how it will do…

Alcohol is a bit of a feature – there is a fun weekly videoconference call with OutdoorLads where we all have cocktails and a chinwag.  I am still working through the last delivery from the Wine Tanker, although now I am out of red…  And recently I found the website Beer is Here, an industry sponsored directory to connect people to closed pubs and breweries who are nonetheless still providing a delivery service. They put me in touch with Adventure Beer, who, it turns out, are two streets over from me and specialise in Nottinghamshire breweries.

Further food

Here are some cocktail pictures to start with. The first week (we’ve had three of these now) I thought it would be fun to dress up and teleconf from the kitchen. By the following week I’d set up more of a zoomlab in the upstairs office and everyone else had decided to dress up but I’d decided to dress down.  Week two I joined late and just drank wine.

Further food

Red Snapper – a bottle of spicy tomato juice came with this month’s Gin Club and apparently if you make a Bloody Mary with gin, it’s a Red Snapper (with tequila, it’s a Bloody Maria)

Further food

Espresso martini. There was definitely something weird in the long-unused moka pot that I didn’t clean out properly.

Further food

White Lady – not many people have eggs spare for cocktails right now, I suppose. I started making these because they’re mentioned in a John le Carré book.

Further food

Tequila sunrise, only I don’t have grenadine so the red tinge is coming from Briottet Crème de framboise.

(I was making the cocktails with single shots, so it’s not quite as much alcohol as it looks like.

Risotto bolognese leftovers after the call finished, here’s Nigella’s recipe. It’s a great extra idea of a thing to do with a portion of frozen bol: just add stock, arborio rice and parmesan, optional glass of wine.  You don’t really need to defrost the bol before you start. This is from the huge bolognaise pot I made at the start of all this which is still in the freezer. So far it’s done pasta (but not spaghetti so far!) lasagna, risotto twice and topped a jacket potato.  To remind me to eat it, I’ve put “defrost bolognese” as a recurring event in my Google calendar which is also my meal plan.

Further food

Neighbours left me some chocolate biscuit cake to thank me for the sourdough starter I gave them.

Further food

I made a double batch of sourdough which I turned into a loaf and tried Jamie’s rollup idea as well as a round loaf.

Further food

Further food

Further food

Further food

Further food

The day I made the bread the oven was really busy all day proving and baking the bread, so I actually phoned for pizza while it was cooking. Pizza Roma is still open. I tried to get ham, pineapple, mushroom and black olives, but I think all that arrived was ham and olives…

I don’t eat enough fish but a month ago I put fishfingers and breaded fish fillets in the freezer for a very easy way of getting fish portions into a week. Wedges are perhaps the easiest way to ape chips at home: cut up a potato, toss in olive oil and spices and herbs and salt and pepper and cook with the fish.

Further food

Conscious of not eating enough fruit and veg, I had some tinned pears and a banana with Nutella/peanut butter sauce.  (Nutella sauce – easy – microwave a few tablespoons of milk and a spoon of nutella – microwave a minute or so but stop just before it catches fire, stir.)

Further food

I am loving these new pots from Ikea – they come with a variety of different lids including a microwave one and bamboo ones. Brilliant for leftovers in the fridge because you can see what’s in them!

There’s a couple of things I ended up making just because I heard about them on the radio. The Kitchen Cabinet is back, and they suggested hummus, so I opened the last tin of chickpeas (that’s proven quite hard to replace)

Further food

Great for using up really old bread and eating crunchy things like celery, radish, peppers, and getting an extra portion of fruit and veg.

Further food

Sheila Dillon on the Food Programme was just talking about cake so I made a Victoria sponge.

Further food

Dead classic – just jam in the middle and just granulated sugar on top. It’s a strange colour because I don’t have white caster sugar so made it the dark brown sugar I use for banana bread. I still don’t have scales so it was made with 4 eggs and essentially guessed quantities of butter, Stork marj, sugar and SR flour bought last year.

I made two cakes and baked till a skewer came out clean

Further food

But one of them still wasn’t cooked properly so mostly made chicken food and I cut the other one in half. Don’t know why that didn’t occur to me before!

Further food

A  bacon joint made a really good roast dinner as a weekend treat:

Further food

With frozen home grown beans from my neighbours (who’ve had a baby today!)!

The ham chunk is great for slicing and snacking, as chunks in carbonara (or wasabonara if you fancy adding wasabi?!) and risotto and cauliflower cheese.

Oh, yes, cauli cheese. I put this off for a couple of days and in the end made it slightly more macaroni than cauliflower because as a friend said on socmed, the cauliflower ruins the cheese. So mine had ham, pasta, cheese, the frozen cauli and brocc mix, and a breadcrumb topping.

Further food

Further food

The ham also went in an omelette and I still have a chunk left.

Not eating enough eggs – every few days I leave a bunch on doorstep in a bowl and let the street-specific WhatsApp group know that they are there.

Further food

Here’s a neighbourhood cat called Felicity who likes to supervise production:

Further food

I’m enjoying playing with nail polish. Was trying to do a different colour each week, but didn’t quite manage it.

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Sainsbury’s tinned ravioli is surprisingly good – the sauce has actual pieces of tomato in it.  I usually buy it for camping and at the end of year there’s still a can or two in the pantry.

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There’s lots of tins of soup and curry for the same reason. I’m mostly putting off starting them in case I do actually have a few days sick with flu and need super easy meals when starting to eat again at the end of it.

Neighbours have been pruning, so currently have a pot of clippings on their steps for people to help themselves to. I am trying to start cuttings:

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Just the same has happened with wild garlic and bluebell bulbs, all of which I’ve planted, so hopefully they will come up next year.

Remedial smoothie features occasionally

Further food

Did a fair amount of cooking over the Easter weekend. The main idea was to roast a chicken and make hot cross buns, which I did.

The hot cross buns are awful. I don’t know if it’s because my yeast is BBE 2012 or some other reason, but the recipe did not go well. They smelled wrong whilst cooking, seem a bit damp in the middle and just don’t taste nice. Such a lot of flour too!

Further food

Further food

Chicken went a lot better 🙂

Further food

And with loads and loads of leftovers for next week’s meals. Risotto is planned but the idea has changed a bit with Jamie’s suggestion of a biyriani. I don’t have curry powder or paste so will have to improvise massively.

I am watching a huge amount of food TV at the moment – I am enjoying the daily glimpse into how awful Jamie Oliver’s hair is right now. I feel for Jack Monroe who finally got a daily TV show only to start coughing the night before and have to present it from their own kitchen across an incredibly flakey internet connection and a bizarrely hostile Matt Tebbut in the kitchen. Masterchef is continuing too.

More news on cooking in the coming days…

 

Sourdough – here’s what I do

With lots of time at home and a lack of yeast in the shops a few people have got in touch with me about sourdough.  This does make me a little uncomfortable because I am really not very good at it and certainly no kind of expert. But I do have a live culture right now and some success in making loaves from it, so all I can say is what I do. There is so much to read out there on the internet and so many people with better answers, feel free to try that too.

What I do is based on instructions from S John Ross, but the home of that on the internet has changed a couple of times.  Here’s a version I found recently, but it’s less than the full pages that SJR wrote that I read ten years ago.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is how humans have made bread for around 50,000 years. Bakers yeast is less than 100 years old.  If cavemen could do a version of this, so can you. It’s not going to be as beautiful as some of the bakers on the internet, but who cares.

My starter – made ten years ago, but saved some – I spread it on a baking sheet and let it dry out then froze it.  Last year I woke it up again and augmented with some crumbs posted to me from California in exchange for a few Paypal dollars thanks to the Friends of Carl. I have no idea how hygienic any of this and my kitchen is far from catering standards of clean, so if you have any concerns, and I’ve given you starter culture recently beware! Especially if you are in a vulnerable group!

Sourdough starter

Even worse, I did have a mould problem recently, which I fixed by pouring the mould off the top and taking a teaspoon of the culture from the very bottom, dishwashing the pot and then feeding frequently.

If you’re in feeding stage and leaving on the counter, the culture needs a daily feed. If you’re in a maintenance feed and it lives in the fridge, it needs feeding weekly.

You should wash the pot regularly – reserve a little bit of culture and wash the main pot.  I put it in the dishwasher every time I bake.

My recipe uses American style cups because  my kitchen scales broke years ago and I never got around to replacing them.  Two things to think about if you’re not used to cups: a) loads of things you already have in your kitchen are approximately the same size as a 250ml cup:

250 mls

and b) the recipe is a ratio  so it matters less what size cup you use and more that you use the same cup for all the ingredients.

To make a starter – Equal quantities of flour and water in a jar kept in a warm spot, every day for a week stir and pour half of it away and replace with more flour and water. It will start to bubble. Any flour except self raising, but strong white best and easiest, spelt and rye for flavour. In these days of limited availability of flour, you don’t need to use a whole cup every time.  Some people maintain a starter with a tablespoon of flour in a tiny jam jar, but I think if you do this you need to feed it twice a day.

It’s supposed to smell beery and yeasty and a bit sour.

Once the starter is alive, you can actually start cooking with the bits you throw away, you don’t need to go through the full knead and bake routine. You can just fry sourdough starter in a hot pan with a little oil.  There are also recipes for crumpets (be careful, baking soda and baking powder are different things…) and crackers. You can also make pancakes by beating an egg into one cup of discard. If you make tiny pancakes you can call them blinis.

If you were given a starter culture, here’s how you bake:

The day before you bake, you need to feed the culture to make enough starter for your baking the following day. You will need two cups of starter for the recipe plus leftover starter to keep alive for the next day’s baking, so feed the starter 1.5 cups of flour and 1.5 cups water.  Leave it on the counter.

Ideally the starter is vigorous enough to double in size over night – you can keep an eye on it by putting a rubber band around the pot and seeing how big it gets. Ideally you bake with it when its at its biggest, it will grow and fall back. So long as there are bubbles on top and hopefully bubbles you can see through the sides, it’s ok to cook with.

Measure 3 cups of flour into a bowl. If you want rye or wholemeal, use that for some of the flour, but you’ll get a very heavy loaf if you don’t include at least some strong white bread flour.  Add to the flour two cups of starter, then reserve the starter you’re going to keep in the fridge and wash up the starter pot. A tea spoon of salt. Optional extras: generous glug of olive oil and a table spoon of sugar to feed the culture. First stir it with a wooden spoon, then get your clean hands into it and knead. Some recipes have no kneading at all, some say you should knead for 10-20 minutes and do it so vigorously you get slightly breathless. I tend to punch it about a bit in the bowl or flour the worktop and stretch it a forearm’s length along the counter.  If it’s flakey at this point, it’s too dry, add a teeny splash of water. If it stays sticky and won’t come off your hands it may be too wet, add a little flour. (but some bakers try and keep it really wet as that’s the best way to beautiful sourdough holes in the finished loaf.)

A very great deal has been written about proving, kneading and shaping doughs.  You will found a million different ways of doing it on the internet. And making bread. Here’s the very little I do:

Make the dough as above.  The recipe will make one round loaf, two 2lb loaf tins, or a dozen little rolls / baps.  The rolls are good for me because I live alone and can’t eat a whole loaf before it goes rock hard. The rolls can be refreshed in the microwave or frozen and used as and when.

Let the dough prove in the mixing bowl somewhere warm until it doubles in size. Ish. Cover it with a tea towel or the top will try and go crispy (not a problem but not ideal). This might take a very long time – up to 18 hours.  IF you don’t have anywhere warm, you can put the oven on for a couple of seconds, then turn it off and put the dough in the oven. Just don’t use the oven for anything else accidentally while you do!  You can also do the initial prove in the fridge – this will take much longer but the sour flavour develops.

After the first prove, knock it back – do a very small amount of kneading and the dough will collapse.

Then shape the loaf and prove again, covered with a damp teatowel or in a giant plastic bag.

For a round loaf – you need to repeatedly gently pull/smooth the top down and bunch it underneath whilst turning it round. Then allow to rise in a floured banneton. If you don’t have one, flour a dry tea towel well and put it in a colander.

For loaf tins – you need to divide it into two, flatten into squares, roll up the square like a swiss roll and put that in each LINED tin – if you don’t use parchment you may never get it out again!  (I haven’t done this in ages and can’t remember if the dough makes 1 or 2 tins!!)

For rolls/cobs/baps – divide dough into half then quarters then each quarter into 3. Roll each piece in your hands and place into a baking tray with sides. Line at least the bottom of the tray.

(this is after it’s risen for the second time:)

Sourdough rolls

Look at the terrible portion control.

The second prove can be a variety of times too… maybe two three hours?

About 45 minutes before you want to put it in the oven, put the oven on as hot as it will go to have a good go at getting very hot indeed.

I then turn the oven down to 180 when I put the loaf in. Rolls about 20 minutes, loaves in tins about 30, round loaves about 45. Knock the bottom of a baked loaf – it should sound hollow.

You’re looking for “oven spring” which means the loaf gets a lot bigger quickly when it gets to the heat.  Because of oven spring it’s good to slash the top of the dough before it goes in the oven with the sharpest knife you have. This controls where the dough opens instead of having it burst at an unpredictable point.

Trad yeasted rye loaf

If you’re cooking a round loaf, you can get excellent results if you cook it in a Dutch Oven / Le Creuset / cast iron casserole. Allow the whole pot to heat up to as hot as the oven will go. Turn the round loaf out of the colander / banneton onto a sheet of greaseproof and use this as a sling to lower into the preheated pot. Try to be gentle at this point because you don’t want to knock the air out now! Slash and bake with the lid on.

You can also put icecubes in the oven, even a cup of water, which evaporates and makes steam, and keeps the crust slightly softer.

You’re supposed to let the whole thing cool right down before you slice it, I don’t always manage.  You can let it cool with a tea towl over it which lets the crust reabsorb some of the steam and stop it being too sharp on your teeth.

Let me know how you get along!