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shewhomust

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Lunch at Old Shire Hall [Apr. 17th, 2018|09:25 pm]
shewhomust
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Today being my birthday, [personal profile] durham_rambler took me out to lunch in the very swish surroundings of Marco Pierre White's restaurant at the new Hotel Indigo - which is the building I think of as Old Shire Hall, and a very splendid building it is, too:

Old Shire Hall


Though not always quite as magnificent as it looked when illuminated for the Lumiere festival. It was built to house the County Council, but by the time I arrived in Durham it had become the University's admin. centre. Since they moved out it has been empty. Somewhere in the archives of this journal I'm sure there are accounts of visits during Heritage Open Days, and once for an art event which was showing short films in dusty and abandoned spaces... So I'm delighted to see the building back in use, and that was my main reason foe requesting this particular lunch venue.

The restaurant was - oh, well, it was fine. A bit corporate, a bit unexciting. We were handed the set lunch menu, and it's possible the à la carte would have been more inventive, but I doubt it. Anyway, I enjoyed my 'brandad' (that's what it said) of hot smoked salmon with blobs of chili mayonnaise and the laciest slice of sourdough toast, the roast chick was pleasant enough and the Pablo Old Vines Garnatxa was very nice indeed. I wasn't even tempted by the desserts.

Our route home led past the Oxfam bookshop - and when I say "past", you know I don't mean it. I picked up a Patrick O'Brian (though not, alas, one I will be getting to any time soon) anf Jennifer Niven's The Ice Master, the story of the voyage of the Karluk about which I have just read a graphic novel, Luke Healy's How to Survive in the North.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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The streets of Aachen [Apr. 15th, 2018|09:53 pm]
shewhomust
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One more post from Aachen last Easter: from the sublime - the cathedral - down to street level. Aachen wasn't full of beautiful buildings, the way Bruges, Ghent, Trier all were; but there was plenty going on in the streets. It has been a spa town since Roman times, and there are fountains everywhere; there is an enormous quantity of sculpture; sometimes you find both together:

Money-go-round


These are just some of the grotesques illustrating how money passes from hand to hand around the edge of a pool.

And that's not all...Collapse )

And that was Aachen, The next morning, we set off for Utrecht.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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(Very) local democracy [Apr. 14th, 2018|09:28 pm]
shewhomust
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In many parts of England, people are preparing to elect their local council: County Durham is one of a minority of councils which are out of step, and holds its elections in a different year. But this year Durham City gets to share in the excitement, as we have an election to choose members for our brand new parish council.

[personal profile] durham_rambler is standing as an Independent: if you want to know more, he has a website. If you are an elector within the Neville's Cross ward, please vote for him.

This has been a public service announcement on behalf of Roger Cornwell.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Seriously, Mr Bond? [Apr. 12th, 2018|04:48 pm]
shewhomust
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One feature of the famous Elm Tree pub quiz is the Book of the Moment: the promise that each week there will be one question about the text of that book, and that these will be spaced through the book in order, so that if you time your reading correctly, a point will be yours for the taking. Think of it as a sweetener for the regulars. For this reason I ploughed slowly through Treasure Island, which responded very well to this approach, and The Code of the Woosters which, surprisingly, didn't. The Book of the current Moment is Goldfinger: several members of the team read it when we were at school, and since others greeted it with more affection than I feel, I have been resisting reading it. Eventually I succumbed, because reasons. Picture me, therefore, reading Goldfinger carefully, attentively, but without enthusiasm.

The devil is in the detailsCollapse )

If I were treating Goldfinger as a book to be read for its own sake, I'd probably be rushing through at breakneck speed, enjoying (or not enjoying) the plot. I might be reflecting on the character of James Bond, and wondering whether he agreed with this statement, or realised how a woman might interpret something her's just said... As it is, I've just done a search to find out about the Boris Anrep mosaics on the floor of the Bank of England (there are some in this leaflet, but his work at the National Gallery is better documented). Which is more entertaining than I expected...

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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desperance sent me a fluorescent puffin! [Apr. 10th, 2018|10:02 am]
shewhomust
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Because which of us has never thought, after a hard day in the lab, I'll just shine this UV light on that dead puffin...

The first thing I did, when I read this story, was check the date. And the second was to double check around the internet. But it does seem to be genuine, although the full academic paper won't happen until later.

In fact, the really improbable bit about the story is that ornithologist Jamie Dunning took so long to test his puffin for fluorescence, since he already knew that the bills of crested auklets (also members of the auk family) behave this way.

Now, if anyone has the remains of a great auk lying around...

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Daffodils and lambs [Apr. 8th, 2018|04:00 pm]
shewhomust
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What more could you ask?

Ushaw College has been hosting a craft and food fair this weekend, and we went along, more for the excursion than from any great hope of shopping excitements. Which was about right.

Since our last visit the college has opened a new exhibition space, and we spent some time over the current exhibition, which marks the 450th annhiversary of the college's foundation (not in its present form, but as the English college at Douai). I was intrigued by the claim, next to an impressive volume of music, that the carol Adeste Fideles is full of coded Jacobite references but the full story is rather less dramatic).

Our expectations of the fair were pretty accurate: I bought some cheese, and some pickles, and then we returned to the car the long way round, through the gardens. The college grounds are full of daffodils, smaller than the standard varieties and rather windswept, but very bright and cheering. In my mind they are pools of sunshine in the shadows of the woodland, but my photos show the odd flower here and there among well-spaced trees. Down by the lakeside, someone has been having fun carving fallen trees into animals:

Fox


There's also a badger, a dragon and an otter.

We took the scenic route to Broom House Farm, where they have many lambs (also hens and geese and a very large turkey) and lunched on eggs benedict and extremely strong coffee - they call in 'red-eye' and they aren't exaggerating.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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April, week one [Apr. 7th, 2018|03:32 pm]
shewhomust
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April came in like a lion, shaking its snowy mane. Forecasts of snow settling on the higher ground did not specify that this included Durham rooftops.

By Thursday it had gone, and we had a beautiful spring day. It was my father's birthday, and we would have taken the opportunity to go out to Finchale, as we have in past years, but an old friend was passing through, and we so rarely see him these days (he has moved to France and Germany - yes, both at once) so we invited him to lunch and had much conversation about family and friends and bicycles and places and work and play and holidays and suchlike. One thing he mentioned is that one of the villages neighbouring theirs in Provence is much favoured by the British, which I would normally not find inviting, but the name of the village is Cotignac, and there is indeed a quince connection, with a confrérie dedicated to promoting the fruit (scroll down to see the members in their green and yellow robes) and a quince festival in October...

Today we are back in the grey and rainy season. We paid our last visit to Marks & Spencer in Silver Street - in fact we were too late, because although they are theoretically open today, the shelves are bare and shuttered. If you wanted to buy anything other than half-price chocolate, you were out of luck. A sign announced that "It's not good-bye..." and I was so close to scrawling on it "Oh, yes it is!" Marks clearly hope that I will go to their out-of-town store at the Arnison Centre, and it's possible I might do that occasionally, just as I occasionally shop for clothes at their Newcastle branch. But I won't be popping in midweek for odds and ends, and the loss of the city centre branch makes it that much harder to do all of my weekly shop in the city centre.

So it goes.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Sunday in Sunderland [Apr. 3rd, 2018|10:33 am]
shewhomust
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We decided we needed a day out over the long weekend, and the forecast was the Sunday was our best bet. This - with the caveat that the weather wasn't brilliant, but that the rest of the weekend was worse - turned out to be the case. [personal profile] durham_rambler asked me where I wanted to go, and since I didn't have anything in particular in mind, I gave him my default answer: the seaside! He had come across references to some additional sculptures in the vicinity of the St Peter's Basin sculpture trail, and we decided this was a clue worth pursuing (spoiler: only approximately true, in both respects - but if we didn't find what we were expecting, we found things we weren't expecting...). Plan A was to head for St Peter's metro, and walk along the river from there to the sea - with a detour on the way in to Sunderland to see if we could get a decent view of the new river crossing (not really: you can see the spire from all over, but getting close would have been more of a diversion than we wanted). Down to the river and under the bridge:

Dangerous


You have been warned...Collapse )

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Golden hot cross buns [Mar. 31st, 2018|04:12 pm]
shewhomust
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As previously noted, Felicity Cloake puts saffron in her hot cross buns, and I thought I'd give her recipe a try. In theory, I believe in following the instructions faithfully, the first time you make a new recipe, because the alternative is that you always use the same seasonings and everything you cook comes out the same. In practice, I often diverge from the recipe because I just don't believe it; also, some modifications are needed to make things work with my sourdough. So, this is what I did:

  • Original recipe here


  • Warm 200 mls milk with saffron, cardamom, cloves and the last corners of a couple of nutmegs. Leave to stand. I didn't use stick cinnamon because I couldn't be bothered. Might be worth trying. Two cloves is plenty, but the cardamom wasn't really identifiable. The saffron did wonders for the look of the buns, but I couldn't really taste it, which was a waste.


  • Add 3 oz butter (I'd meant to use 2 oz, which was how much I'd used previously, but I ended up emptying the butter dish) and warm the milk so that it melts. Then beat in 1 egg, and add to the starter.


  • Mix in the flour - and for once I used all white flour - the cinnamon and the ginger. The sourdough doesn't need any extra sugar, so I don't add any, but I see that the recipe also adds the salt at this stage, and while I usually add it much later, don't forget all about it (I did, and wish I hadn't).


  • I add the fruit at this stage, because I like the vine fruits to soften in the dough: a couple of ounces of peel and 3 or 4 oz sultanas - I see the recipe calls for currants, but I like sultanas.


  • Usual process of rising and knocking back, for as long as time permits.


  • Form into buns: the recipe says 16, which would be on the small side, and also tells you to use two baking trays. My usual dozen buns were fine, and would have been even better if I'd managed to make them more even. But I am improving at this. Slash with crosses and leave to rise. I gave them as long as I could, which turned out to be between an hour and an hour and a half. Longer might be better, but this was fine.


  • Brush with beaten egg, and bake. 25 minutes at mark 5, on the top shelf, was plenty. They were so tender when I removed them from the baking tray that I was afraid they were underdone, but cooled overnight and then warmed in the oven they were fine. Better than fine.


The combination of saffron and egg wash (and, I suppose, white flour) produced beautiful golden buns, on which the crosses were not very distinct. They were just about discernable if you looked, though, which will have to do, because I have no intention of piping flour-and-water paste, or any of the other methods of marking the cross. Nor am I going to add the sticky sugar glaze.

Anyway, we have buns to see us through the breakfasts of the Easter weekend, and that's the important thing.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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Wines of the Napa Valley [Mar. 31st, 2018|11:38 am]
shewhomust
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Quite apart from my general disapproval of bank holidays, this has been one of those irritating weeks: we had three fun things to do, but since they all happened at the same time, we could only do one of them. So on Tuesday, I could have gone to the Graphic Novels Reading Group, or we could have accepted a last minute invitation from friends whose wine club was mostly on holiday: would we like to take up some of the spare spaces at their New Zealand wines dinner? But we were long since booked into Helen Savage's Napa Valley Masterclass, so that's what we did. It wasn't a hard choice: we don't see Helen and Olwen often enough, and the evening's wines were supplied by Napa Vintners, so for a reasonable price we tasted wines well above our usual price level, some of them stratospherically so.

I'd like to be able to report that it was an eye-opener, but no. Once, at a Wine Society event I was served maybe a teaspoonful of Château Pétrus, and that was stunning. I thought then, if you had the money that this stuff costs, it wouldn't be a silly way to spend it. I didn't taste anything on Tuesday that I would have paid the price of - and I'm not just talking about the Heitz Martha's Vineyard cabernet sauvignon, which retails at £194. The Grgich Hills zinfandel (my notes say "smoky, smooth, elegant, pleasant") costs a mere £45 - but you will note that 'pleasant' is not a term of praise in my vocabulary. Compare it to the Wine Society's exhibition zinfandel, which is made for them by Frog's Leap and costs £16, next to which I have written a combative "There is nothing wrong with this." Even so I prefer the Ravenswood, not to mention the zins we drank last time we were in California...

It wasn't just me: the consensus of the evening was nice wines, shame about the price. In fact, I found myself making the case for the defence (well, maybe it's more of a plea in mitigation), arguing to our neighbours at table that prices reflect not only how good wine is, but also how rare it is, and how difficult to produce: the Trefethen riesling had been made with great care to retain its freshness and acidity despite the California climate, and if you want a Napa valley riesling you won't have much choice, so you might consider paying £28.80 for this one; and then if you serve it to me one a summer afternoon in the garden, I won't complain. But if you simply want even more clean, fresh riesling acidity, here's one we enjoyed in Trier, and it costs under €8 a bottle (though you might have to go to Germany to find it). I certainly wouldn't pay the high price for the curiosity factor of a California riesling - but I will, at least occasionally, pay the extra for English wine.

One odd thing is that we tasted ten wines (not counting the Frog's Leap) with two bottles of each to go round 30 people; and of these, there were two bottles which were to some extent faulty. As chance would have it, the two bottles served the two halves of the room, and we were lucky enough to be in the half which got the less faulty one. One of those very fancy reds was underperforming: and my notes are sufficiently garbled at this point that I'm not going public on which one (but I will say that if I had opened this bottle at home, I might well have been disappointed, but I wouldn't have known it was faulty, and I certainly wouldn't have sent it back). The other half of the room had a white with a distinct cork taint, and they were all aware there was a problem. So that's educational.

A final treat: a couple we know both from Helen's tastings and through another connection, but don't often see, were there, though as we arrived quite late we didn't see them until we reached the station. But we had pleasant conversation on the homebound train.

This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.
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