Sunday, 27 July 2014


I finally had a go at making my own yogurt from milk and it actually worked the first time!  It's something I've meant to try for a very long time, I just didn't have the nerve. It seems that I must pick up on the negative a lot. For years I read gardening books and decided it was mostly about fighting off bugs and disease, but thankfully (so far) it's more about planting and harvesting. Similarly I read about making yogurt and how often it seemed to fail.  I wasn't sure what to do with the failed yogurt and I didn't want to waste food so I procrastinated. However, when I went to buy some yogurt and the price had doubled from the last time I'd bought it, that pushed me to try. 

I picked up 211 Things a Bright Girl Can Do at a book sale. The first bright thing described is making yogurt in a Thermos flask.  I'd type it out for you, but you can Google 'make yogurt in a Thermos' and get loads of suggestions about types of milk (don't use UHT; I used semi-skimmed), whether to add powdered milk (haven't tried it yet), etc.  I basically heated milk to boiling, let it cool (using a candy thermometer to measure the temperature), added yeast I bought from Amazon, poured it into the clean, pre-heated Thermos and wrapped it in some bath towels. The yeast packet said to check that it was setting at 10 hours, so I did; it said it might need to set up to 36 hours but mine was fine after 24.  I poured it into jars and put them in the fridge for a few hours and we've eaten it all week.  

Eating plain yogurt is sort of new to me. I love the sweetened stuff, but stopped buying it in my last push to pinch pennies. We have chopped fruit for desserts and learned to eat it plain, though Bill prefers to have plain yogurt on his. I also thought we should keep yogurt in our diet, it being so healthy and all. After making my own I tried chopped fruit with a few tablespoons of yogurt on top for my breakfast, as a change from toast with jam or honey. I discovered it was delicious and very filling. I like to mix plain yogurt with lemon juice and some herbs to make salad dressing. So I think homemade yogurt is going to become a habit around here.  

I gather I can save newly homemade yogurt in the freezer to use in place of the bought yeast. That is an experiment for another day. Meanwhile, I found some store bought yogurt in the deep freeze. When we are away for more than a few days I tend to throw a lot of things into the freezer to use later.  As with many things, freezing seems to change the texture of yogurt and of course it separates more than usual. Sometimes a good stir is all that's needed, but I found that straining the thawed yogurt gave me some creamy low fat spread for crackers or bread (much healthier than margarine, pate or hard cheese) and a bit of whey. We were out of bread the next morning so I whipped up some muffins from the 'universal recipe' in the Tightwad Gazette and used the whey as part of the liquid component. 

Have you made your own yogurt?

Friday, 25 July 2014

Bernard's Birthday

Today is my uncle Bernard's birthday. He would have been 94, but instead he died at the age of 56. I never think of Bernard these days without remembering that I've now outlived him in years. I feel really fortunate and also rather humbled by that fact.  

This photo cracks me up. It was taken outside of 'Jungle Gardens', I believe somewhere in Florida. Grandmother's second husband was in the Navy and stationed in Florida and so the family moved there in the early 1940s. Bernard would be about 20 in this photo.  Obviously I can't see the person in the shadow, but that hat says 'Grandmother' to me! Hilarious!

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Let There Be Light!

We've been having some construction work done around here: a very small extension that will give us a downstairs loo and a cloaks closet. It's not finished yet. However, with having workman around anyhow I had the idea for putting a glass door between our kitchen and the enclosed back porch to take advantage of the one south facing window in our house (besides the one in the garage).  It means we'll need to tidy and paint that back porch now but that's no bad thing. And the extra light it lets it makes a world of difference!

This motivated Bill to finally take a box of electronic stuff to the tip for recycling and me to replace the ugly plants that have been relegated to this formerly unseen place with a selection of herbs. So far we have oregano, mint and basil and I'm finding it great fun to snip and add these to the meals I cook. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Past Imperfect

I just finished a Julian Fellowes' novel (see the title of this post). I've passed it up time and again in charity shops as I wasn't that thrilled by his novel Snobs.  I'm a simpleton in my story preferences: I want the good guys to win and the bad guys to lose. Fellowes is far more complicated than that. Long ago I worked out that American-style thinking takes the practical A to B route. Things don't work that way in Britain or in Europe as a whole. I get the feeling they don't trust simplicity here.  In spite of having the end of this book reflecting complex social consequences that avoid white and black hats, I have to say I think this is perhaps my favourite of his works, including my beloved Gosford Park (he wrote the screenplay) and even Downton Abbey.

I'm thinking that Past Imperfect is a book to read at any time in your adult life, but perhaps best appreciated after the age of 50. I say this in part because as part of a prologue about the story behind this book, the author says

...each of us - those of us who live into our fifties anyhow - must negotiate our way through three, or even four completely distinct historical periods before we are allowed to rest. Periods with different philosophies, different truths, different social mores, different clothes.

Of course the underlying theme of most of Julian Fellowes' work is about the changing / unchanging fate of the upper classes in Britain. Other than living where I do and touring grand houses, my life has zero to do with Britain's upper classes, but it instantly hit me that I have actually experienced - negotiated - several historical periods. It's an odd realisation.

Growing up in suburban Oklahoma we were behind the times by about 10 years. I remember the stringent social rules of the 1950s/early 1960s, when ladies wore headscarves and my school clothes were shift dresses Mom made from my aunts' discarded circle skirts.  Children were seen and not heard, respectability was everything and most mothers were at home.

Then there were the late '60s and the 1970s. Fellowes remarks in his book that most of what is attributed to the sixties actually happened in the 1970s. I was so pleased to read that, as this is how I remember it.  As my year at high school edged towards draft age during the Vietnam war, we all seemed to split into groups with labels: hippies, bookworms (the pre-nerd word) jocks, cheerleaders, rednecks, soc's. The rich kids only came to my school in the summer to make up classes they'd failed at their private schools. I took up with a few of them as I worked towards early graduation. Funnily they seemed to find comfort in my mother's company. I was undecided where I fit with these labels and changed my clothes like costumes, drifting briefly everywhere except among the athletes; who knew I would one day run marathons? After high school I favoured ragged bell bottoms, peasant blouses and long hair, but had ambitions to attend college, not 'drop out'. I rebelled against the prim and proper rules, against having authority lean on me, but not against learning or earning.

Desk at Dyrham Park

Then the eighties, nineties and naughties all seemed roughly the same to me: my corporate life in suits and bobbed hair.  I loved my work and put most of my energy into it. Making poor choices of spouses meant work life  was usually more pleasant than home, at least until Bill.  It seemed to me that when I came to Britain in 1995 they were just really getting into the swing of 'work hard, play hard, spend it all' when I had settled more into the frugal lifestyle which didn't pick up here again until the Great Recession. There were apparently other recessions but they were under my radar. I was busy at work during the day, busy at night school evenings and weekends. Busy working to improve my future, to keep my brain engaged on something other than my home life. Most people I knew worked long and hard at whatever they did, trying to get ahead. Those with families struggled to balance work and family commitments. Eventually I realised that work and home had finally reversed for me: work was a nightmare, sucking my time and energy for its own purposes. I finally preferred to be at home.

I retired in 2007. I don't dress up much these days. I don't allow others to use me to to their own ends. As soon as I have that creepy feeling of being dragged against my will, I leave. Frugality is fashionable again, at least it is in my crowd.  I get the feeling that labels are 'important' again: politics are polarized, you either have or you have not. I don't see this as positive at all.  Here in Britain religion seems more about enjoying community than about exercising power, but I can't say I'm well informed. I feel wealthy not to have to work any more but I live carefully, conscious of my erratic income. My perception of society today is from the vantage of retirement and this has to be a skewed point of view. I'm not sure what are the social mores, the truths of today except that people seem to worry more about their employment security. The social safety net that existed in Britain for the past half century is eroded. I'm grateful to be out of the rat race, but though I'm reasonably far from the financial edge, I feel these are precarious times.  I wonder if there will be another period of relative tranquility in my lifetime.

Do you ever have the sense that you have 'negotiated several distinct historical periods'?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Of Gates and Garden Walls and Garden Rooms

I lost my place again, so where was I?  Oh yes, at the lovely Wallington Hall.

The woman who sits in the house and sees is a match for a stirring captain. Those still piercing eyes, as faithfully exercised on their talent, will keep her even with Alexander or Shakespeare...We are as much as we see.
H.D. Thoreau 

The look of things has great power over me.
Virginia Woolf 

The scarlet oak must, in a sense, be in your eye when you go forth.
H.D. Thoreau 

Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.