James and I spent Christmas at my mum's house. It was lovely - lots of great food, drink and company. One of the most successful recipes we tried was Jamie Oliver's mulled wine. It involves making a syrup of dark sugar, a little bit of wine and clementine juice, as well as clementine peel, lime peel, lemon peel, cinnamon sticks and star anise. This means that when you add the rest of the red wine and orange juice you don't have to boil it so long, and save more of the alcohol! It went down very well.
On Boxing Day, my sister made Christmas Pudding Apple Strudel. We had a bit of Christmas pudding left, and so she used it to make this lovely dessert. First she grated Bramley apples and cooked them up with cinnamon, allspice and ginger. Then, she layed out filo pastry sheets, using melted butter to stick them together, and covered them with the apple and crumbled Christmas pudding. She rolled it up, sprinkled it with sugar and cooked it for 40 minutes. It was delicious, especially with brandy sauce!
After the recent trip in the Wobbly Box to the place with other cats and dogs- and Scary Spike Man- I've been catnapped.
The food-providing humans put me in the box again- again! How rude!- although this time I was taken in the back of one of the moving boxes that humans travel in to what I can only describe as a prison.
I knew what was going to happen. Oh yes. The humans left, and I was left in a small room, with interesting toys. But I've seen what happens in the things that the humans have been watching the Moving Picture Box.
I immediately miaowed to the cat next door, and the other cats down the corridor.
Mister Bojangles, three cells down, has been appointed Big X. The escape committee meets tonight. I'm going to suggest digging a tunnel, with the entrance concealed under my litter tray.
But riding the motorbike later on could be problematic...
Several people have mentioned to me that they saw the Duck's photo in the Cambridge News. I sent in a few icy pictures that I had taken, but never heard anything back. However it seems that they published one of them. I didn't get a copy of the paper, but you can see it in this slideshow (it's No.7):
On Sunday, James and I took the train to Sawbridgworth in order to walk along the River Stort. We had wanted a couple of days away together to head for somewhere on a canal or inland waterway. So, partly inspired by the recent adventures up the Lee and Stort of Herbie, Northern Pride and Halfie, we looked into walks in the area and finding a B&B. After a lot of searching on the net, I came across Grange Guest House in Bishop's Stortford, just minutes from the river, and highly recommended in lots of reviews.
Our walk took us North, following the river. It was incredibly beautiful, everything blanketed under a layer of thick snow. It took us two and a half hours to walk the 3 miles to Bishop's Stortford and although it was hard work in the thick snow, we really enjoyed it.
Once in the town itself we quickly located the B&B and were welcomed by its owners Paulette and Peter. Paulette showed us to our beautifully decorated, ensuite attic room, and then offered us tea to warm up. We drank it in the cosy living room, complete with open fire, and met the two friendly cats. One of the cats only had three legs! But she in particular wanted to make friends!
After we'd finished our tea we headed in to the town to explore. It is a pretty little town, although we didn't get very far in the cold and ended up reading in a bookshop. We ate dinner at a Pizza Express housed in a fantastic Elizabethan pub, before heading back to the Guest House. We slept very well, although we were not used to being so warm! We would really recommend it - such a welcoming place, but we still felt like we had privacy.
In the morning we were served a delicious cooked breakfast, and the packed up and headed out. We had planned another walk along another stretch of the Stort, but when we found that there were no trains from Bishop's Stortford, we decided to head back to Cambridge immediately. It took us four hours in the end - we caught a bus to Stansted, where we were able to catch a train to Cambridge.
This morning I was just about to leave for work (for my last day until the 4th Jan!) when I noticed the solar panel was completely obscured by snow. The sun was out so I thought it would be worth exposing it for the little bit of power it would generate and tried to scrape the snow off. It was frozen on fast. Undeterred, I went inside and grabbed the largest vessel (my enamel teapot!) I could find and filled it with warm water straight from the Morco heater. Then I poured it carefully over the 5m panel, to get rid of the layer of snow and let light onto the panel. It was mostly sucessful: It did freeze back on, but the frozen later of water now on it is thinner and translucent rather than thick and opaque, so it might charge the batteries a little. I expect we'll continue to need to run the generator nonetheless.
Lyra came out and watched me, entirely unconvinced by all the snow and ice. In the photo below her paw is blurred because she is trying to shake the ice off it!
Last night we went to the Camboaters social in the Fort. It was a lot of fun, to see old faces and meet some new boaters.
The Christmas Head was held on Saturday, traditionally the 'fun' race for the town clubs, where everyone dresses up in silly costumes for the racing. It was beautifully sunny and warm: such a nice change from the previous week. Sadly James was ill in bed with a tummy bug, but I rowed twice, in the more serious women' boat which came second in our category, and in a mixed boat in fancy dress. We had two mixed boats, one chasing the other so the obvious choise was cops and robbers. I was in the robbers boat. It was great fun, although in the end the cops beat the robbers by 20 seonds over the course.
All these photos are from William C, whose version of events can be found here along with lots of photos of the various silly outfits of other crews: William's Blog
On Sunday, James was feeling better, and we had great fun in the afternoon rowing in Paul and Sarah's stag/hen row. James and Emma organised it, and we helped adorn the boats with banners and balloons. Paul rowed in the Viking outfit of his stag do, and Sarah had a veil as well as a hen 'beak'. We began with glasses of bubbly before setting out. In order to make the races fairer between the men and women, they involved not just ordinary side-by side racing, but a spinning competition- who could turn the boat 180 degrees one way the the other quickest, a single stoke competition, a balance competition and a race where the men were rate capped at 20. It was a draw with the men and women's boats winning 3 races each. It was pretty cold out on the water so we retired for mulled wine in the Fort.
When I spoke to my mum last night she asked if I'd give her the recipe so I thought i'd blog it and share it with everyone. It really is very simple.
tablespoon of olive oil
1 whole onion (red or white)
3 large parsnips
4 medium potatoes
teaspoon of cumin
flat (not heaped)! teaspoon of mild chilli powder
vegetable stock cube
a knob of butter
splash of milk
Peel and chop parsnips and potatoes. If you have a blender you could leave the skins on, but I don't! Chop onion and fry in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Add chopped veg and spices, add stock and top up with water to cover the veg. Once boiling, turn down the heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Add milk and butter, then blend. I just mashed it up with my potato masher since I couldn't be bothered to turn the inverter on to use my little 240v/125w hand blender, so it was nice and chunky.
Well, temporarily. We awoke to a bizarre lack of movement and stillness, as there were no rowing boats out. Eventually, I think a brave scull or something must have passed because there was a great scrunching and squeaking as the ice around the Duck broke and ground against the boat. We looked out of the window to see a sheet of thin ice across the river. We've never seen that before. It was quite impressive. The swans were icebreaking through it, so it wasn't thick, but it was all the way across the river.
The trees and grass looked beautiful - all covered in hoar frost.
...although we've unfortunately not got time to do as much as we'd like, we've still managed to fit quite a few different things in. I do love boating at this time of year, especially when it's crisp and clear, with a wisp of smoke coming from the chimney, a pan of soup warming on the stove, and the low winter sun glinting on the water and the roof.
Over the course of the weekend, we managed to fit rather a lot in. On Saturday, Amy and I were at the boathouse for 8:30, Amy to row, and me to coach, although I ended up coxing the outing when one rower didn't show up. Afterwards, I had another outing with the men's squad, and for a crew thrown together at the last minute on Friday night, it went surprisingly well.
The river is shrugging off the last few bits of ice. Over the past week, it iced over completely in several places. Although this is of course very common on the canals, I've never seen it right accross flowing water, bank to bank. The ice was still extant throughout the week, to the extent that the Fairbairns races- organised by Jesus College rowing club since 1927, over 4,660 metres- were cancelled because of the extent of the ice, for only the third time in their entire history.
By Saturday morning, the ice had mostly gone but was still present towards Baits Bite lock, and so we rowed over a reduced section of river. I spotted Andreas on nb Innocenti coming into Cambridge to pump-out. Andreas used to moor in The Parish along with Pippin, ourselves and others, and is currently renting Mike's boat while Mike is away "dahn sarf"- in Antarctica (eventually). After returning to the boathouse and thawing up with tea and scrambled eggs on toast, Amy and I visited Andreas and discussed the Parish news before heading over to the Mill Road Winter Fair.
Mill Road is a particularly diverse area of Cambridge, with many independent traders and this annual fair. The road was closed to traffic and we wandered around sampling cakes, hog roast, and the festive music of a brass band.
A quick phone call to John led us to the Parish in the late afternoon, where we had tea and cake again (a popular feature of the weekend!) and enjoyed catching up with John, Jackie and Tom Kitten aboard Pippin. We headed home replete.
Sunday morning saw more rowing, until midday. Although the weather was cold, it was above freezing and the sun came out, so we headed to the Plough pub out in Fen Ditton. Packed with people having Sunday lunch, we managed to find a small table, and having had soup and fresh bread on the boat during the journey out, we had pudding only before heading back into town.
The sun was still out as we headed all the way in to the waterpoint, where we filled and emptied the various tanks, and were visited by Squeaky, the black swan.
Bullied by the other swans, Squeaky is unique on the Cam.
In order to spice up the return journey from the waterpoint, I often try and reverse the whole way. It's a challenge- about 500m, with two corners and moored boats for most of the way. Because there was no traffic at 3:30, I decided again to go for it.
The Duck isn't the easiest boat to steer in reverse, being fairly short and stumpy; but if you get the engine revolutions just right, and the tiller dead straight, the prop-walk effect dies down and she comes backwards beautifully. It's even possible to steer, by moving the tiller the opposite way to usual- but care does need to be taken, because of the reverse flow over the rudder it's extremely heavy to use. The trick I've found is to keep looking at the bows to correct the direction of the boat, with only the odd glance astern to line the boat up with where you're going.
This time, I managed almost the entire journey in reverse gear, with only one short, exciting moment when the boat turned sharply towards the bank; I think it's a shallow spot on the inside of the corner, and so the lack of depth sucked the stern towards the bank. A powerful burst of forward gear got the boat straight again. Maybe one day I'll be able to make the entire journey with no bursts of forward gear at all!
We're currently relaxing around the stove with (for only the second time since April...) the generator running, powering the laptops and topping up the batteries for a Sunday night watching iPlayer.
The other night I had a sudden desire to make flapjack, following a misguided decision not to buy pudding when we went shopping! I checked in the cupboards and found exactly the right amounts left in the containers of the four ingredients in Delia's recipe: golden syrup, sugar, porridge oats and butter. I did have to remelt the golden syrup which had crystallised since I last used it!
The result was a delicious gooey flapjack when still warm (we couldn't wait, although we did stick it outside in sub-zero temperatures for a few minutes as a concession to the concept of 'allowing to cool'). When it had properly cooled the next morning I was delighted to find that it didn't become tough and concrete-like but retained a pleasing chewyness.