Random thoughts of a rapidly ageing Englshman who wishes he was retired and living in Fance

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Trouble with my waterworks

If you think I've been a bit on the quiet side lately, you're right, but I have my excuses! Things have been a bit hectic work wise with a few days away and home wise with some fairly hefty (by my standard) jobs.

It started about three weeks ago when I flushed the vortex on the pond, or to be more accurate, didn't. Its not a big job, just climb down into the filter compartment, pull the gate valve wait a minute or two and then shut it. Sometimes if I'd left it a bit too long the accumulated muck (fish poo, leaves, drowned twigs, etc.) would block the entrance to the waste pipe and I'd have to either work things free with a stick ( the vortex is 5 feet deep) or shock suck the wedge of leaves through by opening and closing one of the other waste valves on the filter chamber.

Anyway this time the water didn't flow. Opening and closing the other valves didn't help and what's worse, they didn't flow to waste either. This could only mean one thing, there was a blockage in the pipe.

The waste pipe runs under the patio (it would be a terrase but we are in England) and one of my design flaws in the pond pipework which I knew sooner or later would come back to haunt me was the lack of facility to rod the drain. Oooops.

So I skillfully played Card 1 - do nothing and perhaps it will sort itself out. Sort of rot down in the pipe and gently clear, after all it was probably frogspawn or something and its all biodegradable so lets let it biodegrade. Well it sounded plausible after a couple of beers. So I left it a couple of weeks.

Anyway I had another go with the waste valves last Saturday and......no such luck. With something of a huff I decided to leave one of the filter chamber valves open on Sat night. Perhas some constant pressure would help and I'd hear the pump, etc. if it cleared and started drainig the pond.

After a sound night's sleep I awoke on Sunday to a cup of tea in bed and a strange sound from the garden.
The Pond.
Leaping into my Marigolds, oh and some clothes I rushed out expecting to find it half empty but it wasn't! The pond was full, the filters half empty and the filter chamber half full , with the pump sucking air as it vainly searched for water and all the electricts within an inch of beong submerged. Not good.

Maybe the drain was still blocked and something else was wrong......and it was.

A huge wadge of twigs moss and leaves had blocked the flow from the vortex to the filters. Presumably part of the flushing problem. That was easily removed and the flow resumed. But it was A Sign, I had to sort the pond out, and that meant cutting a section out of the drain pipe, rodding it and putting it all back together,

So, by opening time on Sunday I was at our new B&Q looking for 2 inch pipe couplings. They don't sell them. 2 inch pipe is obviously passé and everyone uses smaller or bigger metric stuff. Except of course, me.

Then with a flash of inspiration I bought a roll of duct tape and a plastic clamp. Back home I sawed the pipe through stuffed my pipe snake thing down it and was greeted by the foul mess blocking the pipe. Half a hour later all was taped up and working fine, although I was a bit smelly.

Then I looked at the decking and thought it needs a scrub off. Brush and hose was too much like hard work so out came the pressure washer.

Then I looked at the fliters and they were disgusting as well. Flushing them had not done the trick so I spent a not very happy couple of hours cleaning the brushes and half the Japenese matting. If you've ever cleaned a pond filter, you'll know what a joy that was!

Jean insisted I ate lunch outside for reasons that are beyond me bt the sun was out and also dried the decking giving me the opportunity to give it its annual painting.

Jean tells me we went for dinner down at our local Chinese, but I really don't remember.....

That was my lovely sunny Bank Holiday Sunday.

Still I'd earned a few hours off to go fishing on the Monday.......except it rained all morning, so I put the decking back in place in the rain and some gardening in the afternoon between showers.

What else would you do on a Bank Holiday weekend?

The good news is I got to go fishing today and ...you need to sit down for this.....actually caught not one but two brown trout, (both safely returned) using a little Grifiths Knat which I tied myself.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

What can I do with a leftover carrot?

Even if its cooked, a leftover carrot can be fun.

Well perhaps that is overstating things a bit, but you can at least use them and even make something quite tasty. Over the years, I have to admit to having generated quite a lot of leftover carrots, potatoes, beans, leeks, and the odd cold brussel sprout........

One of the great joys of being on holiday is that it forces you to improvise in the kitchen. No longer can you rely on the same old stuff..its Tuesday so its....routine. Each day is a culinary adventure, especially as you get towards the end of your stay and Eating Up becomes the order of the day.

And so many years ago we found ourselves with a load of cooked and uncooked but definitely un-eaten vegetables, half a ton (sorry tonne) of cheese plus a packet of lardons fumé in the fridge, all facing extintion the next day when we were due to head home, and so it was that Veg Gratin (pronounced vej gr-rat-an with a stressed chef untill he's the right side of half a bottle of
cooking sherry).

So how do you make this culinary masterpiece? Simple really...

First you take a selection of veg..whatever you have will do

Note the mystery ingredient in the glass...(hint, you don't put it in the cooking).
Chop your veg up and put the oven on to warm up and a pan of water on to boil. If the veg are cooked leftovers, forget the pan.
Par-boil the slower cooking veg - the main cooking is in the oven but for veg that need a bit of boil time like swede and potatoes, you need to get them 2/3 of the way in boiling water whilst other stuff - broccoli, peas, french beans, etc., you can leave raw. The trick here is to balance the cooking of the veg so when you've finished the dish all are to your liking.
Whilst the veg are cooking you need to make the sauce. Fry up some smoked bacon (or pancetta if you're posh) in a saucepan and maybe some garlic, etc. when browned turn the heat out, allow to cool a bit and then knock up a mix of Delia's white/béchemal sauce in the pan with the bacon, to which I always add the first of my 2 mystery ingredients....
Yep... I put mace in my white sauce. You only need a pinch - maybe 1/8 teaspoon - but it just adds a little something that goes with a cheesy sauce so well. Since I fancied it I also chucked some smokey paprika on the bacon bits as they fried this time.
Having tried this "recipe" (its really more a method) with lots of different cheeses, the best for this kind of thing its got to be Reblochon. Its a bit like Brie but has its own mild creamy cheesy flavour, and it cooks wonderfully.

Luckily I just happened to have one to hand!

You can add as much or little cheese to the sauce as you like at this stage. Make sure your veg are not cooked to death by the time your sauce is ready. If you've any doubt, make the sauce then put the veg on.

When they are ready drain the veg well and artistically dump them in an oven proof (daft phrase) dish. Its better if the veg really don't carry much water at this stage so drain well and remember timing here is important e.g. the broccoli is still raw at this stage, it'll get all the cooking it needs in the oven.

Pour the sauce all over the veg and add some slices of Reblochon and if you like, tomato or whatever - choriso works well. Art is important here, so take your time arranging - sorry I meant dressing the dish .....

Then into the oven for 20 - 30 mins and.....hey pretso, diner is served!!!

Easy, innit? Who says they can't cook?