Usage Optimization

20140617_093443A bed is like an aeroplane. When the aeroplane is on the stand and not in the air, or when the bed is empty and disused, both aren’t really doing their job.

The cat solved the bed problem for us. The missus by night, the cat by day.

Harvest Season

DSC_0784Two buckets full of grapes and a considerable mess later, I am reporting a good harvest and a net result of 3.5 litres of our very own grape juice cordial, 2013 W7 vintage.

Turns out to be delicious, and prompted us for a bit of carpentry work, expanding the shelving in the larder (aka the dressing room, aka the box room).

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Banana Republic

DSC_0359It’s official! The United Kingdom of Great Britain is on its way to becoming a genuine Banana Republic.

Not that I ever had any doubt, but we are now growing our own, which I would have never thought possible.

We are proud owners of a Banana in bloom.

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This Week, I’ve Been Mostly Eating…

20130719_174804This week, I’ve been mostly eating Laugenbretzeln.

It’s true. We are delighted to finally having cracked it, and so is the local mini-community of German expats. The key is quite simply to use the correct lye, not an improvised substitute. It takes proper Bretzellauge (caustic soda) in a solution of 35..40g sodium hydroxide on one litre of water. Everything else is easy-peasy, really:

20g fresh yeast
400g white wheat flour
8g salt
1 tablespoon of soft butter
225ml water (or replace half the water with milk)

Knead. Knead thoroughly for gluten-rich hearty results, knead quickly for the brioche-like more fluffy variety (the one using milk and water). Form pretzels or rolls right away, then let sit and rise for 10 minutes.

Then on with the goggles and protective gloves, and dip the dough pieces into the lye, simply in and straight out again. Place on a tray and let rise for another 30min, sprinkle with course salt, make small nice cuts and bake at 200C for 20min.

Meanwhile, use a funnel to return the lye to a glass bottle, as you can use it over and over again.


(The picture shows the very first attempt, so please ignore the not so perfect pretzel shape. I’m learning. I’m also still working on the support, baking parchment is less than ideal given that the dough pieces are wet, soaking through the paper.)


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Operation Sunshine

operation-sunshineOperation Sunshine is complete and a huge success. See for yourself before, during and after.

The big tree on the right was 17 years old. Basically, when we bought the house, we could have cut it with ease. We made the mistake of ignoring the wild growing trees until we had to make it a fairly expensive professional job.

Ah well, it’s done, and sunshine once again hits the garden not only between 13:00 and 16:00, but pretty much all day.

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A Mini-Cutie

DSC_1564Life is sad and lonely with only one Guinea pig, both for a Guinea pig and a human. Come and meet the youngest and cutest member of the family: he-who-has-yet-to-be-named, approximately 8 weeks old. A coffee and toffee coloured British shorthair. However, the great grandmother must have had a fling with an Abyssinian one, as he’s got a few rosettes over his back.

He’s staying in hiding right now, and has yet to meet and become friends with Castor. We’ll take it one step at a time though; the little one has to relax a little first, get used to me, and will then be gradually introduced to Castor and the outdoors life, some time next week.

As to the name, the race is still on, and you’re welcome to contribute your suggestions. Given that Castor is still with us, I though Sugar would be suitable (as in Caster Sugar), or General (as in General Custer). I’m leaning towards General, considering that the little one is bound to be lower in the pecking order, but suggestions are most welcome.

Edit: the neighbour, also German, suggests P. Rauxel. Not bad, Herr Kern!

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Domestic News

DSC_0855 - CopySad news today.

Pollux, the curly salt-and-pepper Guinea pig, died during the night. Even though the wound to his ear was healing (seemingly) nicely, and in spite of antibiotics, I assume a lingering infection caused his death.

Oh, that’s just too bad.

(Apart from that, yes, we are still well but a little too busy right now for regular blog updates. Give me another few days…)

Russian Vine

russianvineA recent visit to the family bathroom brought my attention to our Russian Vine. Guessing that it has nothing to do with Russia or wine, I looked it up. Wikipedia says it is called Fallopia baldschuanica, a member of the knotweed family.

Our particular one has been wish us for a very long time, well over 20 years for sure. It never had an easy life, too dry at times and too wet at others, rarely given plant feed or a new pot. Just look at it. It’s alive with abundance.

What a trooper.


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20120512_142628Ah, wonderful. This weekend, and hopefully not only for this weekend, spring has returned after several week’s absence. It’s still a little chilly, but the sun is out and the sky, while not cloudless, definitely shows a good amount of blue.

Recently laid sugar peas (the French “mange tout” variety) are raising tiny heads, and green beans should be coming through the soil one of these days. I sew lots of Swiss chard. I planted some pre-grown chard, planted salads, celery and beetroots. The cherry tree is netted against pigeons, starlings and other birds. The bananas are trimmed, the spring flower bulbs are taken out and stored away.

The tomatoes are coming out of the greenhouse soon, and our herbs are in full production already (minus the rosemary, which appears to struggle).

All we need now is a decent remainder of spring and a glorious summer.


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Toys for Grown-ups

DSCF0377I am pleased to report that I am working on a little arts and crafts project right now. The missus is even more pleased, I think. It’s one of those crazy ideas that might just be a lot of work and might just take some while, but with luck, it will be worth the effort.

So, without giving too much away, I wanted to tell you that I am now a very happy and very proud owner of a Dremel 300 multitool; the Swiss army knife of rotating electric tools. One of those little hand-held motors with tens of attachments for cutting, sanding, polishing, grinding, cleaning, …. It is just a.m.a.z.i.n.g. It even includes a flexible shaft, which I find even a.m.a.z.i.n.g.e.r.

I think this will be an enormous help with this little project. I have now stopped counting the “oh, I wished I had one of those when I did this or that” thoughts, too. My life would have been easier, and the results much better (and faster, and neater) many times. I wished I had bought one much earlier. This tool seems perfect for little jobs around the house and garden, and certainly is perfect for many jobs in craft and hobby affairs.

I can’t wait to take it to stone, too, but one thing at a time.

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Castor & Pollux

Castor (bottom) and Pollux (top)Meet Castor and Pollux, the Gemini twins, who have now taken up residence in my study while I am building their outdoors pen. Two Guinea Pig boys. Castor is a mostly black British Shorthair with a white curl right on top of his head, Pollux is a salt-and-pepper Abyssinian with big curls, making his hair stand up straight where the curls meet. Both are very lovely, but only Pollux is immortal. 

The boys settle in really well. They quickly learned to associate my voice with food; now we are learning about trust and about being held. One little step at the time, but the speed of progress is very nice. I buy their sympathies with food, of course. Regrettably, they don’t like celery greens very much, of which we have an abundance in the garden.

Dandelions and Sow Thistle are already a thing of the past in our garden. I have now taken to roaming the streets…

Oh, and fighting also seems to be a thing of the past. They fought heavily for little over an hour (with breaks and loud squeals) and appear to have established a hierarchy now. Not sure if the last word is said on that already, as the dominant one, Pollux (shown on top as is fit for his rank), is more shy than the more inquisitive Castor.

More pictures are right here.


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DSC_0734For those of you who know, this is an obvious choice of subject for this Friday’s post, but as we remain pretty pleased with our new front door, this event certainly deserves a mention here: our new front door has arrived.

Designed by ourselves – with many thanks to everyone who contributed with discussion, sketches or ideas.

Thanks to Woodland Products for the smooth and timely execution (and showing commitment for sorting out various special requests and issues along the way).

Thanks to our stained glass artist of choice, Simone Kay, who helped turning a vague idea and some rough sketches, combined with lots of photos and discussion, into a beautiful piece of art.

We couldn’t have asked for better partners on this journey.

The mini-album with “before” and “after” images is right here:

You should probably come over and take a look yourself, just make sure to be here between 7:30 am and 9:30 pm. You wouldn’t wake-up the neighbourhood with spontaneous applause and excited screams, would you?

Well – OK. You’re perfectly entitled not to like it. For us, it is a very personal design, and this is exactly what we wanted. Which makes it even more personal, of course.  In short, we love it.

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