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Monday, 1 May 2017

Sheepish

At last, my little sheep knitting pattern is complete, tested, and now published for sale!


On offer during May 2017 for the introductory price of just £2 (will be £3.50 from 1 June 2017), as an instant download through Payhip.

I'd love to see your Sheepish efforts!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

March: Kenyan tea

A little late I know, but for reasons that I might explain in a separate post. Anyway, during March I was drinking mostly tea from Kenya.

Tea is not native to Kenya, or indeed most of Africa. It was first grown in Limuru, Kenya in 1903. Of course Rooibos is grown in Africa and brewed and served much as traditional black tea is around the world, but that is a different plant species.

In 1923, Brooke Bond sent a representative to Kenya to begin the first commercial tea plantation in the country. Since then, Kenya has overtaken China and India in tea production and around 90% of Kenyan tea is now exported yearly. Kenyan tea is the principal ingrediant in the 'PG Tips' blend for loose leaf and tea bags and is often used in generic 'Breakfast tea' blends.

Kenyan tea, as anyone who has sampled PG Tips will know, makes a robust cuppa with good flavour that carries milk well.

I decided not to stick with PG Tips though, so this month I have been drinking:
Some others you might like to try:

 




Tuesday, 28 February 2017

February: Lapsang souchong

For February, I have been drinking the fabulously decadent Lapsang souchong tea.

Lapsang souchong tea is a black tea, grown in the Fuijian region of China. It is sometimes known as 'smoked tea' which rather gives the game away because it is the smoking of the leaves over pinewood that gives the tea it's distinctive flavour and aroma. It really is like drinking a bonfire!

The tea is made from the older, larger leaves of the tea plant, which is where the word 'souchong' comes in. Tea made from the younger tips is generally known as pekoe. Tradition has it that the usual way of drying the leaves was interrupted by the Emporer's armies passing through the region during the Qing era, and so to speed up the drying process and meet demand, locals spread out the leaves to dry over pine fires. Today the tea is becomming increasingly expensive as the region is a small one and demand is growing.

Lapsang souchong is a bit like Marmite - you either love it or hate it! Winston Churchill loved it, and so do I.

It's not that common to see in smaller supermarkets, but there are some online suppliers and a couple of well known brands who offer the tea loose and in bags:

  • Twinings have both a Smoky Lapsang and a traditional Lapsang souchong in packs of 50 bags
  • Waitrose do a very reasonable box of 50 bags for around £1.90, as well as loose leaf
  • Whittard of Chelsea offer loose leaf Lapsang souchong, and also for those not over keen on the smokey sensation, they have a blend called Russian Caravan which has just a hint if camp fires.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

2017 a year of tea

This is not a new year resolution. Just wanted to make that clear, because I don't subscribe to that self-defeating nonsense. This is something I've been thinking about for a while, and having a full 12 month period to carry out my research seems a good way of structuring it.

What research, I hear you ask. Tea.

I am a black tea purist (though I do like a drop of milk) and I find fruit 'tea' is a lot like drinking hot water with twigs in. But throughout 2017 I intend to try a new tea each month, and write a little post about it with some information for anyone else who might be interested. Having said that, I'm cheating a bit with my January tea because it's my favourite: Assam.

Assam tea is grown in the Assam region of India.
From: http://www.peasantautonomy.org/assam-overview.html

The tea comes from a single specific species, Camellia sinensis var. assamica. The first tea plantation was established in Assam in 1837, and traditionally Assam has been the second largest tea producing region, with southern China being the largest. The region is heavily forested, and home to rhinoceros among other wildlife. Unlike other tea bushes, Assam is generally grown in lowland regions. It is these conditions that make the area a prolific producer of tea - the collective estates produce 680,400,000 kg of tea annually.

Assam tea has a strong flavour, often described as 'malty'. It is commonly used in blends known as Breakfast Tea, particularly in Irish Tea. 

Early imports of Assam tea were mainly through the British East India Company. At that time, China tea was seen as the 'ideal' and Chinese plants and methods of cultivation were brought into Assam. This proved largely unsuccessful and eventually a hybrid of Chinese and Assam plants was established as the variant used today. The plant has larger leaves then its Chinese counterparts. Harvesting is usually done twice each year: the first harvest is in March, and the second to harvest the tips of the new shoots which give a sweeter and full-bodied tea is carried out later in the year.   

Currently I'm drinking Marks & Spencer Assam Tea (though I would say it's cheaper if you visit the store than if you shop online with that link), as Assam can be hard to find in other supermarkets. 
  • Waitrose offer both standard Assam in boxes of 50 and 100 bags as well as loose leaf, and Golden Tippy in packs of 15 pyramid bags. 
  • Twinings offer Assam including a 'nutty chocolate' blend.
  • Whittard of Chelsea have a range of second flush or 'Tippy' products.   
  • Imperial Teas have a range of interesting Assam teas from a number of gardens (plantations). I haven't tried any yet, mainly because they use a courier delivery service and items must be signed for. I'm sure postal delivery would be adequate, but anyway....
  • Boston Tea Party offer one of my favourite Assam teas. If you want to buy your own stock, then the Canton Tea Co. is the place to go.
As this is the first of my Tea posts, just a note on how to brew black tea. If you are going to use a teapot, small is beautiful. A bigger pot just encourages you to leave the tea steeping for longer than it should, so a pot for one or two cups is ideal. Leave your big family-sized teapot for the PG Tips and Yorkshires of the world.

Make sure you warm the pot with hot water first. Hot water from the tap is fine, but leave it for a few minutes so that the pot is hot to the touch on the outside. Empty the pot just before your kettle boils and then pop your tea in.

Use water that has literally just boiled, but is not actually boiling. I've seen people state that 95 degrees C is the ideal temperature, but I'm not going to stand there with a thermometer! If you put your tea in a warmed pot and then put the teapot lid on, as soon as the kettle has boiled take the lid off and pour the water from the kettle directly on to the tea. Stir, particularly if using tea bags. Wrap the teapot in a tea towel folded double, or pop a tea cosy on, and leave for 3-4 minutes. The trick really is not to over-brew otherwise the flavour becomes bitter.

I'm not going to comment much on adding milk or sugar except to say it's completely up to you. Just remember honey and stevia have their own taste that will have to compete with the tea.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Winter Solstice

(or the end of one year and the start of the next)

I'm sitting here as the sun disappears on the shortest day of the year, with a red cinnamon candle burning. Red for love, happiness, warmth, generosity. I am not sad that this year is over, though it hasn't been my worst by a long chalk. I had hoped to be a leaseholder by now, but that looks likely to happen next month so I can wait a little longer.

Unusually, I took a few extra days off work this week to give myself a longer soul holiday this year. Normally I work right up to when my employer closes for Christmas, and I would have no objection to working on Christmas day (or any other day) as long as I was compensated in some way. But this year I need to use up the leave I had been saving in order to get my kitchen re-done. I intend to use these days as soul yoga time. It's a phrase my friend Ciel came up with years ago, meaning doing things that are gentle stretches for your mind and mental health. Sometimes it can include physical activities, if your mental health responds well to them. Today I decided to go for a walk, instead of staying home all day with only the garden birds for company.

I started by taking one of our town buses to the end of its route, where I'd never been before. It was an interesting ride, and easy to know where to get off as it was a large supermarket. Then I looked at the road signs and picked a direction that would lead to somewhere I was familiar with.

I have osteoarthritis, and depending on the weather I can walk about 3 miles on a really good day before I get some pain or discomfort. Today was not a really good day, but an OK day, and my spidey senses got me onto a familiar bus route after about a mile which then gave me the confidence to take the rest of the distance one bus stop at a time. I managed about 2 miles before getting back on a bus, and I'm happy with that.

Back home, my de-stash continues; I had some dusky pink aran yarn that has now been turned into a jacket for a 2-3 year old and I finished a matching beret this afternoon. Then I started a cowl with some alpaca mix yarn which will be for a friend when we have lunch next week, and I'll try and get a pair of fairisle gloves done for the other friend who will be joining us. There is a lot of half-used 4-ply yarn left over from socks and fairisle seems a logical thing to use it all on.

And then I have a secret project that I want to work on in 2017. It involves knitting rather small things and leaving them anonymously as gifts in public places. I have been inspired by a church group who last week hung up hundreds of knitted angels around their town which were free for anyone who wanted to take one.

I think we can all give a little more next year.

Enjoy the rest of the Solstice everyone!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

How long should it take to purchase a property?

Certainly not as long as it is taking me to purchase the flat I live in from my landlord.

We started this process at the end of May, and I have already had to serve notice on the landlord for missing a legal timed deadline for one portion of the transaction process. My landlord is a social landlord, and I'm buying under the Right to Buy scheme - mainly because of the threat by the Conservative government to make workers pay full market rent on social housing properties. Commercial rents here are more than twice what I currently pay, and on the property I live in would take approximately half my income each month if that were to happen. A mortgage, with the RTB discount, is roughly the same as my current rent. The choice is clear.

What is not clear is why it took my landlord almost 14 weeks to provide me with a valuation of the property, and why it has taken since the end of May for them to finally confirm this week that there is no asbestos in the loft space (I have an upstairs flat). It has so far taken them 3 weeks to put together the transfer documents to send to my solicitor (and even she has started calling this a 'saga'!), and they still have not sent them.

The landlord also refuses to tell me whether a wall I want to remove is a load-bearing wall in advance of the completion of sale. It wont make any difference to me buying the flat, but my solicitor advised me to try and get the confirmation in advance of completion. Now that they have confirmed there is no asbestos, I can get my own builder to check, but it makes me very wary of how long they will take when I'm a leasholder to give permission for the building work to be done. My builder says I should allow 3 weeks for the building and then to fit a new kitchen, and I've saved a couple of weeks holiday from work this year to cover that period, but our holiday year runs from April to March and at this rate the work wont get done before next summer. I could do with a few days away right now, but daren't use any more holiday just in case the sale is suddenly completed and we can get going with the building work.

Why do we make these things so difficult in this country? I work in customer service and if I had delayed something in the way the landlord has, I'd have lost my job by now.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Nutcracker suite

Last weekend I spent about 20 minutes watching a squirrel in my garden. He (or she, impossible to tell unless you're close enough to get bitten) was helping himself to the hazel nuts on my tree. There are lots, and I don't really mind, I was just a little surprised to actually catch him doing it.

Today I decided to see if any nuts were ripe enough for me. A few are, but now I have a new problem ....



I don't have a nut cracker!

While I was in the garden, I thought I'd take a few pictures of the flowerbed, to show how the colours change from spring through to autumn - which we now seem to be in.