Monthly Archives: December 2009

No little thing

About a decade ago, I spent a large part of a holiday taking an oral history with my grandfather.  It was a fantastic experience and I recorded around 20 hours of tape.  Over the years, I managed to transcribe the tapes…a slow and painstaking process.  I’m not a bad touch typist, but I’d never learned transcription skills.

This year, I finally managed to edit and format the content (still not perfect – my proofing is inconsistent) and transform it into an actual book using Blurb.com self-publishing software.  The book itself wasn’t that expensive, but I think it turned out fairly nice.   I gave copies to my mother and aunt, my brother and two cousins – and my great-aunt – my grandfather’s sister for Christmas.

I’m not making any money on the book, but the beauty of blurb.com is that I could add a surcharge onto the price of the book – which I’d get to keep as ‘profit’.   I probably won’t add anything to the price – but I might – I reserve the possibility.  But I definitely won’t do so before 1 April 2010 – I’d like my more distant Powell cousins that I didn’t give copies to the option to buy their own at cost.

Bill Powell in his …
By Ingrid Koehler, e…

And there will always be a free version available to download, too.  Here’s a version hosted on Scribd a document sharing website.  The content itself has been published under a Creative Commons license  – meaning that others can use and re-publish it for non-commercial purposes.

What’s in it?

There’s a lot of family history within the book – but within that there’s an interesting portrait of life in the rural South during the 20s and 30s.   It covers my grandfather’s college days at the University of Tennessee, his time working for one of FDR’s government agencies – the Farm Security Administration designed to relieve hardship during the depression, and his time fighting during WWII.  It covers his life as a businessman and a local politician in the 50s and 60s – including a period of labor unrest in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee – the Murray Ohio strikes.   And if I do say so myself, it’s a pretty good read.

I did it

Those who follow me on Twitter may have been aware of my deal to quit smoking.  Stay quit for two months, get a Mac. Fall-off the nicotine-free wagon and lose the Mac. Seriously. Simon said he’s going to sell it, and I think I believe him.  So if you’re interested in a second-hand Mac, leave your contact details in the comments.

Some of you have been more than aware…one person at least has said “I wish you’d just go ahead and get it so we could stop hearing about it.”  And there’s an important lesson on message saturation – isn’t it.  I was quite careful not to Tweet about it more than once a week.

Anyway, I did it.  I didn’t smoke. And true to his word, we went to get the Mac on the day marked on the calendar.

The experience

Yes, I could have probably ordered online and avoided the throng of Regent Street in the last few shopping days before Christmas, but I wanted to get the full experience… so I headed down to the flagship Apple store and milked it for all it was worth. The lovely Adam helped steer me to the place where consumer surplus was fully extracted.  He nodded sagely at the right points, although he did laugh when I said the last time I used a Mac was in the 80s and tried to sell me the full tutorial package.

Ha, ha screw that – I’ll just muddle through the way I always do and ask for help from my Twitter friends.  “Are you sure they won’t get tired of that?” he asked.  “Not so long as I’m a gateway for funding,” I thought.

And he was a little bit dubious when my husband demanded the academic discount and displayed his university staff card. “Students, I can understand,” he says – “But you guys are earning money.”  (But maybe not for long…thanks Mandy).

Full social media douchebag package

Anyway – we got the thing home and I decided to do the unboxing video…because I can – go on – it’s only 40 seconds.

Happy Birthday to Daddy

As somebody with a birthday right smack dab in the middle of the calendar year, it’s hard for me to truly understand the anniversary plights of those with a birthday near Christmas.  But I try my best, I really do.

Poor Simon’s birthday is on the 21st and tends to get a little overlooked in the run-up to the big holiday bonanza. But we opened presents and tried to have a birthday outing and we had a birthday meal and birthday cake, of course – with candles and everything.  Bill loves the Happy Birthday song – and of course he’s quite fond of fire, too:

Gone to the market to buy a fat pig

I’m a grocery store, supermarket kinda girl.  I generally like buying my meat shrinkwrapped with a use-by date.   It’s fast, it’s easy, I don’t have to talk to anyone or reveal my lack of meat-buying nous and it’s – you know – OK.

But there’s a butchers on the edge of Wimbledon that we regularly pass by on the way to Richmond Park.  It’s nice looking.  I reckon it just may be where rich people buy their meat, and even if you’re not rich you need to have a reasonable net worth to shop there.  I’ve only ever bought cheap cuts there myself.

My brother makes some amazing ribs.  Tender, fall off the bone, sweet and crispy on the outside ribs.  The kind of ribs that would show a Memphis native that a Middle Tennessean has got ’em beat both ways on BBQ.    When he visits us in the summer, we usually set aside a day to make some ribs.   But the first time we tried this set up we had problems sourcing adequate ingredients.   We had been to a number of supermarkets and found some measly little piglet ribs smeared in suspicious red sauce in a little foil tray.

So, I suggested we try the butchers as a last resort, I’d never been in before.  We got there and saw some ribs in a slightly less scary sauce, but still marinaded up.   “Do you have any plain ribs?” we asked.  Out they brought the most amazing full side of ribs, plump and full of meat.   We had to get it cut up to fit in my giant boiling pot.  There was a slightly false start when they began cutting them into single ribs, but the butcher realised his mistake when my brother and I shouted “No!!!”

My goodness, high quality meat makes a difference.  Delish.

-0-

I had planned to go to  the supermarket to buy a pork shoulder for Christmas, but was dreading the heave.

We passed by the buther shop  yesterday on our way to Simon’s birthday walk in the park.  We’ve had some lovely solitary walks in the park on his birthday in some very strange weather.  One year it was freezing mist and the park was silent but for the ice droplets falling from the trees.  Magical.

But yesterday was just plain miserable.  Rain.  Cold, cold drizzly rain falling on frozen paths.  It wasn’t even as festive as sleet.   We walked, slipping down (and Simon falling once) down to Isabella plantation and fed the ducks.

Who were very grateful for our meagre crusts.

Actually it was pretty amazing.  I counted up almost 30 pair of Mandarin ducks.  And a solitary wood duck. (These are pics from last year, because it was too wet to get my camera out.)

And then, because we were feeling very damp and cold.  We left.

In an attempt to salvage our journey I suggested we stop in the butchers on the way back and pick up a pork shoulder.  Which we did.  Excellent service as usual.  Freshly cut from a larger joint.   This year is the first time I’ve ever tried cooking pork shoulder and it’s pretty fantastic.

I’m even more excited about trying it with a really nice piece of meat.  A Merry Christmas indeed.

-0-

On our visit to Wisley on Sunday I had a purple cabbage coleslaw in the restaurant.  It was fantastic and I thought it would make an excellent accompaniement to our pork shoulder roast.  But I can’t quite find just the right recipe for it.

However, I did find a recipe for a congealed coleslaw.  Yep, that’s right – coleslaw in jello (or jelly if you prefer), but there was no picture of the final product.   Which made me think about the Weight Watchers recipe cards which made me laugh til my sides hurt the first time I saw them – which unfortunately was at work.

And no my memory was not faulty.  Here’s what we could be having along with roast pork.  (Only sadly, I have no jelly mould).

Blinded by the lights

RHS Wisley the botanical gardens in Surrey is always a beautiful place to go, but during the Christmas season they’ve added a bit extra magic with “lumiere” in the gardens.  Lumiere, I think, means lights designed by French people to be worthy in an artistic sense and funky.

We had no idea that they’d have such a display and went down there just to enjoy the gardens. It’s freezing cold but the sky was clear, it was bright and the light in the glasshouse especially was the most beautiful I’d ever seen it.

Getting to see the lights in the garden after dark was an unexpected bonus. It was absolutely beautiful seeing the gardens lit at night, I’d never stayed past dusk.

I wish I could have taken more pictures, but being low light it was difficult to set up shots without a tripod. The first one I tried to do with a bit of propping on a bench and holding my breath to avoid camera shake resulted in me losing my toddler momentarily. (He’d wandered off in a fit of pique over his removal from the Christmas displays).

The lumiere is on at the gardens until 3 January.

5 things I bought today

  1. A lot of groceries (my Ocado delivery arrived this morning)
  2. Lunch
  3. The Guardian
  4. A cup of coffee at Tuttle
  5. A train set

Chocolate blind spots

The British are awfully fond of their own chocolate.  And why shouldn’t they be?  It’s made to their own tastes and preferences.   But they’re wickedly derisive of American chocolate…or as it’s often phrased “your so-called chocolate”.

Bill likes British chocolate

As Cadbury’s the British chocolatier for the masses faces a hostile takeover by Kraft or a possible friendly-ish merger from Hersheys the American chocolatier for the masses, chocolate is a hot topic in the news.  Yesterday’s PM news on BBC’s Radio 4 featured a blind taste test with an expert chocolatolgist to decide which was better, Cadbury or Hershey.     The chocolate dude admitted that a blind taste test was pointless, given that he knew which was which.   And then he went on to slate the Hershey bar for texture, taste and a dubious set of ingredients.  And oddly he criticised it as well for the rampant sweetness of the Hersheys (which is the same criticism I have of Cadbury’s chocolate – at least with Hersheys I can taste some cocoa).

I grew up on Hershey Bars.  I like them.   I prefer them.  Given a plain Hersheys or a plain Cadbury’s Dairy Milk – I’ll take the Hershey’s every time.  A Hershey’s kiss – chocolate perfection*.  The pleasure of unwrapping, the cute little paper flag, the perfect not-too-melty-but-not-too-solid plop of choc on the tongue.

I don’t want to diss British chocolate – it’s alright.  But I just want to make a defense for American chocolate.  It’s yummy.  It doesn’t deserve the criticism it receives this side of the pond.  And it may just be the thing that saves the integrity of British chocolate.

________

* Well, it was until my palate was educated with really good chocolate, boutique confections from the Continent – and occasionally from the UK.