Q: How do bunnies stay healthy?
We woke up to April with travel chaos after the country was battered by 100 mph overnight winds and Atlantic jet streams crashed in due to a low pressure system sweeping across. Roads were closed and public transport disrupted because of the dangerous winds and fallen tree across swathes of the UK. The Met Office issued a severe weather warning for winds remained. The extreme conditions had caused disruptions across roads and rail networks, causing misery for millions trying to get away for the Easter break. And the grim forecast came amid concerns of a host of road works and rail engineering works. The Highway Agency (which became Highways England on April 1) maintained 55 sets of road-works over the Bank Holiday weekend. Parts of the M1, M3, M4 and M^ were hit by lane closures or speed restrictions. Luckily, we have no plans to go anywhere.
But I still managed to pop into the city centre to purchase a few bits and bobs to complete my Easter decorations. Any excuse to indulge to decorate the casa. In fact, I do it for any festival, occasion or celebration just because .... Life is too short to not enjoy the festive spirit. I checked out Primark but nothing caught my attention. At M&S, a tin of chocolate eggs for Babe came home with me. Then off to H&M for a shirt but a top with colourful moths caught my attention and they have my size. Woo..hoo. Then off for late lunch at my now favourite KoCo cafe. Again the place was buzzing. The proprietor, KN, greeted me and introduced me to a couple of Malaysians who were having a meal there. On the menu today was laksa which is a spicy-sour fish base noodle soup. Yummy. I didn’t stay long because I’ve a bus to catch and there was people waiting to be seated. I bid goodbye to KN with promises to attend her garden party.
On April Fool day, Babe pulled a joke on me saying that there was a mouse in the bin but I caught him out. In the bus on the way to work, one of the girl’s phone rand and all we could hear was “ What!!! The Uni’s on fire…” We went very quiet whilst the conversation went on for 5 minutes before we heard again “WTF …”. Her father pulled a fast one. We roared with laughter. At work, there was a campaign called “Study Happy” and the mascot was a penguin. A tweet was sent out about penguins in the library and you have to get a ticket to see one. It was amazing to see the number of people requesting tickets. That was brilliant.
“Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.
To me, the weather was playing the April Fool joke. Just when you notice that spring had sprung, winter returned with a vengeance. It was freezing. To celebrate April and also to warm our cockles, HR and I met up for lunch at Bar Fusion. Thankfully, the students had gone home for their Easter break and the place was literally empty. We ordered our food and sat by the window facing the major building work for a bus station. Fingers-crossed, it would be ready when the new student intake arrive in September. I ordered a Thai green chicken curry while HR had the chicken massala and we’d it with rice. It was very spicy and really blew my head off. The only criticism was that it had no vegetables not even as a garnish. The eatery had a feedback form and I filled it in requesting to add salad to the meal and also to change the menu often. We’d been coming here for the past 5 years and they seemed to be serving the same food. Then it was a slow walk to the office.
On Good Friday, the heavens opened. The night before, there was a heavy shower of hailstones and the wind, cold and rain didn’t stop. Hail British Summer Time :-). To get away from the doom and gloom, Babe whisked me to the supermarket and I think the whole of Coventry was in there. We can barely move. Queues were snaking round the aisles that we decided to get out ASAP.
Laugh thy golden laughter,
the moment after,
Weep thy golden tears …
So what do you do when its was miserable outside? Bake pretzels, of course. Babe loved pretzels and the ones that we bought in Tesco Arena cost £2.50 for the size of my palm. It was shockingly expensive. So I Googled for a simple Pretzel recipe and out of the hundreds, I chose this. It turned out ok and a bit bland because I omitted the sprinkle with salt part. It was also small as I couldn’t handle a bigger size. That was why, some of it during baking, the loop sort of fused together. Anyway, it still tasted great. The recipe had been altered to suit my cooking skills.
Homemade Soft Pretzels
- 1 and 1/2 cups (360ml) warm water (lukewarm, no need to take temperature)
- 1 packet active dry or instant yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 Tablespoon (8g) granulated sugar
- 3.75 - 4.25 cups (480-530g) all-purpose flour + more for the counter surface to knead
- 1 large egg, beaten
- coarse sea salt for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 220C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Set aside.
- Dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir with a spoon until mixed, about 1 minute. Some clusters of yeast will remain. Add salt and sugar; stir until combined. Slowly add 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time. Mix with a wooden spoon until dough is thick. Add 3/4 cup more flour until the dough is not sticky. If it is still sticky, add up to 1/2 cup more. Poke the dough with your finger - if it bounces back, it is ready to knead.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead the dough for 3 minutes and shape into a ball. With a sharp knife, cut ball of dough into 1/3 cup sections. This measurement does not have to be exact - use as much or little dough for each pretzel as you wish - the size of the pretzel is completely up to you.
- Roll the dough into a rope with an even diameter. This measurement will depend how large you want the pretzels. Once you have your long rope, take the ends and draw them together so the dough forms a circle. Twist the ends, then bring them towards yourself and press them down into a pretzel shape.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg and pour into a shallow bowl or pie dish. Dunk the shaped pretzel into the egg wash (both sides). Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 220C. Turn the oven to grill and bake for 5 more minutes to brown the tops. Watch closely to avoid burning.
- Allow to cool and enjoy. Serve warm or at room temperature. http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2012/12/25/30-minute-whole-wheat-pretzels/
Outside, the Pulsatilla vulgaris was in full bloom. This plant was said to flower on Good Friday and was known as the Pasque flower which came from the Old French for Easter. It was quite creepy to see it blooming reliably around Easter, It was also known as Dane’s blood. The flower was ‘cloaked in myth’. One legend has it that the flowers sprang up in places that had been soaked by the blood of Romans or Danes because they often appeared on old barrows and boundary banks. They were the county flowers of Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire. Pusatilla were herbaceous perennials forming clumps of finely dissected leaves, with solitary, hairy bell-shaped flowers followed by silky-plumed seed heads.
On the first day of Passover, after a cloudy and drizzly night, we woke up to a dull and misty dawn. Thankfully, it began to get brighter and dryer in the afternoon. We went for a drive to Draycote Water to see the Black Neck Grebe for the last time before it departed back to Russia. It was also known as the Eared grebes. It was now in its breeding plumage with beautiful golden-red feathers which extended across the ear coverts and back over the cheeks. The name Rolling Pin which was used in Sussex to these grebes because they alluded to the habit of rolling nonchalantly on their sides to preen their silky white under-feathers. We were praying hard for it to get closer to the shore and our wish was granted. Thank you.
They say it escaped from a cunning-man’s coop,
dived into air one midwinter and left him
without spell or sight – to live unseen
in its own season behind the wind and water,
waiting for the right crack of light to make
its crystal feather – the black and rufous thing you see.
I once came close. Heard its whistle shear
off into the world that dogs can hear –
that brings them running or drives them mad.
What I’d give for a gold quill dropped
from its head, or what the old man heard it whisper.
On the Fal, in cold weather, they come to pan for its eyes.
~Black-necked grebe by Gregory Leadbetter~
We didn’t stay long because of flying ants and midges. If we don’t move, we’ll be literally eaten alive. Babe stopped by Toft Lane because on the way up, I saw a herd of alpacas feeding on the field. Unfortunately, they’d moved to the further end of the field. These alpacas came from the Toft Alpacas, a prize winning herd and stud farm which also produced yarns and other knitted products. Known for over 6K years as the ‘fibre of the Gods’ alpaca wool were warm, soft, light-weight and lustrous and very expensive. That was why I’m just content photographing them :-)
On Easter Sunday, after checking the weather forecast, we finally made the decision to check out the Festival of Power at Santa Pod Raceway in Podington, Northampton. In 1966, permission was obtained to use the Podington Airfield, which was formerly a wartime airbase used by the USAAF during WW2, as a drag racing complex with the 3/4 of a mile main runaway being used as a drag strip. The track was named Santa Pod after the Santa Ana strip in America, combined with the name of the local village, Podington. It was quite surreal to see Santa Pod opening its gates during the Easter weekend to successfully distract their fans from the Easter eggs and hot cross buns. What we saw and did deserved its own posting.
'Twas Easter-Sunday. The full-blossomed trees
Filled all the air with fragrance and with joy.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Spanish Student~
After yesterdays high adrenalin pursuit, we calmed down and chilled out at RSPB Middleton Lakes. Unfortunately, on such a beautiful day which happened to be the warmest day so far, everyone was there. The parking lot was full that we parked by the entrance. We were greeted by the drummings of a Lesser Woodpecker, heard but not seen. As we walked across the boardwalk, we watched the hustle and bustle of a heron colony. The adults were flying in and out of the woodland heronry, tucked in mature oak trees. Nearly all the 25 nests had a chick in it. We walked past the bird-feeder and the usual culprits were there.
On the farm, it was full of sheep with lambs. We stood watching the fluffy spring lambs gamboling and nuzzling. They also make the cutest little bleats. A spring birth was nature’s way of ensuring the lambs feed on the grass at their freshest, sweetest and most nutritious. It did struck my mind that these lambs were fattened up in the field and were then slaughtered towards the end of summer. That meant the best time to eat grass-fed British lambs was from autumn onwards. The spring lamb that were purchased at Easter were either from New Zealand, or British lambs which had not been sniffing distance of fresh grass. And just imagine the heavy carbon footprint from the imported lamb!!!
The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two—till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe,
~Young lambs by John Clare~
We continued walking along the bridleway through the woodland. The rookeries were alive with rooks, their raucous caws were quite overwhelming. Below, the forest floor was covered with carpets of Lesser Celadines, Wood Anemones and Damsons or Wild Garlic. The aromatic smell of the later was so overpowering when I crushed the young shoots. My hand smelled of garlic the whole day :-) Bluebells were peeping out too. In a months time, they will carpet the forest floor with their magical blue and filling the air with their sweet aroma. Butterflies such as the Brimstone, Comma, Orange tip and Green veined whites fluttered past us, making the most of the warm spring sunshine.
We met 2 members from Brandon who’d been there since early morning. We’d a short chinwag before parting ways. We continued on and heard more drummings and warblings from the Cetti Warblers. The woodland was also ramping up the bird song volume. Unfortunately, everything had sprung and hidden from sight. From the Fisher’s Mill bridge, canal boats were making their way leisurely through the Birmingham Fazley Canal canal. The pool was alive with Mallards, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Tufted ducks with the Black headed gulls being the noisiest and the most randy.
We stopped at the screen on the Jubilee wetlands and spotted Little Egrets feeding but unfortunately, too far away to photograph. A Buzzard was riding the waves. We decided to walk back to the car because the heat was getting on us. And there was so many people on the reserve that all the birds decided to stay away. We stopped by the small reed fringed pool where a flock of Long-tailed tits were feeding. But our attention was distracted by this toad slowly crawling along the reed beds. We took a bit of a breather before making our way to the car.
CC and I celebrated the Easter weekend with dinner at Cosmo. We were very surprised when we were informed that we’d to finish our dinner in 1.5 hours!!! WTF. Because it was all you can eat buffet, they wanted to have as many customers in as possible. It won’t take us that long to finish our dinner but I really resented that reminder. Now back to the food. We took turns to get our food because someone needed to look after our coats and bags. I went first and of course went straight for the sushi. I wished they had labels on the dishes of what the ingredients were. To be safe, I filled my plates with prawns and tuna. As soon as I sat down, it was CC’s turn. When she returned with hers, I was nearly finished and went for my second plate. We barely had time to talk :-)
While I was helping myself to the Thai mussels, spicy salmon balls, fried white calamari, butter prawns on top of a bed of crispy seaweed, there was a notice about no photography and video in the premises. What was going on !!! People come here for birthdays, parties, celebrations and off course they want to take photos and videos. That really pissed me off. I think this will be the last time I stepped in here. Finally, CC and I managed to have a conversation while having our meal. It was lovely catching up with things. My final meal, before dessert, was Singaporean noodles with braised tofu, Buddha’s delight, spicy king prawns and teppanyaki scallops. There were new live cooking stations dishing out global street food but I didn’t try any because the queue was far too long. Finally, for desserts I’d fresh melons with the creme brulee. We lingered until our 1.5 hours was up before we doddled slowly to the bus stop.
Babe and I ended the Easter weekend with another outing and this time, we checked out Yorkshire Wildlife Park. I took Friday off to avoid the weekend crowds. Oh … was I wrong. It was still the school break here and the car-park was rammed full that we’d to park at the end of a the overspill. We’d to walk along very dusty paths on one of the hottest day of the week. What a start eh. I wished they had provided a bus service to carry the customers to the entrance. We were nearing the complex when we were greeted by a mighty roar from inside of the compound. What a welcoming. We spent a whole fantastic day here and again, it deserved its own posting. We’d a wonderful, fulfilling Easter break and I hoped you’d too.
Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal and new life
~Janine di Giovanni~