Monday, 31 March 2008

Good buy, bad buy.

The good buy:

For quite a few years now, Shinkansen have made a sharpener for Global kitchen knives (those expensive Japanese kitchen knives with the odd shaped stainless steel handles with black spots). They have ceramic wheels which are set at an angle and run in a small water bath; you gently slide the blade of the knife backwards and forwards a few times and the blade is as sharp as when it was new. It's pretty much foolproof, and perfect for people who find keeping a sharp edge on a knife difficult. I do tend to regard nice knives as good gifts, and always give the recipients one of these sharpeners too; people are always amazed at how well they work. They're not that expensive either, at around £20; a good investment.

I needed one to send to friends, and on Saturday I popped into town. The design has now passed into general use, and I knew that Lakeland (a UK chain of kitchenalia shops) stocked it in the 'Analon' range. It may lack the slight hint of art deco of the original, but few would care about that. So it's on it's way now, and I know it will get a lot of use.

The bad buy:

Lakeland sell a lot of their own products, and some of them are very good. Of course their knife rack had something I hadn't seen before, this time a butter knife which at £2.50 seemed worth a try. "Spread and cut with ease". It looked very sensible, with a sharp edge and a broad spatula-style blade for spreading the butter.

There's a big gap though between looking sensible and actually working. It didn't seem to offer much control when cutting the butter, and was a disaster when it came to the spreading; the butter just seemed to cling to a blade that wouldn't even cover the full width of a piece of toast. So, a big disappointment and a certain amount of annoyance with myself; I already have far too many knives in my kitchen and normally resist acquiring more. But I never quite learn!

Ah well, it's easy enough to use a traditional knife, truth be told.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Welcome to Summer

Not quite summer, in fact it's scarcely spring yet, but certainly summer time arrives here in just under nine-and-a-half hours. I think it'll always be 'summer time' for me, 'daylight saving time' sounds like something thought up by a bureaucrat (which of course it was).

I have a thing about clocks, proper mechanical ones, so I'll be very busy last thing tonight going round and putting them all forward. And taking the opportunity to dust underneath them; I don't like to disturb them too often.

You'll not find me complaining about the clocks going backwards and forwards. I'd be very sorry if it stopped, it's just one of those things that marks the passage of the years. And I'll be up bright and early tomorrow as always.

A Favourite Apron

This was a birthday present from many years ago now, and brings back many happy memories. It is of course handmade, and such gifts always seem far more personal somehow. The lady who made it for me was strongly of the belief that the amount of time I wore it was the amount of time I was prepared to put into our (fully shared) homemaking.

It's quite large so eminently practical, and entirely matched to my personal aesthetic. There are few materials more traditional than gingham, and brown must have been my favoured colour at the time. I love those sheep!

Friday, 28 March 2008

More housekeeping for my Hi-Fi

My speakers and record deck have both been waxed and polished 'til you can see your face in them, but that is by no means all that is demanded by the wish to enjoy good music.

CDs. Perfect sound forever (huh!), remember that? Sooner or later you will find yourself playing your favourite music and suddenly it starts jumping or sticking. When you take the disc out of the player you may be lucky and find a speck of dirt that is causing the problem; easy to wipe away and the problem is solved. But you may be unlucky; there may be a small scratch in the plastic, or you may have used a spirit-based cleaner to remove that earlier speck and find that the disc itself has turned opaque as a result.

Help though is at hand. Because 'Brasso' ('By appointment to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) does a wonderful job of polishing out blemishes from the playing surface of the disc. Just use sparingly with a soft clean cloth, and be sure to polish all the residue away.

Then there's the so-called 'jewel' case, a uselessly fragile assembly that acquires scratches almost as a riposte to the most careful handling. It cracks. Or it breaks entirely, most often the hinge for the lid but sometimes the entire case (as per the one in my photo, utterly irrecoverable damage courtesy of her Majesty's Royal Mail). Brasso certainly doesn't fix cracked or broken cases, and you simply have to decide what degree of damage you are comfortable with. But you can get used to taking damaged cases apart, and only discarding the broken parts. The salvage can often be used to repair the next case that would otherwise bite the dust. Scratches and unwanted opacity do respond wonderfully to Brasso though, just as with the discs themselves.

I love the distinctive and traditional tin that Brasso comes in; if only they'd kept the small metal cap rather than switching to the plastic one.

Fridge Cleaning.

Rhonda Jean (see my last post) is drawing up a list of interesting blogs, a list largely donated by her visitors, one of whom was kind enough to mention me! It's only in it's infancy, but it's already drawn me to several new discoveries, and my own list of links will surely grow as a result. Before that, her previous couple of posts have centred around cleaning fridges; a useful reminder to undertake one of those enjoyable jobs that comes round with pleasurable regularity. But not, sadly, for this slave to all tasks domestic. Because I normally keep my fridge unplugged, and have done for some time now. So, beyond the simple pulling of the plug, why and how do I?

The first thing to say is that I live in the UK and that our weather here is distinctly variable and often quite cold. Were it not for that, I would not have been tempted to even try to live without. And secondly that I don't actually live without a fridge; when summer arrives and the weather turns too hot I do turn it on, but for a good part of the year I manage very well without.

It is a few years now since I took stock of the amount of electricity being consumed by my various household appliances, and I found myself slightly surprised by the discovery that over 80% of my electric bill was generated by my fridge and freezer. The freezer was the first to go; it tended to fill with food that I'd bought 'on offer', but the saving at the checkout was more than offset by the subsequent utility bill. Other than with ice-cream and oysters (separately, I've not tried them together yet!) , I didn't miss it either. Nor did I ever have to wonder whether anything I'd found tucked away right at the bottom of the freezer was still entirely safe to eat either.

Once I'd adjusted to the loss of the freezer, it seemed the natural progression to try life without a fridge. Again I surprised myself again with the ease with which I adjusted. No longer the weekly shop at the supermarket; I buy fresh produce on an 'as and when' basis. I tend to find I do 2, occasionally 3 significant shopping expeditions a week, and get the stuff that has a very short shelf life such as milk meat and fish from my local shops daily. I do have cool storage in my kitchen almost regardless of the weather. And I live within easy walking distance of a wonderful butcher, a fishmonger, and a baker, as well as a general grocery.

Last summer I found I only turned my fridge on for a couple of weeks, and that was only because I had guests staying who needed one (or thought they did).

I know that most people simply don't have these options. Having a large family soon renders the weekly shop the only viable option for urban living, and it is difficult to imagine children deprived of a fridge to raid whenever the mood takes them! But for me the fridge and freezer feel like luxuries now.

You would probably think that this deprives me entirely of the pleasure of cleaning the fridge but you'd be wrong. If a fridge sits too long closed and unused, the air inside becomes stale and the fridge feels musty. Happily that's reason enough to give the fridge a thorough wash, I do always like to have it ready in case I want to use it. So when I read Rhonda Jean on the subject I did open the door in hope...

Rhonda Jean

'Down to Earth' is a particular favourite among the blogs I visit, a first call as I do my daily 'round'. It is exceptionally life-affirming in it's gentle championing of conservation against consumerism, of a simpler, slower lifestyle, and of the pleasure that lies in homemaking. But I am not alone; many of other domestic bloggers share the sense of inspiration I draw from my visits.

It is a mark of the reverence and respect that this blog commands that it is normally referred to simply by the name of it's author:

Rhonda Jean

Rhonda Jean, for the inspiration I've found in your willingness to write with such eloquence and from your heart, sharing the things you hold dear, my appreciation and thanks.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Beeswaxing my speakers

I do like using proper old-fashioned beeswax polish; hard wax with just a little turpentine to soften it out (and intensify that wonderful aroma). I always use the Jonelle brand from John Lewis - they carry it in Waitrose too these days, and the real thing is so difficult to find in other ranges. They all seem to prefer those aerosols with a dreadful wet spray and not exactly a lot of wax, just useless.

The key to successful waxing is not to do it too often; it does need to build up slowly over the years. The polish hardens very slowly with warm temperatures and if you rush building up the layers the wax is simply too deep to dry out.

And when you apply the wax, you need to wait some time before buffing it. On a hot summer's day 30 minutes is enough, but a very cool Easter weekend like the one we have just had requires around 3 - 4 hours. But as with so many jobs, the waiting is worth it.

If only I had a houseful of furniture that would take a proper polish but sadly I don't, just a few pieces. Thankfully my hi-fi is all real wood, and as music is very important to me anyway it is always a real pleasure when spring comes around and all that red cherry gets it's annual wash and brush up.

It's getting easier with these speakers; I've had them for a good number of years now and the natural tone of the wood is starting to deepen and intensify. Not that well captured in the photo I'm afraid; it really has gone the most wonderful red. There's only one problem; should I use the speaker grills or not? I prefer to, as they reduce the temptation visitors have to poke the tweeter.

I have a second setup upstairs, far older. But the cabinets for those speakers, and all the boxes too (yes, they used to make those of wood in those days) are all teak, and a quick wipe with teak oil keeps them all looking just so. Far less effort though, and I think that a bit of elbow grease seems more than a fair exchange for such a satisfying end result.