Wednesday, March 26, 2008

This is Wilson (the Lounge Lizard). Well you
didn't think I was going to post a pic of my
gray hair.

Too Many 13’s

There seem to be too many 13’s cropping up in my life at the moment. It’s not that I’m superstitious, well, maybe just a tad. It’s not really surprising considering my mother was a paranoid superstitionarian (a what?). When my brother and I were kids, she would drag us across busy roads just to avoid walking under a ladder. And placing a box containing new shoes on the table would reduce this sensible woman to a gibbering idiot. She also had a thing about black cats, opening umbrellas indoors, and passing on the staircase. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

Anyway, back to 13’s. It was my 13th wedding anniversary last week. On Monday it was 13 years since Mick moved to California, and on May 24th, it will be 13 years since I came out to join him. (It was our original intention to stay in the States for a year. How time flies). And, after doing our grocery shopping the other day, we ended up at check stand number 13! What’s more, I got my first gray hair last week, it probably has nothing to do with the number 13, but it might.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Shepherd's (Cottage) Pie

More English Comfort Food – Shepherd’s Pie

Of course all this cold, wet weather called for more comfort food. This is my recipe for Shepherd’s Pie. Strictly speaking, it should be called Cottage Pie as it’s made with ground beef, and Shepherd’s Pie is made with ground lamb, but I think I’ve already mentioned that lamb in Oklahoma is as rare as rocking horse poop.

Cottage Pie

(For Shepherd’s Pie substitute ground lamb for beef)


1lb ground sirloin
2 lbs mashed potatoes
2 cups beef stock
1 onion, chopped.
3 carrots, sliced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1/2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
A generous dash of fresh ground black pepper
1 bay leaf


1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F
2. In a large skillet melt butter over medium high heat and brown meat.
3. Add the onion and sauté for two minutes.
4. Add carrots and beef stock. Bring to the boil, add Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and bay leaf, and simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Drain liquid from mixture and reserve.
6. Transfer the mixture to an 11-inch x 7-inch ovenproof dish. Cover with mashed potato, and form grooves in the surface with a fork.
7. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until potatoes are golden brown.
8. Skim any fat from surface of reserved stock. Mix cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water and add to stock. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until gravy thickens, add more seasoning if required.

Serve pie with seasonal vegetables and gravy.

Note: Personally I add Bisto powder (a British gravy mix) to the stock because it makes
lurvly gravy. An American friend of ours (when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area), always called it Jan’s Groovy Gravy. And the good news, Bisto can be bought in the US from

Garden last Summer - No Lake

Garden on March 18, 2008 with lake

No Lake

Lake - No Rain, Huh!

Water, Water Everywhere

A series of storms passed through the Midwest on Monday and Tuesday of this week, bringing torrential rain. It started raining here on Monday evening and stopped sometime last night. Reports vary according to the amounts, but something between 7-10 inches of rain fell in Northeast Oklahoma.

And, as per usual, poor old Oklahoma gets nary a mention in the news reports. Apparently the storms managed to pass us by and dropped the whole lot on Missouri and Arkansas. The weather report on Monday night put Northeast Oklahoma and Northwest Arkansas as the areas set to get the highest amounts of rain. It would seem that the lake that formed in my garden yesterday was a bloody mirage. The cats needed water wings just to go out for a tiddle, and I had to don sou’wester and hubby’s thigh length fishing wellies just to take the pics. Oh hum.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ghostly Goings – on in the Attic

Last weekend, my daughter called and told me that she had a ghost in the attic. My granddaughter had been using the attic as her bedroom, and saw this ghost on two occasions. Although my daughter thought she had probably dreamt it, she took it seriously and moved her to a bedroom. She then put two of her boys in the attic. The two boys also saw the ghost, each on separate occasions. This is what my granddaughter told me about the experience:

"It was really dark in my room, and I remember waking up, I didn't know what time it was. For some reason, I just felt really scared and I didn't know why, and I couldn't move anything but my eyes. I saw something moving out of the corner of my eye and so I looked. I thought it was dad, because it was about the same height and it looked like a man. It was a bit blurry, but I presumed that was because it was dark. It was bending down and picking stuff up and looking at them before putting them back down again. It was near my teddy bears so I thought it was picking them up. I can't remember anything else so I must have fallen asleep. I asked dad why he'd been messing with my teddy bears and he said he hadn't. He looked confused so I believed him. It was there the next night, doing the same thing, in the same spot. I carried on looking at it, and I just remember seeing it kind of fade from the bottom upwards, and seeing it with no legs."

This reminded me of a strange encounter of my own. At one time, back in England, I worked at an office where I used to run a job club (to help people improve their job search skills). The job club took place in two of the upstairs rooms in the office. In one room I did the training sessions, and the other room (which we called the resource room), was used by people to apply for jobs. In that room they had newspapers, magazines, telephones, stationery, computer, everything that they needed to apply for jobs. There was also an old typewriter in there that nobody ever used.

One day, I arrived early at the office, before anyone else got there. The canteen was upstairs, so I went up there to make myself a cup of tea. On passing the door to the resource room, I heard typing, which surprised me as I was sure none of the other staff were in yet. As soon as I opened the door the typing stopped, but there was no one in the room. I did hear the typing several times while I worked there, and it always happened when the room wasn’t in use. I probably would have thought I was going nuts, but I later discovered that other staff had heard it, too.

And funnily enough, when I told the office manager about the mysterious typist, she told me yet another ghost story. She had been in charge of another office at the time, and one Sunday she got a call from the police. Neighbors across from the office building had seen lights on upstairs and thought it might be a break-in. When the manager got there, there were no lights on, and no sign of a break-in.

But, what really mystified her was that the upstairs of the office wasn’t used. The office though, had originally been a church until it had undergone a conversion. The contractors who did the renovations had put in a false ceiling to hide the high church roof.

After another Sunday call-out due to lights being on in the upper story the manager thought there might be some sort of electrical fault, so she called in an electrician. He found that not only were there no lights up there, there wasn’t any wiring either.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lancashire Hot Pot

After a balmy weekend where we basked in temperatures in the low 70’s F, by Sunday night it was all change again. The warm southerly wind that had blown steadily all weekend changed to a northerly, and within minutes temperatures dropped 20° and continued to fall.

On Monday, temps hovered around freezing all day, only to plunge into the teens at night. Mick lit a log fire, and we and our three cats, Wilson, Alvin, and Tommy, huddled round it. On a night like this, one needs comfort food. And what better comfort food can there be than a traditional dish from my native county in England, a Lancashire Hot Pot was definitely called for. Even Mick, a Yorkshireman, didn’t complain, and in fact he had second helpings.

For those of you still laboring under freezing weather conditions here is my recipe for Lancashire Hot Pot.

Sheep abound on the hill farms of the county of Lancashire, England, and the original Hot Pot was made with mutton. Nowadays neck of lamb is the traditional cut of meat used in this dish, however, beef stew meat works equally well. It has to, as lamb is about as rare as hen’s teeth in Oklahoma.

Lancashire Hot Pot


1lb beef stew meat.
2lbs russet potatoes. (thinly sliced)
2 carrots, sliced.
1 large onion, sliced.
½ pint beef stock
2 tablespoons butter, melted.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ cup all purpose flour
Black pepper.


1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Season flour with pepper and coat the meat.
3. Heat oil in a large skillet over a medium heat, and brown the beef.
4. In a 1½ quart casserole/ovenproof dish place alternate layers of meat, onion, potato, and carrot, ending with a layer of potato.
5. Pour over the stock, cover with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for 2 hours.
6. Remove from oven, brush potatoes with melted butter, and cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes, or until potatoes are browned.