Winter needs Soup!

It’s cold and snowing so time to get out the really big pan from the bottom of the cupboard and collect all those lovely veggies up and make some soup.P1030089

You make some soup to add vitamins or you can make soup to add bulk or just as a meal in a pot. Soup is incredibly versatile  and I have lots of recipes that I try from time to time and then ring the changes on them.

So here are two for you to try. Let me know if you find a nice addition to either!

Watercress soup

2 bunches watercress

3/4lbs potatoes

Onion

2 pints stock; 1.5 oz butter; bayleaf; garlic; salt; pepper;

3tbsp cream

Wash cress. Peel and slice potatoes and onions.

Put cress, pots , onions, stock, butter, bayleaf, garlic into large pan. Season. Boil and then simmer until ingredients soft.

Liquidise. Return to pan and stir in cream and then heat very gently.

Serve chilled if wanted.

Winter Lunch in a soup

Potatoes – left over boiled will do fine

White onion

Mixed soup base – buy in a packet as a mix of beans and peas dried – if not available use a mix of dried peas; split peas; lentils green, black and red; and barley;

Stock – preferably a good herby stock base or add some herbs such as parsley, oregano etc. mixed herbs or French herbs.

Salt/pepper

Hot dogs – I use the vegetarian ones.

 

The amounts of each ingredient are variable but I use a small handful of everything to around 2 pints of stock.

You can flavour with tomato ketchup for a variant.

Gently fry onion until soft and then add stock and bring to boil. Add the soup mix next and bring to boil. There is likely to be a scum on the top of the pan – carefully scoop this off – try not to take the lentils with it.. until the top of the soup seems clear. Then add the potatoes, salt/pepper and simmer for 1 hour. Test if  soup mix and barley cooked.

If so, add hot dogs cut into bite sized pieces – 2 per person is plenty and bring to boil again. Simmer for another 10 minutes for vegetarian hot dogs.  Serve big ladles of this for lunch!

You can miss out the hot dogs and add grated cheese instead.

Vary the different pulses to your taste …

 

 

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Wild Flowers of London: herbal remedy anyone?

                In our garden group we frequently have guest speakers. Recently David Bevan came to speak to us twice. His first talk was about the wild flowers of London.

David Bevan use the definition of the London Natural History Society, i.e. the area within a 20-mile radius of St. Paul’s to define the area as London for the purposes of considering  wild flowers..

BACKGROUND

London has a very rich and diverse mixture of native ‘weeds’ and ‘escaped exotics’ (such as buddleja – an escapee from China). Surveying has recently started for a new ‘Flora of the London area’ – the original one was published by the London Natural History Society in 1983. This survey identified approximately 2,050 plants – even more than the number in Dorset, which is the richest county in England, botanically. A recent survey of Hyde Park alone identified 287 wild plants.

Reasons for London’s rich flora:

  1. As a great commercial city historically seeds have come in from all over the world.
  2. The large number of gardens in London: more than one-fifth of London is occupied by gardens (GLA estimate), and plants tend to escape from gardens.
  3. Survival of relict populations: London contains little pockets where rare native plants still survive, whereas in rural areas they tend to get destroyed by hedge-cutting, herbicides etc.
  4. London’s very varied geology offers a wide range of habitats, each with its own distinct flora – from chalk to Bagshot Sands (e.g. Hampstead Heath) to London Clay.
  5. The ‘heat island’ effect: There are fewer frost days, hotter summer temperatures and about three weeks extra growing time compared with surrounding rural areas. An example of a plant which reflects this effect is the Chinese Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, which only flowers in a mild late November. Shown below.

 

chinese mugwort

The anticancer activity of flavones isolated from Chinese mugwort against several cancer cell lines has been documented in numerous in vitro and animal studies. However, clinical trials are lacking to support use in cancer treatment or prevention. What has been documented however is that below:

Sometimes overlooked for more “flashy” herbs in this current day, mugwort is still a favorite of wise women. Mugwort has an affinity for the female reproductive system and is used as a uterine stimulant that can bring on delayed menstruation and help restore a woman’s natural monthly cycle.

As all the bitter herbs, mugwort is an excellentdigestive stimulant and is quite effective taken before or after heavy meals to alleviate gas and bloating.

One of the more interesting traditional uses of mugwort is that of a dream herb. It is often used as one of the main ingredients insleep pillows, and it said to bring the dreamer more lucid dreams. Mugwort is also often used as a smudging (burning) ceremonial herb. It is mildly sedative and useful in calming frayed nerves and easing stress. A combination of agrimony, mugwort and vinegar is an excellent treatment for sciatica or muscular stiffness.

Preparation Methods & Dosage: Mugwort can be taken in teas, or tinctures. Often mixed with lemon balm or other sweeter herbs.

INNER LONDON

London Rocket, (Sisymbrium irio) shown growing near Tower Bridge and near St. Paul’s. A Mediterranean plant, it came in via the port and had grown in London since the Great Fire (1666) when it grew in the ashes. It is specific to London, growing nowhere else in the country and reflects the ‘heat island’ effect, nowhere else being warm enough. The little beaded seed pods top the flowers and it has deeply-cut leaves. Since most of the little open sites around Tower Hill have now been built on there are very few sites where it is now found, but it has survived in one small area.

london rocket plant

It is a plant in the family Brassicaceae and an annual. The leaves are broad and often lobed, while the upper leaves are linear in shape and up to four inches long. The fruit is a long narrow cylindrical silique which stays green when ripe. The younger pods overtop the flowers. When dried the fruit has small red oblong seeds.

London rocket is used in the Middle East to treat coughs and chest congestion, to relieve rheumatism, to detoxify the liver and spleen, and to reduce swelling and clean wounds. The Bedouin use the leaf of London Rocket as a tobacco substitute.

Rosebay Willow Herb Chamaenerion angustifolium and Buddleja around Gloucester Place: The London bomb sites were renowned for being quickly colonised by rosebay willow herb, but have almost all now disappeared. A small bomb-site ‘relic’ remained until recently near Gloucester Place, where this plant still survives and where buddleja (one of the best ‘escapers’) also thrives.  In the Springtime the young shoots and leaves of the rosebay willowherb can be eaten raw, and as they get older need to be steamed or boiled for 10 minutes. Treat the shoots like asparagus. The root can be cooked as a vegetable, added to stews. If you split the stem you can scrape out the sweet pith as a cucumber-like snack, though this can be quite astringent.. The flower stalks when in bud can be snacked upon raw and added to soups for flavour.

rosebay willowherb white rosebay

Medicine:  Peel the roots, gently pound them and use as a poultice for skin damage such as burns, sores, swellings, boils and other similar hindrances. The leaves as a tea act as a tonic for the whole system, helping digestion and inflammation, but don’t drink too much because they’re also a laxative (unless you need loosening).

Now the pink variety spreads by seeds and is thus invasive, but the white variety shown above spreads through its root system and thus is not only not invasive but considered a prize plant in a garden. I have some and they are lovely.

  • Buddleja came firstly to France and then to Britain in the 19th.Century from Western China. The last remaining bomb site has now gone, but a slide showed a buddleja growing out of the wall of a building, reminiscent of the cliffs where it thrives in Western China. Although the shrub can be invasive it has the benefit of attracting butterflies and moths, and for this reason is a welcome addition to London’s wildlife. If you go to the flickr site https://www.flickr.com/photos/brize/7653052874/  you will find a selection of ‘feral buddleia’ photos showing how the plant colonises walls, railway cuttings and even roofs and house walls that are less than well kept up.
  • The Sumatran Fleabane: First recorded in London (the first place where it was seen) in the 1980’s. Now it is a dominant plant in much of London and has invaded a large part of Southern England, including Dorset. It has greyish-green leaves and a large number of tiny white flowers.

Conyza sumatrensis is an annual herb native to North America[can be resistant to herbicides].Conyza sumatrensis

  • The Argentinean Fleabane: Conyza_bonariensisAn ‘invadee’ from South America, related to the Sumatran Fleabane..
  • Opium poppy: loves open spaces.

Opium_poppy

  • Coltsfoot: a native English plant, a real harbinger of spring, which likes to grow in cracks in concrete and is one of the most successful native plants found in central London.

 

  • Oxford Ragwort: Its distribution reflects the migration of plant species along railway lines. It grows as a native plant in Italy, especially on the lava-rich soil around Mount Etna. It was introduced in GB around the end of the 18th.Century in the Oxford Botanical Gardens and ‘escaped’ to grow in the stone walls in and around Oxford. When the railway was built in the 19th. Century it found a favourable habitat in the clinker at the side of the railway which ‘reminded’ it of the lava around Mount Etna.
  • Ratstail Fescue: likes infertile, well-drained sites and also found the railway environment favourable.

Other plants finding the railway lines a favourable environment and which have spread along the railways include:-

  •  Sticky Groundsel, which has produced a hybrid. sticky groundsel
  • ‘Little Robin’ – a geranium purpureum, similar to Herb Robert but with yellow stamens in the purple flowers. This came originally from Cornwall and the south-west, spreading to London along the railway line.

 

OUTER LONDON

Haringey : Railway Fields: David showed examples of numerous wild plants growing and previously growing in a small nature reserve (formerly a coalyard) at Green Lanes, Haringey which he was involved in developing for the London Borough of Haringey some years ago. The splendid gate to Railway Fields depicts many of the wild flowers growing there.

  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (‘Bacon & Eggs’), which needs full sun. This used to grow on the embankments of the Parkland Walk, but has now been squeezed out by stronger wild plants.
  • Common Fleabane: whose nectar-filled flowers are very attractive to butterflies.
  • Haringey Knotweed
  • Queen Anne’s Lace (referred to by Shakespeare as ‘keck’), aka the wild carrot, from which modern carrots were derived. Carrot_Queen_Annes_Lace_or_wild_carrot_roots_DP860
  • Russian Vine – very closely related to Japanese Knotweed. Along the Parkland Walk there is also a hybrid between the Russian vine and Japanese Knotweed which has only been found in a couple of other places – one in the former Czechoslovakia, where it is known as ‘The Railway Yard Knotweed’.

 

Haringey: site alongside the North Circular Road: A site which has now been developed for a Tesco store was previously full of wild plants, including Rosebay Willow Herb, Great Hairy Willow Herb, Mare’s Tail, Goat’s Beard, and Golden Dock, which had previously disappeared, not having been recorded in London since 1924.

 ‘Tottenham Marsh’ (no longer a marsh): alongside the Walthamstow Reservoir: two foreign exotic plants were shown flourishing in this area: Chinese Mugwort and Greek Dock – and a new-to-science hybrid between Chinese Mugwort and Field Mugwort, belonging to the Wormwood (artemisia) family.Artemisia_vulgaris

Highgate Cemetery: London’s cemeteries are wonderful wild flower havens and provide little fragments of unspoiled land within London with a rich and varied flora, in contrast to the surrounding countryside where habitats are usually disturbed by chemicals and farming activities. Plants shown included:-

  • Ferns: The Victorians planted many varieties of ferns in the cemeteries.

 

  • Rosebay Willow Herb: The plant used to be confined to northern England, but the London rosebay willow herb probably originated from North America’
  • Foxgloves
  •  Lesser White Plantain (Ranunculoides family) – the only surviving colony in southern England
  • Thread-leaved Crowfoot: previously not seen in London since the 1940’s, but David found it in Highgate Cemetery in the 1990’s.

 Walthamstow Nature Reserve:

  • Creeping Marshwort: This used to be more widespread but has disappeared from other parts of the country, and the only other place where it is found now is in a marsh near Oxford. marshwort

 Hampstead Heath: This has been historically the most surveyed botanical site in the world, and there is evidence that the flora has changed a lot since the sixteenth century. Because of the nature of the geology the flora is very ‘heath-like’, including European gorse, birch, and the Long-leaved Sundew.

 

I shall be writing another post later this year which looks at the importance of some of our gardens and plants wild or otherwise and wildlife in London.

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Mariners, Auld Beds and John Molloy

1. My first book Steady as she Goes is a nautical memoir written about four years deck Apprenticeship from 1957-1961 with  Shipping Co named Irish Shipping Ltd. Now this book has sold thousands in paperback all over the world and still sells, but I put in on Kindle Amazon last May and it has taken off and is selling very well.
The reason I wrote tis book is of course because its a true story. Now my recent book The Atlas Murders has a strong nautical theme and as such I called on my sea going experience as a master mariner and sea going experience.
My recent book which is going out free tomorrow 15th Dec -19th Dec. An auld Bed in Havana is a romance and thriller with a part set on a yacht in the Caribbean.
2. I think about a topic for maybe months and when I decide to write about it I take notes from relevant books and papers and first hand experience as I like to visit a place before I write about it, and the people there.
3. When I start writing I keep researching and could leave the story for days while I walk and think how to proceed with a particular topic or character, I seldom change a plot or character’s action once I have written it.
3. The sources I use are from the hundreds of books I’ve read and past experiences and last but not often the internet. I jot down lines from old books and special Authors I like eg. Nevil Shute, Alastair Mc Clean, Denis Wheatley, Nicholas Monsarrat, I could go on and on but I keep notes and special quotes and use them in different sentences and meanings than the original, I suppose it’s plagiarism of sorts.
4. I would never go directly to the police for information or help as I’d prefer to conjure up my own plots and twists, I would try to make sure I gave the police their due respect in any way I would involve them.
5. I published my first book and had it refused a number of times, I now have my own publishing Co. Reginald Press and do my own publishing now. I would recommend self publishing or getting in touch with a small publisher like me who would help with editing and publish at a very nominal fee, distributing would be a major part that a new author would have to consider and explore.
6. I do not earn enough money from published work and as such it is only a hobby, if it happened some book took off and made some real money it would be a welcome bonus, all our dreams?
7. I would advise aspiring writers to follow their dreams as we all have some and life would be very dull without them. Try to get published without having to outlay too much cash and work hard at promoting your work. No one knows where the next big block buster can come from so all young people keep trying.

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Hawks Vs Doves: A mystery in a puzzle

Dunn’s Conundrum by Stan Lee

A conundrum is a puzzle, a mystery, a problem to be solved and I am real puzzle fiend – this is why I love mystery novels and spy and crime fiction. I like to work who did it. But here the character Dunn is trying work out just who is the Doctor? The spy in their midst? And there is a lovely twist on this we find at the end.

Now I really loved this book, my first 5 star of the year – and I don’t give them out lightly. It is right in my field of expertise and research – information and knowledge management and the contradictions and issues that are raised by them. The book eloquently shows that there is a tremendous difference between the two, and in the end, as knowledge is informed by intuition and leaps into the unknown that then demonstrates new linkages and understanding, it shows that you cannot just rely on information. Intuition, is also linked to that ‘gut’ feeling , and now that we know that humans have a mini brain in their stomachs, (see http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/10/26/the-brain-gut-connection-for-mental-well-being/ and https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201110/your-backup-brain) we can be better sure that when our stomachs indicate we may be doing something wrong, then we may well be doing something wrong!

I was slightly confused when reading it as it did seem a little dated in parts and then getting to the end, I found out that not only did the author die in 1997 but that the book was written in 1985 (I found an original review of the book form 1984! https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/stall-lee/dunns-conundrum/). Interesting how such scenarios, if well written, can stand the test of time. Update the technology a little and what might be the difference? I suspect that as time has moved on we actually empathise more with the scenario then they did then when such computer links seemed very implausible. After all the personal computer was in its infancy in 1984/5 and we certainly had not yet thought of information management as a main business tool.

There were some very interesting quotes that I would like to put in here as I found them amusing or illustrative or otherwise significant of the writing style or content:

‘Ives was a design-center American: hew was within all tolerances. Medium height, medium weight, not handsome, not ugly, a white Anglo-Saxon Catholic who didn’t practice but had a daughter doing time in an ashram.’

‘Dunn had considered hiring a novelist for the job. They were born undercover agents. Voyeurs, secretly making notes.’

‘Nobody knew everything, which cut off countless possibilities for cross-fertilisation. And prevented any kind of sensible control.’

‘We inevitably think of information, data, facts, as inherently good. An asset. Something positive in our lives… information gathering permitted the advance of civilisation….some information is clearly negative…..negative information is that which, immediately upon acquitting, causes the recipient to know less than he did before…that which subtracts from one’s store of knowledge and wisdom…’

‘…You’re never going to understand the world. Know why? Because you’re ignoring everything that doesn’t fit.’

Now garbage is also interesting. Because, of course, what you throw away does say a lot about you. Especially today when we are urged to recycle so much. Although if you allow for a compost bin you will get a very limited view of what we eat. It also only works for single-occupancy households, not flats, as if you all share the same dustbins (UK word here) who know just who throw away the whiskey bottles? But in the scenario posited here in the book, they were monitoring single occupancy houses and presumably the servants had separate bins.

Now in our flats we have different bins. Blue, grey and green. The green covers the garden and also food waste that cannot be home composted including meat and bones. The Council takes this composts in their machines which go to very high heat and produce wonderful very strong material that you need to adjust 3 parts soil to 1 pat compost otherwise the plants will burn. The blue is for recycling and the grey for general rubbish. All 4 flats use the same bins so that would definitely confuse any Garbageman.

So this book is basically a Hawks Vs Doves story with political connivance and convenience thrown in. And as stated in the book, the Hawks in the US can always tell a good story to try and convince John Doe.

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Divorces, marriages, and just what about those policemen?

Divorced, Desperate and Delicious by Christie Craig

In this book it mentions that the mother AND grandmother had both been married some 6 times – or were about to embark on their sixth marriage. Which made me think. Just what was the divorce rate like in the US? And was 6 marriages a very unusual sum? Or not?

So I trolled the trusty internet and found the various government databases such as the census and looked up the US divorce rates. It made interesting reading, so I am adding some tables below.

Firstly –  the divorce rate for the very first marriage that anyone has is now over 40%.

  • The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
  • The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
  • The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%

So by the time you come to your 3rd marriage it really is hope over evidence bearing in mind that over 70% end in a further divorce!

I then thought well, just who are these people who marry more than once. Turns out that they – perhaps o surprise considering – were older rather than younger people.  According to the census (http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p70-125.pdf), the percentage of people being married 3 or more times is at age 18 to 19 years – 0; 20 to 24 years – 0; 25 to 29 years  – 0; 30 to 34 years  0.8; 35 to 39 years 1.9; 40 to 49 years 3.8; 50 to 59 years 5.9; 60 to 69 years 6.2; 70 years and over 4.4%.

And yet the census publication also states that marriages are most susceptible to divorce in the early years and after 5 years, approximately 10 percent of first marriages overall had ended in divorce. How quickly do people remarry?  In 2009, first marriages which ended in divorce lasted a median of 8 years for men and women overall. The median time from marriage to separation was shorter—about 7 years. Half of the men and women in all of the races and Hispanic-origin groups who remarried after divorcing from their first marriage did so within about 4 years.

Here are some very interesting statistics that show you where, if you don’t want to get divorced, where you should live. And that yes, the figures also show, that once past that dangerous 5 year marker, the older you are now, the more likely you are to stay married for longer. Take the 10th anniversary. If you married between 1960 and 64 you had a 93% chance of reaching this goal, whereas if you married between 1990-94 (the worst record) you had only an 87.1% of reaching this goal in your first marriage.

Divorce Statistics in America for Marriage

Description Statistics
State with the lowest divorce rate Massachusetts (2.4 per 1,000 population)
State with the highest divorce rate Nevada (9.1 per 1,000 population)
Percentage of US population that is divorced 10%
Mean age at first divorce For Males: 30.5 yrs.
For Females: 29 yrs.
Median age at second divorce For Males: 39.3 yrs.
For Females: 37 yrs.
Median number of years people wait to remarry after their first divorce For Males: 3.3 yrs.
For Females: 3.1 yrs.
Average length of divorce proceedings 1 year.

Bearing all this in mind we still find that some women in the
US never marry and more only marry the once.

  • Never married – 27.2%
  • Married once – 57.5%
  • Married twice – 12.1%
  • Married 3+ times – 3.2%

So this book is the first in a series about divorced women and their lives after divorce.  They are ‘desperate’ because they want to date again and are scarred by their divorces and first marriages. They also, some of them at least, have really cute dogs and then they get involved with really sexy policemen.

I must say that I find policemen in uniforms are much higher on the sexy scale than plain clothes. I have met several just recently here in the UK and they are uniformly  tall (but then I am very short) with nice broad shoulders. They look really hunky and are charming and with a good sense of humour too – at least those whom I’ve met and not all young either – the Superintendant was well over 40…  So I get why they might like them – I guess under-cover cops have that added essence of danger due to their circumstances. But plain clothes – well they could be anybody. Except that policemen, like firemen, need to keep fit – or should if they want to pass their physical exams – and at least when young, have a good physique with nice muscles.

Delicious of course refers to what the men think of the women – the new men in their lives that is – and of course, these are not really you and me with all our faults but they have good skin, nice curves and pretty faces at the very least. Our fantasy of what we might look like – sigh…

I checked out the author’s blog – just to find out about her daughter’s feet and she looks a fun person – just as her books are a fun read. Not serious, and great to read when you are having a duvet day! 4 stars and I’ll read some more in due course – when my ‘to read’ pile gets a little smaller…

 

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