Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Practical Chapter

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

In both our books, Sarah and I put in something called the practical chapter. I think in the last one that included how to get the wax out of carpets and how not to make assumptions. In the new one, it will be things like how to make shampoo from honey and goat’s milk, or some such.

I am not tremendously good at practical things. I always forget where the hammers are. I buy endless pairs of scissors, and then can never find any. I have no clue how to tie a good sailor’s knot. Sometimes, I do something sensible like go to the chemist and make up a proper first aid kit (last time I spent ages pondering whether to buy the Germolene or the Savlon, until a nice young man came to advise me). Then I am so overcome by my own cleverness that I have to go and have a little lie-down.

But mostly I like abstract thought. This has a bad name; people associate it with those French philosophers who insist on deconstructing everything they can get their hands on. I think of it as simply the whys and hows and whats of things. I want to know why humans do the things they do and which received wisdoms are nonsense and who it was who first looked up at the sky and called it blue. I like pondering. (Can I actually say that out loud, without people calling in the Absurdity Police?)

However, after the astonishingly kind and generous response of the Dear Readers to my slightly tangled musings of yesterday, I think it is time to give you some practical things, in thanks. Everyone loves a tip, don’t they? As long as it is not too stupid and patronising. (Especially when it comes to the ladies; sometimes I want to yell: just because I have ovaries, it does not mean that all I can think of in my pink, fluffy little brain is shoes.)

So here are some useful things I was reminded of in the last few days:

Silver Dip.

I have a pretty pair of tiny glass scent bottles with silver gilt tops. I have no excuse. I bought them for sheer extravagance. On Monday, I noticed they were rather tarnished. Did I have such a thing as silver cleaner, I wondered? I rummaged under the sink, and there was an elderly pot of Goddard’s Silver Dip.

Goddard’s Silver Dip, it turns out, is a miracle of a thing. You pour it into a little bowl, put in the poor tarnished tops, take them out after two minutes, wipe them dry, and they are as glittering and shiny as new.

I understand that in these troubled times, as the economic news continues bad, and the Middle East shakes and trembles, and the endless war in Afghanistan endlessly goes on, that not everyone will be fretting about tarnished silver. There is a danger I am going a little Petit Trianon on your ass. But should you need help with your old forks, turn to Mr Goddard.


Check the Fuses.

Not long ago, I bought a new hoover. (Are you on the edge of your seats with fascination?) Today, it appeared to break. I had no idea where the guarantee was or who to call or what to do. I’ll just check the fuse, I thought. Amazingly, in a most uncharacteristic fit of efficiency, I had stocked the kitchen drawer with three different kinds of fuses. I picked the correct one, put it in the plug, and voila, the machine roared back into life. I’m not sure I ever felt quite so pleased. I had been envisioning a bleak, hoover-free week, especially worrying since the Pigeon had chosen this moment to demolish a stick all over the carpet. Bits of stick on carpet is not a very Martha Stewart look.

So: if in doubt, check the fuses. It feels like a metaphor for life.


Make a quick green soup.

This is not strictly practical, since I insist that the making of a soup is an aesthetic, soul thing. On the other hand, getting enough vitamins and minerals into the good body is a practical matter, so it counts.

The regular readers will know that I make any amount of special green soups. Here is a very quick, easy, slightly cheatish version:

Take a fat leek and three cloves of garlic. Slice up the leek as you please, wash off every last speck of earth, just cover with chicken stock and a pinch of Maldon salt if you have it, or water with a tablespoon of Marigold Bouillon if you do not. Simmer for five minutes. Add two handfuls of watercress and two handfuls of spinach. Simmer for two more minutes.

Liquidise like hell, with a gloop of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of chilli flakes, until smooth. Check seasoning. (The green is strong, and may need quite a lot of salt, or a bit more Marigold.) If it comes up a little thick, add a tiny bit more water or stock.  That’s it.


Trying just now to think if I know any more ad hoc practical tips for life. I rummage about in my brain, which stays recalcitrant. Well, I think: learn to type, travel everywhere with a notebook, buy train tickets in advance (much cheaper), make lists. It’s not exactly Enquire Within, is it?

Oh, and I suppose, if you want to be really happy, get a nice, black lab-colllie cross, who looks at you with Grace Kelly eyes. (This may not apply to everyone.)


It’s a mean old afternoon, so here are some pictures from the last couple of days:

15 Aug 7

25 Aug 1.ORF

25 Aug 2.ORF

25 Aug 3.ORF

25 Aug 5

25 Aug 6

25 Aug 9

25 Aug 10.ORF

25 Aug 10.ORF-1

25 Aug 13

Here are the little bottles, all gleaming and cleaned by clever Mr Goddard:

25 Aug 15

25 Aug 15-1

And since I was there, I took this snap of my favourite old chemist bottles:

25 Aug 17

Then back to nature, with a bit of moss and tree:

25 Aug 1825 Aug 18.ORF

Since the Pigeon is here putting on one of her most adorable expressions, I cast it into black and white, for the full effect:

25 Aug 19

Showing the perfection of her profile:

25 Aug 20

And the hill, a little blurry:

25 Aug 22.ORF

Just thinking now, of the practical things. You are such a very clever bunch of readers, I wondered if anyone knows how to get burn out of lovely steel pans. I have a horrid habit of putting something on, going back to my desk, and quite forgetting about it. I come back to awful, stuck on charcoal. I can get the worst off, but there is still black stain.

And, since I am rather rudely asking for your advice – one of the horticultural readers tells me the cotinus has the pox. POX. It’s too fifteenth century for anything. I use no chemicals on the garden, because I’m a bit soppy about the bees and the butterflies, and secretly feel rather proud the whole thing is quite organic, so I was wondering if there was such a thing as a natural cure. I know that you will know.


  1. No idea about the pox, but for the pots - boil water with biological washing powder (the kind for clothes - use a good slug of it, or a whole tablet if you use the tabletty kind) in the pans for an hour or so. It should shift just about anything. Use a lid, though, or stay out of the kitchen the steam is absolutely noxious. Once my eyelids swelled up after getting my face in said steam - some kind of horrible allergic reaction. Don't let it boil dry, and then make sure to wash them well, or better yet, run them through the diswasher before cooking in them again.

    I feel so capable!

  2. I completely agree re silver dip. I found my beautiful opal, set in sliver and on a silver chain, (lost for over 6 years in an old handbag!) popped the whole thing in sliver dip - good as new! My husband said, "you haven't worn that for a while.'
    As for tips, don't freeze lobster shells, you'll never get around to making a bisque! (I'm putting a 3rd summer's shells back into the sea!)

  3. For the pans, I do same as Kate but with Bicarbonate of Soda (Baking Soda as they call it here). It doesn't smell noxious. From Helen's writer friend in SF (not LA) and I really did start writing again after a 6 month stall after reading your Writers'Workshop posts and now am a keen follower.(See your Comments yesterday). Jane in SF.

  4. Kate - you ARE capable. Brilliant. Am going to do it tomorrow and report back.

    Trifle Rushed - excellent lobster tip. I might turn this into a regular feature.

    Jane - am going to try the bicarb as well as Kate's idea. And so so delighted and touched about your starting writing again. Hurrah!

  5. I second baking soda and washing powder, which by the way is THE THING for getting grease off of absolutely everything and anything. Ignore the fairy liquid if you have grease. Washing powder is so much quicker and easier.

    Baking soda, I am discovering, is wonderful stuff for taking off burnt on stuff on our glass hobbed cooker. Just make a little paste with some water and then gently scrub with a nail brush. Magic!

    Oh and if you have a really huge load of grease or old oil (I do not do deep frying but my brother tried to make onion rings once and it made a huge mess, as brother-cooking is wont to do) then sawdust is a very good absorber. And you can reuse it as compost or on a bonfire.

    Also, talking of tips to pass on, my Dad's best friend (Anatomy Professor in London) tells me that the lint from the tumble drier is good for birds to make nests with.

  6. thanks for the great tips - love the one about the lint from the tumbledrier especially!! What i love about this blog is the range from the sublime to the prosaic!
    Aren't you lucky to have such a loyal following - and they all seem such lovely people - it gives me hope, it really does.... xx

  7. Can I clarify that, having just looked up the definition? um, not prosaic in the dull and ordinary sense (God forbid)! rather in a philosphical zen sense if you will!!

  8. Goddard's is wonderful. I have the paste though, not the liquid. My best tip for burnt out pans is to spray on oven cleaner quite thickly, leave a good while, then rinse off. If really bad, repeat. Works like a charm. My father gave me a copy of Enquire Within on Everything. I love dipping into it. Good luck with your pans.

  9. Re the burnt saucepans - I also vote for the lots of water with either vinegar or bicarb soda. Simmer for ages, then just let it sit overnight and attack with elbow grease in the morning. I am constantly cheered by how easy bicarb and vinegar make revolting cleaning jobs. Greasy oven or cook top? Dust with bicarb then a quick slosh of vinegar and it will fizz beautifully and degrease as it goes. Once a month, dump some bicarb down drains and a good slosh of vinegar on top, they remain free-flowing and non-smelly. Brilliant stuff.

    Goddard's is brilliant - I also have the silver polishing cloth. But you can also get a polishing wool, impregnated with heaven knows what, that cleans all metals. We go through a fair bit of it because of silver, brass and shiny bits on old cars. But the current jar ("Never-Dull") is several years old, so well worth tracking down.

    As for the smoke-bush - probably worth taking a cutting down to the local nursery. It may just be some oddly shaped leaves. If it is leaf curl, removing and throwing out (or burning) the infected leaves may be sufficient. Don't compost them - if the cotinus is infected, the fungus will flourish in a compost heap!

    cheers, Erika

  10. I also use baking soda for cleaning burnt pans (I often forget to turn of the gas and put a used, empty pan back on the flame... creates awful smells...).
    BUT, beware: do not use soda if your pans are made of aluminium. Soda burns holes in aluminium. At least, that's what my mother used to tell me. I never actually tried. Could be interesting.

  11. Between baking soda and the cheapest "white" vinegar, you can practically clean the entire house. I've boiled vinegar in burnt pans (stainless steel; I don't use aluminum) & it works. Smells a bit but not noxiously.
    Vegetable soups are healthy "fast food" -- although they still seem to taste better (to me) the second day when the flavors have steeped and settled.
    But what is Marigold Bouillon? Is it made from marigolds? (I use soy sauce -- the salt-reduced and wheat-free Tamari or miso paste, also soy, to flavor much of my savory cooking. You can get a delicious gravy using the standard 2 T. flour, 2T. butter, 2cups liquid combination with soy sauce in place of beef stock. It really is good!)
    With the rainy weather I'm getting in a soup state of mind...when the cleansing "diet" is over...

  12. PS I agree. "Check the fuses" is definitely a life lesson.

  13. Now, this is a wonderful thing about the internet: finding other people who actually like abstract thought and pondering, and who will say so out loud. It can be particularly difficult here in the US, where one can be under terrible suspicion for uttering such things.

    Burnt pots—Put water, a little liquid dish soap, and some baking soda in the pot and heat it. But watch closely and lower to a simmer the moment it begins to boil (or else!) and as it simmers, hunks of black will work themselves loose. After that, scrubbing with a copper or steel mesh pad while the water is still warm usually removes anything left behind.

    Pox—Yes, check at the nursery, but if it is verticillium wilt, you might have to start over and not use that lovely compost.

    I love recipes with instructions like "liquidise like hell!"

    Love the moss, too.

  14. Such lovely comments and tremendous advice; thank you so much.


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