Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Plum Jam

It was that time of year again. Well that time of "two years" actually.

We have two plum trees, and every two years they produce prolific amounts of fruit. In years gone by I have eagerly helped to pick and de-stone said plums and then make huge quantities of "Sally Jam", only to give most of it away and be left with maybe a jar for us. The "children" complain bitterly. "Don't give it away Mum. You're too generous with it. You even give it to people we barely know... Grumble grumble grumble..."
But every "other" year it is the same. The joy is in the making and the knowledge that you can, even just for a week every two years be an Earth Mother type and create your own little cottage industry in your kitchen... Or something like that I think, as I run round the kitchen finding old jars, empty them hastily, get as much of the labels off as possible and stuff them into the dishwasher. Not quite Nigella I guess.
This year though it was different. "We must get the plums" said Hubby. "Make the jam." "Yes"
I kept saying. "Soon."
He clearly wasn't convinced by my eager responses. Perhaps he thought that the mere triviality of having five "lively"* foster children aged eight and under, two of my own aged thirteen and eleven, my two big teenagers and twenty one year old and mad collie dog, all living at home, might put me off my stride. As if?
So then he picked two bowlfuls and plonked them on the kitchen table. And, thinking that we didn't have enough, Gymnast, Tinkerbell Mushroom and one of the younger ones went out and picked some more.
"Shall I de-stone them tonight." Said Hubby.
I looked wearily on. "I was thinking of freezing them. I can make jam when everyone has gone back to school." "I'm not sure the fruit would be as nice." Said Hubby. He can drive a hard bargain at times.
So that was how, with two of the youngest at nursery this morning and another at a holiday summer school and the baby in bed having a morning nap and my lovely "Help sent directly from Heaven" cleaning the house, that TM, Gymnast, one of the younger ones and I, sat down to de-stone the plums. That was after of course a mad panic on my part because I had lost the recipe that I always use. Hasty look in all the cookery books for slip of paper that recipe is printed on. No recipe. Quick look on Google to "re-find" it. No recipe. In the end I found a new recipe and adapted it to make it more like my original one.
Then of course the doorbell rang and it was Tesco with an obscenely large amount of food. We do eat it of course. There is very little waste. And there are a great deal of people to feed in our house, so we need it.
But I have to put it away in the cupboards...
And so it was that by the time that I had done that, the plums had been nearly de-stoned. They left a few of the trickier ones for me to do, which I think is probably fair enough really. I had just enough time to throw sugar on them before the afternoon "pick ups" began.
ESOS walked in. "Plum jam?" He said, looking on eagerly. "Don't give it all away this time mum." His two houseguests looked a little disappointed. Sensible, who was busy planning a results party two nights before the results come out (Sensible is awaiting AS level results and ESOS is awaiting A level results) asked me to go to the local supermarket to buy something for the party. (Tescos hadn't delivered enough.) "Why isn't the party on Thursday" I asked. "Because it might be too depressing" said ESOS. "We'll have a pre results party."
Whilst I was at the supermarket Sensible made the kitchen look as sparkling "as you can get for old house in need of renovation, especially of the kitchen with broken drawers and broken other stuff..." And someone helpfully threw away the plum stones which could or could not have formed some of the recipe, but they did very much look like rubbish and I really should know by now how to give clear specific instructions.
One of the children asked when we were going to make it into "actual" jam. Thinking that Social services wouldn't be best pleased if enthusiastic foster child got scalded by being part of some jam manufacture I hastily replied that I would make it when all others were in bed. "But that's not fair" said the little one. "We've done all the work. We should be able to make it." But, as the lion says, "sometimes..."
I finally got it boiling. Once all the younger children were in bed. Once Sensible had had a driving lesson, and once the kitchen was vaguely clear again, following its nightly ordeal of using some of huge amount of food from fridge in the "cooked" version. The concoction needed a while... and some lemons too... which I hadn't bought from Tesco. So Hubby bought some lemons from our local late supermarket and kindly zested them for me and then, with jam boiling merrily, we sat down to watch an episode of "House" on my laptop, in the kitchen, while the jam was cooking. "House" is the de-stresser of the universe. Hugh Laurie, medical drama and pithy wit. What better combination could there be? ESOS got me into it and I'm hooked.
It was a good episode which meant that the jam had even longer to boil, which it appears is the answer to success.
And this time am going to put my new recipe on my blog, lest in future years I yet again forget its whereabouts, and especially as this recipe is really a "Sally's own", it having been adapted and combined with a few.
"Sally Originals" Plum Jam
What's in it:
8 lb/3.5 kg Plums
6 1/2 lb/ 3kg Sugar
2-3 lemons
How to make it:
Split the plums and de-stone them
Place sugar on the top and mix in carefully
Leave for at least ten hours (This allows the fruit to ferment a little and really makes a difference to the taste of the jam).
Put the fruit and sugar in a supersized saucepan, add the juice and zest from the lemons and boil. Keep stirring.
(Optional) Place stones in a muslin bag and boil with the jam. And/or break some of the stones and add the kernel into the mixture.
After fifteen minutes, lower the heat to medium hot and keep stirring from time to time. (It can cook at a relatively high temperature without catching as long as you have a big enough pot to ensure that it doesn't boil over.)
Cook for an hour and a half to two hours. The longer cooking time will allow the jam to develop a lovely mature flavour.
Grab newly sterilised jars from dishwasher.
Put jam into jars being careful not to splash any on the hand. If this does happen grab a leaf of handy Aloe Vera plant to cure burn. (As I did.)
And there it is. "Sally Originals" Plum Jam...
*polite speak for "challenging in the extreme"...

Monday, April 04, 2011

Time for tea? Get it right! (As posted on Chris Evans' blog on Monday 4th April 2011)

Dear Chris

Firstly: Happy Birthday for Friday!

Secondly, I wondered if we could start a (slightly tongue in cheek) campaign across the nation please?

The thing is this:

In no other Country do they get the names of meals confused.

In Germany for instance, lunch is Mittagessen, evening meal Abendessen. France, lunch is Dejeuner, Evening meal, Diner. etc.....

But in England we have great confusion.

Surely luncheon or lunch has always been known the meal that comes in the middle of the day? This means that the evening meal must be dinner. Supper is something before bed, a light snack and tea is an afternoon meal, eaten around 4 p.m. with sandwiches cakes and scones etc?

But no!

We are so complicated as a nation...

Instead we call lunch dinner, dinner tea, supper at some time during the evening. We do call dinner dinner, that is "dinner in the evening" if you are going out to dinner or having a dinner party. Ladies who lunch don't do "ladies who dinner". If you go out for afternoon tea you would certainly be eating tea and scones. Not to be confused with the tea that people eat for their evening meal.

Of course if you are really in the know, there is High Tea too, which is probably what many would call tea, dinner, evening meal etc.


Can we please sort this out Chris? As a man who can talk to the nation I am asking if you would please talk some sense into the nation:

Lunch when it's light
Dinner when it's dark
Tea at teatime: 4 p.m.
Supper: Shortly before bed.

Thank you!

Sally Lomax

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Alternative Bear Hunt and Shrugby.

It started off with mayhem.

ESOS (who is in the 6th form and wears a suit for school) had given me his trousers to wash the night before. Suit trousers. Non washable. Took a chance and put them in the washing machine as the mud wouldn't come out any other way before the next morning. 7.00 a.m. "Mum, where are my trousers?" "Oh.......... bad words bad words...........more bad words.............they are still in the washing machine......" Went to see Hubby. Have you got a suit that ESOS can use for school today?" Hubby found a suit which thankfully fitted. Made ESOS PROMISE that he would not play shrugby* in Hubby's suit.

Meanwhile Hubby went to get out the bread from the bread maker. For the first time in many years it was flat. Hubby was about to blame me, me having put the bread on the night before........... then we realised that the breadmaker had in fact died a sad death.... Phew. I was off the hook.

Then, Hubby, eldest four children and dressing up trunk piled into the Fiat Punto at 7.30 a.m. to go to Gloucester. ED is in a play this week and needed dressing up trunk as a prop. They must have been crowded in that little car, and of course it left me with just the six to deal with.

My saint of a help arrived at 8.30 a.m. then burst out of the front door at twenty to nine with eldest foster child (EFC). But not before an unwelcome encounter with the potty and two year old foster child...

Went back through the front door. Collected sandwiches, fruit and drink to go with the crisps that had been put into the lunch box. Ran her across the road to the primary school. Kissed her goodbye and ran back. Jumped into the car with Tinkerbell Mushroom (youngest daughter) and Pre School FC. (Foster child.) Drove to TM's school. Drove back. Remembered that we had left Pre School's book bag at home. In the tumble drier. Had been subjected to being dragged through the deep oozy mud the night before. Squelch squerch. squelch squerch. Went through the front door. Opened the tumble drier. got the bag. Retied on name label. Put book into bag. Got into the car. Round to the pre school. Back home. Got two youngest ready for my "three hours off a week" when I take both the youngest two to a day nursery for three hours and go out on the razz or something. Like supermarket shopping.

In fact I had arranged to meet Sensible who was in need of serious "tlc" having not been selected to be Head Girl of her school.Whizzed into town. Went on a seriously therapeutic shop with Sensible: I needed to buy a sewing machine to make curtains... and Sensible helped me. Thank you Sensible.....Will buy you a nice coffee out soon...

Pulled out of multi storey car park. Drove over invisible hump. Thought had damaged car. Apparently not, so drove on home.

Mayhem ensued for the rest of the afternoon, but peace was in sight as Gymnast and I were due to go the the theatre in the evening. Hubby was needed late at work to be very important, so Sensible offered to babysit until he got home. Finally escaped. Car wouldn't start. Has strange quirk where if it is parked at the wrong angle (i.e. on the pavement) and is only a quarter full it thinks that it is empty. ESOS helped me push the car off the pavement and I drove off happily across the road to the petrol station.

Oh....Not so happily. Car shaked and trembled. Shaked and trembled. Got out of car. FLAT tyre. Seriously flat. Seems that the invisible hump was far from harmless. Tyre had apparently been deflating all afternoon.

Went back into the house. Threw down keys. "I can't go." I moaned. "Yes you can. Said Sensible. "Go in the minibus." The minibus, it transporting so many of us, seats seventeen and to say the least is a little on the big side to park in Cheltenham. "I can't park that by the theatre." I remonstrated. "Park it on the road" Said Sensible. "Go!"

And then thankfully I had a brainwave. Called Hubby on his way home from Bristol. Arranged to swap cars en route. Got into seriously small Fiat Punto and did rest of journey.

Got to the theatre a couple of minutes late. Not bad considering. Saw all but first two minutes of the play...

The next day, ESOS, back in his suit asked: Is it possible that my trousers have shrunk? Yes indeed. Completely possible but I fear he will be wearing them until the year end nevertheless, and preferably without the Shrugby please!

(*shoe rugby, a weird version of rugby played by ESOS and friends at school, which involves much mud and serious abuse of nice clothes)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Hillbillies

Life is mad.

We are probably known amongst our friends as "The Hillbillies".

I always remember shortly after having baby number five, being left alone at home with baby number five only, whilst Hubby went supermarket shopping with the other four. Or something equally exciting. The exact details elude me. I seized the moment, baby asleep, and slumped in front of the TV. It was before the days of Sky in the Lomax household and so daytime tele was uninspiring and dated at best, so it was no surprise when The Waltons made their appearance. Nonetheless it did give rise to a chuckle on my part.

For many we were at that point the "Hillbillies" amongst our little social set. As my own mother had so pointedly said at the time of my pregnancy announcement "Nobody has five children nowadays Sally"......

So when child number seven, eight, nine and ten arrived last July by way of foster children it was possibly unsurprising that many more of our friends started to steer clear. Invitations stopped - fear perhaps that this phenomenon was possibly catching and that by inviting us to parties they might too end up with ten children. And of course, there is possibly the fear that they might actually get a visit of twelve guests should they invite Hubby and me round for a cuppa. And believe me dear friends you would probably NOT want that. Some of our charges do not always have the sunniest of dispositions, putting it mildly...Visits from relatives and friends almost completely stopped - understandably, as the noise levels in our house do now reach unbelievable decibel heights. And sanity? Well THAT went out of the window long ago.

The weight fell off though. I took the pills from the doc, but to be honest, given the number that I forgot to take due to ridiculous schedules, sleepless nights and tantrum ridden children to deal with, I am not really sure that they have been fully responsible. What is possibly more relevant is the lack of time to actually eat properly and the extra running up and down our stairs.

The latest four children are in fact a sibling group, the eldest being 7 and the youngest a baby of just 1. (She was four months on arrival...) We already had one foster child in place with us, a little boy of seven who is severely developmentally delayed and doesn't speak. Actually, we had two other foster children in place for a few weeks, as, in their wisdom Social Services had arranged for the placement of "the four" on the day that the eldest foster child was leaving us. They didn't anticipate however that "eldest foster child" wasn't happy with his future plans and had got himself an advocate... who said that "he was NOT to leave the Lomaxes until a suitable alternative arrangement had been found." He was happy with us and, although he wanted to move on to live in independent accommodation it would not be until he was happy with the proposed plans.

It was a busy summer...

Eldest foster child finally left us mid September, leaving us with just the five and it was at this point that I was offered the opportunity to act in a theatre tour in December and a bit of January.

"Do it" said Eldest Daughter. "Where there's a will..."

"We'll manage" said Hubby.

Now luckily, I already had a saint of a cleaner in place by this time. I say saint because I am not quite sure how she can come in here as often as she does with a smile on her face and still have a smile on her face when she leaves. The mess that she encounters from our lot, the constant overturning of a day's good work sometimes only a matter of hours from her last visit must be demoralising, but still she continues to smile. And not only does she smile and clean, but it just so happened that prior to having her own little girl 18 months ago, she had worked with children "in care" who were SO challenging that they had had to be moved on to some form of institutional housing. So that is how the perfect babysitter arrived. Probably the only person in the world at the particular time in question, who would be mad and capable enough to help us out, happened to land in our lap via the cleaning agency.

And so it was, we did manage. For a couple of months I did it all. Ten children and a professional acting tour.

Not something that I can repeat too often of course in the current situation...

Which is why dear friends my writing has come to almost a complete standstill of late.

The future?

We know not... there are talks of possible adoption plans for the children afoot. The courts will decide all that in due course. Until then they will stay with us until more permanent arrangements have been made for them. Meanwhile the baby and the two year old are becoming more attached to us by the day. The baby especially has had us as her parents from four months old and really sees us as the significant people in her life. It is going to be very hard on all of us when they are moved on.

I suggested to Hubby that we adopt the baby ourselves.

He looked at me as if I had gone completely mental.

Social Services then asked us if we would consider adopting the eldest of the four - because of course to have three aged 4 and under adopted together is a more likely adoption scenario and would make their job more doable. But adopting a reluctant seven year old who is fully aware of where she has come from is not something that many would take on easily.

So then it was my turn to look at the social worker as if she had gone mental.

And in the meantime we live day to day in our little haze, juggling from one moment to the next.

But thankfully we do have babysitters and very useful older children who babysit, so we do still try to accept invitations with enough notice. But not at Christmas and Easter and other major bank holidays.......

And when out, we can still make ourselves look quite respectable, for Hillbillies.