So here are the highlights of the last couple of weeks, pinned down briefly on the page so you can see where time goes.
I made chutney. I have experimented with all sorts of recipes and this is my best, loosely based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's "Glutney" recipe. It works because it is endlessly flexible and adaptable to whatever you have to hand.
You need two kilos of the fruit or vegetables you are going to chutney, ideally two different kinds. I used courgettes and tomatoes for this chutney but you can use apples, plums, marrows, squash, whatever you have most of. If you live in the country you not only have the gluts thrown up by your own garden to contend with but the kindness of neighbours and friends either directly passing their surplus produce around the village or surreptitiously leaving bags full of produce on your doorstep.
You also need 500g of onions, peeled and chopped. Plums should be stoned and chopped, apples peeled and chopped. Courgettes and tomatoes can just be chopped. It takes ages to do it by hand but it is pleasantly meditative if you are in the right mood with something interesting to listen to on the radio. It takes no time to do it in a food processor but I hate the noise. Chop everything and put it in a big preserving pan.
Add 500grams of soft brown sugar, 500grams of sultanas and 750mils of cider vinegar made up to a litre with cold water. Add about a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of salt.
The most important element of a chutney in terms of its final flavour is the spice bag. I tie mine into a piece of muslin but any fine material will do. Even the toe of a clean pair of tights works fine! Into this put a chopped piece of root ginger, about three centimetres long, ten or so cloves, ten or so black peppercorns, a spoonful of coriander seeds, a spoonful of mustard seeds and a couple of bay leaves.
Bring it slowly to the boil, stirring to melt all the sugar and then let it simmer until the chutney is so thick that a wooden spoon dragged across the bottom of the pan leaves a distinct trail. This takes ages. I have seen all sorts of chutney recipes, some suggesting that the mixture will be ready in forty minutes or so. I have never made good chutney in less than four hours so don't start it unless you have plenty of time! If you do have time it is a lovely activity for a rainy day. The kitchen smells warm and vinegary and there is lots of time to potter about doing other things as the chutney slowly cooks down.
When it is thick and ready, fish out the spice bag and put the chutney into heated jars. I sterilise mine by leaving them in a low oven for ten minutes or so. This makes about ten jars.
What else have we done?
We went to Prague where we drank fabulous Czech beer
and visited one of the most extraordinary places I have ever seen: the ossuary at Sedlec, about an hour's journey from Prague. This is a church within the monastery at Sedlec which contains the bones of forty thousand people, carefully arranged by a nineteenth century monk.
It sounds macabre and I see from my pictures that it looks macabre. It is indeed strange, unsettling, disturbing and yet somehow peaceful and even beautiful. There are simply so many bones that eventually your mind begins to see shapes rather than bodies. There is also a profound sense that the place has been made with reverence and respect and, like many places which have been places of prayer for generations, there is an atmosphere of calm and peace. I still can't pin down exactly how it made me feel and what it made it made me think but it was truly an extraordinary experience.
We returned to Prague and had another beer. It seemed like the best thing to do. Life is short.