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Fife 9: 18 – 24 January

A nose, as Shakespeare almost said, by any other name would smell as sweet.

Nearly three weeks on from my septoplasty operation, and I can finally gauge how it all went. The infection’s gone, the painful swelling has responded to treatment, and my sense of taste and smell is pretty much back. (By the way, have you ever noticed how great stuff tastes? I read of one poor woman who bought a very expensive box of chocolates in advance, to cheer herself up after a septoplasty, then found she couldn’t taste any of them!).

And I am – this is actually quite exciting – able to blow my nose, albeit tentatively, just a gentle snuffle, without worrying about looking down to find most of my nose nestling in the handkerchief.

I’m not out of the woods yet. The inside of my nose is still very tender (hardly a surprise), I’m still very congested (I wake up every morning with a sore throat and a headache), and when I touch the inside of my nose I feel like a blind man running his fingers over a baby dragon. But it’s still very early days – I’m told that it can take up to a year for all the bits to settle down properly.

I’ve written up my diary of the operation and its aftermath, on the off-chance that it will be of use or interest to anyone thinking of having anything similar done – if you’re anything like me, you won’t know the half of it. (But, as ever, now it’s over, it doesn’t seem so bad…) You can read that here, if you wish.

I’m still finding it hard to get back into things – everything I was doing before the operation feels like it was being done by someone else (in some ways I feel like I’m taking over another person’s life, but their interests weren’t necessarily the same as mine).

In the same way that pregnant women are said to crave unusual foods – pilchards and ice cream, that sort of thing – I’ve had an inexplicable craving to listen to the music of Anton Bruckner. Bruckner wrote long, grand, noble symphonies (“cathedrals in sound” someone called them) with slow movements of an achingly profound, transcendent, shattering beauty. (Trust me on this. Fill the bath with scented foam, light some candles, close your eyes and lie back and listen to the adagio of his eighth or ninth symphonies. If you don’t emerge after half an hour determined to sell all your possessions and devote your life to good works I guarantee the shop will give you your money back.)

And while I’ve been listening to dear old Anton, I’ve been rustily getting my fingers back into the knitting habit, a whole two inches this week. The pattern makes better sense than I’d expected, from a knitting point of view, for all the knit-purl-knit-purl taradiddle that it contains. (Essentially, you have an elaborate pattern row followed by a mostly plain row, which makes it easier.) The diamond effect is starting to emerge nicely, too, an interesting reversal of the usual pattern.

At least my doppelganger and I seem to share a fondness for baking bread. For whatever reason – I suspect the warmer weather has a lot to do with it – I’ve had some notable sourdough success lately. Illustrated here is a couple of sourdough “granary” or malted flour loaves, moistened with a glug of olive oil to help it stay soft for longer.

I’ve also included my favourite bread of the moment, Piadini, or Italian flatbread. It’s basically a standard bread dough (the recipe calls for carbonated water, though I don’t know if it really makes a difference). After it’s risen once you divide it into 8 rounds and then cook them in a frying pan without any oil, like English muffins, pricking them all over with a fork to stop them swelling up with air pockets. You can either eat them warm, straight from the pan (my preference), or let them cool and then fold them over and fill them with whatever takes your fancy – tomatoes, cheese, felafel, you name it – like a sock puppet sandwich. And because you don’t have to worry about a second rise and baking time, you can start after breakfast and still have them ready for lunch.

In other words – now I’ve got my sense of taste back I mean to make the most of it…

11 comments to Fife 9: 18 – 24 January

  • Lynne

    The gansey looks smashing! I love the effect of the reverse diamond patterning, I can’t remember seeing it done that way in any of the books and it sure draws one’s eye to that point.

  • =Tamar

    I read somewhere that it takes three weeks to either form or break a habit. I haven’t tested it personally. The breads sound really good.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne and Tamar,

    I think the diamonds are really going to stand out once it’s finished, particularly from a distance, and especially once it’s been washed and blocked to even out the stitches.

    3 weeks sounds about right. I spent the first week not thinking about anything, the second thinking about what I’d do when I felt better, and the third week putting it off – so after 3 weeks a vital connection’s been lost. I’m sure it will all come back, though. I can definitely recommend the flatbread – it comes out almost like naan bread (which is made with yoghurt and grilled) and I’m now thinking of inventing the Peshwari Piadini (like the Peshwari naan, made with almond paste…!

    Gordon

  • Good to know you’re feeling better. I can empathise on the blowing your nose thing – after my nose op it took a good year before I felt safe to blow it without worrying if I would bleed to death!

    Impressed with the sourdough bread, I’ve never had much success with it.

  • Gordon

    Hi Ruth,

    And thanks. I find i can blow my nose if I’m careful, but mopping up afterwards requires a lot of care! (It’s still very tender in there.) I sometimes just squirt saline solution in and hope that clears things up!

    My sourdough breakthrough was increasing the amount of “starter” from the quantity all the books recommend. So, my usual starter refreshment follows Dan Leader’s dose: take 1/4 cup of the “old” sourdough, add 175g water and 135g flour, mix and store in the fridge for up to a week. I tend to bake sourdough once a week or so, so I have to refresh the starter to get it nice and active first, so I repeat the refreshment the day before.

    When I come to make my sourdough, the day before I plan to bake, I remove 1/4 cup of the refreshed sourdough and add 135g flour and 175g water, mix and put in the fridge for next time – and then I use all the rest of the refreshed sourdough as my starter. (This makes for a pretty wet dough, because the water content of the starter is already rather high.)

    The rest of the recipe goes like this. After I’ve removed my 1/4 cup of starter as described above so I’ve got something for next time, I add all the remainder of the starter to 325g water and 250g flour. Mix, cover with plastic and leave to sit overnight – it will be very runny. Next morning, the mixture will be nice and frothy. Add 300g more flour and 1.5 tsp salt, mix to form a wet dough, and knead for 12 minutes. (Sometimes I add extras, such as any or all of 1 tsp honey, 1 tsp malt extract, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tblsp olive oil too.)

    Leave to rise for 4 hours. Every hour, if I can be bothered, I tip it out and do a “stretch and fold”. This is a bit messy, since the dough is so wet, but it’s encouraging to see it tighten up with each stretch.)

    After 4 hours, tip it out onto a floured surface. Leave for 10 minutes. Shape into as many loaves or rolls as required. Leave to rise for another 2.5-3 hours. Then bake in the usual way. (I find loaf tins are necessary, since the dough is so wet it loses its shape otherwise.)

  • Lynne

    Gordon, as I’m ‘knitting along’, and it seems to go at a snail’s pace at 25 minutes a round, I have scanned your tutorial to see if you have posted an approximate estimate of the hours of knitting to complete a gansey. I’m aware that everyone will have a different pace and a different size, but have you ever done the calculation?

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    No, I haven’t done the calculation in terms of hours – not only is my maths not up to it, but I tend to knit faster or slower depending on how i feel. So a row can currently take me about 25 minutes if I’m feeling OK, but if I’m a bit migraine-y it can take over 30.

    The body is relatively straightforward – 12 rows to an inch, so if the body is 27 inches long and each row takes, say, 30 minutes, you get 12 x 27 x 30 or 9,720 minutes. Divide that by 60 for a number of hours and you get in the region of 162 hours.

    The sleeves of course are much harder to calculate like that, since, obviously, they decrease as you go down. I guess if you say they represent between a third and a quarter of the total, I suppose that would give you in the region of 200-215 hours?

    (Our watchword is, ganseys are not a hobby, more a way of life – if only because they’ll take you the rest of your life…)

    Anyway, just remember the Welsh proverb – many drops wear away the stone!

    Cheers,
    Gordon

  • Lynne

    Oh – that “drops & stone” proverb is encouraging! Thanks for the maths.

  • Nigel

    Glad to see you coming back new and refreshed Gordon. We’ll perhaps arrange a meeting . . . in the summer! I haven’t been able to start a gansey, to be honest, I’m so busy with the children I might never be able to. I had meant to do two hats for the girls, but I’ve missed a whole month and now it’s Feb. However, I am enjoying seeing this cardy evolve.
    Bruckner is glorious isn’t he?

  • Gordon

    Lynne,

    You’re welcome. As I say, sometimes it goes quite fast, other times it’s like dragging a very fat man uphill. Plain knitting zips along pretty brisk, I find, like bombing down the motorway, but all this knit one/purl one stuff is like being stuck in rush hour traffic…

    Gordon

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel,

    How nice to hear from you! Yes, I’d love to meet up. And look on the bright side – eventually the children will no longer take up so much of your time. In my case I was well into my thirties before I was no longer a responsibility to my parents…

    Bruckner is one of my gods, though I have to be in the mood, and I take it as a good sign that I’ve got enough peace of mind after all these travails that I can finally get back into his miraculous sound world. The coda to the finale of Symphony No.8, when the themes of all four movements sound simultaneously, and you get overlapping fanfares of brass ringing out chorales like peals of bells, is one of the finest moments in all music – never fails to leave me a gibbering, quivering wreck, and I drape a lace handkerchief over my weeping eyes and cry brokenly, “Leave me – I would be alone!”

    Would I be as affected if I didn’t know that the music was a reflection of Bruckner’s deep religious faith and an expression of his belief in transcendence? Probably, but I wonder.

    Gordon