Nobody seemed to mind that I didn't make it into work on Monday. The manager didn't make it in either, and my young colleague who normally works on Mondays was on holiday, so the gardener had to look after the shop for the day. There were no customers, but he couldn't have done any gardening anyway. To judge from the limited number of footprints and trolley tracks in the remaining snow in the plant centre, we didn't have many customers all week. The peacocks had left trails of arrow-shaped prints, three large toes pointing forwards and one pointing back.
If it's late January it must be stock taking time. I volunteered to get on with the trees and shrubs section, and neither of my co-workers tried to wrestle the clip-board out of my hands. They were finishing the stock take in the shop, which was a marginally warmer place to be than outside in the polytunnel. On the other hand, having done the rest of the shop stock take they were familiar with the layout of the stock list, whereas it would have taken me about five minutes of paper shuffling to find every single bag of bird food, dibber, Gertrude Jekyll vase and kneeling mat. And I hate the shop stock take. The list of possible stock items runs to about sixty pages of Excel spreadsheet, which are arranged according to supplier, so that half the time it is not at all obvious where in the spreadsheet you should be looking for galvanised plant supports, or brown plastic saucers, or whatever it is. Half the time the manufacturer's stock codes are not entered on our computer, and it's a challenge to match the products and their packaging to the descriptions on our system.
Apart from the fact that it can get chilly I don't mind spending a day counting trees and shrubs. It's a chance to look at them closely, and having to distinguish between 'Gilt Edge' versus 'Gold Splash' or whatever it may be forces me to notice the differences between varieties, instead of mentally lumping them together as variegated. By the end of business I'd stock taken all the trees and shrubs in the warm tunnel, and got as far as Caragana arborescens on the shrub beds.
As for last night's supper, the Savoy cabbage was delicious, boiled until just wilted and finished with a knob of butter. Savoy cabbages are so beautiful, with their elaborately veined and textured leaves. I must try and convert the Systems Administrator to Savoy cabbage, which is nothing like the boiled slime of the days of school dinners that left the SA with an implacable hatred of cabbage. The chestnuts got about six out of ten for taste, but a maximum of two for presentation, since they looked terribly like something the cats might have sicked up on the hearth rug. Little pieces of bacon and greenish slices of celery stood out among the crumbling lumps of chestnut, while the slug of port specified by the recipe gave the entire dish a vomit-pink tinge.
I was ambivalent about the pheasant. I'm not sure it was even fully defrosted when I started cooking, despite having got it out of the freezer before lunch. I almost never cook frozen meat, and don't have any feel for timings. Nor do I know how to tell whether a pheasant is cooked. I ate one breast when I thought it was probably ready, by which time the chestnuts had been sitting around for a bit too long, and it tasted sort of all right, but not delicious. I'd rather have had chicken. Or cheese. Or even lentils and rice with fried onion. At least I didn't find any shotgun pellets. I lost my nerve about the rest of the bird, and decided to boil the whole thing for stock. I ate some soup once at a friend's house which was truly wonderful, and she said it was made with pheasant stock. I left the stock simmering overnight, but when I looked at it this morning the pheasant and the liquid didn't seem to have combined forces very much, the carcass still seeming remarkably solid and the stock distinctly on the watery side. I shoved it back in the simmer oven and went to work. By this evening things were looking more hopeful. Of course, if I put the stock in the freezer then that defeats the object of getting the pheasant out of it.