Frances and Phoebe on the Norfolk coast north of Holt. They are staying there for a long weekend with two other young mums and their little daughters born within three weeks of our Phoebe. It is a girls getaway weekend.
And speaking of getaways, my wife Shirley headed for the Lincolnshire coast this morning with five other Sheffield women. For two nights she will be staying in a large, residential caravan (American: trailer) at Cleethorpes. No jokes about "trailer trash" please!
Fortunately, for both all-female groups our recent weather has been unseasonably mild for late autumn. Sometimes it's cold enough to freeze your nuts off at this time of year - though I suppose such an analogy is inapposite in this instance. By the way, how come the Blogger spell checker just did a red squiggle under "inapposite"?
Anyway, for once there's no Sunday roast for me to slave over. Sad Sack is home alone. Instead, I am going to make a a beef stew with dumplings. It will be big enough for tomorrow's dinner too.
First of all I will soften up coarsely chopped onions in the pan. The chunks of beef will be doused in seasoned flour before being added to the onions. I will keep turning them and browning them before adding a jug of boiling water into which two "Oxo" cubes have been broken and stirred. I will plonk the pan lid on and turn the heat right down - allowing this stew base to bubble gently for perhaps two hours in order to really soften up the meat and cause some thickening.
Later I will add microwaved chunks of swede (American: rutabaga), carrot, leek, potato and lentils to the concoction along with a few leaves of kale. Seasoning is important and I will adjust that as necessary - occasionally tasting the gravy to make sure.
For the last half hour, the stew will sit in a large ovenproof casserole dish in the middle of our oven with freshly made dumpling balls floating on the top. The lid will be removed for the last ten minutes.
It's nice to have hunks of buttered fresh bread with my finished stew but as I am playing Kevin McCallister today, I may not bother with that.
Tonight I will leave my solitude behind as I venture up to "The Hammer and Pincers" for the customary Sunday quiz. I hope there's a question about how to make a delicious beef stew from scratch.