Tags: family

My room


My father, Anthony Smith, died this last Monday, June 7, 2014, of a sudden illness.

He was the founder of the British Balloon and Airship Club, an amazing and prolific writer, the first Brit to fly over the Alps by balloon, and the first to fly in a gas balloon over East Africa (documented in his books Throw Out Two Hands and The Dangerous Sort), an adventurer and explorer who never let mere caution get in the way of a really good idea.  In 1955, he drove from Capetown to Cairo on a Triumph motorbike, and then, in 1980, from Cairo to Capetown on the same motorbike, this time accompanied by my brother, on another vintage Triumph motorbike (High Street Africa, Smith & Son).  He found a previously unknown species of cave loach in Iran (Blind White Fish in Persia, A Persian Quarter Century).  He sailed down the Amazon (Explorers of The Amazon, The Lost Lady of the Amazon), he traveled to every continent, and he had a love of learning that he shared with everyone*.

He worked with balloons and/or airships in the movies Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Charlie Bubbles, and Superman II.  A consummate storyteller, his adventures became legend in our family, the last great adventure being his trip across the Atlantic on a raft, spending his 86th birthday at sea.

He has the Glaxo Prize for Science Writers, and The Royal Geographical Society's Cherry Kearton Medal for writing, and the Federation of Aeronautique Internationale's Diplome Montgolfier and the Diplome Tissandier, along with a Ballooning "Hall of Fame" award.

I remember sitting in an airport McDonald's with pinkleader and cathgrace and her lovely husband, telling them stories of his work on the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (he worked with the airship), and realizing that all the tables around us had become silent, listening to us.  Going to the Imperial War Museum in London, and listening to Dad tell pinkleader and me the story of the Anglo Saxon's Jolly Boat (Survived!). The last time Bob and I saw him, he took us to Oxford and Balliol College, his alma mater for the day, ending with an impromptu and delightful cup of tea with his close friend, Robin Batchelor.

My childhood is full of amazing memories.  His house in Bamburgh, Northumberland, was where we spent long summer holidays and frigid Christmas holidays, exploring castles, beachcombing, and climbing the Cheviot mountains.  On weekends when he took us out from London, we'd go walking through the grounds and estates of Cliveden and Polesden Lacey.   I've flown in a hot-air balloon, watched balloons take off over Holland, stood in the pitch-black dungeon of John of Gaunt's castle (Dunstanburgh), visited Holland and Belgium, found fossils in Dorset, explored chalk caves in Surrey, stayed in a haunted house, camped by a Roman fort, and a million more things because he showed them to us.

I have a number of his books; I am still completing my collection, as some of those books were published before I was born.  Bob and I always got him to sign his books for us, but he would always sign them "Dad", rather than with his name.  It was a running joke, one of many we had. I feel great sadness that he was not able to visit us in the US, a visit we had just started to plan for this year.

His book about his raft expedition will be published in February 2015.

*The rest of his books:
The Body (bestseller)
The Seasons
Beside the Seaside
The Good Beach Guide
Mato Grosso
The Human Pedigree
Sea Never Dry
A Sideways Look
The Mind
The Great Rift
The Free Life
(about my godfather)
Sex, Genes and All that
Animals on View
The Human Body
The Weather
Machine Gun
Best Friends
(a children's book)
Which Animal are You? (ditto)
Swaps (ditto)
bun:  Xmas

Oh, look...

Hey, we're all still here.

Good thing, because I just baked something close to 12 dozen cookies, and I hate food going to waste.

I've had a terrible couple of weeks, computer-wise; the damn thing died twice.  Of course, Bob did all the heavy lifting and driving the God-forsaken thing to Best Buy (50 miles or so from here), I just encouraged him to buy the X-Box 360 and a couple of other things, like, oh, a Keurig coffee machine, an MP3 player that takes photos, and some books.  My budget sense goes out of the window at Christmas.

Along with most of my other sense, but I retained my snarky sense of humour in the face of a million "OMG, it's like, 2012!  Armageddon!" programs on TV.  In the face of the tragic event in Connecticutt, I found them comforting, in the way that watching harmless goofy people being goofy is a welcome change from the ugly things that leave us helpless and angry.

I'm taking the internet off entirely for a few days over Christmas, so I can connect with the things that comfort me:  Bob, friends, and the countryside.  And maybe the Yule Log channel.

Armageddon' outta here.
bun:  cooking


So, when pinkleader  and I stayed at my mother's house in London for a few days, she cooked dinner for us.  She also cooked dinner for cathgrace , pinkleader  and I when we came over for an evening when we were on the London leg of the tour.  And she served us fish pie.

The pie was so nice, that pinkleader  mentioned it on her facebook, and there were some requests for the recipe.  Since I'm going to leave for the farm shortly, and I haven't scanned all the pics I need for my next jacket post, I thought I'd post the recipe instead. 

It is yummy.  And has no pastry in it, even though it's called a "pie".  It's more like a casserole with a topping.

All amounts are approximate, since my mother cooks by feel, and tends to give me her recipes by feel, too.  Adjust as needed.

(PLEASE NOTE:  I haz a typo in the recipe.  Don't use 1-1/2 cups capers, that's supposed to be the amount of  milk you use.  Capers are to taste.) (Sorry!)

You'll need:

1 fillet of white fish of some sort - she likes haddock.
1/4lb of shrimp
1 fillet of salmon.
1-1/2 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
mashed potatoes
grated parmesan or romano cheese (or any mix of cheeses you like)

Note:  Mum cooks this in a round, deep casserole dish, which helps the layers look nice.

Bake the fish and the shrimp in the milk until it is done. 
Drain the milk and make a Bechamel sauce (a white sauce - most cookbooks should have the recipe) from it.
Flake the fish (white and salmon) into nice little pieces.
Mix the Bechamel, the flaked fish, the shrimp, the capers, and the salt and pepper (and any other spice you think might be nice), and put the mixture into a casserole dish.
Mix the mashed potatoes (my mother makes them from scratch with milk and butter, but I'm sure a good brand of instant would be fine - it's certainly what I'd use) and 3/4 of the grated cheese, and top the fish mixture, so there's a nice thick "crust" of mashed potatoes on top.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.  Bake in a 350F oven until the top is brown and yummy and crusty (hit it for a couple of minutes with the broiler at the end if it's not browning enough).


I think that's what she told me - I haven't made it since I've been back, but I'm pretty sure it's correct.  The nice thing about this recipe is that it's very amenable to being adjusted or played with - change the fish, add more veggies (I think I'd add caramelized onions) to the fish mix, use different spices, different cheese, etc.  It's amazingly forgiving, too, since the fish is cooked beforehand, and it's a great one-dish meal, though Mum always serves it with other vegetables and maybe a salad.

...Aaaaaand, my alarm just went off so I have to rinse the hairdye out of my hair.  Have a good weekend, and thank you all so much for the Birthday wishes!  I feel very loved.  :)
bun: wheelie stool

My family is much more interesting than me...

I'm sorry - it's been almost two months now, and I've barely posted a word about the jacket trip.  I'm still absorbing all of it.

It's also been busy here - our lives might be changing substantially at the beginning of the year, so we've been caught up with that, and of course, we did our Thanksgiving trip to Jamestown (lovely as always), which is heaps of prep work as well as the time spent there.

So, let me tell you about my father instead. He's off on a new adventure on his giant raft, and you can all follow him on his blog and website. It's a fascinating concept, and I know he'd love to receive comments - just say Laura told you about it. :)

My family leads far more interesting lives than I do - my brother is Editor-in-Chief for the Nobel Foundation website, which means he's always jetsetting around the place (and calling the Nobel winners - how fun is that?!), my mother has been a foreign journalist for sixty years, and has travelled more places than I can count, and my father - well, I don't think there's a place in the world that he hasn't visited.

(Though I do need to work on that Wikipedia entry. And write one for my mother. My Godmother (my mother's cousin) has a chunky little entry, but my father has done so much more.

Me?  I just have a website.* 

I'm okay with that.

*And a blog.  That I need to update more often with fun stuff.


(no subject)

The visit with my mother went very happily - she loves the house and the land, and the Inertia Zone (under the cedar tree) claimed another acolyte, as she spent most of Saturday afternoon sitting under it, reading.  The wildlife cooperated quite wonderfully, making various appearances so she could see our little (and big, in the case of a doe who wandered into the yard) residents.  She was an amazing sport and actually climbed under and over trees to see our "waterfall" (which she adored, of course, since it's gorgeous), and we even got to see a scarlet tanager bathing in the stream.

Not to mention box turtles, skinks, fireflies, and the groundhogs, who appeared briefly at the beginning of the weekend, then spent the rest of the time judiciously absent from all the activity.

Friday night we got an amazing light show, with lightning in the clouds, but no rain.  Saturday the stars came out, and we stood in the yard, being nibbled on by mosquitoes, and admired the show. All in all, a very successful weekend.

I didn't get to see as much of my brother - he's been sick, so he delayed his trip (he's in DC this week for business) until Saturday evening, but he did get to see a bit of the woods and the house, and was suitably approving.  I had a lovely time cooking real dinners (I have a kitchen!) and playing hostess, and talking with my mother.

Now, I'm tired, and mad busy, so I'll post a couple of photos this evening, and hopefully get back into the swing of posting tomorrow.