Weekend of much activity

Wow. Cooked dinner/buffet for people on Friday night. Went to Visit the Otters on Saturday. Did exercise on Sunday. Very productive.

I did my usual trick of getting over-enthusiastic about cooking for people on Friday. A&M came over with Suzanne, who has been avoiding heavy food recently – so I started off with the intention of making a nearly-vegan buffet-type jobby. Then I discovered that actually, Suzanne is no longer avoiding as many foods as she was so I went a bit … enthusiastic. I made:

  • Hummus, but without the tahini cos I didn’t have any (works better than I thought it would)
  • Herbed white bean dip
  • Roasted red pepper, onion, garlic and feta dip
  • Stuffed mushrooms – seriously yummy. Stuffed with their own stems, an equal amount of fennel, sundried tomatoes, garlic, goats cheese and parmesan, flavoured with oregano and thyme, and held together with an egg. Just so I can remember
  • A rather inspired grilled aubergine salad. I sliced an aubergine into thin ribbons, lengthways, and after salting drained it very well. I then cooked it in batches on a ridged grill pan and put it in a bowl in layers, interspersed with chopped chillies, fresh oregano and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
  • Calzone, filled with mozzarella, tuna, fresh tomatoes (not sauce) and dill. Capers would have been nice, too.
  • Polenta with garlic mushrooms in
  • Salsa, in both hot and James-safe versions
  • Marinated cauliflower and mushrooms, but, dumbass that I am, I left these in the fridge. D’oh!

I will confess that I did cheat on the breads and stuff, but hey, I only started cooking on Thursday night… 😉

Mole Hall is fantastically good. I’ve been kinda wanting to visit for ages (ever since the otters sent me a message in the local newspaper. They said they were waiting to see me. I hear and obey, o sleek ones…) At the same time, though, I was a bit worried that it might not be a good day out at all – that it would either be a zoo of the most depressing kind, or that the otters would be a total no-show, due to not really being in a zoo at all, but ‘known to live in that big pondy thing down there’. Boy was I wrong.

Most of their animals appear to be involved in captive breeding programmes – they have two species of otter, both of which are endangered. They have the North American River Otters, which are large and powerful, and the Oriental Small Clawed Otters, which are small and cute. The main otter enclosure has three adult North American otters; they are natural showmen! The apparent otter-in-charge has at some point lost about 2/3 of his tail. Doesn’t seem to bother him, though. He leads the other two in a fine show, up and down the pond, kind of a cross between synchronised swimming and follow my leader. They pause occasionally to pose for the cameras on the shore. Just one more encore, lads. Very sweet.

There was also a mother otter and her single cub, born in March this year, in a separate enclosure. They are segregated because apparently the mother otter is very aggressive at this time. The cub had first emerged from the holt in May, and was extremely enthusiastic about playing in the small pond in the enclosure. Mum-otter wasn’t too happy about this; she was remarkably watchful of her baby, walking all round, standing up to check on him, grunting and grumbling continuously. Given that his favourite game appeared to be chasing his own tail, on his back, under water, I can hardly blame her, although I think she was more worried about the humans cooing over her baby, as the pond was very close to the enclosure edge.

Oriental small clawed otters are the smallest otter species, and live in swampy, rather than deep, water. Apparently, they ‘feel’ for their prey, rather than relying on their eyesight to spot it; something I can relate to, having been on the occasional dive with ridiculously low visibility. This behaviour was quite noticeable in one of their pair of otters at feeding time; rather than poking her head into the feed bowl, she almost looked away, and patted around with her paws in the bowl until she located something that (presumably) felt good to her. These otters have evolved to have very touch-sensitive paws, with shorter claws and less pronounced webbing than most otter species. Very, very cute indeed.

Go see the gallery for more pics (including the baby guinea pig). Go visit Mole Hall, it’s good.

I did a long bike ride on Sunday, all by myself. From King’s Hedges, I went up the A10 to Waterbeach (takes about 20 mins, but is boring and a bit stressful due to it being the A10). Just past the Slap Up, I turned left towards Landbeach, and continued through up to Cottenham. This was probably the prettiest bit of the ride; pleasant country roads with waving fields of grain. It took about 40 minutes total to get to Cottenham (this is the long way round, though).

I pootled around Cottenham for a while, because I can never remember how it fits together, and then headed back towards Histon. In Histon, I turned towards Impington and Milton, which brings you out on Butts Lane, just by the recycling centre (aka the tip). From there, I just went back over the A14 and home again. No idea how long it is in miles, but the whole lot took about an hour and a half, and left me feeling quite smug and virtuous, not to mention pleased that I’ve actually managed to take advantage of some of the lovely weather we’ve been having.

Given that this spurt of exercise was performed on top of a weights workout in the morning, and that the whole lot was finished around half two in the afternoon, I didn’t do much for the rest of the day. Sadly, this meant that I didn’t feel up to the proposed skate in the evening, although the curry didn’t pose the same problems. Ahh, well, next weekend, maybe.

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