Varnishing Point

Washstand
It looks just like this. Well it will when I’m finished. Or would if I knew what I was doing.

I’ve taken up paint stripping. That’s where you cover yourself in several coats of gloss and dance around on stage with a scraper. No it isn’t.

There was this old washstand hanging around my mother’s house, lookin’ ugly. I’d never restored furniture before, but I was varnishing the window frames and thought “Well it’s much the same job, may as well do this while I’m at it.”

The windows were finished a week ago.

They were nice fresh cedar wood, not caked in ancient brown paint. Actually I mistyped that as “cacked” first and it was better. This table was totally cacked in brown paint. A rub of sandpaper was not going to bring about meaningful change.

So I got me some Nitromors, the popular paint stripper, slapped on the whole tin, gave it time to do its chemical stuff, and went at it with a scraper. I might as well have attacked it with a sandwich.

Am Tip¹: If you’re using Nitromors on an encrusted piece like this, don’t get the “Craftsman’s” variant. No matter how art-and-crafty you’re feeling, use “All purpose”. It’s more powerful, it’s thicker, and it’s whitish instead of clear so you can actually tell where you’ve put it.

Also the scraper I was using flexed far too much for the job. In the end I got two – a multi-purpose painter’s tool that looks like a miniature seaxe, and the even more ferocious shave hook. Now this really was the business. Its one drawback: with its multiplicity of pointy ends it’s easy to damage the wood with it. Or yourself. Or passers-by.

But with it and the new stripper the paint finally began to move. About three layers down I find one of duck-egg blue. My first reaction – who the hell paints a piece of wooden furniture duck-egg blue? My second though was one of admiration. People who have duck-egg blue paint and just don’t care, that’s who. People with a fine disregard for conventions, appearances, notions of taste.

My third was “Glad I have varnish”.

So the chemicals and violence got the worst of it off, but left a sort of muddy patina. Next then, the scratchening; I dug out the old sanding attachment for the drill. Judging by the dearth of compatible discs in the hardware store this is pretty much an antique now, ousted by dedicated disc and belt sanders, but the drill attachment works well enough. Too well at times; while I was still getting the hang of it I managed to scoop huge depressions into the wood. Pretty lucky I’d started on the underside.

But though this does get you down to the grain with a pleasing speed, it’s only much use on flat areas – of which the washstand has few. The turned legs and grooved details will all have to be done by hand. Lord this is going to be a job. Pictures when it’s done.

¹Like a Pro Tip, except from someone who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.

Shiny, Shiny Shark

iridescent shark catfish Pangasius hypophthalmus
Weird-looking fish

I know I’m writing about dinner a lot this week, but it’s really not my beat. I have friends – Domestigeek, Zucchini and Aubergine – who blog about food far more entertainingly than I ever could. Because they write better? I would deny that of course. But they sure as hell eat better.

OK, the days are over when I regarded beer as the staple and takeaway fried chicken as the health supplement. Seriously, I lived that way for years. Well, I say lived. Nowadays I’m a reformed character, all fruit and nuts and vegetables and cereals. But though my diet is healthy, it’s still not really interesting. There is only so much you can say about bran.

Today though was an exception. Today, I ate iridescent shark.

This is not a 60s band from San Francisco, it’s a type of catfish farmed extensively in Southeast Asia. I understand it’s fairly common in the US where it’s often called tra or swai, but it’s pretty much unknown here and was being offered under its taxonomic name pangasius. At an introductory price of just one euro a fillet too – but really, they had me at the Latin.

Even better, the place was about to close so she gave me the remaining four for the price of two. Mushrooms also being on special offer, I bought a punnet and grilled the whole lot together with butter and just a cheeky sprinkling of mélange d’herbes. The fish was pleasantly unusual. A little earthy, though not so much as catfish usually is, but quite sweet and fatty as well. I didn’t think I could eat four of them, but it was just exactly enough to make me feel sinfully stuffed. And all for three euro.

My cooking tip of the day then: Buy weird-looking fish they’re about to throw out.