Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Farming Foresight

Yesterday evening

 Bucolic idyll, sun drenched hay bales soaking up the last rays of the setting sun; the sound of children playing on the bales; the smell of freshly cut hay.

This afternoon
Storm clouds and a very heavy downpour; positively brooding clouds in a variety of colours that can only be described as 'bruise'.
As you can see from the empty field the farmer has evidently been listening to the weather forecast, as he spent several hours this morning dashing back and forth from the field with a tractor and trailer full of hay bales.

I love how quickly the British weather turns from 'where did I store my shorts?' and 'do we have any sun lotion?' to 'for heaven's sake put a rain coat on' and 'well at least we won't have to water the pots tonight'.
Sitting here with a cup of herbal tea and the scent of wet earth and rain wafting in through the French windows - lovely.

Jean-Luc has splashed his way to the local pub to watch England's final attempt to regain some dignity in the World Cup; I reckon it all went wrong when we swapped compulsory archery practice for football.  I guess the England team can gain some comfort in the fact so many of their team mates from the league seem to be having a much better time of it with their national teams.
Or not.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Making Hay

We're very lucky.  We live in a real farming community.  There are loads of people who don't earn their living on the land, like Jean-Luc and myself; but there are lots who do.
One of the farmers farms the field behind our house for hay and once that has been cut and gathered and the fresh grass has grown again, for young cattle.  The hay will be used to feed his livestock over winter.
The farmer cut his hay about 3 weeks ago, last week he turned it so it would dry out evenly.

 Turning the hay.

Today it's hot and the sun is out and it's haymaking weather.

This machine gathers the hay up into heaped up rows.

This one is the baler, it gathers up the hay and turns it into nice, neat, easier to handle bales.
They drop out the back all neatly parceled up.

It's hot, dusty and noisy work with big machines.  But it's the reality of farming - the job that puts food on all our tables and so here's a big Thank You from a very small and very grateful corner of the blogiverse.

Fruits of our (and others) labour

Well the Summer Solstice passed quietly in glorious weather and everyday domestic pottering.  The sun rose, the sky as blue, the flowers showed off their best frocks and danced in the breeze.  We drank elderflower cordial, white wine and a rather lovely commercial bottled cider flavoured with berries and other fruits.

Jean-Luc cooked from scratch: spicy turkey meat balls and pappardelle with lime pickle sauce, a recipe from John Torode - I know this sounds really weird but tastes divine; roast leg of lamb; lamb rogan josh (leftover lamb) and Moroccan lamb tagine (more leftover lamb).

We've also found a really handy and frugal way of using up old bread, we crumble it down into breadcrumbs and pop it into an airtight container and into the freezer - handy for meatballs, toppings, and crispy crumb coatings when ever it's needed.

I bravely ventured into the greenhouse to water the small Amazonian jungle that has appeared in there - note to self: 19 tomato plants may be a few too many!

Rumour has it that a lost civilization  lurks somewhere in this vegetative paradise - possibly of ants building temples from sugar cubes a la Terry Pratchett;  I know there are ants in there as they come out to protest every time I water.  I'm hoping for a harvest of truly epic proportions.

My peppers, Jalapenos and Scotch Bonnets - growing with differing degrees of success.

Courgettes - resistance it futile,they will assimilate your greenhouse.

Heavenly, heavenly Rainbow Chard, pretty and delicious.

Our first and probably only cherries this year from our new cherry tree.  It's only young so I'm very proud of it.

Tiny baby apples on our apple tree, newly released into a garden after 5 years in a (very large) pot.  Hopefully the apples will grow in size as the tree matures otherwise it's going to be very small apple crumbles.

Delicious gooseberries that a lovely friend from the village left by the front door - I can't quite make up my mind what to do with them - gooseberry fool or crumble.  Given how hot it is at the moment Fool may be winning.
I hope you all had a lovely Solstice and are enjoying the glorious weather at the moment.  
Right, off to annoy the ants again; I'm expecting tiny placards and an organised march any day now.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Oh Those Pretty Things

It's June, the summer solstice will soon be upon us and the garden is at its peak of flowering beauty. 
So right now the borders are a riot of colour, full of bees and hoverflies vying for pollen; full of jewel like colours that would not disgrace a pirates treasure chest.

 Lysimachia - it looks so innocently pretty doesn't it.

Hordes of Lysimachia marching on the rest of the garden - good job I'm such a sucker for its golden yellow stars. :-)

 The beautiful Johnson's Blue cranesbill - one of my must haves.

 Fox and cubs

 Red geums and orange Californian poppies - sunshine on a stick.

 More cranesbills, fox and cubs with Lychnis, a delicious cerise pink with furry green-grey leaves.

 and of course the prettiest thing in the whole garden is sitting there on the right of the picture. 
She sure knows how to look photogenic.

Somehow it just seems right that nature has her best party frocks on for the Summer Solstice.
A happy longest day to you all.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Can you tell what it is yet?

I'm crocheting something for my sister - her birthday is at the end of the month so it might be a bit of a rush (or a bit late).  Obviously I can't say what it is - it's a surprise; but I did want to share it as it's the most complicated thing I've crocheted so far.  I learnt to crochet last August the fantastic Becky teaches classes that transform us poor ignorant beginners to confident crocheters who can read patterns and happily hook away in a very short time indeed.

  The base.  I'm using 100% recycled cotton in a lovely worn denim colour and a 4mm hook.

15 rows up and still going strong.  The shell pattern is a delight to crochet, fairly simple but effective and giving a beautifully textured finish; it does require you to count correctly especially on the first three foundation rows.

Here's a close-up of the stitching.  The firmness of the cotton yarn and the fairly intensive stitches mean that the final item will be quite self supporting and hopefully strong.
only 28 more rows to go....on this part of the pattern.

I do hope my sister likes it.. at least as much as I've enjoyed making it. 
I'll post further updates when it's safely finished and delivered - I'd hate to spoil her surprise.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Rik Mayall RIP

Rik Mayall died on Monday 9th June, 2014.

I moved from teenager to adult watching him on TV.  His performances epitomised post punk culture; irreverent, foul-mouthed, intelligent and incredibly funny. 
I can't believe he's dead as he seemed so much larger than life.  It's as though the people we grew up with have grown old and started to die.  His death marks our own mortality.
We are mourning the royal jester of our youth.
Goodbye Lord Flashheart - we'll miss you.

Water, water everywhere

Jean-Luc has fitted the greenhouse and summer house with water butts.  He's also fitted an overflow butt.

When we left to visit my parents on Friday the two larger butts weren't completely full and the overflow butt was dry.  While we were away there was some torrential rain here as well as a massive thunderstorm today.  Now all butts are full and the overflow butt is overflowing into the field ditch next door.  We have 520 litres of water to use on the garden and greenhouse.  Jean-Luc is thrilled that it all works as a system.  Mind you with all the rain we won't need to water anything much for ages - even the greenhouse is nice and humid.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Going Back to My Roots

This weekend Jean-Luc and I went to visit my parents - or as my brother so charmingly calls them - 'the Olds'.  I come from a very small village in Kent.  So small it only has 1 road - imaginatively named 'The Street' and two cul-de-sacs.  It sits on the edge of the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is surrounded by ancient woodlands, orchards, farms; and in the past, hop fields; all set in rolling hills and valleys.

The house where I grew up - my parents no longer live there; we moved when I was about 15.  The house is made from flints - a traditional building material in Kent; a case of using what's available.

The village church.  It contains some of the best brasses in England and dates from the 13th century.  The house in the previous picture backs on to the church yard and was originally associated with the church.  Imaginative children can scare themselves silly listening to creaking stairs and thinking about ghostly monks in the dead of night.....especially after watching Frankenstein.

One of the entrances to the local almshouses - or social housing as we now call them.  They are still lived in by elders from the village and surrounding parishes.

 One of the local pubs, mentioned in Dickens' 'Pickwick Papers'.

The village hall.  We used to go to Brownies here every Friday.

Oast houses; these are where hops were dried before they are used for making beer.  Kent was one of the leading producers of hops for the beer industry and these buildings would have been a common sight in most villages.  Although these oast houses have been converted into homes, when I was a child an oast house further up that lane was still being used to dry the hops and we used to go and watch them being harvested from fields around the village each year.  I can still remember the pungent smell of the hops as the tractors and trailers used to haul them to the oast houses.  We used to collect strings of hops to hang in our house and they a staple ingredient of the church decorations during the harvest festival.

The local big manor house - partially Jacobean in architecture.  This is where the local 'Lord of the Manor' used to live - at various times the families of Darnley, Brooke and Bligh held the title.  It is now a private girls school.  

The mausoleum of the Darnley family.  This edifice sits in the middle of one of the local woods and is now looked after by the National Trust which owns it and the wood.  Thankfully the family never buried anyone here - it was a really rundown and spooky place when we were young children; which has been lovingly restored by the National Trust.

Ancient trees in ancient woodland - most of the woods around the village are now owned by the National Trust or Woodland Trust.  They are being managed as chestnut coppice or as woodland pasture - it's a little startling to come across cattle in the woods but they seem friendly enough.  
I used to love walking in the woods as a child and have fond memories of playing and picnicing with my siblings; looking at the bluebells in spring and chestnut hunting in autumn; so it's wonderful to see them cared for and protected.  It's great to be able to take Jean-Luc to the places I used to love as a child and to find them still there and in some cases; improved.

We walked, we breathed deeply, we gazed and we enjoyed a great time.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Down to Earth

Hi to anyone who's dropped in from Rhonda's Down to Earth, thanks for stopping by and please feel free to leave a comment.
Thanks too to Rhonda for the link -ok I admit - I did dance around the dining room. EEEK!

I am giving greetings also - the Nu

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Floral Delights

The last day of a week off work today - where has the week gone and what have I done with it.  I'm not sure the answer to either of those questions but I did enjoy it.  As a poorly paid public servant I get quite a bit more leave than international business hero Jean-Luc; so I usually end up taking a week or so off by myself to potter around and chill.

The weather wasn't brilliant this past week; quite a bit of rain but as I'd downloaded some new books onto my Kindle I was able to curl up and do some reading without feeling too guilty about not being out in the sunshine - there wasn't any.

Yesterday I took advantage of the gorgeous day and went out foraging elderflowers and rose petals and today I spent most of the day making chilli jelly, elderflower cordial and; oh joy of joys, rose petal jelly.

Oh rose petal jelly how I love thee!  First you have to set out on a lovely sunny day and pick some beautifully scented roses. (I gathered mine from various public places around the village including the churchyard, which may account for the beautifully angelic smell in the kitchen earlier).  Then you have to pick the petals off until you have 1 litre of petals.

Don't they look gorgeous - the purple ones come from the local railway station.

Then having recovered from the delicious scent now pervading your house, you put them into a steel based pot and add a litre of water.

And proceed to heat the water to boiling point, then you simmer them for 15 minutes.

Sadly the colour drains away but the scent remains.  At this point invite everyone in the house to come and sniff, they will complain at first but once they've smelt it they will thank you.

Now shoo everyone out and strain the mixture through a muslin cloth into a large bowl or measuring jug.  If possible hang the muslin with the petal inside above the bowl to allow it to drain thoroughly.  Don't squeeze it if you want your jelly to remain clear.

As I have a cat I hang my muslin from a cupboard handle - last time I tried a broom between two chairs the Nu decided to 'investigate' and I ended up wasting a lot of lovingly prepared apple juice. 

You'll end up with this - some deep reddish brown liquid.

And then the magic happens - add the juice of two lemons and behold....

...it becomes pink.  Alchemy at its best.

Ok now measure how much liquid you have and then pour it into your jam making pot (a thick based saucepan if you don't have a jam making pot - I know I didn't have one for ages).  Add the same amount of sugar to the pot as you have liquid (eg 1pint liquid  = 1 lb sugar/ 1litre = 1kg).

Bring to the boil and keep at a rolling boil for about 10 minutes or until you have reached the setting point - that mysterious moment when a cooled drop of the syrup wrinkles when you push your finger through it.  Those wrinkles can be quite subtle so do look carefully.

Of course while you've been doing all this you've also been sterilising your jars.  You can do this by washing them in hot water and then putting in the oven (with the lids) for 15 minutes at 150 degrees centigrade.  I usually leave the jars in the oven until I need them.

Carefully ladle the jelly into the jars, I tend to use a funnel here as it can be quite difficult not to spill everywhere and everything is very hot.  Put the lids on the filled jars, tighten them up carefully and then stand back and admire your hard work.

You can label and decorate as much as you want.  Do taste a bit of left over jelly though.  I think it tastes of Turkish delight and sherbert and it smells divine.  Do not invite anybody else in the house to taste it yet - they'll only want more.  Enjoy your delicious secret and amaze them with it when you serve it up at a later date.

Elderflower cordial, chilli jelly and rose petal jelly.  The pantry is looking fuller tonight.

Feet up now as the fabulous Jean-Luc cooks roast lamb and roasties - all in all a delicious day.