Monday 31 August 2015

Kale for the Freezer

It was the turn of the Kale plants in the polytunnel to be stripped of almost all of their leaves yesterday.

Once again I set up my little production line of wash, drain, cook, drain, plunge into iced water, drain and then squeeze out as much excess water as possible.

The difference with kale is that I blanch it for a couple of minutes in a panful of boiling water, just small batches so that it stays boiling and keeps the production line moving.  I love kale's water-proofness when you first wash it to remove all the little critters that have set up home there.  It bobs to the surface and needs to be held under.  But in the boiling water it sinks a little more satisfactorily.

I used the scalded out washing up bowl for the iced water but this time rather than a small bowl, and it sped up the process a bit.  Kale is sturdier than spinach and it sat happily in the iced water for the ten or fifteen minutes it took me to get all of the harvested leaves processed.

Once drained, and spun in the salad spinner I laid all the leaves on a clean tea towel and rolled it up tightly.

Then I peeled all the leaves off and shared them out between half a dozen small tubs ...

... ready to go straight into the freezer.

I have portioned them up ready for one of my favourite meals, which is simple Pasta and Pesto with Kale.  I simply drop the frozen Kale block into the pasta water when the pasta is five minutes away from being cooked, to quickly defrost and cook it, once cooked the pasta and the kale are strained together through a colander, put into a serving dish and a spoonful or two of Pesto is stirred through.  I add a sprinkle of Pine nuts if I have them, or chopped Almonds if I haven't, and you have a speedy, tasty meal on the table in the time it takes to boil the pasta. 

I might have a go at some Kale Crisps with the next batch I harvest, first I have to wait for the plants to produce some more of their wonderfully rich, nutritious leaves.  Has anyone else tried to do them and was it successful ?

Sue xx

Sunday 30 August 2015

Drinking in the View

Last night we went out for a meal.  

It seemed fitting to end this month long holiday from Lovely Hubby's day job with a treat and a little bit of time away from the old homestead.  After a wonderful meal at Osbornes, followed by a dessert for Lovely Hubby and a coffee for me we crossed over the road, and in the slight chill of the August evening air we sat and drank in the view.

We are lucky to live so close to such a lovely place.  We make the most of it and bring the dogs in at least a couple of times a week.  We walk along the promenade, and even occasionally share a bag of chips.  With dogs you are slightly safer from the seagulls, without any furry friends at your side you stand a very good chance of being dive-bombed and robbed of your tasty treat.

I've met and talked to blog readers on this prom, chatted with pensioners holidaying alone and had far too many doggy inspired conversations to mention.  It's a wonderful, sociable, occasionally busy but always calming place.  To come and drink in the sea air does more for me than any bottle of wine, slice of cake or spa day ever could.

As I said we are so lucky.

Sue xx

Saturday 29 August 2015

Spinach Balls ......

It was the turn of the Spinach to be harvested yesterday.  

Just the leaves that were nice and big, the rest of the plants are still in their bed in the polytunnel and by next week there will be enough to do an action replay.  That's the beauty of Perpetual Spinach, if I'm nice to the plants they will continue to produce for a long time yet, and I am nice to them, I've been giving them lots of lovely plant food and fresh compost went down around them yesterday to help them recover from this brutal stripping of all their assets  :-)

The stems were cut off, and made a tasty snack for the chickens ....  I'm very good to those chickens,  as swapping spinach stems for fresh free range eggs seems like a very good deal to me.  The leaves were all washed, shook a bit and then popped straight into a pan in batches.  The water left on the leaves is enough to stop them sticking to the bottom of the pan until they release some of their own juices.

After about three minutes they were pretty wilted so I scooped them from the pan and plunged straight into iced water to halt the cooking process.  With dark green leaves doing this means that they will keep their rich green colour while in the freezer and it also stops them from overcooking.

Once cooled, I squeezed out as much of the excess water as I could ...

... and then sat the spinach balls on some kitchen paper to drain even more.

After a few minutes they were put onto a lined tray and put into the freezer to open freeze.  This only took a couple of hours and then they were put into a bag.  Next week hopefully a second batch will join them.

And all the juices left in the pan after cooking and in the bowl after squeezing the balls was used a vegetable stock.  I simply added a couple of handfuls of 'soup mix' with some extra lentils, brought it all to the boil and  simmered it for half an hour, and we had a big bowlful of Vegetable Broth each for lunch.

Next the Kale ......  :-)

Sue xx

Friday 28 August 2015

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Possibly the most boring photo I've started a blog post with, but we are so relieved to finally have the roof of the garage/workshop complete I had to show it.  The floor was poured yesterday and up to now the only 'person' to walk on it has been Suky .... it's a good job she lost that weight recently!!

The workman worked unbelievably slowly on the roof, if they worked for my company they would be warned about their work ethic.  Knocking off early on lovely sunny days when the forecast the next day was dire, long breaks, long lunches, long telephone conversations etc etc, they drove me mad. 

But, looking on the bright side, it's done now AND the windows  have been installed in the workshop, with only one after-fitting call needed to fix one of them that wouldn't close.  You'd think they would have checked that before they left wouldn't you.

I'll stop whinging now I'm reminding myself of Victor Meldrew!!

The walls up the driveway and the gateposts are all finished.  We picked up the stones that sit on the top the other day direct from the quarry in Trefor, they look brilliant and we can't wait to sit our little ornamental tops in place, there is just one more coat of black paint needed on them before they will have pride of place at the entrance to make us and our guests smile on arrival.

As you can see from the bottom right of this photo our new front bed behind the wall is almost ready for planting, hopefully we will be able to crack on with that tomorrow.  We are moving some of the shrubs over from the other bed at the front of the house as i is all getting a bit overcrowded in there.  We will also use all the potted plants that have been sitting on the patio in the new bed to make the patio area less cluttered for over Winter and save us having to buy any more plants.

So at last there is light at the end of the tunnel with all the building work, we still have to paint the inside of the building, clad the outside of it in wood, as agreed on the planning permission, and get the solar panels installed.  This is the one company that have really let us down.  Work was supposed to start on fitting the solar system last week, but it will be at least another four weeks before they have all the component parts of the system in stock let alone installed.

Oooh .... I was almost whinging again ;-)

On a happier note, and you have to be happy with the colours of these lovely cherry tomatoes don't you, the tomato plants are still providing us with lots of lovely fruit.  This little lot are going to be turned into a big batch of Tomato, Chilli and Courgette soup, destined for one meal at lunchtime tomorrow and then the remainder will be popped into the freezer.  

Everything I make at the moment has courgettes (or mini marrows) in ..... I will make full use of all of them, I will, I will  :-)

Also frozen yesterday were these lovely little chillies.

First open frozen, and then bagged and put back into the freezer.  I used a big bag because the plant has lots more that will be ripening over the next few days and I can add to the bag as and when I cut them off.

The net tunnel now has doors on it and the beds are almost full of a soil, 6 Ex and compost mix which means I can spring into action and get some overwintering crops planted in there,  and once pruned and re-potted the Blueberry bushes will move into there too.

Sue xx

Thursday 27 August 2015

Gifts, Treats and the Smallest Harvest

We were away at the weekend, spending time with Lovely Hubby's sister, meeting for the first time her wonderful new boyfriend and taking time out to visit the Edinburgh Fringe.  We had a great time, and after a long drive back we arrived home to a parcel on the doorstep.

What a treat, this one didn't contain ANY live worms, it had some brilliant little thoughtful pressies for me from a lovely blog reader who had a 'saw this and thought of you' moment when she spotted the Pug socks and the green lidded pots while out and about. 

Thank you Veronique for the lovely presents, and for the fact that you thought of me when you spotted them in the shops.  Getting home to find them waiting for me made a wonderful weekend even better.

We don't go much for souvenirs when we are out and about, unless of course they are useful to us and what we're doing.  

But this time I bought a 'honey dipper', which Lovely Hubby will be replicating over and over once his workshop is up.  It will go well as a small item to sell alongside our home produced honey in the next couple of years, and I didn't have one for myself so I get to use it  :-)   

 Lovely Hubby treated himself to a 'man-sized' mug featuring the cuts of pork on a pig, obviously this will remind him what to do when he is butchering our own pork further down the line, and well I can't resist Pug cards, they are so useful to have in stock for when I'm writing to everyone that knows my love of Pugs.

The smallest harvest up to now this year has to be the Blueberries.  

After last years success with the three bushes which have kept us supplied until just recently, this years harvest is a huge disappointment.  Although we have had lots of berries on all three bushes this year, the two big plants were stripped while the berries were still green by the birds, I quickly moved the smaller one to near the house to let the berries ripen in the sun where I could keep an eye on them.

   I'm starting to wonder whether the birds and small animals know that we are in for a hard Winter,  as the squirrels too are stripping the Plum tree that is in Chicken World while the plums are still green and taking them away to store.

Do they know something we don't ?

To give you an indication of the small size of the Blueberry tub, here it is on the chopping board with my small knife.

Ah well, you win some you lose some .....  and the little creatures have to eat too.

Sue xx

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Courgettes - Marrows

I keep turning my back for what seems like minutes and my lovely little Courgettes turn into Marrows.

I've spiralized them ....

... I've cooked them simply with other veggies in butter.

I've also been adding them to stews, soups, Nutriblasts, and if all else fails the chickens get an occasional treat.  Nothing is wasted and we are making the most of all the harvests.

Oh, and I have them in the freezer, simply sliced, open frozen and then tipped into freezer bags ready for when the supply dries up and we are starting to miss them ... although I think that will be quite a while down the line  ;-)

Tuesday 25 August 2015

Preserving the Fruits of Our Labours

It's underway, the big harvest and the slow steady drive to preserve as much of our own produce as possible to feed us over the coming months when there will be less growing on either the hillside or in the polytunnel.

First off the block was a big batch of cherry tomatoes, all ripe and ready at the same time and although I confess I popped quite a few straight into my mouth while I picked from the plants in the polytunnel, enough ended up back at the house to be mixed with the pathetically sized onions of the onion harvest, damn those pesky bunnies, and some of the homegrown garlic to be turned into eleven jars of lovely tomatoey goodness.

Did you notice in the top picture the two jars on the righthand side of the top row were slightly at an angle, when I checked to see why this was it was after taking the photo, it was because the 'poppy' top of the jar underneath them had not depressed meaning a vacuum had not been achieved.  Food will only store well this way if you have created a true vacuum in the jars.

I preserve my sauces simply, after making the sauce the usual way and leaving to simmer for as long as it takes for your vegetables to be how you like them simply bring the pan back to the boil.  Turn off the heat and leave it to sit while you get your warmed  sterile jars out of the oven.  Putting hot sauce into hot jars and then putting the lid straight on, means that once the contents and the jars start to cool down a good vacuum is created meaning these jars will keep for a long time with no deterioration of the contents.

They fitted neatly into the cupboard .....

... where as you can see from this shot we still have a few jars of last years tomato based sauce left.

We had that jar of sauce that did not 'pop' last night for our tea.  Just the sauce with some pasta for me and a couple of Venison sausages cut up and added to Lovely Hubby's, tasty filling and very satisfying since virtually everything in it was grown by me in the polytunnel and raised beds which were built and filled with soil by Lovely Hubby.

Teamwork at it's best !!

Edited to add - only store your food this way if you are confident about what you are doing.  It has always worked for me and the method I use I am very happy with.  If you are unsure however, it is very simple to simply bag up or pour your sauces into freezer-proof boxes, and store them in the freezer instead.  All these methods were covered in the course I did a couple of years ago, when I qualified at Level Two of Food Safety and Hygiene (Catering Standard).

Sue xx

Monday 24 August 2015

It's Here ......

It's here ... in all it's glory ... Lovely Hubby's BIG purchase of the year .... his John Deere Series Two tractor.  It's what I was referring to as his 'green' purchase in THIS post.

It's a big investment in our future and one that is already in use as I type, whizzing around the field and the paddock cutting all the grass and overgrown nettles while he gets the hang of this mini version of what he used to have.

His John Deere 3130, which he renovated and added to while we lived in Oxfordshire, which he sadly had to part with when we left Berkshire as it was just too big for the layout of our land here.

This new one is smaller, more compact and is much more suitable for our smaller patch of land here in North Wales.  It has a grass cutting bed that can be added when we need it, with a collector as you can see in the top picture, as well as the front shovel shown in this one, it also has forks for the front to lift things, and a back box to carry things around the smallholding.  This will really come into it's own when we have pigs again in the future for moving heavy loads of pig food around.

So ... lots of you were right, and Jane jumped in first with her plea for the mystery 'green thing' to be a John Deere tractor   :-)

And yes ..... I'm still happy with my smaller purchase of two jugs!!

Sue xx

Sunday 23 August 2015

Lots of Bananas

On the subject of saving money and prepping food, as I was talking about the other day, this is something I've recently started doing with bananas.  Instead of just buying a small bunch every week and using them up as quickly as I can so they don't go too brown, and I hate it when they do go all brown and speckly and then get overly sweet, and that window of opportunity to use them when they are at their best for me is so narrow.

Now I buy a couple of big bunches when I'm out shopping, leave them on the kitchen worktop until they reach that stage of perfection that I like and then cut them all into thirds, 

Then they are open frozen for a couple of hours in trays and then bagged up.

Once like this they can be added to my morning Nutriblast to thicken it up nicely and add a bit of sweetness and lots of goodness, or a handful of them can be whizzed up quickly in the Nutribullet or the food processor depending on how much I need and voila ... instant ice cream.  Totally delicious and if you are making ice cream you can add some vanilla paste or some chocolate chips depending on what you are fancying.

It's good having things prepped and ready to use, and things with multi-uses are even better.

Sue xx

Saturday 22 August 2015

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit

I was washing the pots the other day and this little cutie caught my attention.  As he was eating the grass and not my Strawberry plants or Rhubarb I didn't run screaming like a banshee from the house!!

" Is that someone coming to get me I hear .....

... perhaps if I duck they won't see me anymore.

Nope ... they're coming out, time to run!! "

This is always the best sight ..... a critter free fruit patch ... although he was lovely!!

Sue xx

Friday 21 August 2015

Prepping for the Freezer

As well as growing our own food there is always some foods that get bought from the shops, markets or supermarkets near us and I always try to make full use of everything I have to pay for as well as that which I grow.  

Nothing should go to waste with foods, it's a crime to  hand over your hard earned cash for anything and then not make the best use you can of it.  So with this in mind whenever I shop, whether I pay full price for things or manage to snaffle some 'yellow stickered bargains', I always spring into action as soon as I get home .... well as soon as I've put other things away and enjoyed a reviving cup of coffee, ..... we have a good drive to all the nearest shops.

Meat is always packaged in serving size portions, always ones ... if Lovely Hubby is feeling extra hungry it's easy to take out two portions but sometimes not so easy to separate two chops that have frozen together.   So meat in single pieces,  

Bagels are cut in half and then put back into the packs they came in.  That way the halves can be popped straight into the toaster without risking slicing off a finger whilst cutting in half a frozen or semi frozen bagel, and if I need just a half with a cup of coffee it's there for the toasting :-)

Sausages are taken out of their packets, cut into singles and then open frozen before being bagged up and labelled.  

I always find it is easier to cut off the label from the pack of anything, as well as having the description of the product on it, it has the date you bought it ..... and to give you a smile in the case of bargain buys, the nice cheap price you paid for it in the first place.

I've done this for years now but I find I'm doing it more and more these days.  It's very rare for anything to be bought and simply put in the freezer, even something that you would think would always be eaten as a whole, say a pizza is first unpacked cut into wedges and then frozen, that way it's available for us both to eat, one of us to eat or if we have a guest or two, we can simply take the lot out.  But the main thing is that we have the option of any scenario with any of our foodstuffs, especially the bought ones which have cost us good money.

It just makes sense doesn't it  :-)

Sue xx

Thursday 20 August 2015

Meet The Rockettes

Meet the Rockettes, four POL (point of lay) Rhode Rock hens that we picked up at the start of the month.  

With the sad demise of Angel and then The One we decided to replenish the flock, as only two of this years hatchlings survived to boost numbers, and of those one is a boy!  Two others died shortly after hatching and the other two eggs were not fertile at all.  So we really needed a little injection of fresh blood into the flock and hens at POL seemed the best way forward to keep our eggs numbers high enough to make it at least financially neutral keeping the birds.

They are handsome looking birds ....

... a hybrid of a Rhode Island Red and a Black Rock.

One of them was a little camera shy and this is the best shot I could get of her before she vanished behind the board leaning on the fence.

They've integrated themselves well into the flock and seem to be slowly and surely making friends and learning the routines of the day.  We only had to physically put them into the henhouse the first night, they made their own way to bed the next night,  and they have taken residence on the lower roosting bar, which means they seem to realise that for the moment they, as new girls, are at the bottom of the pecking order.  No wonder there have been no fights.

One has started laying eggs already and one of the others is showing signs of starting any day.

It's nice to watch them all interact and it's easy to spend far to long watching chicken antics.  Oh and just for your peace of mind, Caldwell is doing fine, back to his old funny little self and is as pleased as punch to have four new wives to look after.

Sue xx

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Itty Bitty Post.

I'm just hanging around having a lazy hour ... it may run into two :-)

I was over in the polytunnel first thing this morning before the sun moved onto it, it's the only cool part of the day in there first thing in the morning so heavy stuff gets done early.  I was moving some of the soil from the overfilled beds to the new raised beds in the net tunnel, only for an hour or so but then the sun moved in and the temperature started to creep upwards, so I abandoned my spade and came indoors.

I put the first lot of washing on and then out onto the line, made up some soup for lunch later on.  I simply used the vegetables that we brought back from the show on Saturday that had been roasted in the oven yesterday,  they were whizzed up with some stock and veg hash to make a tasty panful of soup, there should be enough for today and the next couple of days I expect.

There's nothing new going on here at the moment, the building work is cracking on nicely, although the solar panel guys have let us down.  They should have been here today starting the installation of the panels on the garage roof but seemingly they have a 'part that needs to be manufactured' ... shouldn't it be ready for use if they give you a 'firm date' .... well you'd think so!!

The picture above shows my little jar of jam.  Is anyone else out there enticed by miniatures or is it just me?  They sell these mini Bonne Maman  jams in Sainsbugs cafes, I bought one just because it's cute, and it was only 40p, not a bad price for an ornament ... if you visit don't you dare eat my little jam ;-)

In bigger jars is something else we bought this week.  

One of the ladies at the Gardening Club has a husband with lots of hives  .... full of bees, he's not allergic to anything!!   She sent out an email last week asking if anyone would like some local just produced honey.  I jumped at the chance and she dropped two off the other day, when she was passing on her way to somewhere.

It's gorgeous ...... and I don't even usually like honey!!

It bodes well for when Lovely Hubby finally gives up the day job and gets his own hives for us to be able to produce our own honey and wax products.  And it will save us a fortune to produce our own, this was £6 a jar, although in comparison to supermarket honeys it is worth every penny.  We'll be careful to make it last.

Oh... one more random bit on this itty, bitty post.

Don't you just hate messy workman ... especially when they leave one of your best cups on the roof and go home.  I was in two minds not to make them anymore cups of coffee, but Lovely Hubby said that would be mean.

I just think it would be fair revenge ... but then I'm cruel like that  ...... hehehe  ;-)

Sue xx