Monday 30 November 2015

Christmas in December

Christmas in December, that's all I really ask for.  

Walking round Asda a few weeks ago, just into November I found myself singing along to the merry strains of Jingle Bells.  It took a minute or two for my brain to register the wrongness of this.  Looking around me though I could see exactly why they were playing this music.  For the first time the 'Seasonal' aisle was bustling with people filling their trolleys with selection boxes, Christmas sweets and tins of biscuits.  I wonder how many of them got home and thought "what are we going to have for tea tonight then".

My first Christmas purchase was this jar of candy canes last week.  I don't eat much sweet stuff these days but every Christmas I am partial to a box of candy canes.  I was going to resist this year, honest ....  indeed I did until the other day when while I was in Home bargains there were these candy canes at on a shelf in a jar that matches my large pasta jar (I just need to see if I can scratch 'Sweet Things' off the front of it), for the same price as the candy canes you get in the cardboard boxes..

I had to buy them ..... for the jar you do understand don't you   ;-)

The picture of the Pug in the top photo is a card Mum bought me ages ago, it usually sits on the shelf in the kitchen making me smile every single day, I just had to pop it next to the candy canes for the photo it just looked so right!!

Sue xx

Sunday 29 November 2015

The Buoy is Back

The buoy is back .... the buoy that can be seen dangling from the tree in our woodland that is.

The previous owners of this house had two youngish boys and I guess either they or their Dad put this up for swinging on.  As it is on a tree that is so tall and with such a steep drop in front of it we have no way of getting it down, save shooting through the rope to release it.  But I don't think either of us would actually ever do this as it's something of a local landmark.

When anyone local asks us where we live we used to say the house with the trailers parked in the field, then we sold the trailers.  Now we tend to say the house with the polytunnels and they know immediately which house we are, but there a few folk that simply know us as 'the house with the buoy hanging in the woods',

That'll do nicely, we don't mind at all ... but it only works through the late Autumn and Winter months when it's visible from the road, come Spring when the leaves reappear on the trees and the huge bank of ferns comes back to life the buoy disappears from view, and then once again we are the house with the polytunnels  :-)

Sue xx  

Friday 27 November 2015

Random Harvesting, Bowls and Stocktaking the Freezer

A random harvest, that's what I call the things I bring back into the house after cleaning out the henhouse each morning.

There is usually at least one egg there already when I go to clean out the house, we have had three a day for the last two weeks, I'm more than happy with that it means we have a plentiful supply for the kitchen and the occasional half dozen for Mum.  Yesterday I brought a handful of Kale back from the polytunnel on the way back from the morning doggy walk around the paddock, and since the weather has taken a turn for the chilly I bring at least one bowl full of wood into the house.  

I like my big old handled bowl, we picked up a couple of these from a farm auction we went to years ago and they have proved useful for all sort of things.

The best ever use of this larger one was as the 'day bath' for the geese, Harry, Larry and Mo.  We sat it in a tyre so it didn't tip and they had lots of fun washing, preening and generally playing with the water.

Of course all the chickens, including their Mum, the Hyline hen Mother Goose (hence her name), thought this bathing in water malarky was totally ridiculous and would have nothing to do with it.  But the geese would happily take it in turns to bath or just sit there watching the world go by.

Today it's been raining virtually all day ... yet again, so I finally got round to a bit of freezer stocktaking.  The small freezer half of the fridge/freezer in the kitchen is all done now and a list of the contents has been scribbled down on to waste sheets of A4 paper (we use the back of printed out things that we have no further use for) and will be typed up neatly once I get round to stocktaking the big chest freezer.  I'm not doing it yet in case I can combine any duplicated items.  I was amazed at how much this freezer had in it.

I virtually got frostbite while going through it ,and had to make a coffee to warm my hands around after spending five minutes separating slices of lemon that had stuck together.  I found two boxes, both half full and decided to combine them into one for ease of use and stacking.  The slices were pretty stuck together but I persevered and now they are free flowing again.I think a pair of gloves will be used once I bring myself to tackle the big chest freezer.

Time to feed the dogs now and take them for a wet and muddy walk round the paddock, the chickens will be closed up for the night as we get back to the house and then the fire will be lit.  The only good thing about these short dark, wet days is the long, cosy evenings cuddled up in front of the television with snoozing dogs and the flicker of the candles on the mantlepiece.

Have a good evening.

Sue xx

Bleak Friday

It's today, the American import called Black Friday. 

A day of mass consumerism and in some cases buying for buyings sake.  After the debacles last year some shops, the more sensible ones, are changing their 'sales' policies this year, thank goodness.  Fair enough if there's something you need and you have the energy and good temper enough to brave the crowds go for it, but we won't be joining in.

The truck is booked into the garage for the repairs after Lovely Hubby's minor accident the other week, while it's being repaired we'll walk the dogs and then take them home.  A trip to the builder's merchants will see us ordering the wood LH needs to make the doors for the workshop, we might even treat ourselves to a coffee while we are out, but we will not be shopping. 

 He got a quote for doors to be made for the workshop a couple of weeks ago, the price that came back was £2,500 for hardwood and £1,500 for softwood.  He reckons he can do it himself for around £500 so that's the route we are taking.  He had never made a door frame and hung a new door in it before, so he practised on the interior control room door, it worked and is almost finished.  So now he has the confidence to tackle the outer doors to the workshop and he's going to go for it.

Bleak Friday ... a day to do what you normally do or just stay at home cosy and warm and wait for the mayhem to be over.

Sue xx

Thursday 26 November 2015

Polytunnel Progress - November

It's now late November and in the frost free cocoon of the polytunnel there is still life, and more importantly food for us to eat.  If I needed to I could go out and pick at any time the makings of a good vegetable soup, without depleting any of the plants of too many of their leaves.

To walk you through the plants available to us at the moment.

In the central bed there are :

Spring Onions
A single Spinach plant
A single Cabbage plant
A pot of potatoes that are refusing to grow.

On the right hand side are :

Curly Kale

On the bench are some overwintering herbs in the big green tray, and an unheated propagator of seedlings that I was experimenting with ... and yes, they all came up, so more tiny Spinach, Radish, Mixed Leaves and Lettuce.  And also my very sad Lemon plant.  I think I may bring it in the house to live with the Chilli plant for the Winter and see if there is anything I can do to bring it back to life.

Funnily enough I've always been unlucky with citrus plants even when we lived down south and it was much milder.  I think a bit of research is called for instead of my usual instinctive gardening ... we're obviously not on the same wavelength me and citrus!!

On the left hand side are :

Chilli Pepper
Potatoes that are refusing to grow.
Mixed Salad Leaves

and right at the far end my Sweet Potato plant which I should be able to finally pull out of it's pot next week.  I was told to wait until the leaves went yellow and seemed to be dying off before risking tipping them out of the pot.

In the terracotta coloured plastic pot are yet more potatoes refusing to show themselves.   'Grow your own delicious New Potatoes, in pots in time for Christmas Day' said their packet .... nope it's not worked.  So I'll just save a few of our own outside grown and stored big spuds to eat with our Christmas dinner and try again next year with a different variety.  The plant at the back behind the sweet potato is a self seeded Nasturtium.  I left it there to see if can over-winter in the tunnel, but I suspect it might get too cold for it.  In the meantime I can pick one or two of it's peppery leaves whenever we are having a salad.

In the foreground of the left hand side photo are the two pots of Oca given to me by Dawn of 'Doing it for Ourselves in Wales', and she posts about harvesting some of hers HERE,  The pots were only in the tunnel briefly to avoid a really heavy downpour while I was over there, they were already saturated and I though a couple of hours grace from the deluge might be appreciated.  They are back outside now awaiting a good frost ... we were promised one last week and almost got it ... but not quite.  How ironic that in South Wales, where you would expect it to be a tad warmer, Dawn has had a good frost and here on our North Wales hillside we haven't.  Hopefully we'll get to taste them soon.

So that's this month's round up of Polytunnel Progress.

I'm pleasantly surprised that in this year of experimentation there is still so much life and potential food in there, it bodes well for next year.

Sue xx

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Still Clearing the Clutter

Once again I am dipping my toes in the world of selling on Ebay.  Yesterday I offered for sale THIS lovely Cath Kidston sewing box.  I've had it a few years, but it is in brilliant condition because it was always sat in a cupboard, so no fading.

Why am I parting with this lovely, well I am still of the mind that we have too much stuff, and I don't want to live with excess, so once again I am looking at things with fresh eyes and working out what should stay and what should go.

This sewing box is the first thing to go as I have just bought myself a dual purpose sewing /jewelery box of just the sort I have been looking to find for the last couple of years.  So with the arrival of the new mini chest of drawers I can part with this and a couple of boxes and pots that my jewelery was stored in.

This year for Christmas the immediate family decided that instead of buying each other presents, that would perhaps be not what we either wanted or needed, we would all buy ourselves something we really wanted and do a 'show and tell' instead.  So my new sewing box is my gift to myself and this little lovely can be somebody else's ... where hopefully it will be loved all over again.

(Edited to add - If you want to follow it's progress on Ebay and see what it eventually sells for, just click on the link in the first paragraph, or HERE.)

Sue xx

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Form a Queue Ladies .......

I have no idea what they were all sniffing, most likely a rabbit scent trail or some such thing, but I couldn't resist getting this photo of the dogs on the hillside the other day during a break in the rain.

We are getting out in the paddock no matter what the weather but on the wettest of wet days they need a lot of cajoling to get them over there in the first place.  I sometimes wonder if dogs think we as humans are completely mad for wanting to take them out for a walk no matter what the weather.  

I know these three, Suky especially, would much rather be left indoors on the sofa and just dash out when strictly necessary for a toilet break.  They've even started to take it in turns to have a wee under our big plant in the front garden and then dash back in to the warmth of the conservatory.

A Mavis style action shot .....

... a Suky action shot.  

Pugs do 'action' so well    :-)

Sue xx

Monday 23 November 2015

Can I Help You?

" Yes .... can I help you ? "

This is one of our newer girls, she's a Rhode Rock, they have quite an evel glare to their eyes don't they but they are delightfully friendly chickens.  We bought four of them this Summer from a local farmer and they still laying us an egg about every other day even though for reasons unknown to us, all our other girls stop laying through the Winter since we moved here to North Wales.  

While we lived in Oxfordshire and Berkshire all but the pure breds continued laying year round.  Our neighbour over the road had the same problem with his hens last year.  There were lots of us to be seen in the supermarkets last year buying free range organic eggs, and I suspect so were a lot of other chicken keepers in this area, as this was the first type of eggs to sell out whichever supermarket you went to.

So at the moment we are getting around 14 eggs a week which is just enough to keep us in eggs with the occasional half dozen for my Mum.

Yesterdays post seem to throw up lots of questions, so I thought I would answer them here.

From the Comments -

Yes, Chard, or most other leaves for that matter, can be used to make pesto.  See the recipe for Green Basil Pesto on the 'Recipes I Use Regularly' page at the top of the blog.  Basically Pesto is a mix of leaves, nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil, and it is the one recipe I constantly mess about with, just using whatever I have in store.

Pine Nuts can go rancid quicker than most other nuts due to their size, and as they are pretty expensive for the amount you get in a bag I tend to buy them only when I see them at a reasonable price and then store them in the fridge.  

No they don't go soft, they stay exactly as they are, as long as they are either in their sealed packet or in a jar or plastic sealed tub.  ALL nuts can be stored in the fridge or freezer, in fact the freezer is pretty much the best place for them if you buy a large quantity as a bargain buy.  Nuts contain a lot of natural oils and this is what gives them a short shelf life outside of the fridge or freezer, but their extremely low water content means they store very well chilled or frozen.

I tend to keep a jar of made up Pesto in the fridge for a couple of weeks for instant use, and then whatever is left after that I decant into ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen they cubes are tipped into a plastic tub for long term storage.  You can use pesto from frozen, I tend to just slice up the cubes and dot the pesto around where I need it.  I'm not the only one that does this if you go to Google Images and type in 'frozen pesto cubes' you'll find lots of photos, I was amazed  :-)

No, I don't heat it through to serve it with pasta. I simply drain my pasta (catching some of the water in a bowl) and return it to the hot pan and then stir through a couple of tablespoons of Pesto, adding a little of the pasta water back to the pan if I want to loosen it a little.  Served with a sprinkle of extra Parmesan style cheese it makes for a nutritious and very quick lunch or supper.

From the Emails -

Does mine work out cheaper?

It can be as cheap or expensive as you want to make it.  

If you were to always use Pine Nuts, top quality Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, Virgin Olive oil and supermarkt packets of cut Basil it would be pretty expensive, although would no doubt taste pretty lush.  Using whatever nuts you have in store, (you can even buy packs of broken nuts much cheaper than whole ones), supermarkets basic Parmesan or own label cheddar, a nice quality ordinary Olive Oil (as I do) and homegrown leaves or 'yellow stickered plants' from the supermarket or market, it works out much, much cheaper ..... and in my opinion just as tasty,

A jar of  bought Pesto seems to be an average price of around £2, which I think it pretty good value actually but it just doesn't go very far when compared to my huge storage jar full of pesto for about the same price.  I didn't think to weigh the pesto when I made it and I don't intend to make a mess by taking it out of the jar to weigh it,  (unfortunately I don't have a similar empty jar to weigh either, sorry).  And homemade pesto is just zingingly fresh tasting when you compare it to the jarred bought stuff, so I would still make it if the cost were the same.

How do my ingredients compare to bought jars?

My ingredients are:

Parmesan Style Cheese
Fresh Garlic
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

This jar of 'Classic Basil Pesto', taken from the Sacla website -

Sunflower Seed Oil, Italian Basil (36%), Grana Padano Cheese, Cashew Nuts, Sea Salt, Glucose, Pecorino Romano Cheese, Crushed Pine Kernels, Flavourings, Potato flakes, Acidity Regulator: Lactic Acid; Extra Virgin Olive Oil

I don't know why you would need glucose (a form of sugar) or potato flakes ... I guess they are a bulking out and thickening agent.  Also notice the way the Extra Virgin Olive Oil is last on the list of ingredients, it must contain a tiny percentage, but they can quite honestly then advertise the product as being 'made with Extra virgin Olive Oil'  .... aren't they clever  ;-)

Have I ever bought the ready made tubs of Pesto Pasta?'

Tesco Pesto Pasta Salad (190g)

Yes, I have bought one of these in the past, when we were out and had no lunch with us.  A tub of this and a bottle of water made for a very small lunch, but served a purpose.  I would not buy it to bring home and eat - EVER!!

Tesco Easy Entertaining Pesto Pasta Salad (700g)

Look what I also found on while I was getting the image above.

A 700g 'Easy Entertaining Pesto Pasta Salad for £6 ... for that price I would expect it to entertain me!!

You could of course just make your own - one jar of sauce and one bag of value pasta shapes, using Tesco own label Green Pesto and one bag of Value Pasta Penne Shapes = £1.70, it would take you about ten minutes from start to finish.   Perfect for a party ..... oh and if you want it to entertain you I would just sit the bowl of pasta in front of the television and watch  ;-)

So ... enough talk of pesto it's making me hungry, and yes, after all this I am just going to have to have some pesto pasta for lunch  :-)

Sue xx

Sunday 22 November 2015

Using the Celery Leaves

I harvested our stunted growth garlic back in August of this year,  

The rabbits had feasted on the greenery leaving the bulbs with nothing to draw goodness from, so it had to come up as it was.  As you can see I've still got some of the best bulbs left.  I have been trying to use it up in the order that the best would be last as this can be stored for longer because of its full covering of papery skin.

The back of the kitchen door seems to be a good place for it to hang, out of the way but visible often enough to remind me it's there so it doesn't get forgotten about.

I used a good few cloves in with the celery leaves, the last of the Pine Nuts from the jar in the fridge, the last of the grated Parmesan style cheese from the freezer and a sprinkle of freshly ground sea salt and black pepper.  I tipped it all into the food processor whizzed it up and then drizzled in enough Olive Oil to get it to the consistency I like it.

Then it was decanted into a storage jar .....

... my favourite shade of green in a mash of garlicky goodness.

It now lives in the fridge making me smile with it's cheery fresh colour every time I open the door, and will provide us with lots of tasty helpings, on pasta, in quiches and stirred into soups and smeared on toast before being topped with grated cheese and toasted.

It's so garlicky the vampires will be giving this house a miss for sure  :-)

Sue xx

Saturday 21 November 2015

Veg Hash

The onions in the fridge drawer needed using up, so the other day when I pulled the celery from the polytunnel and gathered in some of my wonky carrots I set to and made a batch of veg hash.

It's something I nearly always have in the freezer and is brilliant for any recipe that starts 'chop and fry one onion'.  It's simply a mixture of finely chopped onions, celery and carrots, you could also add some garlic, but I tend to stick to the main three just in case I have to cater for someone who doesn't like garlic quite as much as we do.  I use this as the base for soup, stews, pie fillings and curries, it means that the chopping and messing about process is already out of the way and the meal can be put together in less time.

My food processor is just a small one, an attachment to my Kenwood mixer, so I do this in batches and then mix it all together in my big mixing bowl.  It's best to do it in like with like batches as the carrots take more chopping than the onions or celery.

Normally I freeze it in some of my little plastic storage boxes but they are all in use at the moment and I thought that with the freezer being so chock a block freezing it in zip lock bags (which I seem to have lots of) would mean that I can flatten and stack them to take up less space, and of course being flat they will also thaw out extremely quickly.  I use my hash straight from frozen if I forgotten to take it out of the freezer to thaw before I need it.

From my two bunches of homegrown celery, the wonky carrots and the last of the onions I managed to make six 350g bags of Veg Hash, and one portion that went straight into the soup that I made yesterday,which I will be eating for lunch today .... as long as Mavis holds on to her breakfast  ;-)

The only thing left over from my harvesting and chopping were the celery leaves, I bet you can guess what I made with them.

Sue xx

Friday 20 November 2015

Lettuce Soup

Lots of you were spot on yesterday when you asked if I was going to make soup with the lettuces I picked.  It's a simple soup .... as most soup recipes are, I don't go for fancy, I go for tasty.

To the 'bolted' lettuces I added the ingredients in the photo above.  Split red lentils, a couple of dessert spoonfuls of the bouillon powder and a good squirt of garlic paste.  I found this almost used up tube nestled in the door shelf of the fridge when I was cleaning it out on Monday.  I don't know how long it's been opened for but I was determined to use it up.

They were simply all popped in a pan with lots of boiling water, brought back to the boil and then simmered in the oven for an hour while I got on with other things.

The kitchen smelt lovely and when the soup came out of the oven it looked luscious.

Once whizzed up I had a litre of soup for very little money or effort .....

.... the only thing was it looked just like the six piles of sick I had cleaned up thirty minutes earlier, deposited all over the house by Mavis, exactly the same colour just not as lumpy :-(

I had toast for lunch!!

Sue xx

Thursday 19 November 2015

Ugly, Wonky Veg and Bolted Lettuces

The weekend weather forecast made me rethink what I was going to do today and instead I went into the polytunnel to pull up, well cut off an inch above the soil, some of the celery.  If we do get the promised frost I want to be sure that I am at least in the process of using up the things that could be frost damaged, and the celery is on the edge of the polytunnel and so could possibly be affected.

I cut off two of the big bunches, and realising what was on my mind to do with it I pulled up some carrots to go with the celery.  What I got was the fabulously shaped carrots you see in the photo above.  Each one I pulled up had grown in it's own weird and wonderful way.

The carrots I was supposed to plant in this bed were short and stubby like these two, but obviously I had transplanted some that were meant to be long and narrow into the same shallow bed .... ooops!!

In their efforts to grow they had taken off in every direction,  I must say I felt guilty ... like a Mum who has left her child in shoes a size or two too small.  The poor things, determined to grow they had gone this way and that and even joined forces to grow in the small space allowed them.

It shows I don't always get it right .....

... and two bolted lettuces just go to show that I don't always harvest on time either!!

Still I know exactly what I will be doing with the celery, carrots and the lettuces so nothing will be going to waste.  After all, wonky ugly veg and bolted lettuces are still food and homegrown food no matter what it's shape or persuasion is always tasty and nutritious.

Sue xx

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Manning Up

Jack the Lavender Pekin Bantam youngster is now well on his way to becoming a man, well a chickeny man ;-)

He is now almost five months old and it's becoming more and more obvious that he knows he is the man of the flock since Caldwell's death a couple of months ago.  His comb is bright red and growing more impressive with each passing week.  He struts around, walking the manly chickeny walk that only a cockerel proud in his feathers can get away with.

Someday soon I think he'll be managing his first morning wake up 'cock a doodle do'.

You can see in comparison the hardly visible pale pink comb and wattles on his sister Jill, seen here eating her breakfast this morning with their Mum, Mother Goose.

He's been getting a bit stroppy this last week or so, obviously male hormones are flooding through his little body making him want to stand up to everyone that comes close.  It doesn't worry me at all it just means that he gets picked up all the more and cuddled at every opportunity.  I have to show him who's the real boss .... but in the nicest possible way.

And of course I would never give away his little secret .... that every night he sits close to his sister and Mum, and they cuddle the night away together.

Sue xx

Monday 16 November 2015

Storing the food .....

Storing the food we grow ourselves is almost as important as the actual growing of it.  If we are to get to any level of self sufficiency we need the homegrown vegetables and fruits to last us as long as possible throughout the year, from one growing season to the next if possible.

There are still lots of fresh things in the polytunnel.  The carrots, cabbages, kale, spinach, celery, spring onions, radishes, lettuce, kohlrabi and sweet potatoes are all things I could pick and eat now, the cabbages are yet to fully heart up but the outer leaves are being sparingly picked and added to soups and stews, the other things in this list are all fully grown and ready for the picking.

Coming along behind them are the newer sowings of beetroot, more spinach, onions, garlic, more radishes, more spring onions and a couple of other things that I can't for the life of me remember while I'm sat here at the computer.  It's important to me to try and avoid too much of the dreaded 'hungry gap' by trying to keep some things available fresh at all times of the year.

Last week I used up the last of the potatoes that were in the kitchen cupboard, so yesterday when we decided to have a 'proper' Sunday lunch and I needed potatoes I went to the understairs gloryhole and lifted out the big bag of potatoes that I had stashed in there months ago. 

 They were exactly as they were when I put them in there, and still covered in the soil that dried on them while they basked in the sunshine of late September.  So now I know that the cool, well ventilated cupboard under the stairs is the perfect place for my vegetables to go.  It was a bit experimental putting them there but it worked ... phew!!

Of course my other methods of saving food to last us through the Winter months and well into next year have been well documented on various posts.  Bottling ...

... pickling ...

... and of course the easiest of easies .....freezing.

Before our Challenge kicks off on the first of January I am going to do a complete food stocktake and see what we have stored in all these methods.  It's going to be an entire year of recording what we eat, what we grow, how we preserve it all and all the nitty gritty of getting ourselves to a place where it will be viable in the future.  So you can see why sometimes my mind is buzzing at the moment.  Every trip to the cupboard or the freezer sets me off thinking again, making basic outlines of plans and wondering how we can do better.

But for now, I'm going to try and stop thinking about food and dash downstairs to empty the washing machine and peg it on the line ... because for the first time in ages it has stopped raining and we have SUNSHINE.

Sue xx