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Cherry surprise

♥Jul. 4th, 2017 // 08:14 pm
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After Little Quilt Club today, I headed cross-country to the big local farm shop: it's not the closest, but I wanted both flowers and cherries, and that rather limited my options. ("Are you going all that way?" the ladies at LQC asked, before conceding that they couldn't actually think of anywhere closer that sold both.)

About half way there, I passed a cherry stall at the side of the road, so I made a mental note and kept on going.

The farm shop provided a lovely bunch of flowers (for Mrs Farmer, as that was all the payment that Mr Farmer would take for doing the field at weekend), after which I headed back and (via an only-slightly-dodgy u-turn) stopped at the cherry stall.

Much to my surprise, it was being manned by the lady who I used to buy cherries from on the A2 on the way to Pilates. I hadn't realised that she had the stall in both places, and this one is much more convenient than the other. I realised later that I should have asked which locations she did on which days of the week....

There's now half a jar of cherries in booze in the cupboard, and a bowl of cherry pie filling* in the fridge. My new cherry pitter works well, although it's a bit of a squeeze to get the biggest ones into it and a couple of the stones got stuck and had to be bashed out. She also had the first English peaches of the year, so I bought a few to try: they're ready to eat and tasty, so I'll go back next Tuesday (presumably she'll be there again then, and I'll be in the area anyway) for more cherries and peaches, which I'll stick in jars as long as I can keep them away from Mike for long enough!

* looking online at cherry pie recipes, and having discounted the ones that include cherry jam in the list of ingredients, there seem to be two broad classes: ones where you cook the filling first and then thicken it with corn flour/starch; and ones where you cook it in the oven with the rest of the pie and include tapioca to thicken it. I'm unsure whether this just means that they are all based on one of two ur-recipes or whether there is some difference in the nature of corn flour and tapioca that makes the different methods better. Either way, a) I have corn flour in the house; b) I was brung up to blind bake my pies; c) I want to adapt the recipes to make smaller pies that I can cook in the Aga (which both make it tricky to reach the specific temperature and cooking time needed to set the tapioca-style filling); and d) I'd rather freeze prepared filling than raw cherries; so I've gone for the cook-it-first method. Anyone have strong opinions either way? I am wondering whether it would be better to freeze it pre-cornflour and then defrost and quickly boil it up to add that later.
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Possibly not my greatest success

♥Nov. 19th, 2016 // 03:34 pm
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[xpost |http://flick.livejournal.com/1186699.html]

When I made the juice for the medlar jelly, we didn't have any apples in so I thought I'd just slosh in a bit of bottle pectin when I boiled it up today.

(Medlars do have some pectin, but not much.)

Today, though, I realised I'd finished the pectin when I made chilli jelly the other week and not bought any more. Hrm.

I stuck a bit of citric acid in, and the jars are currently in the fridge in the hopes that that will trigger a change from 'faintly gloopy' to 'very soft set', but I'm not hopeful.

And the first storm of the season has just arrived. With amber wind warnings overnight, I hope that the phone and power stay up!
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Things

♥Nov. 18th, 2016 // 06:36 pm
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[xpost |http://flick.livejournal.com/1186533.html]

Novacon was mostly nice, and fairly quiet, but involved late nights (as ever).

I decided that I wasn't enjoying my pilates class enough to make up for the driving there and back in the dark part of the experience, so I've swapped to a different class (daytime), with a different instructor but at the same place. I had the first session yesterday and, even though the people in the class were generally creakier and less good, it was a much better workout. Fingers crossed.

TWWOTV is having various building work done. GB is unimpressed: he can hear it but not see it, so he's a bit stressed by it all, poor lad.

The house Up The Hill has finally completed on the sale, so we now have new Mr and Mrs Up The Hill, and two small girl children ditto. I'd better put together a little welcome hamper, though it's a shame the ducks are off lay.

I continue to be impressed with Freddie's Flowers. I've still got about half of the bunch from two weeks ago, and this is today's selection:


I've finished the little table runner I was making using English Paper Piecing. I enjoyed the actual EPP part of it but found hand quilting to be very tedious, fiddly, and hard on my hands; it is very lightly quilted as a result. Still, I'm quite pleased with it even if I did realise about three days ago that I'd cocked it up right at the beginning and have bought another pattern that I'd been vaguely admiring for some time.


For about six weeks now, I've had a plate full of this year's medlar crop sitting on a plate in the hall, bletting. Bletting is a bit like rotting only less so, and you have to let it happen for a couple of weeks in order to make the fruit usable. Today, I decided that they must have had long enough and took them to the kitchen to make jelly from. When I cut the fruit up, about a third of it looked like it was actually rotten, so I stuck that in the compost and put the rest on to simmer. An hour or so later, they were all still rock hard and the liquid was mostly colourless, which rang alarm bells: when I looked online, I discovered that actually my rotten ones were correct and the rest should have had longer to blet. Fortunately, they were only in the indoor compost bin, so I rinsed them off and stuck them in the pan with the rest and stuck them back in the Aga for another hour. The juice is draining off now, we'll see whether the jelly is actually usable tomorrow....

(Many of the recipes call for a mix of bletted and fresh medlars, if in the reverse of the proportions I ended up with, so it's hopefully not too much of a problem!)

It's definitely getting wintery, now, and we very much appreciated the fire this afternoon. On the other hand, my parents had about six inches of snow this morning, so it could be worse!
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Operation Fill The Freezer

♥Oct. 30th, 2016 // 03:06 pm
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[xpost |http://flick.livejournal.com/1183532.html]

Last weekend, we were given a bucket of cooking apples, and today I peeled and chopped and lightly cooked them before putting four big bags in the freezer, ready for making crumble latter in the year.

We've also put down a new section of heavy-duty grass matting (the kind of stuff they put down on when people will be parking on grass), on a patch that got very churned up last winter where we were leading the boys across it: hopefully it'll be less horrible this year, although I'm not sure what the boys will make of it tomorrow when they encounter it for the first time as it'll be rather slippery until the grass grows up through it!

It's probably just a coincidence of the weather and the clocks changing, but it's feeling very gosh-aren't-the-days-getting-short today. We're going to move the electric fence for the first time this evening, as well....
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Bye bye, craze horse

♥Oct. 29th, 2016 // 06:56 pm
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[xpost |http://flick.livejournal.com/1183239.html]

The Horse Next Door is gone, so I suspect that that means Mrs Next Door is gone as well.

This afternoon, I have mostly been making chilli jelly with the majority of the remaining home-grown chillis. Chopping the chillis took as long as the actual jelly making part, but I think it's going to be ok. The jars look pretty, at any rate.
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Where did the time go?

♥Oct. 25th, 2016 // 11:34 am
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I've been very crap at updating recently, probably a sign that I've not been doing anything very exciting!

There's been a fair bit of gardening going on, mostly weeding but also taking the finished plants out of the vegetable patch. There are still some tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in pots in the conservatory, but I don't think they'll be productive for much longer. Mike managed to mow the back lawn, for the first time since before our BBQ: it was in a bit of a state! I must get my sweetpeas started for next year, and think about the practicalities of my plan to turn the bee garden into a polytunnel for the tomatoes. The tomatoes did terribly this year, as in we've already finished the passata that I made (last year, it lasted until April!).

We've had our first, very slight, frost of the year, the elctric blanket's back on the bed, and the trees are starting to look very pretty. We've also had our first (and second, third and fourth) mice in the barn traps, which I'm treating as a good thing because we didn't get so many last autumn when the rat was in residence. Still to come: first fire of the year, which I'm looking forward to!

In the house, I continue to be impressed with Freddie's Flowers (my second batch was cabbages and white roses, but I also still have a vase with some of the first batch in!). I've been making jelly and sewing various things that are mostly going to be Christmas gifts for people who read this, so no pictures of those, or aren't yet finished (this isn't like me, but the Christmas stuff jumped the queue). Mike's been busy at work, so it's just been me and the pooch more than usual, but we did have a house full of visitors at the weekend, which included going to the beach, looking at old churches, and seeing the Oysterband in Canterbury.

We were expecting the hunt this morning, but didn't see any sign of them (we did hear the hounds, off in the distance). The boys seemed entirely unconcerned about the noise, but we were quite glad that we'd already finished riding by that time!

We're having some issues with their hay this year, annoyingly: back when we first started using this year's batch, they refused to eat three of the first six bales, but then it didn't happen again so we thought maybe it was still a bit green. Over the weekend, though, they turned their noses up at two more bales, so I gave the hay lady a call. She says the culprit is false oat grass, which she's got in the corner of one of her fields (although though the internet seems to think it is palatable), so next year we'll be sure to take our hay from the other field (which is where we've previously had it from, which is why we've not had a problem before). She did say that later in the year (when there's less grass) they might be happier with it, which I'd also vaguely though, but I doubt GB will eat it.
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Adventures in foraging

♥Dec. 28th, 2015 // 06:53 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1130740.html]

This year, I picked a whole lot more wild garlic than last year, because it seemed a shame to waste it. Some of it I blanched and froze (ok results. Nothing amazing, but that may be partly because the only thing you can then do with it is stick it in a stew-ish thing with lots of other stuff), most of it I made into wild garlic pesto, which was fabulous even after being frozen, and will be repeated.

I didn’t pick as many blackberries as last year, I’m not sure quite why. Sadly, this means there isn’t a stash in the freezer for making crumble with. I did pick enough to make blackberry and apple jelly, though, along with the apple and lavender jelly and the apple butter.

On the booze front, we’ve had
- elderflower vodka (tasty, but it did seem to make people poorly. Note to self: check if elderflowers are slightly poisonous in the same way that the berries are)
- vin de pêches (not strictly foraged, but very, very tasty: I’ll be making more of that in the spring when the new peach leaves come through. Might also try cherry leaves)
- chestnut liqueur (still in the bottle. I have no idea if it’s going to work or not: Mike is doubtful that any flavour will come through)
- wild strawberries in vodka (also not strictly foraged, although they're wild plants on our land, and also still in the jar. Really must do something with those, it looks lovely...)
- sloe gin (of course!)
(We’ve not had hop vodka, sadly. The hop had a bad early summer, which we think was not enough water: it was dry, and there were tomato plants near it this year. Next year.)

On the non-booze drinks front, the usual apple juice with apples from the common, some strawberry juice (panda-bowl man while he’s packing up counts as foraging, right?), and spiced elderberry cordial (must make some more of that, the berries are in the freezer).
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Adventures in edible gardening

♥Dec. 28th, 2015 // 06:51 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1130434.html]

On the edible gardening front, this year we planted:
- four types of tomato (Hundreds and Thousands, and then Aurora, Amish Paste and Latah)
- aubergines (Black Beauty)
- chillis (Chilly Chill and Orange Wonder)
- peppers (Semaroh and Amy (pointy), and Kaibi (round))
- tomatillos
- cucamelons
- mange tout (norli)
- French beans

I also got two grafted plants, one tomato and one aubergine, to see if they did enough better to be worth the money. They didn't.

The tomatoes really did quite well. The 100's and 1000's are very small cherry tomatoes, which I grew in hanging baskets. They were nice to have early in the season before the larger ones had ripened, but weren't really all that exciting: I'm not sure I'll bother next year. The Latahs were the earliest of the proper tomatoes, and did their job as such. The Aurora produced vast amounts of fruit, even allowing for the fact that a lot of it was wasted because we hadn't quite considered the amount of staking required (apparently you can get circular jobbies that you put around the plants to keep the stems up, which sounds like a plan for next year). The Amish were utterly gorgeous but didn't all manage to ripen, which was a real shame. I have a shelf full of jars of passata, which was the main aim, but next year really hope to be able make some just with Amish, as I think it will be really good.

We must have had at least four or five aubergines, in total, but then it wasn't a great growing season. The peppers produced quite a lot of fruit which almost all rotted on the plant: the only ones that actually ripened did so after I'd put them in the conservatory to see if I could keep them over-winter, so next year I'm going to try some outside (in the hope it will be a better summer) and some in pots indoors. The chillis, on the other hand, did brilliantly, with masses of fruit on both types of plant; I'm also trying to overwinter some of these plants, which still have ripening fruit on them now that they're inside. Next year, Mike wants to grow a hotter variety, as he says even the Orange Wonder is very mild.

The tomatillos did, if anything, too well (tomatillo passata didn't work as well as we'd hoped, but Mike's made a few batches of tomatillo stew and, of course, much green salsa was consumed), and work better in pots than in the ground (easier to pick the fruit). The cucamelons went outside too early, which knocked them back a bit, but they did get going eventually; I've saved some of the tubers, so I'll see if I can coax them back into life in the spring.

The mange tout and beans did ok but I think I need more plants (and to put them in places where they won't be so overshadowed by tomatoes and tomatillos!): we never really got enough at once for a meal unless they were left on the plants for too long.

Next year, I suspect we'll probably have most of these again, if in slightly different proportions. As well as another chilli, we're also going to add a couple of other types of bean and have a go at baby corn and (I hope we don't regret it) courgettes. Which reminds me that, as well as the mange tout and french beans I started a few weeks ago, I should also start the new variety we bought at the garden centre the other week....
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The cake is a lie

♥Oct. 31st, 2015 // 08:35 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1117597.html]

This afternoon, I thought I'd try out our new baking oven.

I had a look in Mary Berry's New Aga Cookbook, and then I had a look in Mary Berry's (old) Aga cookbook, and I thought that the tray-bake lemon sponge sounded good, but then I looked again and got confused.

The new book gave 225/225/250 butter/sugar/flour (which made me slightly confused anyway, as the quantities weren't equal, which is just Wrong). The old book had 250/250/275. Ok, close enough to not count.

But the new book said that was for a small Aga tray (double it for a large one), and the old one said it was for a large Aga tray (halve it for a small one). Which was odd. After some debate, (I instinctively prefer the old one, it's much less swanky-looking and has the added bonus of recipes for things like jugged hare and canapés for 70 as well as having been through far more reprints) I went for the small one, which was the right choice.

But then I looked at it after the suggested 25 mins (new: 20 in the old) and it was still very soggy. In the end, it had about 45 mins, and Mike pronounced it to be good, so all was well.

It's very odd, though. Surely the old Aga cookbook, of which we must have about the billionth edition, can't be wrong on which size tray to use? (The trays have not changed size, before anyone suggests it!) Surely they can't both be so wrong about the cooking time? I shall have Mike stick a thermometer in there tomorrow, and check that the new Aga's doing what it ought.

ION, we started taking out the front hedge leylandii. "Started", here, is understood to mean "Mike fiddled with his new chainsaw for half an hour and then chopped down one of them and then it was time to put the animals to bed". Still, with a gap now made the others should go much quicker! Our bonfire pile seems to suddenly be nearly as big now as it was a week ago....
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Eventful day

♥Sep. 24th, 2015 // 07:54 pm
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This morning it was moist, so we put of riding until the afternoon and, after we'd done the yard jobs, I retired to the kitchen: spiced elderberry cordial, sorting the boxes of apples and tomatoes with subsequent passata and apple juice, general tidying.

Mike, meanwhile, was upgrading my iPhone to iOS 9, as he'd already got it downloaded and wanted to do it before it started requiring 9.1 (or whatever the never version is). It seemed to be taking a terribly long time.

When we got in after walking Jo, the phone rang and a nice young man said he was calling from the bank. I pointed out that my phone was showing a different number to the bank's, and he said he'd leave a note on my account with his extension number. A quick call to Mike's mobile Just In Case and I was soon speaking to him again: First Direct is running a reward scheme for long-term customers, and they're sponsoring the Northern Ballet this year, and they're doing Wuthering Heights in Canterbury next month and would I like to go? Two free tickets, drinks receptions before and after, talk from the director, Meet The Cast. Oh, go on then. I don't think Mike's very keen but I'm sure I'll find a taker (anyone fancy it? I have asked Mrs Next Door as well, but she doesn't strike me as the ballet type).

(Mike is in a small huff, because he's been a customer for much longer and they didn't offer him tickets to a thing he had no interest in seeing. I pointed out that they may be deliberately offering them to women. Then I remembered the time they gave me a case of wine for being a good customer, too!)

Around this time, Mike learnt that there was a known bug in iOS 9, fixed in 9.1 (see above), that left it hung at the 'swipe to restart' stage, and started downloading 9.1 (ditto) in the hope he could just overwrite it.

A bit more faffing in the kitchen, and sticking a cake in the oven, and going Harvesting in the garden (the tomatillos in the ground have done much less well than the ones in pots on the patio, which seemed odd. But suddenly they've gone mad with enormous fruit since I took out the tomatoes plants next to them!) and it was time to take Jo to the vet for jabs and a general check-up. I got about two miles from home and the car started making A Noise, which I thought might be a branch under the car: I pulled into a parking space and had a look. Couldn't see anything but, oh, wait, that corner of the car seems to be lower down than it should be: flat tire. Better call Mike. Oh, wait, my phone's both bricked and at home. Just as I started to swear, a dog walker came back to his car and let me borrow his phone (I think he was a bit worried I was going to ask him to change the tire!). Mike remembered, as I had not, that there was an electric pump in the car, so I got the tire pumped up and made it home. One quick tire change later (he's had practice, recently!) and I was re-booked at the vet and on my way again.

Jo was her usual good self, even if she hates having the Kennel Cough vaccine up her nose, and was long-suffering when having her bum squeezed (she's been itchy lately). She didn't want to lie down and roll over for the vet to check where she had the cancer removed, so in the end I just picked her up and sat on the chair with her on my lap, facing out. The vet was bemused and impressed, particularly when Jo stayed in the same position to have her claws trimmed! ("I'll have to remember that trick... although I can't imagine many dogs would stay in that position while I did their claws...") Jo'd not been brushing her teeth properly, though, and needs them cleaning. The vet sternly warned me to keep an eye on her weight until I get it done, as the price for sedation goes up at 35kg and she's currently 34.45.

We did manage to ride, after I got back, which was good except that GB was favouring his dodgy leg a little, which is always worrying. There seemed to be an awful lot of washing up when we got in, though, and that plus cleaning the kitchen floor (shocking state, simply shocking. Please don't listen to anyone who tells you I'm house-proud) occupied the time until dinner, and now that I've written this I'm off to give the boys their evening hay!

Edit: Oops. It appears that the things we failed to do today was put the ducks to bed after we'd ridden: the perils of breaking your routine. They'd gone in on their own, though, and nothing had followed them home. Phew.
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[yawn]

♥Sep. 18th, 2015 // 08:51 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1106810.html]

We had a weather-induced power cut last night, which kept me awake rather: I'm not sure if the battery is dead in my clock and I woke up when the power went out (which seems more likely) or if I just happened to wake and look at my clock the second the battery did die, but either way it was 2:30am and I spent the rest of the night being woken up by the weather and vaguely worried about freezers and suchlike.

Today, though, I have made apple butter: no idea if it's going to have worked, but the spoon tasted pretty good. Something of a faff peeling and coring any quantity of wild apples, even if I did pick the biggest of the batch, so if it is good I might use shop apples in future. Of course, then it probably won't taste the same.

I'm starting to think that the boys have got it in for me. Given that they've stopped coming up to the gate at coming in time, Mike and I have been taking it in turns to go and get one of them (usually Bugs, as he's more likely to wander over in search of treats), after which the other will follow up the hill to the gate and stand to be caught by the other of us. For about the last ten days (not that I'm counting), they've been within about twenty yards of the gate on Mike's days and right at the other side of the field on mine....

Currently on the dining room table: a box of invitations for the House of Lords thing, which need to be in the post on Monday. The curses of having Nice Handwriting. I just hope my wrists are up to it. I've even got my fountain pen out!
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Busy day

♥Sep. 17th, 2015 // 08:36 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1106487.html]

After we'd ridden and done the boys, I went out to pick tomatoes and decided that, given the way they were going black and mouldy, I'd do better to just have the plants out and put the undamaged fruit indoors to ripen, so that took longer than expected but now I have a couple of boxes that will hopefully become useful later.

(While we were doing the boys, we kept hearing low rumbling noises, which we thought might be blasting at the quarry over the other side of the A2, as we sometimes hear that. There were a lot of them, though, and Mike's just seen a story on the local news website about people feeling tremors in Canterbury that it blames on firing on an MoD range in Essex! It must have been horrible close by!)

Then it was time for lunch, and after that we headed out to the common with Jo, where we got another four bags of apples (which are going to have to wait until tomorrow), some sloes and some elderberries.

Then I headed off into Canterbury for a little shopping: a few bits at M&S, because I had a voucher (and I also handed out the 'friends and family' vouchers to random people in the store, which got confused but grateful responses), a new pair of evening shoes for the Bloody Boxing Do, the last thing I needed for making the Christmas cards, no fabric as neither of the fabric shops had the one I wanted (not very surprised, I'll buy it direct from Moda, but I thought I'd check as I have a 10% off voucher for one of them), and four punnets of strawberries for £1.50 (the lot) from the Panda Bowl man who was just packing up. I also headed over to The Country Shop to get a few bits, mostly because they were on offer in the latest catalogue, and a new rug for GB.

(While I was paying, there was a woman at the next till who's obviously a regular: she was chatting away to the girl serving her, apologising because she was paying with the egg money. I hadn't really looked, but noticed that she was holding a small black-and-white dog. Then I looked again and realised that it was actually a badger. Then one of the other members of staff walked past and asked if it was the one with the funny nose. "No, this is the other one," she replied. Boggle.)

And then I came home and made strawberry and peach juice, and roasted tomato passata, and sorted and froze the sloes and elderberries, and had dinner somewhere in there, and now I am Sitting Down On The Sofa.
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Tai Chi

♥Sep. 12th, 2015 // 03:35 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1104998.html]

This afternoon, Mike and I went to a free tai chi try-out session, mostly because one of the paid-for courses that it was trying to get people onto is in the village down the road, so quite convenient. I signed up because I was interested to try it, and to my surprise Mike decided to come along as well.

It was a little bit woo for my tastes, but that may be because the instructor was trying to get people interested in the concept. I could also have done with him doing a bit more than just standing at the front of the room and doing the actions with occasional pointers about how to do it better, but presumably on his regular classes he does get off the mat (as it were) and correct people individually. He came across as a bit nervous, in fact.

I struggled a bit because some of the moves were vaguely close to Pilates ones but slightly different, so I'd keep getting to a certain point and then realising that my foot was pointed instead of flexed, and similar.

We were surprised by the mix of people: Mike was the only bloke, which surprised me a little, but also there was pretty much no one between about my age and about Mike's, which was odd: I'd vaguely expected to be the youngest person there.

As we were leaving, we mentioned that we were thinking about the local course, and he said that he wasn't sure it would be running as there wasn't enough interest. I guess we'll sign up anyway and see what happens?

When I was out picking tomatoes this afternoon, I found a few (in the back garden bed, which is likely to be the coldest place) that had what I suspect is a bit of cold damage. I've pulled up all those plants, as we're due to be chilly again tonight, and I'm currently torn between trying to ripen the fruit and making experimental green passata. Online, I can find a few people saying "presumably it would work?", often in threads about making pasta sauce with whole ones, but no one actually saying "I have made this and it is good". Maybe I'll try a jar and get Mike to try it before I decide, but right now there's regular passata on the go (in the Aga, to see if it works: it seems to, as it's reducing nicely).

(I also picked up a sensible-sounding passata trick: bash them with a potato masher and then put them in a colander to let some of the liquid drain off. I know that you can get a Device to de-seed them, but clutter. I did try one batch where I scooped out all the middles, and it did indeed reduce down much more quickly than when I don't. Unfortunately, the reduction in cooking time was about equal to the increase in prep time, and the effort vastly greater, so bugger that. Ditto skinning them: that's what sieves are for. I am tempted to try part-roasting the tomatoes first, though, as people say the flavour's much better.)
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Sloe time

♥Sep. 11th, 2015 // 04:00 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1104885.html]

My hands are covered with scratches: it must be sloe picking time!

Mike and I got a bit under 2kg while we were walking Jo, at a good spot we've had our eye on for a while, and then I got a bit over 1kg from our hedge this afternoon, so I think just another kilo to find (probably up at the top of the hill: we rode past there this morning and it looked pretty good at horse-height, at least) and then it'll be time to play "make Tesco's club card algorithm think we're seasonal alcoholics" again.

I've also started off some vin de peche, both the classic peach leaf variety and one using actual peaches that I saw an intriguing recipe for.
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Jelly

♥Sep. 8th, 2015 // 05:03 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1103981.html]

I'm feeling only slightly pathetic, today, so I managed to get that batch of jelly finished off, and start a new one. I had a bit of a revelation the other night: as I wrestled the bulging jelly bag onto a cane suspended from the legs of an upturned kitchen stool (as is traditional), I realised that I could probably just use the juice from the steam juicer. I checked the juicer instruction/recipe book, and it does include directions for doing so (including the delightful hint about checking pectin levels in your juice by mixing it with pure grain alcohol).

So, now the juicer's bubbling away with another batch of spicy juice and, if I can resist the urge to drink it all hot from the pan, I'll be boiling that up as well, later.

We're having a bit of an expensive month: not just the car, but also the oil tank has sprung a leak (the guy who fills it up did issue a Warning last time he came that we should replace it, it just never seemed to be got around to), although thankfully the top tip of the guy who came to quote for a new one worked: rubbing a bar of soap over it has temporarily stopped it (good, as we were running out of buckets I was prepared to put oil in!).

We've been talking about a new Aga almost since we moved in, as our FrankenAga is a bit crap temperamental, and since we had the solar panels (and with the inducement of being able to still use the hot plates to make toast and crumpets in summer!) I've come around to Mike's view that we should get an electric one provided it was a 3-oven one so I could bake. Their website listed a £1500 trade-in special offer for classic Agas, so Mike popped into the local shop this afternoon and the actual Aga shop called him back later: another, £2k trade-in, offer ends today, did he want to get his credit card out? After a bit of dithering, he did on the understanding that if Monday's visit from an engineer vetoes it then there will be a refund.

Given that I'm insisting on new fencing around the stableyard before the winter, we'll be dipping into the savings shortly, but it's all long-term stuff so it's not too bad.
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Hammy

♥Sep. 6th, 2015 // 08:12 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1103548.html]

So, we had a leg of serrano ham, and for the past few weeks it's been hanging up in one of the rooms behind the kitchen, having bits sliced off it every day.

Unfortunately, it became apparent that it wasn't an ideal situation for it, so this afternoon we chopped the rest of the meat off it and froze it in bags suitable for a couple of lunches.

Now, I've got a bag containing lots of bits of fat with slivers of meat embedded, and two of the three bones (I binned the other, on the grounds that it was too long to go in the stock pot).

Is there anything I can do with either the meaty fat or the bones? I was going to make stock, but Mike thinks it will be unusably salty. Thoughts? Maybe just the bones (which still have a fair bit of meat on them)?
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Busy busy

♥Sep. 6th, 2015 // 05:05 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1103354.html]

I've been a busy bee today (sorry, have apparently been infected by an edition of Poetry Please about bees that I had on in the background: anything's better than Football Sports Hour...).

This morning, spurred on by there being a frost last night, (you may wish to look away now) I started on Christmas shopping. My, but it's amazing the stuff you can get for £1 on eBay from random Chinese sellers if you're prepared to wade through all the random stuff in their stores. I think I have my colour scheme worked out, and a Plan for cards.

This afternoon, we took Jo up to the common and acquired four big bags of apples (looks as though last year the abnormally bad for apples, rather than the year before being particularly good), as well as a bag of blackberries and one of elderberries. Those last two are now washed and in the freezer, a quarter of the apples are in the steamer, a quarter dripping quietly away in a jelly bag, and the remainder Awaiting Developments.

"I think," Mike just announced dolefully, "I may need new slippers before Christmas...." Conveniently, I'd come to the same conclusion a good six months ago, so I just had to go upstairs and get him the pair in the cupboard.

GB's been a bit twitchy coming down from the field lately, when it's been gloomy, and the last few days he's got to the edge of the sunny bit of the field and refused to go forward into the shade of the trees until Bugs did so (despite beatings). I remembered last night that I'd had his eyes checked, a few years ago, and the vet concluded that he had cataracts but that (she phrased it more delicately) he'd be dead before they caused him a problem. I'm now wondering how long she thought he had in him, and if I should get them looked at again.
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It wasn't forecast to rain today

♥Sep. 2nd, 2015 // 04:12 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1102204.html]

But it did, starting with 'just as Mike dropped me off on his way out to look at cars so that I could walk home with the pooch'. I'm starting to get suspicious of this.

(It's been raining on and off all afternoon since, although it's been sunny in between and often at the same time. We just saw a fab rainbow, and can now confidently state that there's a pot of gold in Milo's field. Wonder why the metal detector guys didn't find it when they visited?)

The looking-at-cars wasn't hugely successful: the second one had already been sold, and Mike couldn't fact driving the Little Red Thing to the third. The first was a bit overpriced but I suspect it's the one we'll end up with unless something else comes on the market in the next couple of days (assuming, that is, that we are up for a new car: we still haven't heard officially).

I spent an hour this afternoon removing the seeds from a large pile of tomatoes, to see if the reduced requirement to reduce the resulting passata (try saying that six times...) was worth the effort. I've concluded that it wasn't, and that tomato juice is a poor hand moisturiser. After I did so, I read an email conversation on the @@ list about what a terribly year it's been for tomatoes, so I'm not sure what we've done wrong!

We've put (very thin) rugs on the boys this evening, as we're forecast to have a cool clear night so it'll probably get a bit nippy here. I'm not sure if this counts as the first time of the season or not: did the end of July count as the last frost of last winter or the first frost of this?
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Preservation time

♥Aug. 27th, 2015 // 05:17 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1099973.html]

Today's haul includes:
- 3 bags of elderberries into the freezer (for the making of elder and blackberry spiced cordial, when it gets cold)
- 3 bags of green beans into the freezer
- 4 jars of tomato passata
- 1.5 jars of experimental bottled salsa verde (just add lime juice and coriander, in theory)
- 1 jar of cucamelon pickle
- 2 jars of roasted peppers in oil
- 2 jars of roasted courgettes in oil (with probably another two to go, to be roasted while dinner's cooking)

And we ragworted the field, getting rid of a couple of flowering plants we'd missed earlier in the year and the first of this year's seedlings.

The cows have gone from the road, hurrah! They got out into the woods (this is not surprising: they were on the road a couple of months ago, then back in the field the next day after they escaped. Given that he didn't actually do any repairs taking more than five minutes and using anything other than baling twine...), so as they were nearly due to move he's probably given up. Actually, they were mostly off the road yesterday other than one that was late getting back from her escapade, but now they're really all behind fences. We assume.
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Lightly smoked

♥Aug. 16th, 2015 // 04:57 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1096784.html]

1) I realised this morning that we hadn't seen yesterday's post, and the discovered that it included my bulbs, so I've planted them out, intermixed with clumps of incredibly pot-bound inherited chives: hopefully that should give some degree of year-long cover!

2) We had a go at a bonfire today, because the grass was still damp. As I expected, the recently-pruned tree bits were still too green to go up, but at least the pile is now less bulky (with the leaves and such being gone). I did point out that we had a car with lots of petrol inside it, but Mike demurred.

3) I made marshmallows this afternoon, as well. Well, I hope that I did: I was slightly puzzled by how quickly the mix whisked up, and then noticed that it had a very odd, granular texture as I started to tip it out.... Then I noticed the bowl of gelatine mix sitting on the table! Oops. Back in the mixer bowl it (all) went. It looked right as I was (again) pouring it out to set, so we'll see what happens!
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ha ha ha

♥Aug. 11th, 2015 // 11:48 am
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1095667.html]

1) Last night we had fajitas made with tomatillo passata. They were tasty, but possibly a little too sharp. I've just made a batch of half tomato, half tomatillo passata, so we'll see if that is a better balance. We picked our first aubergine yesterday, too, and I roasted it for my lunch: yum!

2) Mike's been off to France, taking a gamble (which thankfully worked out) on Calais being calmer than it has been lately. We're now back to being stocked up on wine!

3) I did some hedge-trimming of weeds around the edges of the property this morning (the strimmer wouldn't have managed some of the head-high nettles, or the brambles encroaching on the riding school: we really need to do something about them). Good to get it done, but my hands have been shaky ever since. I think I may have to give up on power tools entirely.
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Three things

♥Aug. 8th, 2015 // 10:55 am
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1094696.html]

1) We had the saddler out on Thursday, and she fitted Baby's old saddle to Bugs: he's muscled up enough that the one he came with (which we never liked much anyway) didn't fit any more. I was a wee bit nervous about getting on him today (after what happened last time his saddle was tweaked), so had Mike hold him for me and was very careful when I sat down, but he was absolutely fine, and does seem to be moving better in the 'new' saddle.

2) Made passata!

3) Hot air balloons overhead, as we were putting the boys to bed. One of them came down just over the hill from us, presumably in the enormous field that was combined a week or so ago.
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Oh, yes, I remember: posting is a thing!

♥Jul. 5th, 2015 // 04:30 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1091734.html]

I seem to have been failing to post very much lately. I have been doing things, though. Here are some of them:

- Killing horse flies (nasty little buggers. At least they're easy to squash). Bugsy has already trashed his (brand new) fly sheet, and is now wearing Baby's old one, which mostly fits him. They both have lovely posh new fly masks, which they are mostly not removing and leaving at the top of the field.
- Making Interesting Drinks, such as elderflower vodka and wild strawberry vodka.
- Having several sets of Lovely Visitors.
- Working on my quilt, which is still not finished on account of Busy. It's only the actual quilting part that still needs doing, though.
- Looking at orchids: we've now seen early purple, common spotted, pyramidal, lady, monkey, fly, butterfly, man, fragrant, musk and twayblade orchids, mostly at Park Gate Down. The orchid twitchers are very helpful, as they comb the place methodically, plant book in hand, and you just have to wander over when they start getting excited to see what it is they've found!
- Ragworting. Bah.
- Going to Finland for Archipelacon, which was a very laid back con for us. Had some lovely dinners (turns out that our hotel restaurant was the best in town), tasty ciders and several nice walks around Mariehamn, which has very variable ecology that's mostly about six weeks behind here (daffs in one garden, and lilacs everywhere) and which never seems to get dark.
- Being Much Too Hot, which I suspect wasn't helped by coming back from Finland (c20-23C) and into The Hottest July Day Ever (c34C here). The Aga is now firmly off. This afternoon is much nicer, after a very wet morning (which we really needed).
- Boggling at the way that the garden has exploded while we were away. The first tomatoes are ripe, and the wysteria is taking over the house, patio, and several adjoining shrubs. There are some lovely cornflowers and poppies in the orchard, which is nice.

And now we have a day off between sets of visitors: just long enough to do laundry and tidy the house....
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Om. And, indeed, nom.

♥Jun. 17th, 2015 // 11:10 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1091432.html]

I have occasionally muttered to Mike about the suitability of the Aga's simmering plate in regard of the making to quesadillas, but (sob, weep) nothing ever came of it.

The other night, though, there was a spare-but-damaged tortilla and a bit of sauce left over in the fajita pan, and lo it was quite tasty, and phenomenally easy, with the addition of a slice of cheese.

And tonight there seemed to be a nearly-soggy tomato that needed easting up, and some cooking cheese in the fridge, and it just seemed logical.... Nom. Very, very nom. Also, takes about a minute: peckish future-visitors take note!
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Yum!

♥Apr. 16th, 2015 // 08:51 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1084105.html]

I've been experimenting with marshmallows. They are very tasty, and really quite easy to do.



Because I couldn't find any recipes that I both particularly liked and that were formatted in such a way that printing the webpage actually, you know, included all the information (I'm looking at you, BBC Food (appears to have formatted the text to be two pages wide while not actually including the second page: argh, argh, what's the temperature of the sugar supposed to be?) and jamesmartinchef.co.uk (doesn't include the bloody ingredients....); I didn't even want to rely on Mr Fearnley-Miss-Out-A-Few-Steps, although actually his one looks ok and sensibly includes directions for both leaf and powder gelatine. Props to Delicious for including instructions on how to use different kinds of flavouring, although the absence of egg white in their recipe seems odd.), I cobbled together various recipes to get this one, which I shall record for posterity. Takes about an hour, although that may just be me: both the steps that are apparently supposed to take five to ten minutes (boiling the sugar, mixing it all together at the end) seem to be more like 15-20 for me. Only covers powdered gelatine, as that's what I had in the cupboard; I may try to tweak it to use a more sensible amount, as it's currently 1.333 sachets.

Because I'm a slacker, I chose not to separate half a dozen duck eggs in order to get two large egg whites. Carton egg white is a wonderful thing, I just wonder what to do with the rest of it.

Marshmallow recipe )
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Wild garlic

♥Mar. 29th, 2015 // 03:34 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1079396.html]

If offends me slightly that there's all that lovely wild garlic just sitting there going to waste in the woods, but we're getting as much as we can actually use from day-to-day in our veg box, and I can't think of anything to do with it that will keep for more than a couple of weeks (pesto). Bah.
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Tomatoes!?

♥Jan. 8th, 2015 // 11:56 am
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1061533.html]

Mike reported this morning that we were getting cherry tomatoes in the veg box, which made me boggle slightly: are they very early, or very late? The only place I could think of that you'd get them at this time of year was Thanet Earth, which we've never known the veg box people to use before.

I just thought to check if the box had arrived, and they are indeed trying out Thanet Earth tomatoes. I shall see what they're like with lunch.

(Today, it is wet. The veg box was dripping. It's a good job Jo's not allowed proper walks yet, as she probably wouldn't be getting one. She's full of beans, although I suspect that she wouldn't actually be up to it if we tried.)
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Oh, Jo Jo....

♥Dec. 6th, 2014 // 12:03 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1055538.html]

At about this time last year, Jo sliced her leg open in the woods and so prevented us from going to Ilford for partyage. A couple of days ago, Mike noticed what looked like a really nasty spot on her leg, next to the scar from the lump she had removed. The internet seemed fairly sure that it was a sebaceous cyst, so I resolved to keep an eye on it and think about the vet next week. Yesterday, I had a look and it looked as though it had burst and scabbed over. Yesterday, I also started making some crystalised orange and lemon slices: the hampers are almost done, with all the bits and bobs tucked inside the boxes, and just need a couple more bits adding. (I'm almost done with the wrapping, too: feel free to hate me.)

We had a lovely hack this morning, in the frosty sunshine. The boys seemed to have fun, too, although they got a bit over-excited at one point and we rather went off the bridlepath as I tried to get GB slowed down. It was quite a long hack, too, so Jo was very pleased to see us when we got back.

Also very thirsty. This is because we locked her in the house with only a big bucket of tap water, and that as far as possible from our bedroom: when I got back, she wasn't in the kitchen bouncing with excitement, so I went in and called her, leading to an enormous thud, a lot of scampering, and a black blur appearing round the bottom of the stairs.

As I finished mucking out, Jo came over to demand tummy tickles and I noticed that her leg looked red in streaks around the whatever-it-was, and it felt a bit warm. It might just be that she's been scratching it, but when we got in I stuck the crystalised fruit back on the Aga hot plate to start its second simmer and called the vet to make an appointment, in case she needed antibiotics.

I went through to tell Mike (3:45: just about doable if we bring the boys in five minutes early, dash off to the vet, don't have to wait too long and then dash off to Ilford) and noticed something glinting on the floor of the study. I'd thought I'd tidied up better than that after doing the (almost) last of the wrapping last night, so I doubled back to find that the floor was covered in the foil from chocolate coins. Two nets of them. As scrabbled out of two of the hampers. It could have been a *lot* worse, as there was plenty of other chocolate in the hampers and in other packages around the room, but even so. This may explain why she was so thirsty, too. Sigh.

Mike grabbed the vacuum cleaner, while I quickly re-wrapped the things she'd torn the tissue paper on and put replacement coins in (note to self: get more coins, as those were the ones for our stockings!). Phew. All sorted out.

Then I noticed that the air in the kitchen looked a bit smoky. Remember that pan of sugar syrup I'd put on the boiling plate for a couple of minutes to heat up before I moved it to the simmering oven....?

Sigh. One of those days. Hopefully we'll see people this evening!
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Cheese

♥Nov. 11th, 2014 // 07:17 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1053270.html]

In other news, I think I've finally cracked mozzarella, having yesterday made a batch (with raw milk) that looked, tasted and melted like the stuff from the shops. Well, except for the fact that I forgot the salt.

I'm blaming that on the fact that I'm using elements of three different recipes to do it: I'm going to have, I think, one more go with shop milk and then possible one with raw before I (hopefully) declare it done and write out my own set of instructions. Including when to put the salt in....

Magrat laid a terribly blue egg today, which I suspect is a symptom of her going off lay. Esme is looking much happier, although she's still hiccuping a bit: today, they ate all of their (half ration of) pellets, and all of their (full ration of much tastier) corn, which they followed me into the yard to get, and chased a bunny (which is better than Jo managed when I sent her out after it: I think she assumed it must be a squirrel, because she ran straight to the tree as the rabbit scarpered, then looked around in confusion when she couldn't see anything to chase.
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Bits and bobs

♥Oct. 18th, 2014 // 10:01 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1046998.html]

Still no sign of the road guys. V surprised. The electricity guys, on the other hand, are working away: they were even around on Saturday. Must remember to expect power cuts tomorrow.

Yesterday, we took the boys out for a hack. GB seemed to be doing ok until we had a canter along a flat but slightly slippery path: he skidded on his bad leg three times in a couple of hundred yards, so it's obviously not taking his weight properly. We took it very slowly after that, which did at least mean that we could have an enforced walk in the boys' favourite place for a blast.

Well, we'll see how he does in tomorrow's lesson, after three days of 'bute.

Still, it was very pretty and autumnal-looking (if not feeling: overnight low of 16, last night):


(I've got the time lapse camera set up, taking a video down the valley. It's been there for a couple of months, watching the leaves turn: I should probably take it down soon and see how it looks!)

After last year's not-terribly-successful marron glaces attempt, and seeing all the chestnuts lying around the woods, I started thinking bout having another go. As I looked around, though, I realised that all the recipes were variations on 'boil the chestnuts in sugar syrup for varying amounts of time, then put them in a low oven to dry out'. The recipe I followed last year, which involved bottling them in sugar syrup and then putting them in the aga avery day for a couple of weeks, is basically the same as the first part of that process.... There was still a jar left from last year, so I tried bunging them in the simmering over for a few hours and it worked! I then spent a week trying to find the recipe I'd used last year (I was convinced it was Mary Berry, but it was the other Aga book that we never use and that is mostly just lists of tips), partly to check if I'd missed a step or the recipe had (the latter, as it turned out) and partly to check the details of the instructions so that I could make some more!

(I also used a TKC tip for peeling chestnuts: make a slit in them then microwave for ten seconds. Three seemed to be the optimal number to do at once. They're not only easier to peel than when you boil them but you don't have the un-peeled ones sitting in the water getting soggy as you do it.)

A week or so ago, I chopped down some shrubby things by the side of the school, something that they'd obviously had done to them many times before. Yesterday, I sorted through the trimmings and now have a pile of different sizes of cane to use in the garden next year. I've also got a couple of sweet pea and a couple of mange tout seedlings poking their noses out of the soil, ready to use them, and yesterday I planted a second batch of seeds.

I really wish that I could retire icons. I don't want to delete them, as I want them to still appear where I used them in the past, I just don't want to have to scroll through them to choose an icon for a post. This is why I so rarely use anything other than my default icon....
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Bits and bobs

♥Oct. 10th, 2014 // 04:22 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1045228.html]

Yesterday, I had a go at Jo's pheasant with a sharp knife and a carrier bag for the feathers. Didn't go too badly, I think, and there's now a bag of meat in the freezer and a pot of stock made up. Also, both Apple and Apple & Sloe jelly has been committed.

This morning, I went to Pilates for the first time in a couple of weeks: the instructor is still poorly, but they'd got someone in to cover for her. I'm pleased to say that she mostly just left me to it (I think she was pleased to be able to, as she didn't know what anyone usually did so was taking longer than normal to get people sorted out). She did have me do two new exercises, but they were pretty good once I got into them, so that was ok. (Much hilarity from the others, though: I don't normally like more than one new thing ever month or two!)

We took Next Door's dogs out with Jo this afternoon, which was tiring: given how little they listen to Next Door, I didn't want to have them off the lead, and they really do pull. Quite a short walk for Jo, then, but she seemed happy enough to be going at all: we were late, because the boys were having their backs checked. Having been completely unable to get hold of the usual Lovely Back Lady, I eventually gave up and got someone local (recommended by my side saddle instructor and, as it happens, she was also here yesterday doing Next Door's horse). She was competent enough, but I wasn't terribly impressed. No particular suggestions for GB's bad leg; he's due a blood test soon anyway, so I think I'll have the vet next week and see what she says.

Distant Next Door Neighbour reports that the Hunt will be around tomorrow morning: something to keep an eye on, but the boys seem to be fine with it and it's not when we'll be walking anyway. (Come to think of it, though, we probably would have been hacking up in the woods at about that time if Mrs Next Door hadn't declared that she was giving Mike a lunge lesson, so it is good to know!)

I've also learnt that ISIHAC is coming to Canterbury. Tickets on sale next Thursday; we can't decide if website or in person will be the better way to go, having only tried for London venues before. Hmm. Anyone bought non-London tickets and have an opinion on how quickly they shift?

And, finally, Mike learnt via Twitter that they're resurfacing our road on Tuesday and Wednesday next week. Well, I say via Twitter: the tweet said that our road (calling it by name, which not even the Post Office does) will be closed between Road A (which no one calls by that name) and Road B (which doesn't meet out road). But we think that we know what they mean. It would have been nice if they'd told us. Presumably, they're going to do it in two, or even three, sections so that people don't get trapped in their houses.... Two would be most logical (do the flat bit at the bottom, then do the hill and the flat bit at the top, so that there's space outside Next Door for people to turn around and so on) but the people at the top of the hill are unlikely to approve that, and he really can't walk very far up (or down) the hill right now. It will be good if they do a proper job of it, as it really does need it.
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Leylandii wars

♥Oct. 3rd, 2014 // 12:21 pm
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[xpost |http://flickgc.livejournal.com/1043908.html]

This morning, I dashed around in a rush: it was poo picking day, and I wanted to jump on GB as well before going off to Pilates. Fortunately, I managed it, and GB was back to normal so I think we're ok for our lesson tomorrow.

There wasn't Pilates last week: the receptionist phoned that morning to report that the instructor had tonsillitis. I had a slight niggle, because I hadn't explicitly asked her to re-book me for this week, but we had said 'see you next week' on the phone, so I thought it would be ok (and forgot to call and check). Unfortunately, I walked in and her face fell: the instructor *still* has tonsillitis, but because I wasn't in the book she hadn't thought to call me....

So, home earlier than usual, and we took out a few more leylandii before lunch:

Getting there! Bonfire tommorow morning, before the rain arrives.

(Bah, I let the LJ app update itself, after this morning's post saying it was fixed. I can now post, but it couldn't manage to upload a picture so I had to do it the incredibly slow way: hopefully, the old version will be re-available soon. Also, can't see a way of making posts default to anything but public on the new version, which would put me off even if it worked.)

I'm wondering if it would be beneficial, given how horrible they make the soil under them, to put a layer of horse poo on the bed there. It would be fresh, but would have the winter to break down before any new plants go in. Anyone have any thoughts on the idea?

As I got home, I noticed a pigeon in the garage. It didn't fly away when I drove in, which was vaguely odd. After Jodie had said hello to me, she went rooting around in the hedge and flushed it out into the road: presumably, it was injured, because it didn't just fly off. I told her to go and get it, and she brought it into the garden, where she spent a happy fifteen minutes doing a super job of plucking it on the lawn. Unfortunately, she omitted to actually kill it before she started, so I went and stomped it before throwing it for her to fetch before he got bored and ignored it (after which it went into the food waste bin; I think I've made a decision on that dilemma).

We saw a fox in the woods, after lunch (well, we saw the rear end of a fox exunting at speed when it saw Jodie heading towards it), which we don't often do. As we were walking down Next Door's field on the way home, the Horse Next Door came to say hello, and see if there might be a treat available (there was). Then two other little shapes started waddling up the hill to say hello as well: it appears that in the rush this morning I forgot to close the stableyard gate*, so the girls had decided to come and demand their corn earlier than they usually do. Thankfully, they followed me home for their feed, rather than making us have to chase them around the field!

* I'd gone to close it after I rode GB out through it, but then I had second thoughts and left it open in case I ended up riding in the field and wanted to come back in that way. But I didn't, so we didn't come back through it. I remembered it while were were up in the field poo picking, but then promptly forgot again....

This afternoon, I've made experimental cake (Victoria Sponge with strawberry powder in the mix) in the Aga (it stayed lit the second time, thankfully), set a batch of apple juice going (the not-a-very-good-Vinyard down the road with the quite nice garden centre often has enormous crates of apples at this time of year: you take a bag, fill it, and get charged £1.10 per kg. Russets and Bramleys, today), stripped last night's chicken, and made beds for this weekend's guests. And now I'm having a sit down, for the first time since I went out to start on the boys....
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Aga

♥Sep. 26th, 2014 // 06:57 pm
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The Aga's had a bit of an oopsie: Mike turned it on a week or so ago, but over the last few days it's been running very cold. It's still lit, just not as hot as it should be.

Mike called the guy who services it and, after chasing several times they said they didn't want to do it as they don't want to cover this area any more. They did give him another company to try, and we've booked them to come out next week, but he's turned it off for now, as all it's doing is warming the kitchen slightly.

(I'm a little concerned about the people we've got booked: they knew the address and used to look after it until about four years ago. Did the previous owners drop them because they were crap, or did they drop the previous owners because it's such a horrible franken-Aga...? They're charging us £lots just to come and see if they're interested in taking it on, which seems ominous to me. A new Aga may be moving higher up the shopping list, although at least the shell of the one we have is worth something to a refurb company.)

We went to the Canterbury Food Festival today, which was much bigger than I'd expected / feared. Didn't buy a huge amount, but I suspect that you could have eaten your lunch entirely from freebies if you'd been brazen enough. We did get some pigeon (dinner tonight) and rabbit (stew!), and I had some lovely marshmallows for pudding (which reminded me that I do have a recipe that I've been meaning to try out).
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Various things

♥Sep. 18th, 2014 // 01:54 pm
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On hotels (specifically, Americans coming to Europe in the late Victorian era) (The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett):
"The rich man demands something almost as good as he has left at home, the man of moderate means something much better."

The hop vodka has been decanted, and will be forced upon 'volunteers' this weekend.

This morning, I was late for Pilates. This was partly because Mike was late getting back from Bluewater (it's a good job he'd reserved his new iPhone, as the unreserved line was apparently enormous) and partly because of the woman in from of me on Stone Street who was driving at 30 mph, except where it was a 40 limit and she was driving at 20. It was a little misty, but come *on*! (On the way home, by contrast, I was stuck behind a tractor towing a load of potatoes. This didn't annoy me nearly as much, partly because tractors towing enormous trailers of potatoes are, by their very nature, slow but mostly because it was going faster that the earlier woman had been.) (Since we moved here, Mike and I have pondered slightly on the sign in Stelling Minnis pointing to the High Chimney Potato Store, but over the last month or so we have become aware of how very much it is apparently needed, as there are lots of potatoes being taken there.)

Yesterday, while we were out riding, we got mobbed by some dogs whose owner (when she'd eventually managed to get them under control) asked if we'd seen her elderly collie, who'd been missing for a couple of days. TWWOTV had apparently reported seeing him late on Tuesday night, but nothing since. I very much doubted that she'd find him but, on the way home, I passed her walking up the road, presumably out looking for him again, so I stopped to see if there was news and there way: she'd just found him, and was on the way home for the car and a wheelbarrow (I'd have offered her a lift, but she was only a couple of hundred yards from home and I wasn't sure how many dogs she had wither her: I only *saw* two, or maybe three, but...). He was stuck in a barbed wire fence, dehydrated and covered in blowflies, but seemed as well as could be expected otherwise. The field he was in? Belongs to TWWOTV, and contains sheep owned by The Farmer. Just think, if the fences were actually looked after, he might not have got stuck. If The Farmer checked his stock properly, it might not have been two days before anyone found him....
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Cheese

♥Sep. 13th, 2014 // 08:05 pm
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Bah.

Didn't separate properly. The curds that did come off it looked very promising post-microwave - it was stretching out nicely - but the cheese is not that much different from the previous batch (although still nice and tasty in this evening's pasta sauce). Possibly, that's a result of being too cautious about dire warnings re: not overworking it.

Maybe I need to go on a course / find someone to show me, so that I know what it should be like, so that I can do it myself.
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Cheese

♥Sep. 12th, 2014 // 01:12 pm
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Another try at mozzarella, this time using these instructions but with a longer resting time after adding the rennet (as everyone else says at least fifteen minutes). It was looking good, but I think I over-microwaved it: it went a bit bubbly around the edges, and changed from smooth and shiny to slightly grainy. Definite progress, and Mike coincidentally has a digital food thermometer on the way, which should make that stage easier next time!

Points for were_gopher, for Ian Paisley.
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Algorithms and instructions

♥Sep. 9th, 2014 // 01:41 pm
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I have to wonder how sophisticated Tesco's algorithm is: will it have decided we've suddenly become alcoholics, or will it put together 'house in the country', 'buy mostly Finest stuff' and 'suddenly buying lots of bottles of Tesco Value gin in the autumn' to conclude that we're making sloe gin?

(Also, as it happens, hop vodka: a chance comment on TKC last week, combined with the hops being just ready to pick: I've done two experimental bottles, one with fresh and one with dried, and expect to present them to beer-drinkers of my acquaintance to see how revolted / pleased they look when they taste it.)

This afternoon, we took Jo for a run on the beach and, when we got back, I attempted mozzarella. I seem to have actually produced rather elaborate, smooth cottage cheese, but I'm not sure where I went wrong. Certainly, now that I look at other sets of instructions with actual photos, the liquid that I had left after the curds separated was too cloudy. I did think that that was the case and leave it a little longer to see if it separated more, though, and it didn't. I guess I'll have to find some other instructions and try again.

Edit: Ok, turns out the HFW misses out a couple of steps in the process there. Sigh. On the plus side, I've just done one of the missing steps, and it is now much *more* like mozzarella than it was!
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Esme smells

♥Sep. 7th, 2014 // 05:31 pm
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Or at least that's what Gytha and Magrat seem to think:



We were planting bulbs in the lawn this afternoon, using the 'dig up a square of turf, throw bulbs in hole, stick turf back in place' method. This generated quite a few worms, which (after The Food Bringer--that would be me--had taken one over to give them the idea) they were very happy to have Mike ferry to their food dish for them to nosh on. I'm not sure, given the age when we got them, that they'll ever be tame enough to follow us around as we garden, but they might be.

A passing comment from [personal profile] desperance got me thinking about Balsamic Salt, and that lead to rooting around online to see if it was a Christmas Hamper Worthy thing to make. There seem to be two methods: reduce the vinegar, mix with the salt, dry out in the oven; or mix the vinegar with water, dissolve the salt in it and then get it to crystalise out. The latter seemed tediously slow, so:


I roughly followed this Google-translated German recipe, except for the bit that made no sense (reducing 50ml of vinegar to 3 tablespoons would be a bit pointless) and doubling the oven time (the baking part would be Much Easier with the Aga on). So, Balsamic Salt:


Other than on tomatoes (fingers crossed for the veg box) and just with bread and butter, suggestions welcome for trying it out!
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Yum

♥Aug. 29th, 2014 // 07:57 pm
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Fizz and home made peach juice: yum!

(Yesterday, I made edlerberry and blackberry cordial, with cinnamon and cloves. Also tasty, but I think more of a drink to have with hot water than with fizz.)
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Foraging

♥Aug. 27th, 2014 // 05:39 pm
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Today, I have:
- picked 2.2kg of sloes, mostly from our field but a few from the bush at the end of the road, currently in the freezer (because, really, why would you faff about pricking each one with a pin when you can just do that instead?) awaiting combination with four bottles of gin to give six bottles of sloe gin;
- picked just over a kilo of blackberries, mostly from the woods (have also noted the bushes with lots of nearly-ripe ones!), which are in the freezer in four different bags;
- set two bowls of peaches (picked up by Mike in town for £1.50, and really needing to be sold that cheaply) to juicing;
- harvested most of the hop flowers, taken off the leaves, made a few stems into a little wreath and put the lot on the airer to dry;
- checked that our existing hop plant, which we found in the bee garden this year, didn't have any flowers: must be a male;
- planted the Canterbury Bells that the woman from the top of the hill left by the gate for me (she'd promised me some as they started to die back; as I came back from blackberrying, she said "I hope that the ducks won't have eaten them" but I was able to reassure her that they're not all that into plants); and
- got generally scratched, stung and pricked all over my arms and hands: short sleeves not the best idea when picking sloes....

I made the first batch of juice from out apples a few days ago: it's a wee bit sour for me, and the apples took forever to cook down so it's also a bit watery, but later ones should be better. The apples are noticably bigger than last year, from having been thinned out a few months ago. We did go up to the Minnis a few days ago, but the wilder apples there weren't ready for picking.

Oh, and ridden, mucked out and poo picked. We had a bedding delivery today: the pallet is currently by the gate, and Mike's just said "How about if we go and move the bedding into the tack room now?"
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Ovens

♥Jul. 9th, 2014 // 11:00 pm
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So, I made a cake in the electric oven today. And it's a wee bit soggy in the middle.

"You know," I said to Mike, "I think that that oven runs a bit cold. I've had this sort of thing before."
"Oh, no," he replied, "I tested it with a thermometer!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes! Oh, wait, were you using the temperature for the fan oven?"
"Well, yes?"
"Oh, I always add about ten degrees to that."
"But it doesn't run cold?
"No, not at all! You just have to add ten degrees when you have it on the fan setting...."
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It must be summer

♥Jul. 3rd, 2014 // 04:39 pm
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Mike's turned the Aga off. No more fresh Aga muffins.... I'll have to dust off the toaster, too.

(Hmm. I've just realised that he did so while there was a pot of stock in there. a) I wonder if there will be enough residual heat to finish the stock off and b) I'm really glad that I remembered that before we next used the oven, which is what usually happens!)

I've just been thinning out the (good) apple tree. I've got quite a basket full, and some of the ones that I left behind are starting to turn reddish. I wonder if it's worth juicing them or if it would be horrible?
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Proof

♥Jun. 13th, 2014 // 08:29 pm
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Because there are those out there who continue to believe that I can't actually cook....



Nom. I went for the bain-marie method with the Hollandaise. It was quite tedious, but I do now know that I can pretty much ignore it for five minutes after adding the butter and *then* go and whisk frantically.

Agas are good for melting butter [g].

The Turkish Delight is also pretty tasty. Can't tell that it has the strawberries in, though. I have idle thoughts about fennel Turkish Delight: our fennel is doing pretty well out in the garden.
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Prickly

♥Jun. 13th, 2014 // 06:08 pm
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Some of the smaller paths through the woods are getting a bit brambly. I might have to stop using them, at least when I'm wearing linen trousers!



(Do all brambles generate blackberries? What's the difference between the pink flowered and the white?)

This afternoon, I've been making elderflower cordial and elderflower-and-wild-strawberry* Turkish Delight, which is a Bit Experimental.

* Shortly after wistfully telling [livejournal.com profile] dorispossum that I wished we had some wild strawberries in the garden, she kindly sent me some from her garden. About a week later, the bank at the side of our riding arena became covered in tiny white flowers.... I had to go along there to get to one of the elder trees, and I figured that I may as well pick a handful of strawberries while I was at it.

I saw TWWOTV, earlier: she told me (very pleased with herself) that she was replacing the knackered gates at the end of the valley, which I already knew (and was puzzled by: last time we spoke about them, she said she wouldn't get them replaced because someone would steal them. Boggle), and that she was going to put a proper horse latch on it, 'just for me'. She then went on about how it was going to cost an extra £60, but fortunately I'd already jumped in with "Oh, there's really no need, just get a gate with hinges and a latch that are in working order," so she couldn't even /hint/ that we should pay for it: I strongly suspect that that was her plan.

On the down side, the farmer is now going to graze the valley much more often, so we'll have to faff about opening and closing the gates every time we go out.

Salmon and asparagus and baby veg and new potatoes and hollandaise, and possibly Mrs Next Door, for dinner. Mr Next Door will be late home: she's sent him to Dorset to pick up a cot. More boggle.
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Hollandaise

♥Jun. 9th, 2014 // 06:53 pm
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So, Mike's away this weekend, and some daytimes week, which means that I get to eat lots of tasty things that he doesn't like.

I'd already pencilled in a nice bit of salmon*, and Mike pointed out that I could have a nice poached duck egg on a muffin, so I went to put Hollandaise sauce on the shopping list and then thought "hmmmm...."

* And some chicken livers if I can get them. But not relevant here.

The first recipe looked very tedious (whisk the ingredients for fifteen minutes over a pan of simmering water) but I was more taken with the second (put a pint of boiling water in your food processor. Turn it on briefly then throw it away. Now add the ingredients). But they had different ingredients, as did all of the other recipes in the other books. One book even had two different sets of ingredients. So: eggs, lemon juice, butter. Then what? Wine vinegar? Mustard? Shallots? Sugar? Salt and pepper? Something else entirely? What's the One True Recipe?

Fight!
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Buttery

♥May. 17th, 2014 // 09:00 pm
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Butter

♥May. 17th, 2014 // 05:28 pm
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One of this morning's errands was a trip to the farm shop: we wanted to try their bacon, and were nearly out of milk. I hadn't realised that they sell Proper Milk, with nothing but bottling done to it: I got a bottle of that and a tub of their cream, because I've wanted to have a go at making butter for a while.

I'm rather surprised that none of our cook books give instructions. I even, in desperation but with awareness that any instructions were unlikely to involve a Kenwood Chef, looked at my Omar's school domestic science text book, which contains such helpful information for pioneering farmer's wives as how to cut up a cow: it has a section on making cheese, but not one on butter. Too hot in the veldt, presumably.

Ah well: the internet will provide, and it's not like it's *that* complicated.

Much to their annoyance, the boys have their muzzles back on: Mike continues to be soft, but I told him that it was that or no hay overnight, and he relented. GB does seem to have figured out how to eat through it, but the last time I looked the Baby was just lying down, going "I am weak! Weak with hunger!"

I've been staining the garden furniture. I *was* going to say that I'd done all the small chairs, but I just looked on the front patio and remembered that there are a couple of them out there as well.
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Drip. Drip. Drip.

♥May. 1st, 2014 // 06:16 pm
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(That's the noise that the ponies are making. I think we'd better go and let them in a bit earlier than usual!)

Why doesn't our lawn look like this...?

Mike's obviously not trying hard enough. And not using a tractor.

We went on a small excursion today, as we needed three things:
- vegetable stock, or celery to make same (bizarrely, the Marigold that we use has lactose as an actual ingredient, not as a part of an ingredient. The low salt Marigold doesn't, nor does the vegan one, just the regular variety. This is odd and stupid)
- a dried flower arrangement (having decided that it's now warm enough that we're not going to need a fire, I tidied up the fireplace today and wanted something to pretty it up. My apologies for the inevitable upcoming cold snap)
- to pop to the vet and check what the pooch weighs (I came back from Eastercon, having not seen her for a few days, and thought she was looking a bit tubby. As it turns out, she's bang on where she was last time - 35.5kg - so that's good)

In a one of those lovely coincidences, we managed all three things in a single stop: Jodie's vet is in a farm courtyard that also has a somewhat odd farm shop (big on cake decorating, runs courses in it; also sells incredibly fancy food) and a rather expensive florist that specialises in hops and dried flowers (as they grow it all on the farm). Handy!

In the florist, I was wavering between three different arrangements (actually, there was one that I *really* liked but I know Mike wouldn't let me spend £50 on dried flowers!). I asked Mike which he preferred: the one with the blue flowers, the one that was just wheat or the one made from different shades of grasses. He was much keener on the blue one, as the others were all too beige, until I suggested that he look at the prices. "Ok, the beige one is growing on me...."

We also picked up a Hops plant, as an experiment. We'll need to rig up a wire on the front wall of the house for it to climb up. I'd never really considered it, but I hadn't realised that hops is a perennial: we're apparently not to expect much from it this year.

Made macarons, in what I'm sure was exactly the same way as last time. They didn't go splat and look like they should, though I've not yet assembled and eaten one. God knows.
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Job of the day

♥Apr. 9th, 2014 // 06:13 pm
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This morning, I was poo picking in the field when I saw a man in hi-viz having a shouted long-distance conversation with TWWOTV, which ended with him walking towards our house. So I popped down the hill, and he said he was there to read the electricity meter. I took him inside, and he sighed and said "That's not it...." I checked the address, and it was our house but TWWOTV's name, so I sent him back to her, and went back to the poo. When I'd finished, I saw the pair of them walking down from her house to the farm yard, and went over to see what was up: it wasn't the meter in her house, either. Then she remembered that she had one in the farm yard, and that one had the right code number on it, much to everyone's relief.

The chap turned out to be a roving, trouble-shooting meter reader: every month, he gets a list of about a hundred meters that the regular meter readers haven't been able to find / get access to for a long time, and he drives around the countryside trying to find them, with a big pile of maps and a willingness to knock on all the nearby doors until he manages to find someone who can help. As I came back to the house, TWOOTV was looking at his list and giving him directions to all the local farms that he had to find.

On a lovely spring day like today, that's a pretty cool job to have, I'd have thought!

Yesterday, while we were riding (hence long-distance photo!), we saw a few of these flowers. I can't decide if it's something like a hyacinth or if it's an early orchid:


(They were, I think, much pinker in real life.)
Must go up there on foot for a closer look.

More bluebells! I'll stop soon, but they did look lovely in the sun today:


And more white ones, too:


I experimentally picked some wood anemones, today. I suspect that they won't last long, although they did feel slightly more robust than I expected when I was picking them:

Must speak to Top Of The Hill about digging some of them up for our garden. (Although, naughtily, I'd rather have some from a patch in the Forestry Commission woods that has some lovely pink ones as well... decisions, decisions....)

I made macarons, this afternoon, fitted between gardening, walking the pooch and painting some wooden crates. I think that they came out quite well, although I wasn't massively impressed with the recipe listing as ingredients both '1 egg yolk' and '100g of egg white'. I appreciate the variation in eggs, and need for precision, but some sort of idea of how many that would be might have helped (three, it turns out, almost exactly).


Mike's in town today (after spending all of yesterday frantically updating SSL). Jo knows it's nearly time for him to get home: every time I stand up, she runs to the front door, thinking I've heard him....
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New toy!

♥Aug. 31st, 2013 // 09:15 pm
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For my birthday, my mother got me an enormous steamer, which I mostly wanted for making cordial in.

The first try was my standard ginger-and-lemon cordial, which I usually make in the stock pot and then steam. There was something of a fail on my part, when the juice slowly seeped out onto the kitchen counter, where it pooled in the window: after much washing and wiping to de-stickify things, I ended up with about a (litre) bottle of juice, when I would normally make four bottles with the same ingredients. Even without the leak, I suspect that it would only have made a couple of bottles at best. It wasn't nearly as gingery as with the other method, but you could taste the honey much more when it hadn't been simmered to death.

Next up, I got Mike to get a couple of bags of plums with the veg box*. They made a very, very purple juice that didn't taste desperately of plums.

* Gosh, but we're eating a lot of veg. I suspect that Mike might struggle a bit when Brassica Time comes, but so far we're enjoying it, and the add-on fruit really is very good. Does anyone have any cucumber suggestions? Mike loathes it, I'll eat it if it's in my sandwich but wouldn't add it voluntarily. I suppose I'll have to pickle them, or something? (We're only allowed two do-not-wants, and we've taken them with cauliflower -- my least favourite brassica -- and celery -- which even I will pick out if it's not rude to do so.)

Today, having yesterday passed a stall in Canterbury that was selling two punnets of local** strawberries for £2.50, I tried those out. I got about a bottle and a third of juice from them, and I think it's lovely: Mike's not so keen, but then he doesn't like the taste of cooked strawberries, and I do. There was a very dramatic moment when, having been out and about for a while, I'd not obsessively lifted the lid to check on the fruit for nearly an hour. When I did, the slightly-grey-looking strawberries visibly shrivelled and collapsed in the time that it took for my glasses to completely steam up.

** I'm fairly sure that they actually were local: the sign had the name of the farm on it....

I suspect that there will be more experimentation in future! I might go and have a look at the apple trees tomorrow, to see what's happening there. (They're annoyingly tucked away in the corner of the garden. Last time I looked was a week ago, when there were a few windfalls on the floor. We don't even know if they're cookers or eaters!)

In other news, today our fencing work finally started: they've ripped out all of the old fencing, and are getting ready to put the new posts in tomorrow. I spent a fun hour out in the field going across the line of the old dividing fence (which we're not replacing: we'll use electric tape to strip graze instead) filling in the holes with A Conveniently Available Organic Material, which the boys helpfully provided.

Although it was a lovely day, and scorchingly hot in the conservatory when we popped in there this afternoon, it's now a bit bloody chilly out here beyond the heat island. I've got to go and give the boys their hay*** in a minutes, and I'm wondering if I should go and get some socks.

*** I finally got around to calling the guy who farms the valley, who had, we think, been ordered to supply us by the Woman Who Owns The Valley. He brought a (round) bale the same day, for us to try, and today we've rearranged the barn so that we'll be able to fit eight of them in, which Mike calculates should be very nearly, if not actually, enough to see us through.
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