Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Late August

I'm not absolutely sure that that pumpkin is a pumpkin.  We picked it on Sunday (and VERY heavy it was too).  I knew that the skin hadn't hardened enough for storage but we hadn't intended to store it anyway.  I am also aware that not all pumpkins are orange - and I had bought a pumpkin seedling with a picture of a blue-green fruit.  But when I got it inside and began to cut it up - it looked more squash like to me.  And it's roasting well and making nice soup.  But I have a suspicion it is probably a marrow gone demented.  I'm not really sure what it is.  It's a cucurbit of some sort!!!!!!!  A lesson to me that I really ought to grow my veg from seed.  Garden centres are a bit inclined, sometimes, not to be quite as accurate as you might wish with their labelling.

The other plants are doing quite well.  The weather has changed this last week to a more autumnal feel.  But at the same time, the days are warmer than they were for most of August and there is a lot more sunshine.  So finally things are starting to flourish.  We are getting zucchinis of various sorts and the cucumbers are starting to come along nicely.  We are getting squashes from the plant in the allotment greenhouse, although not yet from the plant in the garden, happy though it seems.  But if the weather holds and we don't get any early frosts - there is still time.  We are getting lots of tomatoes, lots of chard, a reasonable number of runner beans, and are about to pull the last cabbage from those poor plants that we put out last year and which got battered nearly to death by all that snow over the winter.  They took a long time to recover, but have been well-worth waiting for.

The Builder has now dug the allotment bed which has had a mountain of manure on it for the last year.  And he has been weeding everywhere.

There are SIX plums on the plum tree.  We thought there was only one. They are very nearly ready to eat.  So too are the apples.  There are quite a lot of apples this year - although I am planning to prune the trees quite hard this year so we may not get many next year.  And I must, must, must prune the cherry trees.  It's nearly too late for this year.

By way of an experiment, we have just sown a packet of early peas behind the leeks. The Organic Gardening website says that if the weather holds fair to the end of autumn, there might be a final picking. But I must remember next year just to keep sowing into August.  I stopped this year for some reason

The chooks seem to be quite happy. We get four eggs on most days.  One of the black hens (Schnitzel, I think) tried hard to go broody yesterday, but I think we have dissuaded her.  Ruthlessly picking her up and moving ehr out of the nest box while offering tasty tidbits seems to have convinced her of the error of her ways.

More photos here

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We were so, so lucky with the weather

We hosted a 25th birthday bash for Freyja on Sunday afternoon.  We had about 20 people all told, including us. It would almost certainly have been possible to fit everyone into the house, but these sorts of events are so much nicer when held outside. Besides, people wanted to play with the chickens and admire my huge pumpkin and potter about.

The weather on Saturday had been a bit showery - mostly sunny but you couldn't have guaranteed no rain.  The weather yesterday was extremely showery during the afternoon. Not good weather for being outside at all.  The weather on Sunday was absolutely glorious.  Truly lovely.  Sunny, warm, slight breeze. Absolutely ideal for sitting out on the patio and drinking beer and eating lasagne and pizza, followed by plum crumble, apple and gooseberry crumble, and chocolate mousse and cookies (Freyja made the mousse and Taffa and Gaz the cookies).  There were old school friends of Freyja's and some of her new friends there.  Taffa, Gaz, Ginger Rich and Marryk came. It was a lovely afternoon.  The Builder and I had a lovely time - even if we had spent all of Saturday and all of Sunday morning cooking and peeling and washing and tidying and generally getting ready.

The creating of the lasagne on Saturday afternoon was enlivened by the resolute refusal of my pasta making machine to rotate its rollers. Nearly led to an unexpected divorce between The Builder and me (it is not a good idea, when I am clearly struggling to make something work that doesn't want to work, to tell me that the object in question isn't working.  I KNOW IT'S NOT BLUDDY WORKING!!!!!!!).  He took the machine apart.  No obvious reason why the rollers weren't rotating.  Put it back together again.  Nope.  Still not rotating.  Threw the pasta maker away.  I have to say that I don't really expect my hand operated machines to die on me :-(  Fortunately, my trusty wooden rolling pin rode in to the rescue - and made absolutely beautiful lasagne sheets (demonstrating, by the by, that the pasta making machine hadn't been working properly for a long time!!).  I have always understood that it is nigh on impossible to roll pasta sheets thinly enough with a rolling pin.  This is emphatically not true!!

In the meantime, The Builder took himself into Sheffield on a much more successful mission to help Gaz make their washing machine work.  Freyja's washing machine is not working - but her landlord can sort that out.

The little IT company that Freyja works for has hidden its offices in a quiet, little, out of the way corner of Woodseats.  It took The Builder and me a very long time indeed to find them on Friday afternoon.  (They obviously hadn't tried hard enough to hide away!!) Should have asked Jenny.  She'd have found it for us

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Accidental Veganism

Well, not really.  Not unless one meal counts!

The Builder found two quite sizable patty pan squashes in the greenhouse on the allotment (it had grown without permission - we wouldn't usually put squash vines in the greenhouse). They were hidden behind some leaves and neither of us had noticed them.  I decided they were too large to use for ordinary purposes and nowhere near large enough to use in the place of pumpkins and decided to have them stuffed and baked.

What to stuff them with?

Aha.  Something very akin to tabbouleh.  I had parsley and mint growing in abundance in the garden.  I had cherry tomatoes in a dish in the kitchen.  I had burghal wheat in the store cupboard.  I replaced the traditional cucumber with caramelised onions and garlic, soaked the wheat, mixed the chopped herbs and tomatoes together in with the wheat and onions. Then I halved the squashes, hollowed out the seedy bit and stuffed them with the tabbouleh.  I covered them with foil and baked them in a moderate oven for about an hour, then took the foil off and left them in the oven until the wheat had started to toast a bit.  I served them with a tin of chopped tomatoes which I reduced down to thicken and mixed with a black bean sauce and some homemade chips.

It was extremely delicious.  Ordinarily I would have added some cheese or some plain yoghurt but we didn't have any of either. 

And thus, accidentally, we had a vegan meal last night.  Oh - and a vegan lunch today.  We had the leftovers for lunch, with some raspberries and a chocolate sauce to follow.  The chocolate sauce is also vegan-friendly!!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mid-August

The Under-Gardener (or in this case, more properly, the sous-chef!) has now peeled all the onions and I have sorted them and prepped them for the freezer. He has also now dug all the potatoes except for the fancy blue and black ones which are still flowering.  We have done spectacularly well for potatoes this year.  The four drawers in the cellar are full and we now also have four hessian sacks full in the upstairs cupboard on the landing (the only place we could think of which is dark, cool and not damp!).  There are three or so buckets of spoiled or wormy or very small potatoes.  We are processing those for the freezer or for the chooks.

The sweetcorn on the allotment has had a very hard year.  It germinated very slowly and very, very patchily.  Some of it is just starting to germinate now!  The leeks behind them, however, seem to be entirely happy and are growing slowly but cheerily.

We have LOTS of tomatoes coming along in the greenhouse.  I was looking at them yesterday and wondering what I could do with a greenhouse full of green tomatoes.  Then rememebred that it is only mid-August and they have lots and lots of time to turn red!!  We also have some very tiny capsicums nearly ready to eat.  And that strange cucurbit is a patty pan squash.  We found two huge (well, comparatively speaking) squashes hidden behind the leaves.  Much, much bigger than you're supposed to harvest them.

The late peas also seem happy.  The allotment is doing well this year.

And so is the kitchen garden.  You can almost watch that pumpkin growing - although there has only been one that has successfully set.  Still, that one should be more than enough.  The cucumber is nearly big enough to eat and there are lots more coming along behind it.  The zucchinis had *finally* started to fruit, although the watermeklon plants have yet to achieve a single flower.  The runner beans are growing.  The drying beans look amazing and the chard is delicious.

Now we really must turn our attention to the flower beds and the front porch.  And we need to sort out the patio.  I seem to have guests expected for lunch this coming Sunday.

We sat out on the patio last evening for a couple of hours, in the evening sunshine.  It was all very lovely

You'll find the most recent photos here - although not the chard and the drying beans which I forgot about

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lots of lovely food

We went to Salisbury for the weekend and had lots and lots of really lovely food.

We called at The Air Balloon near Gloucester for lunch on our way down. We knew that we would be eating at The Swan in the evening so decided not to have substantial lunches.  I was tempted by the ploughmans' platter (cheddar, ham, bread, pickles, apple) - but then I noticed the deli platter which had shropshire blue, chicken breast, ham, bread, pickles, salad, and which was 50p cheaper.  I had that instead.  And very delicious it was too.

It was lovely to be back at The Swan in Stoford.  We haven't been for ages (Dorset and Edinburgh intervened!).  They've got a new chef in the kitchen.  And he delivered the most scrumptious lobster linguine in a creamy bisque sauce.  I really, really shouldn't have had the bread and the chips before hand!!  It really was delicious.  The new chef also doesn't appear to have the previous chef's devotion to highly salted food.  I didn't come away with a raging thirst and indigestion.  Although - I suppose the lack of raging thirst meant that we didn't require a second bottle of wine (which might also account for the lack of indigestion), so I suppose the salty chef might have had method in his seasoning habits!!

No need to discuss breakfast.  Breakfast at The Swan is always a treat.  Although they have additional things on their breakfast menu which looked quite tempting.

We had lunch with The Builder's mum at the Spread Eagle in Stourton, just outside the Stourhead gardens. He and she had roast beef - and declared it to be more than satisfactory.  I didn't.  I was rather surprised to find a roast scallop salad on the menu - and had that.  The scallops were lovely.  (The salad was fine too, but the scallops really were lovely, and there were lots of them.)  The only downside to sitting outside in the cobbled courtyard and eating our lunch in the sunshine was the wasps. There were hundreds of them and the wasp traps weren't working all that well.  Should have taken the Aeroguard!!

Oh dear, oh dear

... this move had not been going well.

The Builder and I found Taffa and Gaz this lovely house in Woodseats.  Two nice large bedrooms, good sized bathroom and kitchen.  Lounge room not all that big but certainly big enough to be acceptable.  Far and away the nicest house we looked at on their behalf.

And - it filled the most important specification of having a bit of lawn for the rabbits to hop about on.

We  recommended that they take it.

And they did.

Taffa started her new job (which didn't go all that well because her new line manager had no idea she was coming!).  She ambled around to the new house to have a sticky.

And found that the lawn had been dug up and permalining had been laid down and covered with a big thick layer of large pebbles!!!!

Oops :-(

They moved in at the weekend. And found that the lounge room wall was covered in mould, the skirting board had furry mould growing on it.  And the cellar wasn't quite flooded but was as near as dammit.

There was no mould when we inspected the place a fortnight ago.

Things took a distinct turn for the worst when they then discovered that the gas and electricity are on pre-payment meters.  Nobody had mentioned this to The Builder and me.  Nobody had mentioned it to Taffa or Gaz.  Nobody, in fact, had mentioned it at all.  Not even when Gareth picked up the keys.  First anyone knew was when Taffa and Gaz went to investigate why they had no electricity in the house.  It is, of course, not a catastrophe having a pre-payment meter.  But had we known we would never have recommended they take it.  Had they known, they wouldn't have taken it.  This, apparently, is something of a surprise to the estate agent.  But pre-payment meters are far and away the most expensive way of paying for gas and electricity and there is no possibility of getting any of the substantial discounts that, say, The Builder and I get for having both gas and electricity through the same supplier and for paying by direct debit and for having online accounts. And somebody really ought to have pointed out that they would need an electricity card before they would get power into the house on the evening they moved in.

They decamped to Freyja's while they thought about all of this.

I think the big issue is the mould.  Not healthy living in a mouldy house.  And if it is furry with mould in August - what will it be like in February?

In the meantime, The Builder and I went to Salisbury for the weekend and ate lots of lovely food.  We also took The Builder's mum to Stourhead near Frome and went for a lovely walk in the sunshine around the gardens - taking care this time that we observed the "disabled access" signs and didn't try to throw her down a cliff by rolling the wheelchair down steep, winding and uneven paths.

It's Freyja's birthday tomorrow.  She'll be fifteen.  (Although her Facebook page seems to think that she'll be twenty-five.  I don't think that can be right, though!!!)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Focaccia

Lindsey has been off taking baking courses.  She has learned how to make bread and donuts - and focaccia.

This is her first focaccia

I think Lindsey should be sending me samples instead of photos

And very tasty it looks too.



I was pottering around in the kitchen last evening and suddenly thought: "Bother!  No bread.  What to do about tomorrow's lunches?"  There was no bread in the freezer.  Too late to go to the shop. Absolutely not inclined to hop in the car at that time in the evening and go to the supermarket.  I thought of Lindsey's focaccia.  I had a quick look at a recipe and decided I didn't have time for all the kneading and rising and kneading and rising.  But there was no reason why I shouldn't make a variation.

So I took two teaspoons of dried yeast and dissolved them in a jug of milk warmed with a little boiling water (it was blood temperature after that).  I think it was probably about 500ml of liquid.  Then I whisked in enough bread flour to make a very loose dough.  More liquid than solid in that I don't think you could have rolled it out.  But much thicker than a batter.  I covered my mixing bowl with plastic wrap, sat it on the dresser in the dining room and wandered off until this morning.

This morning I poured the dough onto a small baking tray lined with baking parchment and dotted strips of ham and halved cherry tomatoes over the top.  Then I baked it at 180d for about 30 minutes.  Then I turned the oven off and scattered grated cheese over the top and left it in the oven for another ten minutes just to sit and think for a bit.

So that's lunch sorted.  I wonder if I'll be able to duplicate it the next time there's a bread famine at our place?

I hope it's as tasty as it looks!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ham, roast potatoes and veg for dinner

So.  My "ham" has been soaking in its salt, treacle and water bath in the bottom of the fridge for three weeks.  Somewhat tentatively, I took it out last evening.

It looked OK.  It smelled OK.  I took it out, rinsed it thoroughly off, patted it dry and put it into a pot with hot water, two bay leaves and a finely chopped onion to simmer for an hour or so.

Then I anointed it with a local flower honey and put it into a moderate oven with some home grown fluffy potatoes to roast for another hour.

It tasted rather nice. The stock that it was simmered in is definitely rather nice - I've reserved it for use in soups or stews.  The cured pork is perhaps a little salty for my taste (although the stock isn't particularly).  I think next time I'll reduce the salt level a little bit and up the treacle level.  I might also give it a go using honey instead of treacle and see what happens.

I really must also have a go at dry curing - although I think that will definitely be too salty for me.

So a huge thank you to Fiona and Danny at the Cottage Smallholder blog. I'd never quite have got the courage together to experiment with wet curing ham and bacon before I had read about their endeavours and experiments.

Oh - we had the cured pork last night with home grown vegetables as well as the potatoes, and a grainy mustard gravy.  It was a great success.  And there's lots more for lunches and dinners for the rest of the week.

Home cured pork and home grown roast potatoes

... and our vegetable selection for the evening

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

So.  Off we went to Cambridge.

It was a trip with mixed purposes really.  Tabitha was starting her new job at the Archer Road Sainsbury's on Monday morning and needed to get to Sheffield with some of her stuff.  So we thought we might go down, collect her and bring her back, and also, while we were there, take Joan out for lunch.  We hadn't seen her since Taffa's birthday back in June and we do like to pop down every now and then.

And it all worked out quite well.  We had a lovely trip down on nearly deserted roads. We went to The Green Man in Trumpington for lunch. None of us had ever been before, although Tabitha and Gareth had heard good things about it.  I had tried a couple of other places which had been booked up and happened across the Green Man when I was browsing for other likely candidates (I needed a pub with easy car access so Joan didn't have to walk too far, and didn't want just to book into the Old Crown or the Travellers' Rest, both of which would satisfy that requirement and the good food requirement - but wouldn't add a lot of excitement to Joan's Sunday!).  The Green Man was a Very Good Find indeed.  I must remember it for the future - although we have, of course, now lost our Cambridge base.  I wonder if I can afford a holiday canal on the Cam?

Anyway.  We made a good lunch, took Joan home, got Taffa sorted out and abandoned Gaz to a week of packing, sorting, cleaning, tidying and generally readying the house to hand it back later in the week.  Taffa came to stay at our place on Sunday night.  She had to be at Sainsbury's for a seven o'clock start :-S  and Freyja wasn't at home on Sunday evening so it wasn't entirely convenient to stay there.

That meant that we had to leave our place at 06:30 on Monday morning :-S.  There was, naturally, no traffic on the roads at that time on an August Monday morning.  Taffa was at work for 06:50.  I was sat at my desk at 07:10, wondering quite what I was going to do next!!  Not only that - I had to stay until 5 as I was on the helpdesk until then!!  Did fabulous things for my hours :-)

It seems that when Tabitha arrived, the HR department and the store Assistant Manager knew that she was turning up.  But nobody else did.  Including the manager of her new section.  He didn't know he was getting any new staff at all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

On the other hand, they did get the house they had applied for.  It's rather a nice terrace in Woodseats on the southern edge of Sheffield. It's near the Woodseats shops and not all that far from Taffa's new Sainsbury's. The rabbits may think the garden is a bit on the small side - but the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms are quite big.

Freyja, in the meantime, was at Goodwood Park in Suffolk for the weekend.  Roller skating a marathon.  26.6 miles!  She says she probably did 26.8 miles because twice her hat fell off and she had to go back for it.  And in the first lap she tumbled over and scored a mighty bruise on her bottom.  And she completed the marathon in 2 hours and 46 minutes.  She has a t-shirt.  And a medal.  And the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls have raised over £1000 for the Children's Hospital appeal

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Wedding anniversary - so soon!!!

It was our wedding anniversary yesterday.  Who would have expected it to creep up on us so fast?

Although - I know that most years I comment on how a particular date or event in the future seems like such a long time away when you first organise it, but then *suddenly*, there it is, right upon you.  This year, though, I have been much more aware of time passing.  I think it might have been all that snow and the slow, slow start to spring.  It seemed to slow time down as well as everything else.

And then, suddenly, there it was.  The Builder and I have been married a year!!

Last year we marked the marriage with a long weekend of feasting.  Couldn't quite manage that this year, but we gave it a good shot.  The Builder had asked for roast lamb for the celebration evening meal.  So we had that, with our own potatoes and vegetables.  I even made a rather nice seafood soup to precede it.  And to precede that - we went on an impulse to The Nettle for a celebration lunch.  And, of course, there was lots of wine.

So a well-celebrated anniversary I think.  And now I really must get up.  There is lots to do this morning and we are leaving in a couple of hours for a quick dash to Cambridge

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Custard kisses, cinnamon swirls and chocolate bites

I finally got around to reading my August issue of the BBC Good food magazine a week or so ago.  The monthly issue tends to come out just before the beginning of the previous month (which greatly confuses me sometimes, when they are talking about "What's in season now" and it won't be for another 5 or 6 weeks!!).

In it was a section on easy bakes for afternoon teas or, I guess, picnics.

I decided to have a go at the biscuits.

First the custard kisses (which are remarkably like custard creams - only I suppose the name "custard creams" is probably trade marked).

I followed this recipe . Well - more or less.  I don't have vanilla essence but I do have vanilla infused caster sugar so used that instead.  And I don't think I can have rolled the dough out properly.  I only used half of it.

So I used the other half to make these

And very delicious they both were

The Builder tasted the custard kisses.  "Oooooo," he said.  "Custard creams.  Very nearly my most favourite biscuit ever!"  And what are the most favourite?  Chocolate bourbons.  I shouldn't have thought it would be too hard to adapt the custard biscuit recipe. And it wasn't.  I substituted 10g of Black and Greens cocoa for 10g of flour in the biscuit base, and added a splosh of cocoa to the butter cream and lo - chocolate bites (I suppose the name "chocolate bourbon" might also be trade marked).

I took some in to work.  They disappeared quite quickly.

I was musing that using the Good Food ruler idea to get uniformly sized biscuits was a good one, but that I would rather have had oblong biscuits.  More or less the size of a domino.  Maybe I should find a domino and use it as a template. Clearly obsessing over the ruler!!  I could, of course, just get biscuit cutters (or use double the width of the ruler in one direction!)


A quiet few days

We've had quite a quiet few days lately, mostly being gently busy at home.

We did go to visit our friends Sue and Roger in Sheffield on Saturday evening for a very pleasant evening of food, conversation and apple juice.  (I am not usually a big fan of apple juice, but I have recently discovered in the Chatsworth shop a pressed Bramley apple juice which I do rather like, especially mixed with soda water.)  We haven't seen Sue and Roger for simply ages so it was lovely to have chance to catch up.

And that's pretty much it, really.  Otherwise we've just pottered.  I've done some cooking.  We've done some gardening and allotmenting. A bit of telly, a bit of radio, a bit of reading.  I come to work, from time to time.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Quite a pleasant way to spend a summer

It's been a bit drizzly for the past couple of weeks, interspersed with heavy showers, bursts of sunshine, a bit of wind.  The drizzle hasn't really been enough to water anything properly.  The ground is still very dry under the larger plants.  The heavy showers have been more interesting.  There was one on Saturday afternoon, while we were down the very back of the garden, which drove us into the greenhouse for 4 or 5 minutes.  After it had stopped, we headed for the car to go to Hasland for some pond supplies.  By the time we got to Grassmoor, about half a mile away, the ground was dry.  The pond supply shop, about 2 miles away, clearly hadn't seen any rain for days!!  A very localised shower indeed.

Our various offsprouts are having a more exciting time.

Austin is in Victoria for a month, eating and drinking his way around various family and friends.

Freyja is preparing for the Goodwood Park Roller Skating marathon next Sunday.  In preparation, she and the Sheffield Steel Roller Girls skated the Humber Bridge last Saturday (I am very jealous about this, though I would prefer to walk over the Humber Bridge rather than skate).  They are doing the marathon to raise money for the Sheffield Children's Hospital.  If you should care to contribute to their fund raising, they have a Just Giving page at http://www.justgiving.com/Sheffield-Steel-Roller-Girls

And today is Tabitha's last day at the Cambridge Sainsbury's. :-(  I think she's going to miss her colleagues there.  She seems to have enjoyed her time with them. But now she has a few days off and then starts at the Sheffield Sainsbury's next Monday.  I'm not sure if they have heard whether they definitely have the house they were after in Woodseats.  I went in to the Estate Agent last Wednesday or Thursday to pay the first month's rent (with their money, I hasten to add - I haven't suddenly acquired mountains of spare cash!!) and the agency was waiting for one remaining reference.  Tabitha is coming up to Sheffield on Sunday evening.  If no house is ready, I suppose she could borrow one of our large cardboard boxes and bung it in Meersbrook Park as a shelter for a day or two!

And The Builder's daughter Jeanette has been having an exciting time too.  For reasons that are unclear to me, they have lately taken up camping and were, I believe, away this last weekend enjoying a couple of nights under canvas.  Yesterday she, Rebecca and Evie enjoyed a pleasant few hours in Accident and emergency - having a bead removed from Evie's ear where she (Evie, not Jeanette) had plunged it in far enough for it to be very difficult to remove!!!  It has now been removed and, I believe, removed from Evie's care as well!

We were busy in the garden this weekend

We had quite a pleasant weekend, weather-wise.  Just one very heavy shower that seemed to centre over Tupton.  It didn't reach up into Grassmoor, which is under a mile away and which was bone dry when we passed through shortly after the shower!  I realise that it's been drizzling on and off for the past fortnight or so - but we still haven't had a great deal of rain. The ground is still quite dry and the water butts are not as full as we might have expected them to be.

We have weeded the beds with the cucurbits. The pumpkin has a small pumpkin growing, and there are a few more female flowers.  There are also a good number of bees, butterflies and hoverflies so I am hopeful the fruits will be pollinated.  There are a few minute cucumbers on the cucumber plant - although the first one got eaten away by something.  I have put a couple of bamboo canes around it and am encouraging it to climb up some string.  I've also done this to the squash in the other corner.  Although it doesn't seem to be flowering at all!  We've mulched the bed with lawn clippings.

We ran out of lawn clippings and dipped into the chooks' straw.  Then we remembered the mound of grass clippings from last year, tucked in the corner of the orchard but buried under all the weeds, rubbish, nettles and wotnots that grow over there.  This year the hens have been keeping it down and we can actually reach the mound.  The Under-Gardener went with the wheelbarrow to get some.  And we found that under the surface we have lots of lovely humus, which we will put on top of the compost heap in due course.

Chooky Sunday Smorgasbord
In the meantime, the chickens thought we had opened up a smorgasbord just for them and had a wonderful afternoon scratching about where the grass mound had been, plucking out grubs and caterpillars and slugs and insects and baby bees and all sorts of things.  The Under Gardener also gave them some of the now ripening ears of corn and wheat that have been growing uninvited in the flower beds.  They thought they were wonderful too.  They did not get their usual early evening Blue Bowl of Supper Snacks yesterday afternoon!!!!!

We had an early picking of (small!) runner beans. The chard is beginning to grow well. And the cabbages and other brassicas that we planted where the peas and broad beans had been are starting to settle in nicely. The grapevine is going great guns

I really think we might even get some Brussels sprouts from the plants that have been in since last autumn, probably in time for Christmas!!!

I have cleared around the red rose by the pond. We can now see it - and I have dead-headed it (at long last!).  I was quite startled to find an ENORMOUS caterpillar while I was in there.  For a brief moment I thought it was a lizard!

I believe it is the caterpillar of the Elephant Hawk moth.  

Up on the allotment, the potatoes are going great guns and the tomatoes and pepper plant in the greenhouse are doing really well.  On the other hand, the onions did not enjoy the very dry spring and early summer and have not flourished.  The under Gardener has been pulling them and putting them into sacks.  But I think it will be better if we prep them and put them in the freezer.  They don't look to me as though they will keep over the winter.  Oh - and that cucurbit that appeared uninvited by the pepper plant looks very much as though it might be a patty pan squash.  It only has one fruit on so far and is growing extremely vigorously. I am hopeful that we might get a few more fruits.

We are preparing the middle bit of the allotment to be divided off from all the vegetable plots. Then we will plant fruit trees and bushes in the larger sub-division and use the smaller sub-division as a utility area and put a little shed there, and a proper compost heap.  At the moment the remains of the dung heap are there.  The bed where the dung heap was is going to be dug over, probably in the autumn.

We've sorted out the salad boxes, de-slugged and snailed them, planted up new ones and moved them all to the house side of the driveway.

Now we just need to sort out the front porch-without-a-roof and the flower garden and we'll be getting somewhere!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Bacon and eggs.

A week or so ago I tried my hand at making bacon using belly strips which came from the half pig from the local farm and a water, salt and black treacle wet cure I found on the Cottage Smallholder blog.  The bacon was tasty but perhaps a little fatty and maybe just a tad on the salty side.

I decided to have a go using back loin and reducing the salt just a little bit.  So I got a small-ish piece of back loin and used 80g of salt instead of 100g.  I also got The Builder to sharpen my carving knife to within an inch of its life!  After 4 days I took the chunk of loin from the salt and treacle bath, patted it dry and put it in the freezer for 40 minutes in the hope that that would aid the slicing process. It did, together with the nicely sharp carving knife - but if I'm going to carry on with this activity, I may need to invest in a proper slicer.

The end result looked like this:

Home cured bacon and eggs from our hens
The bacon was very nice, but not quite flavoured enough.  I think I need to add a little more salt and a little more treacle (to offset the drop in the salt).  I am also wondering what would happen if I sliced the pork before putting it into the curing bath. Plus, I am giving a bit of thought to trying a dry cure and then steeping the pork in apple juice and honey or treacle.  But I think I'll master the wet cure first and then experiment!

Saturday breakfast:


We didn't grow the mushrooms, or bake the bread for the toast!!
We had some of the "streaky" bacon with poached eggs on Sunday.  It was saltier than the first lot was had (but not as fatty because I had cut some of the fat off and also butterflied the slices ). But I think that might have been the way I cooked it.

It's quite fun, messing about with making bacon. I must do some more reading!