Friday, September 30, 2011

Spaghetti sauce

I decided that we would have spaghetti for dinner, so took some mince from the freezer to defrost while I went out and earned the money to support the kitchen :-)

When I got home I fried the mince and set it aside while I prepped some veg to add to it.

I sauteed some onion pieces and a couple of cloves of garlic (mushed) and then added lots of chopped tomatoes from our vari-coloured tomato crop.  I added the chopped stalks of some rainbow chard and some chopped zucchini. Then when it was all nearly done I added some sweet corn and the chard leaves, and some marjoram.  All of this came from the garden and the allotment.

When it was all cooked up, this is what I had

It really, really didn't need the mince. It looked delicious all on its own.

However, I had already fried the mince and it doesn't do to be wasteful. So I put it into half of the vegetable stew. The other half I put, meat-free, into the freezer for another time.

It's very pretty - isn't it

Monday, September 26, 2011

Visitors for Sunday Lunch

Ordinarily when we have visitors for Sunday Lunch I roast something. But when the visitors are coming from Nottingham on the bus roasting can be a bit risky. Buses are notoriously unreliable and roasts are not entirely forgiving if they are left in the oven too long. So I decided to make a steak and ale pie, for pies don't take very long to cook once they are assembled.

So I browned some strips of stewing beef and put them in the slow cooker on Saturday evening along with some caramelised onions and chopped tomatoes. I brought to the boil a pint of Ruddles County ale and some gravy I had left over from Friday evening and then added that and set the slow cooker and left it to its own devices.

On Sunday morning I made a batch of short crust pastry and put that in the fridge. Then I ambled out into the garden and collected some sweet corn, some carrots and some rainbow chard or silverbeet. The Builder peeled lots of potatoes to which I added some chopped pumpkin.

The bus, you will not be surprised to hear, was late and so, therefore were the visitors. I put the pie into a moderate oven for 30 minutes and set the potatoes and pumpkin to boil a little after. The vegetables went on a little after that, with the chard leaves thrown in like spinach towards the end of the cooking time.  I mashed the potatoes and pumpkin and we had pie, mash and veg with a little extra gravy that I had made up.  It was extremely tasty.

I had been a bit puzzled about what to do for afters, but thought that steamed puddings are extremely forgiving if left in longer than necessary, as long as you keep the water topped up.  So I made a basic steamed pudding mix and added the zest of a lemon and the juice of half a lemon. I put some stewed plums in the bottom of the pudding basin, added the pudding mix on top and set it to steam happily.  We had it with some home made vanilla ice cream that I had in the fridge. I was going to make a cinnamon custard but we have, for the first time in over a year - Run Out Of Eggs!!!!!!!!!  But the ice cream did quite nicely. And next time I'll put more plums in the pudding basin.

So that was Sunday lunch.  There is enough of the steak and ale stew left for tonight and maybe even tomorrow. And there's quite a bit of mashed potato and pumpkin left too. Cottage pie it is, then

Manor Lodge, Sheffield. And food.

Once upon a time there was a castle in Sheffield. It was comprehensively razed after the English Civil War, so much so that not a trace of it remains. They found bits of it in the 1920s but for all practical purposes it remains only in the name of the area where once it was. And the Castle Market is about to be demolished so there will be almost nothing to suggest that once there stood a castle on that site.

Possibly its most famous resident was Mary Queen of Scots

Anyway. There is also a part of Sheffield called The Manor. I surmised that once there had stood a manor house in that corner of the city but further assumed that when the Parliamentarians demolished the castle they had probably also demolished the manor house. But no. The manor house fell into disrepair rather than being destroyed (although I think that some of the owners might have helped the process along a bit!)  And there are still ruins on the site, plus a complete turret house where Mary Queen of Scots lived in the summer months so she could take her annual exercise.  There is a large park, once a deer park, and they have built a heritage centre. There's also a farm attached to the park.

On Saturday they were having an open day so Tabitha, Gareth, Cally, The Builder and I went along to have a look.  I had absolutely no idea that so close to the city centre there was this large park. I had no idea that there were such beautiful ruins in Sheffield at all. And I had had no idea that the turret house was there. (And I must admit that I wasn't expecting Bess of Hardwick to greet us as we walked into the Turret House - but the lady who did greet us assured us that she was indeed the famous (and long dead!) Bess - and who am I to argue?!?!?

Manor Lodge, Sheffield.
Click on the photo to see the album

We wandered down to look at what was happening at the farm, with the intention of buying lunch at the farm shop/cafe. But the queue was so long that we gave that up as a bad idea and went for a wander around the farm area instead. The local pub doesn't do food. So we hopped back in the car and came into the city centre - which is only a couple of miles away. We ended up in the Rutland Arms, which does do food. Proper, home cooked, basic pub food. Nothing fancy. But what they do do is really rather nice. I haven't had a proper chip butty in years. The Rutland Arms does chip butties with cheese and bacon and spicy tomato sauce. It was delicious!!!!!

Cally had been having a lovely day. She was full of smiles and gurgles and happiness. Until, that is, the food arrived at the pub table.  And none of it was immediately given to her!!!  I think she thought that chips were being withheld and raised a strong protest against this appalling treatment. In fact, the chips were too hot for her and we were waiting for them to cool down. Gaz had to runnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn into the loos and run a couple of chips under the cold water tap so she could have her chips immediately :-D

Barb and her brother Greg were in Nottingham over the weekend at a book convention. They came on a bus to visit us for lunch on Sunday. The bus broke! They had to come a devious way round :-S But they did arrive and we had a lovely catch up and even rather a nice lunch. You can read all about the lunch on the Food Blog (there's a tab at the top of the page that will take you to the food blog). It was a good afternoon.

The sun has come out today and it's pleasantly warm. A little burst of late summer - although we can feel winter approaching. It's dark now when I get up and the mornings are chilly.

Oh - I meant to say. I was putting a new doona cover on the bed on Saturday morning when a movement outside caught my eye. I looked out the window and there on the hedge which separates Steve and Debbie's garden from the one on the other side was a large bird of prey, about the size of a buzzard, eating a collared dove. It probably was a buzzard, although you don't see many around our place. But it had a yellowy, creamy stripe over each eye which went round the back of its head and almost joined up at the back. I didn't think buzzards had stripes over their eyes.  Anyway, it sat there for ages, peacefully eating its lunch, watched by The Builder and me, until Debbie went out to hang up her washing and it flew away. The pigeons sitting in the tree it flew into scarpered extremely quickly, I can tell you!!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The blog disappeared!!!!!!!!!

It did. It completely disappeared. I went to update it yesterday and all I got was a weird error message. I tried again. Still the weird error message. So I tried in IE in case it was a Firefox issue. Nope. Still the same error message. And strangely, the kitchen, garden and hippo blogs were all still there.  Freyja tried down in London on her Mac, in case Meanderings had taken against Sheffield, or Windows. But no.  Meanderings = gone ;-(

And it's surprisingly difficult to report this. There is a Help forum (where the issue was being discussed, so it wasn't just me). But no real indication whether Google was listening or planning to do anything about it. And it crossed my mind that, although I back up the blog every January so I have the previous year both saved to a hard disc and even printed out - I didn't have 2011, which has been quite an eventful year in its way, backed up at all.  Freyja drew my attention to the Google cache. I found the cached version of my blog (hello Meanderings - so good to see you, even if you aren't a live site) and now have a very crude back up Just In Case.  Perhaps I should do this more frequently than annually!!

Anyway. It is, as you see, back now. But it was strangely disconcerting to find it missing. I was surprised by how troubling it was!!

Right. Back to normal.  I have been talking to Stella (as I do :-D )  She reports that they have no less than three scrubbing brushes at their place.  Two in the bathroom (why two?) and one in the laundry although she doesn't think the one in the laundry ever gets used.  Lindsey says that she also has one in her bathroom.  Now I come to think about it, I suppose we also have two in the bathroom, one real one and one for scrubbing grout. Although I am not sure where that is. Must have a look. And there is a brush in the kitchen, although I wouldn't call it a scrubbing brush. I use it for dealing with recalcitrant dishes and saucepans, so I guess it is a brush that scrubs. I have been being old fashioned in other ways as well. I made some more butter at the weekend, following on from the butter making event at Bishops' House. It is astonishingly easy if you have an electric whisk. I have invested in some wooden butter paddles which I found on Amazon. And I might need to lay in a mighty supply of muslin, although I usually do have muslin kicking around. I use it for all sorts of things. The Builder had homemade butter and homemade marmalade on his toast for Breakfast on Sunday. Pity it wasn't also homemade bread, but I hadn't had the time. I do, however, have buttermilk in the fridge. I should make some soda bread!

Freyja came back to Sheffield for the weekend, to captain the B team in a roller derby bout against Nottingham, which Freyja's team comprehensively won. The Builder, Taffa, Gaz, Cally and I went to watch. I had forgotten the minutiae of the rules. Must look them up again! She has now headed back to East London for the start of their teaching term.  Our new students have rolled in for Freshers' Week this week. UEL has started a week earlier than most Universities to accommodate the Olympics next summer.

In the meantime, Tony and I both have Quite Interesting coughs, Austin is being blown to Kansas by typhoon Roke and Cally has decided that her new cot is fun for playing in but not for sleeping in, thus rendering her parents horribly sleep deprived. I don't think anything else of interest is happening :-P

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Harvest time

Look at the amazing pumpkin. And the basket of colourful vegetables

A trug load of beens
The pumpkin, as you see, weighed in at 4.3kg

Ruby chard

A mountain of Bramley Apples

The view from the bedroom this morning

You can see the "lid" The builder has put over the back door - though it's not finished yet

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A summery/autumnal abundance

We have tomatoes and zucchini in abundance and a goodly haul of chard. Onions in the freezer. So I decided to make a big pot of vegetable stew

So I put a good few pieces of frozen onion in the bottom of my stew pot and then diagonally sliced the zucchini and put them on top

I pulled several stalks of ruby chard with their leaves and roughly chopped them

And added them to the pot

Then I chopped a huge bowlful of lots of different coloured tomatoes and put them in

and mixed everything around together. I haven't added herbs or garlic, so I can flavour things later.

I put the stew pot, covered with its lid, in a low oven for 2.5 hours

And this is what it looks like.  It smells amazing. I'll divide it up when it's gone cold and freezer it

Musings on domesticity

A little while ago, Lindsey gave me a copy of the New Zealand book A home companion: my year of living like my grandmother by Wendyl Nissen. I read it and very much enjoyed it, but pondered that while life 80 years ago had many things to recommend it, I suspect my grandmothers would have thought I had gone barking mad had I decided to eschew the advantages of modern living in order to take up the disadvantages of pre-and wartime living.

I have not given up using modern cleaning chemicals, largely because, while it might make sense to use lemon juice if you live in New Zealand, or Australia, where lemons grow on trees in your garden, it makes no environmental or economic sense to me to use lemon juice as a cleaning product when lemons have to be imported into the UK.  And I have not found vinegar to be as effective as proper cleaning fluids.

Nevertheless, I do use more traditional methods for many things. For example, we nearly always eat food that is cooked from scratch, that is seasonal, that is locally grown where possible and grown by us to a large extent, if you are talking about fruit and vegetables. On the other hand, I have freezers rather than kilner jars - if for no other reason than the dire, dire warnings I have always read about the likelihood of you inadvertently and rather abruptly terminating your family line if you fail to sterilise your kilner preserved fruits and vegetables properly.  Then again, I do make my own chutneys, marmalades and jams.

This is what I have so far been doing today (it's not quite 10:00 in the morning as I write)

Clean and shiny and brushed
I was moved to clean the shower when I got up this morning - a task I do very seldom as it seems like a herculean activity (although possibly if I did it slightly more often, it would be lilliputian rather than herculean!!). I admit - I did use a chemical spray. But I also used possibly the most old fashioned thing I possess. A scrubbing brush.  The Builder said when I bought it, in surprised tones, that his grandmother had had a scrubbing brush and he hadn't seen one for years.  I assume my grandmothers had scrubbing brushes. I assume my mother had one.  I had one too, a long time ago and in another place. And now I have another. And it is an absolute wonder. Much, much more effective than steel wool or cleaning wipes or anything at all at keeping our shower tiles clean.

Shower cleaned, I came downstairs and, in an activity that I suspect my grandmothers didn't indulge in, but which countless women have over the generations, I went out and fed the chickens, gathered in the vegetables, checked the flower and veg beds - and fed the wild birds and the fish in the pond, which I suppose earlier generations of women wouldn't have done. Then I came in and took some onions out of the freezer (not a grandmother thing to do!) and sliced fresh zucchini, tomatoes and chard from the garden and allotment to make a giant pot of late summer vegetable stew. Which will go into the freezer when it's ready. The Builder has been podding beans for winter stews. And I have pulled a pumpkin from the garden, some of which is roasting in the oven (along with the vegetable stews) which I will make into roast pumpkin soup with home made stock later.

Winter pies in the making
Now I have a pile of Bramley apples to deal with. They'll be stewed down and go into the freezer too. And sometime over the weekend I shall make some bread and some cake and I might even have a bash at making some more butter. But using an electric whisk rather than a hand churn!

Oh - and I have some stalks of mint leaves and flowers in a vase, gently scenting the dining room.

In the meantime, The Builder has been putting a lid over our backdoor, so that we don't have to stand out in the pouring rain, hampered by bags and packages and umbrellas when trying to get in, and so that we don't trek mud and grime directly into the kitchen. It was certainly working when we got back yesterday afternoon in what appear to be a monsoon. Marlo was sat, in the dry, outside the back door watching the tempestuous rain outside his "umbrella".  It's not finished yet, but it's going to be a serious improvement when it is!

It's going to be a very useful dry space when it's finished

The Builder combining the old and the new with his feather doona and his laptop

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oxtail stew

I have never cooked oxtail, so when a pack arrived in a Donald Russell stewing collection that I bought last winter I looked at it suspiciously and put it in the freezer at the bottom. Out of sight, out of mind!

Except that every time I went hunting in the freezer, it was sat there, laughing at me.  And it became more and more obvious as the meat supplies dropped.

Recently I bought another stewing collection so now I had not one but TWO oxtail packs sat in the freezer laughing at me. Clearly something would have to be done.

Then Donald Russell send me the autumn catalogue and in it there was a recipe for braised oxtail. I had a look.  Couldn't be that difficult, surely?

So I fished a pack of ox tail (around 500g) out of the freezer and left it to defrost quietly. (It had stopped laughing by now!).  Yesterday morning I browned the pieces in some sunflower oil then put the pieces in my slow cooker with some chopped onion, some sliced celery tops and some chopped fresh carrots. The recipe called for a can of tomato, but I certainly wasn't going to buy tinned tomatoes when I have a positive mountain of fresh ones waiting to be used. I put in around 20 yellow cherry tomatoes, uncut. I also added two bay leaves, slightly ripped, three garlic cloves, peeled and crushed and a can of Guinness. The liquid did not cover the meat and vegetables completely, but you need less liquid in a slow cooker. I stirred it all around, put the slow cooker onto its medium setting (where it heats up on high and then switches to low) and left it while I went to work.  When I returned I added a little seasoned flour to some of the liquid and made a runny paste, then I put all the contents in an oven proof dish, except for the liquid which I passed through my fat separating jug to remove most of the fat. I stirred the floury paste into the liquid, added it to the dish and popped it all into a 150d oven for about 30 minutes.  We had it with buttery mashed potatoes (not the butter I made at the weekend, alas - we've scoffed that!) and peas from the allotment

And it was extremely delicious. Really, really delicious.

I think, though, with the second pack, I might use ale rather than stout and try it with some paprika as well. I think it would make rather a nice goulash style dish as well as a hearty braise.

And it will be fabulous if we have another really cold winter.

I might need more oxtail pieces!!!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Learning new things

Roger and I had to go to London for a meeting on Friday. Other people at the meeting were surprised that we had come down in the morning - hadn't we left really early?  Actually, we had left on the 8:30 train. Usually I am on the 07:30 train (but heading in the other direction) so it seemed like quite a late start to me!

We could have left even later. The meeting wasn't until 1 and we hit town at about 10:30. So we went to Foyles and had coffee and quite remarkably nice Chelsea buns and then pottered about assessing the bookstock.

We went to the meeting. The meeting ended. And I headed back to St Pancras where I did not catch a train back to Sheffield, but checked into a B&B about a 5 minute walk away.  For Freyja was on her way down to London Town armed with a huge suitcase.  I also had a suitcase packed with loads of her things. We had bags of her things.  Freyja was Moving To London!!

We had a really nice meal in an Italian place in Bloomsbury.

We got up quite remarkably early on the Saturday.

We left on the 7:30 tube train (the underground is spectacularly empty at that time on a Saturday morning) and made our way by tube and the Docklands Light Railway to the University of East London, where Freyja is about to embark on the life of a student. I have to say, if you are going to be a student in East London and live in the Student Halls, then a residence right by the river is the way to go. It's really lovely. The London City Airport is right across the river. We sat on benches while we ate our breakfast sandwiches and watched people doing rowing training on the river, and small planes flying in and out of the airport.

I wonder if the rather nice little library needs a librarian?

Now. Remember.  Freyja and I had separately come down with one suitcase each and one bag all filled with her stuff.  She also had a small backpack.  We dumped things in her room and in a couple of cupboards in the kitchen. We had forgotten one or two vital things - toilet paper being the most vital.  Why do I NEVER think to take toilet paper when moving?!?!?!?!? But mostly she seemed reasonably well kitted out. We were a bit worried, therefore, when we were heading out for the afternoon and found that 18 year olds were being moved in by their parents with positively truckloads of belongings (including slabs and slabs of beer and slabs and slabs of coke. An odd combination in my view!). We wonder if we have undercatered for her tenure in her rather cute little room.  On the other hand - where on earth would you put all that stuff?

Oh well.  No doubt she has acquired toilet paper by now. And she's back up in Sheffield for the next few weekends. She can pick up other things as and when she needs them.

Some months ago and inspired by my baking and decorating those 80 cupcakes for Tony's birthday, Freyja and I had acquired vouchers for a cupcake decorating course. Given that we were both in London on the Saturday anyway, we had booked into a session in the afternoon. So off we went and learned how to make sugar bows and ice creams, and how to use fondant icing and cream cheese icing and how to pipe butter cream. It was a pleasant, if sticky, way of spending the afternoon. A late lunch in a nearby pub, then Freyja went off to meet Simon and to continue frolicking in London and I relocated to the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras and then came home.

A little while ago, Tabitha had drawn to our attention that the Bishops' House, a medieval house on the edge of Meersbrook Park was having guided tours and doing craft activities on Sunday. I have to say that I would gladly have stayed at home on Sunday. All the excitement of London had left me a bit tired.  But we decided to go anyway. And I'm very glad we did. The guided tour was extremely interesting and informative (no bishops have ever lived in the house, for example). And in the afternoon we learned how to make butter - which turns out to be spectacularly easy. Quite a bit of hard work in the 16th century when you were effectively mashing cream in a jug. Less so when they invented rotating butter churns.  And no work at all once electricity was discovered and food processors were invented!!!  We made butter by mashing the cream. Tabitha, Gareth, Cally, The Builder and I all took turns to mash. But I commandeered the actual butter making. And now I know how to do it - I shall do it again. The butter was lovely!! (But given that electricity has been discovered and someone has invented the food processor, I might do it electrically rather than by mashing or churning!!)

So I learned lots of new things at the weekend. Some of them were even useful things  :-)

Freyja's new front yard
Click on the photo to see the album of the weekend's adventures

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sorting out the freezers

As you may have heard, we've had a fairly good harvest this year from many of our fruits and vegetables. As surpluses and winter provisions have been coming in, I've been bagging them and chucking them into the freezers wherever I could find a space. No order, no organisation. Completely random.

The downside of this was that I *knew* that there was some bacon in there somewhere, but couldn't find it.  Somewhere in the upright freezer there's a bag of prawns I got in Lyme Regis.  I'm *sure* that I've got a small bag of cherries - but where?

I've emailed Farmer Jayne to see if they're still doing whole and half beasts for the freezer.  Haven't hear back from her, but thought I really ought to sort out the freezers before anything else arrives.  In any case, if things are chucked in at random, they are not in the least packed efficiently.

So I set to, and unpacked both freezers.

I tried to be orderly when I unpacked the freezers.  Fruit over here, mainly gooseberries, rhubarb and plums

Peas, beans and onions over here

Meaty things here, divided into fast and slow cooking cuts

The dining room table is absolutely full, but there's still this box to be incorporated

Winter stewing cuts from Donald Russell

Dining table cleared, tidy and cleaned

Chest freezer full of vegetables and tomatoes. Still a little bit of space

Upright freezer neatly packed with meat, fruit and odd bits and pieces

My worry is that we still have peas, beans, tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins, sweet corn and other things to come. Definitely no room for anything else and certainly not half a pig and a whole sheep. Might need to buy a third freezer :-S

But at least we aren't going to starve over the winter.  Always supposing that the National Grid holds up!!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Clumber Park

I have been aware of the existence of a walled kitchen garden at Clumber Park for some years. For almost as many years it has been on my list of places to go and visit. But whenever we've thought about it, it's been raining, or something else has come up, or there have been other things to do and so we have never been.

I can't say that visiting it has been right at the front of my mind recently, so I am not sure what brought it to the top of my list of things to do on Friday, when we were considering what, if anything, to do on Saturday. The forecast was quite nice. There wasn't anything urgent that we needed to do at home or on the allotment. So we went.

It's a nice drive from our place to Clumber Park, across country through Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, passing through some pretty little villages and along some pretty little roads.  Clumber Park itself is huge. An enormous estate, with people picnicking and fishing and barbecuing and strolling around. There used to be a mansion on the site but that was demolished many decades ago. There are still some buildings, including a seriously cute little cricket club house by the cricket field (where there was cricket match in progress), some older buildings, some new ones, including a visitor centre, a NT shop, a restaurant.

Click on the photo to go to the complete album
So we paused for lunch, and to note that there was a lake for strolling around and various other things to do. But on another visit, perhaps. Today we had come to inspect the walled kitchen garden. And that is what we did. But we will definitely go back and explore further. We might even bring a picnic next time - although the pea and bean pie I had was amazing and The Builder's sausage and mash were also extremely tasy (I, of course, had a taste!). And it would be interesting to have a look see during the winter, although the walled garden isn't open between November and February. Plenty of other things to look at, though

I imagine that they will also not be playing cricket over the winter. This is possibly just as well. We were wandering slowly along the grass by the side of the cricket field.  I was half watching them playing and half reading a message on my phone. What I was definitely not doing was paying any attention to where I was going. I decide that I would visit the loo before heading into the garden and marched smartly off, still not paying attention to where I was going. Suddenly, I turned my ankle in a rough patch by the side of the road - and went flying.  WHOMP!  My phone went flying further. The hippos, who I had in a bag, did nothing to cushion my fall :-(  The Builder was in a quandary whether to pick me or my phone up first. Sensibly, he collected my phone and then hauled me back onto my feet.  I have a graze on my arm and a graze on my knee. But I think I might be quite bruised. I went whomp quite hard (it attracted a bit of attention, although not from the cricketers) and the whole of the right side of my body aches!!!  Still, at least nothing is broken and I still managed to get around the walled garden :-) And we collected a really pretty bridge on the way home. I was quite happy, really.

So not a bad finish to a week off work (apart from the attempt to fly without benefit of wings!). We had a very quiet Sunday, which we more or less ate and drank our way through.

And now I am back at work. And all that cleaning, tidying and organising I was going to do in the house and garden last week  remains utterly undone!  Oh well.  There's always the Christmas holiday :-D

Sunday lunch

The weather is beginning to feel a little autumnal. And we are slowly beginning to get autumn harvests from the garden. So Sunday lunch this week was very slightly autumnal in feel as well.

I bought some slices of belly pork and roasted them in a low-ish oven for a couple of hours with some white wine and sage leaves.  Then, about half an hour before it was ready to eat, I put some potato pieces, a fennel bulb, quartered, and a Bramley Apple, cored but not peeled and cut into eighths, into another roasting pan with some olive oil. I moved the pork to the bottom of the oven, the veg to the top, and turned the oven up to 200. The potatoes crisped up, the fennel softened, and the Bramley pieces turned to a kind of savoury apple snow!!

We had it with carrots and broccoli from the garden and gravy made with pan juices, the vegetable water and some more sage leaves

A general fossick in the fruit bowl brought to light a load of nectarines that needed using up. So I made a sweet, very short shortcrust pastry, using demerara sugar, butter and plain flour. It wouldn't roll, so I pressed it into my flan dish and then blind baked it for 20 minutes. I made a custard by steeping a vanilla pod in some full cream milk, then adding four egg yolks and simmering it until it had begun to thicken slightly. I put the nectarine pieces, halved and stoned around the flan base then poured the custard over and baked at 150d for 30 minutes. We ate it cold with home made vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Late summer

Click on the photo to get to the late summer photo album
It has been a funny summer this year.  We've had fairly cool temperatures in August and quite a lot of cloud - but almost no rain.  The fruit trees have been quite stressed. And I had expected the vegetable crops to under perform. But in fact, we seem to be doing really quite well with most things.

The tomatoes and cucumbers in the greenhouse are producing like crazy. I have so many it's almost impossible to keep up with them.  At least I can freeze the tomatoes for use in winter stews. But there's almost nothing you can do with excess cucumbers except eat them faster. Still, we're just about managing.  The potatoes could have done with more rain than they got this year (although at least they haven't been struck by blight, although the helpful allotment neighbour is still telling everyone to dig their crops before the blight affects the tubers!!) and I am fairly sure we would have got more peas and broad beans had they been favoured with a bit more water.  On the other hand, the freezer is almost full of peas and broad beans so we maybe didn't actually need any more.  There are still a few potatoes and peas waiting for attention up on the plot.  But it is more or less done for this season (barring the greenhouses) and nearly ready to be put to bed until next spring.

Meanwhile, back in the garden, everything is going great guns.  We have loads of magnificent rainbow chard, the zucchini are running amok, we have oodles of beans (although the runner beans didn't do all that well this year, but that is mainly because we weren't here to pick them early in August and they stopped setting flowers), the carrots are amazing (The Under Gardener has been feeding them with tomato food), there are pumpkins growing and corn cobs growing and also cheerfully coloured tiny cauliflowers growing. Always supposing we don't get covered under 2 or 3 feet of snow this winter, we should be chomping on our own veg well into next year.

The only things that aren't producing abundantly in the garden at the moment are the chickens who are only laying one or two eggs a day. This is enough for us, mostly. But it's nice to have extra to give away or to use in custards, ice creams and other eggy delights. Still, no doubt they'll pick up in due course.  Or - I do have quite a large stock pot. And new chickens aren't ll that expensive :-D

Oh - and we are feasting well on Bramley apples from our tree in the orchard and on blackberries which are overhanging our fence. There's an apple and blackberry crumble in the oven as we speak :-)

Friday, September 02, 2011

A summery September the First

The Met Office, for reasons which I am sure make sense to it, declares that the seasons begin on the first day of the relevant month. So, as far as they are concerned, autumn started yesterday. Everyone else is holding out for the autumn equinox on the 21st. Apart from Mother Nature who seemed to have decided that it started some time last week.  So it was something of an irony that yesterday, the first day of September, provided us with possibly the nicest summer day that we've had for about six weeks!

So we drove into Sheffield, captured Tabitha and Cally, and took ourselves out to Our Cow Molly's ice cream farm. Molly and her ice cream first came to my attention when the sandwich shop across the road from SHU turned into a soup and stew (with pizzas) shop and I wandered over one lunchtime to see what was what and found that a well as soup and stew and pizza, they also sold Our Cow Molly's ice cream. The ice cream was delicious. Then I discovered that they had a farm on the edge of Sheffield. And then I discovered that they also have a farm shop. I've been meaning to go and have a look for months. So we went out to visit in the sunshine. And found that they have lots of lovely ice cream flavours, some local meat, Molly's milk and other bits and pieces in their little shop. So we each had an ice cream (not Cally - she was allowed tastes of ours) and I bought a rather nice looking piece of Highland Cow rump steak.  The poor bloke who sold me this seemed very worried. He thought that I might think that a steak from a matured cow which had been properly hung might be off or something because it wasn't the pretty pink that beef from the supermarket is.  I assured him that I seldom buy steak from the supermarket and he seemed much happier. And I went off to eat my ice cream in their garden in the sunshine.  We shall have the steak tonight with our left over gardener's pie from Wednesday.

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So that was all fun, but it didn't take very long. It was still a beautiful afternoon, so we decided to go to the alpaca farm outside of Ringinglow. We were nearly thwarted in our ambition because the alpaca farm has the wrong postcode on their website. Took us into the depths of a quite nice housing estate somewhere out near Lodge Moor. All very nice - but not alpacas! So I put the Ringinglow pub into the sat nav and off we went again. And found the alpacas frolicking in the sunshine. I must say, they have the most amazing views to keep themselves entertained. We had a potter around, inspected the little shop and then took Taffa and Cally home and ambled back to our place.

I took this week off work partly because it's quite enticing to have five days off for the price of 3 days leave but also with the vague intention of giving the house a proper clean and tidy. So far I don't seem to have cleaned anything.  And it doesn't look like any cleaning is going to happen today. So far we've been out to Chatsworth to stock up on meat and fish and now we are heading out to The Nettle for lunch. I don't often achieve anything particularly useful after we've been to The Nettle for lunch!!

[LATER: I barbecued the rump steak on my griddle pan for tea this evening.  It was mouth waveringly tender. And extremely delicious. Not cheap - but I might see if we can get some more when next we have a special occasion or visitors or something]