Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

RIP Katsu. Welcome to Hoi Sin, Teriyaki, Gyoza and Dim Sim

Alas. Poor Katsu gradually faded away and got thinner and lighter over two or three days until eventually she just faded completely away.  We had been anticipating this and had taken the opportunity when we were ordering our two Indian Runner Ducks to order two Legbar chicks as well.  They're all about 11 weeks old and settling apparently happily into their new home.  We won't let them out for a while yet.  The other three chickens are quite curious about them and probably won't worry about the ducks - but they might not be entirely delighted to find Gyoza and Dim Sim wandering around "their" orchard!

The British asparagus season has now officially come to an end - you are supposed to stop cutting on the longest day. We've not done too badly this year. And next year might be even better. We will be able to cut from all of the plants in the bed along the fence, and even take some light cuttings from the other asparagus bed. And as the asparagus season fades into memory  the gooseberry season is almost upon us. It won't be many weeks before the gooseberries are ripe and there seem to be quite a lot of them on the way.

I have taken the Summer Solstice photos, after missing the Winter Solstice last year

Click on the garden to reach the album

Weekend Report

We had a very quiet weekend in prospect.  We had no real plans for the weekend. The weather wasn't forecast to be particularly good. It didn't look as though we were going to be able to get out into the garden much. So we decided to make garden plans, to potter about and not to do anything very strenuous.

We did go out to Chatsworth for a few supplies.  We came home via the Garden Centre. And then we went out to the pet place in Clay Cross and collected our baby Indian Runner Ducks (Hoi Sin and Teriyaki) and our two baby legbar chicks (Gyoza and Dim Sim).  They are in their little run with their little house and seem to be settling in quite happily. Udon, Ramen and Curry are a bit curious about them but don't seem to be paying them undue attention.  I am hoping that they might all have got used to each other when the chicks are big enough to be let out of their run.  You couldn't let them out now - you'd never find them again!!

Welcome to Hoi Sin, Teriyaki, Gyoza and Dim Sim
I was peacefully making banana cakes on Sunday morning with a huge bowl of very over ripe bananas that I had been given and pondering the idea of lunch.  I decided to make some stuffing to go with the pork loin I had bought for the Sunday Feast.  I picked up a packet of dried apricots and a bramley apple and was about to start chopping them to add to my stuffing when I thought: "Hmmmm.  Tabitha doesn't like fruit with her meat".  Then I thought: "But that doesn't matter, because she's not here and we do like fruit with out meat".  So I added chopped apricots and grated bramley apple to the stuffing.

About ten minutes later my phone rang.  It was Tabitha.  They were heading home from a wedding somewhere in the Peak District and would be passing by the end of our road.  Would it be convenient if they were to call in.  At about lunchtime!!

Too late for me to make a stuffing without fruit - I had already put the pork and stuffing in to cook.  But I peeled a few extra potatoes and sorted out some extra veg and made a rhubarb and apple crumble, and all was well.  A spontaneous Sunday Lunch :-)

Cally playing with the house that Imogen had passed on to her

Everyone is tucking in - you can see The Builder's hand if you look hard

Cally enjoying her lunch (she enjoyed her banana cupcake even more!)
It's Austin's birthday today.  Happy birthday!

Saturday, June 22, 2013


I was in London for a meeting during last week.  I couldn't meet Freyja after the meeting - she was in Brighton being a Groupie.  (Simon's band was playing at a pub in Brighton).  So I took myself to Piccadilly Circus and had a lovely browse in the Japan Centre and then went for an early dinner at Toku, next to the Japan Centre.  If you are there before 5:30 on weekdays you can have a pre-theatre bento box for the princely sum of £11.  I might not have been off to the theatre, but I couldn't turn down a bento box

The meal included a black sesame seed ice cream but I had scoffed that before I remembered my camera :-S

You'll have to be quick if you want to visit Toku though.  It's closing down in September ;-(  Its lease is up. They're looking for a new premises but haven't found one yet. Such a pity - it's a fabulous restaurant

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Still rescuing the garden

I had a day off on Friday and we were very lucky with the weather (despite the fact that (i) I had the day off, (ii) I had hung the washing out on the line and (iii) I was wearing my gardening clothes. A triple whammy if ever there was one!!)

So we both went out into the garden.  I carried on rescuing the flower beds. The second bed in the middle is now dug over and the side paths have been uncovered.  There remains yet the patio to rescue. And then absolutely everything needs weeding.  I may have dug the beds over and created a weed Everest up by the house, but there are dandelions, nettles, buttercups and wild strawberries still loitering in the beds, not to mention the pernicious and largely indestructible morning glory that is vigorously trying to strangle the whole garden.  It has a new lease of life now the buttercups have been beaten back!

In the meantime, the Under Gardener has de-grassed all around the fruit shrubs and raspberry canes.  They've all been tied back in off the path. And they have now also been netted against the birds.  He found a great tit trapped in the netting one day last week. He managed to get it out unscathed, but it wasn't very happy with him hanging onto it and trying to get its head out of the netting.  We think now that everything is properly tied together it should be harder for the wild birds to get caught.  Now we are pondering how to ensure that the birds don't get absolutely all of the cherries and plums - the trees are too tall to net now and while we don't mind sharing, we would like to get some of the harvest ourselves!

Curry, Udon and Ramen all appear to be thriving but poor Katsu isn't very well. She went off the lay a couple of weeks ago and seems to be quietly fading away.  We don't really know what's wrong with her. We have been putting worming stuff in their feed but that doesn't seem to be helping.  She's getting steadily thinner and more listless. I think it won't be long before we only have three chooks.

The Under Gardener has ordered a small duck house which is due to arrive this week. He has also been building a small run.  We need to get some feeders and a paddling pool and then we'll be all ready for some ducks.  They have baby ducks and chickens at a place in Clay Cross, just up the road from us. We are hoping to go and get two ducks and two chicks this weekend. We thought all four could live in the duck house and run for a couple of weeks until they get a bit bigger - and until the existing hens get used to having them around. That will all be very exciting!

Things all seem to be going quite well in the kitchen garden, orchard and allotment. The sunshine and showers we have been having for the past couple of weeks (quite typical of June weather in Derbyshire) seems to be suiting all the plants quite well. I can live with sunshine and showers.  Let's hope it continues like that (the showers overnight would be OK with me, but I'm not fussy!)

Plantings up on the allotment as at 18th June

Plantings in the Kitchen Garden, as at 18th June

A long, and foodie, weekend

It was the BBC Summer Good Food Show in Birmingham last week. Way back at the beginning of February I bought tickets for it and booked Thursday off. (I booked the Friday off as well, just because)  We went to the Winter show a couple of years ago on a Saturday and, while we thoroughly enjoyed it, we did not enjoy the crowds and the people running you over with their shopping trolleys and the other people who just shoved you out the way if they wanted to get past you. I thought maybe it would be less fraught on a Thursday. It is also cheaper!

We were right.  It was less fraught on a Thursday.  Still loads of people around but nothing like as crowded. Also, to our surprise (I hadn't looked at the tickets all that closely!) the tickets to the Food show also let us into the Gardeners' World show.  Two of my very favourite things gathered in one exhibition centre!!  Much to our surprise, we came home with loads and loads of gardening things and just a few food related things.

Our tickets entitled us to go to one master class in the course of the day. I had got tickets to the Great British Bake Off master class with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. And it was extremely interesting.  Mary Berry made an orange cake which I will certainly get around to trying at some point.  Paul Hollywood made a savoury brioche couronne.  And this is what it looked like when I had a bash at home:

It's extremely tasty - but very very buttery.  I'm going to have another go at it later and see what happens if I put lots less butter in it!

So.  Friday saw us at home and mostly out doing useful things in the garden. We were driven inside at lunchtime by a very heavy shower, so got changed and washed and took ourselves off to The Nettle for lunch.  Fortunately, the shower was brief so when we got home we worked off our mighty lunches with more useful things in the garden.

On Saturday we were heading to Barb's place in Warminster.  The intention had been that we, along with Barb and her brother Greg would go to a small steam fair near Semington, which is not far from Warminster. Although it was quite showery, we decided to drive out and see what it was like when we got there.  Alas, the showers were heavy and prolonged. We would have braved a field of steam things in drizzle or light rain, but torrential downpours weren't particularly enticing.  So we went to the Somerset Arms in Semington instead. I would have to say that my burger was extremely disappointing - they assure me that the burgers are made in his shop by a local butcher but it was extremely salty and in my view made with processed meat.  I didn't eat it.  I put the chips inside the burger bun instead and had a rather nice chip butty.  And my onion rings were amazing.  In the interest of fairness, I must say that everyone else really enjoyed their lunches.  It was just the burgers.  I don't really understand why they don't just make their own.  It's not that difficult or time consuming to buy some minced beef and bung a few burgers together!!

Excellent onion rings. Nice chips. Lovely tomato relish. Pity about the burgers 

Anyway.  Back to Barb's for a lovely chicken and sausage curry in the evening. Which Greg missed out on. For some reason he took himself home after we got back from our abandoned visit to the steam fair and before we had the curry.

Watching the cricket at Barb's place. That's not Marlo. We didn't take him with us. That's Polly
Sunday saw us  out for a stroll in the park in the morning, before we and Barb (but not Greg who had other plans)  headed into Salisbury to collect The Builder's mother to take her out for lunch.

Strolling round the little lake in the Warminster Park - and look what landed just ahead of us

 Our mate Matthew has, for the past few months, been running the White Horse in Downton, a ten minute or so drive from where The Builder's mother lives, so we went there for lunch. And a very pleasant lunch it was too.

Barb and Gwen checking out the menu

The Builder pondering what to have for lunch

Look - I'm there too. (The wine glasses aren't all mine!!) Photo by Barb

A lovely plate of roast beef for me

while The Builder had roast pork

The chef makes his own, extremely tasty ice cream. Must dig out my ice cream maker!
And then we took Gwen back to her place, Barb back to her place - and us back to our place, where Marlo was quite pleased to see us.  I don't think he'd missed us much, though. He was out, lying in the sunshine by the pond when we got back.

It was a lovely, long weekend. Thanks to Barb for her hospitality.

Back to work for me today. It's not a particularly onerous week though. I'm off to London for a meeting on Thursday!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dining room

The cabinet used to belong to my father's parents

It's moved around the family a bit over the past half century or so and now it's come to stay with us

We've re-arranged the dining room to accommodate it. It also prompted us to get rid of the dead freezer that had been in the far corner

We've turned the table round sideways. It gives us quite a bit more room - but probably won't expand comfortably

I'm going to sort out the far corner the next time I am at home and it's raining

The first roses of the season from our garden. They are not only very pretty but they smell delightful too.

Monday, June 10, 2013


The whole Sober in Summer challenge is not going well.  We *can* forswear alcohol. We know we need to save money. But the prospect of total abstinence until sometime next winter was making us miserable.  So we have rejigged the challenge.  Sober in Summer except on Sundays!  (Plus, of course, dispensations for special events like our visit to Warminster next weekend, our wedding anniversary and various other High Holidays.)  This has made us much happier - and much more likely to carry on with it :-P

We had a very pleasant but quite busy weekend.  The Weather Dogs were in an amiable mood and mostly smiled upon us.  So we trundled out shopping on Saturday morning, to the Dunstan Hall and then the Chatsworth garden centres and then to the supermarket. We spent the afternoon in the garden digging and weeding and tidying and pottering and then headed into Sheffield where we had remarkably nice pizza with Tabitha, Gareth and Cally. Then Tabitha and Gareth Went Out, leaving poor Cally to the ministrations of The Builder and me.  I have to say that I was absolutely stunned when I put her to bed and she just went KONK and off to sleep pretty much immediately.

Sunday was a beautiful day. And we spent the afternoon in Penny, Steve, Joseph and Imogen's beautiful garden in Fulwood (in Sheffield). They have a glorious cottage-style garden, complete with small pond with frogs and newts and a lovely little patio with a clematis growing over the pergola, and a grapevine making its way up one of the supports to join it. The food was delicious, too. An asparagus risotto accompanied by delicate pieces of sea bream, followed by a red and black currant fool with crunchy biscuits.  We drank (non-alcoholic) elderflower fizz and generally had a lovely time.  We have brought back with us a display cabinet which used to live in Penny and my mutual grandparents' house in London.  This has necessitated a quick re-arrangement of the dining room (the dead freezer has *finally* been put out in the driveway in the hope that the Junk Man will stop when he's next passing and take it away!!). There will be photos when the whole process has finished. At the moment the dining room looks very much as though a bomb has hit it!!!

Speaking of bombs - we were starting the re-arrangement of the dining room on Sunday when The Builder said: Quick, quick; come outside.  And there, quite low in the sky not far from us was an ENORMOUS bomber plane.  The Under Gardener tells me it was a Vulcan. I had never seen one before. It was huge. My first thought was that it was a Concorde. But they, of course, no longer fly and anyway it was the wrong shape.  It was just ambling along.  Then it put its nose up and with a mighty and magnificent roar picked up speed, climbed into the sky and disappeared over the hill on which sits Grassmoor.  Fortunately it was in benevolent mood.  Grassmoor was still there when we drove through it this morning so I assume the Vulcan was unarmed.  It was quite a startling sight.

I was a bit disconcerted when this turned up in the post on Friday

I rather wondered what Lindsey and Ian thought about my approach to my working life

But then I realised that on both Saturday and Sunday I was dashing about muttering to myself : "So much to do, so little time" and decided that they were referring to weekends rather than weekdays :-D  I must remember to wear it on frantically busy Saturdays!!!

Carrying on with the rescue mission - and other things

We had some nice weather this weekend, so I took the opportunity to get on with the rescue mission of the flower garden and to do one or two other useful jobs.

 I have now finished digging over the pond bed, although I notice that there are still quite a lot of buttercup plants in there.  I'll get in and weed those as time permits.  I also notice that there is morning glory growing with enthusiastic abandon all over the first bed I rescued - it used to be called the shrubbery, but now has fewer shrubs in than it used to.  I'm not sure what to do about the morning glory. It is all but impossible to dig out and nearly impossible to kill by chemical means.  But I must make some attempt to keep it at bay otherwise all we end up with is a bed full of morning glory and nothing else!

The cornflowers are revelling in their exposure to air and sunshine

Looking down from the garden door
I have started the rescue digging of the second flower bed. I think this may also be something of a challenge. It is VERY overgrown with grass, buttercups and alpine strawberries but again, there are some plants we would really rather keep

And I've been clearing up alongside and on the main path.  Still lots of moss and weeds to get out, not to mention some pretty plants that have colonised the path.  But we've bought some stocks and some snapdragons to put next to the fence, plus there are still lots of alyssum and lobelia seedlings. So it should look attractive even if only for a single season.  I'll look into getting some cottagy perennials next year. I do want to get rid of as much of the moss as I can, though.  The path has been extremely slippery for the last year or so and I think that's largely down to the moss.

The Under Gardener has also been busy. Not only has he been up on the allotment, weeding, hoeing, grass cutting and watering, he's also been weeding the fruit bushes down between the kitchen garden and the orchard

He's weeded and tied in the red and white currants

The black currants still need doing ...
... as do the gooseberries
And the lupin is now in full flower.  I have made a space for it up by the tumbledown shed. Really, really must remember to move it this autumn!

All of this weeding has, of course, generated a positive mountain of grass, weeds and other garden debris.  Alas, our garden waste bin is permanently full.  It only gets emptied once a fortnight and as soon as it has been emptied, we fill it right back up again!

A model of Mount Everest, made in grass :-D
We have bought a load of cottage style seedlings ready to plant in the spaces created by all the digging.  I've planted out some replacement foxgloves. The rest are waiting along the wall by the garden door (and hiding my culinary herbs!)

I spent yesterday morning in the potting greenhouse potting on various seedlings. They were all looking quite happy when I went down to inspect them this morning. So I am hopeful that in another couple of weeks we will be able to plant out our sweet corn, capsicum, zucchini, watermelon and various other plants.  We suddenly realised that we didn't have any cucumber plants, so we have bought a packet of seeds for a late planting, and a seedling of baby cucumbers (not gherkins!). We'll pop that into the greenhouse on the allotment with the pumpkin seeds and see what the salad cucumbers are like when (!!) they fruit

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Beginning of June

Meteorologists declare the start of the seasons to be on the first of the relevant month. I have often wondered why but it seems that they find it better to compare three whole months rather than the slightly variable number of days that there would be if they took the dates from the solstices (whose date can vary by a day or three) and the equinoxes. Although I believe that the equinoxes do not tend to vary - but I am happy to be proved wrong about that.

Anyway. The Weather Dogs clearly followed the meteorologists rather than the solstice when it came to summer 2013 and declared it to have started on June 1st, since when we have had fairly lovely weather. Obviously, we have no idea how long the Weather Dogs are intending that summer should last, and it's a bit of a pity that they abolished spring for this year. But let's enjoy it while it does last.

To which end I took myself out on Sunday and began the clearing up of the garden bed around the pond. It's not been an easy area to clear out, partly because there are paving stones dotted about in there, but mainly because there are lots of "invasive" plants rampaging around, some of which, like the mint, we wanted to keep.  Also, there are non-invasive plants such as primroses, violets and cyclamens that we also want to keep. Alas, a number of the primroses did get dug up - collateral damage, I fear.  I've plonked them back in and will see if they survive.  It is beginning to look a great deal better, although now it needs a follow up weeding.

The aquilegia  are revelling in the newly weeded beds

Now I need to continue the rescuing. The second flower bed is next in line.  Plus there are the paths and the patio.  We'll get there.  Eventually!!

We need some more foxgloves! They started out, self-invited, at the top of the garden a few years ago, then over the years have moved their way down the garden, slowly but surely - and have now left. We might go to the garden centre and see if they have any seedlings.  Failing that, some seeds.  There is a large lupin down in the vegetable garden.  Every single year we think that we really must move it in the autumn. And every single year we forget to do it.  Probably best not to do it right now though - it's about to flower

Meanwhile, down in the vegetable garden, things are also looking quite good.  Almost all the potatoes are now up.  The bean plants have survived their brushes with frost and their cosy tents have been taken down. Alas, they are now under attack by slugs and snails, although we are fighting back.  We have been eating asparagus from the plants we put in first, and a few spears from the ones we put in two years ago.  We're getting quite a good crop now, although it was very slow to get started.  We are also getting a fairly good quantity of eggs from the new chooks.  They are not as prolific as Parsley, Coriander, Kiev and Schnitzel were when they first arrived. But they were hybrids bred for prolific egg laying and laid very prolifically for 12 months and then pretty much stopped.  Katsu, Curry, Udon and Ramen are multi-purpose chooks and were never going to lay as prolifically.  We are hopeful, however, that they may lay in a slightly more sustained way.

It looks as though we are going to get a good crop of all the fruits this year - so far at least.  Now all we need to do is hope that the winds don't blow all the fruit off and that we can beat back the birds a bit :-D

We have planted out the pumpkin seeds in one greenhouse on the allotment and the heritage tomatoes in the other.  There are still zucchinis, melons, capsicums and chillies to fit in, but they are nowhere near ready yet.  And there are seedlings yet to plant out on the allotment which haven't yet moved up into their second pots. I hope to do that this coming weekend.

Plantings as at June 3rd

Plantings as at June 3rd

To see the rest of the recent photos, click on the photo of the kitchen garden, looking up towards the house

Monday, June 03, 2013

Sober in the Summer

We have decided to do the Sober in the Summer challenge. This will definitely be a challenge for us - sobriety is not our natural state of being. We like wine too much for that.  But needs must.  We are supposed to be saving up for the GWT2, new guttering for the house, a strimmer for the garden and possibly even a new kitchen.  Are we saving up?  Of course we're not. We're spending money like nobody's business.

So I have a launched a new program of frugal austerity at our place. Part of which includes no alcohol until we have got the money at least for the GWT2.  (This might, of course, mean that not only are we being Sober in the Summer, but possibly also Abstinent in the Autumn.  I haven't thought of a W word for the Winter yet, but I will if necessary!!)

We managed the six weeks of Lent.  We can do 13 if we try hard enough :-S

In the meantime, we had rather a pleasant weekend. The sun shone. The temperature was pleasantly warm. Anyone would think it was summer!  We were at Bishops' House on Saturday morning and had somewhere around 40 visitors.  This is quite unusual. Saturday mornings are usually really quiet.  Thanks to the wonders of modern technology I took Stella and Tony, and then Matthew and William for a tour around the house.  (I didn't count them in the total of visitors though!!)

We spent most of Sunday outside in the garden, actively gardening and then sitting on the patio for a bit.  I must get around to weeding the patio - there are flowers growing up through the back of my chair!!  (Actually, I probably won't take the flowers out - but the weeds on the other hand ... )

Our new neighbours appear to be positively normal!!  They've got patio furniture out in the garden. They sit on it. They've got three dogs and a baby and all of them come out into the garden too.  They've also just acquired two chickens. None of our previous neighbours in that house have ever used the garden at all!  And Debby on the other side has finally come out of hospital. She expected to be in for around 5 days and instead was in for 16!