Saturday, 31 January 2009

Wedding Cake

I'm making my lovely (step) daughter's wedding cake. When she was younger and lived nearer, she would sometimes help me make the cakes at Christmas, and we were looking forward to making the cake together. Unfortunately, distance and logistics are a bit of a problem at the moment, so I've offered to make the cake(s) myself, and then we'll get together to decorate it (them).

I started off the cake for the bottom tier today, it's going to be a 10 inch round fruit cake. I use Delia's recipe for my Christmas cakes, and I've adapted that for this size. I think. I mean, Delia provides the quantities for 6", 8", 9" and 11" round. I already know that an 8" round is twice the quantity of a 6" round. A 9" is 1.25 times the volume of an 8"; an 11 inch is 2 x the volume of an 8". A 10" will therefore be around 1.5 times the volume of an 8", plus a bit. The important thing will be to keep the proportions within the recipe consistent.

So, first thing is to weigh out the dried fruit, and put it in brandy to soak for at least 24 hours.

700ish grammes of Currants, 275g each of Raisins and Sultanas, 90g each of mixed peel and chopped glace cherries, and 6 tablespoons of Cognac.

It'll need at least 24 hours to soak up the brandy, which is just as well as I need to go shopping for some of the other ingredients.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Garden games

Nice day today, although a bit cold. Decided to let the Newbies out of the Eglu Run, so I created a little garden paddock for them.

Daisy was out like a shot, and started munching the grass. Lillibet found it all a bit too much and, instead of coming out, retreated into the Eglu. Later, Lillibet came out, and then flew over the netting into the main garden. I managed to shepherd her calmly back into her paddock before the Oldies found her.

I came in, got my DH and a sharp pair of scissors, and we managed to catch her fairly easily - and I DH clipped one of her wings. She didn't seem too bothered.

Both Girls have been busy munching grass and playing "King of the Castle" on top of the Eglu.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Hackles up

Day 3, and time to move on to the next step.

This morning I moved the netting away from the Newbies Eglu and run, so that the Oldies could get up close - with the Eglu run providing protection.

I went out with some corn and the Oldies came running over to me, as usual. I sprinkled corn along the skirt of the Eglu run for the Oldies, and inside the Eglu run for the Newbies. At first, the Oldies were too preoccupied munching corn to notice the interlopers.

Then Delilah spotted them. We had a face-off between Delilah and Lily, with a lot of chest puffing and attempted pecking (on both sides). Lily's hackles rose and separated, and she looked like a Cockatoo. This went on for a while. A bit later, Delilah tried it on with Daisy. The other two Oldies were just interested spectators.

After a while, the Oldies moved off to graze on other parts of the garden, but I've seen them back again.

The Newbies seem very interested (in a good way) that there are other Girls about.

The 3 day weather forecast predicts "sunny intervals" tomorrow, so I might try letting the Newbies out of the Eglu Run late afternoon for a bit of an Explore (in a fenced off area).

My current thinking (which may change depending on weather and progress) is to let both sets of girls free range in separate but adjoining areas from next week, and keep that up for a week. If the Newbies seem ready, I'll then try a bit of mixed free ranging for a while, before embarking on the final integration plan.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


This morning, despite the rain, the Newbies came out of the Eglu fairly quickly. They've been in and out all day.

I've seen both of them eating from the feeder, and one of them drinking. If one of them can work the nipple feeder, then the other will soon learn.

I put a lettuce in the run, as they hadn't got to grips with the hanging feeder; they ate some and trod a lot into the ground. They weren't too interested in porridge. They tried some of the boiled rice, leftover from last night's dinner; the Oldies go mad for boiled rice, and Delilah actually trod on Milly to stop her from getting to it today! When I went out an hour later, the Newbies had hoovered up all their rice, so seems as though they like it too.

Gave them all some mixed corn, and the Newbies loved that too. I don't mind the having a bit of extra mixed corn at the moment as they aren't laying anyway.

As I was coming away, Washburn walked down the garden, and the Newbies looked briefly at him, then went back to the corn. That's progress!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

End of Day 1

The Newbies spent quite a lot of time in the Eglu today, little poppets.

They both ate a little bit, both used the drinker. They liked the peas and the mixed corn I put in the run for them. They panicked quite a lot, everything must seem so scary to them. Isabelle came and sat by the run for a while, and the chooks weren't too happy about that.

I might try putting the other shade over the Run, to see if feeling more enclosed gives them a bit more confidence.

Hopefully I will get some decent pics in the next couple of days....


What a horrible morning for the new girls' first day! It's dark, and the fog is freezing. Poor things didn't want to come out when I opened the Eglu door, so I left them to it. They crept out after a while, ate a bit, and then went back in.

DH went out and fitted the Omlet shade, on the basis that the girls were used to being a bit more enclosed. He also put one of the roofing sheets at the end of the run to provide shelter.

It's supposed to be sunny today, and I want the ground to warm up for them; we'll put the rest of the roofy stuff on later today, as it's meant to rain tomorrow.

The Oldies hadn't really noticed the Newbies. There was a bit of squawking earlier on, mainly because the Oldees wanted to be let out and I was busy somewhere else. I came and let them out, and they trundled down to the house - not to the Newbies, as I had feared.

I came into make some coffee and toast, and I could hear a racket of hen squawking. I opened the back door, and the 3 Oldies were standing like statues, necks stretched, looking in the general direction of the Newbies. Feariing a fox, I ran down the garden in my slippers (chicken owners will know how odd that is), and Lily was going beserk. I tried to quieten her down, and a host of thoughts were running through my head "oh my god, she's a he....but if I take her back, will they have to kill her?" but then I saw the reason for her panic. Washburn had emerged from the bushes some way away. He wasn't anywhere near them, wasn't looking at them, poor lad, but the Girls had never seen a Cat before.

The Newbies are on the vegetable patch, which is right next to next-door's fence. My other next-door is lovely, and I know she would be OK about the racket, as long as it was only temporary. But I don't know about the new people on the other side.

I've been planning to take them some eggs, but we've only just started to get a regular enough supply to give some away. I gave 4 to my lovely neighbour yesterday.... I'm concerned that if I take eggs round to the other neighbour now they'll think I have Ulterior Motives.

Oh well. Better to be damned for doing the right thing than be damned for doing the wrong thing, I suppose.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Now we are 5

Collected my two newbies today, a White Ranger and an Amber Star.

I've wanted a White Ranger since I first had hens because they lay large white eggs. They have a reputation as being very flighty though, and so I thought I'd wait until I had a bit more experience. Amber Stars have a reputation as being a very docile friendly bird, which is why I chose her.

Got them home at about three, and shut them in the Eglu for half an hour. Then I opened the Eglu door and let them out into their run.... and it took them ages to come out. The Amber Star emerged first.

They were very nervous, as it was quite noisy. Next door was doing some DIY, the dog two doors away was barking, there were a lot of wild birds around, there was someone playing with a very loud remote control something in the field behind us...poor babies probably suffered from sensory overload.

The White Star was going to be called TinTin, but I think I'm going to call her Lillibet (Lily); the Amber Star was going to be called Mei-Mei (pronounce MehMay), and I think that might stick.

I'll see how the names suit them when they've had a couple of days to get established.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Apple trees

We are lucky to have three apple trees in the garden. They are very old though, and are far too tall. 11 years ago when we moved here, we got a tree surgeon to come and prune them for us, and they did a poor job. They cut off all the lower branches, meaning that the apples are very hard to reach.

We've done a small amount of pruning in the intervening years (we always mean to do a proper job, but when we finally decide to do it, Spring has sprung); but now that we are moving into producing cider from our crop, we needed to get them sorted properly. So, this week we've starte on one of the trees, trying to reduce its height. With this sort of situation, the experts say to do the tree over three years so you don't shock it too much.

The branches are waiting to be cut into logs, and the smaller branches have mostly been made into kindling. There are a lot of small bits which, if desperate, I could use for kindling, but we've decided to burn to make woodash. They are sitting in the incinerator, with more in our green waste bin, waiting for a suitable day.

I've got one last pile of small branches to deal with, but snapping or cutting for kindling is a bit tedious, so I'll save it until we've cut the last of the branches of the first tree.

There's still two apples, a greengage and a plum to go. Not sure we'll get them all done in time.


The Eglu is now built, and positioned on the vegetable bed (thanks to DH, all I did was lift the finished article when he asked me to).

We had to dig up the remainder of our parsnip crop, all in one go, to accomodate the Eglu. Home grown parsnips are far superior to shop bought, as long as they are served almost immediately - before the sugar turns to starch. We had quite a lot of parsnips left in the ground..... we're having a very parsnippy dinner this evening. Curried Parsnip and Aple soup with Parnip Crisps, served with Parsnip, Parmesan and Sage bread.

Is it possible to o/d on parnsip?

Well, the soup was lovely, very velvety, but more curried than parsnip.
The parsnip crisps were great, and the parsnip sage and parmesan bread was fantastic.

An excellent combo, definitely have it again.

New girls?

I have been humming and hawing about whether to try and fill the gap left by Scarlett.

It's not a good idea to introduce one new hen, as she will be picked on mercilessly by the existing flock; it's necessary to introduce at least two.

Sometimes I've been thinking it would be a good idea: I could have a white egg layer; it's a better return on assets as the increase in costs is minimal (extra food, bedding and flooring will need to be changed more frequently; more vegetables when they are in their run; more corn)

Sometimes I think it's not a good idea: my current trio seem quite happy (although there is a definite pecking order, which was not the case with my original 3) and I'm concerned about upsetting the balance; there will be more poo; there may be more noise.

Every morning, I thought about possible names. I had the name for the White Ranger fairly quickly, but I was struggling to find a name for a second hen. A few weeks ago, the second name came into my head, and I decided that I would get new girls. I contacted Tracey at the lovely Southmead Poultry to see if she had any White Rangers available. No, all sold, but I could go on the waiting list in case anyone dropped out, or book some from the Feb batch. I went on the wating list.

But then I didn't really want girls in Feb, as I have other plans and wanted to have my new girls settled in already. I'm a fatalist, so I decided if it was meant to be, then Tracey would call to say she had had a cancellation.

Time passed.

Then I received an email saying she unexpectedly had some WHite Rangers available. I was suddently doubting whether I wanted to do this: did I really want to go through the introccuctions again?; I hadn't forewarned DH and I wasn't really looking forward to That Discussion.

Anyhoo. This morning I told him, and we went out into the garden to measure the space in the dormant fruit bed to check that the Eglu would fit there. It wouldn't. (I keep forgetting about the fox resistant skirt, when you've got raspberry canes and blackcurrant bushes, it matters!). Maybe it wasn't meant to be. I'd have to wait until Spring, so that we could put an Eglu on the grass and the grass would be able to recover.

Then DH suggested the vegetabble bed. It was mostly empty, he could level it out for me and we could put the Eglu there. But the ground there would be too soft, a fox could dig underneath? We can put slabs all round.

So, that's it then.

I've left a message for Tracey, just hope I'm not too late.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Friends for dinner

Our friends, S&K, are coming over for dinner tonight. We're having our postponed New Years Eve dinner, so we've been busy in the kitchen since yesterday.

DH made some more cheese yesterday. One gallon of milk (sorry, I have to keep writing that as I can't believe it's so much!) went on making a Cheshire, which we will be able to eat tonight; the second gallon (!) is being made into a Cheddar, which will take 2 or 3 months to mature. DH is using his home made "dutch press" for the first time.

Our Brie from the other week is still ripening. It's delicious, but it's young and firm. I like my Brie like that, but we're hoping it will go all the way, if we can resist eating it. We'll have some tonight, although I seem to remember that K prefers English-type cheeses.

We're having Chicken Liver Pate to start, and DH is busy making this as I type. We've made this twice before, the second time being on the ill-fated New Years Eve. I've got a sort of brown/malty/bread thing going on in the breadmaker, and I thought I'd make some Irish Soda Bread as a contrast. I've got a big jug of buttermilk in the fridge which needs to be used up.

I'm making apple pie and home made custard as soon as the pate is in the fridge. The apples are bought in, but the pastry and the custard will be home made. Custard with our girls' eggs is always wonderful, and a really vivid colour which comes from the bright orange yolks.

I really like having S&K to dinner, it's one of the few times when I don't feel self-conscious about trying to make things from scratch. If the food works, it's great; and if we have a disaster, it doesn't matter.

Welsummer eggs

We think that Jasmine has started laying. We're not quite sure, as we haven't had a full house day, but some days the brown egg in the next box is one particular shape, another day it's a different shape. We were expecting her eggs to be really really really brown, like mahogany, and these aren't.

I asked a friend of mine, who bought a Welsummer from the same place at more or less the same time as me, whether her girl had come into lay. She has, and her eggs are the same as the ones we think are from Jasmine.

So, we just need to see if they get darker. Hope so!