Thursday, 30 December 2010

Salami update

The Salami seems to be progressing well.  It's shrinking and shrivelling a bit, so something is definitely happening.

We haven't had any mould on the outside yet. Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing.  The instructions say that mould can just be wiped off - so we aren't sure if mould is expected or just a possibility.  It's quite free and cool  and dry air in the loft, so the conditions aren't really right for mould development.

We tried one of the little "Peperami" style salamis a couple of days ago. Teh flavour was OK, but I didn't really like the ratio of inside to outside.  But I don't like Peperami either, for the same reason.

So I guess it's all going according to plan...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Pogo has disappeared

DH just phoned me from the Allotment. One of our Laydees-who-Lay, Pogo, has disappeared.  No signes of a struggle inside out Hen Pen, but feathers some distance away.

Poor little girl. She and her sistwers were the first chicks we raised ourselves, and from our own eggs. She was the girl who had an injured leg last year, and who we carefuly nurtured back to full health.  So very sad.

We don't know if something got in to the pen and got her,  or whether she managed to fly out and was got that way.   The hen pen is surrounded by Heras fencing, which is partially buried.  And the Heras fencing is surrounded by working electric fencing.    It was unlikely to be a fox, as no one else was taken and there was no carnage.

I hope the end was quick for her.


Yesterday I let the Girls out of the Run and onto our "lawn" (a bit of green grass outside the kitchen window which we try to keep chicken free) because their free range area is still mostly snow covered and I thought they'd enjoy the grass.

I was on tenterhooks, as it is potentially possible for them to escape.. they would need to find their way round to the other side of the ouse, past the waterbutts, along the bed, and right into the bottom to enable Wash and Izzy to get from the front garden to the back garden without having to leap onto and over the fence.

After an hour or so of grazing, I put them back into their own area,  and rummaged around in the shed to find the last remaining piece of netting. This is now rigged up to prevent them from accessing the catgap.    

This morning when I let them out, there was a stampede. Seven chooks came rushing out, along the path, and onto the "lawn".    Tilda stayed behind to eat from the feeders in the run in peace.

Tomorrow, if we keep the arrangement in place, I'll try and get DH to let them out, and I'll stand by with the camera.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Building the beehive

DH makes me smile.

The beehives (and other bee bits) arrived, beautifully packed into a large box, on Christmas Eve.   DH wanted to unpack.  I wasn't sure this was a good idea: it was just before Christmas, we had people coming, and it seemed to me that two beehives (and other bee bits) packed neatly into one box was less trouble than two beehives (and other bee bits) unpacked.

The box was too heavy (alledgedly) to carry upstairs.  I offered to help, but apparently this wasn't a good idea.  DH suggested unpacking it, carrying the stuff upstairs,  and then packing it up again.  I wasn't sure this was a good idea: in my experience of unpacking well-packed boxes, it's usually impossible to repack them. Even with photos taken.

DH suggested that unpacking them and then partially building them would be a good idea, as they woudn't take up much space that wayl the frames could go inside the boxes and supers,  they would be easier to move than a heavy box or lots of unboxed bits.  

Realising that this was not going to end until the box was unpacked, I agreed.  DH unpacked everything.

Sometime later, DH came downstairs and suggested that it might be a good idea to start glueing the bits of hive that needed gluieng. Just to the point where they needed painting, of course.  Apparently, if he was making them up to store them, he might as well be glueing them.

He glued them.

Next it was the paint.  DH suggested we might as well get the paint. Or at least choose the colour.    He chose the colour, I agreed to it. Having chosen the colour, apparently we might as well get it.  Just so we had it ready, for when it was time to paint them.  

We got the paint.

Now that we had the paint, and the hives were partially glued, we might as well paint them. Then he could finish the glueing.

Here's a partially glued super... partially painted...

Isabelle decided to inspect before painting...

...and then Washburn decided to check the quality of the paint job..

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Sprouting off

For the first time EVER (that is, in my adult life since I've been making my own Christmas menu choices),  sprouts will be making an appearance on the Christmas Lunch table.

Sprouts are one of the (many) hated-things I've been trying to train myself to tolerate.   I've succeeded - if the sprouts are fresh and are lightly steamed so they are still a but crunchy.

Frozen sprouts, however they are cooked, still have tht horrible metallic aftertaste.  And fresh sprouts boiled are still inedible.

I've even managed to eat fresh sprouts raw.  Next year (I don't mean at Christmas, I like to try these things out well in advance) I'll progress to trying other ways of cooking sprouts. The TV chefs seem to have lots of ideas,  and I'm looking forward to trying them. But this year, being a First,  I wanted to have sprouts in all their naturally sprouty glory.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Food heroes - The Traditional Beef Company

For the last umpteen years we've bought most of our beef from online supplier Donald Russell.  I love their stuff, superb quality. (We buy our mutton and lamb, and Pork, from other specialist suppliers).  We've tried other suppliers  of beef,from time to time, but have always gone back to Donald Russell because of the quality of the product and the excellent service.

This year we were at the Good Food show at Olympia, and tasted some slow roasted silverside from the Traditional Beef Company,  a supplier we hadn't previously tried.   The beef was excellent, and we bought various items. - a silverside joint,  some Ribeye steaks, some shin for slow cooking   The chap on the stall was the farmer, Robin, and he was lovely. Very passionate about his product.  Having followed his instructions on slow roasting the silverside, resulting in the most juicy and tender non-Christmas cut we'd ever eaten, (and absolutely incredibly moist when cold as well!)  we decided to buy our christmas beef from them this year.

I ordered early, and explained that it was a Christmas order, so elivery was scheduled for w/c 20 December.  I emailed them on Friday last week, to check that everything was OK, and I received an email back saying that  delivery would be on Monday or Tuesday.  I found this a bit odd - how could meat be delivered by courier on Monday, as there wouldn't be a pickup on Sunday. However, I just assumed it would be Tuesday.

On Saturday, the snow which had already reappeared in parts of the country, reached us.  

No delivery on Monday (which wasn't a surprise),  and at lunchtime Tuesday I decided to phone them to check. Just to make sure.   I was thinking that, worst case, I could probably drive there and collect - but if I was going to do that, I'd need to knowso I could make suitable arrangements .  Or if that wasn't going to be possible, at least we'd know and would have time to go and buy something.

Phoned - no answer.  Not worried - they were probably busy.packing orders.   Phoned later, and got Robin's wife on the phone.  Asked about my delivery, and she said they were a day behind because tit snowed heavily on Saturday  and theywere snowed in at the weekend.... but Robin is doing the deliveries himself.   I expressed surprise at this, and said I had assumed they would use a courier - she explained that normally they do,  but they are so remote that they haven't been able to get a courier to come,  and at the moment the couriers can't guarantee a timely delivery so even if they got the boxes to the courier, they couldn't be sure it would get delivered in time.

Thinking she meant Robin was making local deliveries, I said where I was, and offered to meet him somewhere.  She explained that they've borrowed a landrover so they can get off their farm and out of the village,   and Robin is doing all the deliveries. Everywhere. And not to worry, my beef would definitely be here by Christmas.

And it is. It was delivered, personally, today

What a fantastic couple!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Getting braver

It's warmer today. For the second day running, the Girls' drinkers haven't been frozen.  It's lunchtime now, and we've reached +1.

Yesterday I emptied the poo trays, and relined them with newspaper and Aubiose (from the nest box).  I then filled up the nest box using a product called Hempbed, which my supplier (Graham from Pawsnclaws) provided as Aubiose isn't available at the moment.  I also topped up the floor of the run.  I don't normally do this - I prefer to empty out and then put fresh in, but:

(a) It's been really cold
(b) the Aubiose that was on the floor was in quite good condition, just getting a bit sparse (because the girls tend to excavate it, often out of the run)
(c) Have you seen the snow?

The Hempbed, a Dutch product, is similar and yet very different to Aubiose/Hemcore.  It's similar in size to Aubiose,  but  feels much harder.   It smells lovely - not Citronella (like Hemcore)..I can't put my finger (or my nose) on what the smell is. Eucalyptus perhaps?

Anyway, I'm getting sidetracked.

So, this morning, ALL the girls came out of the run. Eventually.  It's the first time they've all been out since the snow came last Saturday.  Even Milly and Delilah came out. 

They keep scaring themselves.   Every so often I catch them all, necks erect, all pointed in the same direction, staring at something.  There hasn't been anything there that I can see.

Of course, they haven't all stayed out together long enough for me to get a photo.  I will keep trying.

Roobarb has taken to standing in the snow on one leg. Perfectly still, like a hen on a pole. 

I love my chooks.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Minus 13.5

That's what our outside thermometer is reading.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Chickens in the Snow 2. The three wise hens.

Meanwhile, 'Tilda, Custard and Roobarb came out to watch Lily's exploits

Chickens in the snow. Lily gets that sinking feeling...

Let the Girls out this morning, as Lily in particular was being Vey Vocal in expressing her annoyance at Being Kept In.

She bolted out of the open door and strutted across the snow towards the Pampas grass...

  It wasn't as interesting as she thought, and she came out straightaway...and started to sink in the snow....
  ..then she marched back through the (rather deep) snow...

  ..until she reached the safety of the front of the run...
...and she's stayed inside since.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

For goodness sake!

So, it's been snowing, and I've left the chooks shut in the walk in run. This morning, first thing, they had porridge.

I went out a while ago to check the water hadn't refrozen,  picked the ice out, and topped it up.  I also emptied some feeders and refilled them, saving the slightly stale pellets to make evening porridge.

I've just taken their "evening" porridge out to them, and I saw that Custard (Sasso) had a few pooey rocks clinging to her drawers.  I decided that they needed removing, as they couldn't be comfortable. Normally I use cotton wool and warm water for small clusters,  and I put the girl in a sink of warm water if it's really bad.  It was too cold for a bath today, so I decided to use baby wipes.

Came in, got my baby wipes, put on my disposable gloves, and went out. Caught Custard, started to work on her knickers.  I managed to drop a wetwipe, and before I could bend down to get it, Daisy had run off with it.

She was running around the run - the bit that isn't walk-in - with this blooming wet wip hanging from her beak. Every few seconds she stopped, and pecked it, and the others (except Custard, who was still under my arm, and Tilda who was stuck on a shelf) were gathered round trying to steal the prize. Then she'd snatch it up again, run around, and repeat.

I carried on sorting out Custard, whilst keeping my eyes glued on Daisy and the damned wet wipe.  She didn't seem to be eating it (thank heavens it wasn't cotton wool!) but I could see that she was pecking it.   

Eventually, I went to get a bamboo cane,  threw corn around like confetti, and waited for Daisy to drop it. As soon as she had, I used the bamboo cane to drag it along the floor of the not-walk-in run.     

The movement caused a great deal of interest, and the rest of the Ladies stopped their corn foraging and came to watch.  

Fortunatelty I managed to grab it, just as Daisy launched her beak at it.

For goodness sake!


Like so many other parts of the country, it's snowing. Heavily.

DH got a taxi back from the pub yesterday, so this morning I tookl him to get his car, just as the snow started.  The 7 mile journey was slow, but OK.  He was going on from there to get new tyres fitted.

I stopped at the local cake decorating shop, to pick up a box and board for an impromptu cake I'm making for my niece today (assuming that the snow doesn't prevent us from getting together).   When I came out, my car was covered with snow and the snow on the roads was starting to turn black.

I had less than a quarter tank of petrol, and I debated whether to go straight home, or whether to fill up.  I decided that once I got home I wouldn't be going anywhere,  so it might be best to fill up whilst out.    This was a good decision, but by the time I left the nearest petrol station,  the roads were in a really bad state. (FOr our part of the country, which doesn't deal well with snow).

I crawled home at about 10 miles per hour.  There was a car in front of me for part of the journey, and every time s/he braked, the back end slid across the road.  I went for the engine braking method - kept a looooong way behind, and took my foot off the accelerator way, way, way before I needed to slow down.

Eventually I got home.   Checked on the chooks, put some corn in their run and saw a snow mound from the end of the run which isn't panelled off.  Found some stuff in the shed and temporarily wedged it against the end of the run.  Emptied the poo trays so that the frozen poo wouldn't act like ice blocks.  CHecked the water hadn't refrozen, and locked the girls in the run.

The snow is falling really thickly now, big flakes, straight down.  DH is still out, hope he gets back soon and safely.

One good thing.  Hopefully in a day or two  I'll be able to get some pics of chooks in the snow, to use on Christmas Cards for next year.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Buzzy Busy

We've ordered a beehive.

Christmas Cakes

Christmas Cakes are all done now.  I'm always pleased/relieved when they are out of the house!
First up,  a Creole Cake, with a glazed nut topping
 Next, an iced cake. I found a daisy plunger cutter in my cupboard , and I really like the addition. Shame it doesn't show up very well in the photo.... 
Another iced cake,similar idea, different colours

And here's the cake which has my Poinsettia on...

Happy bunny now that they are all finished!

Deck the Doors

Just finished making my Wreath for the front door.  This year I managed to do it without suffering multiple stab wounds from threading wire to hold the ornaments.

I managed to get hold of some small chicken decorations. They're all over my tree, and I've got one in the middle of the Wreath, It doesn't show up too well on the pic above, so here's a closer view
Looks better in real life than it does in the photo.

The kitchen smells lovely now. A combination of the fern-iness of the wreath, plus the cinnamon sticks which are now on it.  And my box of wreath building bits has a tiny, ancient, bottle of Yuletide oil in.  I don't like unnatural room things, but I do like the fact that when I open the box each year it smells of Christmas.

I've also finished icing my christmas cakes. I'll try and post pictures later.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Little princess

Lily laid an egg yesterday, the first one in weeks.  I didn't see it until I opened the cupboard this morning,  as I've been leaving early every day to go to Oxford and not getting back until the chooks are tucked up for the night.

So today was the first time in nearly a week that I saw the girls properly. (I do sometimes see one or two of them, when I am pouring boiling water on their frozen glugs in the dark).

Lily looked stunning.  She's persil white and, for the first time in ages she has a full tail. That too is sparkling white, and erect, just as a the tail of a leghorn hybrid should be.  Her knickers are pristine,  and her comb - which was pink while she was moulting - is turning a shade of lipstick red.  She looks like a different girl.

I raked out the run today and put Stalosan down.  I "normally" do this once a week, but with one thing and another it's been several weeks. There was a lot of debris to be removed - feathers,  brussels sprouts,  swede skins,  dead corncob husks...  Drinkers were removed, scrubbed, and refilled.   I haven't refilled the feeders yet, I want them to finishe up what's in there as I've lost track of which are the freshest ones.

I wasn't sure whether grass continues to grow - albeit slowly - in winter, or whether it just stops.   In case it does grow a bit, I've reclaimed a large patch so that it can recover,  and I've given the girls the Pampas bed in exchange.   They were very excited, and have been rooking about and dustbathing non stop.    

I also spent some time trying to get the Veg Bed's excavated soil back in to it.  I'm on to a loser here because everytime I do this, the Girls get very excited and rook through it again.   I think I'll have to fence them off the Veg bed soon.

Finally, I raked up the leaves.  Lily then started to do something rather strange. So strange that I did a double take, and then I stopped my raking to watch her to see if I imagined it.

She came out of the Run and started inspecting leaves.  Not the leaves I'd been raking, leaves that have been on the grass for some time.  She picked up a leaf, then twisted her neck around, leaf in beak, and put it on her back, down towards her tail.  Then another one.  Then a bit of pampas grass.  The leaves just fell off, but she carried on doing it. Walking round that patch of grass, inspecting leaves, finding one she liked, and then putting it on her back.

Any ideas?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Scrawny creatures

The established Allotment crews are looking very sorry for themselves.

At the moment I only see them once a week or two. DH goes down on his own to do them.    It makes it easy for me to notice changes in them. when I do see them.  Roo didn't recognise me at all this time, and started to sidle up and challenge me as soon as I stepped into his run.

I talked to him, and it didn't make any difference. Then I made that cockerel noise (you know, the one cockerels make when they have a tasty morsel to offer a passing hen).  He looked at me sideways, then suddenly relaxed and stopped posturing.

Later, he was happy to eat corn from my hand, so we're obviously friends again. 

His 3 girls are mid moult and very bare.  Two of the girls have pink shoulders, which is emphasised because they are wearing saddles.   We aren't sure that Roo has stopped activity, so we can't take the saddles off - lesser of two evils.    Mrs Roo has a bright pink bottom,  but she wasn't carrying a lot of poo rocks for a change. Poor girl is shaped like a brick and it's hard for the poo to miss her feathers.

Roo is looking a bit threadbare on his chest.  It's more noticeable because his sons are in the next pen, looking enormous and glossy.  They look like larger versions of their Dad, but more multicoloured.  I expect Roo'll be relieved when they finally go, which should be in a couple of weeks. 

Over in the Laydees pen, all 5 of them are mid moult. They are tiny birds (seemingly especially dwarfish now that we are used to the statuesque Florence), and the lack of feathers make them look like little doves.   They are off lay, of course, and so are refusing to be handled.  It makes inspecting them very time consuming and difficult.

Norm didn't recognise me at all. No pecking my foot for corn, which I missed.  She looks particularly tiny.  

At the moment, the 2 moulting flocks are having cat food every other day to supplement their diet.  And because it's cold, they are having extra corn.  We've found that if we put down lettuce, tomatoes and corn, the corn is their preference, so I guess they know what they need.


Selfish people

Our allotment shed was broken into.  The battery which powers the electric fence was stolen. Selfish badwords.

We're lucky they didn't steal the fencing. And fortunately we have Heras fencing around the plot, and a padlocked gate to get through. so it would have taken a lot more effort for them to get through that to get to the chooks.

Doubly thankful  that we have Heras fencing (partially buried), because the RSPCA recently released some foxes nearby (thanks a bunch!) and we've had foxes prowling around even when we are there.

We have an old battery which we've taken down there until we can get another Leisure one.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


I've just opened the tester bottle of Prunelle, which I made earlier in the summer using the golden plums from the tree in the garden. Haven't had it before, so wasn't sure how it would turn out.

It's delicious.  Sweet without being too liqueur-y.   Definitely something to repeat next year.


Chickens in the snow

We had a light smattering of snow overnight.

Washburn (Ginger Cat) went out this morning to investigate his territory, and I love that I can see the route he takes. Dinky little pawprints in untouched snow.

Went to let the Girls out of their Run and foud that 3 of them were still in the Cube. Milly (who's moulting), Delilah (who is our oldest hen) and Tilda.   The other 5 didn't exactly rush out to freedom, which makes a pleasant change as they usually stampede past me.

I went back to the house to watch.  Roobarb (young girl, first snow) perched on the ledge and Looked.   Eventually, she got up and went back into the run.  Daisy (seasoned snow pro, she and Lily arrived when it was snowing) marched out.  She marched a few steps,  stopped, turned round, and marched back in.

As soon as the wet weather started we put corrugated roofing plastic round the sides of the main run, so it should help protect them.  If they don't come out in a while, I think I'll go and shut the door.   Fox protection.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Too cold

We're in that small disgonal strip across the South East which, so far, hasn't had much snow to speak of.

It's still bitter outside.

Had to have the heating on during the day for the last two days, which is very unusual.  Even extra layers weren't keeping us warm, especially extremities like fingers and noses.

On the allotment, DH has had to start putting a special protective ointment on Roo's magnificent comb.  Vaseline works, but we use something called Comb & Wattle Balm which I bought a while ago from the Longcroft Soap company (website unavailable at the moment, else I'd post a link).

Roo wasn't too happy about the indignity of being balmed,  but he got over it.

Meanwhile, the Laydees are refusing to come out of their coop.   In the Garden, the Girls are venturing out for a wander, and then congregating somewhere. Currently "somewhere" is in the middle of the fruit cage. I imagine the bushes and the edging give them shelter (although we have put sides up round their run as well.

Unusual to see them all so close together and so still!

Monday, 29 November 2010


I don't know what has got into Lily and Milly.  

They seem to be taking it in turns to be Little Madams, and are refusing to go in the run in the evening.   I've tried persuading them, coercing them, chasing them...  I've also tried leaving them out until it starts to get dark.

DH took charge this evening, after I'd spent 10 minutes (in the freezing cold) trying to convince Lily that she wanted to go in,   left her for 15 minutes, then chased her round and round the hen house.    He would show me How It Was Done.

Eventually, when I managed to stop chuckling,  I went out to help him.

We got her in, eventually.

These two are so skittish now they are not laying. Little Madams.

Baby Grandson

Just got back from meeting our newest Grandson, C, who was born on Wednesday evening.  

Spent the whole time asleep (him, not us),  and he is really is a pretty little baby.  Big sister, Z, very excited about him.


We eat quite a lot of mutton, especially mutton mince which is fantastically full flavoured.

I was rooking around in the freezer and unearthed a slightly-past-it's-sell-by-date half leg of mutton.    I was going to low-temperature cook it, but that takes 4 hours and meant we'd be eating very late.  Then I remembered that there was a pot-roasting recipe for cheap cuts in my Margeurite Patten pressure cooker cook book.

Sure enough, I found a recipe for "leg of mutton". 12-14 minutes per pound.   Had to get the potatoes and roasted vegetables underway first,  and then we got on with browning the joint. Few minutes later, and after a bit of deglazing the pressure cooker,  the mutton was back in the pressure cooker along with boiling stock. It took a few minutes to come to pressure. and 36 minutes after that, DH was carving a medium-well cooked joint.   Very succulent,  and delicious.

The mutton took about 45 minutes to cook from start to finish.  Definitely be using that method again.

We'll use the remainder to make something like mutton curry for dinner this evening.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Sausagey success

Mmm, yesterday's sausages are probably the best we've made so far. Want to make a note so we know what we did right for next time!

Used the proportions recommended on the Weschenfelder mix packet:

65% Pork (of which 35% was belly and 65% was shoulder. This is less belly than we have used previously)
12.5% Rusk (we nornally use breadcrumbs)
2.5% Weschenfelder's cumberland mix 
20% Water

Pork was thoroughly chilled before initial mincing, then put back in the fridge until we were ready to mince it again.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Sugarcraft Poinsettias

Made these yesterday. I don't have much patience for these things, so I ended up making two smallish ones rather than one big one. Am planning on using one of them on a Christmas cake, and keeping the other one to inspire me to have a go again next year. Just need to find some suitable ribbons/adornments to finish them off.

First steps in Salami

We're making Salami today. Our first attempt.

We're using a Weschenfelder salami pack for the curing and seasoning,  as it's our first time. Once we know what we're doing, we'll be able to experiment with other ingredients.

We found we had to order the hard back fat, as it wasn't a commonly requested item.  In the end, we we went to the lovely Maceys in Cookham Dean.    We had no idea how much meat we needed to make a salami, the recipes supplied give proportions rather than absolutes.  In the end, we ordered a whole load of stuff so that we could make sausages as well.  For the salami, we used 2kg shoulder,  1kg hard back fat, and 1.5Kg of lean beef.  We'll find out later whether that was enough, too little, or too much. 

These are the instructions we're following for the making up of the salami:
Step 1: the culture was made up with lukewarm water, at the rate of 0.6g per kilo of meat.   This was allowed to settle for 20-30 minutes.
Step 2: The meat was cut up and put in the fridge to chill. The hard back fat was cut up and put into the freezer (makes it easier to mince when chilled). Seasoning was weighed out, at the rate of 15g per kilo of meat.
Step 3: soak the casings  (ewww!)

Step 4: The meat was seasoned, and then minced using a coarse blade
Step 5: The fat, culture, and pickling salt (28g per kilo) was added; everything well mixed.....

...and then minced through a finer blade (about 3mm).

Step 6: Whilst DH was busy with steps 4 and 5, I dismantled our enormous sausage stuffer and sterliised it (with Milton).

Step 7: stuff the mixture into the casings
We had a minor problem here as our largest horn didn't fit the machine.  We went to the next horn down though, and that still produced excellent results.

To our surprise, we used up all 3m of casing, and still had a small amount of meat left. Because it had culture and cure added, we couldn't do anything much with we used some normal collagen sausage casings.  No idea what it will turn out like, but we'll see.

We then hung the salamis over our kitchen counter, with a tray underneath to catch the drips.    They have to stay like this for 24-36 hours so the fermenting can kick start, then we'll move them.

We ran out of butchers twine and resorted to sterilised string.  Several of the sausages fell off its hook onto the tray and had to be re-tied.  Next time we need to remember to leave more casing at the ends to allow a better tie.

Washed up everything, and then started again making normal sausages this time!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

French Bread verdict

Really good.

It had a very crispy (yet delicate) crust; the texture was very open and light.  Obviously it wasn't french stick shaped, but the taste was very good.

This morning we had the leftovers for toast.  It was like eating "french toast" that you can buy.   Very crispy, and I could imagine using it as a good canape base. It would also make excellent french toast to serve with pate.

So this one gets a "make again" mark in the book.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Today's breadmaker loaf - "French"

As I was noting down the results of my Focaccia in the breadmaker handbook, I saw a recipe for French bread.  

As with the Focaccia,  I don't see how this can be what it purports to be.
I've made proper french loaves by hand, using french bread flour (from the fabulous Shiptons Mill), and proper french bread wire racky things.  Delicious, but took a while to make and went stale quickly. I found that if I wanted them for lunch, I had to get up very early to make them.

Still, I'm in an experimenting mood, so I think I'll try it. I need to time it right though, and fortunately "French" programme allows me to set the timer.  It takes 6 hours (yes, 6 hours) to make, and I need to make sure one of us will be in when the machine goes beep.

Even if it isn't authentic, the description sounds pleasant enough. It promises "..a crispier crust and open texture".



Well, it was a tasty, tomatoey, loaf of bread. Well risen, soft textured. But it wasn't,  in any way , focaccia.

I'd make it again though, just calling it "tomato bread".

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Breadmaker Focaccia

At last, work is quietening down and I have time to get back to playing with my food.

I usually make Focaccia by hand (well, I cheat and get the food mixer to do the kneading) and it doesn't take long.  I was looking for Spelt recipes in the breadmaker book the other day, and saw a recipe for Focaccia.  I can't see that it will really be foccacia (no dimples soaked with olive oil), but I thought I'd give it a whirl.

So, it's in the machine now. I'll let you know how it goes.

And later in the week we'll be making our own salami. More on that later.

Friday, 19 November 2010


So cold, started giving the Garden Girls some late afternoon porridge.  Big Girls wolf it down,  the Youngsters were a little unsure at first.  Even so, 8 bowls go out, and they are all completely clean each time.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Heart stopping moment

DH and I went food shopping today, which is a very rare occurrence.  We usually have Ocado deliver,  and if we need anything in between, one of us pops to the supermarket.  It's been a loooooooong time since we pushed a trolley round together.

Of course, this meant we had to put the Girls away before we went.    No problem there.   We weren't gone long, less than an hour.  Got back, unloaded the shopping into the kitchen, and straught out into the garden to let the girls out.    There was a very still body inside the run.

7 of the girls were chickening about, doing normal chickeny things.  Tilda's body was lying by the door, head down between the dust bath and the edge of the run.  I wrenched open the run door and most of the  Girls ran out, treading on poor Tilda as they went past.

I shouted for DH as I looked down at my poor little girl.  As he came running out, I knelt down and stroked her.... and she quivered.  I picked her up, and she was fine.  I stroked her, and stroked her, and looked over her for signs of injury.    I wondered if she was being bullied, and put her head between the dustbath and side to try and protect herself.

I put her down, and she hopped into the dustbath and began to dustbathe.  I wanted to cry with relief.

We still don't know what happened. Maybe it was that.  Maybe she put her head down to try and nibble something, and just couldn't back out again.

We'll have to put a camera in the run, to see if we can find out what's going on.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Nostalgia (isn't what it used to be)

Clutterbusting in the loft has been going well.

The first couple of boxes we reviewed together contained mainly books. 95% have been put into bags for the charity shop,   and I've added some books from the bookshelves.  Our local charity shop will shortly receive every book written by Dick Francis, Tom Sharpe, and Maureen Lipman, plus may others.  It's very rare for us to dispose of books, so I need to get the bags out of the house before we change our minds.

I did keep all my Enid Blyton "Find Outers" series. They were in terrible condition having been read numerous times since I was 7.

And we unearthed videos, also now in the Chartity bag, plus some video cassette footage from a video camera we owned in 1992.   DH unearther the video player, hooked it up to my laptop, and we're transferring the films to DVD.

What a nostalgia fest!

Home made....

We make a lot of things ourselves. Our successes include:
Butter (we rarely use shop-bought butter or spread now);  Jam; Marmalade; Lemon Curd;  Vodka (using our own fruit);  Cider (from our own apples);  Beer (from premium kits).

DH has also tried home made wine using our own produce.  But these always taste like home made wine.  And I don't mean that in a good way.

This evening, a glass of something purple was put under my nose.  "Try this".  I took the glass, swirled the contents, and sniffed it.    "It's home made wine, isn't it" I asked,  my heart sinking

I don't know what it is about home made wine.  I guess if you have nothing else, it's a good thing.    And it's probably OK for what it is.  But it's not the sort of thing I want to savour with my dinner.

I tried the wine.

It was actually very good.  Not as wine, per se,  but more as a substitute fortified wine.   An aperitif, or a digestif.   I love Madeira, and this was good.

I expressed my delight and my surprise to DH, who was somewhat taken aback at the fact that I had actually found a home made wine to be drinkable. 

He nearly fell of his chair when I got up a bit later and helped myself to a pre-dinner aperitif.

This was made with Damsons.  We'll be making it again!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Room to move

I've been working a lot lately, and DH hasn't, so he's been busying himself.  If the weather were better, he'd been busying himself finishing the paving (almost done now, but we've put the cement mixer away for the winter).      He's turned his attentions to the attic.

Some time ago, the loft was bursting at the seams, not least with numerous bargain rolls of insulation.   I popped up there, did a minor bit of clutterbusting, and managed to clear some of the floor area in a relatively short space of time.  DH and I agreed we'd do some more when the weather meant playing outside wasn't possible.

A couple of weeks ago, DH started doing a bit of clearing.   It went well.  He didd some more.   Then we decided we needed more shelves up there (our clutter is well organised), so a trip to Ikea was needed.   DH went to Ikea on his own.   That is a statement of such magnitude, I think I need to say it again.  DH went to Ikea on his own.

I have a love-hate relationship with Ikea. Some of there stuff is just old tat, some of it is very practical.  Some of it, like the shelving,  is exceptionally good value and we'd be hard pressed to buy the wood for the price of the shelves.   Our loft, utility room and sheds are all kitted out with the same shelving.     I hate going to Ikea. It's a horrible journey,  I hate being in Ikea. The queues, the out-of-stock in spite of checking the stock checker before leaving home....  usually  I go onb my own, as a joint trip inevitably ends in a row. Or a Silence.

I can pack a humungous amount into my little hatchback,   I once stopped at Ikea in Edmonton on the way back from visiting DD,  and got enough Billy bookcases, with extra shelves and glass doors for each bookcase, to line the sides of two rooms. 

I digress.

DH went on his own to Ikea.  He bought the extra shelving, came back, and fitted them.  Insulation has been put down.  Many trips to the tip, including the sad goodbye to some rather large tiled-offee-table speakers that DH made some 35 years ago.

It's my turn today to go and sort through boxes and be ruthless.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

A lovely moment

I'm sitting at my laptop, working.  

Well, actually, I am uploading some completed work to a Client's website, and I can't do much until it's finished.    I was staring out of the kitchen windows (we have French windows right where I sit to work), looking at the chooks.

Lily came trotting out of the covered run, and I marvelled (not for the first time) about how Persil-white she is today. Her new feathers are coming through, and she's looking stunning (until one notices the missing tail feathers).   She stopped by the door to nibble some grass.

And then I realised.

She and Florence were nibbling grass, beak to beak.

And there was no pecking or chasing.

Things are settling down. What a lovely moment.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

This is what happens when you don't pay attention

I went to the Allotment with DH today, first time in weeks as I've been working every day and unable to go.  In the time I've been away, a lot has happened.!

The permanent coops have been turned round 90 degrees, and shelters built for the fantastic Grandpa's Feeders (definitely worth the money, I've had the cheap ones and they just aren't as good).  The Laydees have a second bank of nestboxes, so each Laydy can now have her own personal box.

The Laydees are moulting.  They've been moulting for a while, and DH has been supplementing their food with a sachet of Felix (not chicken, obviously) every 2 days.    They are looking bright and alert, but very scruffy.     They didn't recognise me, and even Norman ran away.   She's such a lovely chook.

The four remaining dinner chickens are looking fantastic.  We thought Roo was  a big boy,   but he is dwarfed by his strapping sons.     

The Breeding Flock are now starting to moult, and are looking very much the worse for wear.   Rose has a bald neck and a bald bum, and lots of missing feathers, she looks like an oven-ready bird;  Ruby has bare shoulders and looks a bit of a mess;  Mrs looks very straggly, and needed her knickers cleaning.

Picked them up in turn to look them over.  They are still wearing their saddles, and we can see some wear on Rose's saddle. in particular.  She is Roo's favourite girl, and seeing the wear made us decide to keep the saddles on for the time being.  I have one spare saddle, so we'll replace Rose's  worn one next time DH visits them. 

As we're going to be keeping them saddled for the forseeable future,   I've ordered 3 new ones so that, as the weather worsens and the saddles need cleaning, we can swap them over and keep them protected.

Close inspection showed that the girls are looking fine, underneath the scruffy exteriors,  and I applied louse powder under the saddles.  There wasn't any sign of lice, but I know the Girls find it hard to groom themselves with saddles on,  so I thought it wouldn't hurt.  These Girls used to look huge, but compared to Florence (our Australorp), they see normal sized.

It was good to see everyone, I do miss them when I don't see them.   It'll be good to add Roobarb and Custard to the flock in the Spring, especially as I guess Roo's eventual replacement will be one of Custard's offspring.  That is assuming we want a Sasso cockerel, not a Sasso/Welsh Black cross cockerel... Fortunately it's a bit early to be thinking about that.   Isn't it?

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sometimes they are really horrible creatures

Daisy (Amber Star, recovering from pneumonia) is much better now.   Lily (White Star) and Milly (Cream Legbar) are moulting and look awful.  

Florence (Australorp, not yet laying) follows me around, crouching whenever I turn to her;  Roobarb (Welsh Black, not yet laying) continues to run around, and has taken to flying up on to the walk in trun, and then across to the top bars of the fruit cage;  Custard (Sasso, recently started laying) is in currently "in" with both the Oldies and the Newbies.

The problem is 'Tilda. Or rather, how  horrible the others are being to her.

Tilda is a Sasso, half sister to Custard,  and is a really lovely girl.  She's bottom of the pecking order, which isn't very nice, but I do understand that someone has to be bottom.   The behaviour which I am finding upsetting, is just how horrible the others are being to her.   Even her hatch-mates now chase her away when they are free ranging outside. When they are in the Run, she tends to sit on one of the perches - I've put food and drink  at perch level so that she can always eat and drink in peace.

When I scatter corn, she comes to join the others to eat it but most of the time (that I see) she is always separate to the others.
I know that Florence was also chased away, until she reached point of lay (where she started crouching), so there is part of me which is hoping that things will settle down when Tilda reaches that point as well.

In the meantime, it's really distressing me to see Tilda so picked on.  I am thankful that she isn't being physically pecked; I do know that someone has to be bottom and that whoever it was I would probably feel the same.  But the reason I am particularly upset is because Tilda is physically misshapen, and I am concerned that this is contributing to her ostracisation.  She's such a lovely girl.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Still here

Daisy is still with us, and seems to be doing well.   Fingers crossed that the antibiotics killed the opportunistic little bugs.

Great excitement yesterday: Florence crouched for DH.  Then she followed him everywhere.  Then she crouched for Washburn. Being a cat, he didn't really understand what the chook was going on about.   Being Wash, he didn't really care.

She crouched for me today.  

Seems like eggs are on the way...

Monday, 18 October 2010


Daisy has Pneumonia!

Vet says it is likely she was a bit under the weather, and this -combined with the recent cold snap - enabled an opportunistic virus to take hold.  He mentioned that extra lightweight birds like Daisy tend to be a bit more susceptible to this sort of thing.He specialises in chickens, so we have no reason to doubt him.

He's given her an antibiotic injection (which is a first, we normally have liquid antibiotic for the Girls),  and then tablets twice a day for 6 days.

Vet says she'll either rally, or she won't.   He's concerned the others may detect that she's ill and pick on her, so we'll need to keep an eye on that.

She's in the garden looking as bright as a button at the moment, so it's looking hopeful.

Sunday, 17 October 2010


Daisy is having trouble breathing. She rattles, and is a bit wheezy.

Of course, all the books (and the internet) list dreadful problems linked to respiratory problems.    Fortunately (I hope) she doesn't have the other symptoms associated with the infectious diseases: her eyes are clear, she has no discharge from any orifice,  she's eating and drinking OK.

Despite the reassurance,  I'm concerned it may be bad news.  I'll be phoning the Vet tomorrow morning to arrange to take her in.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Several hours later....

My spreadsheet tells me that I've washed and weighed just over 103 Kilos of apples, which DH has crushed and pressed to turn into cider.   I've also got another 4 or so kilos in a pan simmering  on the hob, which I will portion and freeze when cold.

The volume of juice varied according to variety. Our best result was with our russet tree, with an excellent conversion rate of about 65%. The combined fruit from the other two trees yielded 50-53% juice, which isn't bad. 

Not sure of the total yield ytet, DH is still pressing the final batch.

The crushing was very fast, the pressing was a bottleneck, not surprising with this quantity of apples.  I think we'll invest in a cloth and rack press for next year.

I'm just taking a break from cleaning up.

I'll update later when I have the final yield.

UPDATE: 62 litres of juice, an average of about 60% conversion.
Most has been prepped for cider, but I have 2 litres of juice which I pasteurised this morning.  

An apple a day...

The apples on the other two trees are now ripe enough to be harvested,  and we found teh extra long handle for the fruit picker so we can get more of the lovely Golden NOble apples from the middle tree as well.

Over the last few days DH has been busy picking,  and we now have 8 crates - yes, 8 crates - of apples in the kitchen.

Today we started wshing, crushing and pressing them, ready to turn them into cider.  We've done one pressing of 20 kilos of apples so far. The next 20 kilos are washed and ready to be crushed.  And I  have about 40Kilos either washed or sitting in one of the sinks.  And I still have crates to empty.

I'll be back later to update....

Monday, 11 October 2010

Quince update

Oh my goodness!

This morning, the juice was still a pale pink colour, and not at all clear. It looked like the juice from a pink grapefruit.

I went ahead with the recipe,  heating the juice with the equivalent amount of sugar (1 litre of juice, 1 kilo of sugar), and a bit of lemon juice.  I heated it gently to help the sugar dissolve, and then suddenly it went clear!

I boiled rapidly to reach setting point, and I now have the most amazing amber coloured jelly!  It's quite sharp tasting, so I think my friend Kevin will be happy. It looked very soft set when I potted it,  I'm hoping it will increase in firmness as it cools down.

I'm really looking forward to giving my neighbour her half!

Sunday, 10 October 2010


I have a quince tree.  It was a birthday present from DH, some years ago. It was a year od or so when he bought it.   We knew that it takes some years before Quinces become productive, so we weren't surprised when in our first (it was 2) we had nothing; our 2nd year (aged 3) we had only 1 fruit;  year 3 (aged 4), 3 fruits.   We had expected year 4 (aged 5) would be a bumper year, but it wasn't.  Quinces (and many apples) suffered with the weather.

This year we had one fruit, very low down.  It got henpecked.

Last year, my neighbour asked me if I could make anything with her ornamental quinces (japonicas). I made some unimpressive jam.   This year, despite last year's less-than-successful attempt, she brought more japonicas round. 

So, I decided to try Japonica Jelly.  I started to follow an online recipe, one which sepcifically mentioned Japonicas.   It said to wash the japonicas, and chop roughly. No need to peel, core, de-seed or destalk.

I used the food processor to chop them up, which it did magnificently and rapidly.  I put them on to simmer, set the timer for 2 hours (2 hours!) and I suddenly wondered if I could pressure cook them.  Surely, even if I just gave them a head start, it would be better than 2 hours! 

Margeurite Patten (un the excellent Basic Basics Pressure Cooking) doesn't mention quinces, but she does mention crab apples. Not the same, but not dissimilar.  So, I put them on to pressure cook instead.

The smell filled the was heavenly!   And after 8 minutes steaming, I turned the heat off and let the pressure cooker return to room temperature at its own pace.   Then I schlooped all the pulp - and it was lovely and mushy - into a straining bag.  The liquid is a gorgeous pink colour - but it isn't clear.  That's a shame.  I tasted some of the pulp. I've tried to find a smilie which shows a lemon-sucking face, but I can't.  

So, I have to leave it dripping overnight, and then I'll make Jelly tomorrow.  It's always tricky to do this and to keep both the receptacle and the straining bag protected from flies...but this year, I have my pressure canner.  So I've stood the bowl, with the strainer on top, inside the canner. And I can get the lid on, so all will be protected.

Roll on tomorrow.

I have lots more Japonicas, so I'm really hoping this tastes good. If I make a second batch, I might try NOT chopping the japonicas up first.   But  I am tempted to try Japonica vodka.  I could perhaps adapt my Blackcurrant Vodka recipe, which is a bit farty, but gives a really intense flavour.  Mm. Maybe.  Let's see what the Jelly tastes like first.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Diffusing the situation

Milly has been running around with soggy knickers.   I managed to surprise her today, and brought her in the house to clean her up.  I could see that it was beyond the wet-cotton-wool-pad option, more drastic action was called for.

A minute later I had Milly standing on a towel on the draining board,eating cat food and corn, while I put some warm water in the sink.  A couple of minutes after that, and she was in the sink having her knickers washed.   Not my favourite job.

The promised sunny weather failed to arrive,  so I decided to use a hair dryer on her.  I used to use a hairdryer on Scarlett, and she really liked it. I wasn't sure about Milly.     i dug the hairdryer out of the chicken cupboard (I don't use one on my hair), and I eventually managed to find the diffuser, which I find essential for making sure that the feathers dry without singeing the hen.

To my surprise, Milly seemed to quite like it.  I was able to hold the hairdryer in one hand, and use the other hand to flick throgh ther feathers to help them dry.  She didn't show signs of wanting to escape.

As I put her back in the garden, I saw that Custard was also claggy.  Flushed with the Milly success, I had no hesitation in bringing her in and standing her on the towel while I ran fresh water.  She wasn't so happy.

She didn't mind standing in the warm water, but she did object to me cleaning her nether regions.   And she wasn't too keen on the dryer.  Not frightened, but she was a bit stressed about being inside.  She ended up on the windowsill, and I dried her while she was there.

Of course the clearing up isn't half as  much fun as the hen washing, especially as I have to disinfect the sink area and the surrounding worktop.  (And, thanks to Custard, the windowsill). 

Hope they stay clean for a little while.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


So, the de-sensitisation process has begun.

Armed with a cup of corn, anNette and I went out into the garden.  anNette was standing by my side discreetly, and all the Girls came running up expectantly. I threw corn. The Girls descended on the corn.  I moved anNette a bit, and everyone ran shrieking under the shrub.

I realised that anNette doesn't look so much like the Grim Reaper, she/it looks like a Big Black Bird of Prey. No wonder they were scared.

With one arm out holding anNette, still upright, but the wind blowing the net out lile a windsock, I attempted to thrown corn with the other hand.  I clicked, I called, I chirrped, I threw.

Eventually, Lily came out.  Then a few others.  Tilda and Delilah remained under the bay tree, refusing to budge.  I moved Net.  Everyone ran away.  More calling, more corn.  

Then I turned round and walked in.

I can see this is going to take some time.