Updates

The first one is that the bantam didn’t make it through the night. I put her in a nestbox yesterday evening and, this morning, she was dead on the floor.  I did think she’d have another day or two, but it was simple old age and that was that.  Only the other day, she was giving one of the big hens what for, for eating food she fancied.  So, though there’d been a gradual long-term decline, she hadn’t been ill. But all the same, I’m really upset.  Poor little chicken, the last of our bantams.  Rose has three hens and a cock, fortunately, but they hatched the year after Russell died, this was the last of his.

The baby Belling oven is fine, it’s just the rings.  So we haven’t turned the Aga on yet, though we will soon, I’m sure.  I’ve been drying more tomatoes today – some of them are still in there, in fact.  I’ve taken them out as they’re done, but some were very juicy.

I’ve typed up nearly half the lots for the catalogue, but I completely lost heart around half past five.  I was tired and headachy and rather cold.  But I had a cup of tea and a bath and lovely Tim cooked dinner and I’ll do the rest tomorrow.

Other news – you may remember my lovely friend and colleague Mary, whom I’ve mentioned before.  She and her husband moved to Llangollen last autumn, to be nearer their children, both of whom were based Manchester way.  Her daughter had her first baby yesterday and darling Mary is so happy.  She found it hard to leave this area and it’s taken her a long time, not so much to adjust to their new home but to reconcile herself with leaving their old one; but obviously this changes everything.  The new arrival is a little girl called Elspeth.

I think that’s about it, darlings.  More figs to pick tomorrow, the catalogue to be worked on and … oh, I’ve just remembered.  I was very pleased with my latest loaf, which had risen really well.  And then Tim sliced it up for the freezer.  There was a socking great hollow part in the middle, which was why it looked so stupendous.  Hmm. Back to the kneading board.

Z’s plans change, as plans do

The day turned out to be somewhat more eventful than we’d expected.  To start with, it was my fault.  We had eggs for supper last night and ate the last of the bread.  I meant to make more today anyway, so suggested muesli for breakfast.  And that turned out to be a bit much for Tim’s crowned tooth, which he gently removed from his mouth after his second spoonful.

So we phoned the dentist in Norwich, who fitted him in this morning. I drove LT there, to show solidarity.  And the tooth can’t be saved in the long term, and that means a fair bit of dental work to come, but he’d known it was coming sooner or later.

I got the dough started after lunch and it’s gone rather well this time, I added a little more water than usual and it seems to have been the right thing to do.  I’d intended to start writing down the lots for the next sale, but that hasn’t quite happened today, which means it must tomorrow.  It’s all right, just laziness that meant I used any excuse not to start on the most boring bit of the whole job.  I enjoy the rest.

We tried some of the dried tomatoes with lunch and they were lovely.  A whole lot of tomatoes only half-filled a Kilner jar (Mason jar to you lovely Americans) so I might make another batch.  We had duck liver pâté, which went down very well with Eloise cat.  It might be her favourite, right up there with crab.

When I went to put the chickens to bed, the old bantam was huddled down under the feeder.  I stroked her and she didn’t move away and I picked her up.  She lost a toe a while back and I put her up and down on the perch night and morning, so she’s used to being held, but she was quite subdued.  She’s the only one that the foxes didn’t kill and she’s very old – she hasn’t laid an egg for a year and a half – and she’s quietly fading away, as they do.  I’m so sad, she’s the last of Russell’s bantams.  But it’s natural and gentle, there’s nothing to be done, I’ll bring her indoors tomorrow if she isn’t better, until the end.  We will, I hope, hatch some eggs from Rose’s bantams, which are from the same line, so keeping on the Churchyard Chicken family.

I made a pork casserole, adding cider, lemongrass, ginger and a chilli.  I’d meant to add another chilli – the first one is a very mild variety, hardly warranting the name, and the second was from a plant that had got broken as a seedling, so had fruited late.  This was the first one to ripen to yellow, so I sliced it and popped a bit from near the stalk into my mouth, to check how hot it was.  They’re hotter at the stalk end.

I was still dousing my mouth with sips of milk ten minutes later, in some pain.  That chilli didn’t make it into the casserole.  It wasn’t the style of thing I’d planned.

I’d also picked some corn on the cob, so put on the kettle to boil water while I heated up the Baby Belling mini cooker hob.  As I turned on the hob, the light above went off.  That bulb didn’t last long, I thought peevishly, and turned on the other, which didn’t work, and I belatedly twigged that the electricity – the power sockets anyway, not the main lights – had gone off.  So I climbed up, turned off all the individual switches, turned on the main one, turned the others on one by one – it clicked off again.  I called through for LT.  My poor old knees don’t do climbing on and off a high stool too often.  The upshot was, both hobs trip the switch.  We didn’t try the oven.  It’s a very old cooker, 15-20 years, though it’s had only moderate use.  We’ll check it tomorrow, change the fuse, but I suspect we will turn the Aga on instead and replace it when we feel the need.  At least the dear old thing cooked my loaf of bread for me.  I’d have had to run through to Rose otherwise.  I’ve looked on the John Lewis website but they don’t have what I want, whilst Amazon does.  What’s a Z to do?

Tomorrow, work will happen.  Oh yes it will.

Z is simple

The good news is that Wink is in less pain – she phoned the surgery this morning and her doctor phoned back and fitted her in with an appointment the same morning (the system does work, if you’ve got a good GP practice) and he said that taking ibuprofen was the right thing to do.  He thinks it’s most likely to be an inflamed tendon, possibly with bursitis, and that she should speak to him again next week.  Fingers crossed.  It’s made us all realise that we’d like her to live closer as we all wanted to look after her and she’s too far away for comfort.  So more on that front in due course.

I’ve had a go at drying tomatoes, which is about as interesting as watching paint dry, but seems to be going okay.  The last few are still in the cooker, and I’ve set a half hour timer, in case I forget.  And I’ve made tomato purée and we made ratatouille.  We were going to eat that with eggs for dinner, but decided we didn’t really need the eggs, so just had some toast with it.  The last of the bread, as I couldn’t make more because of the tomatoes drying (first time this summer I’ve really missed the Aga) so we’ll probably have muesli for breakfast tomorrow.

We don’t rigidly take it in turns to cook, but we do the cooking between us; but usually one or the other.  I rather loved making the ratatouille together, though.  Tim cut up the onions and garlic while I cut the aubergine, I boiled a kettle to pour hot water on tomatoes, he skinned them while I cut up the courgettes and started frying the onions, then he cut up the pepper and, when everything was simmering away together, we strolled off and drank gin and tonic as dinner cooked.  It was relaxed and pleasurable and it’s the sort of thing that makes me quietly happy.  Enough stuff is tricky, so I like to appreciate the simple.

Z loses count of the miles

The weekend went almost as planned – first, we went to a concert at Snape on Friday evening, then drove down to Reading that night, arriving at about half past midnight.  Then we went off to a party in Gloucestershire on Saturday, about 80 miles away.

It was the 50th birthday party of the daughter of great friends of LT’s.  They are such great friends that they were among the very few non-family guests at our wedding.  Tim counts their children as honorary niece and nephews, so was very pleased to be invited to the party – and of course we wanted to go.  The only small complications were tickets for concerts on both Friday night and Sunday night, and that it was a Bank Holiday weekend, so booking a B&B for a single night wasn’t that easy.  So, I suggested, we just get in the car and do it all.  And that was going nicely.  The party was lovely and I’ve been introduced to all of the honorary family, and we were set for a relaxed Sunday morning and then a drive to Aldeburgh, then on to Snape for the concert, which was New Orleans trad jazz.

Then I had an email from Weeza on Sunday morning, to say that my sister Wink was in great pain and hardly able to move, so couldn’t come to stay that night, as had been planned.  So I phoned her – it’s her leg and lower back, she doesn’t know what has caused it but (this is a very stoical woman with a high pain threshold) she was almost in tears from the pain.  So, being only 80 miles away (the opposite direction from the party), we got in the car and drove to her, picking up extra painkillers on the way.

I could say words about the traffic past Stonehenge at this point, and the absurd vanity project of an unaffordable pair of tunnels that archaeologists don’t want, that prevent a dual carriageway being put in and, instead, cause several miles of traffic jams; especially when a car breaks down.  But I won’t darlings, because I’m a cheery sort of Z who doesn’t do that sort of thing.  And we cooked Wink some lunch and made her more comfortable and did a bit of shopping and she felt a bit better and assured us she didn’t want us to stay, which, of course, we would have been happy to do.  So we set off, avoiding Stonehenge by going down interesting country roads and, as LT was driving, I actually used maps, as well as my phone app, to navigate.

But the M25 was busy by early afternoon and we simply gave up on the trad jazz.  We just wanted to get out of the unremitting rain and get home.  So we did, and I rootled around in the freezer and put together two one-person casseroles (both leftovers; I save them for when Tim is away) and ate them, and went to bed.  And today, we went over for a family bash at Weeza’s, which was what Wink was coming for, and I made several batches of scones and took fig jam and damson jam, and everyone else took other stuff too, and Weeza and co have massive leftovers.

We had poached eggs for supper.  Two chickens have been moulting, so only the three black ones have been laying – they never seem to go off-lay.  But now they’re all laying and we can expect rather a lot of eggs, to go with the other gluts, over the next few weeks.

Wink says she’s feeling a bit better, but still in bed, and will phone the doctor in the morning.

Dry hard. Drive hard. Whatevs.

While we’re talking about home grown food, does any of you know a lot about drying vegetables?  Friends are very pleased with their home-dried tomatoes and we do have a glut every year.  I make various chutneys and relishes and we make soup and sauce for the freezer.  I’ve considered a dehydrator but the room it takes up versus the use it’d get is a bit off-putting.    I’m not sure if the baby belling, or the Aga, would work well enough at their lowest temperatures.  Also, I’ve read warnings about storing dried tomatoes in oil, because of the risk of botulism, but I don’t know enough to be sure if that’s real or purely theoretical.

This subject will be purely theoretical once summer is over, of course.

We’ve got a busy weekend coming up with a lot of driving.  I might manage a post tomorrow, but then I don’t think I’ll have time for a few days.  Have a lovely bank holiday weekend, darlings.  I’ll be bak sun.

Zed’s bread

I seem to have got my bread recipe as we both like it now.  I’d made bread regularly until I turned the Aga off for the summer, three years ago, but I didn’t start again until earlier this year.  Mostly, this was because Tim and I were travelling to each other’s houses that first winter, and then it was general indolence, I suppose.  However, the snowy weather at the end of last winter somewhat disrupted food supplies to supermarkets and, though we didn’t actually have any problems ourselves buying what we wanted, it was enough to prompt me.

It turned out that I like rather denser, seedier bread than Tim does.  That is, it’s not that he doesn’t like it, but he does usually have some toast and marmalade at breakfast and it was more a bread for savoury food.  I’ve been tweaking the recipe ever since and now, with the addition of some rye flour, I think I’ve cracked it.  I make it in the food mixer with a dough hook. My days of kneading dough are over (that just autocorrected – a misnomer, of course – to cough).

So here it is.

200 grams white bread flour, 200 grams wholemeal bread flour, 100 grams rye flour.  10 grams instant yeast, 10 grams salt, 30 grams black treacle.  Up to 240 millilitres water, until the mixture comes away from the sides of the bowl and is slightly sticky but not wet; might need less water than that.

When that lot has mixed for a few minutes, add 100-120 grams of mixed seeds.  I usually do sunflower seeds, linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  When they’ve mixed in, i pour a few drops of olive oil at the bottom of the bowl, roll the dough in it, put a cloth on the top and leave it for 2 or 3 hours.

Then I put the mixer back on while I oil the tin, put the knocked-down dough on a floured board, shape it, bung it in the tin, brush it with water, sprinkle it with seeds – I usually use some sesame seeds and white poppy seeds, cut a slash down the middle and leave it for another hour or so, covered.  Bake in a hot oven for 25 minutes.

It doesn’t rise quite like a commercial loaf, but an “artisan” loaf costs around £3 to £4 and the ingredients for this, which tastes very similar, are around a quid.  Expensive breads started with sourdough, and I do see that is worth a premium for the effort involved, but I think there’s been a bit of bandwagon-jumping since then.

White poppy seeds have been a revelation.  Fond as I am of the black/blue sort, one does worry about them getting stuck in the teeth.  But these taste exactly the same and it doesn’t show, if it happens at all.

I’ve also made more tomato relish.  Tim says he’ll make more sauce tomorrow, because there are rather a lot of the fruit to use up.  I’m looking after some of the grandchildren tomorrow morning, which I’m very much looking forward to, and then starting work on the china catalogue in the afternoon, which isn’t quite so much fun.  Still, once I’m past the boring first stage of listing it, I enjoy working with the china.

My cat likes to hide in boxes…..

Proof, if it were needed, that a cat is a cat, however it lives.

RasPutin in a box

This is the feral tomcat, RasPutin, who looks cute and completely domesticated in a cardboard box.  I’ve just remembered, I meant to go into the pet shop and get some worming tablets to crumble into his food.  I’ll try to do it tomorrow.  He seems to be very well, yet he isn’t putting on weight and so I wonder if it’s parasites. Worth a try, anyway.

 

 

Chilled

We went to a terrific concert at Snape on Saturday, really enjoyable.  Mike and Zoe came to stay for the weekend – they were really Rose’s guests, but staying here as she’s short on spare beds, and they arrived after we’d left.  When we got back, around 10.30, they were relaxing with red wine, so we joined in with a fair bit of enthusiasm.  We rolled upstairs to bed a couple of hours later…

I bought a new fridge.  It was because of the fig preserves, really – so many things need to be kept in the fridge nowadays, as fewer preservatives are used and we cut down on sugar, and there isn’t much room for everyday stuff.  Talking about it, I suddenly remembered that, at one time, we’d had a fridge on the kitchen counter; where the microwave now is.  A bit of measuring and we found that there was room for both, as long as we moved the ice maker, which is only a foot wide so that wouldn’t be too hard.  And, a while later, I’d ordered a fridge for delivery on Sunday and was quite pleased with myself.  We’re pleased with the fridge too, it’s just what we needed.

 

Figs and tomatoes

And apples, though we haven’t tackled the huge bagful yet.

we’ve picked figs most days this week and eaten them for lunch with feta cheese or prosciutto and salad, and I’ve eaten a few more – that is, one every time I’ve gone past the bowl because a fresh fig is a wonderful thing and the season is so short.  We didn’t pick any yesterday though, because it rained in the morning and we forgot.  There were a lot ripe.  Two and a half kilos, in fact – about fifty figs, and we didn’t even try to get those at the top of the tree, nor the ones with clusters of wasps around.  I did grab one, not realising that a couple of wasps were on the back of it, but they were perfectly charming and moved onto another fruit that was bursting with ripeness.  I was appreciative that they didn’t sting, nor even buzz annoyedly, so was very happy to leave them their share.

I’ve made a batch of tomato relish – we made lots last year and it’s a very good recipe as it can be used straight away, unlike most chutneys that have to wait for several months.  The secret is adding pickled onions and gherkins at the last, which have matured already.  And Tim has cooked down several more pounds of tomatoes for sauces.

There are far too many figs for even greedy Z to manage – this is the biggest crop I’ve ever had, by a long way – and I’ve made a spiced fig jam with walnuts, which is meant to be eaten with cheese.  I’ve got more figs marinading for jam and another batch will be a confit, with Marsala.  They’re jobs for the morning though.  I’m a bit tired now.  Bread and yoghurt have also been made – I must go and pot up the yoghurt while I remember.

Early night, darlings.  Bye bye xx

Fame

We went to Snape Proms last night, to see Georgie Fame.  Yes, darlings, he still is going strong and his voice is as good as ever.  It was a great evening with a fabulous atmosphere, everyone went out happy.

I still have no idea whether the chickens have worked out how to use the new feeder.  I took out a few leftovers to them this morning as usual and tapped the bar to get a few grains down, but otherwise left them to it.  When I went back after lunch, the plate underneath was newly covered in dust, but I don’t know if that has any significance.  Chickens raise a lot of dust.  The only way I’ll know is if the feeder runs out of feed, so I scooped out two bucketfuls and only left a small amount, which they should be able to finish in a couple of days.  I threw them some food because it seemed mean not to, and they dashed for it at once.  I dunno.  Blue Witch assures me they’ll learn, so I suppose they will.

I don’t suppose anyone has a steam press?  I’m thinking of buying one, which will be big enough for tablecloths – folded, of course.  The one I’m pondering is 90cm wide.  It’s an absurd amount to spend really, but I’ve reached the age that, if I want it and can afford it, I don’t have to justify it to anyone.  But, if it doesn’t have a satisfactory result on heavily embroidered linen tablecloths, with lace, pulled thread work and all the embellishments, it’s not worth it.  I don’t mind ironing the rest.  Not that I do a lot of ironing, but I think I’m getting tidier in my old age.