Sunday, February 28, 2010

Best laid plans

Having had lots of good intentions of getting stuck into some wicker and willow basket weaving today - unfortunately the weather dictated a whole other set of chores.

With the poly / greenhouse starting to lean like the Tower of Pisa in the strong winds, that needed a bit of shoring up today. 

We have been fortunate so far to have only lost one tile from the barn roof - so relieved that we replaced the house roof and set the ridge tiles securely otherwise that would have been at great risk.

The buckets and lids from the waterbutts were scattered in all directions and they had to hunted down, the hay bags were missing, and large amounts of debris - mostly dead wood, covered the garden, all of which had to be gathered up before it was picked up and blown around again over the road or more worryingly into the car.

We lost our power supply some time during the night and it did not click back in until early afternoon, poor Thea with a new PS3 game and controller had to wait hours before she got to try them out.

The chicken coop roof has taken a battering and will need to be replaced this summer, it will pass for now, but with several large holes in it security is now an issue, and we do have pine martens that will not just steal eggs but attack younger smaller birds.


With school restarting tomorrow, obviously like all teens, Thea left all the preparations until the last minute, so birthday or no birthday, there was homework to be done, forms to be signed off, and a school bag to be sewn back together before anything could be put in it.  That effectively took the rest of the afternoon.
So tidying up the wind debris, fixing some wind damage, and sewing school bags together - no wicker, no willow.  Nevermind - there is always tomorrow.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I love my chickens

We have kept chickens since we first got here.

I love to watch them, they have so much personality and are so entertaining.

This photo shows Edith and Pick-up chicken enjoying some of our winter stores of pumpkin.

During winter when there is nothing in the garden, they roam freely, but during spring when the first seedlings are pushing through, the chickens have a tendancy to regard them as a snack and so have to be shut in their run.

The run is 35m x 10m so they have plenty of scratching room, as well as access to the chicken coop, a nesting room, a dust bath and some hedgerow.

Unfortunately earlier this year the fencing was damaged by a runaway bullock who managed to pull half of it up and pull out some of the poles. As there has been no need to shut the chickens in we left the fencing down, but with spring approaching and work starting shortly in the garden we decided to get the fencing fixed back up today.

I am not one to throw things away nor buy new but on this occasion we did need some new fencing, luckily we could salvage the poles, mostly bent not broken. The poles themselves are from a poly/greenhouse that got trashed by a mini tornado a couple of years ago, I kept the poly and the poles thinking they would have a purpose at some point, and they do well as fence posts for the chicken wire.

At least it was dry today, but the wind is still a little too fresh to be outside for too long. With the new fencing we managed to extend the run a bit further too, they gained another 5 metres or so. They have another couple of weeks before we have to start shutting them in so they are making the most of it. Our compost bin has been thoroughly investigated as has the manure pile, they have done a good job of weeding the first shoots out of the veg plot, and devouring any insect that dared rear its head.

Most of our chickens have names, like Edith - (from 'Allo 'Allo, who could forget Rene and "you stupid woman"), we also have Senorita and her fat friends, Mama Hog - Queen of the roost and her tiny shadow Mini Hog, KFC and Skippy, Pick-up chicken is just that - a chicken you can easily pick up and we also have two cockerels, one who does his job when Mama Hog allows him to and a second bantam that was donated to us. We keep them for eggs and not meat, when we want meat birds we buy them as chicks from the local farmers market and raise them alongside each other until it is time to cull them. When our original birds stop laying I intend to cull them too, but for now they have a reprieve.

Only problem is that at the moment I just have way too many eggs to eat, what with the ducks and Mother Goose laying every day, just as well the quail haven't started yet.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Very Pleasant Surprise

When we moved to France we bought our 3 cats from the UK with us.  Stupid, a black and white British short hair, Evil Bob, a pure white cat, and Purple, our little tabby.

Unfortunately we lost Stupid in our second year due to a stroke, at 15 he was quite old and had certainly enjoyed his time lying around in the sun in the summer and in front of the fire in the winter.

We lost Bob in December after she was hit by a car and had spine and internal injuries, she also managed to get to age 15.

Purple is now our last UK cat, and my word, she is a survivor.  She had a tough start in life when she was dropped down the stairs when a tiny kitten by the children in the home she came from, when we adopted her in 1997 she had already developed a head shake very reminiscent of Parkinson's disease.  Two years afterwards she was badly mauled in a fight with a dog.  Five years after that she went missing for 3 days and eventually came home with half of her face missing, gangrene had set in after something mauled her, the vet suspected a fox attack, but he stitched her face together leaving her with a twisted face, her whiskers on the left side of her face are now up nearly at her eye and she has a permanent dribble - but still alive.

Having used up several of her nine lives, we though a life in France would be one of relaxation for her, but she took to hunting here like a fish to water.  Now at 15 she is scrawny, deformed, quite smelly and completely blind, but still with us.  At least she was until Monday afternoon, when she went outside for the toilet and we did not see her again.  To be honest, by Tuesday morning when she had not returned we were more concerned in finding her body than finding her alive.

Then earlier this afternoon, our neighbour knocked on the door with what we thought was her corpse - but no - she has survived again.   He found her wandering around on the grass verge a kilometre up the road.  Apart from being a bit damp from the storm and very thin, she seems uninjured.  Amazing.

We always joked that even with her maulings and her Parky's shaking she would outlive all of them and she has, as well as outliving 2 kittens we had adopted here in France.

But none of that has any bearing on today's project.

In between the storms and the blustry gusts I managed to get my willow coppiced ready for some basket weaving at the weekend.

I was not very experimental last year and only made some cone shaped bird feeders which did work really well until one of the kittens we adopted decided they would like to eat bird food too (seed studded fat balls) and pulled them down out of the tree and chewed them to pieces.

I would like to have a go at making some plant pot holders, perhaps a bread basket, something simple anyway.  I also intend to get some Christmas decorations on the go, stars, balls and hearts, ready for decorating next Christmas.

More photos and info to come over the weekend.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Houdini Horse

This is Milla

She is closely related to Harry Houdini.

I have never known a horse who can escape the way she can.

So far she has gnawed through electric fencing posts, waded through a lake, broken through post and rail fencing and learnt how to open field gates.

Some time during the night she jumped 4 foot high barbed wire fencing.

We had some really stong gusty winds overnight and she is not overly keen on windy conditions as most horses are not, therefore she obviously decided last night or early this morning that enough was enough, leapt over the fencing and went to find somewhere else to be.

This morning was spent tracking down her hoof marks and hoping that she had not run off too far, and that she had not hurt herself.  Luckily she had only gone three fields up, and was completely unhurt, not a scratch or bruise thankfully.  Surprisingly enough - or perhaps unsurprisingly - she was eager to come home, normally trying to catch her after an escape and in the wind is near impossible, but this morning, she came straight over to be caught and strolled home quite readily - I think she must have scared herself.

Today's project has been to reinforce the posts around the perimeter of the field, restring some of the barbed wire, and add some 'flutter' guards to the posts to discourage her from approaching them.

I believe that where she has been rubbing her bum on the posts she loosened them in the thawing mud and the fence was starting to tilt and was therefore lower than normal.  I was waiting for some nicer weather before I got round to this repair job, but Milla took her opportunity and so there was no choice - fence fixing it had to be.

Signs of relief that a few posts and some barbed wire is all that was required for this project and not a trip to the vet and stitches.

Now just have to wait and see what her next trick will be.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just like Christmas

Received a lovely goody bag from my mum today, full of yummy and useful things.

Amongst the herbs and spices (and that naughty Galaxy chocolate - soooo yummy) there was another of her fantastic charity shop bargains.  A loose knitted short sleeve top with a scalloped edge, in a light beige, made from a cotton/silk mix chunky thread.

I am never sure whether she buys me these things for me to wear - in which case I perhaps should be offended as she has a real gift for buying hideously unflattering clothing, or whether she buys these things for me to take apart and refashion.  Either way, the top came apart today and I now have 3 balls of lovely soft wool ready to be used for something else.

As it is a woven thread, it will tolerate being crocheted too, so whilst I am not sure yet what to make from it, it does have lots of potential.

Hmmmm - time to cruise those free pattern websites to see what I find.

Generally I start from and work out from there.  Something to look forward to this evening when there is nothing on the TV yet again.

Red White and Green pasta sauce

With a rotten cold bringing me down at the moment, I felt the need for some comfort food on Tuesday, and this my adaptation of a lovely recipe from the River Cafe Cookbook. 

The added benefit of all the chilli helps clear my sinuses.

I serve this usually with some freshly made tagliatelle. 

Fry a fresh red chilli with 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped in some olive oil for a couple of minutes. 
Add some chicken or turkey breast cut into small pieces and fry until the meat takes on some colour.
Add some green - either broccoli or french beans, I throw in whatever is to hand in the freezer, pour over just enough water to cover, add a stock cube and cover the pan and leave to cook until the veg is tender.
Then either pour over some double cream, or add some creme fraiche, to thicken the stock sauce. 

Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stir over a couple of times and serve.

You need the cream to smooth the bite of the chilli - this dish is supposed to be quite hot.  When I taste test it, I like it be just on the edge of being too hot, because the pasta makes it 'milder'.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Can we have spring now please.

Sun was out again today, and it topped 10C by 9 o'clock.  It really feels like Spring is on the way. I wish anyway.

Brendan had a project all of his own today.  He had to fix a rake, in fact his favourite rake. 

The question is - how did he break it? 

Well, he broke it over Ernie's back when the naughty sheep was trying to mount my neighbour's elderly visitor. The rake just bounced off Ernie's fleece and cracked the handle.  Before you say anything this sounds much more violent that it actually was.

The trouble was always to attract Ernie's attention once he had fixated on someone, and bouncing things off him seemed to do the trick - watercans, footballs, a pumpkin, shoes and a rake all did service.  The trouble was that people would look at him and think ahhhh cute sheep, and he would just dominate them, and they, rather than giving him a quick smack on the nose to get him to back off would allow him to have his way with them until they came perilously close to losing their feet.  By the time he went in the freezer in December he was certainly not a cute lamb - but an enormous well fed German Shepherd sized sheep.

With Bren occupied with the rake stave, that left last year's coldframes to be sorted out, a quick check over, some taping of the corners and replacing of some screws and then some discussion over the best way to weigh them down. 

We have very strong winds throughout March and everything needs to be weighted down to survive, the polytunnels and the coldframes in the garden, the shutters have tobe locked down and the washing has to be double pegged otherwise it vanishes. 

We actually had a second polytunnel in the garden, one of those poly tent looking things stretched over thin aluminium poles, and one weekend we went out and came home to find that it had vanished.  A little tornado had formed, run along the valley and picked up the tent and deposited it in the ash trees, leaving the seedling trays and table exactly where they were, complete untouched.

Quick and easy knitted flower for my hair

On Sunday I sorted out my work-in-progress basket in the living room, and found a wool remnant from a headband I made earlier in the year, as well as some yellow cord from the jumper I cut up to make my fingerless gloves and decided they had been lying around long enough and needed using up.

The flower was made by casting on 90 stitches, then K2tog K2 for the first row, then P2tog P2 in the second row, then K2tog, K2 for the third row, and then K2tog throughout the row and P2tog throughout the row on each decreasing row until 3 stitches remain then draw thread through to finish and sew sides together. The sharp decrease leaves a bobble, which I filled out with the tail end to create a round centre.

The additional petals are made by casting on 4 stitches, slip the first stitch on every other row to create a straight edge and increase every row on the other edge until you have 7 stitches, then decrease every row on the non-straight edge until you are back to 4 stitches, repeat until ideally you have 5 petals, but I only had enough wool for 4 petals.

The cord was then roughly looped around the centre bobble and each loop was then secured with a stictch.

I debated whether to fasten the flower to a hair grip or hair elastic band, but in the end have left it so I can just use a couple of bobby pins to pin the flower whether I want on my chignon.

- which sounds much posher than it is - in reality my hair is too long again and I wear it up constantly which 'feels' a little boring, so I like something to decorate my otherwise dull dull dull hair with.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sweet smelling home - scented diffuser in less than an hour for 10cents.

With the snow back it is certainly not a day for throwing open the windows to air the house. However, with one very old and one very young cat the litter tray is an essential yet smelly addition to the hallway, so I need something to help keep the house smelling sweet.

Very recently I have been seeing these new variations on the candle/oil burners, which consist of very pretty bottles full of nice smelling liquids with thin bamboo slivers which diffuse the scent. Very nice I though until I saw the price!

Having walked away from the store horrified at the cost, I though I might have a go at making some myself. I walked back into the store and bought a pack of the bamboo canes, at only 10cents for 12 sticks even I managed to scrape together enough change from the depths of my handbag for these.

Unfortunately I don't have the pretty tiny little bottles but what I do have - and keep finding in every ploughing of the garden - are these little vaccination bottles. These are used by the vets locally when they come round to vaccinate the cows, and often these get dropped and missed in the clean up. I tend to gather them up and keep them, and now have quite a little collection of them going on.

I thought I would experiment with a few scents that I had in the house.

I started with some vanilla essence, watered down slightly with some cooled boiled water. This smells really lovely but quite strong, so I have left that in the hall.

My second attempt is just some rose water. This is very subtle and needs a closed door to drap the scent in the room, bedroom for that one.

The third is some cooled boiled water with a couple of drops of citrus essential oil. This little bottle was one of my Christmas presents and I actually wear it like perfume most of the time, just a drop every few days on my scarf or a jumper. Very zesty and fresh. Anyway, because it was completely colourless and I wanted something I could see working I added a couple of drops of food colouring and now it is a lovely bright green. The last photograph shows how the bamboo stick draws it up to diffuse it.

All three diffusers work, all three throw lovely scents into the air and did not cost a fortune.

Very pleased with this little project.
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Friday feeling

It was a bit of a disjointed day yesterday. 

All the sun had gone and dark wintery clouds were back, and we all thought the snow fall would start again, but by the afternoon it had brightened up and the sun was peeking through the clouds, but the temperatures were below freezing.

Started the day with trying to get somethings sorted in the UK. Everyone I phoned seemed to have started the weekend early and I managed to get precisely nothing sorted - very disappointing and it means that I have to do it all over again next week when people are back in the office.

When I got back from work I was starving and went to grab some salad and found that my vinigrette bottle was empty, as was my chilli oil, so that at least gave me my project for the afternoon.

I bottle all of my own oils and salad dressings, just buying in virgin olive oil as the base.  I love to have them all on the shelf ready to use. 

I keep any bottles, reuse them and also ask for donations from friends and clients.  Make sure all your bottles are sterilised before you add the contents - either boil them or put them in an oven - and don't forget to do the bottle tops too.  For flavoured oils I use approx 250ml bottles or smaller.

In fact most people now seem to have a 'Monika' box where they put their jars, yoghurt pots, toilet rolls, corks, and bottles.

Pizza Oil - tablespoon whole peppercorns, fresh or dried oregano or marjoram stalks, 3 garlic cloves, and a fresh or dried chilli, pour over olive oil and leave in a cool dark place to mature for at least a month.

Mustard vinigrette - 2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard (I make my own from whole mustard seed but you can use shop bought) fill bottle 3/4 with white vinegar, add a decent splash of balsamic and top the bottle with oilve oil.

Chilli Oil - crush 3 dried chillies or finely chop fresh chillies, add some finely chopped garlic cloves, I use at least 4 large cloves, pour over oil and leave to mature in a cool dark place.  This is my favourite for pouring over tomato and mozzarella salads.

Tomato vinigrette - cut a handful of cherry tomatoes in half and drop into a bottle, cut a red onion into slices that just fit through the neck of the bottle, 1/4 balsamic vinegar, 2/4 white vinegar and 1/4 olive oil.

I know the balsamic turns everything a bit brown but it is worth it for the taste, especially with tomatoes, but it is too expensive to fill a bottle alone, so dilute with some clear white vinegar.

I also preserve my herbs under oil, which gives you herbs to use in dishes and some lovely flavoured oils too. 

For this I use small sterilised jam jars. 

Pack stalks of rosemary, thyme, tarragon, oregano or whichever herb you want to use, tightly into the jar, pour over the oil and leave to mature in a cool dark place for at least a month.  Once opened they will keep for a number of weeks in the fridge, just pull out the herb for your recipe, or fry with the oil to add flavour.

For example if I am making roast lamb, I stud the lamb with the rosemary stalks, then to add flavour to my boiled potatoes I heat some of the oil in a large shallow pan, add the potatoes and turn them gently in the oil before serving, or I use some of the rosemary flavoured oil to make roast potatoes in.

My shelves are now groaning with full bottles, just the way I like it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spring is still in the air - for today anyway.

According to my daughter I have gone mad.

Oh well. Nevermind.  I don't think she needed to post it on Facebook though!

It is all to do with the sunshine.
We have some.

There is something about seeing the sun after winter that makes me want to clean house and it is no small feat considering our heating is all wood and coal. The dust and muck this creates is huge, so spring cleaning starts early and takes weeks.

Today I started with the mantlepiece above the Rayburn - the worst spot.

I have my selection of gardening and cookery books up there, several bottles and jars and a collection of vintage tins.

Everything came off, the ceiling was swept, every item was washed and dried in the sun, the wall was washed down and the oak beam that creates the mantlepiece was also washed.

When everything was dry and clean, back it went - ready to catch dust again!

I gave my vintage chrome kettles a polish too, ready to go back on the Rayburn - which also had a good clean.

I had all the windows open earlier, the cold sun streaming into the house, airing out all the musty corners, all the rugs and blankets thrown over the window sills ready to have the dust beaten out - it really felt like the start of Spring.

I know it is shortlived though as the forecast for tomorrow is more snow.


A couple of the wine baskets from the mantlepiece drying out in the sun on the window sill after a good washing to remove the dust.
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Spring in the air

Our clear air here in the Auvernge leaves our trees covered in lichen all year round.

With the temperatures going up slowly, and managing to hit 7C today, it was a lovely day to be in my studio.

Sometimes these men redeem themselves and today was one of those days.

I mentioned on my way out of the door on my way to work this morning, what a lovely day it was and how it would be nice to spend some time in my studio today. When I got home at lunch time my lovely other half had lit the fire and it was toasty and warm in the studio, so a quick snack and in I went.

My plan for today was to sort through my seeds and make my garden plan for this year.

I started with my lunar diary - I make these every year, following the Maria Thun lunar calendar, and marked out the auspicious planting days. While I try to stick to these, sometimes it is just not possible according to weather conditions but at least the diary gives me a guideline to follow. Which when you are trying to plant 400 m2 is useful.

I rotate every year in order to maximise the efficiency of the earth without draining it of essential nutrients and minerals, and I like to plant different varieties of our staples. I collect a lot of my own seeds for our organic planting, carrots, parsnips etc.

My herb garden is self seeding now so apart from planting the odd new herb as I find them, it comes back every year quite happily, with coriander, rosemary, parsley, thyme, tarragon, lemon balm, mint, chinese parsley, horseradish, dill, chives, garlic chives, fennel, garlic, sage and of course Absinthe! I expand it every year and this spring it will be no different, it curently measures 3 metres by 2 metres, and runs across the front of the main vegetable garden, but I think I need to add another metre to it. My basil I tend to leave in the greenhouse as it is just that bit warmer in there for it.

With the diary marked out for the moon ascending/descending, the optimum planting dates marked out, I drew out the garden plan for 2010. This year I have decided not to plant any potatoes in the main veg garden, nor any turnips until I have decided whether to get a pig or not for this winter's freezer. If we do get a weaner, I intend to turn some of the winter horse grazing field over to the cultivation of some root veg to assist with the feeding of it.

Having drawn up the plan, I went through all the seeds I have and I find that I am only missing a couple of items, some plum tomatoes some fennel, and some borlotti beans.

Everything starts from the first of March, after the full moon, can't wait.
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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Today's knitting

Having polished off the hat yesterday, Thea asked me for the matching fingerless gloves, so whipped them off my needles this afternoon.

The hat and mittens in this lovely bright blue where knitted on slightly larger needles (UK4.5) than those recommended to give a looser knit.

Hat Pattern

Cast on 100 stitches.
Knit 1, Purl 1 for 1 inch of ribbing.
Then K2, P2 until total length of your knitting is 6.5 inches.
Then K2, P2tog to end of next row
K1, P2tog to end of next row
K2tog P1 K1 K2tog to end on next row
K2tog P1 K1 K2tog to end on next row
K2tog, P2tog each row until 7 stitches remain
Draw wool through and sew sides together.

Fingerless Gloves

Cast on 40 stitches.
K2, P2 for next 38 rows
Cast off with a long thread, and sew sides together, leaving one inch hole open, one inch from top.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday again...

WOW - don't Mondays roll around quickly.

Not just any old Monday either, but a Monday half way through February already.  I feel like I blinked quickly and it got to February without me noticing. 

I have been exhausted most of the day.  I spend my week speaking French, and I am definitely not a natural linguist, so I look forward to the weekends when I can just get lazy and speak English, but yesterday's afternoon theatre trip was all in French and my poor brain is fried now.  I have struggled to focus in English all day and now with a couple teens babbling away in French at me again I just want to crawl under the duvet and sleep the evening away.

I did get up with a purpose today.  I have finally decided to tackle my ironing pile, as it is 12 months old now.

To be fair, ironing is one of those things I gave up in the move, and so I iron very little, but there are those occasional items that really do need flattening in order to be flattering.  Part of the problem is the fact that I no longer have an ironing board, therefore any ironing gets done on the wooden chopping board, covered in a towel, on the kitchen table. 

This is actually a great way of sanitising the chopping board, which is a flat-ish piece of aged oak I found in the garden and a friend kindly sanded down for me with his much bigger belt sander.  I then painted it a couple of times with some vegetable oil and dried it out over the Rayburn.

I took me an hour to tackle the ironing, a couple of shirts, a dress, a cotton waistcoat and three other tops with frills, but it is finally done.  The only problem is I decided to tackle the ironing because it was hanging outside of the wardrobe and getting on my nerves, now I have finally done the ironing it is still just hanging outside of the wardrobe.  One day soon I will get round to putting it away.

I must be doing something right, because my daughter approached me this morning and asked me to make her a hat, but she wanted something bright, instead of the neutral wools I normally use, so I sent her to search the store cupboard to see what she could find.  And what she found was three skeins of a bright turquiose blue wool in amongst a bag of wools that I picked up  at a car boot sale for a couple of euros (price ticket was still on the bag).

To reward her good taste in hats I decided to try to get it finished in one day, so she could wear it tomorrow while toboganning.  I have therefore spent a most relaxing afternoon knitting away, and have one complete hat to show for it although I feel it is lacking in some decorations but my teen is happy with it plain.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine weekend

Saturday saw me settled in front of the TV, with some hemming to finish.

The green top was once a dress, cut off at hip length, and then finished with some antique lace. I actually finished this re-fashion last summer and then tore the lace and it has been waiting to be finished with some new vintage lace ever since.

The black top is mentioned earlier in this blog, and I was originally going to get my sewing machine out to hem it, but whilst settled comfortably I decided to hand hem it.

As this dress is from nylon cross grain, it did not require lots of hemming as it tends not to fray, but to give a more finised look, I created a rolled hem.

These is easily done by just rolling the edge of the fabric between the finger and thumb in one hand and then securing with some running stitch. This dress was lined, so with two layers of hemming, it now swings out across the thighs as a tunic top without clinging.

The white shirt is my indulgent buy this year.

I stuck to my self enforced criteria but was lucky enough to find this 100% organic cotton shirt in the sales.

As the summers here can be very hot, I like something light I can throw on over my shoulders to prevent sunburn when out and about, and this plain white shirt is ideal, but just a little bit too plain. It appears here as the 'before' shot, for the re-vamp due in the week.

Sunday - today - is Valentine's day.

We have never really been moved by Hallmark generated celebrations, and while living on a tight budget, there is no reason to be wasting money on hideously overpriced plastic wrapped tat.

I have never been keen on cut flowers either, particularly in the depths of winter when you know they have travelled thousands of miles for the privelidge of wilting in your house.

So what do you do for an eco friendly, green Valentine.

Coffee in bed and the luxury of a fresh hot water bottle so you can have a lie-in with a good book. Bliss.

Today's project is a little different.

Les Dames des Villosanges.

Today I am a taxi driver.

Our neighbouring village is presenting a little theatrical event, some comedy skits, some singing, some dancing, and a glass of wine and nibbles. With the snow quite heavy on the ground at the moment, my 4x4 has been called into service as the taxi for the ladies from my village. I just hope that they can all climb up into the back seats, looks like a tin bucket for a step.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let it snow, let it snow

It started snowing on Wednesday and it has not stopped since. For some, like Arthur here, this is great, he loves the snow, and for my daughter, for whom school was cancelled on Friday, it means an extended school break.

For me, not so great. I set off for work on Thursday in my husband's car, as the handbrake had frozen solid on the Land Rover, unfortunately I had not got a kilometre down the road before the car seemed determined to throw me into a ditch. So I turned around to head back home, and almost did not make it back up the valley to the house. Several attempts at taking a run up the slope finally saw me cresting the hill, just in time to hit the next incline. Finally got the car back and admitted defeat.

Brendan had to get the hot air gun on the handbrake - lying around on the snowy ground under the car on a piece of cardboard was not much fun for him.

Comfort food was the order of the day therefore on Thursday.

Ham and cabbage

For some reason this is one my other half's favourite comfort food recipes, I think it must come from his Irish grandmother. It is certainly hot and filling and eaten out of big bowls with some freshly baked bread it is certainly heartwarming.

I use some of my salted pork meat.

This started life very much like a side of bacon, dry salted and left for a couple of weeks, then carved up into large pieces but due to making too many bacon joints I ended up freezing some of the meat to prolong the preservation.

To de-frost, and de-salt the meat, I left it in some water overnight, then boiled it twice, changing the water every time.

Then having roughly chopped the meat into cubes. I fried some onions with pepper corns, then added the meat, added a couple of large potatoes just cut into quarters, and when the potatoes have pretty much boiled into mush, threw in a head of cabbage chopped into thick strips.

I like the potatoes boiled away to nothing as this makes the thick base, almost like a stew, that holds the cabbage and meat together. As my meat was salted park, there is no need to add any salt to season, but if you were making it with ham, you may want to add some salt with generous amounts of pepper to season. I add a couple of tablespoons of cider vinegar at the end just to cut through the cabbage.

The snow continued unabated on Friday, just getting deeper and deeper. With school cancelled, there was no sign of life from my daughter's bedroom until just before midday, by the time I got back from work she had managed to get up and eat a bowl of cereal, but was still slouching around in her pjs.

With no other signs of life, all of our birds tucked away in various hangers and barns, Arthur curled up on his bed, and the kitten sprawled on the floor in front of the fire, it was difficult to get any degree of motivation to do anything other than sit in front of a film.

So I picked up my knitting needles and with Thea in charge of the DVD remote control, we made out way through a couple of episodes of NCIS, and I finished off another chunky knit hat, a chunky knit flower destined to be a brooch, and a circular piece of knitting.

I have never managed to knit anything before on circular needles and have discovered the reason why - the loop has always been too big and the needles too thin. This little loop was part of a set of knitting needles I picked up at a charity shop for a couple of euros, and I think is the perfect size to make baby hats, but while I was experimenting I thought I would just try to knit something in some surplus black wool I had at the back of the cupboard.

The finished item came out quite well, so well in fact, that once cast off, it will make a lovely little bowl - see future posts for the finished product.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

... bake that

I am sure that I am not alone in having bought various 'Christmassy' nibbles, that are now languishing in the back of the pantry.

One of the worst culprits - or should that be victim - is that packet of dates, that we all buy, leave out on the table to go with the nuts and satsumas at Christmas, of which just one or two dates get nibbled and the rest get tucked away until they go mouldy and get thrown out.

Well, not this year - as part of my new resolution to actually bake a cake occasionally, I was given this recipe by my neighbour, and it is perfect for those left over dates.

Date Flan

Preheat the oven to 200C or equivalent to your oven.

You will need to start with a shortcrust flan base, (the recipe I use was previously posted on

Saturday, January 30, 2010  Friday night is quiz night).

Butter a dish, and lay the pastry case in.

Take those dates, cut in half, de-stone and layer on the pastry - my top tip for dealing with dates, while your board is still floury from the pastry, flour your hands and then handle the dates, not so sticky that way!

For the flan filling, crack and whisk 4 eggs, add 110g of sugar, 90g of cornflour, and about 1litre of milk. I say about 1 litre, because this depends on the depth of your pastry case and dish. Make sure the mix is light and frothy and very liquid, if it is too thick, the flan will be stodgy rather than nice and light.

The recipe I was given included 2 tablespoons of orange water - this is something that I have in my pantry, but you can substitute with lemon juice if you do not have orange water available.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, and leave to cool before serving, store in the fridge once cool.

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Knit this .....

On Tuesday I found this ball of chunky wool in my store cupboard, and though it would make a great hat as a start to replacing those sold.

Unfortunately there is only enough wool for one hat, plus some flowers to decorate it, but set to the knitting on Tuesday morning and finished early evening.

I intend to finish it off with some fabric flower petals, topped with a crochet five petalled flower in matching wool and a vintage button.
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Monday, February 8, 2010

Mission accomplished

As you can see, reading through yesterday's post - today I intended to get the fruits of the weekend's labours on Etsy when I got my camera sorted out - this now done, mission accomplised.

Photo clip garlands now successfully listed, as are the jute gift bags - I have to say I am really pleased with how they have turned out, the quality of the original material shows.  The bags are a bit bigger than a standard bottle sized bag, but I did not want to waste any of the material I had, and there was not enough for 3.

The little photo garlands look lovely, I have kept one for myself for the bedroom - I am still determined to get some decorations up in there, and with Bren safely out of the way this afternoon I might manage to get a couple of nails in the wall.


With another hat winging its way to the USA, I have to go and sort out some more wool to get started on the next batch.   

But with the sun shining, thoughts of the garden and this year's planting are dominating my mind - I know Spring is not here, and that there is more snow on the way, but it is so hard to think logically when you have all the doors and windows flung open to take advantage of the meagre sunshine on offer.  

In a very French style I threw all my rugs and bed blankets out on the window sills this morning to air out, but now that the sun has moved off the front of the house, you can really feel the temperature dropping, and it does remind you that winter is not over yet.  Oh well - time to drag everything in, get the fires lit, and relax with a new skein of wool.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sewing weekend

With the snow finally melted and the temperatures managing to get above freezing for a couple of days, it meant I could move back out to my studio.

I have missed the peace and quiet, but mostly I have missed the ability to spread out on my tables and to not have to pack up every five minutes to make room for dinner or homework or any other interruption.

Saturday was pattern drawing day for the decorations that I want to sew onto a few items:

bottle gift bags that I made a while ago, but ran out of steam on the decorations
a plain white shirt
some new birthday cards to replenish my depleted stocks
and some new flower knitting patterns for some finished hats.

Sunday, I lit the fire in my studio and spent a blissful 6 hours in there with my new mp3 player, my little kettle boiling away for coffee and a couple of leftover slices of cake.

Fantastic - could not ask for a better bit of 'me time'.

I also strung together some photo clip garlands for my Etsy shop, which, just as soon as I have charged the battery for my camera, I will get photographed and listed, hopefully that will be tomorrow's project.

Having sold a few hats now, I need to have a good sort out of my wool and get some more hats on the go to restock my shop with those too.

With snow on the forecast for the week ahead, that should give me enough indoor time to get a few done anyway.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Friday night - curry night - Indian Nan Bread recipe

Having got ahead of the game on Thursday with the curry, that just left me with the nan breads to prepare.

I make my dough up about an hour before I want to eat, and cook them fresh, so they are hot for dipping in the curry sauce.

Basic nan bread:

225g plain white flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tblsp oil - type does not matter, I tend to use olive oil for everything
2 tblsp natural yoghurt
1 beaten egg

I use fresh dried yeast, 15g reactivated in 4 tablespoons of luke warm milk, and a teaspoon of sugar.  If you use a sachet of yeast that does not require activating, add the milk to the dough mix otherwise it will be too dry to stick together.

At this point you can add any flavours you like,  I use a bit of dried garlic powder, paprika and some dried rosemary, but have also used caraway seeds, fresh coriander, and parsely.

Sift the flour and combine all the ingredients together in a bowl until it forms a very light and very soft dough, then knead on a floured surface for about 10 mins until the dough is very smooth and elastic.

Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for at least 45 minutes (enough time to greet my guests, pour some drinks, cook the rice, and add some more fresh chillies to my curry), the dough should double in size. 

When ready to bake the nan breads, I don't squash the risen dough too much otherwise the breads will be a bit heavy. 

Cut a small portion of the dough, and with floured hands form a small ball, push flat - or for larger traditionally shaped nan breads, cut into three, and roll out, then pull gently at one end to make the teardrop shape.

Preheat the oven to 230C / 450F / Gas 8, and place some baking sheets in the oven.  When hot, pop the nan breads on the baking sheets in the oven for about 3 or 4 minutes until they rise, then you can brown them under the grill, brush with a bit of melted butter if you like.

I prefer to cook my nan breads directly on the hot plate of my Rayburn - take some aluminium foil, and spread it on the hot plate, brush with some butter or oil, take the dough and pop onto the foil, leave for a couple of minutes and flip over to cook the other side. 


Thursday, February 4, 2010

One Pot Ernie Rogan Josh

Once upon a time there was a little lamb. His name was Ernie.

He lived on a lovely farm in the French countryside, eating grass.

Then one day, something marvellous happened, Brendan and Steve took Ernie for a little walk, and at the end of it, Ernie became Christmas dinner.

Now it is time for Ernie to be something else, and today he is one pot Rogan Josh, cooking overnight in the Rayburn for dinner with friends tomorrow.

I don't like too much messing about when it comes to cooking, my favourite meals involve one large pot full of something tasty cooking for several hours in the oven, all that standing around with 15 different pans is not for me.

This is my easy peasy recipe for one pot Ernie Rogan Josh:

Marinade ingredients

8cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 small pot of natural yogurt
1 tsp crushed black peppercorns
1 kg lamb cut into cubes – use something with a bit of fat to it like shoulder

For the curry

5 medium onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 green peppers de-seeded and roughly chopped
1 tsp ground cloves
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tblsp ground coriander
4 small dried chillies
olive oil
2 tsp paprika
600g tinned chopped tomatoes
300ml boiling water

Use a large ovenproof dish – preferably with a lid (otherwise the contents of your fridge will smell like Rogan Josh).

Mix the ginger and garlic together with the turmeric, yogurt and black pepper in your oven dish, add the lamb and spread the marinade over the meat, cover then leave overnight in the fridge.

To cook the curry, stir in the oil, the chopped onions, peppers and chilli, add the rest of the spices and bring up to heat on the hob.

Then throw in the tinned tomatoes, salt and water, cover and put in the oven at about 170C, 325F or Gas 3 for as long as you can.

It will cook for about 5 hours as is, for any longer remember to add water to prevent it drying out.

Garnish with some fresh chilli, or fresh coriander, and if too spicy, stir through a little more yoghurt.
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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A project in an hour

Some time ago whilst busily chopping onions my chopping board imploded and split into two pieces, both of which are slightly too narrow to work successfully as chopping boards except for chillies.

Not being the sort of person to throw anything away - good job we have a barn to keep all of my 'can be recycled items' in - I put the smaller half of the board in a box with the intention of using it for something one day. Well today is that day.

Today that piece of chopping board got a make over.

I had to go for a job interview this morning - a very rare occurence and it necessitated wearing some makeup and some slightly smarter clothes than normal - and I decided I wanted to wear some earrings, until I realised they were all in a jumble in the top of my jewelry box and I couldn't get a pair separated easily.

When I got home this afternoon it occured to me that somewhere in amongst all my craft stuff were some small mirror tiles, so I hunted down one of those tiles and got that bit of chopping board from the barn and married the two together with the help of some double sided mirror tape and a few carpet tacks.

The carpet tacks went in along the bottom edge of the tile, and I knocked them back just enough that the tile would sit behind the head of the nails, then to secure it in place I used a couple of strips of the double sided tape that came with the tiles.

Then with my Dremel - (I had to include the photo of my Dremel kit - simply to prove to everyone quite how retentive I really am - every accessory for it is in its proper place, including the plastic protective covering, and the small plastic tub with the replacement sanding discs and stones) - I made some small guide holes and screwed in place some spare curtain hook and eyes that were in my tool box.

And there you go - from chopping board to mirrored earring tidy that can be wall mounted or propped up on the dressing table in an hour.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday's child is full of woe

Only because I had to work today.

I mean I work everyday, but that is a job I enjoy - working as a carer for the elderly and handicapped suits me, and has helped me immensely with learning the French language. 

But whilst it keeps the wolf from the door, it doesn't pay for things like car repairs - and my Land Rover needs some new bits - a rocker cover gasket, 8 push rods, a clutch master cyclinder, and front panhard rod bushes.  Well she is celebrating her 21st birthday this year!!

Thankfully I had the foresight to marry a mechanic so I get the labour for free. (Although he costs a fortune in food and beer, and the hot water for washing all that oil off afterwards).

Today was all about earning the money for the 'not quite luxury but things that I have not accounted for in our essential living budget' .

The afternoon was therefore spent in front of my much overworked laptop, and many buttons were clattered as I wore my accountant / auditor hat on behalf of a couple of UK based clients. 

Wine o'clock could not come soon enough for me - I was never so happy as at 6 this evening when I shut down all those programmes and sat back with a glass of red and a lovely pasta carbonara that I rustled up in a few minutes from some ham, some frozen mushrooms and the almost out of date creme fraiche in the fridge.

Definitely a night to see what is on the TV, and put my feet up in front of the fire.
My eyes are too cross-eyed and tired out to knit even.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Re-fashion (fingerless gloves in an hour)

Re-fashion is the new buzz word that seems to have arrived from nowhere, closely following on the heels of upcycling. I think I quite like re-fashioning - it seems to hit the nail on the head.

Today I am re-fashioning an absolutely hideous jumper that my mum picked up for me at a UK car boot sale. I really don't know what she was thinking - maybe the sun glare blinded her behind her sunglasses - oh wait - forgot she was in the UK - perhaps she could not see clearly from under her brolly!

So the sleeves were unceremoniously chopped off, ready to fashion into a pair of fingerless gloves.

I acutally unpicked the seams of the jumper because I quite like the stripey front so want to keep that to use with something else.  Once the arms were removed intact, I unpicked the seam on the wrist ribbing and made a thumb hole, then with the seam re-sewn, I cut the top at the inner arm straight across.  I then created a generous hem by double folding to stop any unravelling of the knit, and hemmed with the thread that I unpicked from the seams.

A couple of black flowers to add some glamour to the gold threads in the knit with the recycled buttons from the original neckline detail as centre points to finish.

The black flowers will be made from the off cuts from the black dress that I re-fashioned in January.

These are really easy to make, cut 10 circles from the material of your choice, start with one circle then fold the other nine in half, thread these on a needle and fasten to the centre of the original circle, then you can fan them out to create ruffled petals, you can further secure these with a couple more stitches, and finish with a bead or button of your choice.

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