Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Baaaaaaaaaaaa Lambs

Picked up our lambs this afternoon.  One 3 weeks old and one only a week old.  They will both be bottle fed for the next few months before heading for the freezer in December as hogget.  
Hogget is that inbetween stage, no longer lamb but not yet mutton.  The flavour is richer, the meat is less fatty, and by then the lambs have normally exceeded their initial warm welcome - that was certainly true of the last one, I think we were all ready to eat him!

The last lamb was a Charolais cross, but these are pure Charolais from a local farmer.  
We named the last lamb Ernie as he was born in the E year of names for pedigree animals in France, but he very quickly got renamed Nernie the Bastard.

So far the new babies are called Nerniella and Nerniette - why alter a tradition that is working well.

We refer to them as Nernielings.  

They are settled in on a bed of straw in the feed room for the night, having had a big belly full of warm milk apiece.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday night is 'Addicted to Foccacia' night

My mummy is very good to me, and believe me I do appreciate it.

My latest demand was for a couple of editions of a baking magazine being advertised on the TV with some freebie silicone moulds. 

When they arrived I managed to restrain myself from making endless cupcakes but found this foccacia recipe inside. And now I am addicted. This has to be the easiest bread to make but so light and fluffy and utterly scrummy. 

Foccacia Bread

  • 450g strong white flour 
  • 2tsp fast acting yeast - or as I use dried yeast, one heaped teaspoon of dried yeast reconstituted with 250ml of warm water and half a teaspoon of sugar 
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt 
  • 1 tablespoon of dried herb of your choice - so far I have made Rosemary, Thyme and Tarragon breads 
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil - or if you are watching your waistline, just use one tablespoon of olive oil and a little more warm water 

Sift the flour into a large bowl, then into a well in the centre add your yeast. If you are using fast acting yeast from a sachet you will need to add 250ml of warm water
Add the oil, herbs and 1 teaspoon of the salt, then start mixing together with your fingers or a wooden spoon, you might need to add a drop more warm water to create a smooth pliable dough. 

Place on a floured surface and knead well for about 10 minutes. I find this bit very addictive and have to time myself so that I don't spend too long kneading it. 

With a pastry brush or your fingers smear a bit of oil into the bowl and over a piece of cling film, pop the dough back into the bowl and cover with the cling film then leave to rise for about an hour or until it has doubled in size. 

Once fully risen, pop it out of the bowl and knock back a couple of times to punch the air out, then either separate into however many breads you want or as in the photo above one big loaf (for tearing into chunky bits and dipping into spicy salsa chicken). 

Make sure the breads are about 1cm thick, either roll or push flat with the palm of your hand, then place onto an oiled baking sheet or some parchment paper, recover with the cling film and leave to rise again for about 20 mins. 

Preheat the oven to 220°c, gas 7. - Or in my case, stoke the Rayburn with a bit of coal and cover the oven door with a damp towel - it really brings the oven temperature up quickly - quirky but it works. 

If you have some fresh herbs, poke those into the dough before baking and sprinklyewith the rest of the sea salt -  if you are not watching your weight, drizzle the breads with a bit of olive oil, but I have not been doing this as I don't think they need it. 

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until just golden on top, leave to cool and then stuff yourself silly. 

Just adapt the herbs you use for your recipe.  For curry I have done rosemary flavour  individual loaves,  for with Sunday lunch we had thyme flavour, and for tonight's spicy chicken salsa we had the bread in the photo above, a tarragon loaf.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Week 12 - Circles

Week 12 of the 52 images for 2011 and I was positively overwhelmed with ideas, buttons and logs featured predominantly, but I could not find that image that really jumped out at me.

Then this shot happened - in fact I only took 2 variations of this photo, and ended up choosing the first one.

I love it.

We still use this phone because it does not require a power point, so come winter and power cuts we can communicate with the world.

Spring Cleaning with a paintbrush

I don't like spring cleaning but as the sun comes out it becomes a bit of a necessity as that harsh bright sun shows up every cobweb and dust bunny lurking after the winter.

But I do prefer to do my spring cleaning with a paintbrush and this year is no different.

With Thea out of the way in Holland, I set to the living room with a tub of green - just the one wall though, and then re-arranged all the furniture.

The amount of fuss that Brendan made you would have thought I had asked him to remove a leg when in reality all I asked was whether he would extend the satellite cable to allow me to move the TV to another wall.

It was also goodbye CD towers, the bureau moved to a more exposed spot to show it off, and the bookcase from the bedroom is now downstairs housing all the CDs and DVDs we have managed to accumulate recently.

Then having got the bug and with paintbrush still in hand I tackled the bedroom.  I have moved the furniture around there before, normally when Brendan is away - poor love he is very resistant to change, but this year having painted and oiled the oak floors I decided not to wait until he went off on his Royal Enfield bike rally to move everything around and spent Thursday emptying the wardrobe so I could manhandle it around.  

It was also a chance to cull everything in there and finally get rid of some of the disasters lurking amongst the brand new still with labels attached 3 year old items that I had forgotten about.

Having moved the bookcase down to the living room, I needed to find a replacement, and chose this lovely chest of drawers from a friend's Brocante (antiquities) shop.

Obviously we are still stumbling around early in the morning trying to find the door in the dark!

Saturday night is Dance Night

The BBC has got 'So you think you can dance'......

ITV has got 'Dancing on Ice'......

We have Raving Rabbids on the Wii with Groove On.

I am very ashamed to say that at this point Brendan was beating Thea hands down!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Week 11 - MACRO shot

My favourite type of shot, the macro shot this week.  My biggest problem is being spoilt for choice.

I have wandered around the garden taking shot after shot of buds and seeds and newly growing seedlings but in the end I have plumped for this shot.

This is the aftermath of leaving pumpkins in the garage over winter, and the mice deciding that the air filter of the quad bike is the perfect place to set up home with a plentiful supply of pumpkin seeds to feed their babies with.

Hey ho - sorry mice - time to move on!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

How to fold seed starter pots.

Really useful bit of origami this.

Take a piece of paper - I know that lost places tell you to use newspaper but I need all of mine for starting fires with (no not an arsonist just have wood fired stoves for heating), so I use old magazines or publicity material and find it works just as well.  In fact at double thickness the magazines are quite strong and last a bit longer for planting things like brassicas that need to be a reasonable size before planting out.

Lay a page flat in front of you
Fold in half left to right - so it looks like a magazine again - just ignore the dodgy fashion advice

Fold in half again, this time bottom up to the top edge

Fold in half, left to right so that it resembles the folded paper as above, and do not turn
Then take the bottom right corner and open out forming an upside down triangle with the point in the folds at the centre of the folded paper

Turn over and fold again, starting from the bottom right to create another triangle.  From this side you can see the folds and the edges of the paper

Imagine you are turning a page and one edge of the triangle over to reveal the other side which has no edges showing, do the same on the other side, leaving the paper as above
Fold the outer edge towards the centre crease

Fold again towards the centre crease
Turn and repeat until your paper looks as above

Then turn the top flap over and press hard along the creases

Turn over and repeat the same folds into the centre crease

Pull gently on the flaps to open up the top of the pot, then press out the bottom into a square shape with your fingers
And there you have some free seedling starter pots ready for compost and Spring!

52 images for 2011 - Week 10 - Dreams

While gardening this week I was also musing about this week's theme of dreams, waiting (im)patiently for inspiration to strike.

When it occurred to me that the gardening I was doing was my dream, the soil at my feet contains all my dreams for the harvest to come, on my dream small holding, living the dreams of a self sufficient green life in a rural backwater.


dreams - week 10 entry

Kindle garden

Well the weather has been fine all week, and so I have been cracking on with getting the garden ready for planting. But first of all I got my little Kindle garden sorted.

New posts and wire netting, the table and chairs Brendan got me last year, and my Christmas pressie - the Kindle.

It may seem a little wasteful to partition off a bit of the veggie plot just for my Kindle, but it seems highly appropriate to use the bit of shade under the apple tree to shelter under in the summer - it is not as though anything can grow there.

And the netting is for growing my peas and beans up, a living hedge in order to create a private space away from everyone to sit and read - aperos and drinks to be served at 6pm. Not so much Cider with Rosie, but G&Ts with Kindle. (And yes those are carrots - and no they are not for the chickens - I am trying to develop a taste for crudites but without the mayo).

home made poly tunnels from water pipe and plastic
Lots has been done this week, the whole plot has been rotovated, poly tunnels and cold frames are up, and first seeds have been started in the greenhouse. 

Come on Spring - we are ready for you.

The chickens have really been entering into the spirit too and feeding us well, from left to right - normal chicken egg, double yolker Orpington egg, Goose egg - omlette anyone?

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

March's C of Cooking - Guinea Fowl Goulash

We never ate guinea fowl in the UK, in fact I would have been hard pressed to identify one fully dressed as it were let alone trussed and packaged on the shelf in the butchers.

Since moving to France we have kept these every year - and we are all guinea fowl meat converts.  They are yummy, almost pheasanty and not at all dry.

We call them bollock heads:
- can you see why?

They are not a backyard pet because they are incredibly noisy - which makes them super guard birds - even better than geese as they only shout and don't attack.  They are however flighty and will roost in any available tree if allowed, so we always end up trimming their flight feathers and then encouraging them to shelter with the ducks.  As we usually buy them as chicks at the same time they soon get used to living with each other.

Anyway - I love guinea fowl and I understand that it is starting to gain in popularity across the UK too.

Here is my:        Guinea Fowl Goulash

Take one plucked and cleaned guinea fowl and joint to leave two breasts with wings attached, two legs and the section from between the legs - this bit is surprisingly meaty and worth keeping and cooking, then remove all the skin except for on the wings.

In a tablespoon of olive oil two onions with two cloves of garlic and three tablespoons of paprika, then add the meat and brown on all sides.

I am not using peppers for this goulash as I don't have any and they are not in season, but if you have them available then slice a medium red pepper and fry alongside the onions.

When the meat has been browned, add a generous amount of black pepper, fry the pepper briefly to release the flavour then pour over enough boiling water to just cover the meat and a pinch of salt.

Slice 3 large potatoes thinly then add to the pot along with a cup of frozen green beans, a cup of sliced mushrooms and a couple of thinly sliced carrots, finish with two tablespoons of tomato puree.

As I am the queen of lazy one pot cooking, just use the water you added as the stock instead of adding any chicken or veg stock, and leave everything to simmer for 30 minutes without covering to reduce and thicken the sauce.  Sprinkly over some dried parsley to finish, and serve in large bowl with fresh bread.

First day of sun screen

Amazingly enough I had to use some sun screen today while out rotovating the garden.

I was doing my best Barbara Good impersonation today - or rather Tom because he got to play with all the good toys.  But my garden is now fully rotovated ready for planting.  And picked clean by the chickens, I had a full complement in tow around the garden but hopefully as I ploughed through several ant nests and they got all excited picking them clean that should mean less to worry about later.

In the background you can just see my new bit of fencing.  

This is for my Kindle garden.  

Yes that's right, I have devoted a part of my garden to the hedonistic pleasures of my Kindle.
I intend to grow beans and peas along the mesh fencing and create a private space where I can relax in the shade of the apple trees in summer to read my Kindle, hopefully out of sight of the neighbours and therefore unlikely to be disturbed.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Week 9 - Candid - 52 images for 2011

It occurred to me while thinking about how to portray this theme, that we are usually more candid with each other when not face to face, so with the assistance of my lovely but not so willing model, here is my image for this week's theme.

Just a bit of dabbling with the tone and it will be ready for submission

Mmmmmm - left overs

The best thing about making too much chilli for 6 people to eat, is being able to eat the leftovers the next day.

Wrapped up in some flaky pastry into little samosa shapes, then oven baked for 20 minutes at 180°C.


I finally got stuck into some of the digging over that needs to happen this year, and as this is for some gooseberry bushes near the front of the house, I decided to stick them next to the herb patch.  When I started to dig I found several clumps of roots from my very rampant horseradish, so these have now been cleaned up ready to be dried and made into horseradish sauce.

 Obviously the chickens had to come over and investigate before deciding that horseradish root is inedible.

This is so easy: 

  • just grate enough fresh root (once cleaned) for 4 tablespoons, 
  • add 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 
  • pinch of salt, 
  • pinch of sugar - no sugar if using shop bought mayonnaise, in fact you might want to add a squirt of lemon juice to tart it up a bit, 
  • some ground black pepper, 
  • a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
  • then stir through 6 tablepsoons of mayonnaise (preferably homemade).  

Serve with any roast meats, not just beef, or use instead of mustard for a hot and tasty ham sandwich.  It will keep in the fridge for about a week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

February's C of Creations - Knitted Cowls

OK - I know it is the first of March today, therefore I am officially late for February's posting.  I have no excuse except - errr - actually I have no excuse. Sorry.

During February as the sun broke through it kept the temperatures very cool, especially at night with heavy frosts every morning, and so my new love of cowls sprang up.  These are so practical, just throw it over your head, tuck in around your neck then zip up your coat, warm and toasty.  Great when you are walking to work at 7.30 am and half asleep.

Seed stitch coat collar cowl.

 This is one I have made for sale when I finally get my shop back open this month.

I love seed stitch, it is so thick and chunky and looks fabulous, slightly more formal, and so I have teamed this coal with some glorious bevel edged vintage black buttons. 
To knit:

Use a soft chunky wool on size 6.5mm or 7mm needles.

Cast on 30 stitches.

Row 1 : Knit 1, purl 1 along the row including the first stitch.

Row 2 : Purl 1, knit 1 along the row including the first stitch.

Repeat rows 1 and 2 until the body of the cowl measures 70 cm.

For seed stitch, remember, you always knit into a purl and purl into a knit.

Cast off knit-wise.

To create the shape of coal coat collar, take one end and fold in half, position across the other end which is kept flat, pin into place, then fasten with a couple of stitches and finish with a couple of large buttons or wool flowers.

Loopy Loose Cowl

 This cowl is made in the same wool, but with a completely different stitch that creates a different texture and feel to the cowl.

Once again use a thick soft wool and size 6.5mm or 7mm needles.

Cast on 40 stitches.

For every row, the first and last 5 stitches are creating a border and are therefore not counted in the looping pattern stitch.

Row 1 : knit every stitch

Row 2 : (first pattern row)  knit 5, * yarn over, knit two together, repeat from * until last 5 stitches, knit 5

Row 3 : knit every stitch

Row 4 (second pattern row) knit 5, * knit 2 tog, yarn over, repeat from * until 5 stitches remain, knit 5

Repeat rows 1 to 4 until cowl is long enough to loop around you neck comfortably, this will depend slightly on how loose your loops are but approximately 80 cm.

Cast off after a knit row, then join ends together.  Wear half tucked in under a coat, or loose over a jacket.


Hot off Molly the Dolly's back

OK, I know I am late with February's C for Creation - which doesn't even involve my current C obssession - crochet. Last month was about knitting - so some new stitches and patterns to follow.

I just wanted to show you what is hot off Molly the dolly's back this month - first the new shawl I am working on.

Take two large scarves bought for a couple of euros in the sales, pin together and sew up the back with some black wool = one striped shawl to rival Clint Eastwood in Fist Full of Dollars mode.

Then take one wrap around skirt in an impossible small size in vintage 70s fabric. Saw it on ebay and could not resist the material for a pound. Bought it and I was just going to cut it up and use it in something else, but then inspiration struck, and the wrap around teeny tiny skirt is now fit for those of us who are not so teeny tiny.

This is a really simple solution:

Put the skirt on and pin where it feels comfortable on the waist, then using a full length mirror, pin down the wrap part of the skirt until about mid thigh, checking frequently in the mirror that you are not gathering it in places or pulling it out of shape.  Once pinned to about mid thigh, mark the place on the waistband with some tailors chalk and unpin about 20 centimeters along the edge until you are able to slip off the skirt comfortably.

Then lay skirt flat and pin to the bottom hem all along the wrap edge.  Depending on how big the skirt is you may need to cut and hem the inner skirt hem to remove some of the material, but as this was teeny tiny, I simply pinned the wrap edge to the inner edge of the skirt to create an long A line style.

Using the chalk marker at the waistband you can now create your own waist fastening.

You can either insert a zip or buttons, poppers or hooks and eyes. 

I used a couple of recycled belt loops and some matching fabric to create a tie waist, and added a popper a little lower down to secure the gap.

And there you have a quick wrap skirt refashioned.