A Few Lovely Things this week…

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Treasures on the beach- mermaid purses (shark eggs)

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Veg boxes- two ways

A delivery from Growing With Nature ( plot to plate less than 2 miles)

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Learning…

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Building wooden towns -and then knocking them down…

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music two ways….piano by CC, gramophone by me..wish I could play the piano!

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Finally getting around to stripping the lavender flowers from my dried bunches.

Family

During the last week in October CC, our little boy and I went on the boat to Northern Ireland to spend a week exploring and visiting relatives from both sides of our families. We stayed in a Georgian cottage in Hillsborough complete with peat fire ( although I couldn’t bear to burn the peat, it is traditional there), Aga and antique furniture. The cottage certainly had an atmosphere, I am convinced it was haunted !

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We enjoyed lots of walks in the woodland two minutes from the front door.

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And loved trips out to the Ulster Folk open air museum and the truly fantastic Titanic Museum at Belfast docks. The Ulster Folk Museum had so many buildings to explore, including a bank, blacksmiths,printers, farms and a court. Going inside old buildings in a natural setting gives you such a tangible taste of history, truly interesting.

The Titanic museum was a stunning collection of artifacts, photographs, a ride which took you on a tour of the shipyard and a stunning interactive tour of the inside of Titanic using surround screens.

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Our little boy is finally asleep at a decent hour so I am taking this opportunity to catch up on my digital diaries. On the domestic front we have been busy stocking the pantry with home made and home grown. the appalling weather ( three weeks of almost constant rain and gales!) has given us an excuse to cosy up in doors and make some preserves, including Sloe Gin and pickled beetroot. We had a great harvest of beetroot this year, it seems to be the only thing that the slugs don’t like.

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Autumn Treats

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CC has returned to work and I am now at home enjoying time with our little boy, the days seem to fly by and CC is home before we know it on most days. It was extremely strange not going back  to work and I definitely miss my teaching, however having this special time with my son and taking care of him is such a joy. He grows so much every week and his development is noticeable on even a daily basis. He has so many smiles and enjoys everything we do together, listening carefully when we sing to him and enjoying playing with his toys.

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This weekend CC and our son had a little father and son time and I began making some of the things I used to make regularly before I was pregnant and lost our kitchen for 3 months as we had our house remodelled. I began with some gorgeous homemade yoghurt using my little Severin  yoghurt maker and then progressed to making chutney. There really is nothing nicer than tasting your own homemade jams and chutneys in the wintertime when the vegetable garden is looking rather deplete and soft fruits come from far away and are virtually tasteless. I like to make Victorian Chutney when the new season Bramley apples are in the greengrocers. CC and I get out walking and looking for blackberries as often as we can and use them to make blackberry sauce for yoghurt, pancakes and ice cream. A really good haul prompts us to make blackberry and Bramley jam, a really dark, flavourful treat on warm toast or in a sponge pudding. We like to give these as special Christmas gifts for close friends and family.

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Summer’s End

*   What happened to the summer ? It seemed as though the weeks were endless and September was a world away. Autumn seems to have come early this year and we’ve been making the most of the ripe profusion of blackberries growing in dense pockets in the lanes around our house.

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*  Making the most of our treasure ; first  Blackberry and Bramley jam, next a couple of pies for the freezer and then blackberry sauce to enjoy in yoghurt and on pancakes.

*   After a bit of detective work ( messages in bottles) we’ve finally found a milkman who will deliver in glass  from a dairy not 1/2 a mile away. After trying to search the internet many times we happened upon empty bottles on local doorsteps and wrote letters which we put into several in the hope that one might reach its intended recipient, we finally got a telephone call from a lovely local farmer ( who said she was not on the internet).  Our first lot at 6am was thrilling!

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*   We’ve set ourselves the challenge to try and get further afield for supplies without the car; using the bikes and our local ferry we have extended our range this summer. This allows us access to a hardware shop, bank and larger grocery stores without using petrol. We’re lucky to have a coastal bike path that is car free with stunning views of our bay. The wind turbines were spinning quickly today in the brisk breeze.

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*   The large ships from Heysham appear to float on the sand as they make the most of the deeper waters in the tidal channels.

*   Making the most of the warm weather we’ve been camping in Northumberland, despite gale force winds on the first night ( we really thought we’d lose the tent on our coastal site)we enjoyed visits to more castles – this time the castle of Lindisfarne on Holy Island. This island is part of the inner Farne islands and accessed via a causeway-( be sure to check the tide tables carefully before embarking or you may find yourself stranded!) The castle itself was an Edwardian gem – furnished by Edward Lutens after being purchased by the owner of Country Life magazine ; the walled garden – a Gertrude Jekyll design- was a true delight and has inspired me to try growing more medicinal flowers in our little garden.

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*   After spending a few hours making several batches of home made beer ready for Christmas we’ve had a lot of bottles to prepare ! – these made me smile in the castle.

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*   On our final day we got rather carried away with the romantic setting of Hulne Abbey – (the location of Maid Marion’s House in Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves)

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Spring Cleaning

*   ‘The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home. First with brooms, then with dusters; then on ladders and steps and chairs, with a brush and a pail of whitewash; till he had dust in his throat and eyes, and splashes of whitewash all over his black fur, and an aching back and weary arms. Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.’ (The Wind In The Willows- Kenneth Grahame – 1908)

*     There is something in the air at this time of year, a discernible change in temperature, the beginnings of the scents of spring narcissi and the sounds of birds working industriously nest making, when one will suddenly wake with the urge to sweep away the dust and grime of winter and throw open the windows to let the sweet new air blow through the house. Our Easter holidays have seen us taking time to clean our little nest. 

*    First the windows inside and out to let in the spring light. Use a large bowl of soapy water and dry with newspaper. I recently saw an advert for a Karcher window washer; what a waste of time and energy !, Newspaper is by far a better method and leaves windows looking beautifully clean.

*   Next an overhaul of the utility room, repainting the dresser and hanging some jaunty bunting.

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*      A really good scrub down of all surfaces with a spray of vinegar solution and a paste of sodium bicarbonate.

*    And finally some spring propagation of tomatoes, courgettes, marigolds, sweet peas using our rather lovely paper pot maker. This is particularly useful for peas and other legumes that don’t like to have their roots disturbed as they can be planted directly into the soil and will bio-degrade naturally.

*   Although the weather started with Arctic winds sweeping the country, the weather pattern has changed direction and the sea frett has begun to move over the land, bringing with it the warmer, damp air and the smell of the sea in our coastal village. This has meant the opportunity to begin our little garden once again.

*   I was inspired by the planting in Kirby Lonsdale ; where every little house really made the best of their outdoor space.

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*   Followed by the obligatory cream tea – this time at The Royal Hotel on the main street.

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*   This beautiful old building welcomed us with a roaring fire and squashy settees.

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*   Making the most of the time left of the Easter holiday we visited an old favourite – The Hazelmere Bakery and Tea room in elegant, Edwardian Grange-Over-Sands.

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*     A beautiful walk from Kents Bank along the shore line to Grange – crossing the railway and up through the town and finally the reward of what we think is the best afternoon tea in England !

*     Yesterday saw us enjoying the food market at Parrox Hall- a medieval house which is across the road from our little terrace.

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*   Then making a large pot of soup with the vegetables we bought.

Recipe For Simple Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

Splash of vegetable oil

Knob of butter

A selection of root vegetables in any quantity

A tin of tomatoes ( optional)

2 Litres of Vegetable or Chicken Stock

2 or 3 bay leaves

– Chop your vegetables roughly; (you could use a food processor but sometimes I like to chop by hand and listen to Radio 4 .)

– Heat your oil gently and add a knob of butter.

– Gently sauté your vegetables for around 2 minutes, then place a lid over your saucepan and let cook until your vegetables begin to soften ( about 10 minutes)

– Add the stock and tomatoes ( if using) and simmer gently for around 20 minutes.

– Remove from the heat and blend using a hand blender ( or use a potato masher to squish the vegetables to a rough pulp)

Delicious !

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Autumn Pleasures

*   Autumn is my absolute favourite time of year here, the chance to have cosy nights by the fire, the abundance of hedgerow fruit for picking and despite going back to work, the chance to have lovely long walks enjoying the scent of the leaves and the smell of wood smoke. We began our month by bottling the Sloe Gin we had left ‘steeping’ in our cupboard, the addition of cinnamon has given it a lovely amber colour; we’re hoping to give these as Christmas gifts this year and as they’ll need at least three months in the bottle I hope they’ll be ready ! We’ve had a little tipple and it tastes lovely.

Our First Sloe Gin

Recipe For Sloe Gin

1 lb Sloes- wash well

1lb caster sugar (I’ve used 8oz because I don’t like very sweet things)

0.7 litres of cheap Gin

Cinnamon sticks

Sterilized bottles

(Makes two  0.7 litre bottles)

1. Thoroughly wash the sloes, removing any bits of branch. Place in the freezer for at least a week.

2. Fill a larger Kilner jar with the sloes, add the gin and then mix in the sugar. Add the cinnamon sticks to the mixture.

3. Place the jar in a cupboard or larder. Swirl the contents around every few days or so.

4. After two or three months sieve the contents through muslin a few times until the mixture looks clear.

5. Pour into sterilised bottles and add a pretty label. (I’ve used my lovely Cath Kidston ones CC bought for Christmas last year)

*   CC has also been enjoying the Good Life and has made a beautiful woodstore for our logs from a recycled pallet I found in school. He thinks it’s a bit wonky but I’m delighted ! It should ensure that our wood has time to season and dry before we burn it.

CC’s wood store

*   After spending three weeks away this year sadly my vegetables did not stand a chance against the caterpillars and slugs and a wet summer ensured that the slugs have bred bountifully ! It was quite upsetting to see a garden full of plant skeletons where all my lovely vegetables should have been. I was cheered enormously by a very generous gift which came right our of the blue from friends of our who stayed with us at Easter – they’ve sent a lovely selection of goods – including COPPER SLUG RINGS !!!! , I’ve been wanting to try these for a while and I will now use them to sow Bok Choi in my planters – I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. THANK YOU so much guys – a wonderful gift.

*   On the brighter side apparently it has been a very poor year for butterflies so I can console myself believing that my little garden became a temporary wildlife oasis. The meadow in miniature is now fully grown and Gerry and Flo have been let loose for the first time yesterday to munch to their heart’s content , they were extremely excited !

*  My brother has been spending weekends here and we’ve had some great days out together as a family . I finish with some pics of last weekend.

Blackberry and Bramley Jam

The hedgerows are brimming with delicious, ripe blackberries and a delightful afternoon spent foraging yielded enough to make jam to give as Christmas presents this year.

Recipe For Blackberry and Bramley Jam – Will make about 4 small Kilner Jars full and an extra jar for your fridge.

1kg of washed blackberries

350g of Bramley Apples(or cooking apples)

350ml of water

1.3 kg of caster sugar or jam sugar ( I recommend jam sugar, saves lots of faffing about trying to get a decent set !)

1. Leave your blackberries to soak in salted water to rid them of any insects lurking inside .

2. Peel, core and chop your Bramleys, cook in a large preserving pan ( I use a very large saucepan) with the water until they are soft.

3. Meanwhile, rinse and dry your blackberries. Add your dry blackberries to the apples.

4. Stir in the Jam Sugar and simmer over a low heat, stirring frequently. Put a small plate in the fridge to cool.

5. Now turn up the heat and boil the contents of your pan for 35 minutes.

6. To test to see if your jam will set, spoon a small amount onto your chilled plate. Leave to cool for a few seconds and then push the mixture with the spoon. If the mixture wrinkles slightly it is ready. If your mixture doesn’t wrinkle, boil again for a few minutes and test again.

7. Place your jam into sterilised jam jars and seal straight away.

Freezing MangeTout

We’ve had a lovely crop of MangeTout (Sugarsnap Peas) and have had a go at freezing them. This has worked really well and should ensure that we have some lovely homegrown vegetables in winter.

How To Freeze Your Vegetable Harvest

1. Pick your vegetables and give them a good rinse, prepare them as though you are going to eat them .

2. Blanche your vegetables for 30 seconds ( submerge them in boiling water). Cool them immediately in iced water.

3. Arrange them on a tray and place in the freezer until frozen ( should take about 2 hours, depending on your freezer)

4. Remove the tray from the freezer and transfer your vegetables into a freezer bag, label the bag and return to the freezer.

Delicious !

Peaches and Summer

Gerry is looking so much better, he’s greedily gobbling all the dandelion leaves I can get for him ( great excuse for not being too thorough with the weeding). CC has been telephoning at lunchtime to check on the progress of the patient.

My parents and brother are coming for dinner tonight which gives me the perfect excuse for making peach crisp, a very scrummy pudding we often make when we’re in Ontario, the peaches there are amazing and plentiful in the summer. sadly we aren’t going this summer, so we’ll have to make do with Spanish peaches.

Recipe For Peach Crisp

6-8 ripe peaches, stoned and sliced

1 cup of Self-raising Flour

1 cup of sugar

1 egg

1 Stick of butter ( or about 125g)

1. Place your peach slices in a large, ovenproof dish

2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and egg until it forms large crumbs. Put the mixture on top of the peaches.

3. Melt the butter in a pan, pour over the crumbs.

4. Bake uncovered in the oven for about 30 mins at 190 C.

Serve with vanilla ice cream or cream.

This recipe came from a rather strange book I was given as a present while I was staying in Edmonton AB, from a lovely gentleman called Rohit. It contains many very delicious, but very very bad for you recipes !Throughout the book there are the vital statistics for some ‘hall of fame’ Edmonton Eskimos, most weigh well over 200 pounds, if they’re eating the stuff from this book I can certainly understand how they maintain such ‘fine physiques’ ! However, the occasional treat is absolutely fine as far as I’m concerned and CC certainly appreciates it.

We’re also eating spinach and Mange Tout freshly picked from the garden….delicious.

A Sick Bunny

Poor Gerry has been very ill with GI Stasis, a really nasty condition rabbits can get where basically their digestion stops. The poor little chap has been in pain and we’ve had to feed him by syringe, we noticed that he wasn’t himself on Monday night and made a speedy visit to the vets on Tuesday morning. After a long time spend feeding him, massaging his tummy and giving him Infracol, ( 1ml every hour for 3 hours) I’m pleased to say that he’s looking much better already this morning and was busy chewing the wallpaper in the kitchen when I let him out. (agonised over whether to let him eat the wallpaper ! I was just so pleased that he was eating something…) I’ve now given him some nice clean cardboard to munch at and hopefully save the decorations.

Rupert and Gerry in their indoor hutch

This week I’ve been harvesting my lavender and hanging it on our herb drier. I use the lavender to make ‘bottles’ ready to put in with our winter woolies, it really does help deter the moths.

Lavender, mint and parsley drying

We’ve also harvested some of our garden mint which we dry and place into a Kilner jar ready for mint tea, this is especially nice over the winter when we can’t pick the fresh version.