Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The mattress, the trifid, the kitchen pow wow

Oh mattress, mattress, wherefore art though? Not here, that's for sure. Should have been. Is not. Which is a bit disappointing after the long wait for it to arrive, and the phone call yesterday to say that it would definitely be here today, making our hopes last no more sleeping on the settees, no more crooked backs, no more bits of us falling off the sofas as we try to turn over, whoopppeee and all that!!!!!!!! 

So it is now nine in the evening. Tonight we shall have to sleep on be the settees again. They are leather. Covering the seats and the back rests (because naked skin sticks to the leather horribly strongly) are patchwork covered duvets, which go up and over the back. It is hot. The duvets seem to generate even more hotness. It is not pleasant. Still, not to worry. If that mattress does not turn up tomorrow I shall complain. Trouble is, that this is the first time that I have ordered anything online from Amazon Fr. It would be no surprise to you to that Amazon Fr is in French because it is based in France. It might be, then, that I wait a few days more to see if the mattress gets here before I complain. 


And so have a look at this trifid of a bread dough.....

...sorry that the photo is quite dark, but the light in the temporary kitchen is all done by light bulbs because there are only two tiny windows in the whole space, which is good because it makes for an ideal food storage area because there is hardly any natural light, but is not so good for being used as a kitchen and photo shoot area.

Anyway, this is another energetic bread dough, eager to get a move on out into the world. My bread doughs never used to do this. They used to fill the bowl and then stop after colliding with the enamel lid I use to keep the dust off the dough. But a few months ago I changed my method of making the dough, which was to put about a litre of warm water into the bowl, add two satchets of dried yeast, and two or three spoonfuls of sugar, then whisk the mixture, go and have a shower (I start the dough first thing in the morning otherwise it tends not to get made at all), return to the mixture and add a couple of spoonfuls of salt, and a dob of DIY butter, then enough flour to make a sticky lump. Then onto well floured top of freezer, and gradually keep working the dough until it is not too sticky and looks more like it should. Then leave until dough is risen. 

However, always this dough is awake. As soon as the flour is added it starts on the move, and I can feel it blossoming beneath my hands as I work on it, making it quite something to be involved with. My previous doughs never did this, but every bread I have made by the method I have just spoken about, always they have this energy for life, the outcome being loaves which are light in texture, never puddingy, nor yeasty tasting, and crumptious in taste.

I don't measure how much flour goes into the dough. I do not fuss about with the dough. But I think that the yeast loves getting into the water with the sugar, and starts romping along in partnership quite happily while I take my shower, leaving it time to prepare itself for the addition of the flour. Anyway, just passing on my experience of being able to make bread which is consistent, unlike my previous loaves every one of which was different, and not always a pleasure to eat. 

.....a few seconds after the previous photo:

Fortunately I had only just cleaned the surrounding surfaces of dust, otherwise the escaped dough would have had to go to the chickens.
I am sure they would have loved it!


The Kitchen Project grumbles on. After a family pow wow yesterday morning, we decided that the Rayburn cooker has to go on the wall we were going to put it on before we built the plinth for it to stand on in the diagonally opposite corner, which was where it was originally going to go before we decided that we would make a swanky mock fireplace type environment which is the normal 'look' which is given to a Rayburn wood burning stove. Are you still with me? Well done, if you are! 

Anyway, we have come to our senses, and see no reason to put anything 'mock' in the kitchen, and because we now also have a SMEG cooker for spring and summer, we have decided not to put the two cookers together, which is what we were going to do, but to separate them because they will be used at different times of the year. So the concrete plinth has to come up, and I have had to rethink how I am going to use the space.

The Kitchen Project seems to be going on and on and on. But not to worry, I shall have a 'proper' kitchen eventually, and one which will look like a simple farm kitchen, and be all the better for it. 

So hey ho. Off to bed. The hens are now managing to get into the tree, which is good. We have not yet managed to get into our proper bed because the mattress has still not arrived. Ooops! Sorry! Forgot I had already mentioned our temporary sleeping arrangements!! 

Hope you are getting a good sleep. Hope bits of you do not fall out of whatever it is you are sleeping on. Hope tomorrow is a good day for us all. 


Monday, 28 July 2014

Gates Up, Absentees, Cooker Hefted, Plums, & 7

Wahoooooooo! The wall is finished, and the gates are up, and they shut and lock, which means that the dogs can be kept in, and we can rest easy with having to keep am eye on them all the time. Of course, one has to remember to actually remember to shut the gates, this being something which was not done last night due to us watching the antics of the hens trying to get up into the fig tree to roost after the removal of the chicken hut yesterday, upon which they used to jump before then getting up into the tree.  With no step up, they were finding it very hard, bless them. We tried not to laugh, really we did. But there was much flapping, crashing, moaning, and general confusion such that in the end we had to help them to get onto the branches. 

And then the gnats came out to feed on us, so indoors we hurried, the last check of the gates not being done. Ah, but the front gate was left open by an inch, and those rottweiller girls found that inch when they were let out into the courtyard this morning at dawn, making a quick exit while I was sorting out the chaos of my storage shelves. 

Message to self: Vera, you must really get some sort of filing system going in regards to what you actually have on those shelves. Organisation is a must if you want to keep filling those shelves with food, which then gets all into a jumble over time so that in the end you do not have the foggiest clue as to what food you have available to eat. 

Anyway, there I was, busy getting some order on those shelves, and I though that the dogs had gone a bit quiet, but then they do tend to be zomby-like when they wake up in the mornings, and the gates were shut so I didn't have to worry about them being out and about, ...... but then the quietness became suspect.....and I found them gone, the front gate being only left open by a fraction, but they had found it. I suspect that they must do a recce each morning to see the status of the gates: open or not, escape or no chance. 

So that was not a good start to the day. No good looking for them because they have long legs and gallop at a tremendous pace especially if they are doing a jolly romp out and about. Best to keep busy. 

Today I was supposed to be making jam with these plums.....

I have already pitted them and canned ten jars, but the rest is to go into jam. Three times I started to head towards the rolling boil, and three times I switched the heat off because I was not in the mood to mess about with hot jars, restless as I was because of the thought of those girls running loose. The plums remain not done. Hopefully I shall get my jamming mojo back tomorrow. 

Lester, though, kept busy. Time to do more work to the kitchen. Down came the small half walls he had built because we decided that we shall keep everything simple, and not put fancy stuff in which is really only cosmetic. We have now learnt that it is best to let the space tell us what it wants, rather than making the space into how we want it to look. Meanwhile the SMEG cooker had to be shifted out of the kitchen. Ummmmm, it is heavy, and we nearly got it stuck .........

..... but we wiggled it, pushed and shoved it, and got it through into the temporary kitchen area. It is now safely covered up with its cardboard box, face against the wall. I hope it was not upset by the manhandling we gave it.

But now the proper kitchen is empty, and it is all go to get the chappe (screed is the English word I think) onto the concrete floor. We don't know how to do that yet, so another learning curve is to be added to the many learning curves that we are currently involved with. 

The rotty girls made their return home late afternoon. But no, since they went AWOL before breakfast, and doggy breakfasts are between 6 and 8 in the morning, they shall not get fed until tomorrow morning. And no, they shall not be allowed indoors since they took it upon themselves to do a jolly romp without permission, then they can stay outside until we decide that they can come indoors and go to bed. We know from experience that they will be very, very tired, and will just want to eat and sleep. But no, they can sleep outside. Shame that it is raining. They don't like the rain. Not to worry, at least we don't have to be worried about their safety, or that they might be causing mischief and mayhem, or even worse, might cause an accident. 

And seven!!!!!!!! Seven little piglets are now with us, or rather, with Mum Pig out in her hut. They are all pink velvety lusciousness, with little ears, and little tails, and little legs, and little squeals, and oh so we would love to pick them up but know that they will squirm and wriggle and yell, so no, we cannot do that, but we can ooh and ahhh like most people do when looking at youngsters. And then there is Mum to cope with of course. She would really not like us to be involved with those littl'uns yet. So we can only get little peeks at those piglets. No photos, though, as it is too dark in their hut, and I would have to lean over at a difficult angle to do a photo shoot anyway, which would mean possibly colliding with the electric fencing wire, which is something I would prefer not to do, not to mention having Mum Pig scold me for interfering with her space. 

It is raining again at the moment. We have had a wet summer, which is OK because it means that we are not having to spend time watering the veg plot, which is being neglected at the moment because of needing to spend time with renovation work. But at least the grazing is holding up well for this time of year, and the animals are looking plump and healthy. Normally our fields would be dry and brown, but this year they are bright and green. we let the rotty girls indoors, or not. It is getting dark, so perhaps we shall relent, or not. Oh all right......give them another half an hour, then in they can come!


Sunday, 27 July 2014

No cockerels doth now crow, for all are gone, gone away......

It is true. For the first time in four years we have no cockerels. Where have they gone? Well, one died a few weeks ago from we know not what. That left some young boys and Big Grey, who was already in a gradual decline, not wanting to do much with anyone or anything, and that included wanting to crow. But the air was still punctured by the calls of the other cockerels, one in particular taking over the title of King of the girls. 

And then he disappeared. We think he was taken by something in the woods because a few days before Lester had charged down into the woodland after hearing some gurgled screams. It was King cockerel, looking like something had got him by the leg because he was walking with quite a limp. He obviously had not learnt his lesson. He must have continued on with his forages into the woodland and become a predator's food. 

But we still had a couple of young white cockerels. Or did. Because they are gone as well. Which left Big Grey. 

So we were doing our planning for the day, with me needing to do jamming, and Lester needing to start plastering the kitchen. And then another project took charge of the day, and that was to dismantle the 'temporary' chicken hut in the courtyard. 

July 2010, and the chicken hut is made out of two sheets of tin.
(We were living in the caravan in the background at the time)

This was Lester's first building project, and here he is making the run.
It was only supposed to be temporary solution to housing chickens. 
2012, and it was still standing strong....

(Please excuse the smudge on these photos
Message to self: it is unwise to try and cut pips out of plums so you can make jam out of them at the same time as partaking in a photo shoot. Be sensible. Do one or the other, otherwise the outcome is going to a camera covered in stickiness, including the lens.)

Anyway, Lester starts to dismantle the old hut,

..... chains the hut to the tractor, and then sees Big Grey lying in a crumpled heap in the furthest corner, all stone cold dead, our last cockerel, gone, gone away at the same time as his home was dismantled. Perhaps he had an intuition that this was going to happen. Perhaps he did not like the thought of having to sleep in the fig tree,
which is where the girls are going to have to sleep tonight,
although most had been roosting on its branches already.

But the courtyard is starting to look tidier. And building a proper chicken hut is now up towards the top of our list of priorities. 

The hens are now up the tree, although I had to help some of them to get up onto the branches. They will get used to their new lodgings, although there were quite a few complaints this evening!
But, as I have said, most were already roosting up on the branches,
and only a couple were using the hut, including Big Grey.

Meanwhile, the jam did not get made,
because I sat out in the sun and did some spinning,
and had an afternoon nap,
and did some music practice,
and cut up some material to make Lester some underpants,
because he likes the ones which are roomy,
almost like wide shorts,
because he does not like being squeezed, he said.
It was a nice Sunday,
tinged around the edges with sadness about the demise of all our cockerels,
especially Big Grey. 

Hope you had a good Sunday,
and hope your week goes well.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Just got back from fishing

I have indeed been fishing,
but not in lots of water,
as in the river or out on the ocean, 
but in a little bit of water,
as in a pot:

And no fishing line, nor twine, nor bait did I need,
just my  holed spatula thingy.
And neither were there any fish to be had,
just bits of bones,.... 

.....which were nestling in amongst other bits,
like morsels of meat, bits of veg, bay leaves, etc.

So, what had I been up to?
Still continuing to move the meat into canning jars from our three almost full freezers,
and this pot was the result of combining several freezer bags of lamb backbone,
which were then slow cooked for endless hours yesterday afternoon,
and then left to cool down overnight, still in its juices. 

Normally I would lift the meat out, 
then add wholemeal pasta to the liquid,
which would then go to Bools, Maz, and Blue for breakfast.
However, this particular pot of juice was sooooo full of bits of meat,
and soooooo looking like it was going to taste yummy,
that I decided to keep it.

My plan:
Add green split peas, 
the remainder of last year's dehydrated veggies,
and any hot seasonings I can find,
cook for an hour,
add meat I have salvaged from the bones,
cook for a little while longer,
do some rice,
deliver unto Lester his lunch of rice and the end product of the pot cook.
The rest of this pot goes into jars,
via my All American Canner. 

I recently canned a jar of leftover curry,
and on a day when dinner was going to be only a sandwich,
because other things were happening here,
I opened that curry.
Took 20 minutes to heat through,
the same time as it took the rice to cook.
Et voila! DIY fast food!

During my 'fishing for bones' activity,
the chickens were, as usual, in close attendance,
as were the dogs,
but I have to do food prep work outside,
because the house is too dusty,
and I do not have a proper kitchen as yet,
but somehow I manage to persevere with doing smallholder jobs,
like jamming, dehydrating, preserving, canning, 
and standing on my  head
feeling like I am going round in circles,
meanwhile closely watched by creatures of fur and feather!

Off to see what I can do with that pot,
so au revoir for the moment.

Monday, 14 July 2014

....and this is as far as he's got!

So this is as far as Lester's got with the gate post. 
He is doing very well, this being a big job for an ex-computer programmer,
who has hardly ever done anything for much of his adult life so far,
except sit at a computer and programme for endless hours.

But now has arrived a bit of a prob,
because the wall is flat on top,
but it's partner opposite,
has a peak on its top.

Pow wow time. What to do. 

-Finish the top of the wall......

..... leave to dry,
go down to the river beach and collect some stones,
put a little pile of stones on top of the new wall,
aiming for a sort of pyramid shape,
glueing the stones together with cement where necessary,
then sort of pat-a-cake cement round the outside of these stones,
to give a similar effect to the wall opposite,
this being the project for tomorrow,
because the wall needs to be finished,
because the year is marching on,
and we need to get back to work in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, the harvest is starting to roll in, 
with our first cabbage picked......

which contributed to the simplest meal,
but the most tastiest we have had for a long time,
every single food item on the plates,
being entirely home grown:
roast chicken, new potatoes, cabbage, butter over all.
Sooooooo simple a meal, as I say,
but as I ate every mouthful I was aware of the history of its growing.
It made me feel very humble.

Sometimes we can get weary of the work of running a smallholding,
but to eat a meal which is all homegrown 
enthuses us to keep going.

It has been a lovely few days here,
no visitors, 
just two people, on the same page, working together.

Mum piggy has still not produced any littl-uns,
two little chicks disappeared overnight,
rats, we think, came and ate them.
Lissie is now about six weeks off giving birth to her calf,
so I had best start sorting out my cheese making equipment,
meanwhile one of our goats is still giving us enough milk to get by on.
I have continued with my massive 'clear out of the cupboards' project,
we continue to sleep on the settee's,
I have made 38 pots of jam so far,
and all is well here at Labartere.

I am aware that it is the nature of life
that we shall have disharmonious moments,
because life is not perfect,
which makes quiet days such as these,
something to treasure.

Hope you have such days,
and that you hold on to them
for when times are a little bit up and down.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Mum Piggy's udders

Gosh, but Mum Piggy is getting a full tank of milk on board, as can be seen by ever increasing udders. Tonight, perhaps, if not, then soon.

It has been a strange day today. One of those days when one feels spaced out. Both of us felt this same spacey feeling. I do not think it is because of the little drop of wine we had last night. But the weather is chilly at the moment, (around 20C which is considered quite cold here) so perhaps our bodies are missing the sun. Or it might be because we have had a busy week. Or it might just be that we needed to have a stop day. Anyway, it has been a strange, 'spaced out' type of day.

New mattress ordered from Amazon France this morning, but it will not arrive for another two weeks, which means staying on the settees for a while yet. Not to worry, our backs are not complaining too much about the awkward sleeping positions that the settees requires us to lay in.

Rottweiller girls spaced out as well today. Spent the day tucked in around Lester as he played chess on his computer.

It was raining outside, and sometimes, just sometimes, it is necessary  to stop. That is what the girls thought, and so did Lester. Meanwhile, I pottered about but mostly I watched vids. As I say, sometimes, just sometimes, one has to stop. 

It is another day tomorrow. Perhaps we shall have got out mojo back. And perhaps little piggies might have been born.

Bye for now,


Friday, 11 July 2014

Stopping the girls from going AWOL

These are our front gates, and here is Lester fixing them. And the reason why they have to be fixed is that a year or so ago the lock broke, but the gates could still be closed although force was needed to do so.

And then we got two rottweiller girls. Now they can't open the gates, but others do by exerting a force sufficient to push those gates apart, and those 'others' are people who are known to the girls, so the girls just wag their tales in delight at having visitors and think how nice it is for people to come and visit them, meanwhile keeping an eye on the open gates through which they will sneak when no one is looking, one of their most favourite occupations being to have a jolly jaunt down the lane.

So, time to get the gates sorted, and time for Lester to get some of his new tools out. Wahoooo! There was a time when he didn't even own a hammer. As for screwdrivers, he used to raid my sewing box and 'borrow' the ones I used for my sewing machine. But now, wow, he even has tools which have leads attached! 

Job done. Gates re-hung, and new lock fitted. Now all we have to remember is where we put the key, there being only one key which came with the lock, and we really should get another key cut, but we don't know where we can get that done, so I wait with interest to see how long it is before the key is lost!!!! 

The girls still went AWOL though, doing so through the jumble of block bricks and 'gate' across the other entrance to the courtyard, the gate not being fixed, just leaning, sometimes even falling down. So, time to get this gate sorted out as well. It is the first step in the 'Move  the Chickens and Geese out of the courtyard' Project as well. 

But this is no garden gate project, because at some time in the past this entrance / exit has held quite a considerably sized gate as can be seen by the ancient hinge still sitting at head height on the surviving gate post. Lester has to build a new gate post, and here he is making a start. And it has to be a sturdy job because the gates which are going to be hung there are the same as the ones in the front, and anything flimsy will tip over with the weight of the gates. 

We did have a pillar once, but it fell down, assisted to do so by the boot of our builder's brother, when he was up on the roof of the Half Barn supposedly getting the new roof done, but obviously needing to have a bit of a play around in between times, which was a shame because the pillar was made of some handsome chunks of stone, which are now going to be replaced by grey block bricks and cement. Ah well, not to worry, Lester said he was going to cover over the new wall with a rendering to match the house. Which will be good practice for him, because the whole of the front of the house and the front walls of the Tall Barn all need rendering as well. the way, in the background you can see the front entrance which still has its original wooded gates in situ, or rather one gate in situ, the other one having fallen off just after we arrived. And to the left is the kitchen caravan, and the green tarpaulin covered mound which is where the freezer and sundry other of our possession were being stored. This was 2009. The caravan and gate are long gone, but that freezer is still working.

And here is how far Lester has got. At the moment there seems to be a whole load of half finished jobs around the place, both inside and out, but the rottweiller girls need to be contained before they get into the habit of wandering off. A bit of a prob though, because Lester has just realised that the gates we bought are slightly too big, so we have decided to put those across the drive (to stop the geese and chickens from romping up and down the lane), and buy the slightly narrower three metre wide gates, which we shall go and buy next week.

And as an added bonus, that new wall is going to provide us with better flood defences should the river flood again. Last winter it came just in front of where those two block bricks which are lying against the new wall. Already I am looking at making sandbags, just in case.

So off to bed now, or rather, off to the settee! Been sleeping on the settees these last few nights because the mattress broke a spring so it went off to the local tip, leaving us with no sleeping accommodation apart from two very uncomfortable settees. Not to worry, have taken the opportunity to thoroughly clean / de-cobweb the bed area, and seem to have got a bit of a steam up in regards to getting things sorted out, so have carried on and am, at the moment, going through all our clothes, books, and other stuff, ruthlessly throwing out / recycling anything which is not absolutely necessary to have, or wear. Which might be because of having to sleep all kinked up, Lester having the three seater settee to sleep on, with me having the two seater. Ah well, not to worry. It's nice having a super duper clear out, and it is nice to see things looking shiny and clean even if they are not going to stay that way for longer than a couple of days!

Now, what is the French word for mattress, and where do we buy a mattress from, and oh strooth, it is a long weekend here, so we shall be on those settees for at least another four or five nights.

Hope you all have a good night's sleep. I shall be thinking of you as I sleep with my legs hanging off the end of the settee. But oh won't I be a happy girl when I am back in my bed again! Nothing like going without something to make one appreciate the value of that something when it comes back into one's life again.

Bye for now,


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Empty jars, and the kitchen has a chat.....

There are more empty jars than full ones on the shelves in the larder now,
and yesterday we ate the last of the potatoes sealed in kilner jars.
And what a success they have been,
DIY fast food, 
just open the jar, rinse the potatoes, then into hot frying pan together with a little oil, chopped onion, chopped peppers, etc, plus any seasoning to hand, and voila, ten to fifteen minutes later, done. 
The onto plate with omelette or somesuch,
and lunch is served. 

I have been arguing with the kitchen for the last week or so.
Now it might seem strange to say that I have been doing such a thing,
but I kid you not, the kitchen really has been arguing with me.
And it was all over what tiles were to be put on the floor. 
Green, that is what I thought we might have,
and then I waivered, thinking that perhaps we should stay with the 'norm', 
which is terracotta. 
Other things, though, sidetracked us for a few days,
and meanwhile, 
every time I walked through the kitchen on the way through to the temporary kitchen,
quite clearly ' green tiles' was placed in my head,
and "no" I would say, terracotta is to be the colour,
but the kitchen was persistent,
and eventually won the day.
Perhaps it is the long, long, spell of hot and humid weather we are having,
which saps all energy, leaving only the inclination to lie down and have a sleep,
perhaps that is what has led to me and kitchen into arguing,
but one thing is for sure,
the kitchen definitely was not going to opt for the sensible terracotta,
no, it is to be a sort of greeny colour,
and goodness only know what other colours I shall be able to put with that colour,
but hopefully the kitchen will tell me.
I hope I shall not be now abandoned.
I hope that, just as clearly as I heard 'green',
the kitchen will inform me as to what other colours it would like in its space.

Meanwhile, Lissie (Mum cow) and Mum Piggy are getting bigger by the day,
the rottweiller girls are in disgrace because they decided to go walk about in the middle of the night,
the new Orpington cockerel was found dead from we know not what,
the sheep are happier now they are shorn,
and the year is marching on. 
Crikey, how is it that time seems to speed up as one gets older!
And how is it that the kitchen demanded those green tiles!

Bye for now,