Saturday 31 October 2015

Still anticipating......

Well the expected storm arrived at our doorstep then sort of wandered off again, so no winds did blow which means that we still have plenty of leaves left on the trees. So I continue to savour this most deliciously beautiful time of the year knowing that soon it we shall be indeed 'nude' of leaves.
Had a couple of late nights, and by 'late' I mean in bed at one in the morning, but by crikey it was worth the vaguely hungover feeling the next day. The first late night was brought about by a super band rehearsal which had me and Lester zinging with enthusiasm as we drove home through lanes which wove through darkened woodlands and fields. But no animals came our way to bump themselves into the car, which is is a stress that after a late band practice we have to stay very watchful as we drive home. And the other late night was last night when we were unexpectedly invited to a meal with our neighbours, which involved good food, lots of wine, and splendid company.
However, and this is going to cause me problems today, I only managed two hours sleep, after which I was woken up with a tune from band practice which would not leave my head. It was no good, the tune refused to budge, so I had to get up, switch the PC on, get  the Noteworthy app opened, and start to get the tune out of my head by writing it onscreen. With relief .....the tune has now been retired from my is a shame, though, that I am absolutely tired out!
Not to worry, I also got an order sorted out on Amazon so am now expecting lots of items to be delivered soon. One of the items is a temperature converter, which is hopefully going to change a newly purchased fridge into a cheese storage container. We were going to get a wine cooler, but they are dreadfully expensive, so we have opted for cheap fridge from our local supermarket, and that should arrive next Wednesday. Also, hopefully, the converter should also be on its way to us, after which we shall have to connect the fridge and converter together.
According to YouTube vids this should not be hard.
The cockerels have been crowing for some time, but the cows are still quiet, so I am off to help Lester rise up from the bed, which might be difficult as he did imbibe a drop or two of wine last night, but I need to get a cup of coffee into him otherwise he might fall asleep on the flanks of the cows as he milks them.
Hope you have a good weekend,
Bye for now,

Tuesday 27 October 2015

In anticipation of a good lot of leaf drop....

 I am in the habit of keeping an eye on Meteo, which is a weather forecasting website, so that I can put the washing out to dry, or not. Plus Lester needs to make sure the hay is covered if rain is on the way.

It has been a lovely slow run down into winter this year, and the trees have looked stunning as day by day they have  changes the colours of their leaves, but according to Meteo we shall have storms this evening. It does not take much to get those leaves off the trees, so I anticipate a more nude look to the landscape tomorrow morning.

But instead of feeling irritated at this nudeness which must surely mean that cold weather is not far away, I savoured the loveliness of those trees, drinking in the magnificence of the colours, and seeing not the end of another year but the start of a new one in a few months time.

It is an odd thing, but when I have been walking the dogs over our fields  at dusk for the last few days I have had the feeling that spring is in the air, which makes winter seem but a small blip of time to get through.

In pre-Rayburn days, would I have felt the same way at this time of year? Probably not. But for this winter we should be warm. It is surprising at how much more one can enjoy the changing seasons if one can have somewhere warm to retreat to when the air turns chilly.

And why is it that all our three dogs seem to have suddenly gained a madness? Is it because of the full moon, or because they sense the change in seasons, or has that hour of clock change unsettled them. Whatever. If they do not calm down they shall be put in separate areas so they can't keep winding each other, and me, up tomorrow.

1.2 kgs of butter I made from the cream of our milk yesterday, but most days it is under a kg. It is nice to be getting our own butter again and not have to buy it in from the supermarket. Not sure if my food processor is going to stand up to the strain of having to work so hard to turn the cream into butter although it is making heroic efforts to do the job for the moment. Still struggling to find a solution to storing hard cheese so not making any at the moment, but I am making soft cheese, and that is a success. But the paneer cheese, well I made a small amount of this cheese and put it into the curry I made for lunch after first cutting it into cubes. I liked it, but Lester's comment? "Well that's alright to have from time to time", which really means that he did not go much on the taste, or perhaps it was the texture which even I must admit was slightly chewy.

So, in other words, Lester does not like paneer, will eat it if he has to, but would prefer not to, but said in a diplomatic way so that I did not go into a huff after having made the effort to try a new cheese out. He has to be careful sometimes...... I can get tetchy after having spent time and effort at trying out something new for him to eat. Meanwhile, as I say, the problem of where to store hard cheese remains after the cupboard under the stairs was deemed not right for conversion into a cheese storage area due to the main electricity box also being in the cupboard.

Ah, Meteo was right.....there is a storm arriving so I had best close down....we don't want a lightning strike blowing our electrics out so we have to switch the internet off......

Saying bye for now before we act as a attractant for any stray lightning bolts......


Thursday 22 October 2015

The cow and the broom......

Out I charged, stopping only to do the straps of my sandals up
(wouldn't do to trip up just now)
out into the courtyard I dashed.
Ah, uno momento, perhaps the broom might come in handy,
ahha, it was still in its normal spot by the front door.
Feeling quite armed, onwards I dashed,
out into the back field where the veg plots and pigs are..
no, no sign...
turned round, now going up the side path towards the front drive....
one cow thundering towards me followed by one very irate husband.
Cows can look very big when they are in a mood, and can pull out of themselves bull ring type ways, like waving their horns and kicking their feet, and hunching their shoulders which makes them look twice as big.
Of course a cow lacks the aggression of a bull, but they still have a ton of attitude and weight, magnified in one's head when one sees such an animal galloping towards one.
At the last minute though, she turned towards the back entrance of the tall barn where the cow pens are housed, but carried on past the doorway to become stopped by the ditch where the future project chicken hut project is supposed to go.
Lester coos to her in the voice he used to get round me when I in a tetchy mood.
She ignores him, as indeed I do sometimes.
She picks up her pace,
into another charge she goes.
Head down, horns pointed in my direction, eyes fixed on mine..
Who will win?
Will she dominate me so that I stand to one side and let her go past me?
Because I have a big green garden broom in my hand,
'Hola' I yell as in the manner of trainee bull fighters,
putting the broom across the front of me
prepared to stand my ground.
It was too much for her,
and she did a quick sideways turn into the doorway of the barn.
One cow now indoors,
the others already in from the field.
Off to band practice now.
Will I manage to play some right notes tonight?
Maybe yes, maybe no,
but I shall have a go,
because that is what you would do if you were me...
jump in at the deep end and 'have a go!'
Bye for now,

Monday 19 October 2015

One happy chimney, two happy chimneys.....

One happy chimney........
......two happy chimneys.
The little one is not quite as happy as the taller one though.
Because the taller one is feeling nice and warm now,
partly because of the sun shining on it and making it sparkle when this photo was taken,
but mostly because it has lovely warm smokey heat coming up from its bottom end,
which is where the Rayburn is.
Yes, it is true! The Rayburn has finally been lit, and is now fulfilling the task for which it was bought, and that is to keep us warm, providing, of course, that it is kept fed with wood, but not tonight because the weather has turned very mild so the Rayburn has being given the night off.

First pot heating on the stove, but not a clue as to how to use the ovens. In fact I have not even looked inside them yet, but I did glance through the manual and I did search out my Rayburn cook books for when the time is right to venture forth into the land of Rayburn cooking.
Why have I been slow in investigating the cooking abilities of the Rayburn? Because, truthfully, although I hoped that the Rayburn would be working this winter I never really thought it would be.

And another eight jars of meat for the larder, all from two legs of pork.
As usual I slow cooked the meat first, then roasted it to firm it up, then into the canning jars after first making two dinners from it, plus it fed the dogs for three days and gave them bones to chew on.
Three of the jars contain the 'near to the bone' meat, which I minced first,
and the other five are full of sliced pork roast.
We have already had one of the jars for Sunday lunch, and although it was not quite as good as freshly roasted pork, it was quite acceptable as DIY fast food.
And another surprise harvest. which is from four self seeded squash plants. I did plant 'proper' squash seeds but they didn't produce anything at all, so we are going to keep some of these seeds for next year. And we are just starting to pull the leeks up, although they would be quite happy to spend another few weeks in the ground. But the trouble is that I tend to not want to go out into the veg plot to dig up or pick vegetables when it is cold, wet, and muddy, so it is best to get the produce harvested and stored. In the case of the leeks, I shall be dehydrating them. Apparently it is quite easy...just give them a good wash, cut off the greener leaves, then slice the stem. I shall dehydrate both the leaves and the stem but separately so I can grind the leaves down into powder to use as seasoning.
I was given a large tray of quince recently, so did research on the Internet and came up with the info that I should leave the quince to ripen indoors, upon which they would start scenting the kitchen with a delightfully sweet aroma which would tell me that it was time to process them. Hah! No aroma have they given off and most of them are now rotting. Ah well, saves me the job of having to get them into jars, and the pigs will love them of that I am sure.
We have also just been given a wheelbarrow full of late ripe and unripe tomatoes, but to the pigs they are going. I did momentarily think that I might do something with them so they could be stored in the larder,  but no, that thought was quickly pushed out of my head before it could take hold and give me another food project to do. I still have a lot of meat to get out of the freezers and canned because of the amount of space that is needed in the freezers if we are going to reduce the number of sheep we have, and plus we have one pig left who also needs to go into the freezer.
Apart from that, it has been lovely weather here for the last few days, and a walk round 'the estate' this afternoon with Lester and the dogs reminded me of how lucky we are to live here, thoughts which I tried to keep in my head as we went through a very tricky milking experience with Bonny and Lissie, our two cows.
What happened?
Well the cows are holding their milk up in their udders which makes milking them difficult and much reduces the milk yield. It is a bit disheartening when there is only a dribble of milk in the bottom of the bucket, but still lots in the udders. Of course they are right to want to save the milk for their calves, but we are a smallholding and everyone has to pull their weight, which means that we need at least half to three quarters of the milk to make the keeping of the cows worthwhile.
So..... a plan: milk the cows taking as much of the milk as they will allow us to have, then
 put the calves in with their mums for a quick slurp of milk which should encourage the cows to release the rest of their milk, then shoo the calves back to their own pen and milk the rest of the milk out. One of the calves is now almost weaned anyway, and the other should be in a couple of weeks, so they still get milk but not as much as when they were younger.
Well it worked, although it was a bit tricky putting the plan into action. Normally Lester would milk on his own and I would get on with doing other things, but tonight I was Lester's wingman, ready to leap into the pens to help him out if the cows got themselves into too much of a bad mood and messed about with him. They are big cows. They have big horns. There are bigger cows with bigger horns, but to us trainee smallholders our cows do look quite big and fearsome to us.
Off to bed now, got a busy day tomorrow..... two shoulders of pork to be cooked and canned, a tray full of leeks to prep for dehydrating, bread to be made, a Rayburn to be admired and cuddled up to should the weather suddenly get chilly, plus oodles of other things to do...some of which I shall manage to get done, others will just have to sit on the 'will do at some point in the future' list.
Bye for now

Thursday 15 October 2015

First shiver, first cheese, heat awaited.......

Finally got round to making some soft cheese, 
with the milk given so far from our cows going to the dogs, pigs, and cooking,
but no cheese, which I felt guilty about, but which was beyond my control.
OK, so......
I had already bought some cultures to make cheese with
so all I had to do was read the recipe, 
which seemed simple enough,
..... heat one gallon of milk to 86 C,
add 1/16 tsp of Mesophilic starter culture series 4001-4002,
then 1/8tsp rennet (vegetarian)
both purchased from The Cheesemaker company in America,
then a good gentle up and down stir of the milk,
lid on pot,
leave at room temperature (around 72 C) for 12 hours,
or if you were me...
until you remembered to have a look to see if the curds and whey had arrived.
Muslin into colander,
colander put over big pot,
curds and whey into colander,
and drained for several hours.

And this is what I got after I had added salt and herbs to the cheese....

.....quite a dish full of soft cheese, which is going to last us for a while,
so I need to find some recipes online to use this cheese up.
I was surprised at how much cheese just one gallon of milk made,
and will be definitely making the recipe again. 
I think I could add make this cheese sweeter by adding sugar, honey, or fruit,
so lots of experimenting ahead.....

And the first bit of shivering.
The over night temperatures have gone down,
although the day time temperatures are still holding good for the moment.
So, scarf (to keep my neck warm) and fleece top, but no thermals yet, that is what I am now wearing.
And trying not to get grumpy about the cold.


....... pipes! And attached to the Rayburn! 
Could this be the end to my early winter grumpiness about the cold?
Because today the fire will be lit in the Rayburn,
and the pipes will be tested for leaks,
and with any luck,
and all fingers crossed, 
it just be possible that we shall have heat this winter!
And do doubt there will be plenty of arguing between me and Lester as to who is going to be sitting in the chair beside the Rayburn!

Friday 9 October 2015

What do you do........?

What do you do when the frozen peas you have just bought are left out in the open air instead of being put in the freezer?
You put them in the dehydrator toute suite.
The reason why they were not put into the freezer?
Because I was too distracted by the Rayburn Project, which was jumbled up in my head with the thought of playing with the French / English Irish band that evening.
In fact I was quite useless all day.

What do you do when you realise you have nothing to wear that did not bear witness to farm life?
I raided my stash of material and made myself a new skirt, which did not have any dribbles, splashes, rips, or other general spoilage from living life on a farm scattered all over its surface.
I am now on a mission to get more new clothes made,
for some reason I do not seem to be able to allow myself to buy clothing which is made commercially, apart from underwear and even then I will have a go at making certain private garments at some point in the future.
I do not know why I have this need to wear only what I make,
I suppose it is just me being me....
What do you do when you see a radiator on the wall in your home,
the very same wall which once was part of a ruin of a building?
You sort of do a silly dance, and sort of do a bit of yelling in the air,
that is what you do if you are me.

What do you do when you want you are going to a rehearsal of a band which is making you feel nervous and unsettled?
You do some baking, that is what you do, in the hopes that by providing a tasty nibble for all to eat,  that all will be put into a good humour  before one even starts playing.
Well, anyway, that seemed like a good plan to me,
shame that Dotty (our young calf) decided not to come in from the field,
and that Lester then had to chase her round and round that field,
which is quite a big field,
and makes him quite out of puff,
which was not a good thing if he was going to need to be able to play his violin, mandolin, and banjo, with a super duper skill which would impress the other band members later on that evening.
No, this was not good....
so Blue (one of the rottweiller girls) and me to the rescue, with Blue running alongside Dotty,
which Dotty did not like,
because Dotty believes that there is nothing in the world except herself,
the same as all young beings of the world believe,
until something happens which makes them realise that the world does not revolve only around themselves.
This, then, is what Dotty needs to learn.
She did not learn that lesson entirely this time, but was made more aware of greater forces, such as allowing Lester to get a rope on her so she could be taken into the cow barn to be with her mum, that if she did not let this happen then a big black thing of an animal would chase her round and round until she decided that Lester was the better option to take.
I, meanwhile, stood and watched, ready to call in Blue when Dotty chose her option.
Back at the oven......with Dotty now quite happily cosied up with mum Bonny....
what to do if the quiche you are baking to impress others with has now gone past its best,
 and has now got a sort of blackened perimeter because you have been busy somewhere else?
Well, you look at the singed pastry, do a couple of seconds of panic, then go get the expensive cheese you have just bought from out of the fridge, then grate this expensive cheese over the top of the quiche in the hopes that it will cover up the burnt bits, that is what you would do if you were me.
Then you put the quiche back into the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese, the theory being that the cheese would act as an icing over the blackened pastry.
It sort of worked.
The quiche was well received that evening.
And so what do you do when you reach the hour of midnight, and the rehearsal is now at an end,
and everyone is smiling at you, and asking if you are coming again next week,
and you feel so well received by everyone,
that you are almost speechless,
what do you do?
You sort of go into a sort of daze, that is what you would do if you were me,
and thank everyone,
with a smile on one's face a mile wide.
And so Lester and me drove home in the early hours of the morning,
taking it slowly,
not because of the amount of traffic on the roads,
but because of the possibility  of bumping into deer, wild boar, badgers, and anything else which roams at night.
We were both smiling.
It had been a good evening.
And we are going again next week,
because we have been asked to do so.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

SSSSHhhhhhh..... the Rayburn Project might be happening!!!

Just to say, very quietly, that all the parts for the plumbing in of the wood burning Rayburn stove have all been purchased.

Just to say, and whispering this to you...... if all goes well we might be having heating this winter. Yes. Heating. Seven years without any heating. How will I cope with not feeling frozzled with cold. And what shall I do with all my thermal underthings!

Ah, but let us not presume that the Rayburn will be working this winter, and just to say, for now....that the radiators are now fixed to the walls (two in the music room, two in the half barn), that an expedition down to the local DIY depot seems to have provided most of the parts needed to get the water from the Rayburn to them. We have discounted plumbing the Rayburn into the hot water system because 1) We could not find anyone local to us who could do the work. 2)  If we have found someone then they would have probably been too expensive for our budget. 3) We realised that to have hot water and radiators running off the Rayburn at the same time would probably have meant having to run the Rayburn at full burn for a lot of the time.

But, hey! Wow! The Rayburn Project might just be on the move!

As for me, I seem to be ten steps behind myself at the moment. The hallway is now finished, apart from being painted, so I can move freely between the back and front kitchens. But no, I seem not to be able to 'move freely'. not because there is anything wrong with me other than the normal aches and pains signalling the approach of winter, but I don't seem to be able to concentrate on any one thing for longer that five minutes. It will pass. I am probably distracted because of the Rayburn Project work going on around me, plus I have been sorting out my catalogue of photographs which I have been accumulating since 2008, which is when we first came to France, so lots of memories of the past few years have been coming to the surface of my mind.

Oh, and perhaps the fact that we have been invited to a rehearsal of an French / English Irish band  tomorrow night is also distracting me and making me feel mildly panicky. Two of the band members are due to leave next year, so they need to find more musicians. Wow! They are a good band. Crikey but I feel nervous. Lester has played in Irish bands for years, so it is nothing new for him, but me.... strooth....anyway, I shall be taking my piano accordion along, and then it is up to the band members as to whether or not I am good enough. I am not fussed either way, but I would like Lester to play in a band again as I think it would do him good and give him something to do other than cope with running a smallholding.

I shall do my best. I started playing the accordion just before my 67th birthday, and at age 68 I think it is an achievement to have even thought about learning to play a new instrument ( I have been a pianist for years) let alone manage to keep up with Lester when he rollicking his way through the Irish jigs, reels, polkas, and anything else he has a mind to play. But I still can't help feeling nervous about playing with eight other people! At least when playing with Lester I can yell at him to slow down!

Otherwise, everything else is ticking along, apart from anything to do with me in the kitchens. The milk in the fridge is needing my attention....there should be enough to make a soft cheese if I get to it before it clabbers (when the milk separates into curds and whey), but if I don't then the dogs and pigs will thoroughly  enjoy slurping up the mixture. Porridge for breakfast tomorrow because there is no bread for toast because I have not made any. All canning projects are at stop, and have been for several days now, ever since work started on the hallway. But I have started sewing again, and am in the middle of making a winter skirt for myself, and I am getting the photos sorted out, and tomorrow I shall walk from the front kitchen to the back kitchen determined to get the food production line going again.

Or perhaps this effort will have to wait until Friday because I am sure that the thought of attending the rehearsal with the band in the evening will distract me so much that I shall drift about from here to there and back again without actually getting anything done!

Off to have a practice on the accordion, so bye for now.


Friday 2 October 2015

Dotty, Flora, but.....goats? Never! But then......

We used to keep goats, but then we didn't. The reason? Because the behaviour of the goats stretched Lester's patience beyond a point where he could no longer cope with them.
 All the other animals 'fit' here so are part of the team.
Yes, they do have their 'off' days, but we do as well.

But those goats!!!! They were never on anyone's team except their own individual ones.
It was the fighting for dominance which was worst, which made being around them not a good experience. 'Never again', Lester said, ' we are never going to keep goats again!'
That was at the beginning of the year.
But I felt that we were not done with goats, but did kept quiet about saying so.
I thought that if we had a couple of young goats, and then trained them up to our ways of doing things, that perhaps we would not have so much trouble with them.
That the goats that we had were all mature animals, set in their ways so less willing to be part of our team, that if they were trained from very young that they would fit in more here.
We have two calves. They will have to be separated from Bonny and Lissie soon otherwise there is no point in keeping cows because the calves will be milking their mum's udders dry, leaving no milk for us. At the moment Lester is milking Lissie, but only getting a couple of litres of milk from her per day. While this keeps us going in the kitchen, this is not enough to make cheese or butter with.
Last time we had a calf, we had the goats as well, so the goats kept the calf company during the day, sleeping in a pen beside his mum at night.
He has tried to put the older calf out in the side field for the day, but it was not a good feeling seeing her run around by herself, so she is now staying with the others for the day.
Which is why Lester muttered something about having a go at keeping goats again.
Just two, plus of course a male, which makes three.
I think that perhaps this will happen.
- we shall have goat milk again which means I can make goat cheese
- they will keep the fields clear of thistles, and eat the brambles away from the fences
- they will keep any future calves company when they have to spend time away from their mums
Next year, then, .....perhaps......

Meanwhile Lester has ploughed up a section of veg plot number 1 which had succumbed to a heavy load of weeds........he hopes to plough it so we can put some green manure in, such as mustard or clover, which will grow over winter to be then ploughed back into the earth next spring.
Veg plot number 2 will be ploughed up by the two adult Tamworth pigs once the self sown butternut squashes have been harvested.
Not done much myself out in the veg plots, as things have got busy indoors, notably the break down of the food preservation conveyor belt, the problem being that we are tiling the middle hallway, which is the space in between the back kitchen and the front kitchen,
this is what has broken the production line!
The meat I got out of the freezer and was supposed to be canning, hasn't been...
(I mentioned this in the last blog)

but it did get to being roasted, but then it went into the fridge, and then day by day  it went into our tummies, thus providing us with our meals for the week, which was a blessing because otherwise it would have been cheese sandwiches all week.
As I have said, the food production line is at a halt.
So no canning jars of pork from these two pieces of meat!
As for the bacon I started,

...this had a thick layer of fat, like the bacon I made a couple of weeks ago. Although the cure went right through all of the meat, I did think that there was too much fat on each slice of bacon, so this time I have taken the thickest parts of the fat off. That will be turned into lard.

So this is the piece of meat, and I used the same cure as I did last time, which was 500grams of salt, 500grams of brown sugar, 25 grams of black peppercorns, and a few bay leaves. But this time I ground the peppercorns and bay leaves in my spice mill before adding them to the salt and sugar. It is likely that I shall stay with this recipe in the future, because the last lot of bacon I made with the recipe turned out wonderfully well.
And the smell of peppercorns, bay leaf, sugar and, but it was nice.
This is the last day of the cure now, so the meat will be washed tomorrow and then left to sit in the fridge for five days before I slice it into rashers which will then be frozen.
I suppose bits of the production line are still operational!
At the beginning of the week I was given some bags of rhubarb...

out of which I have canned eight jars, with some left to make a crumble. Didn't want to put them into the freezer because I am supposed to be getting the freezers emptied out, and at least now they are canned they are also cooked.
I have also just about managed to get all of the tomatoes stored now, mostly through dehydrating them. I should have also had at least five canned jars of crushed tomatoes for the larder, but alack and alas, I was tardy with getting this done even though I had prepped the tomato juice ready for canning. But the stop light was on this part of the food production line, so the pigs ate the juice (cooked with pasta) instead.

....Bonny waiting for her calf to be led out of the barn by Lester....

Dotty on the left, and Flora on the right, both getting ready to chase the chicken out of the field, but waiting until I disappear, because standing beside me as I take this photo are the two big black dogs which they are most reluctant to have anything to do with.
I have managed to be reasonably productive these last few days, although not as productive as I normally am. This will continue until the end of next week, or until I can walk through the middle kitchen to get to the back kitchen.  To have to go out through the half barn doors, and then walk across the courtyard to get into the back door when it is dry and sunny is alright, but when it is raining and I have three dogs trailing behind me who are all damp and muddy, well, it is a bit wearing on the nerves. Not to worry, it is only for a few days more and then the production line can be up to full speed again.
Went down to Tarbes today to get the radiators for the Rayburn Wood Stove looks possible that we might be having that working this winter.
Bye for now,