Wednesday 27 January 2016

Burn's Night, and rat boxing

We were out last night.
(Well, actually it was the night before, but I have been slow in getting this blog posted!)
Anyway, ....good company, good food, and good wine
 (although I didn't drink any but it looked top notch judging by the merriment of all present by the end of the evening. I wish I could drink but it offends my internal plumbing system. It is a bit depressing when all around are getting happier by the glassful and I am getting more and more in need of my bed as the evening goes on!)
Borrowed from Wikipedia:
'A Burns supper is a celebration of the life and poetry of the poet Robert Burns, author of many Scottish poems. The suppers are normally held on or near the poet's birthday, 25 January.....'
So that is where we were, at a Burns Night, and being fed the traditional food of:
fish soup, followed by mashed potato, mashed swede, carrots, and haggis.
Cheese and biscuits to follow (not sure if this is 'traditional Scots')
Last was a dessert of raspberries and cream (definitely not traditional!)
And Lester and I played music during the evening (accordion, violin, and mandolin),
with friend Mike on the guitar, John (host), (whistle, harmonica, and upturned flower pot drum.)
It was a fun evening, and one to be remembered with fondness, especially because I was able to contribute something to the evening by playing music. I am always happier when I am contributing. I tend not to be so comfortable at events which require of me just social chatter and, if possible, will go sit in a quiet place and watch everyone else chatting.
I find people watching a fascinating occupation.
There was this rat.
Move, it did not want to.
Oh dear!
 she did not approve of the rat's attitude,
brought down her horns to ram the rat.
The rat stood up on hind legs,
and boxed away those horns.
Lissie swept her horns from side to side,
wishing oh so very much to impale that rat,
who had ventured into her living accommodation,
for which she was not happy.
Lester to the rescue.
With milking bucket in hand
he did swipe at the rat.
The rat toppled over.
Another swipe.
And then a new home found,
which was in the woods,
so that the body of the newly deceased
could return to the natural juices of nature.
Another rat down.
One less to romp over Lissie while she sleeps.
One less to run around Lester while he milks.
 So, this skirmish was won by the Home Team.
No doubt that there will be plenty more opportunities to do battle.
Everyone is outside today.
The sun is shining, and Spring seems to be arriving well ahead of when it should.
The only two left inside are me and Boolie,
Bools because he is always no more than a half a metre away from my side,
and me because of house jobs.
I was going to carry on with cutting the brambles down,
but didn't, because I had a nap instead,
which was a glorious chunk of sleep,
which was fractured only by a loud whirring noise,
which alarmed me somewhat, as I thought that the washing machine was about to spin itself silly,
this thought then being replaced by one which centred on very low flying jets,
an alarming thought, as my mind grazed over the possibility of having our new chimney pots damaged by low flying aircraft.
 Well the noise was loud and sounded very close, and I was fugged up with sleep.

But no, none of these things,
just Lester getting another huge bail of hay in to the Courtyard,
assisted by the might of his old tractor.
I was not needed this time.
Which was a good thing.
Because I was sleeping, or trying to!

As for Bools,
he is still being high spirited,
bless him.

Off to walk him now and get the last rays of sunshine.
Tomorrow I will get some time outside,
even if it is to sit on the front door step and do some spinning!

Bye for now.


Friday 22 January 2016

The pan...... new but now rusty!

Lester suggested to me that perhaps we should invest in some cast iron cookware especially to be used on the Rayburn wood burning stove.
It is a good suggestion.
However, it would seem to me that cast iron cookware demands man muscles because they are heavy, this I learnt after doing a trial heft of a friend's Le Creuset pot.
Empty and lidless, it was all I could to lift the thing. With lid and full of food, chance.
I have lady muscles, plus I have overdone things which involve my wrists, which are not wanting to work properly, and tend to have a think as to whether or not they will oblige me by lifting things up.
A bit of a nuisance when one is cooking dinner,
or doing anything which involves shifting things from here to there.
Have had a couple of near accidents when in mid lift the wrists have said, "No, don't want to", which is a bit inconvenient if it involves a kettle of hot water, or a pan of hot, cooked veg.
Man muscles! I need to get some! Plus two working wrists!
Anyways, ......cast iron cookware...
So to promote a keenness not really felt, but thought I should show willing,
I bought a cast iron frying pan from Amazon UK.
It arrived.
I was impressed both by its solidness, and weight.
But what was this!......something about getting it 'seasoned'.
However, this was not done because the instructions were written in ever such tiny writing which I could not read, so the pan was left to sit, becoming another one of those 'To Do' projects.
And then it came to be the time when Lester decided to cook us up a treat.
I was in bed asleep, nursing a cold.
But 'Where are the frying pans?' he thought.
He searched and searched but could not find them
(they were in the Back Kitchen stacked up with other pots ,waiting to be washed up)
And then his eyes did spot the new frying pan, clean, idle, needing to be used, or so he thought.
On to the Rayburn hotplate it went, in was sploshed the omelette he was making as the treat,
"Vera" he called out, "your lunch is nearly ready",
followed by "***!!!****".
Folks, for you who think about buying a cast iron frying pan, do please pay attention to the instructions on how to season it, and even if you can't read those instructions because they are in such small print, have a search on the internet  to find out.
For myself, my internet search has focussed on, "How to get the rust off a cast iron pan".
...because the omelette stuck to the pan, could not be got off, so the pan was left to soak, and then it was forgotten about (not really, just sort of left until I had time to attend to it),
and then things got put on top of it,

My first cast iron pan, brand new, almost unused
(I had toast for lunch that day after the Omelette Project was abandoned)
but already battle scarred and covered top and bottom with rust.
Apparently it can be cleaned up,
apparently it is still usable,
but for the moment it still remains as a 'Project in waiting'.
I have got a lot of those sort of projects on the go at the moment.
So if any of you good folk can help with either 'How to de-rust' info, or 'How to season' info, I would be most grateful.
And that cheese I spoke about the other day...the one which threw up the most horrible smell, but which tasted really is just as well I vacuum sealed two thirds of the cheese and put it away for safe keeping in my cheese fridge, because I seem to have 'lost' the remaining third.
Methinks that it has gone inside Lester's tum.
Methinks that he had a 'weak' moment and could not help but do a raid in our other fridge where this portion of cheese was kept,
which upset me a little bit because just now I had my own 'weak' moment when the urge to have a morsel of that cheese overtook me.
All gone, not a crumb left.
I could, of course, do my own raid on the cheese fridge and open one of the saved packets of cheese,
but that would be weakness because if we eat the cheese as fast as it matures, then we shall have no cheese to get us through those times when the cows stop giving us milk and no more cheese can be made.
But that means I can't have a piece of cheese now.
What to do.....
Eat all up now, or eat a portion then store the rest.....,
or keep a portion to eat but divide it up so that Lester can 'find' his own morsel,
but hide away another piece for when I have the urge to have a nibble.
Ah but then Lester would inevitably find 'my' piece.
He can't find his socks in his sock drawer, but he would find that cheese!
Bless him, I must be gracious in defeat with this, after all he has to look after our cows and put up with their shenanigans when they are in season, when they have the almighty urge to mate with anyone handy, normally Lester when he trying to milk them.
Oops, my wrists are complaining so I am going to close off now,
Thanks for stopping by,
and bye for now.
PS. To sooth my disappointment about not having a piece of cheese I toasted myself up a slice of  DIY bread on the hotplate of the Rayburn,  spread on the toast some of our DIY butter, and on top of that slathered a very generous helping of non-DIY Nutella.
And I remembered to take the meat out of the oven of the Rayburn, .....a leg of mutton, wrapped in foil to stop it from drying out because I knew that I would forget that it was in the oven (no cooking smells come from the Rayburn so one can forget that one is in the process of cooking food in it).

Wrists now thoroughly done in,

bye for now again!

Thursday 21 January 2016

Smelly? Crikey yes! Hacked? ********!!!! = Yes!

So...  the 'smelly' bit first.
When I open the door to the cheese fridge I am met with a variety of smells,
none of them are 'oh let's have a jolly good whiff' though,
but most are bearable.
However......creeping in amongst the smell of aging wheels of cheese has been a horrid waft,
as if something is rotting, not well, unhappy.

Second shelf up from the bottom of the fridge,
the wheel of cheese on the right,
that is the stinker.
I am not exaggerating, horrid, that is the smell.
Worried in case the deceasing cheese was going to spoil the other cheeses,
Lester removed said cheese..
'You can't win em all' he said,
as with a flourish he cut the wheel in half to have a look.
...a Caerphilly type of cheese,
only two weeks old.
A taste then.
Oh crikey but it was gorgeous,
mild, sweet, slightly crumbly, very more-ish.
But why only two pieces on the plate?
Have we eaten the rest?
They are tucked away in the cheese fridge, all wrapped up, stored for future use.
My new bit of kit for the kitchen....a vacuum sealer.

....and the rest of the Caerphilly, all bagged up.
The cheese will not keep aging now it is sealed in the bags,
but it at least it will stay as it is, I hope.
As for the other pieces, they went into the other fridge, got forgotten about, were found a week later, and wow but that cheese had romped ahead with its maturing.
Cheese making? Takes ages but worth the effort.
I do other things which I do not speak about on this blog, preferring to keep Snippets as a smallholder type of blog,
but this other work had a website, Aspects of Self.
It was huge, several hundred pages in content,
all written, designed, and built, by myself.
Anyway, the website got hacked in to,
and our host server said that they had to kill it off because it was now unsafe,
and oh what a blow that was,
and then I thought that perhaps the Universe was having a hand in this,
that for ages I had been having thoughts that perhaps the website was outdated,
that through all the ups and downs of the last eight years,
of learning to live at a basic level in caravans and a ruined house,
of having to be patient as we got a home back together again,
of learning to be smallholder and feed ourselves,
of learning to be more grounded and appreciate the simple things in life,
that I have moved past the person who built that site,
that the Universe knew this and just helped move me on.
Everything is for a reason,
there is a purpose behind everything that happens to us,
so I say goodbye to Aspects of Self,
and wait to see in what direction my other work is now to go in.
 .... and our river, the Adour, now getting full, but not full enough to come on to our land yet.
....and the Pyrenees in the distance.
(click on the photo to get a fuller view of those mountains)
Need to go do things,
lovely day here,
so things will dry out enough for the pigs to be let out to carry on with their 'Let's get the weeds dug up in the veg plot' project.
The sheep....we are still waiting the arrival of the first lambs. Since the culling of the flock last November and December the remaining sheep have been a bit 'off' with us, so hopefully they will cheer up soon once the lambs arrive.
And Boolie? He is still in good spirits, and in fact seems to have more energy lately than what he has had for a long time. The tumour on his ear continues to grow.
The chickens....they are still roosting up on the fig tree. They have got soaked, covered with frost, blown all over the place when the winds were blowing fiercely, but they are all still here.
The cows....... both have had artificial insemination again. Both are content, happy to stay indoors to eat and sleep the winter away. Lester put them out in the field the other day so they could stretch their legs. They were not impressed, and complained loudly all the day long about how cold, wet, and muddy it was, and 'When the hell are you going to bring us back indoors'....
Meanwhile, the day ahead is beckoning me,
so bye for now,

Friday 8 January 2016

Red sky at night........

The old saying goes....
'Red sky at night, shepherd's delight' which means a good weather tomorrow.
'Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning' which means not so good weather ahead.
We were late back from band practice last night. It was a hard drive all round. Blackness, rain, fog, up and down through wooded hills and valleys avoiding the frogs as best we could, with one headlight deciding not to work.
It had rained hard while we were out.
The courtyard was wet, particularly by the entrance gates, where the water tends to lay in a pool, fed by the slope of the drive and the roof of the porch which does not have a gutter, it being the original roof so just drips water along its length.
When it rains, it is like going through a waterfall.
When it stops raining we have a wide muck of muddiness through which we have to walk.
We never have non-muddy shoes in the wet weather,
which is not so bad if one is going shopping,
but when one is wanting to be tidy, and indeed does look quite tidy, the mud splattered shoes at the end of one's body does spoil the overall effect, particularly when the shoes dry off. Then there is a quantity of dried farm mud scattered on the floor around the area  where one is sitting in.
Anyway, it was a good band practice, which was a surprise because I had lost interest with playing the accordion these past three weeks and thought my time was done with playing it. Not so. As soon as I strapped the accordion up on my chest I felt a swoon of affection for this red beast of an instrument. So, no, I had not given up playing it for ever and ever, we were taking time out from each other, that was all.
As I was saying, we were late back last night.
So up late this morning.
Dogs out for pee and poo.
And oh wow! The sky was smashed through with a redness which made the sky look like it was oozing blood. I took photos, none of which could even come close to the magnificence of those skies, but I took them anyway.
'Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning......'
so had a look at Meteo, the French weather forecasting station.
It would seem that we are to have the mud in the courtyard refreshed in quantity,
because it looks like we are to have loads of rain coming our way.
Not to worry, as I said yesterday, it is our turn to have some difficult weather.
But what did sent a shiver down my spine was the news that we might be expecting a 'tempete' Sunday night.
'Tempetes' are bad news for us.
Last time we had one we ended up like this:

.....January 2009, amazed that we got through in one piece, stamped in our memory as not one of our better times, smiles still up on our faces but only just.
But we do have a house now, so we are more sheltered, as are all our animals except the chickens who still insist on sleeping up the fig tree.
We had huge gusts of wind the other night.
I was surprised to see the chickens hanging around for their breakfasts in the morning.
I had thought them all blown away.
We keep telling them to roost in the tractor and hay shed, but chickens are chickens so do their own thing, and they insist on climbing up on to the higher branches of the fig so we can't reach to get them down unless they want to come down on their own.
So I am disregarding Meteo's news of a possible 'tempete' for the moment. Hopefully it will just be a big storm and not like the hurricane which nearly blew us to pieces in 2009.
Cheese making day today.
Might have a nap first though, it was 1.30 this morning before we got to bed.
As I say, it was a late night!
Boolie is sleeping at my feet. His tummy is rumbling something fierce. He needs to go to the loo. I wish I could do something about the tumour on his ear, because it has taken to doing thin spurts of blood sufficient to leave pools of blood everywhere. The tumour does not leak if left alone, but it is when our rottweiller girls decide to involve him in a romp, especially when Blue paddles her feet at him, or when Maz decides to give the lump a love-up, that is when the tumour will spurt blood.
And yet he is not in pain.
I cannot understand this.
Perhaps it is my prayers which are keeping him pain free.
It is a shame that my prayers are not able to remove the lump completely.
Ah well, it is as it is.
Righty-ho, let's get him outside before it starts raining.
Saying 'bye for now'

PS. Lester has just come in from milking.
Apparently Lissie has just tried to mount him.
So, time for artificial insemination again.
C'est la vie!

Thursday 7 January 2016

Getting familiar with mould

Mould. It gets on to a lot of things if they get damp.
It is growing on the cheese in the cheese fridge, but not this one...
it is a Colby cheese...

.. ...which has just been wrapped up in muslin bandages glued together with lard from our pigs.

But I think that I shall have to rethink this method of aging cheese,
because the cheese fridge is starting to fill up,
and soon I shall have to stack the cheese one on top of the other.
Lard is sticky. The wheels of cheese are going to get stuck together if stacked.
So I shall have to revisit using cheese wax.
Yuk. I get into even more of a mess when I use that because it is very runny,
far more liquid that using our lard, but at least I can stack the wheels together.
My first cheese was a Monterey Jack, a semi hard American cheese.
I made it early December.
It looks pristine here in the photo.
After nearly four weeks in the cheese fridge it did not,
it was covered in blobs of green and black and white mould, not all over, just in patches.
Could not do anything, like wash it in vinegar or salt, because of the lard wrapping.
Had to wait.
That's the thing with making cheese, the patience needed to wait for weeks, if not months, before they can be opened to see if they are eatable.
But not this cheese....
this is a Caerphilly, not bandaged or waxed, and ready to eat in three weeks, although will taste richer if left for longer.
It, too, was starting to grow mould, so in a moment of worry I showed Lester.
He said "Let's try it", so we did.
Oh, wow, how yummy that cheese was, even the rind tasted good.
Notice I use the past tense because it is now all gone, mostly used up in supper time toasted cheese sarnies (toasted to perfection on the top of the Rayburn. Love you Ray, just not your oven)
another wheel of cheese was languishing on top of the work counter,
waiting to be wrapped,
but Christmas came along, together with a humdinger of a cold (or it might have been an allergy to the chemicals in the box of choccies which had to be eaten because it was Christmas),
which put me to bed for a couple of days, during which that cheese started growing mould, but not the same as the Monterey Jack or the Caerphilly, no, this mould was half inch tall and looked green and furry. Oh dear. Thinking the cheese spoilt I cut a chunk off the wheel to feed to the dogs.
Lester was passing by. He was horrified. Took control of that wheel.
It is now history.
That, too, went into toasted cheese sarnies and nibbles, with the rind being cut off as treats for the dogs.
And then it came to the time of having no cheese to eat.
so Lester went on a raid in the cheese fridge at the same time as I was examining the Monterey Jack to see if more mould had grown.
All I did was say "I'm not sure if this mould is supposed to be there",
and without me hardly knowing how it happened,
Lester took charge,
" is supposed to mature for another couple of months", I said.
'Twas no good, he was a man on a mission.
Off came the wrappings...
and there, there it was..... pure virginal creamy cheese, with not a spot of mould on it.
It is being eaten.
And a local farmer who also has Jersey cows (we bought ours from him) stopped by yesterday,
and Lester gave him a sample of the Monterey to eat.
He said it needed more salt. He said it was creamy. He said it was good.
I think he was surprised.
He makes cheese semi professionally.
I don't think he expected me to make an eatable cheese, bless him.
Can't blame him, I do tend to give off an air of ineptitude when I am not sure about how to do things.
So with increased energy to get more cheese made while our two cows are still giving us milk,
.... on the left is a Farmhouse cheddar, in the middle another Monterey Jack, and on the right is another Caerphilly. The Farmhouse and Monterey have now been larded (need to order the cheese wax so still bandaging and larding), and the Caerphilly is to be salt washed.
We are on the roll with making cheese now, mould and all.
The Rayburn Oven Project is being ignored for the moment.
Off to get dressed,
a drop of most welcome sunshine has just grazed over my shoulder,
which makes a change to the several days of hard rain we have had.
Not complaining, though, it was our turn to have inclement weather.
Now watching the river rising.....
Bye for now,

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Rayburn & Me

I am still here!
No blog writing though because I did not seem to have the necessary words to write.
I think my head must have gone on some sort of holiday,
but then it had been a busy 2015,
with lots to think about,
lots of chaos in the house,
and a generally unquiet year all round.
But we do have a warm home, well, warm for France.
Back in the UK we were warmer, but then we had a house locked down tightly against drafts, and a central heating system which was on full blast when Lester was home,
because he worked in a hot office all day and didn't want to feel cold at home.
There was lots of times when I felt like I was cooking.
It was very unhealthy.
I was always suffering with colds.
Our home here is not quite so locked down against drafts,
but is much better than it was during the previous winters.
Most of all we now have internal doors which wafts of cold air struggle to get through,
plus we have the Rayburn which is making a good battle against the chills.
We now do not feel that winter is inside the house as well as outside it.
And to remind us of how it was in previous winters,
all we have to do is go into the room to the left of the front doors.
It does not have any heating.
It is how the house would have been if the Rayburn had not been saving us from the cold.
It is good to be reminded of how it was.
But we do not run the Rayburn all day, just from mid afternoon afterwards,
because the rooms we are using are holding their heat, although in comparison to our UK hot house it would probably feel quite chilly, but in comparison to having lived for several winters here without heating, it is cosy and comfortably warm.
It is also healthier.
The Rayburn heats three rooms, the sitting room and Half Barn via four radiators, and the kitchen through the heat from its body.
And then there is the little boudoir chair beside the Rayburn in which one can sit and cuddle up to this most splendid of heating appliances.
I can heat a pot of something up on the stove top, but have to be careful because the Rayburn is very vigorous in its enthusiasm to do the job. Burnt bottoms often happen if one is not watchful.
I have not yet found a cool spot on the stove top to simmer on.
Apparently one is supposed to put anything needing to be slow cooked inside the oven, that I have not done as yet because I don't have the right cookware.
And on the subject of the oven:
.....and that is all I have to say on the matter!!!!
Cakes? burnt. Tarts? burnt. Bread? burnt.
I look at the dial on the front of the oven door.
It says that I can 'Bake'.
I do.
It doesn't.
It incinerates.
So I look on the internet.
See that there is supposed to be something called a 'cold shelf' inside the oven.
I thought it was the floor of the oven, it isn't. It is a shelf which is supposed to be put above the food one is cooking if the oven is too hot.
Does it work?
As I say, on the subject of the oven
Meanwhile I continue to bake on the range cooker. Just switch the dials on, and the baking gets done.
Meanwhile, I love the Rayburn but not its fickle oven.
Anyone have any helpful hints for a wood burning stove novice?
Any help would be most gratefully received, bless you.
Now must be off and away
am late in getting into the back kitchen where the morning milk is waiting to be processed,
the dogs are waiting to be fed,
I must get dressed,
there is some canning of a stew which needs to be done,
Bye for now,
....and wishing you all the best for 2016