Thursday 31 March 2016

Who let the cows out!

Who let the cows out!
And, anyway, what cows?
Your cows, Vera?
Nooo, ours were still at home.
These cows, this is what I am talking about....

Doesn't look like our farm, does it,
nor do the cows look the same as ours.
No, this farm belongs to these two young people....

.... and close friends and family had been invited to celebrate this next step
in their farming career....

....with plenty of 'strong stuff' alcohol,
after all we are in the middle of the Almagnac region of France
so best to drink what is made locally....
It made for a merry afternoon......
.....which needed some music to set the ambience,
Vera, Lester, Jacques and Herve to the rescue!

It is Herve's son ( the man whose back is to the camera )
whose project this is.
He must be very proud of his son and daughter in law.
Rather than exiting the countryside to go work in offices in the city,
they have elected to have a go at being farmers.
They have rented a large swathe of grazing land,
and already have a over a hundred sheep just about to lamb,
and now they have these cows.
Do you notice that Jacques is holding a set of bagpipes?
This is entirely appropriate, because unlike our two Jerseys..

 ( Feeding time for the lamb, and Lissie licking her lips
 because she thinks she ought to have a sip of milk too )
...... these are Highland cattle,
and what big chunky animals they are too,
especially the bull,
although I am sure that if Lissie was in the right frame of mind,
that she would be willing to share some 'personal' time with him,
but she is in calf,
so can't!
And here is the rest of the herd....
And very hairy creatures they are too!
I did have a drift of  a thought that perhaps the long hair might spin into yarn,
but this idea was allowed to evaporate as I looked at those horns.
They are big horns,
wouldn't want to get in a tangle with one of them,
so best to keep on spinning sheep fleece then.
And so the afternoon rolled on,
with us four playing jigs and reels, interlaced with local Basque music,
which is very similar to Irish and Scottish music,
all of which was entirely appropriate for the event,
which was to welcome the cows to this new land,
and to celebrate this new venture.
It was hot,
it was fun,
it was mucky underfoot,
well it would be, it is a farm after all,
which is an environment we are very happy to be in.
And so it came to be the end of the afternoon,
and it was time....
a final burst of the bagpipes was needed, (Jacques)
together with the beat of the drum (Herve)
accompanied by the fiddle singing away (Lester)
and me on the accordion, doing my own thing.
Over to the cows we went,
me with a bit of a wobble though because that accordion does sit heavy on my chest,
and since I have a plump chest anyway,
the accordion and my chest combine to make me a tad top heavy.
Not to worry,
I had my boots on,
which gave me a firm platform to stand on while I romped away with the bagpipes, drum, and fiddle.
It was magic.
So we played for the cows,
they seemed to have gotten used to the sound,
at the beginning of the afternoon they had been a little fazed by the music,
not in a frightened way,
just in a 'what the hell is that noise' sort of way,
but now they stood, quietly listening,
apart from the quick moment
 when the bull thought he would do some mating practice,
which was not happily received by the cow he was practising on.
And then the gates were opened...
and we continued playing as they went off out to their new pastures.
It felt very 'olde worldy' and timeless,
sort of like blessing these animals,
giving praise and thanks for them being here,
which is at it should be.
This is not a fast food commercial meat operation,
it is honouring these animals,
that is what it felt like.
And so we kept playing for a while afterwards,
and then home,
to find the lamb we have been bottle feeding was bloated up to almost twice his size.
What to do....
so I asked my inner self what needed to be done,
and what came back was:
2 teaspoons of Bicarb and 1 tablespoon of glucose sugar
mixed in a pint of warm water.
Lester syringed it down his throat.
I gave him a massage on his tummy,
and channelled Reiki healing for him.
Then we had to go back out again,
because we were playing at the fellow band member's party.
It was food and music all the way through to the early hours of the morning.
We expected that lamb not to survive.
We have had experience of bloat before,
and none survived.
However, when we arrived home at two in the morning,
or rather, three in the morning because of the clocks changing,
as we got out of the car,
in the crystal clearness of the night,
we heard the lamb mewing at the paddock gate,
saying he was hungry.
We didn't give him any,
but it was nice to hear that he was continuing on with life.
Made an end to what had been a marvellous day.
And somewhere out in the rolling fields of the Gers are the cattle!
Bye for now,

Monday 28 March 2016

A Different Route........

Everything is drying out, thank goodness,
and here is Bonny going out to the big field.
Normally Lester would be leading her down the path on the left,
but today he is heading towards the sheep paddock .......

..... and through the gate......

..... and now here is Lissie, ....

.......... coming through the paddock.....

.... and on through the paddock,
and through the fence which Lester cut open yesterday....

And the sheep already out in the field,
happily going through the gap in the fence at dawn by themselves,
rather than having to wait to be let out later on,
when Lester gets up.
The little lamb whose mum abandoned him,
he is standing by the fence,
waiting to see if there if Lester is going to give him another feed.
He is doing well,
and runs happily with the rest of the lambs.
I am glad that we resisted the temptation to make a pet out of him.

And Bonny investigates the new fence,
which is this fence......

Lester has made a new fence line because the temporary fence line on the right of this photo was about to collapse at any moment,
which would spell disaster if we happened not to be at home.
The thought of everyone running amok up and down the lane
was a constant worry when we were out.
The cows, probably Bonny, used to think it a fun thing to horn the wire,
making the whole fence line wobble alarmingly.
She thinks her horns are things to get into mischief with,
she has already done unto death the entrance gate to her pen,
and she likes to flip her hay up in the air,
just because she can.

September 2015
This is the old route to the field,
down the side path,
across the ditch,
struggle with opening a temporary gate,
which was only a tangle of wood and wire,
meanwhile holding on to the cow, or in this instance, a calf,
which would have been pulling hither and thither,
trying to munch on tasty grass,
often testing Lester's patience to the limit.
..... and a better view of the ditch and 'gate'.


And then there was the mad dash at the end of the day,
when the 'gate' would be opened,
and everyone would barge up the side path towards their overnight accommodation,
sheep to the left towards their paddock,
cows to the right towards the barn,
only sometimes everyone would decide to go different ways,
for no reason other than that they could,
sheep going left and on out into the unfenced front garden,
there to have a wander on the lane,
and probably head towards a neighbours fields,
which most times has a crop on it,
which they then trample.
Or they might head back down the side path,
and have a stampede round the pig pens,
or have a gallop down the river path, etc.
 The cows, meanwhile, would be doing their own thing,
but in a different direction to the sheep,
and not together.
At least the sheep stay in a block of animal flesh,
the cows just go off in different directions,
making them more difficult to catch.

Most days everything would go smoothly,
and it was quite a sight to see the cows and sheep en masse,
galloping up the side path,
heading towards their supper which was waiting for them.
In some ways I shall miss that,
now the new entrance is done everything seems much calmer,
Lester included,
but it was quite an experience to see the supper time gallop.

So another much needed job is done,
apart from making the gate for the new field entrance,
now we have to get on with getting the chickens out of the courtyard,
because we are developing a thirst to have that space planted out with flowers.
After years of it being used a builder's yard,
 a chicken and geese pen,
and a general dumping ground for stuff,
we really do feel the need to have prettiness in this space
so the Chicken Project is next on the list.

And going off into my day,
so saying bye for now,




Friday 25 March 2016

And here is the band!

And here is the band!
(it might help to enlarge these photos to get a clearer look)
Lester is fourth on the left,
and I am second from the right.
We are playing in an old school canteen,
in Borderes sur l'Echez.
We are 'posing' for this photo,
except Lester,
who is trying to get his violin to stay on his music stand.
I am the one with the accordion,
next to the harp.
And here we are in full swing,
watching Lester as he takes up his solo,
with me keeping an eye on him.
We normally sit together,
but were separated on this occasion.

This was at the start of the evening before most people arrived,
and it was a 'bal' event,
which is sort of like English country dancing  but French style.
And here we are at Le Progres, Nogoro.
As you can see,
everyone is playing except me,
which is because they are playing a very fast Irish jig,
and I have run out of puff.
Lester is on the left of me, playing his mandolin.

Lester deep in concentration as Jacques and Herve rock it away.

.....and now relaxed after having had a session with his fiddle.
.... and me and my accordion!
Hope you enjoyed sharing our musical 'moments'
Bye for now,
 ..... a few seconds of 'Star of County Down'
( we are novices at videoing ourselves at the moment!)

Friday 18 March 2016

Standing under the stars.....

So there I was, outside on the pavement,
a dark sky overhead, but with the moon peeping and the stars twinkling.
Beside me was a group of young men,
poshed up in white shirts and black trousers,
some with black bow ties,
celebrating the end of their exams,
drinks in hand,
merriment rife.
To the other side of me was a wagon full of flowers waiting to happen,
newly planted,
ready for the long flowering season ahead.
Slightly bent over from the cold of the night,
they waited for their time to come,
of floral expansion,
of feeding the bees,
of giving a chunk of colour,
on what was quite a busy junction
in a small French town.
Behind me was the bar,
Le Progrès, Nogoro,
which I had momentarily abandoned,
for favour of a lung full of fresh air,
not that the air in the bar was fetid,
just that I felt the need to go outside,
just for a moment,
just to stop and think.
Also to escape the ear splitting blast of a kilted man playing the bagpipes,
the reverberation of which was trembling the blood in my veins.
Lester and me, we were out for the night,
animals done early, much to their annoyance,
sheep moaning at full voice about the injustice of having to be in their paddock
at 4pm in the afternoon,
the geese at full voice in the courtyard because they wanted to be out and about,
the chickens OK because they could rummage in the newly purchased hay bale,
which they are not supposed to do,
but will do anyway.
The cows were quiet, though,
they had just been milked,
three hours ahead of their normal milking time,
they could now stand down for the night,
knowing that Lester was not going to wake them up
so he could work on their udders.
The dogs, too, were quiet indoors.
They know that there will be nothing happening for a few hours
once they see one violin case, one mandolin case, one accordion case,
one music stand case, one bag of music, and one bag of sundries
( bottle of water, bag of dried figs for nibbles, pen case, bag of sweets, banana,
loo roll for 'just in case' situations)
all going out the door,
and me and Lester tidied up,
 but not poshed up,
because the days when we were suited and smartly attired
are long gone, left on the shores of England
as we travelled across the water to France.
Now we are homesteaders,
and reflect that in our attire.
Me: thick DIY skirt, DIY socks, boots, jumper, DIY cardigan.
Lester: clean working trousers, jumper, sleeveless jacket, flat cap.
And we were off out to Le Progrès. Nogoro,
because tonight we were to play at our first bar gig with the band.
This year we have played in a church,
and in a hall.
Neither gave us much of a buzz,
but oh wow,
we had already played for an hour or so in the bar,
oh wow,
and ' oh wow' again.
 People were eating,
people were chatting,
trying to hold conversations over the sound from the band,
all was buzzing.
Oh wow!
And so it came to be the time for a short break,
and up stood the large kilted Frenchman,
hoisting his bagpipes up onto his chest,
letting rip, at full blast,
a medley of Scottish bagpipe tunes,
his partner beside him,
with drums strapped to her waist,
banging, banging, banging, away.
Time to evacuate the space,
needing to preserve the health of my eardrums,
have a pause from playing,
have a wander around,
investigate the bar,
this French bar,
Le Progrès.
And so I stood outside,
with the young men celebrating the end of this stage of their lives,
with the flowers waiting to happen,
with the cool, clear, night sky overhead,
and became deeply moved with gratitude for it all.
Who would have thought that I would ever be doing this....
that I am here in France,
have got a smallholding lifestyle which has truck loads of busyness attached to it,
that music has opened up such a marvellous opportunity to play in a band,
not staid old fogey music,
but the rollicking jigs and reels of Irish music.
It has even given me a liking for heavy metal music,
which of course I am never going to play,
even I think that would be going over the top,
me, in my boots, corduroy skirt and home knit cardi
playing my accordion as the heavy metal folk scream away on their guitars.
And so I stood outside,
and thought of how very lucky I was,
with a smidgeon of a tear in the corner of my eye,
but not a trickle,
just the teeniest morsel of a teardrop.
And I said to me,
"Crikey girl, who would have thought you would be doing any of this...."
Time to go back inside.
Playing music,
being fed for free because we are the musicians for the evening,
drinks for free as well,
tapping our feet,
bouncing to the beat,
feeling the fingers take up the tune,
feeling the interweaving of sound
not minding the occasional wrong note,
carrying on anyway,
watching the crowd,
seeing some listening,
not minding those who aren't,
carrying on anyway,
seeing people start to leave,
they look happy,
which is good,
it is a nice seeing them happy,
means we have done a good job,
carrying on anyway.
And now it is our time to stop.
We travel home through the night.
It is late,
but although tired I am not fatigued,
neither is Lester.
We have fencing to do today,
otherwise the cows and sheep are going to go into melt down with being kept in,
but they can't go out into the side field because the grazing has all been eaten,
and they can't go out into the front field because the fencing needs to be sorted out.
So with the music of last night still singing in my ears,
(except the bagpipe)
and memories of the moment when I stood outside and marvelled at how interesting life can be when opportunities which are scary to begin with are nevertheless taken up and pursued,
I must away into my day.
Bye for now,

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Nodding off, Waxing, and Lester goes off......

'Twas a day, today, when nothing seemed to want to wake up, but only in me, everyone else was up and doing, after all it is Spring, and as the winter lethargy slips away from the animals,
their need to get up to mischief increases. Up to now, Bonny (one of our cows) has managed to get out of her pen by 'climbing' over her wall. Lester found her busily munching her way through the day's food rations for the pigs. She has also broken the gate to her pen.
She is being very naughty.
Lissie, our other cow, is better behaved, although did have a gallop round and about but not in the direction of her pen but everywhere else including up and down the lane and back again. This was last night, when she had had a day out on the field, the first for a few days. Lester got into quite a sweaty state trying to catch her.
Bonny also did a run round, but was encouraged to get herself back to her pen by me waving my red cardigan at her. You could see her looking out of the corner of her eye at me. She did not like my red cardi. She went inside at a good trot.
Anyway, back to today, this morning....
So I was sitting in the bathroom, putting my shoes on. I was by myself. No dogs bothering me, asking for food, attention and action (as in adventures outside), it was warm,
and somehow, I know not how, I fell asleep as I was bending over to tie the laces of my shoes.
Yes, I did!
But not a 'sleep all night' sleep, which would have had me tipping off the chair and on to the floor,
no, this was a deep, deep, nodding off, but one which kept me on the chair.
The 'nap' lasted at least ten minutes, after which I fumbled my way to the settee in the sitting room, and there I slept on for another hour.
The day has not been a particularly energetic one subsequently,
I dare not sit down on any comfy chair otherwise I shall fall asleep again.
Ah well, tomorrow is another day, so perhaps I shall have more of the vigour of Spring inside my body, or if not, then perhaps the day after.....
An artistic creation?

Noooo, just a wheel of cheese made two days ago receiving its coating of wax, which is quite messy the way I do it. I did try melting a big bowl of wax into which I dipped the previous cheese that I had made, but I did not feel safe as I did so. The wax has to be hot, so the bowl I was using was over a big pot of steaming hot water. The wheel of cheese had to be dipped so that half of it was covered in wax, which was then allowed to cool, then the other half was dipped.
"Too risky", that is what I thought, as I nearly dropped the cheese into the wax.
Hot wax is inflammable.
"Flames everywhere", that is what I suddenly had a vision of,
so I got my pastry brush and slopped the wax on to the cheese a bit at a time.
The cheese does not look exactly tidy or pretty, but at least it is covered.

I am trying wax instead of bandaging the cheese wheels with lard and muslin because of the way the mould grows on the outside of the bandaging, which makes us worry that the whole cheese is rotting. It never has so far, but the mould does not look nice, that is what I think.
Anyway, I love cheese making, love eating the cheese, and am now comfortable with saying that I can actually make a eatable wheel of cheese.
As for the excess milk, some of it goes to the pigs, some to the dogs, some of it goes into yoghurt, custards, etc, and the rest I am freezing. And then of course there is the butter from the cream. I did use a cream separator when I first wanted to separate the cream from the milk, but it was such a faddle to have to clean the equipment afterwards and a lot of milk was wasted.
So now I just dip a ladle into the thick layer of cream sitting on top of the milk.
Two day old milk is best as the cream has had time to ripen.
For freezing the milk, I put a plastic bag into a square plastic container, then pour the milk to the top level of the container. This encourages the milk to freeze into a shape which is easier for storing.

My stash of milk in the bottom of the freezer. I am not sure how it will defrost though, because I have heard that the milk might separate if defrosted too quickly. Not to worry, trial and error....sometimes there is success, but sometimes there is non-success, which is not 'failure' as such because the learning along the way is always worth  having had a go in the first place.
And Lester coming out of the  back gates....
...... on his first mission this year, which is to finish the fencing along the river side of the far field, his intent being to get some extra grazing for the animals, particularly the cows.
Unfortunately the river has eroded quite a chunk of the field, making it a possibility that should a cow venture too close to the edge of the steep bank she might fall into the river and therefore become deceased.
To fence the bank, therefore, is a priority.
..... and off he goes,
only to return a few minutes later in a very low mood after he took a look at the river bank.
A family pow wow has come up with the plan to keep the field as a hay field and not use it for grazing. It was decided that the expense of putting a fence line up only to have it fall into the river in a year or two was not worth the effort.
We love living by the river.
Just wish it would stop eating our land so it can make a nifty little island in the middle of itself.
Must go and give that cheese wheel another coating of wax,
so, bye for now,

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Me and my stash habit.........

I sew so I have a stash of fabric. I knit so have a stash of wool. Then comes the day when an article needs to be made. The stashes are searched through, and the right fabric / wool is found. But now the dithering starts, because perhaps I might have a need for that fabric / wool in the future, and if I use it now it will not be available for me ever again because it would have been already used up.  Therefore, 'Do I, or Do I Not'  use this fabric/ wool now, or do I save it and buy other fabric or wool to make what I need to make.

This 'stash accumulating' habit is one I am trying to break, but not with fabric and wool, but with the produce in my food larder. Maintaining the same 'best save for later' mentality I now have dehydrated vegetables from 2013 still sitting my shelves, the same for jars of canned meat and veg, the same for meat and produce in the freezer. I am good about jams and chutneys though, and these I do use.  But the cheese I make - I really feel the need to save it,  and can get quite uppity with Lester when he does a raid on the cheese fridge. I feel the need to guard the cheese stash against such raids. Bless me, but sometimes I do feel I have daft moments. After all, he looks after the cows and milks the cows, so he deserves to eat what he likes from the cheese stash in the larder.

So ...................................................................

Just got back in from feeding the lamb, Lester is out at the moment (had to change the gun he recently bought) so I am in charge. Sheep in a real fed up mood. Been in all day, ......they dislike having to stay in the paddock so will moan and moan about the injustice of it all. One sheep had her head jammed in the fence wire. Nearly took a chunk of fence wire with her as I got her head free. Had visions of the whole flock disappearing through the damaged wire. Fortunately the 'vision' did not come to fruition and the fence wire held, but will need mending. Will wait for Lester to be in a good mood before I tell him that though. He is still trying to get the gates in the cow pens mended after Bonny decided to wrestle with one of the during the night. One gate and gate post came off worse, and now she has started on the second gate.

Took Boolie with me. He is very good around the sheep, and apart from one head butt from a miserable sheep all went well, and he managed a quick lick round the rear end of the lamb to clean him up a bit. The lamb hasn't a mum, so Bools does come in handy for odd clean up job. He has done this for all the bottle fed lambs in the past, so there will be a job vacancy when he passes over (tumour still busily growing) Neither of the rottweiller girls would be allowed to take the job on because they mess around too much and would want to play 'football' or 'chase' with the lamb. They are in the 'dog house' at the moment. Managed to get through the courtyard gates just as the cows were coming in from the field last night. It was not the best moment for the girls to do this because the cows did a gallop down the lane with the girls bouncing along in jollity behind them. Lester was fuming.

So.......... back to my food stash, and my belated New Year resolve to use up the food on the shelves, and in the fridges and freezers, and fight against my tendency to want to 'keep things for later'.

The Meat Stash: I am gradually working my way through the three freezers and have stopped worrying about having enough meat to feed us. If we run out then we can go vegetarian until we get the stocks back up again.

The Canned Goods Stash: We have finished up all the jars of potatoes, cherries, pears and apples, but still have one jar of rhubarb and several jars of blackberries still to go. Plus several jars of green tomatoes, two soups, and a few jars of meat. We still have lots of dehydrated cherries, figs, apples and plums though, so still have fruit in the larder.

The Cheese Stash: I have given myself a talking to, and realise we really do need to eat what I am producing without me going into 'Save the Stash for later' mode.

In an effort to break the stash habit of thinking, yesterday I broke open four wheels of cheese. The one top left is a salt brined Caerphilly, of the two on the is a Colby, the other a Farmhouse cheese, and the cheese beneath them is possibly a Monterey Jack which has some of its muslin and lard wrappings removed.

Question: Had the mould on the lard and muslin wrapping of the Monterey Jack migrated into the cheese?

No. The mouldy covering looks very ominous so we expected spoilt cheese, but no, the cheese had a lovely full and rich taste and was aging just fine.

Question: Had the Caerphilly gone rotten, because the outside was sticky and vaguely slimy.

No. The cheese was still plump and creamy, although had a stonkingly strong taste. We have to use this cheese up first because it will not store in a food saver bag and goes rank ('off') quickly. It will store in the fridge for a while though.

Question: Have I ruined these two cheeses because I did not put a protective covering of either lard, wax, or salt on them.

No. Although they both had quite hard skins and had dried out quite a bit, both are doing alright. One in particular is deliciously mild and we are eating that one up immediately.

Cheese Stash Plan: Cut these wheels in half, wax one half and put into longer term stash storage, put the other half into food saver bags for the  'eat when the need comes' stash.

The Dehydrates Stash:

At long last I have the much waited for shelves in the front kitchen, upon which is to go my dehydrates. There is plenty of room to fill the shelves up once the harvests start coming in, meanwhile I continue to use up all the 2013 and 2014 dehydrated produce, and am working my way through the 2015 harvests. It has been a surprise to me that none of the dehydrates have either gone off, gone mouldy, or got rotten during their storage, which makes me sold on dehydrating produce, but this has only come upon me during the last month or so, now I have got the dehydrates stash sorted out and I am more organised. But these jars are only the front line of the stash. I also have a cupboard in which is stored the larger bags of dehydrates.

And today's lunch.....

Potatoes, carrots, sprigs of cauliflower (shop bought) - cubed and steam cooked, cauliflower sprigs as is.
Cooked minced hoggett (young sheep_. (ours)
White sauce....milk (ours), butter (ours), flour (supermarket), rehydrated leeks and tomatoes (ours), cheese (Caerphilly, ours), seasonings (supermarket)

Potatoes and carrots,......a layer put own as a base
Then the mince, warmed up.
Then the rest of the veggies.
Sauce over the top, and encouraged to ooze down to the other layers.
Grated cheese on top.
Under grill.
Job done.
It was yummy.

... and a good proportion of ingredients were from our food stash / larder.
Trying to remain stoical in my efforts at lose the 'Don't use now because you might need it later' habit of thinking......
And yesterday's photo of the Lester and the lamb:

.... and our gorgeous black Orpington cockerel.....
Bye for now