Monday 29 August 2016

Singed tomatoes, and wood piles......

Should you have popped round for quick visit yesterday at five o'clock in the morning, this is what you would have found me doing......

...... holding a fork with a tomato impaled upon it,
which was being singed in the flame so the skin could be easily removed.
It took a few seconds, that's all, and is much faster than the other method I have tried,
which is to bring a pan of water to boil, plunge some tomatoes in it,
rescue them after a moment or so, then plunge them into cold water to cool down,
after which the skins can be removed.
I don't get on with this method of skinning tomatoes,
finding it difficult to get the timing right for each tomato,
so that I tend to end up with a portion of over cooked mushy tomatoes,
which is a waste.
It was this pile of tomatoes which I was needing to sort out,

..... lots of elongated Amish Paste tomatoes, lots of little round ones, and a few bigger round ones.
It was the Amish Paste which I was going to skin.

Not looking forward to this season's tomato harvest because of the skinning process,
I had been putting off starting the job,
but the onset of ripeness pushed me into a search on the internet for alternative methods of getting the skins off the tomatoes, and I found this gas flame one.
Thought I would have a try.
It worked.
Put a fork in to the top end of the tomato,
hold the tomato in the flame with the bottom end presented to the flame,
Hold for a second or so, then turn the tomato on its side and start  slowly rotating it.
There will be a pop as the skin breaks, and there might be a sizzling sound, which let you know that the job is nearly done. It does not take long.  
Then put those tomatoes on a plate to cool down,
then on to the next.
Working on two tomatoes at a time, (separate forks of course!), I whizzed through the tomatoes quickly, had no waste because the time in the flame for each tomato could be varied with its size,
and I did not get soaked, which was something I tended to do when using the boiling water method.
Then on to skinning, coring, chopping, cooking, and preserving.
Twenty minutes at 10lb pressure in my All American Canner,
and job done, giving us seven more jars for the larder,
making seventeen jars of chopped tomatoes in total.
(9 tomato, celery, and onion, 8 tomato, courgette, and onion
in 0.7 litre jars)
This is my first year of canning tomatoes.
Did wonder if it was worth the effort when tins of tomatoes don't cost much to buy from the shops,
but the first taste of our own processed tomatoes forever changed my mind.
So, is it worth the work?
So what to you do when you feel like coming to a full stop mid way through a food prepping session,
when the road feels long, and you would like to be anywhere else except here.
When a bar of chocolate feels vital to have, when a cup of cocoa will not substitute.
So what you do is down tools, and go lie down on the bed for a quick nap,
after which the energies will surge up again, hopefully, and the pace of food prepping will begin again. If it doesn't, then there is always tomorrow.
I blame the hot weather, which makes me slothful.
But it is cooler today, which got me off to a good start. Mid morning I felt the urge to sit down for a minute though. Two hours later I woke up. Lunch was late. Another quick nap afterwards, and oh dear, another nap late afternoon. Must be the hot weather catching up with me. As I say, the temperatures have been silly.....mid 30's....
Lester, though, manages the heat quite well, possibly because he was born and raised in South Africa,
so he has been plodding on with the gathering, sawing, chopping and stacking of the wood .......
.... and a pause to give the cows a morsel of greenery,

..... and our homestead, with the field waiting for the rains to green it up again...

And back at the house, the wood pile is growing....

...... and this pile still waits to be chopped and stacked...

Like me and the tomatoes, this is his first year of getting the wood pile done.
I think I have the easier task.
Standing over a hot stove making jam, canning tomatoes and other veg, and doing all the other smallholdery wife stuff does seem an easier task.
I don't think I could even lift the axe  off the ground, let alone swing it up in the air and over my head, hoping to aim for the chunk of upended wood to split it in two.
Saying bye for now,

Monday 15 August 2016

RIP Boolie

29.01. 2001 - 12.08.2016
Just to say that I have tried to write this particular blog several times but this is all I could manage.

Tuesday 9 August 2016

A bit of a dodgy manoevre........

So what do you do when you need to cut the grass...
you get the mini tractor started up,
which already has the cutting thingy on the back of it, that's what you do.
And so as you move the tractor forward,
what do you do if you hear the loud squawk of a hen somewhere near your feet....
you stop the tractor toute suite, that is what you do.
Then you investigate....
and you find that a black hen has set up a nesting camp,
and has a huge pile of eggs upon which she is sitting,
and that you couldn't see her in the first place
because she is sitting half under the tarpaulin which is covering the bale of straw,
and that the wheels of the tractor had been exactly beside the bale,
and that she must have fidgeted a hole for herself betwixt the straw and the wheel,
so she could make a cosy home for herself
while she went into broody mode.
But the tractor cannot be moved any other way except forward,
the space being tight, but still easy to manoeuvre in.
Unless, of course, you have a hen sitting bang up against the wheel,
which naturally creates a problem.
Maybe the grass could have left for another day,
but Lester, for this is the driver of the tractor,
well he had fixed it into his head that the paths needed cutting,
so he was 'a man on a mission', and not to be thwarted.
So what to do....
you call your wife, that is what you do,
first to complain about the hen sitting in such a 'silly' position,
which would not have seemed such a 'silly' position to her,
as I pointed out,
because the tractor wheel added a measure of security for her,
unless it was moved,
which of course would then give her a fright
as her quiet world suddenly became unquiet,
this I pointed out, which did not go down too well with himself,
as I have said, he was a man on a mission,
so then I was given instructions to act as traffic controller,
or in this case,
tractor controller,
and to let  him know if he accidentally drove over the hen.
He also said to stop photo shooting the occasion
and to concentrate on the job in hand.
As you can see, I didn't take any notice of that bit of instruction.

The arrow shows the tail feathers of the hen.
Lester has inched forward slightly.
So far so good.

A bit of backward and forwarding,
and all is still well.

..... and you just about see a tiny black blob of tail feather...

Lester says "Is she still alive?"
From where I am taking this photo it looks like she is not,
but it is the manner of broody hens that they shut themselves down
and go into a kind of half light world,
where all bodily functions slow down,
and their breath is hardly there at all,
sort of like a very deep meditative state.
So I give her a prod,
and she does a 'For goodness sake, leave me alone' cluck,
so yes, she is still with us.
I pull the tarp over her.....
meanwhile Lester heads off into the distance....
...while the rottweiller girls pretend that they are not interested,
but I know they are....

So what to do with them...
take them inside with me, that's what I have to do,
otherwise they will be raiding that black hen's nest of her eggs,
and that is not going to happen,
not on my watch.
So it is the morning of the next day,
and I am out feeding the other lot of chicks who recently arrived,
and I go have a look at the black hen,
but she was not there,
but her pile of eggs were,
but there she was, just over there,
and with her were three little chicks.
So what do I do...
go get Lester and pass on the good news, that's what I do.
He has a close look at the remaining eggs,
sees that a couple look like the chicks are starting to break through their shells,
but they can't be left out in the air like this,
too dangerous for them,
so we carefully pick up all the eggs,
take them indoors,
and put them in the incubator.
For the rest of the day we watch as the eggs start hatching,
first one, then two, then three.
There is an awesome magic in watching chicks arrive.
It added an extra shine to the day for us.
Night time.
The black hen and her three chicks are now in a protected run.
She is asleep.
So we take the three chicks out of the incubator and snuck them underneath her.
She hardly moves.
They are quick to take advantage of her duvet of feathers,
and after a little bout of cheeps, go quiet.
During the night,
another two chicks hatched in the incubator,
the loud complaints of the newly hatched of 'Where's my Mum?'
alerting us to their arrival.
They went out to join the others.
And so it is a good thing that hen's can't count,
because she went to bed with three,
and will wake up with eight!
Off to go feed her now,
so bye for now,

Friday 5 August 2016

More plums? Chain saw update? Kettle update?

So have now canned the plums that have been sitting in the fridge for a few days.
But I am not free of plums, because Lester brought in two more crates last night,
together with a few apples.
Meanwhile, I am supposed to be trying to empty one of the freezers of meat,
which requires cooking and canning whatever is still in that freezer,
which first has to be defrosted.
I was going to do that this morning.
Up at 5am, it would have been good plan to have started that,
but my back kitchen looked such an atrocious mess that I had to attend to it first.

One and a half hours later, the time now being 6.30 am, I had got some order into that space,
but myself said to myself that perhaps a quick nap on the settee might recharge the energies,
which it did, but the window of opportunity to get that freezer sorted out was gone.
Ah well, there is always tomorrow.
I love getting up early. Just saying.
So I have emptied the fridge of plums, got the chunk of bacon I made a month or so ago finally sliced, and felt that I had made a dent in things.
And then in came Lester with those crates of plums and apples.
And just now, at the end of the afternoon, he has romped in with half a bucket of big plump purple plums. And with a joyful shout he said he was now off to get the apples in.
We have not done anywhere near as much veg as we have done in past years, but the fruit harvest this year has been magnificent, and for that we feel blessed.
We are still dithering about whether to get a poly tunnel or not,
and if we do, where would we put it.
We have a long growing season here, so we probably do not need a poly tunnel for some of the year,
but it is the start of the growing season which is the problem. We have such a narrow window for getting the veg plots planted, Spring rains making the soil too wet to work on, and then the sun  bursts forth with a heat that dries everything up within a day or so to a rock hardness. It is then that we could really use a poly tunnel so we can get the vegetables started while the wet season is still with us, which would give the plants a head start when they are planted out. It would also help in the battle with the weeds. Planting veg seeds at the same time as the weeds are also starting to grow almost always ends up with us losing the battle to keep weed free.
It would be nice to have a tidy veg plot.
It makes us quite dispirited when we see the weeds ruling the day.
And so Lester has just brought in another full bucket of plums,
and the apples,
and harvested the sweetcorn,
and picked some more tomatoes.
Last year I didn't have the kitchen facilities that I have now,
so I am finding it a lot easier to process what needs to be done.
So am off to bed now.
Last night I had dreams which echoed my canning work.
I anticipate that that will not change for a week or so yet|!
Hope you are keeping on top of your harvest,
and that your dreams are not peppered with goings on either in your veggie plot or in your kitchen.
And one of these days I might have something different to talk about other than harvesting and chain saws! (Lester had to go to the repair man (not the one he went to at the beginning of the week), because he is having trouble sharpening the chain. He was given another set of instructions about 'How to' so he is going to try again tomorrow. The good thing, though, is that the chain saw is starting first time after the info given to him by the other repair man. Hopefully this new set of info will help him know how to sharpen the chain. He said that he is learning a lot of new things about chain saws.
 Bless him,  his days of working in an office, programming mind blowing difficult code which other people had messed up, and doing this quite easily I hasten to add, those days are so opposite to the life he leads now.
So I just smile encouragingly, knowing what a steep learning curve he is on.
But he did ask me to get the stove kettle cleaned up so he can have that bubbling away on the hob of the Rayburn once winter comes.
I did write a post on January 14th 2015 about that kettle, and did receive some very helpful hints about how to get it clean via my blogging friends.
But unfortunately the job got put to one side, and there it has stayed.
The kettle before I started cleaning it:
...and this is how far I got!

We would like a proper cast iron Aga type range kettle,
but apart from the fact that it would weigh a ton to lift on and off the hob,
they are expensive and shipment to France is high.
So we shall make do with this ditsy kettle,
which I shall clean up after my harvesting work is done,
which should be sometime near Christmas at the speed I am going!
Goodnight, and God Bless.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

The unbroken chainsaw, adrenal fatigue, jamming.....

The chainsaw is working.
It was never broken, that is what Lester found out when he took it into the local repair shop yesterday. He said the place was very busy, full of Frenchman, all speaking French of course,
and Lester can speak a tidy bit of French but to explain exactly what he thought was wrong with the chainsaw stretched his vocabulary to its limits. He said that the repair man took hold of the chainsaw and started it at first go. He said that he found himself going red with embarrassment.
It had taken him ages to try and 'mend' it, and a second opinion from a friend confirmed that it did indeed need fixing.
The repair man explained to Lester how to get it started. No buttons pushed, no choke or whatever use, just start at full power because that is what you do in the summer warmth of SW France, so to only use those other choke things during the colder weather. This was not explained on the 'How to start your Stihl chainsaw' videos on YouTube. It would have been handy if this had been mentioned. It would have saved a lot of effort, swearing, and general upset.
So he brought the chainsaw home, started it first time, and got on with sawing the wood.
But the veg plot is now suffering from neglect as his time is given to getting the wood sorted out for winter. The harvests we have had have been excellent, but, well, we can't do everything. Unfortunately my energies have suffered a drop after having had a bout of adrenal fatigue hit me,
everything having finally caught up with me, which is not a bad thing. Being forced to slow down does give me a chance to get my pathway ahead clearly scything my way through the hedge of mental detritus which has been cluttering up my mind over the last few years.
I am very happy with my life as it is, but sometimes old ways of thinking get in the way of fully enjoying what is in the 'now'. This  patch of adrenal fatigue has given me the space to do this. It has been a blessing. Now all I have to do is be patient with my slowness, and stay confident that I shall not be in this slow zone for much longer.
It is easy to feel dispirited when one is not pedalling away at full speed with one's life journey.
But a wise person will know that sometimes the brakes have to be put on for a while, that a pause is needed before the pedalling at full speed starts up again.
......the plums in the fridge were not rotten, but had matured into a wonderful golden plumpness,
so some have been prepped for jam, and some have been dehydrated. These were Rheingold plums and my goodness they are a delight to eat.
I have another bowl of plums in the fridge to prep,
but they are smaller and less sweet so I shall put a sugar syrup over them, and get them into canning jars.
Lester is bringing in the potatoes now, and some of these shall also be canned.
The larder is filling up now. It is so satisfying to see the shelves being filled.
 Opening the door to the outside world this morning,
and straightway I could feel that the year had turned:
the morning mist, the autumnal dampness, the softer light,
all these signalled that we were heading towards the cooler months.
I always find it surprising that this change of seasons seems to happen so suddenly,
almost as if a switch has been clicked, but always several weeks in advance of the season noticeably changing.
The magical changing of the seasons...... even in mid winter we can feel spring on its way, so no season is in a fixed state of being because the essence of the coming season will be in the air.
I shall remind myself of these words when I feel a rainy season on its way!
 Onwards then with the day.....
Bye for now,

Monday 1 August 2016

Jobs for the day....

Repair gate to sheep paddock,
after two sheep tried to barge their way through it when it was shut,
and broke the hinge.
No Gun Club in Plaisance today for Lester,
because I don't do the welding and he does
and the gate is more urgent than practising firing bullets on a firing range.
But no wood cutting today as chainsaw is not working.
Cook up large leg of lamb, then roast, then eat.
Have sleep afterwards to recover from the effort.
Might think about investigating the bucket of plums waiting to be done.
They have been in the fridge for about four days now.
Well we have been recovering from our trips into Tarbes to get our French driving licenses done.
Dipping our toes in the fierceness of city life for a few hours took the energy out of us.
It would seem that we have become de-sensitized from that world.
But it made us appreciate the quietness of life on the smallholding.
I may, or may not, tackle the tomatoes in the veg patch,
now growing rampantly and fighting against being trained to grow tidily up a pole,
preferring instead to go their own way,
of growing along the ground, putting down roots along the stem,
and enjoying not being hoisted up in the air,
this being obvious by the amount of leaf they are putting out.
Apart from that, it is just the usual tasks to do...
part of the timeless routine of country life,
which is very satisfying to the soul.
The gate got repaired, but we then got diverted on to working on the Chicken Project.
We hadn't been out on that part of the smallholding for a couple of weeks,
and the weeds and brambles were already growing again,
so it was out with the scythes and cut them down,
and then Lester thought it would be a good idea to have a bonfire,
which we are not supposed to do here at the moment,
but we did anyway.
It was only a knee high fire, with occasional blasts of tall flames which lasted only for a second or two, with watering can full of water if things got silly.
It was good to start on that project again.

Nothing else was done,
well it was Sunday, so we did have a long afternoon nap.
We are still catching up with ourselves after the first eight hectic years of living in France.

For today, Monday, I shall try to tackle the things which did not get done yesterday,
although I fear that the bucket of plums will be too far gone,
not to worry, nothing is wasted, and they will be given to the pigs to enjoy.

Bye for now,