Monday, 31 August 2009

A miserly budget but a feast to eat!

Tonight's macaroni cheese supper on one of the "new" plates

Today's menu was surprisingly good, if I do say so myself! I was pleased at how much of the food we or our friends and relatives had produced.

Scarmbled egg (from our girls) was on the list for breakfast, served with wholemeal rolls from the freezer, courtesy of Mr Hovis via Sainsbury's reduced shelf.

Lunch was another risotto but one quite different from the one before as the veggies were changed: onions we were given and runner beans, courgette and tomatoes from our garden, with the addition of the rice and stock from the cupboard. We followed that up with some home-made lemon madeira cake.

Tonight's meal was home-made macaroni cheese with some grilled bacon chopped and put in the pan with it (almost out of date bacon needed using up!), served with next-door's baby tomatoes and some cucumber, and another bread roll. We didn't need pudding then and there so we had some apple crumble (neighbour up the road's trees) a little later on.

It has been as local a day's food as I could do today - I could have made it a little better if I had grown the cucumber, but ours are finished now, and I could have made the bread rolls, but although there were some home-made bread rolls in the freezer, they hadn't had wholemeal for a while and I thought that the change would be nice for them. We have also munched our way through a few mandarin oranges between us, which are obviously not grown locally, but all in all, I'm pleased with today and hope I can do something similar again tomorrow; I know that there is another apple crumble on the menu as I made two!!

Meet Coco!

Introducing Coco, the newly-hatched chick-in-residence!

Coco has made it through a couple of nights under the lamp, and has been seen to be eating and drinking, and even preening, so we are hopeful that he will make it. We have called him Coco because he is a lovely chocolate-brown colour at the moment - you might not be able to see that clearly from the photo as he is under a red lamp so that has distorted the colours a little. Should Coco turn out to be female, all the better!

Today has been an "at-home" day and I have loved it. The girls have been playing together as all their friends are busy/out and so they have covered the lounge floor with a train set and some Playmobil and had tremendous fun together. We have done some Professor Layton puzzles together on the Nintendo DS, and I have been gardening! I have dug over most of one of the raised beds where the chickens have manured it for me, so I have been digging that in. I also pulled up the pumpkin plants and harvested the pumpkins - there are four or five small (really small!!) ones and two decent sized ones. I'll be looking out for some pumpkin recipes soon.

For exercise, I have sent the girls out to go "round the block" ten times on their bikes on two occasions today as they were spending a lot of time on their bottoms! The second time the YFG went on her skates and got lapped by the EFG on her bike - no wonder, really. The YFG really flies along on her skates and looks so graceful. I must admit to having my heart in my mouth watching her though, as she goes at such a pace I am sure she'd hurt something if she crashed!

The chickens are laying 3 or 4 eggs a day at the moment, and I have introduced a new supplement called Poultry Spice into their diet as a short term measure whilst they are moulting. I hope it helps them as some of them are looking extremely bedraggled.......poor things!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Sadness here tonight

We have opened the other eggs, with a certain amount of trepidation, wondering what we would find - two were infertile, but the other 9 were dead in the shell, so we are disappointed for the loss of the other 9 potential hatchlings.

A quick foray on the internet seems to suggest that the fault may be something to do with humidity, but that is beyond my control in so basic an incubator - all I can do is put in a small pot of water as instructed and leave them to it. I have successfully hatched the 5 Light Sussex which are growing well in the garden now, so I am not sure what went wrong this time.

We are also a little worried about the chick as it will be an "only" chick and we have never had one of these before!

Now that I have two empty incubators, I am going to move the eggs from the automatic one into those two as the auto one is not holding the temperature steady, and it is the expensive eggs in there as well!

Chicks aside, there was a Christening at church this morning so the church was unusually full! It was a nice service, even if it was apparent that 99% of the Christening visitors rarely stepped inside a church. The baby didn't enjoy the process much, but he soon calmed down afterwards, and his elder sister watched the proceedings with a certain look on her face as if to say, "Rather you than me!"

Still alone

I came downstairs with an air of anticipation this morning, expecting to see four or five more hatchlings in the incubator, but nothing has happened all night. The solo chick is OK and on his feet this morning, so I am pleased with him, but getting a little concerned about the others.

Updates later.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

A day of waiting......and waiting!

The chick is still alone as none of his "siblings-to-be" have hatched out yet.

And a disaster has struck: the lamp we use to keep the chicks warm has broken, so we had a little problem there. This chick really needed to be taken out of the incubator tonight and given food and water, but without the lamp, we were stumped - until I thought of using the spare incubator! He is now in there, with the temperature a little lower and with some food and water. It will have to do temporarily overnight until we can obtain another lamp tomorrow. He seems to be a healthy and sturdy little chap (I am presuming male for the sake of not calling the chick an "it") and I hope he goes on well.

The YFG has been out for the day with her friend M from gymnastics whose birthday it is today. They and three more little girls have been to the "snozone" at Milton Keynes to do some ice-sliding: apparently, they sat on big rubber rings and went down a sort of bobsleigh run/channel. Sounds hairy to me, but her face was a happy one when she popped in on her way back to M's house. I had had a text to ask if she could go for a sleepover with M tonight, so I agreed and they called in on their way home to pick up her PJs and toothbrush! I'll retrieve her at some point tomorrow morning.

An early visitor

The FH crept out of bed in the early hours (well, it was early to me, but it may have been 6ish) and came back to say that we have one hatchling!

He said it was black, so I presumed it to be a Cuckoo Maran, but on looking myself and noting the position of the egg in the incubator, it is in fact a Gold Laced Orpington, so I guess it will lighten up a little as it dries and then as it grows.

It is exhausted from its struggle to get out of the egg, so it is just lying there most of the time, as its plumage is drying out from the egg. How exciting, though, to have one hatched, and still the hope of more to come today and perhaps even into tomorrow. Can't take photos in the incubator as I mustn't take the lid off or the humidity will drop....

Friday, 28 August 2009


No, not a one, yet! Disappointing, but there's always tomorrow.....

Just cooking the risotto for supper - red peppers from the greenhouse, courgette from the garden, onion from a friend's allotment and garlic from Sainsbury - along with the rice, and veg stock; it smells good already. I have decided to serve the chicken cold on the side rather than incorporating it into the risotto as there isn't a lot of it and that way I will have more portion control. There was more chicken last night, but it seems to have been picked at a little over the course of the day!

I saw the Economy Gastronomy book in Sainsbury's today for £12.99 so I spent £10 of my nectar rewards on it (well, towards it!) and got it. I have had a look through it over a cup of tea and there are a lot of good ideas in there - and more than just recipes: how to stock a larder, items you shouldn't really buy (like ready made mash), how to shop efficiently, etc - the sorts of things that they are trying to cover in the programme but in more depth. There isn't a lot that is new to me in that, but I think it would be useful for people who hadn't been brought up to do that sort of thing. The recipes are the attraction for me, and there are some interesting ones in there which I shall be trying. Not this weekend, though, as I have lent it out already to my friend and neighbour D to peruse over the weekend. She accepted it with some joy this evening so I think she was pleased with my offer.

My bargain of the day (I'll take a photo when I have washed it all) is a dinner service from a charity shop. We have needed some new plates and dishes for some time as ours are getting chipped badly, so when I saw this all for £20 I bought it: 4 mugs, 8 large dishes and 2 smaller ones, 9 side plates and 9 dinner plates. I was pleased with that find, but it took some hauling back to the car!

I also made these (bread rolls) today, and put half in the freezer. If you try them, please bear in mind that the recipe says to let them rise for 15 minutes once you have shaped them into rolls - it just isn't long enough! I left them for nearly three hours whilst we were out, and they have come up as lovely, light rolls which the family adore. I also made 16 instead of 12 and they are a good size. A recommended recipe.

I am hoping that the weather bucks up for the Bank Holiday weekend as today has been very "sunshine and showers" and there was a spell at about 5pm when it became very blustery and cold. We can do without that kind of thing in August, thank you very much! However, I have got my fingers crossed for some kind of an Indian summer once the kids are back at school - a sunny September would be lovely.

Fingers and toes crossed today!

We have 6 Gold Laced Orpington eggs and 6 Cuckoo Maran eggs all due to hatch today, so I have been peeking through the window of the incubator at regular intervals but alas, there is nothing, not even a crack, to report yet.

Last night's sleepover went OK, although the YFG woke me at 3.15am to say that she was hungry, so I think I told her to get a biscuit or something, and then she went away! When I came downstairs this morning, they were all still asleep - and it was nearly 9am by the time I had showered and surfaced properly as I felt the need to stay awake on patrol until 1am as they were being a bit silly last night!

FH and I watched "Australia" on the EFG's laptop in bed, and it was a good film, but it was longer than we thought. Each time something happened to make us think that a good conclusion had been reached, another drama eclipsed that one and it went on. It lasts a good two and a half hours, I think, and we had to have the subtitles on as the FH couldn't hear it very well (you can't make the laptop as loud as he likes the TV!) but I would definitely watch it again.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Quiet day at last

The kids played, I pootled around, chatted with a couple of neighbours, popped out to the local surgery, cooked, and now I am off to watch "Australia" on DVD with the FH whilst the kids and their two friends who are here for a sleepover are watching something a little scary downstairs.

I watched "Economy Gastronomy" last night for the first time. The meal plan for the week was based around a whole salmon, in an attempt to reduce the family's weekly spend from £410 to £260. Granted that there are Mum, Dad and five kids, but that still seems like a lot of money. Anyway, some of the recipes looked good, and it inspired my neighbour D to come and borrow a large flat dish in which to make the treacle tart from last night's show.

Today's food here has been a little in that vein: last night's slow cooked chicken was delicious and yielded so much meat that the chicken pie was made for tonight's supper and there is still enough left for a chicken risotto tomorrow! The leftover veggies from last night were resurrected with the help of an onion, some garlic and some eggs and a very respectable frittata-like creation emerged for lunch today.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009


I sincerely hope that today was not a fluke, but we have gone from getting one solitary egg a day for just over a week to getting four today - I thought I had hit the jackpot - I came screaming into the house, shouting, "The vinegar's worked - look!!" and I am sure the FH thought I had flipped (again!) but hey, something's happened in the hen house, and I am pleased as punch. Now, 4 eggs from 25 chickens is not great, but it is a huge improvement on one!!

Seeds for next season already

Yes, it's the annual Wyevale Garden Centre's 50p a packet seed sale. I learned about it last year, and really stocked up, so I was looking for it this year. It started last week, so I was worried that there wouldn't be a big selection left today, so I called ahead to the Centre at Crowland near Peterborough which is our nearest. The phone operator said it was OK and they had some left - well, I needn't have concerned myself as most of the hanging hooks were still fully stocked. I was really surprised as I thought that more people were into growing their own veggies and that it would be a popular shop this week - maybe people don't know?!?

We bought cress, courgettes, lettuce, parsley, peppers, several kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, kale, broad beans, dwarf French beans and runner beans, multiple packets of some of these too! All told, there were 33 packets which cost me £16.50 but they had a RRP of £67.98 so we saved just over £50 - what a result! Shame of it was that if we had gone yesterday, the FH would have got his OAP's 10% off and saved me another £1.65 but I suppose that would be being greedy, really :-)

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

"To see if I could do what my grandmother did"

I have lifted that quote directly from Rhonda Jean's blog here because it reminded me so much of the correlations between the life I am trying to live and the one she had that I know of - there are years and years of my grandmother's life that I know nothing about!

My grandmother was a marvellous old woman when I knew her - I was born when she was 69 so by the time I was old enough to remember her, she was already an "old" woman; she took a nap every afternoon between 1 and 2.30pm, and then it took her nearly half an hour to get washed, put on an afternoon dress and come downstairs for afternoon tea at three. Her life was full of ritual and routine. Breakfast at 9, making beds, preparing a hot lunch every day for 12 noon, her rest, her afternoon tea, and eventually retiring to bed again at about 9pm. She moved at her own speed and seemed to get a lot done in her own time. I know that she had a thrombosis in her leg which gave her some pain and made her walk with a stick so she was limited when we went out and about, and she frequently would sit in the car and look at the sea whilst we went for a walk on the beach.

My grandfather is a shadowy figure, dead before I was born, and so I know only what others tell me of him. He fought in the First World War, he had something to do with the first Arsenal football team when he played football, he was considerably older than my grandmother... and that's really about it. My grandmother owned a row of cottages, an orchard and some pigs and poultry which lived in the orchard, and I am sure worked very hard looking after them. She sold the orchard land at some point in the sixties and used the money to buy land in the same village in south Cambridgeshire on which she planned to have two houses built for her two sons. The younger son didn't go for that plan, and some of the land was sold off. The remaining land forms a very large garden where my Uncle J gardens to this day. He and Granny moved in there sometime about 1962, and he has lived there ever since. She lived there until her death in 2002, just less than a month short of her 99th birthday - as sharp as ever, her body was failing her but her mind was very clear.

So, I don't think that I can do what my grandmother did, as I can't have pigs here, and I envy anyone who has an orchard - but I am doing my little bit. I made my last batch of plum jam tonight, thinking of her again. I can do the "make do and mend" that she practised, although I haven't got to the keeping of the button box yet. The chickens are definitely an interest that has come from her, and she was a good plain cook. She used rags for cleaning as I do, but she used beeswax polish on her good wooden furniture once a month whereas mine is more damp dusted and left at that! Recycling and composting were second-nature to her, and growing your own fruit and veg was just the done thing as far as she was concerned - she rarely bought anything like that, just as Uncle J rarely does even now. She shopped in an old-fashioned way right up until the late 1990s; she would send a list to the village shop on a Thursday by my uncle, and then he would go back on the Saturday to pick up a small cardboard box containing their groceries for the week. It was really only the things like flour, sugar, tea bags and loo roll, for example. My mother always bought their meat from our local butcher and we took it over on our weekly Saturday afternoon visit.

It was a different way of life, but one that we would do well to learn from, and one that I can easily learn about as Uncle J keeps up many of her traditions and ways of doing things.

I have set the 12 Black Orpington eggs tonight in desperation as the third incubator still has not arrived; I have had to squeeze nine eggs in alongside the Gold Partridge Orpington eggs and three in with the Lavenders in the automatic incubator. It is temporary but I didn't dare leave them any longer.

Today we have also been to Downham Market to the shoe shop; it is time to buy school shoes again! For an inordinately large sum of money, we came home with two pairs of black shoes - the styles this year are all very plain, but with feet like my two have got, we were over the moon to have got some - the lady fitting them said she felt like she had won a prize when she found a pair to fit the EFG. It took 45 minutes to fit them both and we were still there 15 minutes after closing time! I cannot recommend the ladies at Smith's Footwear highly enough - they came close to sainthood for their patience and excellent attitude today.

Chicken health and hatching

I have been thinking about worming the chickens for a long time now, but we have never wormed them before, and my grandmother didn't believe in using pills and potions on anything, so I have no experience of it. I have looked at adverts in the various magazines like "Grow Your Own" and heard of a raft of worming and tonic-like potions for the chickens. Then I browsed a forum and found a post from a Yorkshireman who sounds entirely down-to-earth and old fashioned (Granny would have approved of him, I feel!) and he says to forget all those special commercial preparations, and just put cider vinegar in their drinking water every day and it will do wonders for their health, worms and all. So I liked the sound of that - vinegar has amazing properties and I am very willing to give it a go, so I picked up three bottles of it today; one to go in the cupboard, one for the utility room where I fill the watering can for the arks on the lawn and one to be put down by the tap near the workshop where I fill the bell-waterer for the layers. They have all had their first dose this afternoon, and they obviously don't mind a weak solution of vinegar or object to the taste as they all continued to drink. Perhaps they don't taste!?!

As for the hatching, today is Day 18 for the first lot of eggs, the Cuckoo Maran and the Gold Laced Orpingtons so the eggs are not turned after today. Another egg cup of water is introduced to the incubator to increase the humidity slightly, and we just have to keep our fingers crossed now.

Monday, 24 August 2009

The Gardener's Kitchen

My kitchen has become a resting place for a lot of local produce in the last couple of days. After the chap with the cabbage opened the floodgates, it has been a steady stream of produce coming our way, from the tomatoes from the family next door, to my uncle turning up out of the blue on Sunday evening laden down with hedgerow blackberries, Victoria plums, runner beans, cooking apples and tomatoes. Some of the apples were actually eating apples, so I didn't have to do anything to them immediately. A quick question, "What sort are they?" brought forth a very pleasing answer: "Ellison's Orange, Laxton Fortune and Worcesters - a bit of a mixture." I was so pleased to learn that Uncle J has some really old kinds of apple trees in the garden and not just the more standard types that we find everyday in the supermarket - I am always delighted to find the first Egremont Russets on sale, and eagerly look forward to those every year. Alas he doesn't grow them. My own apple trees are only in their first year here, and have barely settled in - there are Braeburn and Jonagold trees in the mini orchard which I bought, with pears, Victoria plums and a cherry tree as well. None of the others have got any fruit on now, although the pear trees had some tiny fruits which soon dropped off.

I set to last night and made all the tomatoes into pasta sauce, one lot with courgettes and some without. That was all blitzed, chilled, labelled and frozen. I also strung the beans, blanched and froze them last night. The blackberries are wonderful - Uncle J's house adjoins a field, so he had seen all these blackberries hanging there and no one interested in them, so he went through the hedge at the bottom of the garden and harvested them: "Well, it seemed a shame to let them go to waste," he said - absolutely. Well over 4lbs of them are now tucked away in the freezer.

That left the apples and the plums. The FH has peeled and cut the apples this evening and I have cooked them, so there will be about 4 bags of cooked apple to go in the freezer in the morning, when it has cooled down. The plums are the biggest challenge; I reckon there are about 15lbs of them. The FH stoned them for me, and I have had the job today of sourcing more jars to make more jam. I thought about it more this time, and didn't go to the hardware store for the jars, but to Sainsbury's, where I bought 6 jars of Basics Curry Sauce at 10p a jar and three jars of lemon curd at 30p a jar. 9 jars bought for £1.50 - and contents as well - bargain. The curry sauce wasn't as bad as I imagined it would be, so I made a chicken curry, with the addition of a courgette and an onion, in the Remoska. That didn't quite need all the sauce so I have to admit that the rest went down the drain.....sorry! And the lemon curd, well, I have used one and a half jars to make two lemon madeira cakes which have just come out of the oven and smell divine. The only remaining problem is that all that accounts for only just over half of the plums, so I reckon I am going to have to think about it all again tomorrow! A plum crumble could use some of them, but not 7lbs. There isn't room in the freezer for many, so I will be looking for other uses; there is a recipe in the River Cottage Preserves book for a chutney which uses plums, but that would still need JARS!!!!!!!!!! I am never going to throw (or allow the FH to throw) another jar away, ever.

Have to say that I have dealt with the plum jam, the madeira cakes, the apples and the curry since 9pm tonight, as it has been too hot today to be making all this heat in the kitchen during the day. Flip side of that is that I am still here, waiting for the curry to cool before I go to bed.

All this garden produce is a blessing but growing it is only half the art - the other is knowing how to preserve it all to make the best use of it throughout the year, and I feel like I am on a steep learning curve here.

Happy Birthday, Growing in the Fens!

Just realised that this blog is just a year old as I started it on the EFG's birthday last year.........amazing to me that I have kept it up, and that there are actually people reading it apart from me! It is lovely to get comments from people and it is incredibly humbling to think that they are reading my ramblings. Thanks, everyone.....

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Quick picture roundup

My lovely Silver Wyandotte bantam cockerel has really found his voice now and has to be kept shut in until about 8.30am so he doesn't disturb the neighbours.

One of the younger Buff Orpingtons posing by perching on the feeding trough in the new pen - a nursery pen for them until they are big enough for the laying flock's run. Two pens were amalgamated into one here so there was some pecking order sorting out to be done this morning.

This is one of the gorgeous Light Sussex which hatched on 1st July. They are all well and healthy and I am rather proud of them as our first incubated hatchlings!

My bargain of the week! We went to a car boot sale after church this morning and I noticed a heap of rather drab looking cloth and realised that there was an absolutely gorgeous quilt hiding there. All piled up, it looked nothing, but washed and out on the line, you can see how lovely they are - yes, there were two so perfect for the FGs to have one each. And they were only £5 each - they are easily worth many times that!

A closer shot to show the detail.

The spiced Apple butter from yesterday - one jar has been given away and the rest safely in storage.

This is the incubator we have borrowed. We turned it on last night and it easily got to temperature by this afternoon so we have loaded it up with a dozen eggs and are praying hard that it works. It is automatically turning the eggs as they are on dowels which are connected somehow to a motor which rolls them this way and that.

They say that what goes around, comes around.......I took a small jar of the apple butter up to the older gentleman who gave me the apples, to share with him and his wife what I had made from his apples, and he gave me two cabbages! When I walked home with them, I re-gifted one of them to my neighbour who loves cabbage and who has been sharing his cherry tomatoes with us...I had already been given a cabbage on Friday evening so didn't need two more, so I was pleased to know someone who would appreciate one. Truly a community garden around here!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Butter and babes

I was given some apples the day before yesterday and have been struggling to know what to do with them as we already have too many bags of cooked apple in the freezer. I came across a recipe for Spiced Apple Butter at this great website, so I made it this afternoon. Picture of the finished product to follow. A similar recipe is also in the River Cottage Preserves Handbook. I have to say that it was a lot of work; the apples have to be cooked in quarters without being peeled or cored as the recipe says that you need the pectin found in the peel and core to help the butter to set...mmm, well, the trouble is then that once they are pulped, you have to sieve it all to get the bits out. I think that it was worth it, as I have got about 8 jars of varying sizes of this lovely stuff, but my wrist aches rather from the sieving!

The FH has borrowed another incubator from the editor of the Smallholder magazine who lives locally, as we weren't going to get all the eggs in ours. It is an automatic one so there'll be no turning necessary. I'm going to plug it in tonight and make sure it reaches the right temperature before we set the eggs.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Happy Birthday EFG

EFG is now a teenager - 13 at last! Wow....makes me think. She's going into Y9 at school this year as well, and will be doing the first of her GCSEs this year - she's getting so grown up. We have had a lovely day today celebrating; she was up and opening her gifts at 7am, pottering with the YFG and her friend from up the road in the morning after she decorated her cake, and then we went out after an early lunch to go to the cinema for her birthday treat. After picking her friend, S, up, we got to the cinema a little late to see Bandslam, but I think that they were already going off that idea in the car anyway - so we ended up seeing "Ice Age 3" which was an animated film - a good one.

The friend stayed for pizza and cake before we took her home again, we popped in to see my sister in the same town, and called round to see the Head Coach from gym who had some allotment produce for us: runner beans, rhubarb, courgettes, onions, potatoes and a cabbage. Some of that will get eaten at the weekend, and some of it will have to go into the freezer. Being given all this lovely food makes me really feel that we are going into autumn now - the harvest is being gathered in; the slightly dusty smell of the combine harvesters in the fields around us and the balers ejecting the round bales onto the fields - we love to watch the bales magically appear! I'm not so keen on meeting the combines in the narrower roads round here, but the drivers are usually accommodating and move over....

Tonight there has been a massive plume of smoke visible on the horizon for hours and it has been on the news tonight that a tyre shredding plant has gone up in flames at Littleport which has worried the YFG. She remembers the Australian and Californian bush fires and was worried that the fire could spread over here - I had to explain that this fire was under control and that we are lucky that there is a big river beween us and Littleport which would stop the fire, should the fire service lose control. The EFG solemnly pointed out that all that smoke wasn't doing the ozone layer any favours, as we could see it throughout the evening.

I succumbed to the ebay temptation and bought some eggs on Wednesday evening - they arrived this afternoon by Special Delivery. Trouble is that I had to buy another incubator to put them in. End of poultry purchases for this year - totally! I bought some Black Orpington eggs (a dozen), half a dozen pure Lavender Orpingtons and half a dozen split Black Orpingtons ie carrying the Lavender gene. I'll explain that another night! They are all "resting" after coming through the post today, so they will get set in the incubators tomorrow or Saturday nights - I have to calculate the availability of the brooder space, so I need to make sure I can cope with all the potential hatchings.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Catching up with friends

A surprise sunflower in the garden

There are four sunflowers which are growing in a veg bed in the garden - needless to say, we didn't plant them there, but their lovely bright faces add a cheery note to the garden scenery!

Today, we have had a lovely time - we went to visit my dad and MB, where dad went and bought everyone fish and chips; today was Pensioners' Day at the chip shop so portions were only £2.45! MB kindly cooked me some delicious salmon - it was wild Alaskan salmon portion with a slightly smoky flavour from Waitrose. I shall have to look to see whether Tesco or Sainsbury has anything similar as it was much nicer than the salmon I usually buy. I had that with some salad.

After that, we left the FH to enjoy a rest and watch TV with dad whilst we went to see my friend B. The girls came too, and played with her sons on their wii - we don't have one so they like to play on them when they get a chance. It was wonderful to see them all again, and she made me some delicious flapjack as well (thanks, B!) and we caught up on all our news over a cuppa whilst the children played.

Had to be home soon after 5 to turn the eggs in the incubators, so we had to make a quick trip into the Co-op to pick up a lemon, and then we were home. Now I have the EFG's birthday cake in the oven and washing up to do. All her presents have arrived (I bought most of them via the internet so they have been delivered), and are wrapped and I think that the girls are spending the night in the motorhome again - they slept well out there last night!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Am I addicted???

I feel as if I might be! To what, you ask - chickens and eggs, is the answer. I am spending too much time browsing ebay looking for new and unusual breeds of chickens for which people are offering hatching eggs. I bought 6 Gold Partridge Orpington eggs at the weekend, which arrived yesterday and are going into the incubator tonight, and since I am going to have to run the second incubator, well, it might as well be full, mightn't it? So I am looking for another half dozen to go in there with them.....had my eye on some Lavender Orpingtons last night, but missed them by a pound; there are three more lots on there tonight, so I will be trying to get some of those, without going over my self-imposed limit!

We are also going to put the three older Buff Orpingtons into the Autumn Show at the East of England showground on 11th October - we've never shown any before but these look so lovely that I thought I'd have a go - they won't win anything as I haven't a clue how to present them for showing but hopefully we'll learn from the experience and find out more on the day. There are sure to be lots of people around who will be happy to tell us what to do.

The YFG had her friend H round to sleep over again last night - it was more successful this time, and they slept in the motorhome in the garden. We all got up late this morning and have had a general pottering day. FH's cousin and his cousin's wife have been here this afternoon and evening, bringing the birthday gifts for the girls, and we have been making plans for the EFG's birthday on Friday: I have to make the cake tomorrow so that she can ice it, and we are taking her friend S to the cinema on Friday afternoon.

Tomorrow we are going to see my dad and have lunch with him, and then go and catch up with a friend who lives in the same town who I haven't seen for about a year - shamefully! She has been busy and I have been too, and our lives have drifted apart from the way we used to be, but we are both excited about getting together for the afternoon tomorrow. Might even have to bake a cake to take along - must get up earlier tomorrow with all this baking to get done.

And last night, I had to buy eggs! My girls are all (well, nearly all) taking a break from laying; they managed three between them today and that just isn't enough. Thankfully, Sainsbury's have some very reasonable free range eggs so we bought some of those. I'll be glad when the newer hens start to come into lay!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Sunday special

Yesterday just felt like a good day - we got up and were at church for the 9.30am start on time and it was a good service. We didn't get a minister this week or even a lay preacher - we got "Worship Team A". The week before we had been wondering as a congregation what this team would be like but we were very pleasantly surprised. It consisted of a minister's wife from a local town, with two helpers - and they worked well together. The talk was about the parable of the mustard seed and how from something so tiny, something as majestic as a mustard tree (apparently can reach over 15ft tall!) can grow - and we all have that potential within us - it was a very inspiring and motivating talk. The FGs were asked to do a reading each, and tackled them well with no practise!

After returning home and mooching around the garden for a while, we decided that we would take a ride out to Hunstanton in the afternoon, once the eggs in the incubator had been turned. We left here at about 2.45pm and went off in the general direction of Hunstanton, and got there to find that the front was absolutely heaving and there was nowhere to park the motorhome - I couldn't get it into a couple of the carparks because they have height restrictions. The FH thought that we might get on better at Wells-next-the-Sea, about 15 miles further along the coast. That was quite possibly the most challenging 15 mile stretch which I have ever had to take the motorhome through - the roads were quite narrow and twisting and then I had to turn it around completely as we weren't going to get over a very narrow bridge and had to take a detour.....all good fun! Wells was as bad as Hunstanton, so we gave up and headed back along the coast in the hope that the crowds would have dissipated a little and we might fnid a space somewhere - by the time we got back there, it was nearly 6pm and although there were still a lot of people around, there was a little more space to park and breathe! The YFG and I queued up at the fish and chip shop for the provisions and then we ate sitting and looking at the sea.

Hunstanton is the only east coast seaside resort where the sun actually sets over the sea - in all the others up and down the country, the sun rises over the sea. Weird fact - it is just because Hunstanton's "sea" is The Wash and looking out to sea, you can just make out the Lincolnshire coastline across the water.

We collapsed and watched some TV when we got home last night!

Today has been another day when we seem to have done a lot: we were up at the crack of dawn ("sparrow's fart" as Katie Fforde so eloquently puts it) to get the EFG to the surgery for a blood test, and then we had to go to the newsagent who keeps me a copy of "Grow Your Own" each month. Some new recipes for pickles and jams are in a handy booklet on the front this month, so I shall have to see if any appeal.

My friend B brought her children round for the morning after that, and she did my hair with some highlights (first time ever!) whilst they played and then she cut their hair too - all ready for school! I made her a cake this afternoon as my part of the bargain and she was very happy.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

All jammed up!

Jam, jam and yes, more jam! Some marmalade too, and some pickle.

I have had to re-arrange the utility room to accommodate all this gorgeous jam, but the storage has worked out well and I now have this rack of jam. Plum at the bottom, in regular jars, then a motley assortment of jars holding the gooseberry jam I made last night, and at the top, four jars of pickle, three of marmalade and a donated jar of strawberry. This lot should be enough to overwinter us on toast and jam, jam tarts, bakewell-type tarts, coconut tarts, jam roly-poly, mmmmm - and all the other things we can make with jam!

I have spent most of today washing, sorting out the utility room and checking through the pantry and finding lots of duplicates which won't need to be on the shopping list for months - five (yes, FIVE!!) jars of peanut butter and another five jars of lemon curd and four jars of bought raspberry jam! And the three drums of Bird's custard powder - and the three boxes of icing sugar - you could outlive a siege here, I think.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Fairtrade versus British

I have been buying a lot of sugar lately for all this jam and I have come across a dilemma of sorts.

Tesco (definitely) and Sainsbury's (I think) sell British Sugar - made less than 30 miles from here, grown in the local fields and supporting local farmers. When I sent the FH into a Co-op the other day, as he was in the other town where there is only a Co-op, he did buy the sugar I asked for, but I was dismayed to see that it was cane sugar and had been carted literally half way around the world.

Yes, it was Fairtrade sugar, but still.... I do support the Co-op in lots of ways and I think that it is a good, ethical supermarket - and I totally support Fairtrade chocolate, coffee and bananas, for example, things we don't grow here. But why can't they stock British food if there is a British version???

The children and I were only talking yesterday about why I love to grow dwarf beans and why I absolutely refuse to buy green beans from Kenya and sweetcorn from Senegal. The sugar saga fits right into that conversation - buy British, please!

Birthday girl

Yesterday was the YFG's tenth birthday - and she made the most of it: she was up and opening presents by 7am, bathed and dressed and out rollerblading round the estate by 8am! Then she had to stop for a bacon roll, and catch her breath.

I made her a madeira cake the night before and then yesterday morning, I put a layer of white roll-out icing over it as a base, and she went to town decorating it. She really enjoyed doing it and wanted me out of her way!

At 12, we picked her friend H up and went to Peterborough to Planet Ice for the ice-skating treat. H was rather timid on the ice to start with, edging her way round, holding on, but she soon gathered her courage and went out into the middle. YFG just flew around, and really surprised me. They had a wonderful time and we stayed right up until the last minute when the rink closed at 4pm - they were almost the only children on the ice at the end and the YFG thought that was amazing - to have the rink almost to themselves was bliss. YFG thought that we should go more often - she has only been three times in her life, so that wouldn't be difficult!

We came home and they played whilst I put the pizza in the oven and then we ate. The birthday cake was pudding, and then they went on the trampoline, rollerbladed outside and eventually collapsed to watch a DVD sometime later. H stayed the night, and then they played a lot more today. This afternoon I took them both to the swimming pool for an hour (free for U16s) whilst I raided Sainsbury's for dishwasher cleaner and more sugar for MORE jam!!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Run, rabbit, run!

Bubblegum stayed in the hutch nearby for some peace and the babies came out on the grass, and my, did they leap and run!?!

These are the gorgeous babies which were born on 1st July 09 to Bubblegum and the late Socks. There were 8 at birth but 2 didn't make it. The remaining 6 are all hale and hearty now and enjoying life!

This is Sylvie, or Sylvester! We're not sure yet, but it is probably our favourite from the litter as it has the most attractive grey coat and is a very contented little rabbit when you have a cuddle with it!

There are the twins, Chimp and Chomp, an almost black-coloured one, a brownish one, and one black/brown one as well as Sylvie - and that makes 6. We haven't sexed them yet, so we don't know whether we will be keeping any of them. We want to keep them all!!!

My take on GTM's tomato sauce

The chopped tomatoes - just cut into quarters and put into a glass oven dish

I bashed about 6 cloves of garlic with the rolling pin and split them open, removed the skin and just laid them in the tray. I sprinkled some dried herbs over the lot, and then splashed some basic olive oil all over. It smelled good already!

All this went into a low oven for about half an hour, and then it came out looking like this - all the juice had come out of the tomatoes and made a glorious sauce.

I let it cool a little and then I blitzed it with a hand-held stick blender and it ended up looking like this (above). This is for the freezer, but the remainder was served with pasta and some tiny strips of bacon, fried off in a dry pan, and the troops asked for more!! Must be good.

Many thanks to GTM over at A Life Full of Blessings for that recipe - it's one we'll be using again and again!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Busy day at home

I have successfully made 20lb of plum jam in the past day or two - some Victoria and some greengage. This is all safely stashed away in the utility room and should keep us going for some time. I am also planning to retrieve some gooseberries from the freezer and make those into jam as no-one here actually likes to eat gooseberries much at all!

A small amount of plums escaped from the jam pan and made it into a crumble instead, which we have sampled for tea tonight. I have also been washing - and I should be ironing now but just felt that I had to sit down for five minutes!!

We took some lovely photos of the baby rabbits today so I will be able to post them tomorrow - they are really adorable!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Getting some energy back at last

The flu tiredness is beginning to pass, at last. This weekend I have felt better and had a little more enthusiasm for life.

Yesterday the YFG and I went to town to Sainsbury's for some picnic items and then I cooked and baked for several hours to make some goodies to take to the street picnic/barbie which we went to in the afternoon and evening. It was good fun and there were a lot of neighbours there to catch up with and we had a good time chatting for several hours. The girls had a great time, playing swingball and rounders with other kids and with some more athletic adults...

This morning we went to church - we took along some Hobnob biscuits to share, home made, of course. They went down well. The girls and I helped out with the prayers and readings in the service as it was a DIY service, there being no minister or lay preacher available to come to us this morning - it happens occasionally! We manage quite well. One of the other mums played the guitar and her children and husband also did prayers and readings too, so we all took part who wanted to; some of the older members of the congregation prefer to leave it to the "youngsters" to lead.

This afternoon, the EFG went to the cinema with a school friend and her family to celebrate the friend's birthday; they saw Harry Potter and then went to Macdonald's afterwards. The YFG and I had already seen the film, so we all had a little chat when she got home about what we thought to it. Mixed reactions. The YFG played with some neighbourhood children and did some ironing for me this afternoon - at a price! She's actually jolly good at ironing and folds the laundry up very well. It was worth £1 for there to be one less basket load when I get to it!

This evening we have been spoilt with visitors - my dad and MB came first, and then my Uncle. It was like the Harvest festival when he arrived with tomatoes, dwarf beans, two kinds of plums and some beetroot. I gave him half a dozen eggs to take home - I definitely did well out of that exchange. I feel more plum jam coming on - just got to find some jars!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Second annual visit to Oxburgh Hall

We went up onto the roof and I took this photo of the parterre through an arrow slit in one of the towers. The little tower/folly you can see in the photo is in the garden - one of the owners in years gone by put up a folly when each of his children was born; there are five around the perimeter wall.
Oxburgh Hall in some of its glory - it does look more magnificent when the sun is shining on the red bricks, but it was still a lovely afternoon.
This view (above) is the picture of the hall as you come from the chapel - one of my favourites.

This is the first view of the hall as you arrive - you walk through the orchard and come to another little archway in a redbrick wall and then, wow - there it is in front of you, looking very serene and peaceful with the lovely gardens and the swans on the moat.

The girls and I just had an afternoon out there today - it is a very relaxing place to go and wander. Even though we had seen it before, it was very restorative to go and walk around again. The house is still being lived in by the original family which had it built in the 1400s, although they have signed it over to the National Trust and just live in one corner tower now. It is amazing to be able to see the tapestries which Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick worked on, although they are heavily protected and very dimly lit. We enjoyed the trip and there will no doubt be a return visit - it is only an hour away and a pleasant drive there and back. And there was no actual spend at the Hall as we are NT members, although the motorhome did demand another little top up of fuel (£20) and the girls spent some of their pocket money in the shop.

Light Sussex new girls

Aren't they lovely?!? They came out from the house a little timidly this morning but they are having a good look around their run now and tucking into their pellets for breakfast. This run is not their permanent house as they will grow to be large fowl, but it is fine for them to start with, whilst they are still growing up. They are 13 weeks old, so it will be a while before they start to lay for us.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Update on the spending

The biggest spend of the day was the £40 on the Light Sussex hens. They are safely tucked away in their new house tonight, ready to be let out in the morning. Hopefully they will be happy here. It is always interesting to meet other chicken breeders and talk with them; this chap has a pen of Silver Laced Wyandotte bantams, just like my pair and it was really lovely to see so many of them together!

We put £20 of petrol in the motorhome for today's excursion - I stopped at a petrol station which I have never used before and it was amazing: the chap came out and served us - we just said, "Twenty pounds worth of unleaded, please" and he did it all so that the YFG just handed him a £20 note through the window and we were off again. You don't find service like that any more!

There was a little supermarket spend as most Tesco shops in this area do not stock the Free From sausages any longer - but the one at Wisbech does, so I bought 6 packs at £1.99 each. That will keep me going for about three weeks - I like sausages.....

We also went to a discount shop (Else's at Leverington) where the FH stocked up on wood glue, a container for rabbit food and other bits (including a couple of packets of sweets, shhh!) and we were soon relieved of £18.

We also picked up the Cuckoo Maran eggs but I had already paid for those via Paypal, thank goodness. The lady was lovely and showed me around her chicken pens - I learned a lot in a few minutes there and she was really kind. Fingers crossed for a good hatch.

I was watching some auctions for Orpington eggs tonight and was totally shocked to see a clutch of 6 eggs sell for £124.00. Apparently, chocolate Orpingtons are very rare and I should think so too, as I shouldn't think too many people can afford the eggs at that price. Never mind thinking twice about bidding, I wouldn't dare as it is such a gamble anyway. I can't afford to gamble at those kinds of stakes - I don't mind taking a punt at the £6 set of eggs I have got this week but that is a whole other ball game. Anyway, the incubator is turned on and should be at the right temperature by tomorrow evening so I am hoping to set them then.

Nocturnal visitor in the garden

This rather large hedgehog has been visiting us for over a year now, and feeds quite regularly on cat food - and our cat only has dried food, so it must be good! I thought hedgehogs preferred wet cat food, but this one is not fussy.

The girls and I were able to watch our visitor for a couple of minutes before it finished its snack and disppeared into the night - and it really did go quickly, vanishing from sight before we could work out where it went.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Garden photos

These girls are about 9 weeks old. They are the from the clutch of eggs which should have been Orpingtons but weren't all - you can see we have one Orpington at the front of the picture and then there are two others in here - mystery visitors again. We have removed two cockerels from this pen for the auction trip today.

Apples growing on my dwarf apple trees - Braeburn and Jonagold trees have a couple on a piece. The plum and pear trees have declined to produce anything this year so we are just keeping our fingers crossed that next year they will fire up production!

Pepper plants in the greenhouse. These are the younger set which the FH bought somewhere. They need potting up this week and then perhaps they'll get into production mode!

The runner beans are going mad!

This cucumber plant is a star purchase - the cucumbers are not huge but they taste gorgeous!

The older pepper plants have peppers nearly ready for us to pick - looking forward to these.

The hybrid girls are still settling in to their new home and yard. I rotavated the yard for them so that they would have lots of scratching to do to help them settle - there are worms aplenty in there!

The other pen of "Orpington-should-have-beens" - again, there is one, and the others are Heinz 57s - hopefully we'll be able to work out what they are as they grow up.

These are the beautiful Silver laced Wyandotte bantams which were our first hatch of the year. They are now happily Mr and Mrs and we hope that they will have a long and happy life together with us. I am hoping that Mrs will go broody next spring and present us with some more little ones!

Courgette cake recipes

These are the courgette cupcakes (above)

This is particularly for silversewer but for anyone who has a glut of courgettes!

I will just link to the chocolate recipe as it came straight from someone's recipe site/blog. The cake works fine, and I just smear a little chocolate spread over each piece to serve it although the picture has cream whipped onto the cake. The girls and FH like it, so we are keeping the recipe in use here!

I did modify it a little - I only used half a cup of oil instead of the full cup; we had a very oily courgette loaf cake recipe years ago and I didn't want to risk repeating that. I think a full cup might be a bit much - but each to their own: it's going down well here with just the half cup. Let me know what you think.

The courgette cupcake recipe - I don't think I can put that on here properly as it came out of a recipe book. However, I can tell you to beat 2 eggs with 4oz caster sugar, till light and fluffy. Then beat in 8oz grated courgette (peel it first so there are no green bits at all in the cakes) and 5oz plain flour, with 2tsp baking powder and a teaspoon vanilla essence (the good stuff if you can). We made it up as cupcakes in little bun cases and they took about 10-15 minutes to cook but watch them as the high sugar content seems to make them brown quite quickly. They are sweet! We cooked them at our normal 180C. When they were cool, I beat up some vanilla-flavoured buttercream and piped it over the top in swirls. They were very good! TOO more-ish for the good of the hips, if you see what I mean - well, you would if you had seen my hips!!

Those little cupcakes hide the courgette most admirably - the Head Coach at gym didn't believe me when I told him he had had veggies in his cake at morning tea last week!!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Stock round up

Tomorrow the FH and girls are taking some of our excess rabbits and young cockerels to an auction in Suffolk. They are sad to see the rabbits go but we just have too many to keep all of them!

Altogether 10 rabbits and 3 cockerels will be moving out.

Today the FH and I have been busy revamping a chicken run for the new girls and the Buffs which are ready to move out of their nursery accommodation and into a proper house and run. We put them all in there together this afternoon at tea time, and they had a little bit of a pecking order discussion amongst themselves over afternoon scratchings! The Buffs are huge compared to the hybrid girls, but the girls have more sense - they put themselves to bed, but I had to pick the Buffs up one at a time and put them in the henhouse...

Must catch some photos of them tomorrow if the weather is half decent!

Spending report - have spent £2.70 on a magazine for my "put my feet up" time tomorrow whilst everyone is out, and gave the YFG £1 for some sweets as the EFG had a friend here who offered them both some sweets and then didn't give the YFG any, rubbing salt into the wound by giving one to a cat, which turned its nose up at it, sensible creature that it is.

Monday, 3 August 2009


I am useless at these financial challenges - just when I say I am not going to spend money, I start a spending spree. To be fair, it isn't all the grocery budget that got blown today. I did go to Tesco but that can come later.

First of all, I have bought some more eggs, this time Cuckoo Maran eggs - half a dozen of them for £7.00. That means that the incubator will be full again when they are all collected in and ready to go, hopefully on Thursday or Friday once I co-ordinate getting them all here. I have to get some from Littleport and some from near Wisbech.

I have also agreed to buy half a dozen 13 week old Light Sussex hens for £40 which I have to collect from near Wisbech too.

And there's more - I have tonight fetched 6 hybrid layers from a free-range retirement home just the other side of the Lincolnshire border at Throckenholt - they are about 8-10 months old, and look in good form - they cost me £36.

I think I must have flipped my lid completely.

Then there was the £44 trip to Tesco for things for people's birthday parties and a packet of donuts that YFG just HAD to have - they were pink and that had a lot to do with it, methinks!

Sunday, 2 August 2009


Ok - cancel that No Spend Day - I just won the auction for 6 eggs and spent £6.01!

I've cracked it!

I can use any amount of courgettes in cakes now - as long as they are peeled and grated! Another batch of American Vanilla cupcakes was made this afternoon, along with a chocolate, nut and courgette traybake. I also made an orange and poppyseed loaf (no courgettes there!) which has been well received. The chocolate traybake is very easily iced as they eat the squares by just adding a smear of chocolate spread over the top. The American cupcakes do take a little more effort, but I'll get to them tomorrow.

Apart from the baking, I watched a Catherine Cookson film on "Yesterday" channel, did three loads of washing which has been hung out and dried and is now folded, cooked fish pie for the troops and am now watching an auction on ebay where I have been bidding for some eggs to hatch in the incubator. I missed a batch this afternoon by just 50p, so I am hoping to get these! They are golden laced Orpingtons, and the birds look absolutely gorgeous! I also have my eye on some cuckoo maran eggs, but I can't bid on too many as the incubator will only hold about 14 eggs. I was going to buy another one so that I have all my early mornings and late nights at the same time over a three week period, but the chap selling them has gone on holiday until next Saturday so I'll just have to wait!

Pleased to report a No Spend Day today!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Quail update

Rather disappointingly, all three have completely disappeared.

Although I shut the door on the one in the greenhouse, the window was open in the roof, and it may have jumped up onto the bench and then made its bid for freedom through the roof vent. I haven't seen any cats enjoying a supplementary meal today, so I am hoping that there is a small chance that they may survive somewhere in the verdant overgrowth that is my garden at the moment - they could be sheltering under the courgette leaves, in the runner beans, under the woodpile, under the chicken houses; there are lots of places they could be but they are not there when we look!!

August budgeting

For this month only, I am going to record every penny spent on this blog. With several huge bills paid already or due to be paid now, we are really counting the pennies this month! We have just paid the TV license, the motorhome insurance and six months' tax, the RAC membership, new lights on the Volvo to get it through the MOT (and then it didn't and there's a bigger bill for shock absorbers but we haven't had that bill yet!) and the chicken feed bill. There's not a lot left........but on the good side, the cupboards are full, the freezer is bulging and the toiletries drawer upstairs is well stocked. I have just had a top up delivery from Asda (shown above) and so the first spend of the month is recorded at £68.69. The photo doesn't include some bread, chicken thighs, ice cream, meatballs and fish which I had stashed in the freezer before I took the photo. I had a voucher for free delivery, by the way.

It's not a huge saving, but I decided not to go out to buy a newspaper today - we have usually got one on Saturdays so that we have the TV listings for the week. We can use the channel guide on Freeview to see what is on when we have time to sit down. That's at least 40p saved...

Good news

It's the 1st August, so it is officially "birthday month" here - both the girls have their birthdays this month. EFG turns 13, so she's going to be a teenager, and the YFG will be 10 which means she's into double figures. Can't believe that - already! They had it worked out the other day that the YFG would be at secondary school before I turned 40, whereas our neighbour was nearly 40 before she had her son so they think that me being 40 after the YFG gets to secondary is a major achievement. Just the differences in circumstances.

Another piece of good news - my friend's husband who was made redundant has secured a new job and starts work on Monday. A slight drop in salary but hey, a job! They are very relieved, and I am so pleased for them both.