Monday, 29 August 2011

Go Mary Berry, the Baking wonderwoman

I have long had trouble making a decent Victoria sponge, but having lashed out some Nectar points and a couple of quid, I bought the new Great British bake-off book which accompanies the second series, and hey presto - I can make a good Victoria sponge! People actually say how good they are, and I am very happy! (Sad what simple things can make me happy, really!)

It is a fairly simple recipe involving 8oz each of butter, sugar, and flour; 4 eggs, a tsp of vanilla extract and a tbsp of milk.

So, what's the secret? Well, the recipe in the book actually explains about beating the ingredients to get the air into the mixture. You are told to beat the butter, then beat the butter and sugar together for quite some time, and then add the eggs whilst beating even more - and then the folding in of the sifted flour with a big metal spoon. All that I used to think of as faffing about, but it Really Makes A now I do it - have made several plain sponges with raspberry jam and a sprinkling of icing sugar, and have also tried a coffee and walnut version, and even a chocolate version - and they all work.

Now I am confident with the sponges, I am going to try some of the other recipes in the book. And I have ordered Mary Berry's Baking Bible from the library, so I can't wait for that to come in, and who knows what I might learn?!

Bank Holiday chores

We are getting down the list of things we wanted to do this weekend, but more things keep getting added on to the list!

We have shovelled a tonne of horse poo which a kind friend donated this week. He brought his trailer and left it on the driveway, so that we could remove the very well-rotted manure to our garden. Trouble is, as you can imagine, the garden beds are not really ready to receive the manure, since they are still full of plants, so we have had to decant it into bags and store it. It will be a week or three until the beds are clear and ready for it. The shovelling made my shoulders ache a bit but the exercise must have been good for me...

The grand re-arrangement continues. The bedroom is looking good, and the pantry in the garage is filling up most pleasingly - will take some photos to share. The house is looking a little bit of a shambles whilst all this is going on, though - but unfortunately that is nothing new here.

Last night, I made another batch of green tomato pickle - 10 more jars to add to the stash. I must now have enough for about 3 or 4 years worth of pickle eating, so I will have to find another way of preserving next year's harvest of tomatoes....there is still ratatouille in the freezer from last year, so perhaps pasta sauce will be on the agenda - I may have worked out how to bottle it by next year...

My foot is now much better although the bruise came out most magnificently this week and drew me a little more sympathy, even though the pain has pretty much gone!

The week ahead is looking interesting: we are hosting a lunch on Wednesday for the FH and his 5 male friends who go to the weekly OAP lunch. He took them to Hunstanton the first week of the summer break, they went to a 2-4-1 restaurant near Huntingdon last week, and this week, the last week, they are coming here. UJ has helped with the menu, suggesting that he will bring potatoes, carrots and green beans from his garden, so that I can serve them alongside a home made Toad in the Hole, and then he will also provide fresh pears for a pear crumble with custard. On Thursday, I plan to take the girls and possibly two friends to Wimpole Hall near Royston for the day, and then on Saturday, we might go to Sheringham, but that depends on the weather! The FH will be taking three trios of GPOs to the Pure Breed auction on Sunday, and then we are into the last days of the holidays as the girls go back to school on Tuesday.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Bit of an upheaval

We have been turning the house about! The FH has built the wardrobe in the bedroom and I am so pleased with it - so much storage. I still have to get the fabric for the curtains to hang in the front of it, but it has made such a difference to the bedroom already. The old wardrobes have been brought down and reassembled in the garage, which is attached to the house. We are gradually moving some of the pantry storecupboard into the wardrobes, especially the pickles I have made recently.

All that moving around has meant a lot of moving, sorting, throwing things away, re-assigning storage places, etc. We are having some fun finding things we haven't seen for a while - I found the headband I wore for our wedding 15 years ago - it has dried flowers on it, and we realised that it is the only thing from the wedding outfits that we still have! My two-piece outfit came from the Save the Children charity shop in St Andrews for £10 and went back there a while later for some one else to wear and enjoy as well. I loved it, but being cream, it wasn't practical and I couldn't see that I would wear it again. Unfortunately the FH's waistline has expanded too much for him to still fit into the suit he wore back then, so that has moved on to a new owner as well.

The EFG has some excellent GCSE module results; we went to school yesterday morning to get them for her. They are not her final results as she is only just going into Y11 (Y5 when I was there!) but they are good - some As, an A*, a B and a C, so overall, we are very pleased with them. Adding to the last batch she got, and with the opportunity to build on them in the year ahead, she looks set for a good outcome this time next year.

The YFG is home from her holiday - the family she was with are certainly very active as they seem to have packed more into three days than we would do in a week! We "do" one thing each day and then spend some time relaxing - knitting, reading, sleeping, depending on who you talk to - but they were on the go constantly, and she loved it as she is a very active child. She has come home rather tired, but that is not a bad thing, and she is sleeping well at the moment.

Now that I have learned about pages on blogspot from Ilona's recent post, I am going to make some separate pages for my winter preparations list, and for my list of things to do before I am 40. I am working on both lists, and will get those pages up soon.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rough and tumble

Sunday was the calm before the storm - we had a lovely day which began in the village church, involved coming home and pottering about, having some lunch, relatives arriving in the afternoon and then all of us going off together to another church service about 8 miles away. It was a lovely, warm, sunny day, and everyone was in a good mood!! The YFG departed early at 8.30am with her friend's family for their camping trip - she was SO excited.

Both the church services were led by me, and the evening one was particularly special because it was the first time I was allowed to preach officially as part of the course I am doing to be Local Preacher. I hadn't told my dad that I was doing the course, so although he knew that I was taking the evening service, he hadn't realised what it all meant. He was quite touched, I think, and gave me a big hug at the end, which meant an awful lot to me.

Monday morning dawned dry and bright again, and the EFG went off to help with the decorating and making over at a friend's house, doing a spot of babysitting as well. The FH and I had a mission for the day - to put a big new hand-built wardrobe into our room. The FH had made it in pieces, and we had to remove the two old wardrobes, clean the 7 years of dust from behind them and then construct the new ones. I have been looking forward to this for ages - they include 8ft of hanging rail for us to share and 32 sq ft of shelves for all sorts - bedding, jumpers, etc - and we got off to a good start. We got the space cleared, and then we were beginning to put the new pieces of wood in, and we dropped one on my foot!!! OUCH! One of the veins in the top of my foot blew up like a balloon, and the words coming out of my mouth were quite unbecoming of a trainee local preacher! It really hurt, and we had to go to the local cottage hospital for an x-ray as I was afraid that the bones in the top of the foot were broken...they aren't, thank goodness! It is very bruised, and still sore today, but I am doing ok and hobbling around. It did put the construction back by a few hours, but we got the main body up, and the clothes back in, so that we could go to bed! The front is open at the moment, and I am going to organise some curtains, so that there is no need to open doors into the room and hopefully it will give us more room. The wardrobes we have taken out have served us well - in 5 houses over the past 18 or so years, so they don't owe us anything. They are not set for the tip yet, though, as they are going into the garage for storage purposes. Frugal recycling!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Woodhouse Farm Park

This was the YFG's birthday trip out today with her friend, S. They are the same age, and know each other from school and gym - and are the greatest of friends. They had a great time!

We saw lots of these little chaps - snoozing in their ark and then later charging around looking for food and being very vocal!

This large one gave a great shake and sprayed us with particles of mud!

The guinea pigs had had babies and they were Very cute!

There were five baby bunnies in a pen with their mummy - and they were having a good old nosh on this apple!

It was a lovely day all round, and now the YFG has her bag packed for her camping trip tomorrow.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Autumn is coming!

There was a definite nip in the air this morning and there was condensation on some of the windows too. What with the pickle and chutney making, we are thinking about getting snuggled in for winter.

I am considering my storecupboards and the loo roll situation, and thinking about what we need to stock up on. I am pretty well convinced that we are in for another really cold and snowy winter, so I want to be prepared. I'll sort out a big list of all the stuff I need to do and then you can let me know if you can think of anything I have forgotten! Living out here in the sticks means that I really prefer to avoid driving when there is a lot of snow on the ground - heck, I prefer to avoid driving if there is ANY snow in sight!! Bit chicken of me, but better safe than sorry - my worst nightmare is going out when all is well and then having to drive home through heavy snow, as that happened to me one dark night in Fife, and I was petrified to have to drive home alone.

I'm off for an early-ish night tonight as I am so tired. Toodle pip!

It's Friday!

At last! This has felt like quite a long week, but today is the last day of the gym holiday club, and we have had a good week, but it has been hard work.

This weekend is also going to be busy: on Saturday the YFG and her friend are getting her birthday "treat" trip to a local farm park. We had to wait for the friend to come home from her holiday, so it has been delayed. Then on Sunday it is the EFG's birthday, I have two church services to participate in, my dad is coming over....there will be a lot going on! AND the YFG is going away with her friend (same one!) and her family for a couple of days to a campsite near Gt Yarmouth. The YFG has never been camping in a tent, so she is very excited. We have to drop her off to them before chapel on Sunday morning, so it will be a really early start for everyone in order to get birthday presents opened and bags packed!

The EFG's birthday "treat" trip is happening next week when her friend is available and we have a slot in the schedule to get out and about. She hopes to go to Thetford Forest, but we have to wait and see what the weather is like.

Last night, I made the second batch of green tomato pickle with the dates in it this time - it is definitely a little bit darker in colour, but it still tastes good. There are 12 jars of it, ready to be labelled and packed away in the store cupboard.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Beetroot chutney recipe #2

This is my mum's recipe, dictated to me over the phone by UJ from an old handwritten recipe notebook that has been collecting favourite family recipes for a good number of years. I have no idea where it originally came from - but it has been a success tonight, thank goodness!


3lb beetroot - boiled in slightly salted water for up to 1.5 hours, or until done if sooner. When cooled, cut up into small cubes.
1.5 lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
2 large onions, chopped
1/2 lb sugar ( I used brown)
1/4 tsp ground ginger - I used a tiny piece of fresh, grated
juice of one lemon
1 tsp salt
1 pint vinegar

Cook the chopped apples in the vinegar with the sugar, lemon juice, salt, ginger and onion for about 10 minutes until the apple is soft. Add the beetroot and cook for a further 15 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and the mixture is fused well together. Stir frequently as it will start to stick when the liquid is reducing.

Bottle in warm, sterilised jars. This amount made 6 jars for me, of varying sizes.

Green Tomato Pickle recipe

This is the recipe my granny used to use, then my mum, and now my uncle and I are also using it. It works very well, although it is possible to modify it slightly to your own preferences.

The basic recipe calls for:

3lb green tomatoes
1lb cooking apples
1/2 lb onions
1 pint of vinegar
1/2 sugar
1 tsp salt
12 oz chopped dates

Chop the tomatoes and apples (peeled and cored) finely and bring to the boil in half the vinegar. Then add the rest of the vinegar and the remaining ingredients, and boil for an hour, simmering gently and stirring frequently. The instructions ask you to sterilise the jam jars and then bottle the pickle once it has cooled, but I find that putting it in the jars when it is hot means that it pulls the seals down on the jars more effectively.

When I made this last weekend, I had no dates in the house, so I just increased the sugar and apples to make up the weight, and it has worked fine. UJ reports that he likes it without the dates just as well. I have bought dates this week, though, so I intend to make another batch to include them so that we can do a taste test! I have to find/acquire/beg some more jars from somewhere though...

I am off now to make some beetroot pickle so I will post the recipe for that if it works. The beetroot chutney I made last week was from the Sainsbury's magazine, so it might be on their website...goes off to, can't find a link and now can't lay hands on the magazine either!! Will let you know if I come across it later!

Courgettes, courgettes, and yet more...

It is that time of year again! Courgettes aplenty and what to do with them all? I posted before about some cakes we make with courgettes, but there are other recipes under development here too!

This year, I have taken to gently frying a sliced courgette along with a chopped rasher of bacon and a clove of garlic, pressed through a garlic press, and then serving this on a bed of home-grown lettuce, tomato and cucumber! This makes a very nice lunch, or light meal at any time of the day.

A friend has made a meal of a small courgette by cutting the courgette lengthways, and then covering it with grated cheese and grilling it - this only works for people who don't mind eating the courgette almost raw, but since some people do like courgette raw, that might not be a problem for some. I prefer mine cooked, if I am honest.

What do you do with yours?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Monday again

These Mondays just keep rolling around, don't they?! We are half way through the holidays now, and the thoughts are turning to getting things ready for school again. We are busy with a gymnastics holiday club this week: four hours a day with between 25 and 28 children, most of whom seem to be under 8, is quite a challenge. I came home with a headache today, for sure.

The tomato pickle is maturing nicely, and the FH declares it is amazing, so I think that we may have to make some more. I do have plenty of tomatoes, and there is still plenty of ratatouille in the freezer from last year, so we may as well make the pickle this year. Perhaps we can find something new to make next year. I have found a recipe for bread and butter pickles, which I am going to try with the cucumbers which are beginning to mature in the greenhouse - they are definitely later than last year, but there are quite a few on their way.

The YFG has her friend coming round after gym tomorrow, so we are perhaps having a BBQ, although I have to go to town for some chicken food first. Have to get our priorities straight!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

In a pickle

I have been cooking up a storm in the kitchen and produced beetroot chutney yesterday, and today (tonight!) my mother's and grandmother's recipe for green tomato pickle has been put to good use. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are breaking over with the weight of the fruit, so we relieved them of 3lbs of tomatoes, and made this old favourite.

My sister dropped by with the girls' birthday gifts - the YFG is 12 today and then the EFG will be 15 next week, so she brought them wee presents and cards. She can't help herself having digs at me, and the EFG and I were nudging each other each time she said something! There was one about the state of the kitchen floor, and then one about the last minute nature of the YFG's birthday cake. It is so sad, really, because she seems to try to be superior, but the children are wise to it now, and sympathise with me, and laugh at her silliness. We have thankfully got beyond being hurt by her barbed comments, as we used to be. I used to sob sometimes at the things she said, but now we realise that she is the one with the problem, and we surround ourselves with people who are nice to us!!

The EFG and YFG are enjoying having some friends here for the night - they have been playing on the Wii and now they are watching a DVD before they all sleep on the sitting room floor! The YFG and her friend had a great time icing her birthday cake, to her own design involving lots of marshmallows!!

I am going to have to investigate buying a new processor unit/tower for the desktop in order to bring it back into full use. It is a pain in the you -know-where, but it will have to be done! The EFG suggested just getting another laptop, but the processor will be cheaper, I think.....but I will have to look carefully at the choices.

Hope you are all having a great weekend!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

BT has arrived

BT has successfully taken over our internet service today, but whilst the two laptops have access to the internet, the poor old desktop, my workhorse of a computer, is struggling. It has been loading the CD for over three hours now, and still claims to be "LOADING" and has no access otherwise. It took it a good few goes to actually recognise the CD....and then when I rang BT to ask for help, I was on the line for nearly 20 minutes and listened to all the muzak, and then got cut off. BT - right now, I am not impressed......

On a more positive note, the FH and I have installed the new sink today. It looks smart but the kitchen is covered in a fine layer of dust from the use of the router necessary to enlarge the hole slightly. I am too tired tonight to do a full spring clean of the kitchen, but it has been added to the list.

Off to bed now - reading "The Other Queen" by Phillipa Gregory - can hardly put it down!!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Gardening highs

Courgette pickle in the pan, all freshly chopped and just beginning to cook down

Some time later, bottled and ready to be labelled and then stored away to mature - should be ready to eat by November...

It was lovely to eat lunch yesterday and know that the courgettes, tomatoes, lettuce and new potatoes were all fresh from the garden. I have also walked around the garden tonight and picked several handfuls of different kinds of beans, so they will be cooked for tea tomorrow. It is a real joy to be eating our own fresh food! The egg numbers are beginning to wane ever so slightly, but not so that it makes a difference to the heap of trays in the utility room - I have baked a couple of cakes tonight, and there are more lemons on the bench, ready for another lemon curd marathon.

Tonight I am making courgette chutney - have a look at that link and perhaps have a go, if you have a glut like we do! We have a big heap, so I may well be making more if the FH likes it. I also found a recipe for beetroot chutney in the September issue of the Sainsbury's magazine, and I know where I can get beetroot and cooking apples, so I hope to give that a go, too.

The YFG has chosen her goldfish for her birthday, and they are happily swimming around in the tank in her bedroom. She is absolutely worn out after her day out yesterday, and slept in until nearly lunchtime this morning. She did come shopping with me this afternoon so that she could get the goldfish - but she soon fell asleep again this evening. The EFG also had a long lie in this morning, but she is still up and about now - and has been in hysterics at the faces and comments that the FH has been making, as we asked him to clean a chick's bum tonight!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Those pesky blighters

We hit the chicken shed with creosote today - I pong, and the air around here is a bit whiffy too! Hopefully it will dry overnight; the FH painted the inside for me with white emulsion and so I hope to be able to get it back together by the weekend.

London's Burning

I cannot say how sad and upset it has made me feel these past couple of days to see this mindless violence and lawlessness which has blighted some of our major cities, beginning in London. I feel ashamed and totally saddened to be part of a society bringing up young adults to behave in this way and I do think that parenting skills in this country need a lot of development and support. Society has changed an awful lot in the past generation or two, and I believed this sort of thing to be a relic of the past, of things like the miners' strike and that winter of discontent that people talk about. My heart goes out to people whose lives and businesses, homes and families have been blighted or even destroyed over the past few days by people with no respect for others. It is disgusting!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Friend in need

We got a hysterical phone call from a friend whose child was out of control and I had to go dashing over to her rescue. Her mother had taken her other two children out of the way, and I arrived to find said child had barricaded herself into the bathroom. Long story short - headstrong child who wants her own way, well meaning mother trying to be her friend, interesting use of discipline, and my recommendations were to step up and take control, as the child needs a mother and not a friend. Mother needs help to deal with her, though. Told her to look at Supernanny/Nanny911 type advice, as I am sure it is what she needs.

All that made me miss the church service I was so looking forward to, so I was a little miffed!

This afternoon we went to feed my friend's chickens, and I was devastated to open the box to get the eggs out and to get whiff of the smell of red mite - they are infested too! And it is quite an infestation! I missed it yesterday when we went because I didn't open the box for the eggs, as the YFG pulled them out for me. I have had to shut the three hens out of their house, and provide them with a couple of perches and a nestbox in the area which is under their house, still within their run. They will be quite sheltered from the weather under there, so it will be fine for them until next weekend when their owners get home from holiday. I have mixed Diatom with the shavings in the nestbox I have given them, so that should help them a little. I am not spoiling the people's holiday by letting them know - they will have a big enough problem to deal with it all when they get home, so they need to enjoy their break!!

Our own infestation has been reduced by the blow torch application, and we have fried a few more odd ones we have seen mooching today. I have spoken with the editor of the Smallholder magazine and she has put me onto some chemical treatment which you apply to the hen, so I will be looking to see if I can source any of that tomorrow. She's a lovely lady and very helpful!

Tonight the YFG has a friend to stay, so it may be a late night...

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Mite hope

I have taken the hen house apart and blasted it with a pressure washer. That got the mud off so I could see the wood for the trees - then it dried overnight and I sprayed it with a proprietary treatment, early this morning, before we went to the church holiday club. When we came home, five hours later, the sun was shining, and the little blighters were sunning themselves! So we upped the ante a little, took a risk and sprayed them with Jeyes fluid diluted with water. They lapped that up and laughed at me. So we got the blow torch out........that fried a good few of them, and we have left the house now to dry out, and I will see what emerges in the morning. Less, I hope. I have found a local source of creosote, so I am hoping to get some on Monday and paint the house thoroughly with that. I also take GTM's point that the roof will need sorting out as they are very likely under the felt as well.......oh, bother!

The church holiday club has gone well. We have the rounding up of it tomorrow in the Sunday service, which I am looking forward to, immensely!

I went to see the doctor yesterday about how I have been feeling - she suggests having "me" time, and developing a hobby. Mmmm, I said, and when would I find time for that? She spins, weaves and knits, so we ended up talking about knitting socks..perhaps I should try.

Tonight, I have cleaned my ensuite out and had a good tidy in there, and that was very therapeutic, so perhaps a good cleaning and chuck-out session once a week would be a good prescription.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Mite collapse soon

We had a lovely afternoon on Sunday, but it has gone downhill since then, in terms of energy and enthusiasm! To cap it all, we discovered tonight that one of the poultry houses is heaving with red mite and the poor chooks have refused to go in (can't blame them) so we have had to have an emergency rehousing tonight. A lesson to me to check them more carefully as they were hiding in the cracks near the roof....

What with the Holiday club at chapel this week, keeping on top of the house, and now this, as well as coping with the sweltering heat, I am just about ready to give in and say, NO more! Can't though, so will plough on - hope it does explain the absence of any posts here recently - normal blogging will be resumed soon, I hope!

Great news, though - the FH is HOME!!! Yippee!!