Sunday, 25 June 2017

Kitchen Chaos

I was hoping to blog positively this week about dealing with soft fruit. Everything is ripening at once due the hot sunny weather.  Strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries. tay berries, black currents and now blueberries!

Instead the kitchen is upside down and things are everywhere.  First, the fridge/freezer failed to keep up with the hot weather. "I told you months ago it would not cope!" I cried as even opening the door to get milk caused it to start to de-frost.  I had to stop picking the fruit as I had no where to put it down or deal with it.  Jam making had to stop as it not only caused me to be reduced to a puddle, having the stove going warmed up the kitchen even more straining the fridge more!

Current accounts were emptied and we went to buy a new fridge/freezer. We had to take out as much food as possible out of the old one (15 years old) and keep it ticking over while the new one was delivered and allowed to settle down. So the old one ended up parked in the middle of the kitchen with leads requiring jumping over.

Second disruption was the arrival of my hand built food cupboard from my husband's workshop. so my old storage was taken away. But the new one needed doors fitted once it was in place and can not be set up till that is finished. Tins and packets of food everywhere.

Finally the new fridge was in full use.

I could return to the garden and collect the fruits, oh, and now broad beans!
I have given up jam making and am using the glut to make wine instead. I need it.  Especially as the crises and expense (and the heat) meant no trip to London this week for my grandson's 3rd birthday party.

Monday, 19 June 2017

How to keep cool?

After a sweaty half hour harvesting broad beans I returned to the house to process them and watch a recording of CARDINAL from BBC4.  First one of  one of my favourite series of books by Giles Blunt set in a very snowy and very cold north Canada.  Ah, that was cooling.
Image result for giles blunt forty words for sorrow

I am also following FARGO - set in a nice snowy Minnesota!

St Ives

My husband proposed a visit to St Ives this weekend. I got all excited and dropped a container of freshly cooked beetroot thinking we were off to the west Country. No. St Ives, Cambridgeshire! 

Ah well.  It did turn out to be a pretty place and despite the 30C heat we had a pleasant walk across some water meadows and had lunch on the riverside.

He really should have got the air conditioning in the car fixed last month!  Told husband it would turn hot if he didn't.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Blight and birds

Been plodding up and down the fruit and veg garden all the last week collecting the rapidly ripening soft fruit (I will blog about what I am doing with it all another time!) but on this occasion I glanced at the lovely rows of potatoes and noticed a couple of breaks. Instead of fresh green leaves and purple flowers there was a gap. Went wading up the rows and found BLIGHT.

YUK. We donned surgical gloves and took a plastic bag and have cut out the affected plants down to the soil. Carefully removing the black slimy stems and wilting foliage to be burnt. In the past I am sure Gardeners World have said cut off the tops and harvest normally. I do hope this works!

While we in the potato rows our attention was drawn to the nearby fence. The swallows had lined up their 5 fledglings and were gamely showing the babies how to do aerobatic flight over our neighbours beautifully mowed grass. Landing occasionally alongside to feed the fledglings caused a lot of tweeting. 
They all ignored us. 

Friday, 9 June 2017

Where have I been?

No where much. Some days it has been so hot we have melted and then we have had terrible storms and the winds were relentless for 48 hours. Crops like sweetcorn ended up at 45 Degrees and delphinium spikes ended up in a vase!

We visited Wells next the sea where the dry sand was picked up by the wind and blown across the surface of the beach and smarted a lot when it hit your ankles!  Especially mine, as paddling was necessary, the bare wet skin hurt!

We have been entertaining my husband's elder sister (Aged 84) for a week.  They spent a lot of time reminiscing about their Kent childhood, although due to age difference they only lived together for 3 years)  and looking at old street photos of the (long gone) town centre of Ashford.  The family have been talking about tracing their ancestors for ages and not got far. As we were indoors for the whole of one day I leapt on my laptop and traced their father's family name back to the 1800s for them.  I am  now obsessed and it not even my blood family. What happened to the Elsie's born in the 1830s? How are we related to that bloke who became a governor of New Zealand and filthy rich?

There was an art trail round Castle Acre near Swafham this weekend so we enjoyed a walk round the village even paying to go into the English Heritage Priory.
We did a circular walk via the pub for lunch and were able to go into some lovely gardens and art studios to see some super work.
Couple of village garden trails coming up which I am putting in my diary.

Now, I have to go and deal with that 3lbs of strawberries and find the jam making kit.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Spring bank holiday

Phew it has been hot! We took our boat down to its new mooring on the Great River Ouse. Bit of a performance to launch it on the narrow concrete slip way but luckily the lock  keeper wandered over to check our river licence and gave us a hand. This is a new location for us and we are looking forward to exploring the river system.

A family of swans floated by and we saw several interesting birds including a great crested grebe with young. 

We went down the river a bit and turned into the River Wissey. Just as we were remarking what a nice narrow river with overgrown banks full of wild flowers and deciding to do a three point turn back to our new mooring when a great big full width motor boat loomed up. Quick turn into the reeds and we beetled off out the way.  It was a busy bank holiday on the river!

We were going to eat lunch at the pub but it did not open till 12 noon and past experience was that it takes ages to get served (plus nothing on offer less than £12 a plate) so we had a quick cool drink and some crisps and came home for a late lunch.  This was the first packet of crisps I have had in a year - what happened to the fat and/or taste?  I had heard the producers have reduced fat, salt, etc in these foods but not realized the results were so revolting!

At home I found some cheap prawns in the freezer my daughter in law had left after a recent visit and used these to flavour a risotto with our spinach and topped with some asparagus from the garden.
Plenty of lettuce in the poly tunnel and my husband has started to harvest some cucumbers from the greenhouse.  So we are deep into salads at present - no tomatoes ready yet.  The plants are about 18 /24 inches high and have flowers; so it won't be long!

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Food costs

Time for a quick review of our food costs.  Bloggers have raised concerns lately.

We keep our accounts package up to date and use the title "groceries" to cover all food and household/cleaning products and toiletries for a household of two retirees and visitors. We grow a lot of our own fruit and veg, cook from scratch and don't have processed foods. My main shop is done on t'internet and delivered for £1. We use local butchers and fish market (but not exclusively as both involve a drive of 10 miles so it is just when passing on other business we stock up).
Firstly, I looked at the long term spending and found the average over 3 years is £58 per week

Had a look at last 12 months and it averages £52 per week, which was probably due to the good harvests of last summer.

The last 3 months have been more expensive - costs rising to £57 pw.   Why?  Lack of our own potatoes and we have had to buy in our supplies since Christmas Plus, we have been treating ourselves twice a week to locally baked fresh loaves. A mistake. The price has crept up to £1.90 a loaf.  Just those things have cost £7 a week. I am sure we could reign back on the bread and crops are coming on!

I could save more by going into town and shopping around  but I am not willing to waste a day a week. Besides growing your own means you need to be around and working at it every day.

How is your budget going?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Fruit growing

After all the upsetting news this week it has been a wonderful escape to spend long hours in the garden. I abandoned the veg plot as it is more or less up together
and went to do some work with the fruit.
First task was to renew some of the trees guards on the fruit trees and some of the "woodland" (natural British ones) in our embryo copse at te end of the field.
These curly plastic things are a pain to squeeze on between the supporting stakes and removing the grease bands was  sticky job too.  I don't think we are going to get much tree fruit this year as the blossom came when it was cold and windy but we continue to care and nurture the trees.

Luckily the Tay berry is doing well on its own.  It is the most prickly thing ever and it was too hot to put on protective clothing.

Will be netting these later as you have to leave the fruit to the last moment on to ripen fully.  Last year the blackbirds took the lot as they ripened.

The thornless blackberry is doing really well.Strong lateral growth and lots of fruiting spurs.
I spent about an hour netting the blueberries using light wood and bamboo to make a frame able to stand up in our windy plot.   I tie the net on to the frame with string and firmly catch the bottom with metal hoops. Not a great deal of fruit on these but what there is does need protection. 

The strawberries in this bed are a bit behind. The bed was so overgrown with couch grass and dandelions in March we dug them all up, cleaned the ground and replanted them.  The long dry spell held them back but that is good because just look at the bed in the poly tunnel where they have been watered and cossetted!

Not everything is going well.  There has been a big drop off of gooseberries. This is quite usual but there does seem to be a lot.  I am not sure if I should not blame this young pheasant that has been hanging about the last few weeks - It scratches big holes and pecks at everything.
It does not always run away when you shout or clap, it hunkers down for a bit then gets up and  runs in circles for a bit before making off to the quieter gardens next door.

The blackcurrants have lots of fruit but terrible aphids. There are lots of ladybirds about so we will let the fruit ripen and then prune and spray later.

The blackberry and raspberry canes are full of flowers and bees. We recently noticed the bird box in the front garden where it is  sheltered is not inhabited by Blue or Great Tits but by bees!
Luckily it is well out of the way and will not be a nuisance until later in the summer when the hedge will need a trim.
Well, it was nice break playing with the fruit but we are installing another raised bed in the flower  garden near the house and that means at least wheel barrows  of top soil to be moved.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Cabbage in curry sauce

Yes, really - this is a very tasty way to have cabbage!  I found it in an 1980s Readers Digest coffee table book called Farmhouse Cooking. The recipe starts with cooking 1 to 2 lbs of cabbage which is far too much for us so I have adapted it a bit.

Slice up cabbage leaves and simmer to tender with half an onion with a couple of cloves pushed in and a small  bay leaf and a garlic clove. Add a stock cube. Drain (remove onion etc) and put the liquid aside.
I know, it sounds weird - but keep going!
I usually have quite a bit of liquid left - I keep it for other dishes.

Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter, a dessertspoon of plain flour (or cornflour), a good teaspoon of curry powder (I have Madras and used that). Add the liquid to make a stiff sauce. Put the cabbage in the sauce and let it infuse gently. Add a little paprika to taste, if wanted (does taste good without).

The curry sauce is a bit like you get in chip shop sauce, I think? 

The cabbage tastes lovely and is tender and juicy.  It goes really well with any dry or bland meat or plain meat.  I have made it twice now and I think we ate more cabbage than we would have done just plainly boiled!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Moral dilemma

So I am on that local bus again; grateful for the regular service from town to our village. BUT I am a trained workplace assessor and spent 10 plus years watching people working to an efficient(or not) standard.  So this is what I observed over 20 minute journey:
1. A colleague of the bus driver is on board and has chatted with him all the time he is taking fares etc. Stands next to the driver and chats when we set off. In front of that line and the notice that says "do not speak to driver or distract them".  Ok, I have often seen bus staff do this. Common practice but not best practice.
2. Driver takes 3 sharp bends and one right turn junction with one hand clearly on his bus cab support and only one hand on the wheel. OK,  Don't fuss.  No husband often does one handed thing when driving.  I am a nervous 10 to 3 wheel clutcher.
3, We enter the fast straight stretch between villages, and he speeds, up a lot. Colleague receives a text message on her smart phone. She holds it in front of the driver for him to read and share. They laugh and exchange comments.

I got off a few minutes later with a sense of relief.

When I went indoors to find my husband having coffee and watching programme about bad driving on the A1 which, after my morning, did not look that bad but the emphasis was on the dramatic consequences. When it had finished, we discussed my observations and agreed 3 was probably illegal (Reading a text while driving? or, is it receiving and accepting and reading a text?).

So I confess. I emailed my comments to the bus company. I am feeling very guilty - was it bad enough to endanger their jobs?  Or am I Mrs Fussy who has spent too long "judging" people at work?  (I did end up changing careers to get away from that role as judge! )  But then if something had happened unexpectedly at just the wrong moment would the driver be able to react? Was I really a dissatisfied customer - my journey was free, quick, and I was not harmed?

I used my husband's email as my operating system is the same as the NHS one that got hacked so I did not want to turn my PC on.  His reaction was "Thanks, now I will be the one to get the hate mail".  I pointed out if he had driven me to town I would not have been on the bus in the first place!


Joined the rest of the gardening population at the window admiring the rain!

Thursday, 11 May 2017


Within 36 hours - frost that blackened the tops of the potatoe rows to 20C and in T Shirts! Think I may even be a bit sun burnt.

Still no rain.  Veg bed is dust for the first 4 inches - some fields sown this spring around us are bare soil the crops are not making any progress.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Cabbages and quilts

We paid £1.49 for ten cabbage plants about 6 weeks ago and have them in the poly-tunnel. Just as well as it has been so cold they would not have grown so well outside.
Not much heart, but will treat as a spring green and make a start on the row. Otherwise we will be over run with greens by the end of May.

I have just finished a narrow quilt to go on the Z-bed/put you up.  I used a metre of fabric that was on sale at £3 p.metre and brought some cotton wadding.  I liked the design as it was easy to quilt into squares. I found some old faux- velvet in dark blue to make a backing and some spare green for the edges.  We have some spare single sheets and a blanket - so next time the extra single bed is needed for an adult or older grandchild I will not have to ask them to bring their own bedding.  I was embarrassed to ask them last time - the family always seem to have so much stuff to bring each time they visit.