Thursday, 18 September 2008

First birthday giveaway!!!

Yes - the blog is one year old tomorrow (19th September). To celebrate, I thought I'd get hip and trendy and do a giveaway :) This is to say a huge thankyou to all who read here - there are quite a lot of you, and every reading and comment is very much appreciated by me. It's lovely to think that people all over the world are reading what I write here. Nothing hugely exciting or earth-shattering, but hopefully it gives an insight into the way we live in our house, our steps towards living even more lightly on our lovely planet earth, and I'd love to think I could inspire folks to try something new or different.
This is what I am giving away:

Handknitted in pure wool, in a beautiful shade of teal; pattern is based on the very old "feather and fan" pattern.
If you would like to enter the giveaway, please say so below as a comment, or send an a-meil to:

I'll pop this up in the sidebar too.

Good luck, and I hope you continue to enjoy my blog; I love reading your comments, so please feel free to join in. Again, many, many thanks for reading this, I really appreciate it as I know how busy everyone is.
All best wishes from me.

Home made beer

I make quite a lot of beer, using Fuggles hops which I grow in the garden. I planted the hops the first year we were here, and four bines have rapidly expanded to give a big crop each year. They race across the supports like wildfire in the spring and early summer, and by the middle of September are dripping with yellow sticky hoppiness, scenting the air for yards around. Plucked from the bines, dried for a couple of days, then used or stored as needed. I bottled the first batch of beer this morning,2 1/2 gallons, now waiting to be labelled and stored for about 3 weeks, when it will be ready for drinking. There are now another 3 gallons in the buket, just about to get the yeast added, and will be ready for bottling at the beginning of next week.
The recipe is one I devised several years ago; a simple beer, easy, cheap to make and not too strong - ideal for a drink after a day's work. I prefer mine a bit more "hoppy" now, though, so use 1 1/2 - 2 oz of hops per gallon, giving it a more bitter hoppy edge. The amount of hops can be adjusted to taste, though - a good excuse for making lots until you find the one you like! It needs good strong bottles, as it can be quite lively when opened, resulting in a good ehad on your pint; I use old Grolsch bottles, which are ideal for the job.

Simple beer

1 gallon water
1 oz hops - more to taste if liked
1 lb malt extract
yeast - I use 1 tbsp of baker's yeast, which works fine

Heat the water in a large pan, and add the hops; simmer for about 45 minutes, then strain the liquor into a brewing bucket and add the malt extract. Stir to help the extract dissolve, then leave, covered to cool to blood heat. Add yeast - if using quick yeast, just sprinkle on to top of liquid, then stir in. I fusing other dried yeast, pre-activate it in a jusg with a bit of warm water and sugar until frothy, then add to bucket. Cover tightly, and leave in a warm place for five days. A big head of foam will build up, but will soon dissipate, and there should be virtually no head on the beer after the five days. Use a jug or siphon and put into clean bottles, stopper well, label and store in a cool place. Leae at least 3 weeks before drinking.


Opportunities presented........

- they don't always seem welcome at the time, but I try to make the most of them! The cooker went out yesterday morning; bit grumpy, as I couldn't make tea.... I did however, take the opportunity to give a good clean behind and around, which is difficult and dangerous when it's belting the heat out. So it was out with the scrubbing brush, and an hour later, nice and clean, raked through, emptied, relaid and re-lit.

It had heated up well by supper time, so I took the opportunity to roast some vegetables in the fast oven - couple of different squashes, plus some onions and a few carrots from the basket; served it with couscous for a change, lovely meal, really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Big step forward

Good news just come in the post! We are changing our electricity supplier to Good Energy, and have now got a change-over date of 22nd September; from then, all our electricity will be from renewable sources, something I've hankered after for years. OH keen too, but more interested in the money side. However, it seems we are paying 2.00 per month less than we were with Southern ELectric, despite Good Energy's unit price and standing charge both being higher, and the fact they increased their porices by 16% at the start of this month. Refund expected back from SE too, which will be nice. Our electricity usage must have reduced even further, which is very good news both on the ecological front and on the money front. There's not much more we can do, I don't think; cost will rise over winter with the small electric heaters in two fo the bedrooms for the children, but both are on timers. We need to get more wood stored for burning and seasoning for further down the line. We don't ahve gas here, so it's wood for heating and water, supplemented by coal, which we are trying to wean ourselves from. Tricky to keep the Rayburn in overnight without coal, though, but we are working on that one.

Summer's End chutney

Finally managed to track down the recipe for this - I knew it was somewhere, had to trawl back to this time last year for it, here on the blog. It's a great way of using up the last of the summer veg, and you can mix and match any types of fruit and veg that need using up - courgettes, windfall apples, peppers, runner beans, odd cobs of corn, onions, cucumbers, damsons, few elderbrries, etc. Choose good robust spices - ginger, cloves, nutmeg - and add a good amount of seasoning, plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Give it about 3 months to mature, when it will brighten up a cheese sandwich in the depths of winter; also add a dollop to casseroles and soups for added zing. Let me know if you make it, and how you get on.

Summer's End chutney

6lbs of fruit/vegetables
3lbs tomatoes - green or red, or mixture of both
4lbs soft brown sugar
1 lb dried fruit
2 pints vinegar
herbs and spices to taste

Chop all vegetables finely and place in pan; add rest of ingredients and simmer slowly for several hours until thickened - when you draw the wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, it should be thick enough not to run in and fill the space made. Stir occasionally during cooking time. Spoon inot hot, clean jars and seal immediately, or leave until cold and pot up then. Label date, and store somewhere cool and dry for about 3 months before using.


This is a picture from Sunday again; we came across a lovely youngish oak tree, dripping with acorns. I noted it's place, and will go back when they have ripened and harvest a bundle. I'd quite like to try acorn coffee, just to see what it's like - probably indescribably awful, I should think, but would like to have a go anyway. Anyone tried it?


I love books, and have a lot of them. Since we moved to this house, and have a bit more room for bookcases, I seem to have amassed an awful lot; mainly non-fiction. I rarely read fiction, as I'd rather spend my reading time on practical instructive books, where I can try things out, give thing s a go, etc, or be inspired by lots of pictures and tales of others' experiences, successes and failures. My books, though have never been organised, apart from some upstairs, some downstairs and quite a lot in the bedroom! Decided to tackle it all yesterday, so am now organising them into subjects so I can see exactly what I've got, and where it is. The main category is craft books, and the black bookcase (soon to be painted) in the pic is for knitting, spinning, weaving, quilting, etc. The bigger bookcases on the left are sectioned off, so it should be relatively easy to get them straight. I have managed to weed out a few which will get passed on, but not as many as I had hoped so far! I have found several I had forgotten about, already, and two I didn't even know I had :)

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Turned into a busy day ......

...yesterday. I ended up getting loads done, so satsified with what I accomplished. Livestock fed and watered, bed stripped and aired, changed later, two loaves of bread made, hedgerow wine started into fermentation, butter made, braised pheasant casserole, pork and leek casserole, 4 loads of washing done, 3 of them dried, bathroom cleaned and sorted. Bathroom was a bit of snowball hosuework - I started with just a swoosh around, but ended up doing the whole thing - windows cleaned, surrounds scrubbed, plants repotted, shelf decluttered and cleaned, the lot! It's amazing how different it looks this morning; I changed a couple of pictures around in there, and put a new plant and a clock on the little corner shelves. All that's left is for the patchwork cat hanging to dry and be re-hung, and to clean the glass star lampshade, which I need a chair for. I'd love to snowball through the whole house, but we'll see how we go :) If it stays dry (lloks like it) I need to get out and finish proofing the cabin for the winter; only the back wall needs doing, having done the rest on Sunday. It's now blue, and there's so much of the preservative stuff left, my other shed can be matching too! And teh henhouse........and the duckhouses......couple of chairs.......

Monday, 15 September 2008

Monday again.........

.......and halfway through september already - where did that go, then? :0 Here's a lovely photo to start the week off - the sun through the canopy of the wood, taken yesterday.

The year seems to be hurtling on towards winter at a great pace; there is a chill in the air, the morning is hung with jewelled cobwebs courtesy of the garden spiders - beautiful to look at, tickly to walk through:) Leaves are starting to drift to the ground, and the colours are turning, dying back, screaming out to be tidied up, but I like to let it wait a little longer to get more of the autumn colours. Time to clean out and look over the bird feeders, get the animal housing and sheds tiddlied up for winter weather, cut back nettles, clear greenhouses. It's certainly a busy time of year - garden kitchen, foraging, planning ahead for winter. The shelves are starting to fill up nicely with jams and bottles, almost time to start thinking about cake and puddings for the yule celebrations, getting stores of extra candles and lamp oil in, gathering up every available stick to feed the fires. It's a lovely time of year in spite of (or because of?) the hard work, but it brings me closer to the seasons and the turning of the year and the constancy that brings to life.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Sunday forage

Bean and I had a great two hour forage in the middle of the day - walked about 3 miles round and about the wood over the back, Holtwood. There were plenty of fungi around, this is what we found, brought back for ID-ing, but plenty left in situ. On the plate, there's amethyst deceiver (the most beautiful colour), what I think is a deceiver, funnel caps (bit scary, not sure if they are the deadly ones), some I thought were coconut milkcaps, but no milk comes out of the gills when cut, and the alrge one which is definitely one of the milkcaps, but I'm not sure which one.

This is a picture of our new foraging machine - Harriet the Chariot! :) I got a couple of these wheelie baskets at the tip on Friday for one pound each, great bargain. We filled her with a big bag of brambles, good handfuls of apples (cultivated and wild), big bunch of yarrow, all filled around with plenty of sticks for drying for the fire. A great asset to our foraging, but got stuck in the boggy muddy bits a couple of times.....:) The third pic is of the brambles and apples simmering on the stove a short while later; plenty of brambles, the rest are in the fridge to turn into a couple of jars of jam on the morrow. Highlight of the trip was seeing two young roe deer; I heard a rustling in the trees beside us, stood still, motioned to Bean to do the same, and we were rewarded by the glorious sight of them bounding across the clearing, some 20 feet in front of us. A sight never to be forgotten, and all this a few hundred yards from our back garden. As I said before, we are so lucky to live here, and to be able to take advantage of all it has to offer.

How to make sloe gin

Pick over your sloes - remove any split, decaying ones, etc, remove leaves and twigs. Prick each sloe once; use a darning needle or skere. For a truly authentic sloe gin, remove a thorn from the tree from which you harvested your sloes, and use that. a lovely way to spend an hour in the autumn kitchen. Place the prepared sloes in a wide necked jar or similar - I use Kilner jars. Fill the jar 1 /3 full. Add sugar - white granulated, about 2 -3 ounces per jar. Bit more if you like it sweeter, less if you don't or none at all. I often make mine without as I like it that way too. Cover with gin - cheap gin is fine, as the flavour of the sloes predominates. Put on a well-fitting lid, and lable. Pop the jar in a cool, darkish place, and shake once or twice a week. It will soon turn a beautiful shade of purple, and is ready by Christmas.

Sloe gin is one of the highlights of the kitchen year for me - making it and eating it! After many experiments, I have come to the conclusion that it is the best thing to do with a sloe - the incredibly tart and sour fruit of the blackthorn tree. they are just starting to fully ripen now, and ready for the picking. Quite early this year, but all round, it seems to have been a bad year for them. We diddn't see a single on up on bulbarrow the other day, our usual foraging spot. Yesterday, however, we had to pick up soem bales from a friend; she had just ahd her lane trimmed back at the edges, including part of a blackthorn - now lain on the grass, awaiting burning, it was smothered in big, juicy, ripe sloes. Great harvest, very easy picking too. We stopped on the ay hoem to pick up some gin, and I spent a happy hour in the kitchen making it, ending up with 4 pints of sloe gin for Christmas; we never manage to keep any over till next year, but I can't see any vast improvement in the odler stuff I have tried, so we drink it when it's ready. I've also tried the gin-soaked sloe in chocolate thing, but it's more trouble than it's worth - fiddly to do, then ahve to avoid the stones whilst eating them. Another idea is to make "slider" - use the gin infused fruits to steep in cider; bet that's strong, might give it a go this year. :)

Home from market

We always stop on the way home on Friday lunchtimes, and have our picnic lunch somewhere nice in the countryside; there are lots of lanes, gateways, laybys and designated stopping areas, many with woodland and other walks attached. Last Friday we stopped just outside Cowgrove; there was a walk off down towards Shapwick, with a few folks taking advantage of the glorious day - warm sun on my back, still air, bright, lovely autumn day. I picked lots of brambles from a very old hedge - lots to look at there - oak galls (have earmarked them for later to have a go at ink making), holly, field maple, hawthorn, rose.......lots of butterflies and a huge wasp landed on my arm, like a wood wasp I think, but will have to check it out further - not one of our stinging friends, but very handsome:) Our lunch consists of a pasty or similar which I buy in the market - there is a stall which seels them - all free range pork and butter pastry; a welcome Friday ritual of a treat now! OH picked up a couple of falled logs too, and squirrelled them away int he back of the car. On the way home we stopped on the top of Bulbarrow to check for sloes. Not a sloe in sight - very bad year for them all around, but I was treated to this lovely view across the Balckmore Vale, bathed in sunshine. What a wonderful place to live.

Pasta with wood blewits

Feeds 4:

1 pack of spaghetti or other pasta
250g or so of wood blewits
1/2 small onion, finely diced
knob of butter
medium sized carton of double cream
1/2 teaspoon of whole grain mustard

Put the pan on for the pasta; meanwhile, fry the onion in the butter until soft, but not coloured. Roughly chop the blewits and add to the pan - cook over a medium/low ehat until cooked through. Add mustard and cream and stir to mix well. whils cooking, cook your pasta, drain, and serve with the sauce poured over, with lots of freshly ground black pepper.

Wood blewits are in season from late autumn to early winter, mainly in woodland, also hedges, sometimes grass, and is fairly common. **They MUST be cooked**. I bought mine from a lovely stall at the Farmer's market on Friday from Dorset Down Mushrooms, in Pyntington near Sherborne. If you do forage for them, make sure you know 100% what you are going to eat, can't be stressed too much.