Saturday, 25 July 2009

Cranborne Chase

We went out this afternoon on an impromptu drive up to Win Green Hill, on the South Wessex Downs, which look out over Cranborne Chase. We tried to get there earlier thsi year, but were stopped by the by way up to the hill being snowed in. None of that today, it was ideal weather - fresh and breezy with plenty of sunshine.
Very peaceful as we got there late afternoon, the other two cars leaving just after we got there. We took binoculars, and looking out over the Chase towards and over Shaftesbury, we could glimpse Galstonbury Tor in the far distance. Lots of wildflowers, wind blown trees and wide open farmland; cows and sheep in the fields; the song of a lone bird. Wonderful.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Butterfly dance

I spent a good ten minutes (probably longer.......... :) ) this morning, wtaching teh butterflies in the front garde; I have four large buddleisas out there, all different, but the biggest, a nice shade of lilac, is the most highly scented one, and attracts butterflies by the dozen. This morning,they were out in force, and it literally looked like they were dancing in the sunlight and the accompanying breeze. I counted over two dozen at one time on the bush - large and small whites, commas, a painted lady, forst red admiral, peacok, tortoiseshells........
They're still out there now flitting about, it's a lovely sight to see, and with teh window open, the honey scent of the buddlia is wafting in over me. I love late summer. :)

Food Security for the Faint of Heart

I've recently read "Food Security for the Faint of Heart" by Robin Wheeler, and have nothing but praise for it - thoroughly recommend it. Mine came from AMazon at a good price. I devoured it in an afternoon when I'm sure I should have been doing other things..........
VEry readable, full of good ideas, and one I would recommend for those starting out on food storage, emergency planning, prepping and related activites. Topics covered include buying on a budget, gardening,stockpiling, wild food, water, working co-operativley and pulling it all together. I especially like her Ten-minute planner - things you can do towards food security that take just ten minutes or so of time. She also has a few suggestions for taking an hour or so a week. I foudn the book uplifting, encouragning and inspiring, and think it makes a great addition to the bookshelf whether you're new to all of this, or an old hand like me. Give it a read, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Making a good pastry case

I made an onion tart last night for supper, based on a recipe from Annie Bells' "The Country Cook". As per usual, I adapted it to suit my needs, but the resulting pastry case was worth mentioning I think. My pastry is usually quite good, but I need to get the Rayburn up really hot to make a good job, and my shortcrust pastry never seems short enough! So, this is my version of a good shortcrust pastry case:

8oz good plain flour, sifted
6oz butter at room temperature (or butter/lard mix)
1 egg, separated
Cold water to mix
pinch of salt

Sift flour into a big bowl, add the cut up butter and rub in; it will get a bit sticky-ish due to the high proportion of butter.Add the salt, mix, then the egg yolk and enough cold water to bind. Give it a brief light knead to bring it all together. If you have time, rest it in the fridge for a while before lining your tin, but mine was successful used straight away. The resting makes it less likely to shrink when cooking. Bake it blind for 20 minutes in a hot oven - I used tin foil and pinto beans for this. Remove from oven, remove foil and beans, then paint the bottom of the case with lightly beaten egg white; back into the oven for another 15 minutes or so until crisp and lightly coloured.
The egg white dries as it bakes, sealing the bottom of the case, so preventing filling soaking in and giving a soggy bottom. I've used this method before, but doing it this way uses the yolk as well, making the pastry richer and saving having an odd egg yolk hanging about.
Can be used for sweet or savoury tarts, etc. I'll be using this method from now on I think, the pastry was very short and crisp, much better than the standard half fat to flour I've been using for years.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The sad demise of the kitchen table

I've spent the last couple of days working on the kitchen table; my table belonged to my Nana, and it was in their London house when they moved in. I reckon it's more than 100 years old, a solid pine table. The top is full of marks, scrapes, scratches, and I've managed to add my own selection to them LOL I've painted the under frame and legs with cream gloss to smarten it up a bit, and when it's dry I'll scrub and polish the top again.
I'm lucky enough to have a big enough kitchen to fit a table into; many modern houses have kitchens too small to put one into. I have a small, narrow work top, which is adequate for what I need. I'd rather have a sit down at the table and work there - reading, podding peas, labelling jam jars, drinking tea, sewing, jigsaws, letter -writing........... Lots of people ask how I can manage with such little worktop space, and seem surprised that I choose to work at the table. In big modern kitchens I see acres of worktop space, but nowhere to sit down in any way to work there. I like to sit down with a cup of tea and get on with what I've got to do, take my time and enjoy the job in hand. I remember my second midwife saying to me "Never stand when you can sit, and never sit when you can lie" LOL
Anyway, horses for courses, some folks like lots of worktop space, I'd rather have the table I think.
EJ suggested I sanded off the top before polishing it, but I've decided to leave it with its domestic scars to tell its own tales.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Nice to know I'm not alone..............

................ in the world of small scale grain growing and my interest therein LOL.
A brilliant new book arrived in the post this morning - Small-Scale Grain Raising by Gene Logsdon. I've only got to page 27 so far, but am enthralled and have learned quite a few things already.
I've grown wheat and oats so far - just patches (albeit decent-sized patches) in the garden, but both successful. I grew enough oats from a tiny bought packet of seed to give myself enough to sow for a good sized patch next year; the wheat did superbly until the pigeons ransacked it, but I'll be ready for them this year LOL;the wheat will follow on from the potatoes, and the oats will go in in the spring further up the garden.
Mostly I had thrown at me the following type of comment "It's not worth growing that small amount, waste of time, waste of space , you don't know how to process it, you're weird..............."
OK, so it's not an acre of wheat, but to me it was well worth growing; I did quite a bit of research, learned an awful lot, got the seed in the ground, managed to grow it and would have processed it too had the pigeons not kindly obliged with that part of the proceedings ..........
For me, the knowledge and experience gained is priceless; I'll keep on with my small patches of crops - one day I might have several acres, then I'll be ready to get on and sow straight away having cut my teeth on a mini scale enterprise.Apart form all that, it's always interesting and challenging to grow something new, and the thought of growing the grain, handmilling it and baking it is too tempting to pass by for me.

Now - here's something the pigeons didn't get to before I did! I cut these yesterday, and they're hanging in the kitchen now to dry off for autumn/winter flowers. They're helichrysums, or everlasting flowers; I prefer the French "immortelles" for them. The colours are very rich and earthy, and they grew very well in between the asparagus plants once the spears had been harvested.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Visit to a working mill, Sturminster Newton

Yesterday we took time to stop in at the mill and have a good look around; absolutely fascinating, all the machinery was working ( not actually milling, but we'll go back at the beginning of August on one of their milling days); I loved the fabric flour shutes, made of thick cotton and ticking. The mill dates fromn the 17th century in its present incarnation, although there has been a mill there for some 1000 years or so, I believe.We got shown around by a very knowledgeable woman, who is also one of the millers, so we'll see her next time. They're not actually allowed to sell the flour they mill due to health and hygiene regulations, etc, but you are welcome to take some for a donation to "feedd your budgie, guinea pig, etc" - so we'll do that! In its lieu yesterday, I bought a bag of flour from fairly near Eling Tide Mill at Southampton, the last working tidal mill in the UK. Looking forward to a loaf from that.
Teh Stour is a lovely river - reeds, bullrushes, water lilies, black poplars; this stretch was populated by young mallard ducks, and a moorhen with a little chick - just a ball of black fluff bobbing about - wonderful to see, and the nest was right beneath one of the windows. There used to be 50 mills along the Stour; 2 miles from Sturminster is Cutt Mill (destroyed in an arsonaa ttack some years back, just a ruined shell now, although there are ongoing plans for it; there was s amll exhibition and information about it all available yesterday, downstairs in the mill), and a mile the other way is Fiddleford Mill.
It really is in an idyllic spot, little changed over hundreds of years; the view from the road is quite an iconic view of Dorset, and has been painted many thousands of times - I hope to get around to doing my own painting of it soon, or maybe a pen and ink.
If you're ever in the area, it's well worth a visit.