Sunday, 29 September 2013

September in the Chicken Coop

This month in the chicken coop the hens have been....

...enjoying windfall apples by the beak-full. They love anything sweet and have been delighted this month to find such large quantities of treats just landing at their feet. I'm not sure how many apples they got through, but it certainly inspired us to go and pick all the ripe fruit every few days!

...moulting. I know I said Fizzy was last month, but she's made a pretty poor show of it compared to Pepper who has been looking decidedly scruffy for the last few weeks.

Refusing to pose for photos!
...dodging the neighbourhood pets. We were eating breakfast in the conservatory last week and there was a sudden kerfuffle outside. Often this is just a case of someone reasserting the pecking order, but to our horror we saw our hens scattering in all directions as a cat made an attempt to grab one. The hens were far too quick, and Joe soon saw off the cat, but this is the first time we've seen a cat brave enough to do this - normally they steer well clear of them as our larger hens can be quite assertive.

Until now our garden has seemed remarkably predator free, leaving us with a rather blasé approach to our hens security, but time has come to reassess. They won't like it, but I think we'll be going back to only giving them freedom of the garden while we're at home to keep an eye on things. We'll just have to put up with their indignant clucks!

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Friday, 27 September 2013

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Fruit of the Garden - September's Harvest

Another month has passed and we're starting to notice that we planted all our veg to see us through summer months rather than planning food for different seasons. We've still working through our salad potatoes, and the tomatoes are slowly ripening, but this month has mostly been about our fruit trees. We have two really productive fruit trees in our garden - one apple, one pear - along with four young trees that are yet to mature enough for fruit - three apple, one cherry.

We have no idea on the varieties of the two old trees, the apple is a cooker and neither apple or pear seems to keep well. We've been processing and stewing all the fruit as it comes off the trees to stop it going to waste.

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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Confessions of a Tea Addict

Dear Reader,

We're not sure how to tell you this. We don't really know how to begin. It's come on so gradually. First it was just some English Breakfast, loose leaf. The teapot and the strainer, a favourite mug. We just couldn't help ourselves. We went and found a second type and a third. It wasn't just about the drink, but the collection, oh the collection. Comparing the leaf size, the length of brew. We found glass jars for storing them in, labelled them neatly and stacked them high. Okay, so the jars didn't stack, all the more time to be spent gently balancing them, loving them.

We were diverted by green teas, intrigued by flavoured teas, fascinated by the subtle differences between Earl Grey and his Lady. More and more the assortment grew. Assam, Kenyan, Ceylon. Oolong, Lapsang, Gunpowder. More and more, we just had to have more.

But it's gotten so bad, we didn't notice it at first. The cupboard is full and the time to enjoy them so limited. Weeks pass and we forget all the goodies that await if we dig just a little below the surface. The old favourites are fine, assured a place in our lives, but the others? Neglected, ignored, wasting away. Its time for a change.

Friends, we hope you don't mind if we show you our collection. Tell you about it. It needs a good airing, a dust if you will. Its time for a change.

Joe and Jenny

In this series:
Black Tea
Black Tea with Added Flavours
Green Tea
Caffeine Free Alternatives
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Friday, 20 September 2013

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Holiday purchases and a question...

Last week we were indulging ourselves in some time spent in the middle of nowhere. We were staying in a remote part of Islay, Scotland and had a lovely relaxed time gazing at the scenery. I'm sure we'll have a couple more Photo Fridays for you to demonstrate just how beautiful it all was.

While we were there we found a delightful little craft shop. The lady who owned it was sat in the corner spinning and you could buy everything from skeins of her wool to fantastically knitted items. She had a local friend with a flock of alpacas and was lucky enough to have access to all the wool. I decided to buy a skein of the wonderfully soft hand-spun natural brown alpaca wool and am very much looking forward to finding a suitable project for it.

I love the variation in the natural colours.

Joe decided to go one step further though and asked if he could purchase some fleece. She clearly wasn't used to such a question but readily agreed to fill a bag for a couple of pounds. It turned out to be quite a bargain as Joe came away with 500g of the soft fleece. All he needs now is enough free evenings to get his spinning wheel out!

The fleece is unprepped - so comes complete with straw!

Also while we were on holiday I got on with knitting the sleeves for my cardigan. They are knitted on double pointed needles and the plain stocking stitch clearly shows my inexperience. I'm two thirds of the way through the first sleeve but finding that my tension goes awol in the gaps between each of the needles. I've realised that I was initially pulling the wool overly tight in these gaps and relaxing a bit has helped the problem massively, but its not gone away entirely. I'm wondering if I'm missing a trick or just need some more practise.

The laddering at the start was worst (and looks worse in real life than the picture).
It has improved from this but I have a way to go yet.

What do you think? Those of you familiar with this knitting technique do you have the same problem? Any clues as to how to solve this?

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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Kitchen Gadgets: 1. Oil Spray and Potato Wedges

Did we mention we like gadgets? You can find them in all corners of our house, but no more so than the kitchen. We're real suckers when it comes to a good kitchen gadget. So we thought we'd write a series where we tell you all about them, why we love them and we'll also try and include a recipe where we can.

Joe carefully prepared all the photos for today's post but has found himself a little busy to write it - so you've got me instead. Imagine it all with a deep voice if that helps....

Gadget number one is an oil spray. This one to be precise.

We found this in a rather exciting cookware shop in Oswestry when on holiday a couple of years ago, but you can also buy them online, and there are a few brands and variants out there. They are basic devices but help us to keep our cooking cheap and healthy - well, more than before we had the spray anyway. We've found our oil consumption as been cut down dramatically since we bought it as its much easier to get an even coating of oil with a small quantity. 

You simply load it up with the oil of your choice - we tend to use olive oil - and sit it by the hob to use whenever frying or drizzling oil. The lid acts as a compressor; you pump it up and down a few times before each use to build up the pressure and then spray away. You could also use them for vinegar, water or any liquid with the same principle in mind... whatever you want really!

Ours gets plenty of regular use, from a light coating to stop things sticking to pans and tins, to a heavy spray to get some roast veg going nicely. One everyday use is potato wedges. We made two batches this week, both with and without the spray, to work out the difference in oil use: 33ml without the spray and 8.5ml with the spray so roughly a quarter of the oil. That seems worth it to me.

Potato Wedges (serves 2)
Potatoes (normal two peoples worth of potatoes - sorry we didn't measure this!)
Olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp paprika (unsmoked)
1 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp peppercorns

1. Preheat oven to 220C.
2. Slice the potatoes into wedges and place in a roasting tin.
3. Spray with oil until potatoes have a light coating

4. Grind all spices together and sprinkle over the potatoes.

5. Pop the tray in the oven and bake for 25-35mins, or until golden and crispy. Toss the wedges a couple of times throughout the cooking to ensure they are evenly cooked.

The details:
What is it? Fine mist oil sprayer
Brand: Kitchencraft Colourworks
Price: £8 approx
Somewhere to buy it: Amazon

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Friday, 13 September 2013

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Garden Blogger Blooms Day

So we are a few days early but we are joining in anyway! Here are some pictures of what is blooming in our garden:
Love in a mist

Sweet Peas - still going!

Another sunflower

Sweetcorn - a bit late but definitely in bloom!


And another nasturtium - twin coloured this time

Rudbeckia gloriosa, sewn from seed this spring

Penstemon keeping up the pink blooms outside the front door. This has been going for months!

The last of this years clematis flowers. They have done well for their first summer. 
Sedum just starting to come into bloom.
We also have some rather pecked at camomile (apparently the petals are tasty for chickens), lavender attempting a second flush and a hebe that is just about still flowering. Not much more to come this year for flowers. I will try and force some paperwhites in a few weeks but aside from berries and pretty leaves this is it.

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Sunday, 8 September 2013

Summer Knits: 4. Bust Shaping

You may have noticed that as I've been making more clothes for myself of late I've been paying a little more attention to how they might actually fit rather than blindly following the pattern. My current knitting project is no exception.

Reading around on the internet I recently came across the concept of bust shaping when knitting jumpers. The theory is that if you knit the front and the back of the jumper the same then the front will look too short because it has further to travel than the back thanks to the bust. If you have a bust larger than a B cup then it's sometimes recommended to add little extra length to the front of the jumper to compensate for this. You do this by adding some short rows across the front, which gives the same effect as adding a dart when sewing a top.

Short rows are a simple concept - you simply turn your work round before you reach the end of the row and start working back the other way. This means that you have two rows over that part of your knitting, and only one row over the remainder.

Theory aside, I thought I might give this a go, but because I'm a coward I've only adding a little bit extra - not the full amount - so that I could see how it works without going crazy. I started knitting the patterned part 2cm later than the pattern suggested and then added 6 short rows, starting just before the pattern reaches its widest point. With the cardigan I had to knit the short rows on the right front part, finish the row and then do short rows to match on the left hand side.

It turns out this is a very hard thing to photograph - it disappears!
Just to the right of my index finger the stitches change angle, this is the extra
rows being put in.

and the same on the left front.
I think its gone well. The bit I'm least satisfied with was how to do the final turn which happened to fall just at the edge of my lacy pattern. On the right hand front the turns happened on the right side of the knitting which I adapted by skipping the last bit of the pattern and starting it again on the next row which seems to have left a knobbly bit. On the left hand front the turns happened on the wrong side of the knitting (a simple purl row) which was much easier to adapt and has left a neater finish I think. Sorry if that made no sense at all!

Having done this once I'm pretty sure I'd do this again, and maybe with a bit more confidence on my next jumper. Lets face it - this isn't going to make much difference to the way the cardigan fits.

Either way, that's now done - on with the pattern!

Previously: 3. A long weekend of progress
Next: 5. Must there be two?
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Friday, 6 September 2013

Photo Friday - Ober Heath at Dusk

There are two challenges I battled with today's photo Friday. Firstly, how wide can you go. I have always been fascinated by panoramic photos as a way to capture a landscape ever since my parents had one from our regular camping slot - 5 4x6 photos stuck together with book mending tape. This particular photo contains 18 separate images brought together (I use autostitch as a free tool) to give the image.

The second challenge is how slow can you go. These images were at f22 and took 25 seconds per shot. This took so long to catch the set that dusk faded as the panorama progressed, from sun recently set on the left to almost complete dark on the right. I apologise if you can't get the full impact of this image on your screen. I can't!

Click on the photo to see a slightly larger version
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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

One Potato, Two Potato....

On a completely unrelated topic, writer and blogger Chloe Banks has just launched a flash fiction series on her blog based on the signs of the zodiac. Joe and I have volunteered our somewhat dubious fiction writing skills to contribute Pisces and Capricorn to her collection. You'll find us hanging out over there on 15th October and 19th November, but I'm pretty sure the whole series is going to be amazing and would very much recommend you go and check it out! 

For the first time this year we've been growing our own spuds. We trundled off to our local garden centre back in February where they had a fair range of varieties on a "fill a bag for £3" offer - and we had a voucher for another pound off that - bargain! We decided to take advantage of not having to commit to a whole bag of one type, instead choosing four different varieties.

We always eat a lot of new potatoes over the summer so decided that rather than trying to store them we'd just eat them fresh. We've now completely consumed all our earlies and have made a start on the later ones - here are our thoughts on the different types (as much for our memory as your information!).

Arran Pilot

Arran Pilot is a first early, and was the first of our potatoes to mature. Despite description of a firm waxy texture we ended up with fairly floury bland potatoes - not very inspiring. Maybe we ended up with the wrong spud?! Instead of boiling the rest of the crop we used them for potato wedges and roasting which had much better results, but we probably wouldn't bother with these again.

Pentland Javelin

Another first early, Pentland Javelin was the next potato to be put to the test. We found it had a much better flavour and texture than the Arran and so we used these for new potatoes throughout the early summer.


Moving on a bit into the year and we started to dig up our kestrels. These are second earlies and we let them get a little larger making a good all round potato. We have enjoyed these boiled as new potatoes, but found that they went from nicely cooked to completely disintegrated fairly quickly leaving us with a sloppy mess on at least one occasion. We've also roasted these with success.

Pink Fir Apple

Lastly we moved onto the pink fir apples which are a main cropping salad potato. Distinctively knobbly, we've only tried these as new spuds but find they boil well and have got a good flavour. We've been eating them alongside the kestrels and find that the two pair up to make a good crop for all occasions.

Arran Pilot excepted, we've been pleased with all our potatoes this year and may choose similar varieties next year. Or we may decide to try four completely new ones...

Which potatoes have you grown? What are your favourites?
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Sunday, 1 September 2013

Summer Knits: 3. A Long Weekend of Progress

We spent a very relaxed bank holiday weekend camping in the New Forest. There were barbecues, sunsets, coffee shops, large quantities of tea, cooked breakfasts, plenty of the infamous ponies and naturally lots of knitting done.

New Forest Pony

Since we've both made quite a bit of headway with our respective projects we thought it might be time to share an update on the knits we started in June. Jenny has had row after row of stocking stitch to muddle through - but she's finally reached the interesting bit where the lacy pattern starts and the fun begins. Meanwhile, Joe has been beavering away at the yoke part of his cardigan and has almost reached the shaping of the sleeves.

Working from the neckline towards the sleeves. Almost there.

Diamond upon diamonds...

Lots of length added since you last saw it, hopefully in the right size this time!
Finally starting the lacy pattern.

How did you spend your long weekend?

Previously: 2. Oh Bother
Next: 4. Bust Shaping
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