Friday, 30 May 2014

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

7 things I've learnt from keeping chickens...

Things have been very quiet in the chicken coop this month, so instead of our normal end of month update I give you:

Seven Things I've Learnt from Keeping Hens

1. They can be incredibly noisy. Nope, not just the boys. Our girls make a racket whenever they are about to lay an egg, they have laid an egg, they see a passing shadow (pigeon!), another hen has the best spot in the nest box or they're just feeling grumpy. So, yeah, noisy.

2. Eggs come in all shapes and sizes. I always knew that the supermarket eggs weren't the only sort but I'd never have guessed that we'd see such a range from our little flock.

3. Chickens are inquisitive birds. They'll stick their beaks in anywhere they can, particularly if there's a chance of something tasty. Pepper in particular has learnt to shadow us as we garden in the hope we'll turn up some yummy bugs.

4. They have a large range of clucks that's relatively unique to each hen. Frog has a little cluck, Pepper is friendly and talkative when happy and goes for the clu-clu-clu-clu-clawrk-clu-clu-clu-clawrk when annoyed. Lemon just generally squawks, sometimes with a bit of a warble. Without exception though they all go for an unending rhythmic cluck if you disturb them when broody (one of the giveaway signs that they are broody and not just laying).

Frog demonstrating the "broody hen cluck" for you...

5. Did I mention how noisy they can be?

6. We quickly learnt how to catch and keep a hold of a hen. The trick is to corner them, hope they squat (something laying hens will often do as a matter of course), and don't be scared when they flap! 

7. Hens are sociable animals. They love to sit on the back doorstep and watch us. They will come running when we get home from work and happily say hello when we're out in the garden. Most of this is because we're well established as the bringers of food... But I'd like to think there's more to it than that. Well, I can hope (yes I know I'm deluded).

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Sunday, 25 May 2014

Life's a Game 5: Scrabble

This year we're sharing with you our game of the month. These are all favourites from our collection, or ones we play with our friends.

May's game is Scrabble

This months game needs little to no introduction. Scrabble, the popular board game where players take it in turns to construct words from a limited rack of letters and connect them to the words already played. Points are awarded based on the letters used, and multipliers are scattered over the board for higher scores. 

This game can be both immensely satisfying - scoring 40 points through clever letter placement - and rather frustrating - when you have a rack of vowels and your opponent scores 40 points through clever letter placement! All in all though it's a good fun, thought provoking game, that can be enjoyed by anyone who likes playing with words.

All the letter tiles, with their points.
Selecting a letter to see who goes first - my E narrowly beat Joe's F.
Starting to build up words - in this particularly game the board has already rather dense making things tricky.

The final board. Joe narrowly beat me on this occasion - I'll get him next time! 
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Friday, 23 May 2014

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

A Toe and a Bag

It's been quite a while since I shared some knitting here on the blog so I thought you might like to see the start of my latest project.

I'm attempting to knit some socks for Joe. Yes, attempting. The element of uncertainty here comes in the size of Joe's feet - somewhere around a size 11 or 12. Since most sock patterns aren't aimed at this I'm making it up as I go along. So far I'm finding the challenge quite fun.

I'm working toe-up as then I can knit the leg until I've used half the yarn before moving onto the second sock and I'm keeping the general pattern quite simple. If this all goes horribly wrong then either someone with smaller feet wins a pair of socks or Joe can wear them on top of another pair when he's cold.

On a related note, Friday was my birthday and I had the day off work to do whatever I wanted. I had a lovely relaxed day and as part of it I took a couple of hours to make myself a little project bag for keeping my current work-in-progress tidy and easy to cart around. I followed the pattern here and found it all came together very nicely. I was worried it would be too small as my sock needles are 8" long and the bag is only supposed to be 7.5" tall, but I hadn't taken into account the volume of the bag. The needles sit diagonally with room to spare.

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Sunday, 18 May 2014

A Bedroom Makeover 4. Phew!

The before shot.
What was supposed to be a quick weekend project seems to have grown considerably and sucked up more time than we could have predicted. It started with just some new shelves and a bed and has become almost a complete change, short of painting the walls. The reality is that a large portion of the time hasn't actually been spent working on the room at all, but sorting, filing, organising and binning. We've done a fairly thorough go through of all storage in the upstairs of our house; that includes all those awkward boxes we've just moved from house to house, containing a most random selection of things.

However, it is now done. And boy does it feel good for it. Let me show you around.

Firstly we have a new bed frame so that our guests don't have to crawl around on the floor when they come to stay. We fitted it with bedside lights for easy bedtime reading.

Next up we've fitted a small shelf either side of the bed, carefully calibrated to fit a smart phone, a book and a cup of tea which should keep most guests happy. The shelves have been spray painted bright red and the covered with a waterproof gloss varnish so should be happy to take a hot mug directly.

We made a last minute decision to take out the carpet that was in here and replace it with a laminate floor. This was mostly fuelled by the idea that the pink would clash with the red shelves, and we wanted red shelves (and definitely not pink shelves). This stemmed from this trio of pictures that I made earlier in the year - the splash of red with the blue walls became the theme for the room.

Paper cut with red tissue paper backing.

Next, new shelves. In the end we went with the open shelves despite the bit of me that is concerned for the dust implications. We liked the idea of having a hodge-podge of boxes and jars, of being able to peruse our craft materials when looking for inspiration, of making the most of the colours and prettiness that comes with paints/buttons/wool/fabric etc. We're also hopefully that having it on display will inspire us to keep it tidier.

As part of these shelves we modified a wider shelf to fit the same mountings, treated it in the same way as the bedside tables and turned it into a little dressing table, complete with mirror and chair. A full length mirror has been mounted on the wall too.

Finally we've created a lampshade to finish the room off. This is quite momentous for us - we're not very good with lampshades and quite a few rooms in the house are missing one. It seems that making it ourselves might be the way forward (surprisingly it seemed to take less decision making). Being bad bloggers we haven't photographed the process, so here it is in a nutshell.

  • We bought the metal rings that go in the top and bottom and a sheet of veneer 
  • We stuck it all together with doublesided tape (recommended for fabric lampshades - not so sure about wood) and left it overnight held together by a lot of clothes pegs  
  • We've reglued the side seam - the veneer isn't very keen on being a tube. 
Unfortunately, its still not quite holding. When we've got it sussed we'll let you know - for the moment we've left the pegs on so we could hang it up and see how it looks. It produces a lovely warm glow when the lights on and shows the grain of the wood beautifully. All the more reason to make this work!

And that's it. One bedroom. All that's left to do is label the boxes so that we can remember where we put everything. And the printers, the ones that started the whole process off? They're now making the most of the extra space created under the bed in the littlest bedroom.
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Friday, 16 May 2014

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Great Swift Bake off: Round 4 - Victoria Sponge

This month in the great swift bake off it's time to call in the W.I. - it's the Victoria Sponge round. This was the most restrictive brief to date and the results were all of a high standard!

I used a 3 egg sponge mix as a base, using equal weight eggs (weight with shells), flour, butter and castor sugar. I used 1 large egg and 3 bantam eggs, and also enriched it with two extra bantam yolks; can you tell Lemon has been off her lay? I also added a teaspoon of baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla powder and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. For the filling I made a strawberry jam with equal weights strawberries to sugar and then added a good splosh of sloe gin at the end to add to the flavour.

Being a man I cracked out the power tools, beat my butter and sugar into submission and then whipped the whole lot until it submitted into being a fluffy mass.

I then split it between two tins, ready for baking.

Once cooled it was time to assemble. I went a little wild and added rosemary flowers as well as the usual jam, cream and castor sugar (oh and edible glitter). I studded the top with the flowers before sprinkling the remaining petals over the jam.

The result: third of six to take the overall lead. 

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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Kitchen Gadget 7. Kenwood Chef - The Accessories


I'm sure one of these days we'll do a Kitchen Gadget post about our Kenwood Chef, but in a rather back to front sort of way we're going to start with a post about all the wonderful attachments you can get for it. We have three out of a wide selection and while they don't get daily use they certainly make life seem so much easier when there's lots to be done. These are kitchen gadgets that we can easily do without, but by no means regret having in the cupboard. A bit of luxury.

Firstly we have the shredder/slicer. Large bowl of coleslaw for a BBQ? It takes longer to top and tail the carrots than it does to chuck them all through the machine! We also use this one for dauphinoise potato type dishes - it really is so quick to do. (Plus it avoids the temptation to slice potatoes on that wide bit on the cheese grater - don't do it. Just don't.)

We also have a juicer. While this is the most under-utilised in our cupboard we hold out high hopes for the day when we get to turn a bumper apple harvest into beautiful fresh juice.

Today though, we have a recipe for you that we get out the mincer for: falafel. As with lots of our kitchen gadget recipes you can make this without a mincer - just mash it all up the best you can by hand.

Serves 4

2 Tins Chickpeas
2 Onions
4 Cloves Garlic
4 Tbsp Plain Flour
2 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Salt
2 Tsp Paprika
1 Tbsp Fresh Herbs (we used Coriander and Thyme)
1 Large Egg - optional, it does help to bind and we have no shortage of eggs so chuck one in.

1. Set up your mincer and feed through the chickpeas, onions, and garlic.

2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients to make a firm dough.

3. Fry off tablespoon sized dollops of your dough in batches until you've used it all. Pop the finished ones in a warm oven while you're working.

4. Serve with toasted pittas, houmous, salad, olives, mayonnaise... or whatever you fancy!

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Wednesday, 7 May 2014

A Bedroom Makeover 3. Underfoot

Sorry we missed a post on Sunday - this D.I.Y. malarkey is taking more time than we thought; probably something to do with actually sorting and organising our stuff rather than just assuming its already perfectly tidy and that there's no rubbish hiding among the useful bits! For some reason this is taking a long time...

As we were discussing our plans for the bedroom we continually hit a stopping point. It went something like this "we can't do [insert plan here] - it would clash with the pink carpet". At the eleventh hour we decided the carpet would have to go. We inherited this carpet with the house and it still had a bit of life in it, but it was a rather vivid colour and so to simplify things this happened:

Starting with the carpet, lovely isn't it!

The rather battered chipboard found underneath.

First things first - the underlay.

Slowly building up the new laminate.

As work progressed into the evening things were getting rather gloomy.

You'll have to wait for the end of the project to see the final finish (mostly because this was the last shot taken before we moved onto the next task!). 
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Friday, 2 May 2014