Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Day 5 - getting there and another home grown meal

I wrote a full days blog post and it didn't save. Frustrating isn't the word! I'll sum it up in pictures instead.

I'm on target with the weeding. On target means I am trying to get round every bed whilst I am off to make life easier for when I return to work.

I sowed some seeds which might be too late but worth a try. Peas, dwarf beans (after talking with Louise today, we both were saying how poor these had been) , Raab broccoli, autumn giant cauliflower,all year round lettuce and radishes. Oh and some Swiss chard which might be to over winter in the polytunnel. Grace helped and we had a lovely hour together in the greenhouse just sowing seeds and chatting. 

I weeded another couple of beds and got some late swede down. Even if we harvest them small it'll be something.

Ste is off work with me from tomorrow so we'll hopefully get twice as much done.

To get him set off on the right foot I made a home raised meal from pork medallions in a glaze (honey, balsamic vinegar, garlic, rosemary and a drop of oil) with garden veg and it was amazing. Very proud.

The wind is getting up here tonight, it sounds wild so I hope we have a peaceful night. 

I meant to say, the Aga is back on, Ste managed to fix it after the part arrived and I couldn't be happier. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Day 4 - Christmas potato seed planting and rumtopf

Day 4 of my holidays has seen a beautifully sunny day here in the North East of England.  It's still breezy though but this year has been.  I've never known it be so windy for so long in the past but then I suppose I've  not been growing fruit and veg or looking after so many animals before, that the wind impacts?
I've still been getting the kids up at a decent time as mine seem to suffer if they have late mornings and inevitably later nights as they can't sleep.  The kids helped me by feeding and watering the chickens and then collecting the eggs.  What a haul from the last couple of days!

The kids spent the next couple of hours playing and I started off the Bachelors Jam or Rumtopf as it is referred to.  Growing up I'd remember an earthenware jar that was in my parents house but I didn't know what it was for.  Then when I started blogging and read Patty Pan's blog about Rumtopf and I realised what it was for.
 My Mam kindly gave me the pot when I said I was going to make some.

I added 500g blackberries from our haul last night (which was over 3kg!) along with 250g sugar and left it for an hour before adding a litre of brandy as this is what was given to me by my lovely Mam at the same time as the Rumtopf jar.

I was supposed to make a crumble at the same time but the clock was ticking and I was itching to get out in the veg plot so I left that for later and put the brambles back in the fridge to keep a few more hours. 
The bed I'd tasked myself with today was the fire pit bed.  The previous owner had burnt allsorts in it and I'm forever finding nail, hinges and the like.  I added manure to the soil along with blood, fish and bone and hoped for the best.  Well the cabbages did marvellously and I'd put off harvesting them until my 2 weeks break.
It was a mammoth task.
They were dug out and the area cleared of weeds which was back breaking but very worth it. The Christmas potato order has just arrived so I set about putting them in.  I ordered 15 tubers from crocus - 5 each of Charlotte, Duke of York and Pentalin Javelin.  These were the only ones I could find as the other online stores I either missed or didn't sell any.
I planted them all 30cm apart and 60cm between rows as there was plenty of space to do so.  Here they are with their beds now looking like something from Halloween (picture taken from the opposite end of the bed than the earlier one).

 Here's the bed once I finished with it.
I then tidied up another bed which wasn't too bad thankfully and sowed some quick crop salad leaves and radish in a space that's appeared there, where the first early potatoes came out.

I tested out a panoramic view, so this photo is slightly distorted but you get the idea. 
Soon it was time for tea and I decided to cook one of the hams we've had in the brine.  It's been in since Sunday so over a week which is a bit too long but after cooking it, it was perfect!  I'll post the recipe another time.  All of the hams will be cooked and sliced for the freezer.
We finished the day off with a walk to forage some bullaces (wild plums).  Someone has already raided our spot but there is a tree most people haven't found yet, and that was full though it did require some acrobatics.  They are in the fridge now.

Ste also finished the stock fencing he wanted to get done.  This will deter the chickens from scratching the area where we use as a dumping ground for weeds, branches that are no good for anything, leaves etc etc.  It'll keep the animals safe and the rubbish separate.  It means he can move on to the next part ultimately giving the poultry more space. 
The kids got their craft items done, the dogs are happy and I'm enjoying my time off.  All in all, a great family day together.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Day 3 - baking and veg plot updates

When I was at work, everyone was asking me where I am going for my fortnight off.  Of course, we enjoy a break as much as the next person but we're not going abroad this time (we are later in the year though, I'm not averse to it).  However what I do want to use these 2 weeks for is a combination of things.  Firstly to spend plenty of time with Ste and the kids doing things that they find fun and that do not cost the earth.  Secondly to get on top of the veg plot, greenhouse and polytunnel and house chores so that when I'm back to work, it's more of 'maintaining' than 'drowning'.  Included in the house thoughts is cooking for the freezer. We do have some space left in there, not much seen as though they are all full of meat.  However I'll make sure they are stacked well and there's plenty of home made produce in there for go-to meals.
Today started off as always feeding the animals and checking everything is present and correct.  The dogs came with me.  They love that I am off work.  Then back in for crumpets and a cup of tea before heading out with the kids and dogs to the feed shop as we needed more layers pellets and corn.  We were back and sorted by 9:15.  The kids offered to help out for an hour by tidying their rooms with the view to spend time after lunch doing the craft things they have both been waiting for.  They did a great job so I am pleased.  Making a start on cooking for the freezer, first up was a lemon drizzle traybake a-la Mary Berry.  I had all of the ingredients in, including the lemons thankfully.  It took no time at all to prepare.  It's a throw it all in recipe, which suits my lifestyle 100%.

It turned out really well so I am adding it (and the cookies I made yesterday) to my batch bake list as the kids loved it as you can see!

In the veg plot, I have a million and one things to do.  I decided the best way to go about it is one bed at a time, finish it and move on.  Sounds obvious but when you get out there it's hard not to start something and move on before you finish as something always catches your eye and before you know it the day is over.

So today I lifted the onions from Bed 1.  These have been brilliant, great size, didn't go to seed and every single one came up so as long as the taste isn't too bad then we will stick with these each year.  If it's not broken then don't fix it.  They are Sturon an Garnet (sets).  The bed was full of weeds in between the onions, they've been crazy after all this rain.
However I am really pleased with the results.  They're all drying out head down which my neighbour told me to do.  We're due a really heavy down pour tonight so they'll get a wash and tomorrow is supposed to be lovely so they should dry out nicely before being taken into the barn.
I also tidied up the swiss chard as it was taking over, despite us using it regularly.  I'll definitely be growing this every year, it is so versatile. 
Also the chickens love it so they got all the of bits that I tidied up.

So that's 2 of the beds weeded and tidied up.  Although I didn't start on the other beds, I noticed a few squashes coming along nicely which made me very happy.  I'd missed a couple of courgettes whilst I'd been so busy at work too, so I roasted them tonight for tea.

I'm really pleased as we had a free, home raised meal tonight.  It was pork burger (with chilli) in a homemade roll, cucumber and tomatoes, roasted courgettes, red onion and pepper with steamed Athlete potatoes.  It was delicious however a talking point was I'd thought the peppers were peppers when in fact they were chillis, ooops.....Burgers aren't something I ate until this week - but these are too nice!

I also made a couple of loaves of bread for the freezer and I will continue to so we have them ready to just take out.

We then went out bramble picking for the first time this year and got a great haul which I will preserve with tomorrow as it was a bit late tonight after a busy day.
Another couple of photos from today that I took as they caught my eye and I'd like them to look back on for August memories.


Sunday, 13 August 2017

Day 2 of hols - starting the next project 

A little update first. Ste has managed to find the problem with the Aga! It's the filter on the control box. It was blocked. He's cleaned it and it's free flowing again now however the wick needs replacing now as it was starved of oil so burnt out. I have ordered some and he will replace it as soon as it arrives and I can get going again. 

In the mean time I baked for the family using the other oven and managed to produce burnt but edible cookies. 

The kids approved so that's a good sign.

The project we're starting is setting up the remaining poultry area. We had a bit sectioned off for the table birds but as they're all gone now, we're starting to open it all up. There's chickens and ducks going to be in here.

When we finished one of the hay bales, we moved the netting that they come in ready for he next bale to be put in place and discovered these. I do love coming across the free range eggs.

Today I've not managed to get into the veg plot as when I got up I did the animals, rode out, showered and went to Aldi then we went to family for lunch. After that we got home and had more family visiting until 6:30 so we decided to call it a day and I'll start again in the morning after a reasonably early night. So instead I cracked open the rhubarb wine and added some lemonade and my goodness it's good.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

A cold kitchen means time to clean the Aga

I can't remember a time before we had an Aga. It was one of the reasons I was so drawn to this house. The kitchen is warm and cosy, where lots of memories have already been made. I've been asked if I'm not scared of it, cooking on something you can't change the heat up and down without immediate effect. Truth be known, I would never be without one now. I've always enjoyed cooking but since moving here, this has become a bit of a passion be it cooking, preserving, baking etc. 

I've said many time before, the Aga is like a member of the family. We gravitate to it, dry clothes on it, air boots, defrost food (and ourselves after a winter walk), make toast, boil the kettle, cook tea, make one pots, keep food warm waiting to be served, warm plates, rise bread, keep your mug of tea warm and quickly dry out tea towels to name a few.

So when I came down this morning, on day 1 of my time off (yey, 2 weeks off work now!), I felt a shiver when I went in the kitchen to see the poor girl not very well. Despite it not being a cold morning, the kitchen was missing her heat and when I went to check, she felt cold and sad. Steven has taken a good look at her but despite our best efforts, she's going to need an engineer to come out to figure it out.

We decided to see a silver lining in all this and teach ourselves how to give her a really good clean. Now as many of you know, the Aga is always on, you can't clean inside and the best you can do on the top and front is wipe over it with a damp cloth. Well I haven't done a great job of this as when it was off the amount of build up behind the hot plate was immense. 

I started by taking the doors off. The roasting oven puts up with a lot, we cook everything in there on one way or another. The door was dreadful but I didn't realise until I'd cleaned it.

I lightly scrubbed it with a Brillo soap filled pad and it came up great.

I did the same for the simmering oven but that was still very clean.

Then sitting infront of it, I cleaned where the doors hang on. I didn't do inside the door holes too well as there's grease in there to help them swing easily however the little washers that are supposed to be there too had corroded so I need to get the engineer to get some more. 

It came up really well too. The odd tiny chip but you can't notice that when the doors on.

I then turned my attention to the front of the doors. There's only 2 that come off on my 2 oven model. They scrubbed up well and I just used a soft scrubber that you'd do the pots with, not very abrasive so no need to worry about the enamel.

The lids were removed to allow us to get right in and clean them. What a build up underneath. Not sure if it's all ours but they are sparkling now. 

Before we started we had visited a local aga showroom at Gateshead. I say local, it's 35 mins away. We bought the proper enamel cleaner and cloths which isn't a purchase I take lightly as for me, a cloth is a cloth and cleaner a cleaner. However as the old girl is probably twice my age but still looking brand new, I want to give her the attention she deserves. The cleaner will last a good while and the cloths wash and are fully reusable.

The also tried to sell us a razor blade cleaner but I knew Ste would be able to knock one up so we declined that offer!  You use them to scrape (not dig) along the surface to take off any build up. This takes it out of your fingers so we took turns. The white bit at the back is where I'd started using the cream cleaner and said to Ste to bring in the heavies as the cream cleaner wasn't going to cut it!

That left the front which didn't take long and the lids. Inside the simmering oven lid was worst but I'm not sure why as the spitting would come from the hot plate. Who knows. Anyway, that came up well using the Brillo soap filled pad too, gently though.

Before we put the lids back on, Ste lifted out the drum from the hot side and took a look in where we know the engineer cleans out. The wicks look like they've had it and they are dry as sticks so maybe the oil isn't getting through. We did clean out the little holes and hoovered using the soot Hoover but no luck when we tried to light it again (after waiting some time for new oil to flow through). 

She looks beautiful again. After seeing all the new modern ones in the shop today, as great as they are, I'd take this girl over them every time. 

Although this wasn't how i intended spending day 1, it's been productive and a good job done. Any tips from your experiences very welcome. Thank you for reading.