Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The fields are alive...

Spring is beginning to show herself, finally.

There have been signs all over the garden and allotment, albeit somewhat intermittently at the moment. The herd of Dexter steers have returned to the field opposite, so the mornings are gently broken up by their lowing and mooing. The mornings are lighter, we are getting up in the light and the evenings are allowing us a few hours to do things before hitting us with the dark.

It's at this time of the year that things begin to ramp up, there are seeds to be sown, earth to be turned, repairs or changes that have materialised during the winter as well, this year, as decorating, putting together stuff for the barn and jobs...that is, life outside our smallest of smallholdings.

Where to start? Well, the barn is now nearly complete. We are on the tiling. Next week the floor coverings go down, then we can put the furniture in upstairs and all the cider, honey and smoking equipment downstairs. It's really turned out beautifully. I will aim to get some photos up here in the next few days.

Of course, now the new patio has gone down and winter has passed, there is lawn to seed, and then the patio tubs to sort. Unfortunately many of them are in a bit of a sorry state this year having stood on the deck out of the builders way, but not in the best place and they're covered in brick dust or rather waterlogged or just plain sorry for themselves. My next few weekends will be spent trying to salvage and re-pot what I can.

We, sadly, lost a hive this winter. No idea of the cause, just bad luck I guess. So we had to take the hive to pieces and blow torch it to ensure that we had killed any possible disease (not that the bees looked deformed or anything). We discovered several pounds of honey on the brood frames, so we took to rather crude methods of extracting as we didn't want to extract the grubs into the honey. We called it the 'spoon to gob' method.

I have a pot of cooking honey and, whilst this honey was no good for jars, it has made a fine addition to my cooking honey and Master Beehive the elder made a rather scrummy honey cake with some of it.

So we are on the look out for a couple of swarms once the weather warms up after we re-assembled the old hive and have assembled a third one.



The chickens and ducks have nearly survived the winter. We have one rather sorry looking chicken who is keeping going despite the odds. She spent an evening warm in a towel in the utility room a few weeks back and then spent a week living in our greenhouse. She seemed to find a new lease of life, so, having given her a reprieve, I popped her back in with the rest. Since then, she has gone downhill again. She still seems to eat and drink, but her comb is very pale. I know what the kindest thing to do would be, but...erk! I keep hoping I might just wake up tomorrow and find her having passed on. Not a very good farmer really :-(

The allotment is looking much healthier this year. We composted all the chicken poop and have spread that, horse muck and topsoil on all the beds. Mr Beehive has built up the sides of the beds more so we may have some luck with root veg and LMB and I have spent HOURS picking stones out of the beds. I'm told 7 years is the magic amount of time to see fruition with soil improvement...7 bloody years! Gah! However, it looks much healthier than last year and whilst I have been turning it, the worms are in abundance. I'm told that is a sign of healthy soil.

I spent a weekend building a makeshift fruit cage which guards my blackcurrants and I still have to make one for the raspberries.
Whilst thinking of ways of protecting the plants I often peruse various websites to see if I can find really nice cloches or protective covers, I um and ah for ages, put things in my basket, ponder over ridiculous postage charges and then shut the website down having wasted an hour but achieved nothing. I then move over to pinterest (have you been there...of course you have!) OMG! The creative ideas that people have!

There is no need to buy when there is pinterest.

I have made my pea support walls, my fruit cage and I have made some short seed protectors from galvanised wire (really easy) and am going to make a few more longer ones using corrugated plastic and rope - for the grand price of £7 per 1.5 m tunnel - not bad considering they were asking over £30 on the websites!

I'll post pictures next weekend once I've built them.

Let the busy seasons commence!



Friday, February 20, 2015

Bread

A half term holiday and the excuse to make lots and lots of bread.


It has LONG been my desire to master the professional, artisan, crusty crust, the kind that snaps when you break it and despite trying many different ways over the years, I have had limited success.

However, I think I have finally got it!

It's taken several batches of dough of different recipes and a variety of ways to bake it, in fact my kitchen has been more like a laboratory this half term!

We have enjoyed cheese and chilli



Cheese and marmite (no picture, sorry)























And finally sour dough. Now, we have yet to eat the sour dough, but it looks and smells pretty darn fine thank you.



So what is the secret to a crispy crust? Well, and this is in 'my' oven, bear in mind you are playing with yeast and chemistry, so the alteration of just one variable, could mess the whole thing up....
ice cubes and olive oil!

Throw a few ice cubes onto the floor of your oven just as you put in your bread so that you trap in some steam and baste your loaf with olive oil. Also, make sure your oven is hot!


If your crust looks brown and crisp, you will know for sure if you've hit the jackpot if your crust continues to snap and crackle when it's outside the oven.

So here are the recipes that I have used for successful bread making. Enjoy

24 floz water
0.35 oz yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2 lbs strong bread flour
semolina or cornflour for dusting
ice cubes (around 10)
olive oil

The water needs to be a little warmer than body temperature and pour it into a large mixing bowl.
Mix in the yeast and salt, it doesn't all have to dissolve.
Add all the flour in one go.
Bring it together with either your hands or a wooden spoon.
DON'T KNEAD it!!

It is quite a sticky and wet dough and you may just need to press together the flour that gets missed. Make sure it is all pressed together otherwise you'll have lumps of flour in your bread...not nice!

It should be all wet and not take long to achieve.
Cover the container with a clean tea towel and leave to rise for a couple of hours.

Then once it's risen, cover your container with clingfilm but leave a little edge up so the gas can escape and put it in the fridge. It can be left for up to 14 days in the fridge or you can use it any time after the initial 2 hour rise.

Yes, I know, no knead and then into a 'cold' fridge where yeast needs to rise!

This is right!

When you come to use it, it will be sticky but works better straight from the fridge. Cut a section off to use and dust down your board and an upturned baking tray with flour.

Gently mould your section of dough into a small round ball, alternatively put it into a proving bowl. Allow it to stand for around 40 minutes. It won't rise much, but don't worry, it will rise in the oven.

Whilst this is going on, you need to heat your oven to around 200degrees for at least 20 - 30 minutes.
If you have a baking stone, pre heat that for at least 20 - 30 minutes before you want to use it.

When your oven is hot enough, and your loaf has stood, get a small amount of olive oil and a teaspoon of semolina.

Take your baking stone out of the fridge, lightly dust with flour (it will be VERY HOT!)

Put your loaf onto the stone, take a brush and lightly brush a very sharp knife with olive oil (it helps it to cut easier), then slice a deep cross on your bread.

Take the brush and brush over a thin coating of olive oil and then sprinkle semolina over your bread, this helps the crusty feel.

Now you need your ice cubes, take a handful and open your oven, throw them onto the oven floor and, at the same time, put your bread in and close the door.
This is where you wait!

It should take around 20 - 30 minutes to look crisp and brown.
I then take it out, tap the bottom and it's often a little soft due to the stone, so I just crisp it up by popping it back in for 5 further minutes directly on the shelf.

This should be pretty failsafe to get you that crisp, baker-made hand crafted bread that you always dreamed of!

I also experimented with putting a broiler of water on the floor of the oven as well as the ice cubes to ensure the steam continued. I'm not sure the broiler created as much steam as the ice cubes, but some of this is trial and error.

Good luck and hope you enjoy it!








Thursday, January 01, 2015

simplicity

Happy New year!
The eve of the first full day of 2015. How did that happen so fast? Haven't we just had a millennium?
So how does a clean page begin in a new year?
Not one full of resolutions to ultimately break or fail at that's for sure. That's never been a good start.
I do like to keep lists and make thought bubbles on paper.
I also like to try to start the year with a challenge or two in mind. Sometimes it  might be a physical challenge other times it may be a spiritual or development challenge or a mix of all three as it is this year.
This year I do have a list of achievable goals, not resolutions because none of them are things that are new to me exactly, this is more a list to remind me of ways to deepen a more conscious lifestyle.

DEVELOPMENTAL
I have for sometime now had an interest in living life in a much simpler way. I get ground down by technology and consumerism and wish life was just plainer and easier. I have read lots of books on the subject and realise that this lies with me to find my way and not on seeking to alter things I simply cannot change. Living simply is about finding ways that makes my life more simple and peaceable. To give up many things I don't need is one thing, but to give up things out of a stern sense of duty or some misguided need to conform to a strict set of rules will cause dissatisfaction, ultimately giving no peace or simplicity in my life at all. So, rather than binning all my worldly things and going to live in a hut without any running water, my challenge will be for all future things:
1. Do I really need it?
2. Could I borrow it?
3. Could I make it/mend it/recycle it?

Simplicity is also about our actions; ways we can connect more, relate more, be calmer with each other. Ways I'm thinking to incorporate this is to have one weekend  month that we turn off the TV on a Saturday evening and play board games with our kids, bring back our family reader, bring back our Sunday hikes and start going to meetings.

SPIRITUAL
This last statement relates to the fact that I have been wanting, for quite sometime now, to attend our local Quaker meetings. Our boys attend a Quaker school and we have found their outlook on many things so incredibly compatible to our own. I was christened in the Church of England but have never really been a church goer. I am not going to use this space to say anything about the Church of England, suffice to say, it just never felt what we were seeking. Recently Mr Beehive said he also wanted to attend, so this is our second goal for this year.

PHYSICAL
Finally after feeling like I have become a Christmas pudding I am determined not to lose the fitness I have built up over this year. I will continue to try to run one race a month and also do park run as often as I can. Mr Beehive and two of our friends have decided to walk the 50km Thames Path challenge in September. If we feel suitably comfortable with the achievement, we may extend that to the 100km walk next year. For now, goals are to be scored not missed, so baby steps it is.

What are your goals for this fresh new year?




Saturday, December 20, 2014

Happy Christmas

This will be my last post of 2014. I can't quite believe it. Not only is the end of yet another year, but I've been blogging now for 9 years! This time next year it will be a decade of life speaking to you all through this blog and sharing snippets of our life.


Cheeky boy here, cracks me up on a daily basis, interspersed with his incredible knowledge and wisdom that blows me away!



And life, what is that? A life portrayed as 'perfect', I hope not, we have as many mess ups and down days as the rest of you only I am more picky about what I make public. A life where my children are no longer really the subject of this blog; they have grown, and oh 'how' they have grown, and their lives are theirs and theirs alone, not something for me to find a blog subject in. Of course I mention them, frequently, but I no longer blog about their toilet habits or silly things they say or do as they are no longer toddlers and, frankly, it's no longer that kind of funny !!

Yeah, not a lot changes for those of you that know this funny guy! He is so adorable and loving.
This one is going to the stage! Such a daaaaarling as well as an absolute darling!

It's been nine years of evolution for me as a child of the pen, to an adult of the computer age. I fight demons on a daily basis about the merits of blogging, computers, facebook, email communication and time spent doing such by both myself and my children, but I know that life is different now and frankly, I enjoy reading blogs and facebook. The former placates me sometimes at the end of a long and tiring day. I quite like to lose myself in five minutes of someone else's life and yes, I do tend to go to my favourite bloggers who have similar lives to my own or similar ideals.

I do sometimes have ruminations as to whether it is time to stop the blog, there are so many out there now and blogging has become a career for so many that my feeble little rambly blog just doesn't compete with the big boys, but, then the voice of reason says: Who are you blogging for? Ultimately it's for me, and for my family and for my friends whom we don't see very often or who live back in the USA, Belgium or Scotland, and, if I didn't unload my head on here, there'd be one hell of a lot of mixed up incoherent crap in there, and blogging is cheaper than therapy ;-)

So I will continue, perhaps for another year.

For now though, I'm going to switch off here and spend Christmas with my family and I'll be back in the New Year.





Have a wonderful Christmas time

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A year of running and discovery

This year is now finally at a close so far as my 'racing' goes.
I use the term 'racing' in a loose sense as, although I am strictly in a 'race', I am only really running for and against myself, therefore, whether it should be called a 'race' for me or a 'challenge' is probably another question.

It's December and, having started in February, I've run at least one, if not, sometimes two races each month, clocking up somewhere around 130 miles in races and much more if you include the training that has gone alongside.

One of the ghastly early races in April 2014

The icing on the cake came this weekend when I made a rash decision around three months ago to run my first half marathon (that's 13.1 miles to those of you with better things to do with your lives than follow the aches and pains of runners!).

It was a bit hasty, I think I'd just done a sub 30 in a park run, was feeling rather high on the endorphins that followed and noted that December was 'race-less' so I needed something to fit into this month.

Milton Keynes Winter half seemed to fit into the criteria I needed: flat (ish!), not expensive and local and on a day that I was able to do.

I had a training plan, then life took over. The nights got dark, my job turned nearly full time, we had some family stuff going on that needed some tlc and some wine and the training plan got kyboshed.

The day arrived upon me without really having run more than 8 miles ever. Was this foolhardy - well, to the seasoned runner, yes, probably, but I figured I had nothing to lose. No one was watching me that I knew; I wasn't running with anyone that I needed to keep pace with; if I needed to walk any of it, who would care other than me?

I'd love, at this point, to tell you it was easy...but my nose would be cracking my computer screen right now. It was nothing short of bloody hard! Probably one of the most demanding things mentally that I have ever undertaken.

I arrived at 9.30 only to queue in the freezing cold for the best part of 20 minutes for the loo. Was I that desperate? Well, I was certainly more desperate to use the loo than I would be to squat halfway around with my arse exposed to the elements...I presumed that as there were at least a 1/4 of the runners behind me in the queue, the organisers would have the common sense not to start if the queue was still snaking round the park, so there was no choice but to wait.

It was freezing - did I say that? We had to avoid the ice on more than one occasion - so there was the dilemma of standing shivering waiting to get going, then that hideous few minutes where your body temperature still hasn't reached sufficient high levels to reduce the running shakes.
The course itself was probably the only saving grace. It was slightly undulating, but primarily flat and ran all around areas of Milton Keynes that you never see from the roads. We ran along the union canal for many miles, into outlying villages with beautiful tudor homes, past fields of cows and then through housing estates. There was time to think and dream.

My pace was very steady, far steadier than I'd run a 10K, but I thought this was a tactic I would need for survival. I got to 10miles without too much trauma, but then suddenly my mind seemed to turn a corner for the worse. I noticed a blister on my heel and then spent half a mile fighting the urge to stop and take off my shoe. My head was telling me this was a death sentence, my heart said I could fix it if i took off the shoe and fixed my sock. Luckily I have learned that my head does in fact, rule my heart, even though my teenage self may not have realised that!

Then I felt aches...everywhere, my thighs, my pelvis, my ribcage...The last 3.1 miles may well have been the whole 13.1 all over again. It used every ounce of my mental strength not to give up.




But! I didn't and now I am proud to say I have achieved half of my goal but it's not just the physical that I'm proud of, I proved my ability to physically challenge myself on the top of Scarfell this Easter, but the whole challenge of keeping going. I have kept going, from January, I have kept running when I've wanted to stay in bed or go home. I have kept going with blisters and when I've wanted to cry and give up.

I've run in rain;

In hideous heat,


In foreign countries,


In a tutu;
With my youngest in our tutus at a race for life in June

Through mud and cow pats.




I've gone from this:








To this:






I'm no faster than I was in January really, but I don't care. I have lost weight and yes, I'm very happy about that, but whilst we can change our outward appearance, I have found an inner me that was lurking below the surface. It's a me that can say what I want (I'd say pretty tactfully except my kids will tell you that I must make an exception when I'm in the car - running does nothing to hone road rage!), what I like and what I am able to do and I like that person. She's okay to spend 2.5 hours of solitude with on a Sunday morning with only her thoughts and a few of the negative conscience for company. So I'm going to stick with her and with it, it has been good for me, not only for my health, but also for my brain and my character and...well, I like that.

I'll see you at the Brighton Half in February!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

I love today!
It is 'deck the halls' day today, or rather, deck the scaffolding in our case!

I love to make it a bit of an occasion when we put the tree up and decorate it. We get in some gluhwein and some spiced apple for the kids, put on a bit of Buble and out come the decks. It's all so very jolly and little House on the Prairie...........screeeech! Hold on, rewind a bit, let's just back up:

So, it IS a day when we get the gluhwein heating on the stove and the spiced apple simmering in the pan, the tree is placed and the decoration boxes brought down, Buble is on the CD player warbling out those Christmas tunes; but that is where my family will tell you that it then turns into a very military operation 'hup two three four, keep it up, two three four!'

I am a touch anal when it comes to my tree. We normally have two, a real one in the sitting room and an artificial one in the music room/snug, only this year we've decided to just have one because of the outdoor chaos. We have a colour scheme for each tree and things need to be balanced and organised.
I have a box of purple, pink, silver and white for the real tree alongside several very sentimental ornaments that have come from places we've been. These don't fit the colour scheme, but are important for memories and sentimental reasons. This tree has WHITE lights.

Then there is the box for the artificial tree, these are more tartan, red and natural ornaments from straw and wicker etc. The lights on this tree are WHITE!

OH and finally there is the box of decs that the kids have made over the years and the things that I just can't quite chuck away, but there's no way they'll ever bedeck my Nordman again!

The children and Mr Beehive hound me every year to do coloured lights, but I just. can't. do. it.

Mr Beehive and the kids get the run of the exterior!!! 

It's a little bit like National Lampoon and I'm Audrey; "I hope nobody drives past the house and sees me standing here with all these bleeding coloured lights" but hey ho, they love it, I can sacrifice a little bit of taste for a few short weeks right ;-)

At least I can close the curtains and admire my indoor tree with a cup of gluhwein in hand!


Monday, December 01, 2014

Advent Traditions

December 1st...finally! I can put away my 'bah humbug, it's too early slippers in November' and gently ease myself into the season of goodwill and cheer.




We have for many years, in fact, since LMB was two, had a beautiful birthday ring*. It is made from alder wood and we put beeswax candles in.




There is something earthy and grounding about the smell each year when I take it out for another child's birthday and, believe me, even at nearly 15, the eldest still wants the birthday ring out.





I have hankered after an advent spiral for many years and this year I gave in to my desires. We only have four candles as we intend to light one on each of the four Sundays before Christmas and we also have a small, fillable advent calendar.



Again, a tradition we have followed since they were small has been the filling of a re-usable advent calendar. We are actually on our second as our first one was eaten by mice one year in between Christmasses. When the children were young, it was easy to find little things to put inside for each day, now they're older, it's a little harder and I'm loathed to fill it all with sweet things. This year I've gone for tokens for things like a trip to the movies at some point in the year, a movie and takeaway night of their choice, an afternoon doing something they choose. I've also put in a little wooden ornament, something I do each year and then this year each child has a 'personal' gift. For Master Beehive the elder, I've got him some fingerless gloves. He really suffers with his knuckles and hands being covered in nasty eczema and sores, hopefully this way he can wear these, still write at school or do the things he needs to do, but equally give his hands some protection. Master Beehive the younger is a stickler for hoarding, so he has a lovely little wooden box made out of some tree wood from a local cemetery and the youngest rug rat has some bath bombs with essential oils to curb her desire to pinch all my lovely bath things!!









*Although I was very drawn towards Waldorf and Montessori when the children were younger (and still am as much as I can be as my children are growing), the main reason I bought it was watching toddler attempts to blow out candles 20, 30 times and the sequential spit and nasal contents that used to decorate the cake; it became somewhat a matter of necessity and hygeine ;-)   )