Saturday, 25 October 2014

A proper taste of Autumn



When I opened the door this morning to feed the outside cats, I was hit by a blast of chill air.  Even though I was fully dressed (I'm not a dressing gown person - it's just not practical in THIS house!) I gave a shudder and the realization that we have been lulled into a false sense of security with the Indian Summer temperatures lingering after the sun had left us.  The changing of the clocks was heralding the move downhill into Winter.




Driving around Carmarthenshire today (a car boot sale near the coast, an auction and mart at Ffairfach, and then another auction at Crosshands), the trees were noticably browner or barer, and the hazels were green and gold together, whilst the Rosebay Willowherb, which I notice a lot in our travels, especially when we head east to Brecon and beyond, and which has been the most amazing shades of coral-pink, butterscotch and Lucozade orange, has now turned a dull brown.

The car boot sale (last of the season) was a write-off, as we suspected it was going to be; Fairfach was dour, wet, and depressing, as it often is - chilled-looking men offering for sale piles of rusty tools, lengths of chain, gate fittings, buckets and the occasional escapee piece of china.

At the auction we bought a few pieces for the next Fleamarket, and left unsuccessful bids on two other lots.  One was a pile of things lumped together, but we just wanted the big tiled-top coffee table on the bottom, as G has managed to break the one she had.  However, as it came with some useful other pieces, it didn't come our way, though we left a good bid on it.  That's life.


Yesterday I decanted my first attempt at Cider Vinegar into three bottles.  It is definitely vinegar, but is pale and cloudy and my OH pulled a face at the thought of using THAT on his chips!  So I have it on one side for cleaning purposes, and have started the 2nd attempt, using brown sugar to give some colour.  We shall see how that turns out.  It has only cost me a small cup of sugar so there is no loss if it doesn't work out.

I had a lovely parcel arrive today from my dear friend Sharon in Kentucky, containing two sets of beautiful vintage pillowcases, which she knew I would love (and I do).  I was horrified at how much the postage was though - it seems that we are both paying through the teeth for postage and butter at present (butter in Kentucky seems to be a similar price to here).  I will put up photos tomorrow, but in the meantime, I can enjoy stroking them and marvelling at the work that went into them.  Thank you Sharon.  When I have your new NEW address (!) I will be in touch . . .

Now I need to go and do some Gluten-free baking as we have neighbours coming up tomorrow to watch the last three episodes of Game of Thrones which we recorded for them, and J can only eat gluten-free baking . . .  So, a batch of blueberry muffins using Coconut Flour coming up . . .


Sunday, 19 October 2014

Horses again! Cobweb and Tommy come to stay.

I bought two horses yesterday.  As the weather is forecasted to be miserable today, they are currently stabled.  At the back of the hall . . .  Needless to say, these are not ones which need passports, worming or shoeing, but rocking horses from another age.  Here is the Arab, Cobweb.  Isn't he proud?  He was apparently a top quality horse in his day, as he has extra muscles carved in, which made him a top of the range.  He is possibly made by F H Ayres.  Particularly as he has lost his lower jaw - this is apparently common in the Ayres horses, which had finely-chiselled heads.   HERE is a facinating link to a rocking horse restorer.  She seems such a nice lady AND she loves Arabs!!



He has seen better days, and lost his rocker - whether it was a bow or a safety style rocker I'm not sure.  Probably the latter.  As you can see, he is in a distressed state . . . he needs total restoration, and I don't think we shall be doing it, as it's a very labour-intensive business, as all the joints need to be secured, missing parts restored, coats and coats of Gesso applied and sanded down, a good paint job (dapple grey for him of course) and then there is the mane and tail and tack and of course the stand . . .  I want him to be restored and loved by a new generation.


Here is his friend Tommy, who is earlier (probably mid-Victorian) on a narrow bow rocker and whilst he has lost his bridle, he still has his original saddle and one stirrup.  He has not got anything like the quality of Cobweb, who is SO well bred!, but he has character by the bucketful . . .  His conformation leaves much to be desired, as he has no length of rein whatsoever, but I expect he was a very comfortable sensible ride.  (I am sure the high-couraged Cobweb bucked . . .)


Tommy, bless him, must have been in the starvation paddock with Laminitis as he has lost his crest . . .  Any similarity to the Surgeon's photo of the Loch Ness Monster is purely coincidental . . .


Nor was Tommy best-placed in the looks stakes . . .  He looks to be a home-made chappy, perhaps made by the carpenter on an estate for the children of the house?  Looks apart, I know he has been SO loved.  Just to look at him I feel plump little arms clasped around his neck, giving him a BIG hug.  He has given hours and hours of pleasure.  At some point, he has been reinvented in "grey" - perhaps in the 1960s when anything was considered old-fashioned if it was brown (furniture this is) and perhaps he looked a little shabby so he had a makeover.  He has the remains of dark grey stockings and there are trails of brown paint from his joints too.  His string tail has been nibbled away to a stump . . .


They cost me an arm and a leg yesterday - in fact I got home before the gut feeling BUY THEM nagged me so much that I had to turn around and go back for them.  Now I need to find new homes for them, so a few phone calls will be made today.  The real money is in Cobweb (I hope!) and I think Tommy may end up coming to the Fleamarket with us . . .  I shall keep you posted.

Meanwhile, I am being eaten to death in here by some midges which came in through the open window yesterday (I know, windows still open in mid-October, amazing) so I am going to go and do some work downstairs, and pat the horses on my way past.


Saturday, 18 October 2014

Back from shopping


We've not long got back from grocery shopping in Carmarthen.  There is supposedly the tail-end of a hurricane coming in so we thought we would do what needs to be done before the weather closes in.  I was awake at 1.30 a.m. this morning.  At 3 a.m. I was still awake, so got up, got dressed and came downstairs to make myself a cup of Earl Grey.  I sat and drank it, doing some more work on my mini hexi's patchwork runner (photo later) and watching the Discovery channel.  I know lots of people are anti tv these days, but our Sky subscription is one of our indulgences, and it more than earns its cost in the long dreary wet days of winter, when we can't be doing things outside as normal.  There is so little on ordinary terrestial tv that we want to watch, but my OH enjoys the racing (me too, truth be told), and we enjoy documentaries.  I watched some really interesting programmes in the wee small hours this morning and got a lot of sewing done.  I did actually go back to bed, as it came on to rain heavily just when we were getting ready to go to the car boot sale, so we abandoned that plan.  I had Alfie-cat by my feet, and Lucy-cat crept between the patchwork quilt and the duvet top and was purring away like a grampus.  I didn't wake until Danny phoned from Oz, now that our line is fidxed.  It was so good to chat with him again.  He is off with his mate from school-days, Joe, and they are travelling u;p the East Coast to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.  First stop is going to be Byron Bay. . .

Anyway, after Morrisons, I got dropped off in town so I could visit  both TK-Maxx and Aardvark (Health Foods) shop.  In the former, I came away with a new Swiss roll tin (old one is warped), a new ladle for jams and chutneys, and some C. Cards.  They were such a lovely nature design and worked out at about 25p each (20 were £4.99).  I have to buy them SOME time, as I finally ran low on cards last year after using up all the extras I had in drawers around the house.  In the Health Food shop it was just Pumpkin Seeds and Sunflower Seeds I bought, for breadmaking and home-made Muesli.

Tonight's meal is going to be a Chicken Pie, made from scratch (apart from the puff pastry, which I always cheat on).  The sauce for it is a tin of Campbell's Condensed Soup, so it doesn't take too long to make - I will just gently fry the chicken bits first and then cook gently.  Oooh, I can taste it already!




Finally, a poor-quality picture of the progress on my hexi table runner.  This doesn't do the colours justice as there was no light on at this end of the corridor (bulb's gone) and so it's all leached out.  I'll try and get one in daylight tomorrow.  Anyway, I've made good progress with it this past week, including the middle of last night!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Peppery cheese biscuits


I've just made these - a batch of peppery cheese biscuits, which are superb, though I say it myself.,  I gave one to my OH to taste and he pulled SUCH a face you would think they were full of garlic and he was a vampire!  I asked what was wrong, and apparently they were "too dry" . . .  That's the whole point of biscuits I told him.  Actually, I thought they were pretty good as they had nice layers ("lamination" is it?  I've been watching Bakeoff!) and are SO tasty. Ah well, his loss.  I am taking them along as a gift for our friends whose turn it is to host the tea party this morning (we take it in turns, but I always bake, as it gives me an excuse!!)

Here is the recipe, from caroline Liddell's The New Baking (1988, so not so new now).


I hope you can reaad it.  It calls for 3 oz (75g) each of the first three ingredients - margarine, Parmesan cheese (I used extra strong Cheddar, as I had no Parmesan in the fridge), and brown plain flour (I used OO grade white, as it needed using up).  1/2 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 - 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Poppy seeds to sprinkle on top.

DO NOT MAKE IF HUNGRY.  You have been warned!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Mutterings and Dorset Apple cake

Your supper's nearly ready.  I've a-got
Some teaties here a-doen in the pot;
I wish wi' all my heart I had some meat.
I got a little ceake too, here, a-beaken o'n
Upon the vier.  'Tis done by this time though
He's nice an' moist; vor when I were-a meakin o'n
I stuck some bits ov apple in the dough.

William Barnes (Dorset poet)

This is an extract from a poem dated 1835, entitled "Father Come Home"  by William Barnes, the famous Dorset dialect poet.  Here is a mention of an early Dorset apple cake - although I think it was a dough-type cake and not the sort we make today.

We are visiting friends tomorrow, and I have a thousand apples needing to be used up, so Dorset Apple Cake sprang to mind.  Here is the recipe I used, from Dorset Food by Jo Draper.

SPICY DORSET APPLE CAKE

4 oz butter or margarine
4 oz caster or brown sugar
8 oz flour, S-R or adjusted
1 lb cooking apples
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice or a mixture to your taste
3 oz currants or sultanas
2 eggs

Rub the margarine and the flour together, add the spices, sugar, peeled, cored and sliced apples, currants and the beaten eggs.  Put the mixture in a large greased cake tin (10 inch round or 8" square) and bake at gas mark 6 (425F, 218C) for 35 - 45 minutes.  The large amount of apple makes the cake a little fragile, so leave in the tin for 5 minutes or more before removing.  If you do not have a large cake tin, use two smaller cake tins and reduce the cooking time a little.

In the past I have arranged sliced apple around the top of the cake, but these can scorch so may need a covering of foil if this happens towards the end of the cooking time.  Good as a hot pudding too, with cream or custard. . .

Mine is still baking in the oven, and I will include a photo later - here it is before it went in:


And after it came out.  It might now, actually, be a couple of slices smaller!  It is SCRUMMY!!!  I shall take slices tomorrow, rather than 2/3 of a cake . . .  Cunning eh?




Photos also of last night's quick pizza (excuse the battered old tin plate - one my OH brought back from t'other side of the world, and still useful!):


I was able to use my lactose-free cheese on the top.

Lastly, getting the most from the slow-cooker - here it is helping along a 2nd proving of a little loaf:


It was still nice and toasty from cooking the jacket spuds all afternoon long.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Ancient Yew trees, and "Still here . . ."



Do you sense a "but" coming?  Last week's terrific storms seem to have damaged our phone line.   Whilst I have broadband (at the moment) and can make phonecalls, we cannot receive any.  We have had the usual threat from BT that if the fault be found on our property, we have to pay them £129.99 for them to fix it.  And it IS a threat, the way it is couched.  I would like to take the powers that be inside BT by the scruff and give them a good shaking.  What is more, we could not be sure we had reported it by dialing 151 as that seems to set you on a loop, where you never speak to a human being.  Having broadband still, I reported it online . . .  We have tried 3 different phones and none can take incoming calls.  I note, they now say that should the fault be caused by pets, or builders, or trees (etc)  inside the curtilage of your garden you will still be charged,  I am starting to think that BT is run by money-grubbing aliens . . .

In the meantime, following Thursday night's storms (when I heard a hell of a "crack" which I thought was the trip going in to bank of electrics switches in the kitchen, but must have been a lightening strike on the transformer thingummys on the house wall where the BT line is fixed) we had a quieter - but wetter - day on Friday, when we went to an auction at Brecon.  On the way home we stopped at Defynnog near Sennybridge, to look at the oldest yew tree, recently proven to be 5,000 - 6,000 years old, in the graveyard of St Cynog's, which would make it an ancient Christian site too, as St Cynog dates to the late 4th C. (he was born in 434).    The link gives some excellent photos.  In the porch was an ECM (Early Christian Monument) - Romano-British, dedicated to Rugniatio Livendonio, and it has remains of Ogham on the edge.  My husband says that there were German mercenaries from a German tribe called the Rugii and wonders if this chap had been descended from one.

No photos, as I forgot the camera, but we will return.  There are several yew trees surrounding the church but the ancient one is two trees which sprang from a vast central tree long rotted away.  The yew tree is known for its powers of regeneration even after the core of the tree has rotted, and it will put out fresh growth on the shell (which can be seen in these trees too.  You could stand inside them and they were truly magical.

Meanwhile, the small hexi patchwork runner is coming along nicely and I shall post a photo later.

Yer 'tis . . .


Coming together nicely now.


The finished item in the magazine.

Meanwhile I have been using leftovers to make soup:


Leftovers were some veg from tea last night, half a pint of really tasty gravy from the weekend's steak and kidney, half a pack of stir fry mix (from which I removed the beanshoots and red peppers), and two peeled potatoes which had been sitting in a jug of water waiting to be used.  Fresh was an onion, and from the freezer, home-grown  leeks and half a dozen runty home grown tomatoes which had finally turned red.  I hate waste.  I hate chucking anything away.


Add half a pack of steak mince, browned.  (The other half is cooked up for my husband's tea tonight and tomorrow, either as a Shepherd's Pie or perhaps a pizza topping (he doesn't do the standard tomatoes/onions/peppers etc).


Result, a really tasty soup.  When I was hoovering up cluster flies in the attic, the soup aroma had made its way up there and I had to come down and have a bowlful . . .

Friday, 10 October 2014

The bracken was the colour of a good bay horse . . .


It was not the best day to choose for a day out, but we had arranged the date last week to fit in with my friend A's plans.  So after a very rough night of terrific storms - thunder rumbling round all night, keeping us all awake, we set off to the foothills of the Cambrian mountains to pick A up from her cottage, and set off for Hay-on-Wye, a favourite place for all of us.

As you can see, the flower shop in Backfold had set out a lovely selection of colourful plants and flowers.  The pumpkin-orange of the Physalis really brightened up a grey day and the pink blush on the succulants at the front went well with a box of heathers and some small cyclamens.  A and I both exclaimed "Oh look," at the tiny Narcissus, so out of season.  Deliberately hot-house grown? or  early starters like some of my spring flowers which have been confused by the seasons - a cold wet August and then 6 weeks of quite warm weather have given me a 2nd flowering of one of my Delphiniums, and early spring Anemones.  They made me think of Derek Tangye and his wife Jeannie, making a living from early daffodils and posies which they made up and sent off to the London Market in Covent Garden from their Cornish "cottage on a cliff" at Minack.


A has spent a lifetime spinning, weaving and knitting and so we couldn't resist the wool shop.  The little green top was like a cobweb, made from the merino wool on the top shelf.  I managed to resist the sock wool hanks below, since I still have two lots to use up already in my stash!

We spent two hours in Hay, having our usual bacon bap (I have sausage) in the Sandwich Cellar in Backfold, looking round the Market, and the Antiques Centre, and in Booth's bookshop, where A bought a lovely book about Virginia Woolfe's garden, and I succombed to a book about Thomas Hardy.

Then we braved the weather, which had been flinging down heavy showers through the morning, and took A up on to Hay Bluff and Capel-y-Ffin as we had promised to show her.  When she had been there with her daughter at the end of August, she hadn't liked to ask her to take a detour.  It poured all the way up there, but by the time we had navigated increasingly narrowing lanes to get to Capel-y-Ffin, the rain had stopped, but light levels were very poor and the little chapel was grey against a uniformly grey sky and colour-leached hills.


Inside it was cold and dank and had sadly lost the beautiful ambience it holds in summer.  The little jug on the windowsill contained faded flowers, and I shivered as I took photographs.


The bracken on the familiar hillside had lost every trace of green, and was the colour of ground cloves, but the trees are only just starting to discolour on the hillsides.


As the rain had stopped, I was able to stop and take photos on the way back.


These photos are the journey in reverse . . .  There were some obvious water runnels down the hillsides, which had sprung up from the recent heavy rain.


The single track road clings to the contours of the hillside . . .


I was so glad when the sun came out to light up the view.


The bracken was the colour of a good bay horse all over the hill-slopes and commons.  These photos show ribbons of road leading to homesteads.




The rain-clouds were stacked up beyond the view.


Looking towards the Brecon Beacons, which were shrouded in low clouds.


This is looking back over the Radnorshire border in the distance, also shrouded in low clouds.


Sunshine brought forth extra colour.


Then it was time to head back homewards, stopping at the Junky Antique Shop as we always do.  A had not been there before so had an enjoyable wander round.



Then it was off the beaten track again and yet more single track lanes back to her home.


Then finally, one last view as the sun was sinking in the West . . .


My one indulgence, apart from 3 birthday cards, was this book: