Tuesday, 1 September 2015

A busy Saturday.


On Saturday (when I had a LOT more energy than I have today!), I made up a batch of Banana Flapjacks so we had an energy bar snack to eat yesterday, and last us through this week.  Here is the bowl just after adding the Craisins (dried Cranberries) which stop them being over-sweet because of the Bananas and Syrup.  I don't add the sugar from the original recipe either.


BANANA FLAPJACKS - my version of a recipe found on the internet

50g butter, melted
2 tblspns golden syrup or honey
250g porridge oats (Lidl do a good version)
1 tspn cinnamon
60g Craisins (dried cranberries)
2 ripe bananas, mashed

6" x 8" baking tray (15cm x 20cm)

Melt the butter in a pan and then add the golden syrup or honey.  If you have a sweet tooth, you can add 60g of brown sugar too).  Stir well.  Mash bananas and add them to the butter mixture.  Mix the oats and craisins in a bowl, and sprinkle on cinnamon and stir again.  Add the banana and butter mixture and mix and spread into a greased and lined baking tray.  Flatten with the back of a spoon and bake at 200 deg. C for 15-20 mins, until slightly brown.  These keep well in an airtight container.


Then I baked a batch of rough-hewn rolls using a mixture of spelt, oat-bran, wholemeal and white flours, with a couple of tablespoons of honey added.


The previous day I had started off a batch of Blueberry Cordial, using a recipe which Dawn, over at Doing It For Ourselves in Wales made last week.  Go to her A Blue Day post of 28th August. (Thanks Dawn). It's very simple to make.  Because of my asthma, I washed the blueberries first in the mix which removes preservatives (one cup water, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon vinegar, scaled up as necessary, and then rinsed off afterwards).  This has made a lovely cordial which will keep in the fridge for up to 6 mths. due to the acidic lemon juice, or you can if you wish, freeze it in an ice cube tray (I did that with some of it too.)  I was going to dehydrate the strained blueberries, until I put the pan containing the muslin straining bag and contents in the washing up water!


Finally, Friday's walnut loaf made in the bread maker, as I just needed a bung-it loaf.  This is made with my husband in mind as he loves Walnut Bread.

Today is more or less a Day Off here as I am still shattered from the lack of sleep on Saturday night .

A little P.S.  I have just given myself half an hour off after we had eaten our evening meal.  I took the lounger out to the south-facing yard and chased the sun around in the lounger whilst I read a book Dawn has loaned me, Ruth Jeanette Buck's "Place of Stones", in which she and her family uproot from the town and buy a small hillfarm up in North Wales.  It's very good reading and if the sun hadn't gone behind the oak trees bordering the top field, I would have stayed out there a bit longer.

What I did notice, with sadness, is that the Swallows have left us.  They were here on Saturday, but must have made the most of yesterday's sunshine HERE (we left it behind us to chase the rain to Malvern!) to head South for the winter.  The yard is so quiet without them and how I miss their chattering as one or more sit on the electricity cable across to the stables or the farm, or their swooping over the house and in through the window above the cart shed or into the hay barn at the back.  There were three nests in there, all empty, although I have a little souvenir in the form of an addled egg which mama Swallow through out with the hatched shell remains whilst housekeeping.

Looking out of the window up in my office, there are half a dozen farm House Martins still about, but I expect they will soon be gone too.  They sometimes have a very late extra brood so perhaps these ones have, or the youngsters are not quite ready to go yet.

Another thing I noticed whilst sitting in the yard was that my barely-ripening Elderberries on one of the two bushes is being stripped by a Wood Pigeon.  The slugs are nobbling my Courgettes before they get big enough to harvest so I must put down more animal-friendly slug bait.  Having lost all my Blackcurrants, Redcurrants and Boysenberries to the Blackbirds (which I don't mind too much), and the entire tree of Rowan berries to something else, and with the Blackbirds/Crows/Jays/Jackdaws all making free with the topmost apples ripening on my apple trees, it's just as well I am not relying on the garden for too much this year.  The Damsons are rotting on the tree before they are ripe enough to pick, and out of 25 tomato plants, I have perhaps 2 lbs of fruit, if that.  At least the garlic harvest was good, and the runner and flat beans are finally doing me proud.  Let's home 2016 brings a better summer, though I have a feeling this winter may be a hard one. . .

Monday, 31 August 2015

Malvern Fleamarket - lessons in the art of survival!




Some things are a given about Malvern Fleamarket: we won't sleep well the night before and will drag our weary bones out of bed at 3.30 a.m. wondering why do we do this?; the lights on the ever-present roadworks outside Llandovery will be on red - both ways;  unless it is before mid-summer day, part of the drive (all in winter) will be in darkness; I will succomb to the temptations of a large sausage roll AND a Hereford bun despite having packed a perfectly adequate lunch; we will buy a bottle of rather good Malbec in Hay Wines in Ledbury afterwards to drink that night; we will sleep EXTREMELY well afterwards.  All those things have/will come to pass today.  Plus it rained.  Not just a little bit, but quite a lot actually.  For once (bad timing you guys) the Met office got it spot on. There was going to be a big black WET raincloud over the Malverns precipitating all the time we were there.  We got soaked.  I don't "do" umbrellas - they just get in the way, you risk poking people's eyes out, they're hard to share as you have to do a silly co-ordinated walk, and they leave you with just one hand with which to pick things up which you are interested in.  We had forgotten: a) my rucksack; b) a change of trousers and - worse still - I had forgotten a dry sweatshirt.  There were some steamy scenes in our car on the way home . . .


Above and below: example of a young Herefordshire apple orchard in pouring rain over a wet hedge  . . .





I was surprised that ANYONE would be setting up a stall outside without the benefit of a small marquee over/around them, and even more horrified to see people putting out furniture to get soaked, even upholstered chairs which were soon saturated.  I have seen people put out books before and cannot understand why they should wantonly destroy their stock?  I found two pretty little probably-French lemon yellow vintage enamel pans which I bought, along with a Made in China ginger jar in a black floral colourway.  Nothing to break the bank.


We took a couple of things back to the car and then came back in again and another walk round the outside stalls, as they were still unpacking.  As the water was going down my neck by this time and the only dry things were my feet (OH even worse, I fear, with no hat on and thin summer trousers and a drippy jacket), we decided we would go into the Avon Hall, where they are civilized and have not only lighting but HEATING.  Oh, another given is that my OH will buy a bag of dark chocolate covered ginger from the sweety stall in the Avon Hall.  Which he did.


Then in the Big Sheds, I found this lovely Torquay Ware (Watcombe) big plate/dish for my collection.  Quite an early one due to the length of the lines of writing on it.  Probably 1920s/early 30s judging by the border - these got simpler and simpler as the 30s went on.  Also the later they got, the more mass produced, and the shorter the motto.  This measures 11" x 7 1/2".  BIG.


I was browsing some old books on one stall and came across this one, from 1975, for £1.  I used to have a copy but in a Downsizing Clear Up I gave it to the charity shop a couple of years back.  I got all sentimental today and replaced it . . .


The chapters and illustrations felt just like old friends . . .   Making corn dollies; making pictures from dried flowers/leaves/leaf skeletons/seeds; drying flowers; potato printing; making lavender bags; patchwork; rag rugs; smocking; rag dolls and woollen dolls; basket making; teasel mice.  Oh yes, happy memories.

We got back to the car, having spent up, and looked at our watches - just 10 a.m. (we had been on the go since 7.30, when the gates opened).  Normally it is 12.30 or 1 p.m. before we have done, but the outside people were desperate to sell to recoup their pitch fee, and keen to get rid of as much stock as quickly as possible so they could go home, and so we got some very good deals.  I learned something new - if sufficiently chilled and desperate I will not only welcome hot Earl Grey with no sugar in it (I normally have one spoonful) I will actually enjoy it.  Desperate measures were called for.  I was so glad I had bought K a new and very large Thermos flask this month, despite his curmudgeonly "I don't know why you bought this, the other one is still working."  Hmm, yes and about 30 years old, very small and stews tea very quickly.

As we drove back, the rain's urgency eased, and I had time to notice the first scarlet leaves on the Virginia Creeper covering a house wall; the fruitfulness of the orchards - some trees had their branches nearly touching the ground with the weight of fruit; the names of houses: Cotswold; Applehook Cottage; Little Orchard; Fairholme; Elm Cottage (not many Elms around these days); Forge House.  We drove past a "tidied" hedge which had seen the attentions of the horrid trasher, but there was a tall fan of bracken behind it which softened the split and broken branches.

We passed Stoke Edith, which I always think sounds such a welcoming name.  In my book(s) of British Place Names, the name Stoke denotes  an outlying farmstead or settlement. Edith apparently could have derived from  the forename of a former owner of the manor but in this instance (says Kenneth Cameron: :English Place Names) it probably refers to the wife of Edward the Confessor.  There is a wonderful Stoke Edith wall Hanging which you can read about HERE

Nearby is Shucknall, which derives from OE 'scucca' - demon or evil spirit.  ("Black Shuck" - a ghostly and ghastly hound from North Norfolk).  Shucknall is a hill haunted by demons.  We won't go there after dark then . . .

It seemed a long drive home, and the lights were indeed on red again when we approached them. There is a little blue cottage nearby - Ystrad Cottage - which has a little black metal image of a terrier outside, and still has the little roofed shelter in a corner of the garden beside the road where that little terrier would sit and watch the traffic go by.  He died some years back now but was always out there, even on days like today.


One last picture - I think this is probably Traveller's Joy past flowering - with its covering of raindrops.  Drat - now I'm singing "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens" in my head.  I can see that will accompany me to bed!!




Sunday, 30 August 2015

Learning a new craft - rag rug making


The purpose of my visit to Dawn's - apart from seeing her again of course! - was to have a tutorial in rag rug making.  There were distractions, however, lots of them!  All those craft books (and I thought I had a lot!)  This one by Jane Hall I absolutely fell in love with (and have subsequently ordered from Amazon without a jot of conscience!)


I enjoy embroidery (I am far better sewing by hand than on a sewing machine, where I am rather a duffer!)  I looked at this butterfly, and thought, I can do that.


Look at this gorgeous Red Admiral.  He is perched on some lovely gauzy leaves (with thin wire supports forming the stems and bracing the leaf structure).


Then we moved onto several books by quilter Pauline Ineson.  I loved the detail, and the beautiful 3-D flowers, which I suppose fall almost into the category of stumpwork.  (Again, something I've always wanted to try).


These Foxgloves also had me thinking - I can do that . . .  I think a full-blown quilt like the one she had made might be a project too far (I know me and my glorious plans!) but these would look gorgeous on a little clutch bag, or perhaps a cushion designed for show rather than practical use.


Here is an example of Dawn's work in progress where she worked on a cushion cover from a design in another of Pauline Ineson's books.  One of her books details the most amazing quilt in How to Create an Heirloom Quilt.  Stunning.


Another of Dawn's talents is paper folding.  This swan is just superb.  Dawn was telling me how they had a huge scaled-up version in her shop window for several years.  I have to say, something I have never tried, but what a lovely creation.


She kindly loaned me this book on rag rug making (I am about to order my own copy, having found it on Abebooks FAR cheaper than on Amazon or Fleabay).  I think my dear departed friend Annie must have had this aas I recognize a couple of the projects in things that Annie made over the years.


You can mix techniques in a mat too.  Here are all three ways of rag rug making in one piece: the plaited design (which I have played about in a very half-hearted way in the past) plus proggy and proddy methods.  My mat is going to be the shaggy (proggy) type.


However, I also have several peglooms (a couple of big ones came from Annie's) so if I have any spare time I could always make a little woven rag mat.


I love these bag designs on the left, especially the cat and the shaggy flowers.


What has really inspired me is the flowers in this butterfly-topped rug.  I would love to do something like that.  Big aspirations - little time though!


Anyway, I gave Dawn an IOU for a spare bodger she had, and have borrowed her cutting guage until K makes me one (though he is currently assembling my grain ark so I will have to ask nicely so Dawn can have hers back).  Here is a pile of cuttings I have assembled during the last two afternoons.
It makes my back ache to stand so long, so I have to do some and them have a break.  Like so many crafts, preparation is the bit that takes the longest time.  I'll do a work in progress on this anyway.  It will just be a simple mixed colours rug, no design yet, until I get the hang of things.


Many thanks to Dawn for her help and inspiration - she's a lady of MANY talents.  If I had a craft cabin like hers, I would set up home in it I think!!!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

A great morning out


I am fortunate enough to live a short drive away from a fellow blogger, Dawn, and yesterday I went to her lovely smallholding to have a natter and learn a new craft.  Of course, one of the attractions was to look around the smallholding, and meet the latest addition to her band of Alpacas.  The above photo shows, I think, Liberty, who is a sort of Alpaca teenager (I think!)


Here is the new cria Kara with her mum Daffodil, and I managed to time this beautifully so as to get another Alpaca having a wee in the background!


Alpacas do a great line in disgruntled looks and the bland back-of-the-head look is a good one too!  Gormless photographer . . .


A pensive-looking Dawn with - I think - Liberty, again.  I learned so much about keeping Alpacas, and know that the cardinal sin is to stretch out your hand towards them as their long necks are their weak point, and so they always back off in case you mean to harm them.


This is one of the boys - I'm not sure if it was Knick-Knack or Odd-Job . . .


but I do know that this is definitely Lambert. . .


Here are the Christmas turkeys, looking very healthy and safe inside their vermin-proof caging.


This little corner of Dawn's land houses the bees, and is also being planted up as a small orchard. This really is part of the path to self-sufficiency.  A little bit of everything and a great setting for it too.


What a lovely setting.


The main polytunnel with tomatoes, melons, grapes, aubergines, sweet potatoes and other plantings.


All the outdoors vegetables were doing well too, and I came home with a huge armful of celery.

Then we went inside to Dawn's fabulous craft cabins, but I shall post about that tomorrow . . .  Now I'm off to make Blueberry Syrup, which was a recipe which Dawn put on her blog this week.  It sounds delicious (and healthy).


Friday, 28 August 2015

It's a Blue . . .


My camera is not good for taking close-ups, so this is the best I can do.  A Holly Blue who we first spotted in the garden when Tam and Zane were here.  Sadly, just the one I think (leastways, I haven't seen two together).  A neighbour at the bottom of the hill has something to do with a Butterfly group (poss. the link one?) and is always on about her hedges mustn't be cut back because of the butterflies. I don't know if they put various larvae on her land, as we see just one Brimstone in the spring, and yet there are no feedplants for these in our area (Alder Buckthorn).

Anyway, Blues are my favourite butterflies and always remind me of Dorset, so I was thrilled to see this one on the Purple Loosestrife in the garden.



On Monday afternoon I was out in the garden all afternoon and finished clearing up around the pond.  Only the fact that my secateurs broke when I was cutting out old stems of Snowberry, stopped me working.  Tuesday morning saw me having to go out and buy new secateurs - I went for the best I could find, so hopefully they will last a few years.  The wildlife pond needs clearing as there is a lot of dead leaf detritis in the bottom and barely any depth of water on the top, so I will have a good clear out next month before the inhabitants start to hibernate.




I was unpegging the cat cushion covers from the line and putting them in the laundry basket when Mama's Little Helper decided to come along and check out the nice bed I'd made for him . . .


Little Whale looking very smug!


This Hydrangea starts of blue and then wants to turn pink, but stays purple instead. . .


This is the pretty little rag rug I bought at the Cheddar car boot sale for just £1.  Today I am visiting my fellow-blogger Dawn and learning to make my own.


I baked two Strawberry Madeira cakes yesterday - the small one to take today, and the big one for the freezer.

Photos over the weekend from today's outing.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Where have all the blackberries gone?



When we were down in Dorset and Somerset recently, I couldn't help but notice masses of huge juicy blackberries beside the roads and in hedgerows.  My fingers were itching to get picking but the best ones were beside the motorway.

Back here in Wales, we will be lucky to get any sort of picking.  I can practically count on the fingers of one hand the number of ripe blackberries I have seen.  September might give us some sort of picking but it will be one of those years when any blackberry, however squishy or small will be welcome.  I am glad I still have several pounds in the freezer from last year.  We have had quite a cold dry summer (until August's rain) and lots of flowers never came to anything, just a mass of dried stems in the hedgerow, or else they never got pollinated because they flowered when we had days and days of rain.  Still, it looks like a good year for elderberries and I am hoping I can find some sloes after there being none last year.  Again, there were plenty in Somerset, but too early to pick them.  I have no chance of having Crab Apples locally now either - I noticed recently that the lovely old (100 yrs or so) crab apple tree I used to rely on for wine and jelly making, had been CHOPPED DOWN and Gary-the-Digger was in the field ripping out the stump.  I don't know what is happening in that field - unless they have planning permission for houses or something.  What a waste of a lovely tree.

I have been playing catch-up this week, but it wasn't until this morning that I got a chance to do anything with the soft fruit languishing in my fridge, so now I have cooked up blueberries, rhubarb (with preserved ginger) and I am going to make a cake with a punnet of strawberries.

Out in the garden the autumn Tidy Up continues, and I got 4 barrowloads of overgrowth from around the wildlife pond.  That desperately needs cleaning out a bit as there is a foot of leaves in the bottom and hardly any depth of water on top.  I will sort that next month, before things start hibernating in there.

Tomorrow I am going to have a lesson in rag rug making, so I am very excited about that.  As Autumn approaches, I always feel my craft-loving side return.

Yesterday we spent all day at a local auction, learning about collectable Chinese porcelain and china and jade, and how valuable it is (much of it was bought by Chinese bidders in the room or on the Internet.)

However, things are very quiet at the Unit and I can't help thinking that even if I had Ming or Qing or perhaps Zing(!) dynasty ceramics, even they would stay in the display cabinet!!!




Monday, 24 August 2015

August walk around Colomendy and thoughts on suburbia


Another busy week over.  Our eldest daughter Tam and her partner Zane came to stay.  I wish I could report that we had wall to wall sunshine, but it was nearer wall to wall rain after Tuesday was over. Fortunately they had a couple of dry days to start the week and went down to Tenby, Manorbier, and Pembrokeshire, camped overnight, and enjoyed some walking and beach pursuits.

We hadn't met Zane until now, so I think we were as nervous as he was, but he was soon just like one of the family.  After all the heartbreak in recent years it was so good to hear Tam laughing again, and obviously happy and well-suited with such a lovely, gentle, thoughtful, responsible and caring young man.




It was Zane who suggested we take advantage of a break in the weather and have a walk on Saturday afternoon, so we did the three mile walk around Colomendy.  Many of you have seen similar photos before, but the views are still wonderful!


Looking across at the Black Mountain, misty under rain-filled clouds.


Looking back up our neighbouring valley which like ours, heads towards Brechfa.


A lovely old farmhouse which is now derelict and going "back to nature".


Looking back down the Towy Valley.


The road ahead.  It's a heck of a climb, coming up the other way!



View above Alt-y-ferin Nurseries, looking across the Towy valley.


The other side of the lane, looking back towards Whitemill down the TowyValley.


A view across the fields towards Llanfynydd, on the other side of the Cothi valley.


The Italianate tower is all that remains of the once-fabulous Pantglas mansion.  It is now surrounded by Timeshare log cabins.

Well, Tam and Zane have gone back home now, so the house seems very quiet without them and no more games of Scrabble or cards for a while.  

Yesterday we were up early (4 a.m. after both sleeping very badly - I had been awake since 12.50 a.m.) to drive across the Severn to do a Militaria Fair just outside of Bristol, one which we had never done before but was apparently normally a really good fair for sellers.  The weather was horrendous - heavy rain, and lots of motorway spray.  I had to overtake a heavy (about the only one about at that time of the morning) on a bend on the motorway where there were only two lanes, and had a panic attack whilst trying to pass him.  It is a long time since I had one and can only put it down to the lack of sleep, but I had to just grit my teefs and get on with it.  Let's hope I won't have another blip like that for a long time.  

We set up our stand at the Militaria fair, which was in a Leisure centre.  I don't know whether it was the fact it was a holiday time, or the weather had put people off, or what, but there was a very low footfall and no-one did well.  One chap was saying last Fair he had taken over £2,000 and this time he had taken just £40, which pretty well summed it up for all of us.  We took £26 and had outlays of over three times that . . .  However a Journalist from one of the Militaria magazines came round and took a couple of photos of some interesting and unusual pieces we had for sale and these will appear in his magazine in due course.

 I had plenty of time to watch the people on the gym machinery in the gallery which overlooked the hall where we were.  Some people (slim girls in particular) were very fit and ran and ran on the treadmills.  Others were less fit and lurched about, and many more just walked (personally I wouldn't pay to walk or run on a machine, I would just get on and DO it outside.)  Others were working a sort of upper-arm roller - I don't know what it is called but it was like peddling with your hands!  I have found out the name of another - the elliptical cross trainer - which looked like torture - you had bars that you moved backwards and forwards in time with treading on foot-sized pedals with a built-in resistance.  Hmmm.  As all us - mainly pensioners - were packing away our stalls, and then carrying it out to the car park, I couldn't help thinking that some exercise comes free . . .

THEN we tried to get home.  It was pouring with rain and it we went the motorway route, it would mean a lot more spray and I couldn't face that, and it was also more difficult to change drivers - that meant coming off at a service station whenever we swopped.  So we decided to come home via Gloucester and the Forest of Dean, and were planning to head to the A38 via a couple of B roads, which was all very well except that The Authorities seem determined to make you go places via the M4 or M5, and we drove round for 3/4 hour trying to get across to the A38 and at one point were heading right into Bristol (but I will blame my OH for that as he made a wrong decision at a V junction when we only had VERY local place names which weren't on my map.)  As we drove around suburbia, where there were houses so cheek by jowl, many with shared driveways, we said no way could we live in suburbia again.  I think we have spent so many years in the wilderness here that we can't do that sort of cheek by jowl living, however convenient it is.  Not us at all.  A period house in a cathedral city would be considered at a pinch, but not the suburbs.  We'd look like the Beverley Hillbillies!!!

Eventually we gave up and took the M5 up to J12 and onto familiar roads again.  What a long day though. Now we have to restock the Unit, but things are very quiet there and seem to have been since February (although last month was slightly more rewarding).  It seems to be the same for many of the other Unit holders there, so it's not just us or what we are selling.  

If it stays dry today, I am back out with the Autumn Tidy Up in the garden.