Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Making Chutney for Christmas presents

First of all, my lovely sparkly lights bought with Christmas in mind.  I decided to have them on tonight (they run off batteries) to give a bit of atmosphere as I was making the first of the Christmas gift preserves, some River Cottage Hearty Ale Chutney  On the camera, before I downloaded this photo, it looked for all the world like I had captured a spooky ghost behind the lights, but of course it is just glare from them - although in a subsequent photo that didn't show at all . . .

This is the recipe from the River Cottage Preserves book (Pam Corbin's lovely recipes).  I hope you can read it clearly, if not shout out and I will type it up.  It was actually quite a clever recipe as it used 150g of tomato puree, which is of course a thickener and really helped to thicken this up whilst it was being cooked, besides adding flavour and colour to the mixture.  I used apples from the garden, my own home grown garlic, and the rest of the swede is now chopped, blanched and in the freezer for Christmas as G likes it - you know, the really fussy daughter . . . .

Basic ingredients all in there, chopped up and sprinkled.  Then came the vinegar.

Then a few good stirs to thoroughly combine the ingredients and a slow start so you can dissolve the sugar properly.

Simmering nicely,

Nearly finished - a little faster temperature at the end to evaporate the last of the beer (I used a bottle of Newcastle Brown which had come from my friend Annie's - she was teetotal).

Here's the end result.  A lovely reddy-brown colour from the tomato puree.  Where possible I always use new lids (got from Lakeland I think) but some jars are a non-standard size so just have to have their own lid - scalded and heated - back on.

Tomorrow it's jam making and some Persimmon Curd.  I'm looking forward to trying that.

A river walk again

The Lucozade-look has faded from the Larch trees across the valley now they have dropped many of their needles.

Above and below.  The river is running at speed again, but levels much lower than the recent spate.  I had a little walk along there on Sunday, camera in hand.  It was good to get out.

As it's winter, neighbour Gary has been enterprising and taken on some vanner mares to take the grass off Annie's overgrown fields.  I think they are some oblong to a local chap who has a lorry with "Bobby's Blagdons" on the side.  This cob has typical blagdon markings (white on legs and splashes on body) and there are some red blagdon mares here too.  These colourings are desirable in gypsy cobs.

These mares were hoping I was going to give them some treats!

This light-coloured colt-foal had a smudge of cream coat around his eyes so should end up that colour unless it was a trick of the light.  There are two white-grey mares in the field (one is mum) so perhaps he will just stay white-grey.

Above and below - it's amazing what a difference a bit of sunlight makes to the river valley.

Within living memory, this well outlet was the only source of water for a cottage above it.  It was derelict when we arrived in 1988, but I think was lived in until the 1970s.  It is hard to imagine no running water in a house.

Waiting for me when I got home was my Kitchen Robin,   His look told me he was hungry!

Monday, 23 November 2015


Hay-on-Wye shop window.  More like MY sort of shopping!

After encountering gridlock when we ventured on into town on Saturday, having sorted some more stock out to put in the Unit, we vowed we would not be going back on a Saturday until the New Year. I needed to go to The Range, and knowing that the car park by Currys and The Range would be chock-a-block, I walked there from the fuel station behind it whilst my OH was putting in diesel, made my purchase and came out just as OH was driving down the approach, so he didn't even need to get snarled up in the traffic there.

Anyway, today I HAD to do some shopping for Christmas cards, presents, and birthday presents as we have two family birthdays between now and Christmas.  I got one unusual and gorgeous present in Dyfed Crafts in King Street.  I always buy birthday cards from there, as I like to support local artists.  Today I was looking for a necklace but came out with something totally different and beautiful which I hope our middle daughter will appreciate on the appropriate day.

I walked across the town, looking for appropriate presents in TK Maxx and Argos, and made a couple of purchases.  I made sure I had myself completely in check, so I didn't buy anything I didn't actually NEED.  So the Fruit book of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's was put back on the shelf (though it was discounted down to £7.99 from £25).  I shall hope to find it remaindered in The Works next year, or else turn it up at a car boot sale.  Likewise the prettiest mugs were sighed over and not even touched for fear they would end up in my shopping basket. I would like to upgrade my coffee mugs, but there is no need to do so.  A gorgeous glass dish in scarlet and gold (perfect for Christmas) was likewise not even touched.  In fact, I came out empty-handed as I couldn't find the items I had on my shopping list in there.  (If my daughters read this, I am not giving them a shopping list, just writing about temptation overcome!)  I even marched myself past the tree decorations and glitzy bits without LOOKING as I know I have a weakness there too!

My final port of call was Charlies.  I like Charlies (OH hates it nearly as much as he hates The Range, which he considers to be full of tat which just puts a pressure on natural resources when they are made and transported.  He has a point . . .  )  Anyway, Charlies DOES have a very good kitchen section and I love browsing in there.  I needed - and bought - a Silicon pastry brush to replace the new-but-moulting wooden handled ones I had (but no waste with those as OH will be using the wooden handles for something as they "looked useful" when I handed them to him, knowing he'd think that.)

I also bought a little ceramic soap dish as we are going back to using solid bars of soap because liquid soap is expensive and doesn't last long.    I found some beautiful RSPB Christmas cards which I bought, so I have supported a good charity with that purchase and they are LOVELY cards too.

Then I blew 99p on a new wire nut net.  I have several - with holes in - and the peanuts are being stolen whole at a great rate of knots, so as we are going through the sackful far faster than I want to, it seemed a wise move.  There was an alternative - at £9.99 (how can they justify that price hoik?) which was a taller wire nut net made of heavy-gauge wire.  Well, I was given one of those last year and yup, THAT has a big hole in it - Jackdaws I suspect, rather than Woody Woodpecker.  Meanwhile, I shall get my OH to effect a lasting mend on the damaged one.

The lady in front of me had spent £44.  I only saw the last of her purchases going in the bag, and they were preserves with alcohol in.  Lord knows what she had paid for those, but goodness they are SO simple to make!  I guess she has never been shown how.  I know that Charlies had 3 little jars of "special" jams and chutneys in a cardboard container and those were nearly £10.

Anyway, I have decided to do most of the rest of my Christmas shopping on-line as I have more choice there for the half a dozen items I need (plus some of them are only available on-line).

I wonder what you are all doing about Christmas shopping this year?

Recipe for Applesauce Brownies

WHY did I freeze these?  Oh, I could eat one right now!  Anyway, make and enjoy - they just take a cup of applesauce so just a couple of any damaged or withered apples will suffice.


2/3 cup (4 oz; 113 g) butter, melted  (or 150g if I translate it from an online site.  I used 4 oz anyway)
2 cups brown sugar (I halve this amount which would be about 4 oz/113g)
1 cup applesauce (drat, just use a tea mug!!!)
2 eggs
1 tblspn. grated orange peel
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose (plain) flour (11 oz/300 g)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup chopped pecans (I left these out as none in cupboard)
Confectioners' sugar (icing sugar, also omitted).

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.  Combine first two ingredients in a large bowl and blend well.  Beat in next 4 ingredients and reserve.  Sift together the flour, powder, salt, and soda and stir into applsauce mixture.  Stir in nuts if using.  Spread batter in a greased 10 x 15 inch pan (25 x 38cm) and bake for 40 mins.  Remove, cool and dust with confectioners' sugar if using.

Scrummy : )

I also ended up making breadcrumbs as I absent-mindedly shredded stale bread for the birds (it was going mouldy or I'd have toasted it obviously).  I was halfway through the 2nd heel of the loaf when I looked down and saw the loaf I was MEANT to be tearing up at my feed. Yup, you've guessed it, I was chucking out the current loaf.  Sigh.  So I left what was untorn to be eaten with cheese in chunks, and made breadcrumbs instead . . .  Some people freeze them undried, but I prefer to dry mine in a very slow oven and keep them in a jar to make stuffing with or coat fish or goujons.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Feeding the birds, and some folks' idea of "frugal"

My bird feeders give me a lot of pleasure.  I have two set up, each with  nut nets and seed feeders. They are ALWAYS busy.  Even before this colder weather (which still isn't that cold really) I had lots of visitors.  The House Sparrows tend to use the front feeders.  They are accompanied by Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Nuthatches (at least two coming and going) and Woody the Woodpecker (Greater Spotted variety). Robins will hoover up any fallen seed.  This morning I was delighted to see Goldfinches had joined them, but they haven't been back since I topped up the feeders.  On my birding friend Fiona's advice, I have stopped using the cheaper mixed feed and changed to sunflower hearts.  There is NO waste with the sunflower hearts, whereas with the mixed seed the Tits were very fussy and would chuck out the rounder seed to get at the Sunflower seeds.

These are all old photos of the front feeders in action.  As you can see from the photo above, there are LOTS of birds using it - I can count 11 in shot and there are normally swarms of others waiting in the wings, so to speak.

When the weather worsens (this is 2010 when we had significant snow), everybody wants to get in on the act.  As we live beside a farm, there are plenty of farm Jackdaws looking for food.  I know they have to eat, just as the smaller birds do, but they are bullies and ruffians, and not averse to hanging on the feeders, tipping them enough so that big amounts of seed falls to the ground for them.

2010 was a VERY cold winter.  Birds were soon desperate.  We had Visitor Blackbirds, Thrushes and the like "passing through" our valley, and they would be waiting in the bushes for first light and feed.  I regularly counted 26 Blackbirds waiting, along with Thrushes, visiting Fieldfares and Redstarts, and the occasional Starling (they tend to be town birds in these parts, and we don't have many visiting here.)

The other feeding station is in the Damson tree in front of my kitchen window, where I do the washing up.  The wee birds there have been doing themselves VERY well and look like they have been blown up with a bicycle pump, so fat are they!  Mum would have said they had a big "corporation" (e.g. girth).  I think they'll die of heart attacks at this rate.  They comprise the occasional Sparrow, a mob of Chaffinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Nuthatches, Woody Woodpecker (or his friend) and this morning Goldfinches again.

As for the "frugal" part of my post.  Over on Facebook I have started following a Frugal chat thread and cannot believe that someone can claim to be even minutely frugal would own up to owning SIXTY TWO (yup, you did read that correctly, 62) pairs of jeans.  Some of the other threads have me sitting on my hands.  A photo of crisps and sugary cereal at bargain prices, and nothing nutritional in sight!  OK, I eat crisps, but daren't have a multipack even of 6 in the house, as temptation and a body's natural love of salt would be too tempting.  Funny old world isn't it?

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Tomorrow is another day. . . .

. . . . as Scarlett O'Hara famously said.  Perhaps I should add her other famous expressions, "Great balls of fire!" and "Fiddle-de-dee" too.  Anyway, today IS another day.  I am feeling better than yesterday, following the removal of the offending "toof". It's finally stopped bleeding too.  The taste of blood has little to recommend it.

I've caught up on some recorded programmes on tv, watched self-reliant Alaskan Bush People (!) and come to the conclusion there must be a lot of such people in Alaska as they seem to do an awful lot of filming up there!  Cheap perhaps.

Some more stitching has been done on my hexi runner - though it was evening before I could face it - and I am now able to have hot drinks again - my cup of Earl Grey was very welcome this morning.

I managed to make a fresh loaf yesterday (a quick one in the breadmaker, finished off crisper in the oven) - half and half white and oat bran flours, which is our favourite.  I had to take my antibiotics with food, and this was soft enough to eat without a problem.

I'd defrosted some mince for tea, so OH had his with gravy, peas and mash, and mine went into a sort of mince risotto I am fond of - mince, onion, stock cube & water, dried vegetables, rice and a good squeeze of tomato puree.  You can add what you like to it, but it is quick to make and just what the invalid needed.

On the cards for today are some gentle housework, grocery shopping and trying to shoehorn some more stock into the Unit.  I need to take photos too, for its Facebook page.

At first light, when I pulled the curtains open, it was quite fierce out there - a wannabee baby gale blowing, and scudding grey clouds, but it has cleared to blue skies now.  A flock of ever-changing sparrows, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, and the occasional Woody woodpecker and nuthatch are on the feeders and a jackdaw is finishing off well-pecked apples on the cooking apple tree.  It's much colder and my friends Dawn and Pam reported smatterings of snow last night (then it rained).  Winter has arrived it seems.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Self reliance, sinks and sewing . . .

Here is a lovely new Belfast sink and taps, bought from Gumtree a couple of weeks ago.  It has been in the middle of my kitchen table ever since as it is so heavy my OH would have done himself a mischief if it were put on the ground.  We have been waiting to be here for a FULL day so that he could get the job started (always allowing for the fact that some bit or another might need replacing, which means a trip into town.)

Work in progress.  Old sink taken out (it had cracked - long story, but basically it should have had two washers but the "professional" plumber installing it had only used one and some tape . . .  OH tightened something underneath, and the sink cracked).  The taps leaked from needing new washers and also around the base so it was continuously needing mopping up around them.  I am not a nagger, but boy was I fed up with the situation . . .  We didn't have money to spare for a plumber, so OH set to work.

Installed, but just needs a length of wood pushed underneath the back of the sink to lift it.  That should happen today, but at least we had a working sink by close of play.

I have been nursing a VERY sore hip and back and - by default - knee.  I had to go to the Chiro in the end and he got me sorted out but the inflammation has taken a while to calm down and required Ibuprofen, which I don't normally take because I am asthmatic, but needs must.  I feel a lot more comfortable today.

Anyway, as a change from crochet projects, I blew the dust off this table runner which I started last autumn and it got put away.  I had to carry on with the rough basting of it and then the hand quilting, which, although far from perfect, I am happy enough with.

I am still backwards and forwards to the dentists' because my dental abscess is not responding to the anti-biotics.  Not too surprising, given that I was on them for so long so I am probably resistant to lower levels.

Hopefully I can get this resolved today.  Meanwhile, I have been carrying on with my stitching and thoroughly enjoying it, although looking at the stitches above, I can see some none-too-straight lines which I need to unpick and redo . . .

Have a good weekend everyone.

P.S.  Friday afternoon now and toof sorted - it is No More, as I went back this morning and we decided to remove it.  Came out with infection at roots, so it was the right one (could have been one of three in a row!!)  Onwards and upwards now, but I have to say it's a tad uncomfortable now the novocaine's worn off . . .