Monday 31 July 2017

Lughnasadh - or Lammas

A slightly blurry photo of yesterday's Bramble Jelly.

The 1st of August today, and the wheel is turning.  Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the harvest season.  It is one of the four Gaelic celebrations which divide the year.  It was also known as Lammas and we have a Lammas Street in Carmarthen where a Horse Fair was held until quite recent times. 

I have to say, there is a slight feeling of Autumn approaching.  In digging out the freezer yesterday, I liberated the last of the 2016 Damsons, blackberries, elderberries (some still left to make syrup with later on for winter colds and coughs) and I used a few small fallen apples off the trees here, along with some boughten cookers, and have made the first stages of Hedgepick Jam.  Normally it would have crab apples and a few sloes in it too, but we are too early for those.  I will include photos and the recipe later on.  So far I have just cooked down the apples to a pulp, and cooked the damsons, blackberries and elderberries until soft and juicy and put them through a sieve so we have all the flavour and none of the pips from the brambles.  I love the rhythm of a country year, where each season has its routines - planting in spring, harvesting in summer, the laying down of preserves for the winter months, the autumn clear up in the garden, the delights of preparing for the Christmas feast.

Yesterday I had to go into town to replace one of my inhalers - I now think its slow failure was what was at the root of my breathing problems last week - or at least part of it as I know I do react to moulds in the atmosphere.  The inhaler normally "snaps" when you press the top to release the asthma spray, and as I use what is known as a "spacer" which you release the medication into, it is hard to tell how much has been released.  This spring had stopped snapping and it was a slow release without any umph. Finally yesterday it stopped releasing anything.  I had one day's steroids left to take but won't take them as I now think it was mostly the inhaler not working so I was on 2/3 of the dose I should have been taking.  Hopefully I will sleep properly tonight, as several nights of just 4 hours sleep have me on my knees this morning, although I did "lie in" until 4.45 a.m. today.

We are busy replacing lighting down in mum's flat and also have some new lights to go in our sitting room (which I am going to start redecorating soon - a similar colour to the pale terracotta we have in there, only a slightly warmer shade).  I found some lovely used curtains in a deep terracotta with a paler pattern on Ebay and snapped them up for £14.99 including postage.  They will arrive this week.  The old ones are rather faded at the edges and were ones I made myself.  I may revamp them by removing the faded edge - there is plenty of width in them.  Then I have some to put up when the others are being laundered.

These copper spotlights are a great improvement on the VERY old-fashioned and dated lights that had been down there for years.  My darling husband is slightly resistant to change but even he could finally see the old ones had had their day . . .

I finished the 3rd of the Peter May Lewis trilogy yesterday and was just lucky enough to find a new book of his released yesterday and on offer in Tesco for just £3.  Who am I to resist?!

Ummmmmmmm - blackberry jelly cooking

The kitchen smells WONDERFUL, as once again I only got about 4 1/2 hours' sleep (20 minutes more than the previous night!) and so I have been busy downstairs, as the other side effect of the steroids is that they make you totally hyper.  So I dived into the bottom of the freezer, chucked out some beans from last year, and some frozen pitta breads which have been there . . . ahem, a year too long! - and now have all the blackberries remaining from last year's crop (4 lbs) boiling away in my jam pan and smelling really autumny.

I've done some ironing, put the rubbish out, fed the cats, read a bit of my book (Peter May's The Chessmen which is the third of his Lewis trilogy, and excellent reading, all of them.)  I've gone through the cupboards and recycled some old empty spice jars and the surfeit of Lidl cherry jars (there is a limit to how many I need for preserves) and started a loaf of bread off in my Panasonic breadmaker.  I've moved pictures around and taken down some which I think had become more of a habit and I can live without and which will go in the Unit to be sold.  So not a bad start to the day.

I am off into town shortly as one of my inhalers isn't working properly and doesn't deliver a proper dose so that will need replacing.  I have one puff of the Fostair 200 and one of the Fostair 100 twice a day, and it's the 100 one which isn't working of course.

Right, back later, when hopefully my brain will feel less fried and I have stopped bouncing off the walls from the steroid energy.

I'm using this book for a change.  The recipe is simple (and pretty well the same in all my preserves books):


Take 1 kg(2 lb 4 oz) Blackberries
1 litre (1 3/4 pints) water
Caster sugar (see step 3 for quantity)
4 tablespoons lemon juice

Place the washed fruit in a large jam pan with the water and lemon juice, and bring slowly to the boil.  Simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring and mashing the fruit well.

Strain through a jelly bag or muslin-lined nylon sieve, set over a large bowl.  Don't be tempted to press the fruit or squeeze the bag as this will cause the jelly to become cloudy.  Leave until the dripping has stopped - this may take several hours or leave overnight.

When the dripping has stopped, discard the solids in the jelly bag and carefully measure the resulting liquid.  Return it to the preserving pan along with 450g (1 lb) caster sugar for each 600ml (1 pint) of liquid.  Stir well over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Increase the heat and boil rapidly for 10 - 15 minutes, before testing for a set.  If necessary, boil for a further minute then test again.  Continue testing at 1 minute intervals, as necessary, until the jelly has reached setting point.

Remove the pan from the heat, skim off any scum and allow the jelly to cool briefly.  Carefully pour the jelly into hot sterilised jars.  Seal the jars and allow the jelly to cool completely before labelling and storing.

Sunday 30 July 2017

No time to be ill - plus update with pigeon and books/magazines

Cottage garden at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.

My asthma has been a problem recently - I think it is due to mould, especially after I wrangled with the very overgrown Banksia normalis rose down in what was mum's patio garden last week.  It had Mildew on it and the slight downturn in my breathing prior to that, went down big time (200 points on my peak flow) and I slept very badly for 3 nights.  Then I started a course of steroids and the sleeping got even WORSE (I've been awake since 2.10 a.m. this morning, and out of bed (after an hour downstairs in the small hours) at 6, so we could take in two bootsales.  Not many people at either due to the forecast, and I just came home with a couple of paperback books and a lamp shade to replace a closed one here.

Not that I have been idle, as we had to work on Friday, and yesterday morning we walked up the town to check out the H and M sale (Danny had bought a good top there in the sale, and Keith liked it but there wasn't one in his size in the beige colourway.)  Then we hit M and S to stock up on Fish, and ended up buying a few extra bits too.

I was going to have the afternoon off completely to watch the racing, but of course the steroids had kicked in properly by then so I was up and down, changing pictures around/removing them altogether, vacuuming the festoons of cobwebs from the walls where they had built up behind them (this in advance of redecorating the sitting room).  I also put a 2nd coat of white paint on the window frame of the shower window, took off the masking tape from around it and the paint came off with it, so today I will have to paint the window walls again!  I am doing the remainder of the painting down in what was mum's kitchen too, and taking out some china which "has always been there" and tidying up generally. 

My microwave is now sparkly clean after I put half a bowl of Oxtail soup in there to warm up and it exploded a huge tsunami of soup over the entire interior!

Travelling home today, just behind a very heavy belt of rain which we could see emptying across the Towy Valley in front of us, it looked like a scene a child would have painted, with big hills, dark foliaged woodland and a glimpse of the Black Mountains in the far distance (when they weren't obscured by heavy rain). I could see that summer really was at its height, and the regiments of Umbellifers which nodded and danced in a strong breeze would soon be seed heads.  There were purple smudges of Betony in the hedgerows and the last of the Tufted Vetch was festooning a hedgerow I knew would be cut to bare basics by next week as our neighbour has already made a start on his hedges nearer his house.  The berries are orange on the Rowan tree by the gate and the apples are starting to swell.  A slight nod to autumn with the weather today, which is blustery and sunshine followed by heavy showers.  I will concentrate on these indoor jobs as it's too wet to garden - I can stand and paint, but bending and tackling the weeds can wait until my asthma's back under control again.  Let's hope I can sleep tonight.

Updated to add the photo of the young Pigeon one of the cats dragged home (through the cat flap, protesting no end I should imagine) the other night.  It had gotten away and was cwtched up close to the inglenook side wall behind my little tile topped veg trolley.  I managed to scoop him up and give him his freedom outside, where he (still in shock I think) went and hid in the weeds which act as the skirt for my runner beans.  He had gone when I went out later.

This weekend's book haul.  The wild flower book I got off a bookdealer friend on Friday for £2.  It's a slightly better in some ways rendering of the original Roger Phillips photographic flowers book I have had many many years.

Sloe Gin and Beeswax I already have, but saw this copy for £1 at the car boot sale today, and bought it for Eldest Daughter Tam.  I will probably find I already gave her a copy . . . 

The Ruth Rendell is one I've not read, bought for 50p at the Hospital Car Boot Sale yesterday, along with a dvd about Keats and Fanny Brawne falling in love (Bright Star or something I think it's called).  I've seen it but would like to watch it again.  The Phil Rickman I have read, but didn't have a copy of (50p again) as I do re-read his books, and finally the George Mackay Brown biography as I have heard of him and his writing and wanted to find out more about the man.  He lived and wrote on Orkney.

I've borrowed last month's Country Living from my neighbour, whose dog I popped in to check on yesterday whilst she was out for lunch.  I sat down with him for a while and read some of this, and the article (below) on dyeing has thrown all plans to sell my spinning wheel out of the window, as I have always wanted to do some more dyeing (I've only played with the simplest plant dyes in the past - elderberries, onion skins, blackberries).  I have just photocopied the article and am looking at my Golden Rod (yellow dye), and Rhubarb (leaves provide a natural mordant, Oxalic Acid) with a new eye!

I bought myself the current copy of Stitch magazine, which has some lovely ideas in it, as did last month's.  I was drawn to this months because of the Puffins on the front.  About 11 years ago now, my dearest friends all came down to stay with me for a few days,  and we went across to Skomer Island, where the Puffins walked around our feet.  We never forgot it, and now Tricia is no longer with us, I thought I might have a go at sewing this (by hand, with hand embroidery for the grass).  Or, needle felting. . .  That might be easier.  I will have to go through my craft cupboard and see what colours I have (no black I am pretty certain).  I could do the beaks though!

Thursday 27 July 2017

It's obviously a New Plant Week

We had to go into town today to go to the Bank, and I parked in Lidl.  Every Thursday they have their fresh offer stock in (we normally miss out on that as rarely go in until early the following week).  Anyway, I just couldn't resist this gorgeous White Hydrangea - they were only £5.99 so I imagine they will soon sell most of those.  I haven't decided where it will go yet.

The two tabbies, Ghengis (pathway) and Theo (wall), waiting for me to rattle a tin and announce teatime.

Above and below: the garden goes into overdrive in mid summer and is distinctly feral!  Still, the bees and other insects are happy, so I allow wild flowers into the mixture too - tall Codlins and Cream (Greater Willowherb) and Purple Loosestrife.  Gosh, even the pond is overgrown!!

Miffy-cat, who is mum to Little Whale and Alfie (who were elsewhere when I have the camera out), and to the late Tippy, who was poisoned when he was only a couple of years old.

Yesterday saw me wielding a paintbrush again, this time down in what was mum's kitchen.  It is a slow job cutting in around the half timbered squares.  The colour is a sort of ivory white.  It was  more of a cream before.

Finally, the new cast iron casserole was christened with a chicken and vegetable curry, and yes, those are bits of Courgette in there - it's that time of year!

I shall be heading to bed early tonight, as I've not been feeling my best the past couple of days and have slept very badly.  I have rested this afternoon, after having to go back to bed at lunchtime for a snooze.  Hopefully it will have worn off by tomorrow.

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Garden catch up

Aren't these gorgeous?  The usual plant stall was at Malvern Fleamarket last Sunday, and I fell in love with these beautiful bronze Rudbeckia (I think it's called "Toto").  I think I will put it in a tub as it stands a better chance of survival through the winter then.

Yesterday I got going down in the little patio garden that was mum's.  The rambler rose, Banksia normalis, had gone mad, fallen off the wall, and all the biggest branches were growing outwards, so I have hacked it back HARD (a saw job) and have just a small portion of it going up the wall, but I need to get the ladder out and put some vine eyes in higher up to keep it out of the window.  It's a beautiful rose, with a lovely scent, but a bit . . . enthusiastic in its growing habits!

I also took the saw to the lilac tree, which was shading everything out.  We now have a very big bonfire at the bottom of the yard (getting very wet today, I might add).  I shall rebuild the collapsing slate bed, top it up with compost, and plant up with bulbs for the spring.

Found! One of the roof sheets we had (buried) about the place.  Unfortunately Keith managed to sprain his wrist as he turned this over, so the actual roof repair is on hold.

Finally, I treated myself to this new cast iron casserole (20cm size).  When I make the no-knead 5 minute bread, I have been baking it in my oval Le Creuset casserole, but it is too big and the loaf turns out shallow.  I was following some 2nd hand Le Creuset pans on Ebay, but they were going for around £35 including postage, and for £29.99 I could buy this one.  This is made by Berndes.  I read the reviews and it looks like it should do what I want as someone else had bought it to bake bread in.  I shall report back.

Sunday 23 July 2017

Life after Malvern

An October photograph of the Malvern Hills.

Morning all.  Fairly shattered today after 20,000+ steps walked around Malvern Fleamarket yesterday, and all that driving.  Despite sleeping very deeply last night, I woke at . . . 3.30 a.m. again, and heard the tick of the (turned off) alarm as it hit 3.40, which is when we got up yesterday.  We were at Malvern a couple of minutes after 7, as it was a good run through, and we hardly saw any other traffic.  We noticed that the car park was a lot less full than usual - perhaps it is because folk are on their holidays, or else the dealers are having a hard time of things and were there selling instead of buying!

We were lucky with the weather, and it didn't rain a drop all the time we were there, despite a weather forecast suggesting thunderstorms every couple of hours.  As we were driving back, going towards Hereford, it did rain.  We pulled into a layby, since we have been having a problem with the driver's side wiper, which keeps falling off (NOT good in the rain!) and so we are going to see if a full replacement arm will do the trick.  The wipers have been a problem in the past with the Doblo (only piece of poor design on it) and we had two episodes of wiper failure in torrential rain on the motorway (NOT recommended) and had to replace the mechanism a few years back.

We had some good buys yesterday, and saw lots of dealer friends, either buying or selling there.  My purchases are carefully sidelined for the next 2 day Antiques Fair at the Botanic Gardens in September.  I've never seen one of these before - it's meant to be a Woodpecker (but looks more like a Pterodactyl!) and he grabs a toothpick when you tip him forward - or rather, he would have done in his past.  He is a little the worse for wear now!  A tick in the "different" category.

Now it is back to the list of jobs to carry on with here.  Rain stopped us cutting back the overgrowth by the chicken shed to get at the roof sheets, so I may go out and start clearing a way through after breakfast.

As we were relatively early leaving Malvern, we decided to check out the car boot sale in Ledbury, and I got a good (brand new) book on Beetles for £1, as the Collins Gem guide I have isn't at all detailed.  Then I came across an early and unusual (rare as hen's teeth I think) Torquay Pottery bowl.  I just had to have it and it came home with me.  He wanted £20, I offered £10, and got it.

Update on this:  I've checked it with the Torquay Pottery Collectors' Club and they say it is an Exeter piece (goody, have just a few of those and cherish them).

Saturday 22 July 2017

I'm over it . . .

. . . the disappointment, that is.  The first week I was very positive and upbeat, but when a response to the viewing had to be prised out of the viewers after 4 days (they didn't answer their phone or emails), then you know they are not mad-keen, but I held the faith. 

Now, it's onwards and upwards.  This morning I shall chivvy Keith into putting up the new lights, and we will cut back the overgrowth by the side of the poultry house and blow the dust off the roofing sheets.

I have had the cherries drying over night - when I was in the bathroom around 2 a.m. they smelt WONDERFUL.  Now they are sticky, but will probably take the full 24 hours than the 20 - 24 it said.  They were a bit labour intensive, as first of all I had to put them in a water and vinegar bath to remove any horrid spray residue.  Then scramble them around in same bath, and then rinse them off.  Then I had to put them, 1lb at a time, in a litre of boiling water for 30 - 45 seconds (I chose the latter).  Then drain them and put them straight into a litre of water with ascorbic/citric acid in for 10 minutes.  I only had 1000mg tablets of Vitamin C so used one of these.  Then they had to be drained and pitted and then laid out on the trays in the dehydrator.  Apparently they have a really intense flavour and are worth all the faff.  I shall let you know in due course.

My Artisan (hah!) Beer Bread was really tasty.  The only "Dutch Oven" I have is my Le Creuset oval casserole, which is too large for the amount of dough I am making, so I am following a few 2nd hand Le Creuset and Le Creuset style round casseroles on Fleabay.  Fingers crossed I get one at a sensible price.

I started my usual Panny breadmaker loaf this morning, half white and half Oat flour.  This is SO tasty and is our favourite bread.

Right, that's it.  I need to put some slap on and get away for the weekend paper.  Gabby, our middle daughter, is coming to visit us this morning, so we have that to look forward to.

Friday 21 July 2017

And then it rained . . .

. . . and boy has it rained today, pelted down all morning, and guess what, we found a big hole in the Back Place (lean-to storage) roof.  Courtesy of the scaffolders we had here.  They had taken the scaffolding down when we were out for the day, and you can't see it from outside, only above or below.  It's in the furthest section, where we don't go unless we need paint anyway, but it will mean replacing the roof sheet.  Fortunately we have some, but they are in the undergrowth at the side of the chicken shed at the moment, so when it has stopped raining, we will dig them out and it's a job for next week.  As will be replacing the lights down in what was mum's bed sitting room.  We found some wall lights which also double as ceiling lights, as they have a swivel on them, and got 4 of those and got some some Much Better Bulbs to go in them.  I wouldn't have chosen the finish that my husband did, but I was past arguing by that point (he was muttering about having some "useful lights he had put in the shed a few years back" which he could use instead, and rather than have words with him in the shop, I just went with the flow!!)  Men . . .

I think I need a couple of views of a dry day at Tretower recently to cheer me up.

Today I am up to my ears in fruit which needs dealing with.  From the Abergwili £1 boxes yesterday I picked up purple plums (about 8 lbs of them). Some have been stewed up to be frozen, and the rest I will probably make chutney with, as today it was cherries from there, 2 punnets of very ripe ones for £1, so I got 4. I'll have to stew those up tonight. Yesterday's rhubarb is cooked and ready to be eaten as desserts for the next few days.

I also started Beer Bread this morning - in fact, it is a no-knead 5 minute Artisan Beer Bread, and it is slowly developing down in the kitchen now. Should be ready about bed-time, which is never good as freshly baked bread smells SO wonderful!  I will take a photo tomorrow.

I am now pondering about drying the cherries rather than cooking them (need more room in the freezer really).  I will need to pit them, but I have a cherry stoner in my drawer, so watch this space.

I dried the very few Redcurrants I had, and the last picking of Blackcurrants last week.  Took much longer than expected, but they have dried nicely and are now in a glass storage jar.   I hate using plastic storage for anything, and collect good sized glass jars when I see them at car boot sales etc. 

Thursday 20 July 2017

Our house - for Weaver of Grass

There you go Pat - I just dashed out the front to take a couple of photos for you.  It looks better on Profile Homes (the agents in charge of selling it).

From the paddock side.  Unfortunately the several mixes of buckets of yellow limewash weren't quite the exact match!  By the time it had dried, and we discovered the problem, they were onto the next job . . .

The South side of the house.  A similar paling of paint on the end gable wall.  The dark bit around the window was where we had a leak, which couldn't be dealt with until they had viewed.

It should give you an idea anyway - and as I said, the photos on the Profile Homes site give you a better idea.

WIld flowers near Brecon and update with a PINK Nasturtium

Above and a close up below: Rosebay Willowherb.  Well, I have just spoken to the Agents and they said, abandon hope, basically.  The folk who viewed won't return phone calls or answer emails, so were obviously suited elsewhere.  Onwards and upwards I guess . . . 

We had a long day yesterday, as we went to auction at Wotton-under-Edge again (we go most months), and came home with some more furniture to go in the Unit.  We drive up on the motorway, and that takes us about 2 hours.  We have lunch in Wotton, go around the charity shops, pack our purchases into the car, and drive home via the scenic route, x-country to Gloucester, then through the Forest of Dean to Monmouth, on to Abergavenny and back home along the A40, which we know like the back of our hands.  We count ourselves so fortunate to get out and about like this, and to travel through the Brecon Beacons every week - the scenery is stupendous - is something we never tire of.

We are off to price up a revamp of the shower room now . . .  Hmm, that didn't take long.  We went to B&Q and they had very little stock and high prices.  Back to the Internet now.  We did at least buy two new wall lights to go down in the old dairy (well the bit of it that was mum's bedsitting room).   The lights in there are very shabby and these are uplighters so will give better lighting.  Replacement ceiling lights are next.

I think this is Musk Mallow (found growing on a verge.  It's very common this time of year.)

Common Betony, above and below.  It grows prolifically along the verges round here.  Sometimes you find a white variant.

Common Knapweed - though I know them at Hardheads.

Yarrow (Achillea).  I bought a "tame" pinky one for the garden this week.

This is about the only survivor of a packet of pink Nasturtiums (I always like to try new colours in them though I have to say it is the yellow and the orange ones which are rampant and the other colours aren't very good at setting much seed).  I had some in a hanging basket but got every colour bar pink, so they're not exactly true to colour. 

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Catching up

We had to meet up with someone in Hay-on-Wye last Saturday.  Here is the Cheese Market with a colourful display of baskets, and some really delicious baked goods inside too - artisan bread as well as "buns".  The castle never changes . . .

I was fortunate to find this Fruit Press (something I have wanted for a while) for just £5, brand new, in the Oxfam sale in the Buttermarket.

It needed to be fastened to a wooden base, and so Keith went through his woodpile and found this spalled plank to use - just the right size.

Below: some reading matter.  I've now read the first two, and am thoroughly enjoying the Peter May novel.  He writes SO well.  Back later - I have to take something to the post and take some photos of the next round of "stuff" to clear on Ebay.