Sunday, August 30, 2009

Well known phrases and sayings - No. 5

The one I have in mind is 'As happy as a pig in shit', but if you are of a sensitive nature and easily offended, ignore that and go for 'Like the cat that's got the cream'.

In this case it's: 'like the man who got his tractor'. If I known that was all it would take to put a smile on his face I'd have lined up a fleet of them years ago.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The ubiquitous pea

This week we have mostly been eating peas. We lurch from glut to glut of vegetables, pressing whatever is in abundance on friends, neighbours and family while eating and storing whatever we can ourselves. A large basket of peas have been sitting in the pantry. They have lost their first tender, sweetness but are not yet cannonballs.

Last night Somebody did remember to get the fish out of the freezer - but that same Somebody then put the same fish into the coldest recess of the fridge thus preventing thawing. What to eat?

A quick bit of thinking came up with pea soup and as a penance Somebody was instructed to get busy podding. Podded peas were tossed into a pan with a butter-softened onion. Some sprigs of mint, scraps of bacon and some chicken stock from the freezer were added and it soon cooked up. A whizz in the food processor produced a slightly textured and gorgeously pea-green (of course) soup. Here's the finished product:

How hard it is to make a bowl of pea soup look appetising. Despite my very best endeavours I can only achieve something that looks like a primordial swamp. Looks are deceiving though and this melange of garden peas, a sprig of mint and its garnish of crispy lardons and dollop of crême fraiche was The Business.

We ate well. Soup can be very filling can't it?

The ubiquious pea?

Many years ago I had a part time job as barmaid/waitress in our local pub. Both myself and the pubs owners, while experienced pullers of pints were absolute beginners in the catering business. But never mind, they put together a fine menu featuring the popular dishes of the day - Prawn Cocktail, Soup-of-the-Day, Steak and Chips, Gammon and Chips, Gammon, Egg and Chips, Ham Salad and Chicken Salad. Desserts were the likes of Sherry Trifle and Black Forest Gateau. (You can probably date this work experience from the menu items can't you?) The vegetable - every last serving - was the Garden Pea. I took an order one evening from a very arch lady who asked me what the vegetables were. Perhaps she was hoping for exotica not yet known in north Oxfordshire.

'Peas' I replied.

'Ah', she responded with something of a sneer, 'The Ubiquitous Pea.'

I scurried back to the kitchen with their order. I had a vague idea of the meaning of 'ubiquitous' but Dot, who was doing the cooking, hadn't a clue. We got her daughter's mini-dictionary out, Just To Check. 'Found everywhere' apparently. How we laughed.

Not in any way a particularly amusing tale, more an explaintion of why peas for me will always, each and everyone of them, have the soubriquet 'ubiquitous'.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

It ain't half hot (Mum)

Today saw Trelystan's inaugural pizza-fest. I let the bread machine make the dough, knocked up a couple of salads and let the men folk do man things with charcoal and fire. They made good pizza.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Red-blasted-mites. Itchy scratchy part 3.

Sorry folks - I wasn't going to mention my mates the mites again. Red Mites. Chicken suckers. Itchy scratchy bastards. This is in the nature of a public service broadcast. Out there somewhere may there may well be some innocent Googler desperate to know what to do about their own infested chicken hut. Will it help to learn from my experiences?

Cast your minds back six weeks or so. I am dressed foolishly doing battle with the little critters which have, in a matter of days, invaded my deluxe hen-house-on-wheels. I scrub, I brush, I burn. I don my tea-towel face mask and shower cap hair protector. I brush with Red Mite solution. I paint a nasty patent medicine into the tongue and groove boarding. I puff diatomaceous earth (Necromite) into cracks, crevices, bedding, birds and dust baths. I sit back and wait for a mite-free day. And wait and wait and wait.


I suppose had I done nothing then the infestation may well have been immeasurably worse - but the little clusters of mites, which could each day be reduced under the thumb's pressure to a nasty bloody pulp, meant the problem had not gone away. They seem to thrive on diatomaceous earth - or is that just my imagination?.

I've cleaned out (again), blow-torched for the umpteenth time and this time washed down with Poultry Shield before dusting once again with the desiccating Necromite. I'll know tomorrow if I've been successful.

The answer may well be in a poultry house of seamless moulded plastic - no nooks and crannies for unwelcome visitors. In an ideal sci-fi world the door would be a beam of impenetrable rays. Perches would be shafts of light and nest boxes pools of comfy molecules. Dream on.

The hens are very well, thank you.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pizza hut

Oh dear, my poor neglected blog - it's getting the dregs and dog-ends of life on my low mountain. Busy, busy. Things to do...

Not that the completion of The Glamorous Assistant's latest project should be hidden under a bushel. Nope - we should shout it LOUD & PROUD! This is one fine pizza oven. This is magnificent, an architectural gem. Well done that man.

We start with a weedy rocky patch outside the greenhouse. Don't ask 'Why here?' I don't know either. My man casts a holocaust-defying base and foundations to boot. Much praise is called for at this critical stage. It is, after all, the finest base a wife has ever seen. Many days worth of walling are then called for. Stones are offered up and discarded, offered up again and mortared into place. Hurrah, the walls slowly rise. We must then put the terracotta oven inside - don't ask me why the walls were not built around it - sat 'in situ' so to speak. It would have saved much lifting and straining.
Then a roof - common rafters I believe.
I've planted my herb bed alongside and twitch nervously as the master craftsman stumbles about with slates and copper nails. He has big important feet and my thymes are still small and vulnerable.
Finally it's finished. I should photograph the little Gothic niche on the other side and the sweetest little built-in bird hole just waiting for a blue-tit next spring....

I should make pizza too......

Friday, August 14, 2009

In which I discover my true vocation... not haymaking.

It didn't take long - about 20 minutes actually - for me to realise, as I stood hayrake in hand in the sunshine, to realise that this wasn't actually a great deal of fun. The prospect of raking up much more than a hen pen's worth of grass was not only a depressing prospect but damned hard work too. However much I fancy an afternoon's visit to the landscape of Thomas Hardy or Bruegel, naively imaging rural and bucolic bliss, I think the reality would be bone-aching drudgery with only the prospect of a mess of potage for tea.
I conclude I am probably not of peasant stock.

Over on next door's pocket-handkerchief-sized horse paddock our farming neighbour has brought a disproportionately large machine and is baling the hay he cut a few days ago. It takes him mere seconds to gather up the now dry grass and spew out a gargantuan 'big bale' even in this small space. I not suggesting for a minute he come over our way and do the same for us. That would be silly.

It did make me think though how labour intensive farming was in the days before mechanisation - when even the simplest task - raking hay for example - involved hours of activity on the part of a large workforce. We live in our converted barn courtesy of the fact that no farmer these days wants a building too small to get a tractor in. Who wants to stack hay or straw with a pitch fork, a bit at a time? Who wants to muck out animals with a shovel and wheel barrow? Big doors and airy spaces are the things- something a multi-horsepowered tractor and a lad in an air-conditioned cab can get into. Who can blame them?

I will take me to the scriptorium - or its latter day equivalent, the Mac, on which I am gathering illustrations for that must-read book of next spring. (Marton, the story of a Shropshire Village).

Possibly work at the screen is every bit as arduous as that in the field if you take note of the words of one 10th century prior who, observing his monastic scribes, recommended: 'Only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer's task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together. It is a terrible ordeal for the whole body.'

So. Creativity's not for wimps either.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Playing with my food...

Oops! This may look rather gloopy - and I'm afraid to say, a bit like a disemboweled hen.

Trust me though, this is bubblin' gooseberries in a pan. Rosy, rich-red and ripe with a lemon thrown in for pectin boost. Tomorrow we make jelly with this late crop.

Today, however, we hover over the pan with the camera, lens steamed up, getting quite excited as the images become more abstract. I have a fleeting thought about converting them to wall-sized canvases before commonsense gets a grip. Converting berries to jelly will suffice I think.

Friday, August 07, 2009



Quickly now - up into the field with me - and see. The moon, not yet quite full, hung huge and low on the horizon - burntorangeblacksky. So beautiful, so strange, tears prick my eyes.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

In which I fight bindweed.

A visit to a splendid garden is always an inspiring thing. One stands in front of borders and vistas and, stroking a metaphorical beard, thinks '....Yerss, give me a fastigiate this and a horizontalis that, a chainsaw, spade and a team of willing slaves and I too could have a slice of paradise....'

Bodnant and a walk with Bodnant's Head Gardener was just that. Inspiring. Covetous. The scale of the place is fantastic - deep borders and neat expansive terraces fall away to a tamed wilderness where trees - great soaring monsters - are the thing. Here water gushes and roars in lush green gullies - where above, in the formal garden a delicate tinkling trickle refreshes and compliments the painterly planting. Sigh.

Such a visit can be chastening too.....there is not a thing out of place. Even the miniscule amount of blackspot has its days numbered. Rabbit proofing - neat circlets of galvanised chicken wire in the borders are almost aspirational. Sigh again.

Back home I undertake a comparative survey; where Bodnant is a haven of order, a model of correct gardening technique, my garden seems to be making a bid for freedom. Chaos reigns. It's a jungle out there, a jungle where the twining stems of bindweed have coiled themselves ever more anti-clockwise into wiry ropes through anything and everything in their path. The shoots' relentless sun-ward growth binds binds all in a thick green blanket with, oh such pretty virginial flowers which belie such a tenacious nasty brutish plant.

Bindweed? How did it come to this:
It's fairly obvious I'm not proud of that. I've spent the morning untwining, pulling, snipping and hauling in an attempt to be rid of the stuff. A bit of a fruitless task because I think without getting rid of the roots, it will like Arnie, be back. I can tell you that it is horrid, sappy green and sticky.

So pretty amongst the clematis though....

PS My brother reminded me of this a few weeks ago. Check it out. Snigger if you must.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


Tagged. By chrish of Home Thoughts Weekly. 7 words which describe me....

Patient: Very - and in those rare moments when I'm not I manage to keep mum about it.

Kind. I think I am. I would never, ever, pull the legs off flies or deliberately elbow old ladies. Here - have my last Rollo. A little kindness and its bedfellow, consideration, never goes amiss.

Idle? Oh yes. Very. The urge to do the ironing is easily resisted and I can watch the dust bunnies bowl around the floor for hours. Exercise? No thanks.

Curious - What's round that corner? What does that mean? Where and Why? What's over the page? At the bottom of that box? This has led to all sorts of serendipious discoveries and occasionaly the ability to get to grips with the unexpected. Trespass? Moi? If you want someone to creep round a spooky building, alone at dead of night, just ask.....

Unfortunately my curiosity doesn't extend to things mathematical of scientific. In that respect I remain dumb and virtually innumerate - can just about add up the spots on the dominoes and do Sudoku, which seems to involve logic and the ability to count up to 45.

Creative - Give me colours, marks, lines and words, scraps of fabric, lumps of clay or a camera and I couldn't be happier. I love the process of making 'stuff' look harmonious or discordant - could spend hours deciding where to put a dot on a piece of paper. Sometimes better at ideas than actually carrying them out though - my head has done them and raced on to the next big thing. Somebody else can carry out the finickety detail.

Laid-back (hyphenated to make one word.) An irritating trait, but the more wound up those around me become the more relaxed my stance. My ex-boss at work worried himself into a grey rag about insignificant trivia while I lolled back muttering 'Chill'. Generally it paid off.

Positive - For me the proverbial cream jug is always half-full. (My husband would describe the milk jug as half-empty.) I see cream. He sees watery milk. I've never seen the point of meeting problems half way and have always, and perhaps annoyingly, looked on the bright side.

......Crikey this has been hard work. I'm going for a little lie down.

There must be one or two of you out there who've not been tagged. You know who you are. Have a go. Go on. You know you want to.