Sunday 27 December 2015

Recovering From Christmas Excess

Starting to feel normal again after Christmas now. My stomach can't take another chocolate and I've put the rest of the turkey in the freezer to make curries with another day. We've got one Christmasey day left then its back to normal, working Tuesday to hopefully burn off some excess. 
I had a bit of time today organising my workshop and van ready for a busy start to next year, the baby could come at any time so keeping organised is key at the moment. 
 Today I had a walk out round the fields and it's so wet! The sheep are currently on vacation at my fathers farm and it's a good job as I think they'd sink. I left muddy foot prints across fresh grass, ditches are running like streams and the brook is almost across the road. Still we're much luckier than many across the country. 
I need to start putting some thought into where I'm going to lamb as the ewes have been tupped and are due in April sometime! 

I got some great presents over Christmas but who can tell me what these are:

And it you've already seen this question on facebook please don't answer! 

Friday 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas!!!!!

Merry Christmas everyone! 
I hope you've had a magical morning like we have!

Our two princesses
(just don't look at the mess of the garden in the background!)
I used to think being a child at Christmas was the most magical thing ever, but being a parent with young children tops it I think! 
Hope everyone has a great day and eats lots of turkey! 

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Small Batch Preserving

First off a quick apology to say sorry about my blog silence for the last week or so. I've been trying to get a job somewhere near finished before Christmas, I've been doing some late nights and I'm looking forward to having a bit of time off over Christmas. 

Last week I met up with Kirsty for one of my last play dates as a stay-at-home-dad. 
Before I went I emptied the freezer and grabbed all the berries taking up space. We decided to have another preserving day and see what we could make with four kids running around. 
 I think we did pretty well, we made red onion chutney, black currant jam, gooseberry jam and red currant jam. In total we made 32 jars and canned some in mason jars so it will last even longer. 
Divvying up at the end I felt really proud of food we'd created that will last for a long time. I'm really getting into the whole canning thing now and I'm looking forward to canning lots next year, I think a pressure canner will have to be on the cards at some point! 

Tuesday 15 December 2015

What To Watch Over Christmas?

With a forced slow down ahead of me (baby due 8th of January) I'm wondering what I'll watch. I've been doing a lot of late night lately (11 O'clock last night on a job in Malvern - I must be mad) and I do plan on taking some actual time off between Christmas and New Year (finishing the porch is time off right?) and when the baby comes. 
I don't watch huge amounts of TV but as I've posted before when I do I tend to lean more towards YouTube than what's on the actual TV, so I thought I'd share what I've watched over the last few months whilst I've been cooking tea in the evenings and then maybe you guys could give me some good ideas what to add to my playlist afterwards.

Jas Townsend And Son Inc - This channel is about 18th century cooking and I find it really interesting as they use many cooking methods and recipes. I particularly like how they cook with wood fired ovens and the different cooking vessels they use.

Colin Furze - This guy was paid by Sky to do what he'd do if there was an upcoming apocalypse. He built a bunker in his back garden. The videos are quite good fun, with rock music playing, good editing and he doesn't do things by half! They will make you smile!

American Homestead - I'll forgive them for sounding like my blog name because their videos are so good. Based in the Ozarks these guys are proper off grid homesteaders. They do them as episodes over the summer months and each one is really interesting and you can pick up many tips from them by watching. Their aquaphonic system is a really impressive set up. all the videos have a good level of humour in them as well, I'm surprised they haven't been picked up by a TV company yet as I've been watching them for two years.

The Market Gardener - I know I've mentioned these videos and his book on here before but I think they're so good I'll mention them again. this guy does organic gardening with a scientific approach. I hope this is the future of how our veg are grown but I doubt it will be.

Ray Mears - I don't need to say much more other than that really, this guy is a legend and I particularly like his series on how the wild west was won, seeing it from the view of all sides and hwo hard it was for them to survive.

Chicken Moat -This video has given me an idea that I might be doing next year if I ever find the time. It could be the solution to the messy edges around my veg garden!

Rich Hall - This is an American comic who does well over here. A few years ago he did a series of documentary on the way we Brits see America. The one about native Americans is particularly good and done in a style that I find really entertaining, serious with a very dry humour.

So what does everyone have to recommend to me? I had some great recommendations last time I asked about this so I look forward to hearing what you say.

Friday 11 December 2015

One Week Left...

I'm on the countdown at the moment, I've only got one week left of being a stay at home dad until my wife breaks up from work for her maternity leave. 
This means that I'll be going back to work full time until at least September next year.

So much less of this:
The girls enjoying the spoils of my jam making! 
 And more of this:
Although hopefully I won't look this grumpy all the time!
And this:

Some of the flooring I've been laying lately
So I've got a week of play dates, meeting friends and last minute things to do before I go back to work, and a list of things I should have done as well. To be honest I've been working all I can in any spare moment, so to reduce my night time working (11 most night this week) might not be a bad thing, but I know I'm going to miss spending so much time with the girls and being here so much. 

One thing I am planning on doing is to make more from home to sell on-line. 
So any ideas of wooden things to be made to order that you've struggled to find in the past, let me know. I'm trying to build a list of items I can make in the workshop to keep me at home more. 

Monday 7 December 2015

Buying Spices

Spices are an essential bit of the pantry and if you like to keep a good stock of food in the house then keeping a good stock of spices is pretty sensible as well. 
I was running low on a couple of spices I use quite a bit the other day and I was reluctant to buy them from the supermarket in tiny little pots at inflated prices, so I decided to have a look on line and see what the prices were if I wanted to buy a larger quantity. 
When looking I came across "The Spiceworks", based in one of our nearest cities, Hereford (about 30 minutes away). They had a great range and came out much cheaper than the supermarket, so I ordered a few things from them to try them out before I place a much larger order (to be honest I'll probably go into the store in person, I'm not one for shopping but a shop full of spices sounds too interesting to pass up!).
I ordered Cinnamon (which was £2.99 off eBay but only £1.76 direct from their site for 100g) and Ras El Hanout, which is a Moroccan spice mix I've been using a lot lately on meat. I love the taste of it rubbed into chicken, pork or lamb before cooking, it's got lots of different flavours in there with roses petals and lavender flowers, great way to make a normal meal taste a little different. 
The parcel turned up on Friday and it had to be the best smelling one I've ever received! te spices smell amazing and I can't wait to use them. 

What spices do you keep in your pantry/food store and what quantity do you keep? 
What couldn't you do without? Any you grow yourself? Any special mixes you keep for making meal times a bit more interesting?

Saturday 5 December 2015

Alliums - How Many To Plant?

My leeks are looking very proud and big this year, it's crop I seem to have nailed and I've been really pleased as I've started to dig them up. 
When I start to use a crop like this that's been growing for months I always start to wonder if I've grown enough. I have one 10ft by 4ft bed full of leeks but I'm sure if we ate them with more gusto it wouldn't last us until march. The onions in the shed are already running low but I knew I didn't have enough of those planted to last us out. 
In fact I think alliums are a really tricky one to grow the right amount. I currently have two complete beds taken up with next years crops, garlic and shallots, that's without having room for my onions or next years leeks. Out of 16 beds total in rotation that's a lot of space currently being dedicated to them. 
When I cook I tend to use them a lot, most meals I cook use an onions and garlic, probably three or four out of five meals, so over a year that means I'd need about 300 without allowing for spoilage, making preserves or large meals when friends or family come round. I know that shallots can bridge the gap a little bit and I need to be better at using them but due to how much longer they take to prepare I tend to use them only where a recipe calls for it. 
The other downside is the fact that they are a fairly low value crop and the taste isn't hugely different to what you'd get in the shops (although I know how I grew them). If you were short on space I'd suggest leaving out the common onion for more exotic crops, although they are strangely satisfying to grow. 
So how much space to delicate to the lowly allium in your veg garden? If you were going for self sufficiency how many do you think you'd need?

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Trees Down And Finding Time

I finished working at eleven last night, laying a large oak floor for a customer. So with a rare morning to myself I decided to do a few jobs around the homestead and have a walk around the fields to clear my head, something I haven't done for a little while in the light! 
Making a door this morning in the workshop as a bit of R&R - I'm a weird one. 
Of course this little walk resulted in more work! Two trees down, one on one of my new fences. There is another tree that looks like it's unsafe so I spoke to the neighbours about dropping it when the weather improves just so it's safe. It's only poplar so the wood is not of high value. Luckily neither tree are on land I own just rent but it will still need to be sorted out. 

Working again tonight so might be a bleary eyed in the morning but I've got so much work to do before Christmas I'm trying to fit it in wherever I can. Sorry if the blog is a little sporadic again!

Saturday 28 November 2015

Rottweiler Light

I changed the light on the front of the house this week. I wanted to do it before I got the tiles on the porch roof as it'l be hard to get to afterwards (but not impossible).
Halogen lights are notoriously unreliable, with bulbs popping if you so much as look at them. They're also pretty aggressive to look at, hence why my friend calls them "Rottweiler lights".

 I though it was time to splash out on a LED one, not only will it be more reliable it will also use far less energy. The old halogen one was 500W and the new LED is only 30W and nearly as bright, it should also, fingers crossed, never need a bulb changing. The one I bought was £35 from Screwfix so it remains to be seen if this is very good quality or not.
A simple and low cost bit of security for the front of the house and it helps us find the way to the front door when we get home in the dark. 
Anyone else using this type of security light outside their house? Any brands you recommend? I need to fit a few more of these around the house and buildings to make the winter nights a bit easier.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Chilli Apple Chutney & Raspberry Jam

It's been a couple of very wet days here and to make matters worse the little one has been under the weather. Nothing serious but she's been a bit clingy and not wanting to go outside as much as normal. So while she's napped I've started to do a bit more preserving of this years harvest. 
The first thing I did was to make some jam, just 7 jars but it's a start. These was using some raspberries I'd picked earlier in the year and some of the left over cooking apples from canning the other day. Jam making is so simple and we eat much more of it than we used to! In fact we were down to just one jar left! See previous posts on raspberry jam here and here.

Then the next thing I made was some chilli and apple chutney. 
Although I froze a load of chillies I still had some on the plants that I didn't know what to do with and I fancied something spicy to make cheese sandwiches a bit more interesting over the winter. 
I need to let this mature for a month before I try it, so please don't copy the recipe yet but I'm going to write it here incase it's any good and then I'll be able to copy it at a later date.
600g chopped onions
1 kg chopped apples,
300ml of malt vinegar (I think cider vinegar would be better but I had none!)
12 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of turmeric
2 teapoons of ground ginger
275g demerara sugar
Chillies - I used a few Sotch Bonnet, half a dozen cayennes, one Aji Crystal (really hot), and about eight cherry bombs.
Rasins - You can add these if you like but I hate them in chutney so never do!
I then cooked the onions until soft, added the apples and garlic and did the same before adding everything else and cooking until I could see the bottom of the pan when I pulled the spoon through.
Pour into sterilised jars and keep for a month before eating. I made five jars.
when I tried a bit the hotness was a growing sensation! Not too hot but it builds over time. Really looking forward to trying this when it's matured!
Anyone else made any chilli preserves lately?

Tuesday 24 November 2015

A Quote About Legacy

Read this and it struck a cord with me:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. 

It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” 

Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451

Sunday 22 November 2015

Back In The Modern World

So by Friday night we were back in the modern world, We had a flushing toilet and central heating, two things we'd gone without for quite some time. Neither massively bothered me but it is much better for all my ladies that live with me. 
Still lots to do and lots of materials needed
My cousin, Ian, came round on Thursday to fit the boiler and the new toilet (this was in exchange for some work I did for him last year on his house). The toilet broke about 4 months ago (maybe more) so we've been flushing it with a bucket ever since, I hate plumbing jobs so kept putting it off. The toilet was so old I knew if I took it apart it wouldn't go back together again without leaking so I bought a replacement. I think the new toilet with all the bits came to around £50, I can't believe how little water it uses, much more efficient that the old one.
The heating was on as I got home on Friday night (I'd been working at my brothers but more on that in another post) and the house felt completely different as I walked in. The wood burner only heats so much of the house, the bathroom and bedrooms didn't benefit much from it at all so it was good to get rid of the damp feeling up there. To make matters even better it froze outside that night so we really felt the affects of it! 
My wife is much happier now we can get the house warm ready in time for baby number three arrival and the midwife might think that our house is more suitable than before! 
I've still got lots of work to do yet but slowly the list is getting ticked off! 

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Apple Picking

Apple picking is good fun when you've got the right help. 

These pictures just make me smile. 
When I was up the tree she kept saying "careful daddy". What a helpful little two year old (if I can stop her eating them!)! 

Saturday 14 November 2015

Am I Cruel To My Pregnant Wife?

I've been told that I'm cruel to my wife whenever she's pregnant and looking at the evidence I'm inclined to agree! 
 The first pregnancy (nearly four years ago. I made my wife move house when she was 8 months pregnant, three days before Christmas. She gave birth two weeks later to our first daughter, I still hear about that one. 

 The second pregancy I ripped out the living room as her maternity leave started, re plastered, laid an oak floor and fitted a new fire place.
 To be fair it nearly killed me but we were finished two weeks before our second daughter was born. 

This time I've destroyed the patio, started and not yet finished the porch and now ripped out the old boiler and replaced every radiator in the house. My cousin, Ian, has been here today helping me replace all the radiators ready for the new boiler which didn't turn up yesterday (don't use plumbnation if you want something to turn up on time). 

Ian Fitting a new radiator upstairs
Tomorrow we're digging through the floor, under where the boiler used to be to allow access for pipes. So should be nice and quite for the wife to relax and  enjoy her pregnancy...
I'm not cruel just not very good at timing!
Hopefully the porch, heating and first section of the patio should be finished before baby number three turns up! 

Friday 13 November 2015

First Time Canning

 I've been on about trying canning for a long time and since Kirsty (from Rural Retreat Restoration)  has learnt how to do it I thought she'd be the perfect person to teach me. Yesterday was a wet and miserable afternoon, so perfect to meet up with a friend and spend it preserving fruit in good company. 
In them morning I'd picked a good amount of cooking apples out of one of the fields I rent, Howgate Wonder, and bought them round to Kirsty's house. 
We then set to work pealing, coring and chopping them up. The first batch was for apple pie filling (although more likely to be crumble for me) with an American  recipe off the internet, it was quite sweet! 
 Kirsty set to it like she'd been canning all here life and we soon had some jars canned. Unfortunately a few of my Kilner lids kinked so we had to redo a couple of them, but we had space in the pan for the next batch so it wan't the end of the world. It seems the Ball brand are slightly better quality.
The children were being brilliant and quite happy just playing with the apple. 

 We made 13 jars of the pie filling and then made a batch of apples in a light syrup, just five jars this time but I imagine it would be great ladled over custard! 
We were pleased with our afternoons work and although we maybe didn't make as much as some of the amounts I see on some American blogs, we did have four children to deal with as well! 
I think I might be addicted now and want to can more! Anyone know the best place to by the mason jars in the UK? They seem expensive everywhere I look over here and I'd like to buy a good quantity of them, as well as a pressure canner at some point as well! 

Tuesday 10 November 2015

More Mud!

Sunday was mental. My dad and brother came over, it was a long hard day, we were all covered in mud in the end, but we got a lot done! Cables and pipes all safely under ground and lots of things ready for the future as well. We also had the right equipment which makes a big difference. 
More patio going. This time for a man hole as well, ready for the extension. 

This is 90cm deep. Pretty nifty! 

Robocut - the machine that made things a bit easier. A radio controlled trencher. An amazing bit of kit! 

Ducting, and a water pipe as a spare

Laying ducting for cables ready for the telegraph pole to be moved later in the year. 

The patio..

The way to the chickens is a bit muddier than it was!

Some of the garden! 

View from the upstairs window! 
More to come this weekend on this project! Wellies only! 

Sunday 8 November 2015

Making More Mud

Now the wall is nearing completion it's time to crack on with the back of the house so we can get the boiler in. 
 Unfortunately this means digging up more of the patio to put in a proper retaining wall. I'm doing this a stage at a time though as we only need to do the first section to get the pipes in for the boiler.
The boiler is going between the two pillars on the wall.

 Unfortunately the day we chose to do this it rained all day, both my dad and I were soaked through and were both ravenous by the lunch time, I think we were burning calories just trying to stay sanding up in the mud!

As usual we ended up concreting the footings in the dark, but I was pleased with the results in the light the next morning. 
Tomorrow we're doing more digging, again regardless of the weather, to lay all the pipes and cables that we need. I have a feeling it's going to be a long, wet & muddy day! 

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