Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bread bakeathon #14 and sheep

The next instalment in the River Cottage Bread book bakeathon is bread sticks. This is a dough similar to focaccia but is a simple enough thing. Mix it together, leave to rise, go for a five mile run, return (wearing the contents of a puddle courtesy of a Land Rover), roll out the dough, cut into strips, spread with oil, sprinkle with seeds, rise for a bit and then bake. They are shepherd's crook shapes because as you lift the strips of dough they stretch and become too long for the tin. I quite like the shape.

We ate them with what I call 'Trail soup'. It's a vegetable soup based on a recipe that I originally read in 'Trail' magazine, hence the name. Chop two carrots, a slice of swede, a leek, onion, garlic and a potato into smallish cubes and leave to sweat in a tablespoon of olive oil with a teaspoon of butter added. Then wash the horrid sauce off a can of baked beans and add those along with some stock or water and maybe some green leafy bits like Savoy cabbage or cavelo nero and a chopped tomato. Add a handful or two of tiny soup pasta shapes and cook until everything is soft. Adjust for seasoning and serve with grated Cheddar cheese and bread sticks. A bit of pesto is lovely stirred into the soup too. Next bread: Brioche.

This afternoon's task was to sort the sheep. They've been quietly eating grass in the fields over the summer and now we need to sort the ewes from the lambs, check the ewe's teeth (if they've got no teeth they can't eat enough to rear lambs so they have to go). The ones we are keeping also get a dose of worming medicine at this time of year. We're organic but this has the blessing of the Soil Association.

In the race they go, two or three at a time. We check they've got ear tags and replace any as necessary. The rules on ear tags change annually. A year or so ago they had to be tagged in each ear as lambs. Now it's one tag but they're plastic and are a real bugger very difficult to insert in the ears. Ewes and ewe lamb replacements are drafted through the gate to the left; lambs for meat and cull ewes go to the right.

Toby the cat is there purely in a supervisory capacity. He chose the wrong place to sit as shortly after I took this picture he was bounced on by a siily lamb. After that he supervised from inside the building.

A purple dot of marker spray shows that this ewe lamb is being kept and will go on to have lambs of her own. The dot also means we can tell the two groups apart which is lucky because when we thought we had finished and were herding the ewes out to the field again the lambs made a break for freedom and the whole flock got mixed up again.

I'm afraid I may have lost my temper a little (a lot!) at this point. We managed to herd them back into the yard, with a bit of shouting and chasing (there's always a stubborn one. I chased it, furiously. It being temperamental, stupid and intractable, flattened mum into a pile of sheep poo before we rounded it up. I hate sheep.) I redrafted the dots from the non dots, then we tied the gates really tightly this time and now (phew!) the ewes are on the hayfields, the cull ewes and lambs for fattening are on the field by the house and the ram and the pet sheep Chops are (noisily) in one of the little paddocks.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Bread bakeathon #13 and winter planting

The next bread from my recipe-by-recipe bake through of the River Cottage Bread Book was ciabatta. It's a bit of a palaver to make but the results are well worth it.

It's a really wet dough involving a mix of flour and semolina and you ferment it for three hours. Every half an hour or so you add a slug of olive oil and fold the dough up, lovingly, like a big soft blanket. This gives you a silky soft dough which is pretty impossible to handle. The only way to deal with it is with prodigious quantities of semolina to stop it sticking to your hands, the work surface and the dog. Daniel Stevens talks of bake stones, linen cloths and the like but when I tried that last time I lost all of the air from the dough transferring it between them. This time I proved it on the tins and it was more successful.

The result is six lovely little loaves, delightfully crispy on the outside and pillowy soft within. We ate the first ones hot from the oven, torn open, drizzled with a little olive oil and stuffed with grated mature cheddar and sliced home grown cucumber. The next meal we had them sliced into fat fingers, dipped into extra virgin olive oil and then into home made dukka. Divine. If I wasn't baking my way through this book recipe by recipe I'd make more ciabatta but I have an agenda and next on it is breadsticks.

The Delfland Nurseries Organic winter plants arrived on Tuesday all neatly snuggled into two brown cardboard boxes. They consisted of the winter vegetable selection (nine star broccoli, spring cabbages Duncan and spring hero, calabrese pacifica, perpetual spinach, bright lights chard, giant red mustard) and the winter salad selection (winter purslane, corn salad, land cress, lettuces winter density and Arctic King and wild rocket). Today with children out and husband working late I dodged biblical rain and headed into the polytunnel for a planting session.

After a bit of determined dibbing we now have neat rows of winter food - brassicas at the back, little salads at the front - all lined up like soldiers in the new big polytunnel and ready for the worst winter can throw at it. A polytunnel is quite coddling for some of these varieties but past experience has taught me that they hate the wet we get here no matter how good they are at surviving the cold.

My mini cucumbers are still going strong - astonishingly considering it's almost November - I think they like the new polytunnel too.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Guilty cake, bread bakeathon #12 and a lovely thing

This is carrot cake but it's also a guilty cake too. I made it yesterday after a particularly shouty morning before the school run. Brian's been on early shifts this week (why can't criminals stick to 9-5? Then he could work normal hours...) which left me outnumbered. On Friday after a shower interrupted by BANG, BANG, BANG on the door and MUMMMEEEE and then getting dressed which involved the door being slammed back on its hinges so the other one could go MUMMMEEEEE at me, starkers, and complain about the previous one I got, shall we say, a little stressed.

It ended with the eldest saying "calm down Mummy" in an irritating Michael Winneresque way (is anything guaranteed to have the opposite effect to calming?) But we made friends, I took them to school, then I made cake.

It's a honey-soaked carrot cake from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday and I've just had a great big slice of it for Saturday breakfast. Breakfast is the best time of day to eat cake. Your appetite is unblunted by previous meals and you've got the rest of the day to use up the calories and there's not much difference between cake and toast and marmalade, except this particular cake's got nearly a pound of carrots in it which makes it one of your five a day.

While the cake was baking and as it was a chilly day which makes it a good idea to have the oven on (since turning on the oil-fired heating is Banned) I made the next instalment in my Big Bread Bakeathon. This is focaccia from the River Cottage bread book and is something I make regularly because it's so lovely with a bowl of veggie soup. I'm not sure mine would come up to Paul Hollywood's exacting standards on The Great British Bakeoff but it's delicious and is a big family favourite. We ate it with roast butternut squash soup which is, basically, autumn in a bowl.

While I was baking the postman arrived with an unexpected parcel. Inside it was a 'Peter's Seedling Pot Maker'. You use the top punch part to wrap newspaper around and then press it into the die part with a little water which fixes the base of the pot. This is perfect for seedlings as you can plant them out in the pot (which then degrades) without disturbing the roots and checking the growth.

The lovely thing about it is that it was made by my Dad who has taken to woodturning at his new home on Mull and the even lovelier thing is that the top part is made from wood from a tree that grew here on our little farm on the Preselis. Paper potmaking can now be a nice indoor winter activity for me ready for the spring sowings. In the meantime it is sitting in pride of place on the mantelpiece.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Gardening, swearing and sewing

Yesterday we grabbed the bit of sunshine and used it to help us finally finish tensioning the polytunnel. This was achieved with much swearing. I now know (having watched that wonderful bit on Fry's Plant Word where Stephen Fry and Brian Blessed swore like TV chefs while inflicting pain on themselves) that, when one has hit ones thumb with a hammer (again and again) saying f@ck and b@ll@cks helps with the pain.

Anyway we achieved our objective, the far right hand corner of the tunnel no longer flaps so I'll stop nagging Brian about it anxiously when the wind blows. I cleared out the tomatoes too, made the happy discovery of a tennis ball-sized butternut squash and started getting ready for a delivery of winter plants from Delfland Nurseries. I had intended to grow my own winter plants but we were delayed so long by the weather that everything backed up (and suddenly it's October!)

I've also got my leeks tucked up for the winter under a nice thick mulch. Note the handsome chaps in the background? Those are the cockerels. We keep squeezing them in the hope that there might be some meat on them and then using the fact that there isn't to put off the inevitable. When the four of them are in full voice at the crack of doom, it's quite a racket, but a cute racket that I quite like. (I CAN'T keep four cockerels, I really can't!)

I've also been turning an old pair of Ikea curtains into cushions; a housewarming one for Dad and Pat, a cupcake one for R7 and a horsey hearts one for H9. I was inspecting the remaining pieces of material recently (the tab top and hemmed bottom) and wondered, if I sewed them together again, they would fit the dining room window. They did.

I used a piece of scarlet ribbon to hide the join, bordered by gingham ribbon from eBay and finally edged one side of the panel with some lovely pom-pom trim I bought from Nellie Dean at the recent craft fair in Maenclochog. The result? One re-purposed curtain for less than £10 (and plenty of spare bits of ribbon and pom-pom trim for other things.)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bread Bakeathon #9, #10 and #11

This blog should be sub-titled 'end of the second chapter of the River Cottage Bread Book'. I've baked the Basic Loaf and now I have baked everything in the Variations on the basic bread recipe chapter.

The final three included monstery bread (heavy with oats) and hazel maizel bread, a lovely concoction involving maize meal, apple juice and nuts which made for lovely crusty brown rolls - both of which I forgot to photograph (but they just looked like brown rolls).

The last bread in the chapter was Empty-the-shelf bread, the opportunity to use up tail-ends of whatever bags of flour are to hand and anything else that might be leftover, like nuts or muesli (but Daniel Stevens advises against empty-the-Hoover-bag bread...)

My Empty-the-shelf bread included maize meal and apple juice from the previous bread, a handful of wholemeal flour, white flour, a handful of porridge oats, walnuts and sesame, pumpkin and sunflower seeds with a bit of walnut oil for luck.

I was bored with rolls by this point (and had been watching Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy on BBC2) so when it came to shaping we got a pain d'epi (at the front) and a fougasse. The latter is a lovely shape for tearing and sharing with a bowl of soup and is a shape I think I'll be making a lot in the future. It bakes well too and gives lots of lovely crust.

So having baked all the basics (and I think my bread has improved in the process) we now head off into the realms of 'Beyond the basic loaf'. This promises such delights as focaccia, ciabatta, brioche, bagels, muffins and pizza, all of which I have cooked before, but also includes Vetkoek (which are deep fried. I NEVER deep fry!) and barbecue breads at not really a barbecuing time of year. This should be interesting!

Monday, 17 October 2011

Cardiff Half Marathon

Running hurts. Have I mentioned that before? Sometimes I can't think why I do it but, like any true addict, I can't stop. Some days you feel you could run everywhere at high speed. Why walk? It's so slow! Other days running feels impossible. Too much effort! Too painful! When you get out of bed and pull on your trainers you never know what sort of a day it is. Yesterday was one of those 'running is hard' days which was a shame as it was also Cardiff Half Marathon.

The Doctor wasn't in.

My running legs didn't turn up for this year's race. At some points I felt I was running on the spot as people streamed past me. At mile seven, plodding along a four mile section of scorching dual carriageway, I was going so slowly I was able to dig out my phone and send Brian a text saying "too hot!". What I actually wanted to text was "HELP!!!!!!" or "call me a taxi!"

But I'm no quitter so I abandoned my plans for a PB of around two hours and 15 minutes and aimed just to complete. I had a low moment when the 2:15 pacer just ran away leaving me running on the spot (at least that's what it felt like!) but then Brian, H9 and R7 were there on the side cheering and yelling "only 500 metres to go!" and I managed to resist asking for a piggy back to the finish line.

My time was two hours, 25 minutes and ten seconds. It's easy to lose ten minutes on a half marathon looking at the view, eating jelly babies, drinking water and stepping over those who had collapsed, fainted, vomited or pulled something (so many this year). It wasn't my fastest ever time, but not my slowest either and I'll be back next year to have another go at the 2:15 mark.

Mrs Relievedtohavefinished wearing medal and hideously unflattering huge t-shirt.

Afterwards I was virtually immobile, tearful and in quite a bit of pain. Running half marathons HURTS! Next year (yes, of course I'm doing it again next year) I plan to start my training earlier (you see I really wasn't going to do it this year so I'd got a bit lazy in my running). Having discovered what to do to avoid back pain I find I now need to find what to do to avoid ankle pain.

I ran this year to also raise money for Birmingham Hospice who cared for Ann (who was like an aunt, but was my cousin-in-law) until her death in August. Ann was one of life's truly lovely people, always there at family weddings and christenings with a big hat and even bigger smile. It was a privilege and and honour to run in the hospice's running vest in memory of Ann. As a member of her wider family there was little we could do when she was so ill but raising money for the hospice was something I could do.

There's still time to sponsor me so anyone who would still like to do so can click the button on the right hand side of this page. Enormous thanks to everyone who has sponsored me so far and helped towards my total of £175 - but I have had other monies pledged so I expect to reach £200. THANK YOU!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Eat dog

It's Thursday. Brian is at work at HQ patiently recording crimes. I'm at home attempting to balance the household budget. In the drizzle the postman arrives bearing two brown envelopes marked DVLA.

A series of texts follows from Desperate Housewife to Hardworking Husband:

DH: "BOTH cars need taxing. That's really made my day. :-("

HH: "Oh bugger."

DH: "I'll do both now and then at least we'll know where we are."

HH: "Ok x"

DH: "Both cars taxed. Ouch."

HH: "Yes, never mind. Have to pull horns in even further."

DH: "Dehorned. None left to pull in."

HH: "We'll do what we can. x"

DH: "Put dog on eBay?"

HH: "Eat dog x"

DH: "Too smelly."

HH: "Shave, stuff, roast"

DH: "Oven temp for dog?"

HH: "Hot (dog)"


HH: "U forgot to shave him x"

DH: "That's why he's finding oven temp too hot! Doh!"

NB: No, we didn't eat him (and never will!) He's not going on eBay either. He loved having his picture taken on the work surface and I did wash the roasting tin afterwards. Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall says in the Radio Times this week that "puppy meat is no worse than a pork chop". Me? I'd rather be vegetarian.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Oh BT, how I loathe you so...

As soon as I saw the BT Outreach van I knew there was trouble ahead. Four times I drove past the engineer as he frowned over the pole and the wires. He looked a little confused, especially with a bundle of disconnected telephone cables in each hand. Poor dear.

Oh dear.

Sure enough, off went the broadband and phone. This time, as an added twist, when I dialled our number to check the line I got someone else (who had a witty Loyd Grossman voiced answerphone message). I had to laugh.

In the meantime I'm still baking bread from the River Cottage handbook. This is Festival bread, made with spelt flour, cider (lovely), sporting slivers of almonds and studded with apricots.

Rolls seem to be the preferred shape rather than loaves and this bread was sweet, nutty and delicious accompaniment to bowls of vegetable soup and chunks of cheese. Next up is Monastery bread.

The weather has reverted to autumn, as it should be at this time of year and today's wind neatly blew one of the wooden doors on the outbuildings off its hinges. I worry constantly about the new polytunnel and its cover, although it is sheltered by a big fat hedge.

While the sun was out we were invaded by lovely Golden-ringed dragonflies which busied themselves laying eggs in the reeds around the new pond. Mum found one floating on the water and brought the 'dead' dragonfly in for a closer look. She forgot it overnight (we had visitors) then the following morning we retrieved it to take its picture. It was somewhat livelier than the night before and I managed to snatch a few snaps before it had to be let outside again.

Otherwise I'm running, running, running in preparation for the Cardiff Half Marathon. This week I'm out every day which is unusual for me and feels like hard work. Today's run was my eight mile loop which takes me from home, up to the village and past the school, on and on (up and up) to the top road. It's an energy-sapping uphill climb but the views across south Pembrokeshire are well worth it. Back down then past the forestry and round the 90 degree corners, past Holly the collie (who wasn't there today but scared the living daylights out of me yesterday) and, finally with a few short sharp shocks of hills left to bite me, gratefully home.

I've just counted and I have only five more runs before the big day. My race pack has arrived - I'm number 5665 - as has my running vest for Birmingham Hospice (still time to sponsor - see top right of blog). Just over a week to go - I can't wait!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

God speeded summer's end

It seems odd to be sweltering in this sort of heat at the beginning of October. Shorts have been dug out of the back of drawers where they have been hiding since last summer. Floaty cotton dresses have reappeared and even vest-lover R7 has ditched her winter underwear for the first time in 2011.

Yesterday involved a trip to the metropolis that is Carmarthen in search of the perfect school sock. Tender little toes are fussy about such things apparently so a visit to M&S was in order. I also needed to part with a Boots gift voucher, which required a Clinique counter. We accomplished our chores speedily, grabbed a carrier bag full of sandwiches from M&S and headed home in the heat.

It was in my head, as it was so hot, that a picnic would be nice on a big open beach somewhere. We attempted Pendine but it was stuffed to the gills. Nowhere to park unless we were willing to part with three quid and carry our picnic which, being hungry and grumpy, we weren't.

Instead we turned round and went back to Laugharne which has the virtue of being on the way home from Carmarthen while having a nice big shade-providing castle and a famous dead writer. It also has pushchair/toddler friendly paths (so useful in the past), free parking and very good ice cream.

It was lovely and it was cool sitting by the estuary eating our sandwiches and then we walked along the path that Dylan Thomas used to tread on his way to the pub and went to peer into tiny green-painted garage with incredible views that served as his writing hut. This is where he wrote Do not go gentle into that good night (although I don't know how anyone could write anything sitting in front of such a distractingly stunning view. Perhaps it was raining.) Thomas lived in Laugharne with his wife Caitlin and their children Colm, Aeronwy and Lewelyn until he died in 1953 and the couple are buried in St Martin's Churchyard. 

We peered from the path into the front door of the seashaken house and then climbed back down the path and scrambled over the breakneck of rocks back to the path along the estuary.

PROLOGUE by Dylan Thomas

This day winding down now
At God speeded summer's end
In the torrent salmon sun,
In my seashaken house
On a breakneck of rocks
Tangled with chirrup and fruit,
Froth, flute, fin, and quill
At a wood's dancing hoof,
By scummed, starfish sands
With their fishwife cross
Gulls, pipers, cockles, and snails,
Out there, crow black, men
Tackled with clouds, who kneel
To the sunset nets,
Geese nearly in heaven, boys
Stabbing, and herons, and shells
That speak seven seas,
Eternal waters away
From the cities of nine
Days' night whose towers will catch
In the religious wind
Like stalks of tall, dry straw,
At poor peace I sing
To you strangers (though song
Is a burning and crested act,
The fire of birds in
The world's turning wood,
For my sawn, splay sounds),
Out of these seathumbed leaves
That will fly and fall
Like leaves of trees and as soon
Crumble and undie
Into the dogdayed night.
Seaward the salmon, sucked sun slips,
And the dumb swans drub blue
My dabbed bay's dusk, as I hack
This rumpus of shapes
For you to know
How I, a spinning man,
Glory also this star, bird
Roared, sea born, man torn, blood blest.
Hark: I trumpet the place,
From fish to jumping hill! Look:
I build my bellowing ark
To the best of my love
As the flood begins,
Out of the fountainhead
Of fear, rage red, manalive,
Molten and mountainous to stream
Over the wound asleep
Sheep white hollow farms
To Wales in my arms. 
Hoo, there, in castle keep,
You king singsong owls, who moonbeam
The flickering runs and dive
The dingle furred deer dead!
Huloo, on plumbed bryns,
O my ruffled ring dove
In the hooting, nearly dark
With Welsh and reverent rook,
Coo rooing the woods' praise,
Who moons her blue notes from her nest
Down to the curlew herd!
Ho, hullaballoing clan
Agape, with woe
In your beaks, on the gabbing capes!
Heigh, on horseback hill, jack
Whisking hare! who
Hears, there, this fox light, my flood ship's
Clangour as I hew and smite
(A clash of anvils for my
Hubbub and fiddle, this tune
On a tongued puffball)
But animals thick as thieves
On God's rough tumbling grounds
(Hail to His beasthood).
Beasts who sleep good and thin,
Hist, in hogsback woods! The haystacked
Hollow farms in a throng
Of waters cluck and cling,
And barnroofs cockcrow war!
O kingdom of neighbors, finned
Felled and quilled, flash to my patch
Work art and the moonshine
Drinking Noah of the bay,
With pelt, and scale, and fleece:
Only the drowned deep bells
Of sheep and churches noise
Poor peace as the sun sets
And dark shoals every holy field.
We will ride out alone and then,
Under the stars of Wales,
Cry, Multitudes of arks! Across
The water lidded lands,
Manned with their loves they'll move,
Like wooden islands, hill to hill.
Huloo, my proud dove with a flute!
Ahoy, old, sea-legged fox,
Tom tit and Dai mouse!
My ark sings in the sun
At God speeded summer's end
And the flood flowers now.

PICTURE: Paddlers at New Quay by Maggie Christie.