This blog is mainly a rambling kind of diary of the transition from smallholderwannabe to smallholder.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Feeding folk in February.

It is February now. I've made lots of soup and baked six cakes for our church coffee shop and iced two cakes. Our coffee shop manager usually does most of the baking but she was ill and you can't have a coffee shop without cake. So I got summoned. Last week I made five gallons of soup and made and iced two cakes and I was quite tired at the end of that day. This week my husband was free so I got him to come along and help with the chopping of the veg and washing up. I wasn't nearly so tired at the end of that session but my husband was : )

We've been having a really good go at clearing out things since Christmas. I've lost track of the exact numbers but several hundred things have gone - either to the charity shop, in the bin, been recycled, given to family or on Freecycle. It is a very good start but there is a long way to go yet.

For the last few years, our church has been helping Operation Christmas Child. One of our members used to work for them and we have been a collecting point for our area for people to bring their filled shoeboxes to. This year, however, the charity has put up the money that you have to include to help pay for shipping. Last year it went up from £2 to £3 and this year it has gone up to £5 per box. A lot of people at our church feel it is a worthwhile cause but that the charity is pricing itself out of the market. It can cost quite a lot to fill the shoebox and then another £5 on top now. I've always kept an eye out for bargains through the year, the same as I do for family and friends' birthday and Christmas presents so that the cost of filling the shoebox(es) was kept down. And I knitted the hat, scarf and mittens usually with wool bought in a charity shop. We also found out that the head of the charity is earning a six figure salary. Yes, he has a big job because the charity is international, but people who live on just a pension felt that perhaps some of their money might be going to help pay his big, fat salary......  So now we are looking round for another worthwhile charity that will use our collective talents.

I've been knitting hats since Christmas because we have a local charity that uses them. Lots of them are stripey because I have a really big bag of oddments. I like having some knitting in my hands when I am watching a film on the tv. And these colder evenings are great for sitting in front of the woodburner and watching a film with my knitting in my hands. I recorded a stack of films over the Christmas period and am working my way steadily through them.

I've had one of my cats at the vet this last week. One of the cats in the neighbourhood has been terrorising my two. One of my two is of a particularly nervous disposition and he is obsessively cleaning himself and pulling out fur. He has quite a few bald patches and the skin is practically licked off in those areas. So the vet has given him an injection and we have bought another cat flap which is activated by the chip in the cats' necks. So Nasty Cat can no longer come into our house when he wants to, as he was prone to do. I've even found him in my bedroom on the top floor! But what I really objected to was his habit of spraying in my house, particularly in the kitchen. I didn't like starting to do some cooking and finding that he had sprayed up my saucepan rack...... I'm sure you quite understand that! So we just have to convince my two that they are quite safe in our house because Nasty Cat can no longer come in.

I've been to babysit my two youngest grandchildren this evening. Their big brother was playing the cornet in his first concert this evening and mum and dad wanted to go and see/hear him. I am very pleased that some of my grandchildren are turning out musical. I do so enjoy singing and playing and I'm glad the tradition is being carried on : )

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Tuesday, January 09, 2018

New Year - that was ages ago

Christmas is past. We had a lovely family time. We split up into two groups for Christmas Day dinner and then everybody brought some food and we all got together in one house for a buffet tea on Boxing Day. I really enjoyed it and it was great to watch the grandchildren opening their presents. But New Year is past as well. We went out to our friends' farm on New Year's Eve with a few other friends and we had a fun evening and saw the New Year in together.

Now we are a few days into January and things are getting back towards their normal routine. I made about five gallons of broccoli and stilton soup for the church coffee shop the other day. I got the broccoli on the last day that Aldi had it at 19p so it should make a decent profit for the coffee shop. I also got carrots at 20p to make carrot and coriander soup as well.  And of course, I stocked up on Christmas veg for us. There is no problem about storing it all in a cool place this weather!  : )

We went to Waitrose the other day too. Waitrose and Aldi are only a couple of doors apart. Waitrose had reduced some of their Christmas items to clear them off the shelves. We bought a cooked ham which was a dry cured hock with a mustard and honey dressing. It weighed two kilos and was just beautiful. It was sold originally for £35 but we got one for £5. The bone was much smaller than I was expecting so there was a real lot of tasty meat for that money. Yum!

I've been invigilating in school again this week. I don't mind being paid for being bored. I did an extra session this afternoon as the real invigilator didn't turn up and they phoned me as I live quite close by and could get there quickly. Their loss and my gain : )

Wishing everybody all the best for 2018.

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Advent is here

We must have got on well enough at my daughter's school a couple of weeks back because we have been booked to help with a school trip to Kenilworth Castle in March : )  I am sure we will sleep well that night with chasing around after three classes of Year4s at the Castle.

We are now in December and the Christmas round of busy-ness has started. Last week my husband and I cooked a Christmassy three course dinner for 60+ at church. We had a "Rudolph" starter which was a piece of melba toast, spread with pate and decorated with half a cherry tomato and a slice of cucumber cut in half and positioned to be ears/antlers. It worked very well and lots of people were seen smiling at it. They need to be spread with pate as close to serving as possible so that the crackers don't go soft...  I'm always looking for new ideas for starters that are economical, easy to produce in quantity and look nice. - and can be served on side plates so that we don't have to wash the bowls before pudding.

This morning at church we had the christingle service and this afternoon we have a group of elderly people coming in to have tea. They mostly live alone and have few friends left so we are doing a carol service for them and more christingles. We do this on the first Sunday afternoon of each month and the folk who come are always delighted to have an afternoon of chat and fun and perhaps a craft activity - and sandwiches and homemade cake. Hence the carol service today which is early in the season for it.

I have hit this year's target for things gone from the house. I'm very happy about this and it feels so much better to have hit a target of 500 than to miss a target of 1000 by a mile. I think I am going to continue next year. It will only take me another 50 years or so to have a tidy house... : )

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Back to school

I've been back in school both last week and this week.  Last week my daughter asked us both to go in for a day to work with Year 4 in primary school.  She was doing an activity with the whole year group which was three classes. We were making those buzzer toys - making weird and wonderful wire puzzles that you have to conquer by passing a loop of metal over without touching the wire or it buzzes. They have been learning about conductors and circuits. We got through all ninety something children but it was full on with no stops other than 20 minutes for lunch. The kids really enjoyed it and were so proud of their creations. When they were told to finish what they were doing because it was two minutes until lunchtime, one of the boys beside me said to his friend that he couldn't believe that it was lunchtime already. In my experience, boys always think it is lunchtime : )

This week, I've been in the nursery school run by our church. They were short of a staff member because of illness and there was one day when none of the bank staff could go in. Since I have a PGCE, I am one of the volunteers that can be asked to fill in. It is very hard work with three year olds! I nearly tore my hair out getting them to eat their lunch. The regular staff must have an inexhaustible supply of patience. Very different to the secondary age boys that I am more used to!

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Apples and marmalade

Life never seems to slow down but just seems to have periods that are either busy, really busy or frantically busy. We've been away to Cambridge for a few days for the last time this year. My husband had several days of meetings and I went too. I love having the opportunity to just potter around and Cambridge is a lovely place with lots of nice places to walk and lovely old buildings to look at.

I've had a birthday and so has my son and we had a family meal which was great fun. I do so enjoy it when all my family gets together.  My son prepared the main course and I did the pudding. We had apple crumble made from lots of the windfall apples I had been given. Most of them were very small and it took me about six hours to peel and cut up enough of the tiddlers to make apple crumble for 17, some of whom have hollow legs where pudding is concerned. I watched two films that I had recorded while I prepared the apples so it felt less like a chore. I did feel quite smug that I had not wasted all those little apples but at the same time,  I had definitely had enough of preparing apple by the time I had finished! I made two roasting tins full of apple crumble. The larger one was left plain and the smaller tin had sultanas added because I really like that. Most of my family don't like dried fruit so I felt that I had chosen the right way round. So which one did they almost all opt for? Next time (with larger apples!!!) I'll put the sultanas in the bigger tin : )

I've used up some more apples in some apple marmalade. I had not come across that before but it tastes really grapefruity and my husband thinks it is lovely so it may well become a regular on my list of preserves. It contains grapefruit and lemon but the main fruit is apple. I got the recipe here:

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Thursday, November 02, 2017

Even more cooking

My friend gave me the last of her cucumbers when she cleared the cucumber plants out of the ground. She has had a fantastic crop from those three plants this year. I made some more sweet cucumber relish so that is three double batches made this year. The main ingredients are cucumbers, onions, celery and peppers and each batch has had slightly different proportions of these, according to what I had in the house. It will be interesting to see which batch I like best.

However, everybody will definitely have a pot of this in their goody boxes this Christmas! Or else I'll never get through it all... I have tried some from the first batch and I really like it, which is just as well. I have also eaten a lot of cucumber over the summer thanks to my friend. I do hope she doesn't decide to grow fewer plants next summer : )

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

More cooking

We went to the allotment and picked all the rest of the raspberries. I prepared some more of the windfall apples I was given and made jam with the apple and raspberries with a handful of medlars and some late blackberries that were in a sheltered corner and one or two other bits and pieces. Hence the name raspberry allsorts jam. I had saved all the nicer bits of peel and cores from the apples and made some pectin stock which included our entire grape crop from this year (all five little bunches of unripe grapes) so I used a pint of that to help stretch the jam to another pot or two.

I still have marmalade to make and I'll stretch that with a little extra pectin stock too. I want to make some orange marmalade but I've also got a recipe for apple marmalade and I have yet more windfalls to use up... : )

Yesterday I was down at church making soup. Pumpkin soup - seven gallons of it.... Guess what is the "special" for next week? That is right - pumpkin soup for bonfire night. It will go in their freezer in tubs all ready to be taken out one at a time as needed. It took about six hours of chopping etc to produce that quantity of soup. And I was in bed early and slept well!