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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

More sourdough

I've made another loaf of sourdough bread.  I wanted to make two and freeze one but there was not enough sourdough starter for two so just one loaf got made.

The recipe I used (link on previous blogpost) is easy and very tolerant.  It also cooks in 30 minutes at 350'F (gas 4).  The author makes a point of stating that you turn on the oven and put the bread straight in and count the 30 minutes from that point.  Usually I bake the bread at a higher temperature and have to preheat the oven.  So this bread uses less gas -something I am rather keen on at the moment.  I need to build up the starter so I can make those two loaves at once. 

I part baked a couple of potatoes in the microwave and finished them in the oven while the bread cooked and also made a farmhouse omelette at the same time so good use was made of that gas : )

The thing about this particular loaf is that I prepared the starter on Saturday and tried to bake it on Sunday. I got up a few minutes early and kneaded the bread and set it to rise before I went to church for 9.00am.  The dough had not doubled in size until teatime (sourdough is very slow) so I knocked it back, kneaded it a bit more and put it in a loaf tin to double in size again.  By the time I wanted to go to bed, it still had not doubled again so I left it until the morning - our house is really cold so the dough was not rising very quickly.  By morning, the dough had overflowed the tin so I took it out, knocked it back again and put it back in the tin to rise yet again. I was wondering what the bread would be like after rising three times but it was probably the best loaf I've ever made.  I said that sourdough was tolerant and it most definitely is : )


Friday, May 08, 2015

Bread and jumpers

It is almost a month since I posted so bang goes my resolution to post just about every week.  The problem with not posting for a while is that I forget the minutia of life that I wanted to record so that I won't forget...

I'm still knitting the "fish and chip" jumpers for babies. See this link:

Angela from Tracing Rainbows has also written a post about them.  I've knitted a pile and given them to my friend down the road who added hers to the bag and passed them on to another friend of hers who passed them on - and so it goes.  That way, we don't have to pay the postage to get them to the charity who are sending them to Africa.  I have nearly finished the yarn that I was given.  It is machine knitting yarn really so I'm using four strands at a time with a coloured stripe in the body of the sweater to make it a bit more interesting.  I've knitted 27 in the last 6 months and have enough yarn to take it up to 30.  I'll stop then because it is a nice round number and my enthusiasm is definitely waning.  I need to be knitting something else for a while to make a change.  Although it is very useful to have a pattern that is so straightforward that I can do it while watching a film or a whodunit on the tv on a winter evening.

The friend that I pass these jumpers on to, was given a sourdough starter just before Christmas. She put in at the back of the fridge and forgot about it as time went on.  So she brought it up to me to see if I wanted to have a go with it.  She thought it was probably done for but wondered if my magic touch might resurrect it. I let it come to room temperature and fed it a couple of times and it started bubbling away merrily.  I've made my first loaf with it this week and given my friend back a good jarful of the starter.  The bread is lovely and I had a slice of it toasted for breakfast this morning spread with some homemade marmalade. Yum! I was surprised at how well it rose. 

I've experimented with sourdough before but not with a starter like this.  Before, I did it the way that Shirley Goode talked about in the early days of her blog.  She made a  loaf in the ordinary way, with yeast, but kept back a piece of the kneaded dough about the size of a small apple.  This is put into a bowl and just covered with water and left (covered with a teatowel) on the kitchen side. After 3 or 4 days, the lump of dough collapses down into the water.  Stirred up well, this is used as the liquid to make a loaf with a bit extra water to make it up to the right quantity if needed.  You keep a piece of dough back to prepare the starter/liquid for the next loaf and so it goes on.  Obviously, yeast is used for the first loaf, but there is not much of the original commercial yeast present in the next loaf and even less in the next etc.  I found this way of starting the bread to be very straightforward but our house is very cold and in the winter half of the year, it was taking forever for the wild yeast to work.

The bread takes a long time to prove when made by either of these methods but that means that you don't have to be around all the time but can go out and leave it.  It is very tolerant as regards time and this is another point in sourdough's favour.  Normal yeast bread doesn't like to be left to prove overlong.  It can even be left to rise overnight in the fridge.  Anyway, I'm pleased with my bread and my friend is pleased to have a fresh starter although we are both amazed that the starter hadn't been killed off by neglect. On the frugal side, each loaf only costs the price of the flour (bread flour in Aldi is 65p for white or wholemeal) and a bit of salt and sugar (and oil if liked) and oven time as the yeast is now free because of the starter. That is several pence off the cost of each loaf for a while.  Every little helps.  My next thing will be to make two loaves at a time and freeze one so that will halve the cost of the gas. The freezer is going to be in use anyway so the cost of the electricity doesn't really count.

There are a lot of articles available on the internet about sourdough and some of them are rather fancy.  I like plain and straightforward methods of doing things and this is a link to one of my favourite articles about sourdough.  It is American and the chap obviously lives in a warmer climate than is found in our house : )  He also has a useful FAQ section.

Mentioning gas reminds me that I sent in our meter readings and had the bills back this week for gas and electricity.  Apparently our use of gas has almost exactly doubled in Jan-April as compared with the same period last year.  I am puzzled by this as I just can't thing of anything that we were doing which would account for this. One of life's little mysteries albeit an expensive one.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015


Easter was a whole week ago.  It was a lovely weekend although very busy.  There were lots of things happening at church as you can imagine for an event that is THE major one of the Christian calendar. I met somebody that I hadn't seen for some time and they asked me if we were at home for Easter.  I replied that I rather thought that we were at church for Easter but not knowing our schedule from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday teatime, they didn't get the joke : )

On Easter Monday morning, I went to a local egg producer that has expanded its business rather.  They have a restaurant and a VERY expensive farm shop now although they do still sell their own eggs. For these two weeks around Easter, they also have a huge display in one of their barns.  They had lambs and calves, alpacas, miniature donkeys and several goats with kids, including pygmy goats whose kids were minute.  They had an area in the middle of the barn with various types and colours of fowl too.  And of course they had a little barn with incubators and brooders for recently hatched chicks. We managed to be there at the right time for my grandson to watch one chick fighting its way out of the shell.  Until you've watched it happen, it is hard to imagine how hard a job it is for the tiny chick to break out of this tough shell that has been its world for the previous three weeks. I love watching a very new chick just collapse asleep in mid stride.  It never fails to amuse me.  Of course, the whole object of going to this place was to let my grandchildren look at the animals....... : )

Then, later in the afternoon, we all went to my eldest daughter's house for her birthday tea.  So I had almost a whole day with my grandchildren, which I enjoyed. The birthday tea was good too.  My other daughter had baked two enormous cakes for tea - one was tiramisu  and the other was chocolate with a yoghurt topping and lots of fresh fruit laid out like a big flower. Yum!

Leon Lewis's photo.

Leon Lewis's photo.

You can't tell from this photo but the tiramisu cake with the chocolate topping was about 12 inches in diameter.  And no, despite our efforts, we didn't manage to finish the cakes. But we did our best!

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Last day of March

Already we are at the last day of March and the clocks have changed making the amount of daylight in the evenings feel wrong until I get used to it.  The weather has been practising for April showers and has been very windy.  In the pockets of sunshine, it has been nice and warm but out of them - brrrrr.

We went out to our minister's farm at the weekend to see the lambs and calves. Being a minister, he no longer has the time to spend on the farm that he had when he was a full time farmer.  They have 9 ewes and 3 cows.  The cows are mother, daughter and granddaughter with this year's calves and last year's calves.  One cow has yet to calve so there are 8 in total in the herd.  Because they are very much a family group, one cow will babysit the young calves while the other mums get five minutes to themselves elsewhere in the field.  The calves are just lovely.  They are Dexters so they are fairly small animals - just over a metre high at the shoulder.  The lambs are mainly white but there are some black ones too because they had some Zwartbles ewes a while back and still have one black ewe left. they are pretty sheep with white blazes and usually white socks too.  On an adult, the fleece fades to chocolate brown with the sun but when shorn, is still black at the root.  The other sheep are Suffolk crosses.  The lambs are just old enough to do that stiff legged springing movement that is so typical of young lambs.  Very cute!

Dexter Cattle
Redgate Zwartbles Flock 252's photo.

I've pinched the photos from the internet but they are both very typical of what I was looking at.

The visit to the farm was a church outing so I wanted to take some form of cake with me to share, preferably a tray bake that would cut up into lots of pieces.  I looked at my online file of recipes that I've saved and chose one that I've not made before.  It will definitely be on the list of ones to make again because it was so easy and tasted really good. I got it from Elaine's blog at MortgageFreein3.

Here's the link for Buttery Oaty Bites:

I didn't have any smooth peanut butter so I used the crunchy that I had in the cupboard and it added a nice bit of "chew". I was a bit unsure because they are not actually cooked other than melting the marg and sugar together but they were lovely and I had lots of compliments.  Definitely a keeper!

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Catch up

It is the middle of March and I saw a weather prediction for a warmer Easter. I think that I would like that! We have used far more wood this winter than we thought so we have already used wood that we thought might well be available for next winter. We have wood that is drying and maturing for next winter and some that is freshly cut that will be ready for the winter after.  We need to keep our eyes open for new opportunities for wood so that we don't have to pay for any for  long, long time.

I had a very nice Mothers' Day.  I hope you did too.  I don't like the family to spend lots of money on me - I would rather see them or at least get a nice, long phone call from them. My son and family brought me some flowers - a pot planted with seed and with three little seedlings poking their heads through. the tag read: for a blooming marvellous mum.  My grandchildren helped plant it and that is fun too. One daughter made a lovely dinner for us (lamb in a red wine sauce) and our other daughter came to eat too and brought a lemon drizzle cake and ice cream for dessert.  It was really nice to see them all.

At church, we have the tradition of sending every lady home with a bunch of daffodils on Mothers' Day so they are sitting in a vase here beside me as I type. They were tight buds on Sunday but now they have opened up into really beautiful double daffodils.  They are such bright and cheerful flowers.

I have made lots of trips to the little local supermarket in the hope of finding reduced groceries that I can pass on to our son and his family but all I have come up with are two packs of lambs liver and some turkey mince.  We will love them and they are now in the freezer but are of no use to my veggie son.

Said son ran a cookery course at his work which had a Mexican theme and brought us home some of the leftover ingredients.  Sometimes the sharing of booty goes both ways.  We were able to cook refried beans which I knew I would love but my husband was very suspicious.  I wish I'd had a video to record his face and tone of voice when he discovered that he liked them after all. He is so determined that he likes good British food best - like pizza and lasagne, I suppose : )

My hens are laying for England now but fortunately I have another new customer to take up the surplus.  I miss my old Bluebelle, though. She hatched in autumn 2008 and had started laying again at the end of February, which amazed me.  She was so old that I had not expected her to lay again but she is gone now.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Aldi again

Just a heads up that there will be a coupon in the Daily Mirror tomorrow (Thursday26 Feb) for £5 off a spend of £40 in Aldi - plus a range of coupons for either 50% or 30% off a range of products.

I've got my list of things that I have been saving to buy in Aldi when we had another voucher : )

I also had an email from Sainsburys today that said if we spend £30 there by Wednesday 4 March then we will get a voucher for 10p off a litre of petrol.  We had a journey of 200 miles last weekend and another of the same length to make this weekend so if we can fill up after the travelling, then that fuel voucher will be very useful indeed.


Friday, February 20, 2015

Bargain hunting

I've been bargain hunting quite a lot recently.  Sometimes you win and sometimes you don't but this week, I've done well. 

My son has recently had notice that he is being made redundant and with three kids and a mortgage, I've been bringing them bags of goodies when I've found them.  I want to help but not to be patronising.  Anyway, they wouldn't like it if I spent lots of money on things for them. If I bring them a bag of yellow stickered goodies, then I'm just sharing the spoils and it has probably cost me £1 to fill a carrier bag.  It means that they have a little bit saved from the housekeeping that week to put away for what may be lean times ahead.  They are the ones with the baby on special milk at £11 for a little tin.  The baby is taking to solid food like a duck to water so that helps a bit too and the baby's big sister has just come out of nappies so that is also a help : )

This week I popped into Asda when I was passing and got 6 boxes of eggs (free range!!) for a total of 95p.  The eggs had been dropped and overwrapped in plastic so that they would not drip everywhere.  I felt the boxes carefully for solid feeling eggs and chose my boxes carefully. The 6 boxes yielded 22 whole eggs plus two that were very slightly dented but not cracked right through the shell. That is roughly 4p per egg!  Yes, I know that I have hens but the laying has not quite picked up for the spring yet (mainly middle aged hens) and I needed to buy eggs because I had promised to bake some cake for church.  And when I popped into the mini Tesco near me to get some milk, they had reduced the large loaves of bread to 8p : ) It would cost me far more than that to make them, so I had one for us and three for my son's family.  That means a nice lunch of scrambled egg on toast for under 10p per person, ignoring gas costs. That is definitely a winner for our budgets : )

Edited this afternoon:
Just been out to collect the eggs and give the hens some mixed corn. The laying is just about starting to pick up for spring but not reliably and those who are going to lay again (some are too old ever to lay again) are laying funny sized eggs.  Last week there was one egg that weighed about 10g.  Today, poor old Star went the other direction and laid an egg that weighed in at exactly 100g grams.  A medium egg weighs about 60g and that is what she usually lays...

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