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

Monday, November 29, 2010

What a weekend. I think we are back at school for a rest.

On Friday we were at school for 8am as usual. Neither of us really got any lunch break. We left school about 4.30 and went straight to Aldi and on to Sainsburys. My husband had kindly volunteered us to cook a Christmassy dinner for church on Sunday before the church meeting in the afternoon. 70 people signed up to come. We eventually got home for dinner about 8pm and that was when we found my poor cat.

Saturday morning we went into school for the last of this series of Saturday schools. Then we went straight to Asda to see if we could buy the items that had not been on the shelves in either of the other two supermarkets. We got home about 3pm for lunch. After eating we went out to the garden to dig a grave for Sam but that was hard work because the ground was rather frozen. We get a lot of foxes through the garden so the grave had to be deep. So we said our goodbyes and buried him and it was so dark by then that the hens had gone up to roost so they didn't get cleaned out. We spent the rest of the evening planning a time schedule for cooking the meal.

Sunday, we were up at 6.30 - same as for school. We were at church early, put on our pinnies and got to work. Husband is brilliant in the kitchen at times like these. We were due to serve the meal at 12.30. We had others detailed to sort out the tables, cutlery etc which was a big help.

melon with maraschino flavoured cherry

turkey breast stuffed with cranberry and orange
extra portion of savoury stuffing with cranberry and orange
roast potatoes
mashed potatoes
roast pumpkin
bread sauce
cranberry sauce

veggie alternative was a Quorn roast with veggie gravy

Christmas pud with custard or (nice) icecream with choc sauce and fancy wafers

tea/coffee with After Eights

We broke even at £2.75 a head. It is always the little extras that bump the price up but everybody seemed to enjoy the meal and we had enough compliments to make us feel we had done a good job. I don't want to cook for 70 too often, though!! The mash was real and so was the bread sauce but we cheated with the stuffing and used packets. The carrots and broccoli were fresh but the roast potatoes were frozen. Previous experiences of cooking for larger numbers have led me to cheat with roasties :) We also have enough potato and veg peelings to keep the rabbits and the hens happy for several days. And I have a collection of cranberry sauce jars which will get filled with apple. So there are some fringe benefits...

After the meal, we had the church members' meeting after which we finished clearing up and were home just after 5pm. I rushed round and fed the animals and sat down with a cuppa and watched a silly Christmas film on the tv and didn't move until it was over. I had done no washing, or ironing or cleaning all weekend. Fortunately there were some clean things still in the ironing pile so I ironed those for work, had a slice of toast and fell into bed - just about asleep before my head hit the pillow. And about 3 seconds later, the alarm went off and here we are back in school again.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I got home from work yesterday to find my little tabby cat lying dead on top of my freezer. He was about 12 years old so not particularly ancient. He hadn't shown any evidence of illness so I reckon his time had just come. I feel very sad today though.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I bottled another 6 jars of apple on Sunday. The trouble is that I was so tired after the second church service that I forgot to put any sugar or lemon juice in... That takes my total to 16 jars (either 12ozs or 1 lb) which means that we can have one every 2-3 weeks until next apple season. Plus there are 4 bags of either apple or quince/apple in the freezer. There are more apples to go but they look in good condition and might keep for a bit so the pressure is off. Whew! I need to keep my eyes peeled for a deeper pan (charity shop...?) so that the jars are well covered. I can't quite manage the depth of water required. Or perhaps by next year, I'll have managed to acquire a collection of shorter jars with pop tops.

It is my granddaughter's birthday today and we are bidden to tea along with the rest of the family. It will be nice to see them. We have a lot of family meals in the autumn as it is birthday season. I need to sneak out of work 15 minutes early today so that I can feed the animals and still get to birthday tea on time. Sssh! Don't tell senior management... (Family meals need to be earlier these days so grandson can get home to bed before he is too far "past it".)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I have had to use the tumble dryer. i've been fighting using it and it has only been on a small number of times in 2010 when I was desperate to dry stuff. After hanging the clothes around the house for three days, they were still really wet and as I was worried about them getting that dreadful been-wet-for-far-too-long smell, I gave in and finished them off in the tumbler. As it was Saturday yesterday and we were in all afternoon and evening, we had the gas fire on in the living room for the second time this year. After we got in from Saturday school and ate lunch, I was sat preparing windfall apples for bottling and was cold so we succumbed to the fire. We had it on for seven hours and the temperature rose from 9'C to 15'C in that time. I did another load of washing and hung it round the living room overnight and it might dry without the tumbler again.

The bills were so awful last winter that I am determined not to use gas/electricity if I can possibly avoid it. Our gas bill for Dec 09 - Feb 10 was bigger than the combined gas/elec bill at my daughter's house - and they have the heating on all the time. The thing is, we tried really hard not to overuse the heating or the gas fire last winter and were cold a lot of the time. And it is miserable to feel cold but the bills were still high even if we were cold. If I have a high bill, I want it to be because we were warm.

I bottled 6 jars of apple yesterday and there is more apple to be done today. At least the kitchen is warm! We have an extra service at church this afternoon and we have been asked to help with the music so there won't be a lot of time for apple-ing but some needs done. I sit with several containers in front of me and distribute nice apple for cooking, nice peel and cores, and grotty bits for compost (wormery) accordingly. If I just have time to prepare a bit of apple, then the rabbits win out with the peel and cores. If there is a reasonable amount, then I boil it up and strain it through the jelly bag. The apple pulp remaining in the jelly bag gets pushed through a sieve and the resulting sieved apple gets added back in to the next lot of apple to be bottled. The hens get what is left over after the pulp is sieved. So generous of me! If I had an apple tree, I doubt that I would be quite so careful but I only got my hands on a few bags of windfalls.

The hens are not liking the colder weather at all and are not laying so many eggs. Even the new hens, born about last Christmas-time, are down to laying an average of 3 eggs a day from the 7 of them. Really, with them being young, I'd be expecting 6 eggs most days. I reckon some blame must go to the limited light in the garden because of all the trees overhanging from the neighbours on all 3 sides. I know I've written before about not being able to grow anything edible in the garden because the trees cut out so much light as well as taking all the goodness from the soil. I do reckon they are interfering with the laying habits of my hens too. Poor things must be thinking that it is dusk all day. I've also had to apologise to 3 regular customers this week because there were no eggs left for them.

Got to go and get ready to go back out to church again. It feels like there has been no let up this weekend at all as I must get some apples done when I get back in. I'm sure I'd be bored if I'd nothing to do but just occasionally I'd like the opportunity to find that out for myself!

Monday, November 15, 2010

This has been such a busy weekend. I felt that we didn't stop running until late yesterday evening. On Friday we started with an outing for the two of us. Oh, we really know how to have fun and live it up! We both had an appointment for a checkup at the doctor's at 5pm. Actually it was very convenient because it meant only one trip in the car so less petrol used. We hung around at work for a bit before going because it is less distance to the surgery from there. Even less petrol used.

My husband was pronounced fine. This was my repeat appointment because they said my blood pressure had gone up when I went for my annual checkup at half term. They wanted to check again to see if the last time was a blip or else they would have to increase my medication. I hate taking medication like this as I was told that once I went on these tablets, I would be taking them for the rest of my life. I went to the appointment feeling very stressed because I didn't want any extra medication and at the same time trying to breathe deeply and calmly.

Anyway, they got out the electronic machine and put the cuff on and started it going. It tightened the cuff until the circulation had stopped and my hands had gone purple and then it carried on... and I was thinking that my arm was being cut off. Then the lady eventually noticed that the machine was saying "error" and stopped it. "We'll try again, " she said and we did. Error again. And the next time too. By now my arm was very sore indeed. She went to find the old fashioned sphygmomanometer and then to find somebody who could use it. They used this machine three times too with the cuff exactly over the area used by the cuff of the electronic device of torture. Each time the reading went up.

The result is that I now am on new and much stronger medication with an appointment to go back in two weeks to check up on me again. My question is: is my blood pressure really up sufficiently to warrant this medication or are these high readings the result of worry and the stress of a beautifully bruised arm? When I went for the appointment at half term, I had forgotten to take my medication with me when we went away for a break so in my mind that would probably account for the higher reading then.

I suppose I really ought to be grateful to be looked after so well by the NHS. There are so many horror stories around of things mismanaged or missed and here I am receiving prophylactic treatment and feeling grumpy about it.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A friend called in last night with half a carrier bag of quinces for me last evening. It is only the second time I've ever got my hands on them so I'm looking forward to playing with them. A friend at church brought me three jam jars this morning so I reckon they will come in very useful.

I popped into Asda after church to get some milk. They did not have any skimmed milk which is what I prefer in my tea but they had just reduced lots of packs of meat. So we will be carnivores for the next couple of weeks but very inexpensively.

2 x 450g/500g packs of pig liver @ 32p each
2 x 450g packs of lambs kidney @ 50p each
1 pack of 2 large chicken escalopes @ 80p (treat for my husband who loves them)
1 very large pork chop @50p
3 pork steaks @ £1
550g of very lean diced pork @ £1.50

I love liver and onions and we also do a nice rice/veg/kidney risotto-like dish. They had steak reduced and pieces of cod and sausages but I was getting worried about not being able to fit everything in the freezer. What I've got there will do at least 14 days' meals and hopefully rather more when I've got my thinking cap on straight. You can be sure that every meal will still be having a bit of marrow in it to pad it out : ) Our onions and potatoes are still going strong and there are parsnips and various other bits around that we haven't started yet.

We've had a couple of eggs this week from the hen who had moulted most. Some of her feathers are not fully grown back yet but she is looking so much better - and obviously feeling more like herself if she has started laying again. She has not laid since August. The others must be feeling a bit more wintry because we only had 6 eggs yesterday from the 14 hens young enough to still be in lay. They miss their afternoon corn as they have gone to bed before I get home from work now that the clocks have changed. I miss seeing them as well. In another week or two, we'll have gone to work before they get up too. I'll only see them at the weekends then. Not only do I miss their funny antics and cheerful clucking but I miss being able to check them for signs of illness etc as well.

I've got my annual review tomorrow morning at work. Accountability is all very well but I hate the hoops you have to jump through. I just want to get on with my job and forget the hoops and jargon.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

We were both invigilating at the entrance exam for the grammar schools in our area today. One of our few bits of paid overtime. Next week and for the few Saturdays after, we get to do Saturday school. The bad news is that we heard this week that Saturday schools are getting the chop. Cutbacks again. Either this session or the spring session will be the last. Ah well, it was good while it lasted.

It has been a long week and a hard morning so I'm tired. There are lots of jobs to be done but most of them are going to wait until tomorrow. Beyond a few essential jobs, the rest of today is declared a holiday. I am just sitting down at the computer with a cuppa to start things off.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

This weekend, I ticked another item on my want-to-do list. A friend had given me a small bag of cherry tomatoes she had grown so that I could have a go at bottling them as she does. I had planted loads of tomato plants this year so that we could have a surplus and freeze some and bottle some for the winter. Unfortunately, the tomato plants didn't cooperate and I had about 2lbs of tomatoes from 10 plants. I've no idea what went wrong but I'll give it another go next year.

My friend gave me these tomatoes but the trouble was that they tasted too wonderful and I only had enough left to fill one jar and not the two I'd hoped for. I also did one jar of stewed apple because I was running out of weekend and oomph. Hopefully I'll manage some more apple next weekend as I still have some windfalls to use up. I was given another bag of them yay! It was a real job to get the apple jar out of the saucepan (water bath) without scalding myself as it only took 20 minutes to the tomato jar's 40. I have to say that the two jars smile at me every time I walk past them on the side in the kitchen. And I loved hearing the pop as the lid sealed. I really ought to put them in the cupboard soon. If I can do this more, it will help just a little bit with the pressure on freezer space.

This winter, I will keep a cardboard box for a collection of jars with pop lids that are a bit smaller in height as they will be easier to fit in a saucepan. My husband is laughing at me but I feel so pleased with these two jars and with the butter I made.