Saturday, 31 May 2008

Cothi Bridge Show Part I

(Click on photos to enlarge).

This is our local show and I always try to go each year. I took LOADS of photos, but won't bore you with 60 + of them! Here are a selected few, just to give you a flavour of the day.
I had a wander round the craft tent, but before I could see it all, the judging started. Here is part of the needlecraft section.

Here is just one part of the children's class for animal made from a vegetable! These made me smile.

I took a quick photo of the flower displays on my way out.

Up at the top end of the showground were the sheep and cattle classes. Here is a splendid Jersey cow (how she walked with SUCH a full udder I don't know! If my memory serves me rightly, I think her colour may be called Mulberry - the deepest Mulberry is black, but I think it ranges through grey too. A change from the usual golden Jerseys though.

One of the beef breeds - I don't know which one but it has a blackside like a Belgian Blue or Limousin, only the colour's wrong!

Children showing a fine trio (look a bit like Suffolks to me).

I know that these gorgeous sheep are Hampshire Downs as I spent some time talking to their owner.

A cracking ewe, though I don't know the breed.

The initial line-up for the ridden Section C Welsh class.

One of the entrants for the ridden Shetland Pony classes with his very smart mum.

How's that for action? What all the Welsh Cob enthusiasts at the ringside come to see!

One of the entrants for the coloured classes. LOTS of feather, but personally I'm an Arab fan . . .

Nearly summer

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Isn't this beautiful - a myriad of Ox Eye Daisies and Pink Valerian on the roadside as I was walking home from the Show today. A few Knapweed in there somewhere, and some buttercups too. Just stunning.

I had a lovely morning at the show and will do a proper writeup later (I took nearly 70 photos!)

Needlework and gardening

(Click on photo to enlarge)

This is an exchange block for a quilt from a swop on the Creative Living forum. This is for Wren and i hope it arrives safely. The theme was garden pond, and I just happened to have some material with the appropriate print on it!

I am a Mattock gardener at times - that is, my intake part of the yard is challenging to say the least. This is MUCH progress made on the 2nd bean area - getting there, slowly!

The first flower on my Paul's Himalayan Musk - and a million more to come.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Heathland part II

Gorse - blooming happily in January!

When I had to drive across Llanllwni mynydd recently, it had greatly changed. It had been swaled last year - swaling is a controlled burning to get rid of the leggy heather which prevents the moor grass growing. As a result there were acres and acres of the rough moorland grass (purple moor grass) and some happy sheep! Mostly the sheep grazing up there are the diminutive Welsh Mountain sheep who can cope with the poor grazing and the poor weather over the winter months. Their lambs aren't normally born much before April, and are sweet little things, with tan-brown blodges on the back of their necks and around the tail areas - they look a bit like woolly Jack Russell terriers! The "Heathland" book by James Parry refers to areas of moorland in southern Pembrokeshire (some of which I know from my Archaeology Field Trips), where young boys were given boxes of matches by their fathers and told to go and "burn the common"! Hmmm - how to raise an arsonist . . .

In the past, this sour peaty land in many places was used for the age-old tradition of turving. Hence the old laws of Turbery on the New Forest and elsewhere. Forest commoners would be limited to the number of turves they could cut in a year - usually around 4,000. Some 1,500 homesteads qualified in 1858, and amazingly this added up to about 6 million turves per year. Heather and peat sods were collected in summer using a special spade and dried in stacks on site. Each sod was about 9 inches by 18 inches (22.5 x 45cm), and a minimum of 3/4" (2.5cm) thick - any less and it would fall apart. To ensure that grazing was not lost, and to allow regeneration so the supply would be continual, a strict rotational pattern was used. A chequerboard pattern where 2 turves were removed, leaving one square to grow back, was the norm. Once dried, the turves would be taken and stored under cover for the winter fuel. Many small industries grew up near heathland areas and were fuelled by turves cut locally.

This rough heathland was primarily grazing, however, and ponies and sheep were also partial to the young (softer) growth of the furze (gorse) bushes which grew amid the heather. Some farms had their own gorse mills and if you are ever in Wales, pay a visit to the amazing collection of vernacular buildings and the museum at St Fagans on the edge of Cardiff, and you will be able to see a purpose-built gorse mill building. Such gorse mills would sometimes be water powered. Dried gorse wood would be gathered into faggots, its quick-burning qualities ideal for fuelling domestic bread-ovens. The well-grown gorse was also utilised for chimney-sweeping, with a rope tied either end of the gorse bush and some zealous sweeps at top of chimney and hearth. Gorse blossom was gathered for wine-making (I have done so myself) and the blossom also produced a yellow dye. On Dartmoor, the gorse is known as "Dartmoor Custard"!

The moorland would be busy with furze cutters throughout the year - the bundles of cut gorse being secured by lengths of brambles and carried home. The cutters' hands were protected by stout gloves, of even by winding rope around the hands. The gorse was used by the cottager or sold at market, where there was a brisk trade. Apparently "a good faggoter could cut and tie a hundred faggots a day and for a long time in recent history that day's work would have earned him 2/6d" (12 1/2p in modern money).

Bracken - that bane of modern hill farms, where it is always trying to increase its range - was once utilised in many ways. It was primarily used as a bedding for farm animals, but also used as a compost on the fields, where it was strewn and then ploughed in. As a fuel, it burns rapidly and in the Middle Ages used as a fuel for brick and tile kilns. It was used as a packing material for fragile goods such as china or glass, and also strewn on farmhouse floors or yards and trackways - anywhere where muddy boots and feet needed to be mopped up! When burnt, bracken produced potash, which was not only an excellent fertilizer, but an essential ingredient for soap and glass manufacture.

(Many thanks to James Parry's excellent book "Heathland" where many of these facts were garnered).

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Heathland poetry

There will be a longer post - as long as my connection lasts - consider this a stop-gap. I have the glums today - I will put it down to the weather - so I am having an indulgent half hour and would like to share this beautiful piece of poetry with you. It is John Clare's Emmonsails Heath in Winter:

I love to see the old heaths' withered brake
Mingle its crimpled leaves with furze and ling

While the old Heron from the lonely lake

Starts slow and flaps its melancholy wing,

An oddling crow in idle motions swing

On the half rotten ash tree's topmost twig,

Beside whose trunk the gipsey makes his bed

Up flies the bouncing wood cock from the brig
Where a black quagmire quakes beneath the tread;

The field fare chatters in the whistling thorn

And for the awe round fields and closen rove,

And coy bumbarrels twenty in a drove,
Fly down the hedgerows in the frozen plain
And hang on little twigs and start again.

From memory, a "bumbarrel" is a Long Tailed Tit.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Back to the future

This is the view from the top of Llanllwni mynydd looking towards the Presceli hills, where the Stonehenge bluestones came from. Click to enlarge, as ever.

Yesterday's weather was abysmal. More like October than May - terrific gales and a few hours' rain after lunch. We had a power cut too. When we phoned to report the outage, we were told that all the local villages were out and it might be 6 hours before we got the power back.

I had been making a big pan of soup and stewing up some lamb bones for stock, so I left them on the heat. Sadly, my soup needed another half an hour's cooking so the idea of soup for lunch was abandoned. I had been busy spinning when the lights went out, leaving our kitchen pretty dark, so we lit the candles which are in applewood candlesticks turned by my husband a few years back. This room is gloomy on all but the sunniest of summer days, as the main window faces East and is a Victorian bay add-on, and the only other window is at the back of the room, facing South. I needed to comb more of my Jacob fleece anyway, so I went and sat in the bay window and combed up a big pile to spin. Then as I didn't really need much light to spin by, I stayed in the gloom and spun and spun for about 2 hours when power came back on. I was just starting to really enjoy NOT having the power. No distractions of tv or radio (though if I am honest, I did look for batteries so I could listen to Radio 4).

The soup had carried on cooking with the residual heat (I use Le Creuset pans) and just needed heating up for a late meal. I had spun half a bobbin of wool. The grubby combed-out bits of left-over fleece went onto the compost heap. I have toyed with the idea of washing the coarser bits of this fleece however, and using it as a backing for a warm bed quilt (I have the material upstairs, just waiting for me to shift up a gear!) I have an old Welsh quilt which used up fleece in this manner and it is SO warm . . .

I could return to my vacuuming (deep joy . . .) I did the worst bit first - the stairs. The Dyson was very sniffy about the cat hairs and since I was having to use the skinny little pipe which is meant for getting in corners (as the proper stairs head attachment is unwieldy and crap) it was heavy going. Lightbulb moment. I went and fetched the stiff bristled brush my mum used to use on her stair carpets. Gosh, but I never knew there was so much detritis trapped in the carpet pile. The Dyson sucked that up OK. And a dead bat. Then rounding the home bend, on the darkest part of the stairway, a sudden chortling raspberry noise as the nozzle got another dead bat stuck across the end of it. I was about to turn the Dyson off when push came to shove and the bat disappeared up the tube . . . Note to self, OH really MUST sort out that bit up under the eaves in the top bathroom where they are coming in . . . Think Pipistrelle rather than Fruit Bat size (thank heavens!)

This morning I found that the hallway, vacuumed only yesterday afternoon, had a pile more dead leaves in it which had blown in under the door when someone had forgotten to put the draught excluder back across (think Georgian door and nothing level in the house = large draughty gap). The Dyson was still lounging upstairs. I went and fetched the dustpan and brush and saved on electricity and I probably burned up at least 2 calories doing it!

With oil prices going up daily, most of us are in for a sharp shock this winter. We have already planned when the heating is going on - and staying off. The Hergom stove in the kitchen will go on in the morning to provide heat (we live in the kitchen most of the day) for us and to dry clothing - we have two Betty Maids which we hang our damp washing on - thus saving on having the immersion heater on. In the afternoon the central heating will go on for a couple of hours to warm the rest of this (enormous) house. The wood burner will be on during the day on the coldest days of winter - we have found that the daily newspapers (which we formerly recycled) burn quite efficiently when tightly screwed up, and the residual heat from this keeps the worst of the damp/chill off the room (we shouldn't be having to do this in MAY, however!) When we do have the woodburner fuelled with wood during the day, I shall use it for heating water for washing up, tea-making and cook soups and casseroles on the top, to save using electricity.

We have a couple of tree trunks, which have been felled a few years now, to cut up for the winter stores, and we are fortunate to have trees around our fields, and about half an acre of woodland which has a couple of dead trees (still standing) which will see us through this winter. Whilst we plan to downsize in the next year or so, the next property will still need to have land for growing fruit and vegetables and woodland for renewable fuel. Plus a very big polytunnel so we can be as self-reliant as possible.

So - a two-hour power cut has made me look into the future and change some habits of a lifetime . . .

Monday, 26 May 2008

Chutney, Biccies and Spinning Jennie

Here is the batch of Mango Chutney I made yesterday. It turned out a little darker than usual as I used Demerara Sugar, but it texture was good and it will be splendid with a chicken curry.

Here are the Double Chocolate Chip cookies I made this morning for my son. Double only because they had both white chocolate and milk chocolate in them, as I had half a bar of the milk choc. going begging too.

This is the Jacob fleece I bought at the Smallholders' Show. It is crammed into that black bin liner, so a good few hours' work there.

I was combing the worst of the tangles and bits out of the fleece whilst my biccies were in the oven. I don't like to sit idle, and couldn't really leave the room. "Before" combing at the back . . .

This is my Ashford wheel, which I bought 2nd hand at the end of the Spinning Course I did (last year - or was it the year before?) You get some idea of how dark our house is in the winter - this is with two overhead lights on (low energy bulbs admittedly) AND the flash from the camera!

This is where all cats reckon they should be on a day like today - whilst not raining yet, it is blowing a hooley still and NOT nice outside. This is Gypsy, who turned up on our doorstep as a stray. This cushion on the top of the coffer, just outside my office door, is her idea of pussy cat heaven.

Now, if I can find my beeswax, I am going to make some home-made polish this afternoon. I may be gone some time . . .

Chocolate cinnamon cake and cookies

Click to enlarge - ferns growing on the lane bank locally. One of my better photos . . .

Yarrow has requested that I post the recipe for the Chocolate Cinnamon Cake I made last week (though forgot to take a photo of!) I am also baking White Chocolate Chip cookies this morning, so will add that recipe too, and update with a photo if I don't burn them to a cinder (oven playing up).


(I didn't bother with the banana sauce).

4 oz (115g) plain chocolate, chopped
Same amount of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
5 eggs, separated
7 oz (200g) granulated sugar (I used caster sugar)
4 oz (115g) flour (S-R)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the Sauce:

4 ripe bananas
2 oz (50g) soft light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon resh lemon juice
6 fl oz (175ml) whipping cream
1 tablespoon rum (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180 deg. C/350 deg. F/ Gas 4). Grease an 8 inch (20cm) round cake tin.

Combine the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over hot water and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the coffee. Set aside.

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and lemon-coloured. Add the chocolate mixture and beat just to blend the mixtures evenly.

Sift together the flour and cinnamon into a bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Fold a dollop of whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whites in three batches, alternating with the sifted flour.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean - 40-50 mins. Unmould the cake onto a wire rack.

For the sauce - preheat the grill. Slice the bananas into a shallow, heatproof dish. Add the brown sugar and lemon juice and stir to blend. Place under the grill and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is cramelized and bubbling - about 8 mins.

Transfer the bananas to a bowl and mash with a fork until almost smooth. Stir in the cream and rum, if using. Serve the cake and sauce warm.

(It's nice cold too, and gorgeous with a dollop of ice cream . . .) Meant to serve 6!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 24

4 oz (1115g) butter or marg, at room temperature1 3/4 oz (50g) caster sugar
3 3/4 oz (110g) dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
6 oz (170g) plain flour
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/8 tspn salt
6 oz (170g) chocolate chips (I am using white and cheating by just chopping up a bar of white chocolate - don't pay extra for little bags of specially-shaped "chips" - I never buy those)
2 oz (55g) walnuts, chopped (I will omit as my son doesn't like them)

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F/180 deg. C/Gas 4. Grease 2 large baking sheets.

With an electric mixer, cream the butter or marg and two sugars together until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, mix the egg and vanilla, then gradually beat into the butter mixture. Sift over the flour, bicarb. of soda and salt and stir. Add the choc. chips and walnuts and stir well to combine.

Place heapted teaspns of the dough 2 inches (5 cm) apart on the prepared sheets. Bake until lightly coloured - 10 or 15 mins. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Both these recipes came from a book "Complete Baking" by Martha Day, which my son bought me for Christmas one year.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

A giant of a tree

(Click on photos to enlarge).

This wonderful tree was just to one side of the abbey ruins at Margam Park. It must be several hundred years old. I loved the elegant swooping of the branches so that they touched earth. In the green twilight beneath the tree's canopy, it was like being in fairyland. I grew up near the New Forest, and some of the Forest's magnificent oak trees date from the time when trees had their branches "trained" to form the ribs for our Navy's ships, back in the days of sail. Buckler's Hard was the naval dockyard at a time when some of Nelson's fleet were built. See:

A closer look at the tree, soaring into the sky just as the abbey buildings once did. I thought it was a beech, I was certain in fact, but then looking at a close-up of the leaves, they are very serrated on the edges . . . Perhaps an American beech? There are special arboretum plantings in the grounds.

I will dedicate these photos to my friend Leanne, who loves trees, and to my husband and eldest daughter who also feel the same way. I would find it very hard to live anywhere that DIDN'T have trees.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Spinning, Jacob Sheep and a Castle

(Click on photos to enlarge)
Laburnum - which grows along the hedgerows in our part of Wales. Although it is poisonous to livestock, it seems tolerated. Legend tells that in the Great War, wood for fencing posts was in such short supply, that Laburnum was all that was available. Once stuck in the ground, it rooted! Hence hedgerows of the stuff - SO pretty at this time of year. It grows on Brenda's farm too.

This morning I had an invitation to visit a Farm Open day. I had promised a cake and some preserves for this too. I met Brenda, whose farm it is, at the Smallholders' Show last weekend. I had a lovely morning out, nice and relaxed, and bought some Celery from another of their stalls to plant up in my veg. plot. Brenda has an excellent flock of Jacob Sheep, and is an expert spinner and weaver - many of her textiles have won prizes. We had a good chat, and I will be joining her Spinning group this winter, as well as taking a one day course she is giving on Tapestry Weaving in January.

On the way back home, I stopped off in Newcastle Emlyn, the little market town on the banks of the River Teifi. I visited the castle for the first time in years, and treated myself to some Snapdragons, Violas, a blue Corydalis and some Celery seeds. The plants are planted, and I shall put some seeds in this evening, as I am late with them already - they should have been started off a month ago.

Of course, I had my camera with me, and took lots of photos . . .

Some of Brenda's Jacob Sheep.

Brenda spinning in her workshop.

Another view of the workshop.

Some of the beautiful things made from the Jacob wool.

Newcastle Emlyn town hall.

Newcastle Emlyn castle - the gatehouse. Here's the link if you want to know more about the history of the Castle.

View through window towards the town hall.

The weir on the River Teifi.

View of River Teifi from the bridge.

Such a pretty cottage, with its Montana Rubens clematis.

The Garden Centre where I just HAD to stop and browse . . . I bought Violas, Snapdragons, Celery Seeds and a splendi Blue Corydalis.

View from the top of the hill near our house, looking across fields which have been cut for silage, towards Black Mountain.

More Laburnum growing in a hedgerow nearby.

I like a challenge . . .

(Click on photos to enlarge)

This is my husband with the slasher, tackling the brambles t'other side of my veg plot. As you can see, he had his work cut out. Nature likes to reclaim her own. Unfortunately he unearthed a pile of junk beneath the brambles, so that needs taking to the tip. The fennel in the foreground is self-seeded and it's just as well as the ooooooooold fennel in the raised herb bed snuffed it over the winter. It had been there about 10 years though.

This is the tidy bit of my veg plot, and a soft fruit bed. The grass is about to be hoiked out though.

This is the "intake" part of the veg. plot where I extended last summer and grew beans and courgettes. As you can see, nature reclaims her own so it is back to mattock gardening for me. Sigh.

As you can see, I do mattock gardening very well. This was where some more beans will go again this year when I've totally cleared the area.

Here in the gravelled garden, I at least stand a sporting chance. To the left, in front ofthe stable door into the utility room, is a wildlife pond. I planned this part of the garden for years before it happened - I cut a picture from a gardening magazine and had it pinned on the fridge door as my inspiration.

Aquilegias are some of my favourite flowers.

I have singles and doubles in all sorts of colours.

This sort remind me of the skirts of Crinoline ladies . . .

This is part of the new planting in an extension of the main border. Some verbascum here, with Delphiniums behind them.