Sunday, 31 August 2008

Catch up in the kitchen

Here are my two Car Boot Sale bargains from yesterday, both £1 each. The 3rd and final Two Fat Ladies book - LOVED them for their character and non-PC ways!

If you don't have this book and see it in a Charity Shop or at a Car Boot Sale, treat yourself, as not only is it beautifully written, I want to cook just about every recipe in it!

I decided that as it doesn't look like there will be many Sloes for the picking in our neck of the woods, I would defrost a bag of last year's from the freezer and make my Sloe Gin a month early. So that is now all sorted and in a jug, which I have put next to the kettle, to remind me to shake it every time I make a cup of tea!

I use Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's (River Cottage) recipe, as it isn't thick and cloyingly-sweet like cough medicine. I use a bottle of gin (supermarket cheapy is fine), 2 oz/2 tablespoons sugar, and about 1lb 2oz fruit (perhaps a little over this time). Having put a Runrig CD on in the background, I then sat down with my darning needle and poked it into every Sloe (right through so two holes for the juice to ooze from).

That done, I added the sugar, and finally the gin. I use a lidded jug so I can give it a shake without fear of it leaking. I will shake it several times daily until the sugar has completely dissolved and as much juice has left the Sloes as will do - 3 - 4 weeks is fine. It will "just" be ready to drink around Christmas, but left another year (or more) it will be superb!

I had intended to make Cherry Brandy again this year, but having got to the checkout with the brandy, realized I'd forgotten the Cherries. Rather than run across the store for fresh fruit, I grabbed some summer fruit pudding mixture from the freezer, and we will be having a bottle of summer fruit brandy instead now. I still may get some cherries though . . .

I used the same recipe - just over a pound/500 grm fruit, 2 oz sugar and the brandy. It will be stronger tasting than the Sloe Gin, but I may add more brandy if it's a bit overwhelming.

Just in case you are idly wondering how my new crochet blanket is coming on (now I can actually understand a written pattern!), y'er 'tis . . . About 35 rows now. It will keep me busy for a while yet.

Friday, 29 August 2008

The old days

This photo was taken in Brecon and the words on the wall led to an old posting inn dating back to the 18th and 19th century.

You may have noticed a theme with me - my preoccupation with the past, especially the Victorian past, and with country living, and with old houses, and history, and museums, and archaeology, and Old Things and Old Skills. I make no apologies.

Here is the result of an eclectic delve into my photos. I am sticking to home for the first one - it is an aperture high in the wall of what is now a bedroom. It would have led through to the master bedroom - but that would have been when that room was a mill room - it still has a huge window facing north and overlooking the paddock. The mill pond might be full of trees now, and dry, and the leat stream has been moved back a good few yards every time Gary has been in the area with his digger, but this farmhouse, like many in our part of Wales, was once a mill as well as a working farm. We found all sorts of debris beneath the floorboards when we were renovating the house - lots of chaff and barley husks were beneath that bedroom floor. I assume some mill machinery went through the wall here.

Still from our house, the little rat-nibbled child's tackety boot (probably Victorian), cat's skull and mummified rat which were each found over different doorways in the house, dating from when such items were considered charms against witches and the Evil Eye.

Still in our house - the ancient skill of wine-making, an old table from auction which was used for I don't know what as it has slats across it (candle making?) and my old beam scales beneath. They came from auction in Blandford, Dorset before we moved here, and cost me £3.

This stable was at Powis Castle, and shows what the stalls were like in Victorian times.

On my trip to York recently, I couldn't resist taking a photo of this lovely half-timbered building. I believe it is a restaurant.

This butter press is French-made, but skillfully done and I shall try it out the next time I make butter again.

This old horse-shoe from a Shire or other big working horse, is one that I found in the stream near Lime Kiln Field. It would undoubtedly be made by the old blacksmith at the bottom of our hill (though his forge has long been under a modern bungalow.)

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Round Robin walk

I have started walking regularly again, to get fitter, try and lose weight and improve my lung capacity. The latter is not difficult as living on the side of a river valley as we do, every walk I take involves a hill either at the beginning or the end of it, and lots in the middle too. Yesterday I did a 3 1/2 mile round robin walk around the local lanes, a plastic bag in my pocket should I come across any tempting blackberries (and yes I did . . .)

This is Orpine, and until we moved to this part of Wales, I had never seen it growing anywhere before, but is seems fairly common along upland Carmarthenshire lanes. It is a member of the Sedum family. There are several clumps of it on the bank beside the lane going uphill from our house.

Here's the steepest stretch of the hill behind our house, and whilst it doesn't look terribly steep, if you walk it, you would find out the hard way!

A little further along I met up with an old adversary of ours - a neighbouring farmer's goat. A neighbouring farmer's billy goat in fact. Everything they tell you about billy goats smelling rancid is completely true. I smelt this one a hundred yards back down the lane. He was up to no good - and when he caught my eye, he tried to pretend that he wasn't really demolishing the shrubs on the top of my neighbour's wall. Oh no, he was merely rearranging them.

I drew closer, and he withdrew to consider the best strategy. He decided if he looked away, then I couldn't see him. When I told him off, he gave me a dirty look and calmly hopped over the wire fence back into his field, which he shares with some cattle, sheep and a couple of Welsh Cobs. I know him from when he came visiting at our house, and I came home to find my darling Arab hurtling round the paddock, covered in sweat, and the above billy goat running after him, demanding that his New Friend Come Back. Poor Fahly - the billy had rammed him in the tummy with his horns (fortunately he just gave him a graze and not a puncture), but neither of us was the least bit amused. It took days to catch the little beast, and involved me and a bucket of feed and having to launch myself at his horns and get him in a headlock, whilst my husband phoned the farmer to come and remove the little horror.

Further along the lane another neighbour has a good flock of ducks, gees and hens. His donkey mares had all had foals too.

This ruin was once the family home - probably until about the First World War or just after. It was thatched once (now hidden under the wriggly tin), and is a little cruck-framed cottage. It suffered the fate of many such buildings when the family wanted - and could finally afford - a new house (which was built with windows resolutely facing AWAY from a beautiful view . . .) Then the old cottage was used to house cattle, and store farm implements and feed, and gradually became more ramshackle and decrepit until even the hens declined to roost in there. The road-end wall finally fell over after a bad storm some 5 or 6 years ago. We had been taking bets on which winter it would fall, and which way the wall would collapse . . .

As you can see, yet another hill. Not so steep, but this far into the walk, still a challenge to the thigh muscles. . .

At the top is a lovely example of an old Carmarthenshire farmhouse, with its characteristic slate "weatherboarding" (we have it on the back of our house too, which faces S-W - the way of the prevailing weather). This slate covering is also used in many parts of Cornwall, which also suffer from S-W weather patterns.

Looking across to Merlin's Hill from the farmhouse. It was pretty drizzly on my walk, but it was too hot to keep on a top over my t-shirt, so I just got gradually wetter (and cooler). On top of Merlin's Hill is an Iron-Age hillfort, and the associated farm on the hillslopes now has a Merlin Visitor Centre, but I am too mean to check it out as I don't think it's worth the visit. In the 1970s, Mary Stewart wrote a book called The Crystal Cave which was set here (brief summary of plot at
There is actually a spring here, but I think it's at the bottom of the hill near the roadside - not in a cave at the top of the hill. Sorry to disappoint you. A good read all the same, and first of a trilogy I think.

Autumn has come early this year, although the hips, haws, blackberries and other wild fruits seem to be very slow this year. Here the haws of the Hawthorn (or May tree, as I know it from its white spring blossom) are gradually colouring up. I've not made jelly or sauce from them, but some folks do.

Here is a flower which reminds me of my garden when I was a child growing up in Southampton. Along with Yarrow, it grew at the margins of our garden, and is Toadflax - a wild Snapdragon (or Antirrhinum).

On the homeward part of the journey, here is an old cottage which has been restored and extended and is a lovely family home now.

A neighbour's horses thought I was Very Scary Indeed!

Nearly home, and this is the barn conversion belonging to our nearest neighbours up the hill. Downhill all the way from here.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Cats . . .

(Click on photos to enlarge)
My daughter, the cat magnet (and on her head she has a pillow!!!)

We have more than our fair share here, as they seem to regularly turn up on the doorstep. We don't go looking, honest. We have, erm, eight at the last count. The matriach of them all (and mum to two) is little black Lucky. She used to be a feral cat - we would see her in the woods and she once brought us a kitten to look after, but it escaped and disappeared. She finally came to us for food when she was absolutely starving. I managed to stroke her when she was eating, and though she spat and told me off, she didn't run away and after a week or so she suddenly pushed her little head up into my hands in delight. She was soon a house cat, and also fairly soon presented us with 3 black kittens. She is very much MY cat, and quite a bossy boots. If you haven't fed her quick enough she will dab you with her paw - claws OUT, little wretch. She has half a tail and her long black coat is now brown over two-thirds of her body, where she doesn't moult it out.

Her daughters are Lucy and Fluff (the 3rd kitten, Polly, was found a home nearby). Fluff is very like mum, but with all her tail, and taller. She is not my favourite cat, as she can be a bit handy with her claws if she's cross, and has been for D's face when he was younger. My two girls are very fond of her - hmmmm, they can keep her!

Her sister Lucy is black and short haired, and very lean. We call her the Racing Snake! She is a superb hunter and always bringing back mice and voles and occasionally baby rabbits. She was mum's cat, but has adapted to living up here with us now. She is very affectionate and loves to be on people's laps. I had to take this photo yesterday as I can't find which folder I have her photos in.

Then there is Gypsy, who turned up on our doorstep early in December a couple of years back. She is a calico-cat - mostly white, with tortoiseshell blobs. She is a poppet, not the brightest cat I've ever met, and very food-orientated. She does a lot of sleeping.

Then there is the latest recruit, Snowy II, aka White Cat, son of White Cat. We fed his father (a semi-feral) for years. After his dad was put to sleep, a few months later Snowy II suddenly turned up, completely wild and feral. One sight of a person and he was jet propelled in the opposite direction. We managed to borrow a live-catch cat trap and took him to be neutered. He still came to be fed and gradually I tamed him. Just before Christmas last year he came into the house to be fed and has scarcely left since! A friend summed it up by saying that she had taken in feral toms over the years, had them neutered, and they seemed incredibly grateful for being taken in and not having to fight for their territory any more. He is certainly one very relaxed cat, and has discovered his playful side!

Here is Snowy in the garden, inspecting the stones from the old wall beneath my flower border which I excavated recently.

Here he is, snuggled into a cosy box - sleeping is his favourite occupation, 2nd only to eating! It's hard to believe he was so completely feral this time last year.

Here is Honey, aka the Honey Monster. She is a Maine Coone. We were given her after her owner had to get rid of her two cats. She had been brought to breed from but wasn't interested in the boys. I found that hard to believe after she came into roaring season the moment we got her and believe me, she would have fancied anything with a fur coat and a miaow! Anyway, she is now spayed and she is also now allowed out of the house. When we got her she had NEVER been allowed out, and not even been allowed to socialise with the other cat, which I thought was incredibly insensitive. In fact, knowing what a demon hunter she is now - she spends all her waking hours outside looking for something slower than her to catch - she must have been incredibly unhappy to be inside all the time. She is, I have to admit, most people's favourite cat. I would like more Maine Coones, as they have such character.

Here is little Banshee, who is about 4 now. I met her when I was driving up our valley for a newspaper one day. Something stripey streaked in front of the van, and I thought, gosh, that's a young polecat. I stopped the van, and the "young polecat" came running over, and I could see it was a kitten, about 6 or 7 weeks old, completely fearless. I did "try" to give her to my friend at the PO, as we already had half a dozen cats at the time, but she was destined to be with us, as my friend was out! She has never grown beyond the size of a 6mth old cat, but is quite a character, and likes high places. She has a favourite sleeping place for a couple of weeks and then changes to a new one, in case pussy-cat enemies find her. She isn't often a lap cat, but very much her own person. We all love her dearly. Her name, by the way, came because she has a very loud imperious voice, and her demands for "Ham!" can be heard on the next floor!

This is our one outside cat, also a stray. This is Amber, who is SO pretty, but even after coming here to be fed for about 6 years now, still doesn't like to be picked up - she just tolerates stroking - and although she comes into the house, she won't stop.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Riverside walk

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

I have been back-sliding with my hour-long walks recently. Whilst I didn't feel quite the ticket yesterday, I decided it was best to try and drag myself out for a bit of fresh air, which I duly did. My husband followed after me in the car about 25 minutes later and picked me up. Then at lunchtime we both did the same walk again, camera in hand. It was a bit grey, drizzly and gloomy, so the photos are a bit that way too! I spent half the afternoon asleep on the sofa, and actually READ the newspaper for once. I really needed the sleep as I slept so badly the previous night.

Looking downstream from the bridge. The water levels have subsided to almost normal levels for August, despite the amount of rain we have had recently.

There is always the burble of water and the chuckling of loose rocks against the river-bed as the water swirls over them.

Fungi have been encouraged by the wet summer.

Near the Mill, the rapids are still evident - you can see why the Mill was built at just this spot.

I can remember someone once saying that summer begins when the Foxgloves come into flower, and ends when the last ones drop their blooms. These must be the last Foxgloves of summer.

You can just make out the end wall of a cottage which was a family home until a generation or so ago. It became derelict, and then the owner decided she would sell all the stone from the walls for building elsewhere, and put in for planning permission for a modern bungalow. This plot is a small, narrow-ended triangle, and the Council decided that a) the property was too close to the road, and b) there was no room for the massive once-around-the-house driveway they now consider a mandatory component of any new building plot and turned down the planning application. Now nature is claiming her own, and the frosts are loosening the limestone mortar around the stones of the last remaining wall, and the empty window apertures are now criss-crossed with ivy.

This was once the cow byre.

The family walked down a now nearly completely concealed pathway to fetch their water from this spring which is on the next lane over on the far side of the triangular plot.

Above the river, in the gloom of an August! day, ferns colonise the damp branches of the beech trees, demonstrating how good the air quality is here.