Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sheer Indulgence.

Christmas blew in with hurricane force winds, many people both here and in the UK had no electricity, we were lucky, although the winds battered everything around us  we sustained very little damage, a couple of hen house roofs, and some damage to the straw bale roof, all of which are now repaired. Now we have just a strongish wind but lashing rain. It could be a lot worse, but it is still relatively  mild, things are still growing, and we are planing and ordering seeds and potatoes for next years food.
Just a little decoration.
We did little in the way of decorations this year, just holly and ivy on the hanging candelabra, with a few glass baubles, and lots of lovely bees wax candles.
Felix playing sky football.
Sparky and Felix our two young cats had great fun with the baubles playing sky football,
Sparky looks on.
I'm so please we decided against having a tree, they would have dismantled it in minutes.
Just sufficient, not too much, not too little.

The turkey and ham were very good,
We love Christmas pud.
the Christmas pudding was excellent although it was made much later than it should have been, very rich and black,
With flaming brandy.
just as a pudding should be with flaming brandy,and lashings of brandy butter, we look forward to the second one that we have made which will be eaten at Easter.
We also made our usual homemade sweets, but this year we just limited it to fudge, it made lovely gifts for friends and was much appreciated by all who received it.
Some fudge for us.
We did keep a little back for ourselves, after all, we had to make sure it was OK.
Yesterday our stomachs were given a bit of a rest as we went to friends who  were giving a luncheon  party, entirely vegetarian. There were so many wonderful tasty dishes, our friend must have put in a tremendous amount of work into the planning and cooking of this banquet, as she was also catering for vegans, it was a wonderful meal, with very good company.
Today was our turn to entertain, we kept it fairly simple, cold meats, homemade coleslaw, our own beetroots which we had clamped,
Homemade Scotch eggs, cant beat them.
homemade scotch eggs, delicious, freshly baked bread rolls followed by a serious sherry trifle. To end it all the Christmas cake was sampled. The indulgences of Christmas has now ended.
Time to get back to simple fare.
Time to start looking forward to the new year and to start sowing seeds.
Time to start planning what breeding program we will have this year, maybe a pig again. we will see.
Although we try not to do Christmas, we always do. We like the trimmings that make Christmas a special feast. Wish we didn't like good food so much, so we have once again indulged too much. Our excuse? It's only once a year.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas. Seasons Greetings.

The last minute rush is over, the shops are closed for two whole days, and whatever has been forgotten will probably not be missed. Any cards that should have been sent have hopefully reached their destinations and for those not sent there is always Ecards. Panic over for another year. Turkeys which are not receiving the kiss of life in various ways of turkey preparation are all breathing a sigh of relief, they live to see another day.
Our Turkey has undergone the amputation of it's legs in  the preparation for the mid winter feast.
They have been boned and de-sinued, stuffed with a herby Organic sausage meat stuffing, sage thyme, onion, celery, parsley and apple,
then rolled skewered and then frozen ready for roasting at some future date, one will be cooked for Sunday when we have friends coming over, the other one will be a Sunday roast. The remaining stuffing will be used for stuffing balls, and to make scotch eggs.
The cake has now been decorated in seasonable adornments.
The ham is marinating in brown sugar and cloves, ready for baking in a flour and water pastry crust tomorrow.
All that remains is to make the Brandy Butter, cook the beast, boil for several hours the Christmas Pudding and pick some veg, but that is all for tomorrow.
Decorations remain in their boxes, holly and ivy is still on the trees, we will get round to all that in the morning. No Panic.
We have been reliably informed by our local radio station, Mid West Radio that Santa  left Ballyhaunis at six o'clock this evening and will be on time to make all his deliveries .

 Wishing you all a Very happy Christmas or Yule tide, or just plain Seasons Greetings.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Marmalade for Christmas.

The shortest day has now past, we can begin to look forward to the lighter evenings, but winter has just started.
A light scattering of snow.
This week we have had very high winds which brought with them a snow shower, it was strong enough to take the roof off of one of the hen houses, Simon was greeted with the sight  six hens and their cockerel all huddled together in the corner of their roofless house, once let out they were none the worse for their roofless night. The roof has now been replaced with a tin roof so hopefully that won't happen again.
Very pretty but cold.
The snow didn't last long, however the weather is chilly with frosts over night. today we have had very changeable weather, brilliant sunshine changing to hail and then snow with a bitter wind.
Snowing again.
Most people are now on their  final panic countdown for Christmas, I refuse to get into this panic mode. Shops are closed for two days, not a week, and if you haven't got it surely that means 'it' isn't that important in the first place. I try to remember if I ever got myself in this panic  years ago, if I did I have blanked the memory, I think the nearest I got was back in the eighties when on Christmas day I suddenly found that the entire village pub friends descended on me for Christmas dinner, I was the only sober one capable of cooking a complete Christmas dinner. It was great fun, and instead of cooking for six I found I had an extra twenty one people at my table. Fortunately I had a big turkey, the ham was already done and extra veg were in the garden. Those were the days. Christmas should be about sharing.
Our countdown to Christmas has been making the puddings, rather later than normal, making the cake and keeping up with the mince pies which keep disappearing, the fourth batch has just come out of the range. Tomorrow we pick up the Turkey, sausage meat and brussel sprouts, ours failed this year for some reason, all that remains is to de-bone and stuff the turkey legs* and to cook the ham. If we have forgotten something, tough, we don't need it.
Fresh baked bread to go with the Marmalade.
The first lot of next years marmalade is now done, we ended up with nine jars of various sizes from eighteen Seville oranges, I will need to make at least this amount again, jam is not quite the same for breakfast. For anyone into making their own I can recommend the Nigel Slater recipe, although it has to be done over two days it has never failed to give us a good set. I don't normally mess around with recipes but I thought I would use a few cardamon seeds in the first batch I made, it worked very well and gives a extra 'umph' to the jam.
* Neither of us are that keen on Turkey legs, so I remove them complete with the thighs, I then de-bone and de-sinew them, I make up a stuffing of sausage meat with finely chopped herbs and lay this on the filleted legs, then the meat gets rolled  and tied up or skewered through, they can then be cooked for the last hour of the turkey cooking or frozen to have as a roast at a later date.
Our two remaining Hubbard pullets are now twenty weeks old and  looking like proper hens, one of them laid her first egg today in the correct place , we are very pleased with her for that, they still follow their chosen husband Francois everywhere, complete panic if they find he has moved away from them, it's quite sweet.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Supermarket Price Shock.

We do little shopping in supermarkets but this week we had to make the trip to Tesco to stock up on Organic butter, it's about the only place we can find it. For some reason we found ourselves in the fresh meat aisle and spotted Organic lamb on sale, we know how much we pay for our Organic meat, lamb beef and pork in the farmers market but were staggered to see the Tesco price, 25% more than we pay, we then looked at the conventional  fresh meat which is in the same unit, this was only 5% less than the Organic, still 20% more than we pay. They did not have Organic Pork. I know their motto is 'Every Little Helps' I had always assumed this meant  that they helped the customer with low prices, it seems  that what they do mean is 'Every Little Helps' to keep their shareholders happy. We certainly could not afford to shop for our food there, and will stick with the Farmers Market, we know where it has all come from and in the case of the meat we know several of the producers. The fruit and veg is always so fresh, nothing prepacked so you can pick out what you want, we were very surprised and pleased today to find that Mike the fruit and veg man already had
Seville Oranges in, normally they arrive over here in January, we had finished our last pot of Marmalade earlier in the week so they have arrived just in time for us. All I need now is two free days to get it made.
We have bottled the first lot of this years wine, the pea pod, although very young yet it promises to be good, but we wont know for a year as that's how long it takes to mature.
We have also been eating the salted runner beans, this was the first time that I had done them this way, we gave up freezing beans some years ago as they were never very nice, well salting them is a success, they do take a bit of rinsing, but they taste almost as good as freshly picked beans, so we will continue to use this method in future.
I have now made the first batch of mince pies, I still had mince meat that we had done last year, I then realized that a dozen mince pies would not last us that long, unfortunately we like mince pies. Pigs that we are, the first doz mince pies were eaten in the first day, which meant more had to be made.
For some reason I decided that we would buy a pot of mince meat for our this next lot of  mince pies, possible thinking that as we are so close to Christmas I didn't have time to make the mince meat and let it mature. Anyway Simon went shopping and brought back a jar of a very well known brand. We both have a distrust of things already made, especially if they have come from a factory and we read labels, normally in the shop and the item then ends up back on the shelf. This time the label didn't get checked until it reached our kitchen, after all what can they do to a pot of mince meat? It seems quite a lot, gone is the suet, replaced by palm oil, ( yet another rain forest destroyed) sunflower oil, ( well that counts me out as I'm allergic to it) and rice flour? no spirits of any kind, and a wondrous selection of spices including fennel and coriander, not things that you would normally add to mince meat. So the jar remains unopened, hopefully we can find someone who will be able to make use of it.
I then set to and made five jars of traditional mince meat, the next batch of pies are made, and tested, they taste great. I wonder how long these will last?
I am still continuing the glass painting in between baking. I am fairly pleased with the last piece I've done, a Mandala, a regular pattern repeated within a circle which is used as an expression of oneself and as an aid to meditation in some Hindu religions. Hopefully it will restore a feeling of calm to us.
I have also done a couple of small lanterns, which look nice when lit.

What is that? Can I catch it?
Yesterday we had a leak from a water tank in the attic, the cats were fascinated, why are cats so interested in water I wonder.
Susie's Box.
Boxes are also a source of interest to them, once investigated they get taken over as beds even though they have lovely cat igloos, cardboard boxes are better.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Twelve days of Christmas?

What ever became of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas?'  I can understand shops putting up decorations in November, after all they have to encourage people to spend, spend, spend, with peoples spending power decreasing they need longer time to get that last cent out of your back pocket. But why do people feel the need to put up their decorations and trees as soon as December arrives?
 Christmas surely is from  Christmas eve until twelfth night on the 5th of Jan, the secret is in the word, 'Twelfth Night'. Thirty six days does not compute in my mind to the festive season.
 Decorations up Christmas Eve, decorations down on the fifth of Jan, that's twelve days. Plenty long enough. Having decorations up for so long surely makes cleaning hard, plus at the end of that time they are looking tired and sad. We saw the first house decorations up last Saturday, which was still November, we have seen several other houses following suit this week. Maybe these people need to have a constant reminder that Christmas IS coming and they don't want to miss it. There's not too much chance of that, the TV ads have been have been running for weeks, ditto the local radio station, thank goodness for Radio Four, if it has been mentioned I've missed it.
Maybe there should be a new month, do away with December and replace it with Christmas as a month.
 Hopefully this will be the year for us that we more or less skip Christmas, or at least the glitter and expensive tat that somehow has become associated with it. We have the excuse of having two kittens running around who would destroy any bling. A little bit of holly and Ivy will do us, it costs nothing and looks good. If we didn't like Xmas cake , pud, and turkey we could really skip it altogether.
At last our wholefood order arrived, a week or so later than expected, but unfortunately missing the Spelt flour, I use three different types of flour when making the bread, so that will still have to be bought from a health food store,
Organic goodies.
buying in bulk from a health food coop saves a tremendous amount of money, in the case of flour 100% saving.
We would normally make our Xmas puds on Stir Up Sunday so we are a little late this year, they will get done tomorrow after we have got the suet from the farmers market. We have done the Xmas cake now, as soon as Simon arrived home with our order he set to work, we use a recipe handed down to us from a friend many years ago who worked in Bournemouth's most prestigious patisserie, containing four lb of fruit and nuts but only eight ounces of flour it is a very rich cake, it is always moist and keeps well, I have used this recipe many times for wedding cakes for friends and when I was catering, it's always a hit, but for ourselves I don't have to ice it as neither of us likes icing. Just a lovely thick layer of home made marzipan!
Monkey, one of our cats has been very unwell the last couple of weeks, we had the vet out to her twice but there was no improvement, in the end we took her to the veterinary hospital who confirmed what we already knew, that her kidneys were packing up, she is only eleven and one of our very special girls having been bottled fed from birth, Susie at the hospital managed to stabilize her after a four day stay and she is on special food, we hope she will be with us a little longer but we do realize that her improvement is only temporary. This is the worst part of keeping pets, they always leave a huge gap when they have gone, one year on from losing Jason our lovely ginger cat and Shannon our water Spaniel we still miss them.
Dotted around the Irish country side you often come across unusual sculptures, coming back from Manorhamilton last week we spotted a beauty in Drumkeeran,
The Rookery.
it's called the Rookery and is one of the nicest pieces of contemporary art work we have seen.
Ready for the first boiling.
The Christmas puddings are now made and boiling away for the next five hours, one we will have at Christmas the other to be saved for when friends come at Easter, they had hoped to make it for Christmas but couldn't, so we can have a belated celebration then.
We decided to do a costing on the puddings with a view to making some for the Christmas fairs next year, the size of puddings we have seen for sale this year are marked up at ten euros which to us seemed a little on the steep side considering none of them appear to contain any Organic ingredients, ours have worked out at two euros eighty one cent per pudding using 100% organic ingredients, so we will have a good think about this, if we do do it, they wont be ten euros.
Monkeys new bedroom.
Monkey seems much better today although last night she had a fit, she is eating her new food very well and she has been given a bedroom all of her own, she seems to appreciate this, somewhere where she can have peace and quiet when she wants it.
There is still little sign of winter arriving, it is still very mild, unlike Galicia where we used to live where they have  -2c  daytime temperature, warmer in Ireland than Spain, who would have thought it?  

Monday, December 2, 2013

Creative Christmas Craft Fayre.

Although the temperature outside denies the coming of Christmas, this is the season of craft fairs, some are disappointing, like the one we went to a couple of weeks ago, little in the way of home spun crafts, plenty of imported stuff and only four genuine craft workers, but some of these fairs are excellent. Yesterday we went to the Christmas fair in Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim. Although no longer local to us we opted for this fair as we know several of the people who were exhibiting. Had we been looking for Christmas presents we would have been spoilt for choice,
Lovely Pottery.
everything from local pottery
Bluebell Organic farm.
to a full range of  Organic Christmas foods, this stall I'm pleased to say belonged to an old friend of ours who used to use our packing station for her Organic Eggs, she now has her own packing centre and a fully certified Organic Processing licence for her baked goods. She has an excellent web site.
Our friends Bridget and Andy also had a stand,
home made cakes, jams and preserves plus Andy's glass paintings, Andy and I seem to be in competition for finding nice pieces of glass ware in the local charity shops, I think maybe Andy has the advantage as Bridget helps out in one of them!  Bridget also has a lovely blog. It can be found here.
Next to Bridget was June and Thomas from;
June paints lovely wooden plaques with Celtic designs, Thomas makes lovely glass pendants, I couldn't resist buying one, my Xmas present to me.
In all there were forty four stands with a further ten people who would have liked a place but it had already been booked to capacity.
It was a most enjoyable afternoon, there was a real energy there, this is an energy we always feel when we visit this area.
We were also able to make arrangements to pick up our wholefood order this Thursday, people we already knew from the farmers market but had not realised that this was who our order had been placed through. They also sell lovely honey so we treated ourselves as we are now on our last pot of Honey from Galicia.
Very interesting  woodworking.
We got talking to a very interesting carpenter, who it turns out gets his wood from Danny Smith, a big bear of a man from Florence Court in Co. Fermanagh, it was Danny who supplied us with all our wood years ago when we built our straw bale house. We have been promising ourselves a trip to see him, this week we will as Simon has several ideas for wood craft and we can think of no better person to give us what we need.
Poppies in Dec!
Winter is a long time coming, I just hope that when it does come it doesn't stay too long. There are already buds on the Sycamore trees. Poppies
and Borage
and borage are still blooming,
It's not spring yet, we have to have winter.
a friend has Muscari out in bloom, all very strange.
Work continues with tree planting, one day we will have finished, already it is time to plan and order next years seeds, where did this year go?
Inspired by Clarice Cliff.
Our outside light being revamped.
Something to store our Spaghetti in.
I am continuing with my glass painting, I think this might be habit forming,
as well as baking to keep Simons love of sticky buns fulfilled.
 We always seem to be busy.
The Jerusalem Artichokes have done very well this year with an average weight of 4oz each, they are a very versatile veg,
last week we did them as chips to go with cold ham, delicious, they were light and fluffy. They are also great in stir fries and give a nutty flavour to the dish, also roasting them or adding to stews, I'm glad we have such a good crop, they are best left in the ground until you need them as they do go soft very quickly so don't store well.
We are still getting the most beautiful sunsets, always nice to see especially if they are predicting more dry weather.