Saturday, December 27, 2014

A turkey is for Christmas, not for life. ( A Cautionaly Tale)

Ever since we started farming we have  been involved with poultry, quail, ducks, geese and of course chickens, but any mumblings from me that we should grow our own Christmas dinner were quickly silenced by Simon. He had experience with turkeys , his holiday job whilst at uni. he would work at a local poultry farm in Devon each year.
 His objections were clear, turkeys require a lot of grazing land,  well drained soil, with a  large warm vermin proof  shelter, free from any drafts and free from any unusual sudden noise. and they don't do rain. Turkeys drop dead for no apparent reason, turkeys scare easily, turkeys regularly huddle and suffocate, and turkeys should never be kept with chickens due to black head disease which chickens can be a carrier of , fatal for turkeys but not often so for chickens. I'm sure he put forward other reasons as well,  he  just did not want to keep turkeys.
This was an on-going discussion. Our first farm was in  Anglesea, Wales, we had good free draining land, we had a good barn but we also had a lot of rain. Then we moved to our first farm in Ireland, bad land, anything but free draining, even I could see it was a none starter.
 At the second farm we were far too busy to contemplate giving time to such fragile creatures although the land was good, plenty of it and good barns, there was just not enough hours in the day, but we kept geese and raised them for the Christmas market, geese, proving you have enough of them and enough land pretty much look after themselves.
The first farm in Spain would have been ideal weather wise, but no barns and once again we were too busy building our house to take on more live stock.
Then came the move to Galicia in NW Spain, good land, plenty of it, free draining, and lots of big barns. Simon finally agreed, we would get two turkey poults to raise, one for Christmas and one for Easter.
Now, as any small holder knows, or should know, you don't give names to animals that you intend to eat, it makes it far too personal, rather like eating a friend.
We picked up the poults, clearly one was male and one female, they were quite different from each other. They were installed in the big hayshed barn, warm, dry, away from wind, noise and all the other things that you have to protect them from. They had access to range in a secure run.
They didn't move, they were happy to just sit, giving reassuring gobbles to each other from time to time, they didn't panic when I went in to feed and water them, but they did not move.
 This continued for a week or so, by then I had grown quite fond of them, ( mistake) they would gobble their thanks for their food, but still had no interest in moving. I would sit out with them, stroking them, they would gobble their appreciation. Time to get them on their legs and moving, I picked up the smaller of the two, placing her on my lap, stroking her, reassuring her and then the second mistake, naming her. She was named Jessie,and he was called Andy,  they responded to their names and quickly learnt that I was the barer of food, the food bowl was placed further and further away from their warm comfortable nest, after two weeks they would gallop to the food bowl which by now had been placed in the run. After a month or so it was time for them to go 'Free Range'. Their favourite spot was in our secret garden, this was supposed to be an animal free zone, no dogs, no cats and certainly no poultry, turkeys although quite big can fly, each day when we took our lunch out to the secret garden to eat by the pond we would be greeted by two waiting turkeys. They sat at our feet, purring and blushing, yes, turkeys do both.
They were the most enchanting  poultry we have ever kept.
 Would we ever consider keeping them again? Only if we want two pet turkeys wandering around  and we don't.
 So we are quite happy to leave turkey rearing to people who don't form a friendship with them.
 What became of them? Jessie had a heart attack for no apparent reason, Andy never got over the loss of his mate and died from a broken heart a month later.

During our time in Spain we came across several dishes which became firm favourites with us. Amongst them are Ensaladilla, Tortilla, and a spinach dish with pine nuts and  bĂ©chamel sauce.
 Every area will have their own versions of the dishes.
Ensaladilla is a deluxe version of potato salad. Quantities depend on whether you want it as a starter  or a side dish , the quantities given below are for a side dish.

1 med. peeled and boiled potato , half a carrot peeled and boiled per person.
1 desert spoon of finely chopped up onion per person.
1 hard boiled egg per person chopped up, (egg slices to garnish, optional)
Desert spoon per person of thinly sliced and diced  green and red sweet peppers, lightly roasted in the oven with olive oil, salt and black pepper.
Small handful of good olives, chopped up small.
When the potatoes and carrots are cold, chop in to small squares add all the other ingredients, season well with salt and black pepper add good mayonnaise so it coats all the ingredients but doesn't make the dish sloppy, mix well, garnish with sliced egg and parsley,  serve.
If you are not a vegetarian you can add some GOOD tinned tuna, don't waste your money on the cheapo stuff.
This dish goes well with green salad, cold meats or a slab of cheese.
Everything is ready, it looks quite festive.

The St. Stephan's day meal went well,  a starter of Irish Organic Smoked salmon, avocado's with herby goats cheese topped with caviar.
 The main course was the inevitable cold turkey , cold rib of beef, home made coleslaw, ensaladilla, hit the ceiling  freshly made horseradish sauce, ( it sure clears the head) plus homemade chutneys, and the old Christmas favourite, very alcoholic sherry trifle. Although one of our guests had previously stated that he did not like turkey he certainly like ours, and did the beast justice. We won't be needing to think up new recipes of how to use up turkey a week on. Every one enjoyed their selves, even the cook.
I'm over half way through 'Everything I want to do Is Illegal'.
Santa was very good to me this year, he knows my taste in reading, OK the two year subscription to Permaculture magazine was from Simon and the Naomi Klein book was from my sister-in law, many thanks Mary, and thank you Santa.
It tried to snow.
As the year draws to a close the weather is getting chilly, we had a very light scattering of snow yesterday, today has been sleety and for the most part dull but we were rewarded with
Sunset in December.
the most beautiful sunset this evening.
Hope you are all recovering from the last couple of days festivities and that you are all keeping warm or cool depending what part of the world you are in.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Seasonal Musings.

For a brief moment I had visions of baked beans on toast for Christmas day. The turkey that we should have picked up on Monday was not ready, Tuesday evening was an alternative offered to us but that would have meant traveling to a strange place in the dark and leaving our own stock un-locked up until our return. John, the farmer then said Christmas eve would be fine during the day and to meet him at mid-day in the square by the church in his nearest town. What he failed to say was that this town, the second largest in Co. Galway has not one but three churches. It didn't turn out to be a problem thanks to Tom-tom, our satnav. Clearly this inanimate object was more familiar with the town than we were and got us through all the one way systems and chaotic traffic until we spotted a market in a square, by a church. It was then just a matter of finding a nearby place to park and a quick phone call to say where we were.
 He arrive a few minutes later with a selection of turkeys to chose from, they all looked good, firm and plump, we made our selection and then started talking.
 I had notice on the IOFGA web site that John also produced oats and we would have been interested in buying from him when we next have pigs however all his oats go to Flahavans, a very well known Irish company that produce different oat products. Flahavans has been milling since 1785 and is the oldest family run food company in Ireland. It's amazing how meeting a grower can change your whole perspective about a company. We have never bought Flahavans Organic oats, I remember when they first appeared on the market but rather discarded the notion of buying them thinking that this was probably just another company jumping on the Organic market band wagon. Now we have met John and found out about the company we will certainly be trying their porridge oats when we run out. He has also told us about a place where we can buy ready milled organic wheat barley and peas mix at a fraction of the price that we paid for the Organic pig nuts, in fact it is cheaper than conventional pig nuts. We will certainly be following this up when the time comes. It's always nice to chat to genuine Organic people, it made our Christmas. The drive was lovely, unchartered ground for us, through windy Irish country lanes, a very bright and warm  day, with virtually no traffic.
The bird is now cooking away, stuffed with herbs from the garden and homemade sausage meat, it's beginning to smell like Christmas. The veg are all picked or dug and ready for cooking, the pudding is slowly steaming away. We might not 'do' Christmas but we both like turkey and for us it's a novelty to eat something we have not known personally, we also like Brussels sprouts, Christmas pudding, brandy butter,  sherry trifle, hic.
The main preparations for tomorrows meal are done, we have friends coming for the meal, I love cooking for other people. The ensaladilla , a Spanish potato salad with a difference, always one of our favourites when we lived there just needs finishing tomorrow, the custard for the very alcoholic sherry trifle will be done tomorrow, like wise the fresh horseradish sauce.
Fresh horseradish, already shooting.
Simon was amazed to find that the horseradish is already shooting, it's been so mild, he has now covered the top of the plants, frost would probably not be good for them. He has also had to cover the rhubarb, that also thinks it's spring, normally we would not be covering the rhubarb until the end of January, will we be eating rhubarb in February next year instead of March, we will see. The next entertaining is next Sunday, a vegetarian meal this time, but time enough to start preparing for that on Saturday.
A small concession.
Eventually I conceded to a Christmas decoration, just for the dining room table, that's enough I think, even the ancient Egyptians would decorate their homes for the midwinter festival with fronds of greenery,  so we are merely upholding a four thousand year tradition.
Hope you are all having a lovely relaxing day .

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Season Greetings.

Wishing all my readers a very Happy Christmas and Seasons Greetings.
Thank you all for reading and all your comments, hope you all have a great day.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Stress and Food Labelling.

Reading the papers and listening to the radio it seems that unless you get stressed about the Christmas meal you must be doing it wrong, there is lots of advice of how to have a stress free  day, your menus all planned out for you, some supermarkets are even offering to stuff your bird for you (at extra cost) to save you the time and effort. Why I ask myself, isn't part of Christmas enjoying cooking a special meal.
 Now we don't 'do' Christmas, but we do celebrated the shortest day, and mid winter festival, but to get stressed over it, no. I know some people can't cook, and some won't cook, instead they buy their food from the freezer cabinets, it's already done for them, no preparation, no fuss, but they can probably buy the same food any day of the year, now where's the fun in that?
Some people plan weeks in advance, the nearest we got to that was to place an order in August for an Organic Bronze turkey, August being the month that the producers will get their poults.
 Today we should have been picking up our bird from somewhere in Galway but it appears that said bird is still running around the fields, hopefully it will have been captured by now and will be ready for us tomorrow.
 If we put our minds to it we could have stressed out about this delay, after all we do have plans for all of the next few days, but hey, why stress, we can't change it, we can rearrange things a little for tomorrow although we would far rather not have to drive in the dark to a place that we don't know, with very, very loose directions. So, not quite a tick off the list, but getting close.
 Next up, Mince pies.
 Now somewhere we have a couple of pots of mince meat made a couple of months ago and put in a safe place, I'm sure every one knows this scenario. I thought I put it there, no, you put it away, don't you remember? Well apparently not, no doubt we will find them at some time in the future, the same as we did with a Christmas pudding, put somewhere safe to bring out at Easter when friends who could not make it for last Christmas were visiting. I found that a month ago, rather too late to be used. So plan one,  the mince pies, cheat. Buy some mince meat, add some brandy and pretend it was home made. OK, found mince meat, two different brands in a supermarket, then I read the label, sunflower oil and palm oil. We don't buy anything that contains palm oil on ethical grounds, and I have a severe  food intolerance to sunflower oil unless it's organic, probably something to do with the pre-harvest treatment of spraying the crop with glyphosate to make it easier to harvest. Realising that we would have to make a fresh batch of mince meat  I then looked at a packet of Atora vegetable suet ( again, intending to cheat just a little) that also contains both sunflower and palm oil. So to the butchers counter, suet? Um, what is it? Oh, no sorry we don't have that. As I was already at the meat counter, sorry you can't in all  honesty call it the butchers department, I asked about the stewing beef, like in what cut is it? reply, it's stewing beef, yes, OK I get that, but where from the animal did it come, poor man didn't have a clue, and yet the adverts for this supermarket assure people that they have trained butchers. I also  noticed the prices, rib of beef which is what we have for this St. Stevens day was two euros a kg more than we had paid for our Organic rib of beef. So much for supermarkets being cheaper and stocking all your needs, they stock what they say you need and what gives them the biggest profit margin. Thank heavens for Farmers Markets.
We ended up popping to our local butcher for the fresh suet, cost? nothing. The dried fruit for the mince pies is now soaking in Brandy, they won't get made tomorrow, maybe on Christmas day when we have some time, after all, once the bird is stuffed and in the range, the only thing left is to peel a few spuds, pick a few sprouts, dig a parsnip and prepare it. It will take about ten minutes to pick herbs for the stuffing and the veg, another ten minutes to prepare the veg, and a further ten minutes to stuff the bird, pudding put on to steam and brandy butter to knock up, the range does the cooking, nothing too stressful there. I really must find some time to stress, it's what we are told happens at Christmas, maybe that's why we don't 'do' Christmas, we can't stress.
A parcel has gone missing from a close friend in the UK, the odd thing about this is the contents. Back in the summer I had ordered a garden trug, I had wanted to use it to display our veg. at the local horticultural show, but it failed to arrive. I contacted the company, they refused to send another one but refunded me the money. When our friend asked what we would like for Christmas I replied, a garden trug please, but pointed out that it would probably have to go to her address first and she would then have to re- post it, which is what happened, along with the failure to arrive. Someone or maybe some two people in the UK have garden trugs, meant for me, this latest missing parcel  would also have had a box of Green and Black organic chocolates in it, which we would have enjoyed, I hope they choke the un-intended recipient. ( Can't you tell, I'm full of Good will to all men?)
We have received some very nice cards this year but the nicest one was from Simons sister who has just returned to Canada from a bird watching trip in India.
A card to treasure.
Hand made from
 recycled paper and hand painted. We thought it was so lovely we have bought a frame for it and it is now on the wall.
 The most mysterious card this year so far has been an Ecard, we have no idea who these people are, but they know us, they even spelt my name correctly. So, sorry Dave and Marie, if you read this we apologise, but WHO are you?
Misty our very adventurous kitten loves a challenge, her latest feat, the cooker hood, or rather the one inch ledge that runs round it.
The quick way down.
The quickest way down is Simon's shoulder, we don't have any trees in the kitchen.
We now have two of the Copper Maran pullets laying, four more to go,
I just love the colour of the egg shell, I hope our customers do as well.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


When we were out shopping last week, Simon, for reasons still unknown, decided that I needed some knitting wool that was 'On Offer', this wool came in packs of three balls and was of the chunky variety, also included in the pack was a pattern for a hat, well why not I thought, I might just wear a hat if it gets cold enough. Now many years ago I used to be an very keen knitter, as long as it was an interesting pattern, Aran patterns were always my favourite, but for some reason I stopped being a knitter.
In those days it was easy to find a wool shop, buy a pattern, buy the wool and the needles, assuming you didn't have the right size at home. Not so nowadays, you can buy wool, just, if you want oiled wool or something else equally way out you don't stand much of a chance, needles? just, double ended needles, not a chance, especially if you need size 10 and 12. I looked on line, most would not post to Ireland, those few that would were charging an arm and a leg to do so. Defeated? Never, two lengths of wooden dowel 10 and 12 m, cut to a suitable length, points made and
                                              I have my eight needles.
 It has worked out cheaper than buying them and paying postage, all I have to do now is get in the right frame of mind to start knitting.
One small peg loom  which can easily be made wider.
The rest of the doweling has been made into a peg loom, something I had wanted to have a go at a few years ago, Simon has beaten me to it, but I expect I will get a chance to have a go before the winter has finished. 
Reading a newspaper report earlier this week it appears that Ireland spends more on Christmas than any other country in the Western world, over one thousand euros per person, the UK is not too far behind in second place, this seems an incredible amount of money to spend, unless you give gifts to your remotest relatives, or are feeding a small army. I wonder how much further into debt people become due the  Christmas celebrations, at a time  when personal debt is already at an all time high, no wonder  people spend so little of their disposable income on food, yet still complain that food is too expensive,  just 16.2% of household expenditure is on food. A question of priority's I guess.  

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Quintessentially British.

Recently reading  a post from a blog that I follow  got me thinking about food that seems quintessentially British, savoury pies, fish and chips, pork pies, faggots and marmalade.
 France has it's QuichĂ© but I can't think of any other savoury pastry dish, Spain has a tapas of very small pastry parcels filled with fish or vegetables. Scotland has mutton pie and kippers. Just about all European countries have sweet pastries but savouries are very few and far between. Marmalade, although renowned as British in fact dates back to the 1500's and probably refers to Membrillo made from quince, originally from Portugal.
 When you can't get a thing you start to want it, even if it is something that you would have seldom eaten in your own country, for me in Spain it was kippers and scotch eggs, the kippers I could do nothing about, the only smoked fish there is Salmon, scotch eggs turned out to be easy to make and far nicer than any  that I had bought.
A taste from the past, Faggots.
Now it's faggots, ( thanks Dave!) something we have gone without for of a quarter of a century. I found a recipe on line,  good old BBC. So quick, cheap and simple to make, served with mash and onion gravy, delicious. Something I will make again while we still have pork in the freezer.
I wonder what things other people miss when they live in a different county?
The Seville orange have now arrived in our local farmers market, Simon had already pre-ordered a box  in anticipation of the start of  the short season,  the next week will see me zesting and boiling twenty pounds of oranges, to replace our store of marmalade.
These will keep me busy.
We ran out about a month ago of last years stock, I wish I could remember how many pounds I did, normal fruit jams don't have the same wake up effect of marmalade.
After last weeks power outage we knew it was time to get emergency lighting sorted, someone suggested Argos and they have a LED rechargeable lantern which hopefully we will get on Monday although it does mean traveling a 120k round trip, I'm rather dreading it, Argos ten days before Xmas? probably not a good idea, but it's one that you can charge up in the car, and that is a good idea.
One emergency lantern.
 We also found a gas camping lamp in our local town so come next week we should be set should we lose power again, this shop even keeps replacement mantles for all types of lamps.
Looks like fun.
Misty, our young female kitten had now discovered the washing machine,
Why cant I get it?
she was totally fascinated by it and spent nearly an hour trying to catch the contents of the washing drum, Freddy, her brother couldn't see what was so interesting about it, he is far more into trying to catch the curser on the computer.
Today our local town had a craft fare, unfortunately it was only advertised earlier this week, had I known about it earlier I would have taken a table, it was a very good fare, and unlike the other ones that we have been to recently all the stall holders seemed to be Irish. Again there was some lovely turned wood products all from Irish woods, some very impressive knitwear, I couldn't resist buying a lovely hat for a friends two year old daughter even though her parcel has already been sent, it will be a little extra one for her. Several very good artists were displaying their work, one was fantastic and very original, I spent a long time chatting to her, and of course there were several stalls selling baked goods. We were very impressed with the standard of goods that we saw.
The personal touch.
The last of the Xmas cards have now been made and posted, so that's me done for another year.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

First Winter Storm.

The winter so far has been kind to us yesterday however it was a tad windy, we were left without power for over four hours and no internet connection overnight. Losing power yesterday reminded us that cats and candles don't mix, especially if the cat happens to have a tail that would make a fox proud, Freddy, always interested in new things suddenly had a flaming brush, fortunately I was there and quickly put the flames out, he is none the worse for it, except for his tail being slightly less bushy. Note to ourselves, go in search of calor gas lamps, the type sold for camping although we aren't quite sure where to start looking.
Today the winds seemed stronger so it was a good excuse to head for the coast, we saw some very spectacular waves, not quite as good as the ones back in Febuary, the wind is in a different direction this time which means the surfers can't take advantage of the big waves.
A wall of sea.
We weren't the only people who had headed for the coast, at one beach there was quite a line of cars and people with their cameras, all paying homage to the natural elements.
A big surf, running very fast.
 The wind certainly blew a few cobwebs away and gave us a very pleasant trip out,
Traffic jam, Irish style.
even if we did get caught up in an Irish traffic jam, the cattle had different ideas of where to go than the farmer so we were stuck for quite a while.
The hat that I had commissioned from a friend is now on it's way to Canada, I hope the sister-in- law will be pleased with it, it should keep her warm on her twitching trips, she is an avid bird watcher. I was very pleased with it, it looked and felt lovely, knitted from Organic wool.
Hand made card.
I decided to keep the whole gift  thing on the local and hand made theme this year so set about making what Xmas cards have to be done, normally I would buy charity cards but needed to get the Canadian gift packaged up and in the post, I  have not bought any cards this year, I just have not got round to it, anyway I think hand made cards are more personal. I hope people like them.
1st Copper Maran egg.
Today we got a first egg from our Copper Maran pullets, we were expecting the first eggs around Xmas so a couple of weeks earlier than we had thought. For a first egg we were very pleased with the size, 47grams, which is very good for a first egg. There are six Copper Maran pullets so we will soon have a glut of eggs again, just in time for the lemon season, lots of lemon curd will be made, fortunately it freezes very well.
On our way back from the coast we spotted a couple of willow sculptures, one of a donkey and one of a sheep, unfortunately the photo of the sheep was not very clear. I love the way the donkey was tethered by his back legs, no doubt to stop him running away.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Shush, don't say the 'C' word.

Our stall, looking festive.
Yesterday we had a stall at the Knockvicar  'winter market', notice the wording there, no mention of the dreaded 'C' word. Not once did we hear the word mentioned, 'have a good one'  and  'seasons greetings' was as close as it came.
The music was Irish Folk, no dreaded 'I'm dreaming of a white C'. Clearly the stall holders and customers were all like minded people. That did not however stop sales of things that were definitely seasonal, including our 'plum puddings' even though they were labelled as Ch------s puddings they sold well.
I think everyone enjoyed the day, we certainly did and we did quite well with the puddings, jam and my glass painted items.
Considering how much else was going on in the area yesterday and the fact that this was only a small event, just ten stalls it was surprising how many people turned up. In the local town there were two craft fares going on, a Bric-a-Brac sale and the  Farmers Market had double the normal amount of craft stalls.
Treebeard, we have to find a tree for him to guard.
For once I was very good and did not spend all our profits, I bought just one crafted piece of wood, he has been named as 'Treebeard'  once weather treated, he will find a home in one of our trees.
Every so often I lose my bread making MoJo, it has happened  with pasty and very occasionally with cakes as well, we have never been able to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong especially with bread and I will change the recipe, change the yeast, add milk, drop the milk. The last six weeks has been such a time with the bread, it's been OK but! We then got our new delivery of flour although we still had enough old flour left for another half a dozen batches of bread,
MoJo's back again.
I decided to use the new flour and, hey presto, the bread was back to normal. I then realised that for some reason the last sack we had did not get stored in the plastic dustbin that we have for this purpose, maybe we were to busy when we got delivery or just did not bother, anyway the problem is now solved, we are back to storing the flour in it's dustbin and we have moved to a smaller sack, 18kg instead of the 25kg that we normally buy, fortunately we have two friends that order from the wholefood catalogue so one or the other would have an order going in when we next need something.
Misty, now six months old.
The two kittens are growing well,
Freddy doing a Google search. 
Freddy however is twice the size of his sister Misty, despite his nearly dying when he was very young, they are super kits, full of fun and adventure, the rest of the cats all love them and Felix our rescued black and white cat is great at keeping an eye on them when they go out, not that any of the cats are very impressed with the weather at the moment, damp, windy and chilly, they seem to think it's all our fault.
The seasonal madness seems to have started, shopping trollies loaded to groaning point, TV ads telling you that you must buy this, that, or the other, or you wont have a good time.  All for a couple of days of indulgence, and in many cases to be in further debt. The shops close for just one day and  I'm sure that the shops will open again, there is no need to stockpile a whole warehouse full of 'goodies' much of which is totally unnecessary and will get dumped anyway. Our  treat will be the turkey, still running around on a farm a few miles away and a tin of fruit for the sherry trifle, we love a good sherry trifle ( ours should carry a government heath warning) which we will share with friends on St. Stephan's day, the veg will be from the garden even if our Brussels Sprouts have let us down again, our soil is rather too  light for a good brussels sprout, they will be good enough for us and we will keep trying.
Some of my glass paintings.