Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Belated Seasons Greetings.

Where did the last week go? A week ago we were getting ready for our friends from Spain to arrive on Christmas eve,  and to get all the Christmas food preparation that could be done prepared so there would be no hassle over the festive period. More mince pies were made,
Simon was in charge of the cake from start to finish this year.
Christmas cake decorated, and duck liver pate' made,
The fireplace gets a Xmas makeover.
and the Christmas decorations done,
this is something that we would normally do on Christmas Eve, but we decided it would be too much hassle doing it the same day as out friends were arriving,
All ready for the festivities.
so the room got decorated a couple of days early.
A beautiful home made ginger cake from one of our appreciative customers.
We also had to make a final egg delivery to our customers, and to get the last few months rubbish down to the recycling depot. This is something that we only need to do three times a year, we do not have a refuge collection although we could, but we  produce very little waste and it would not warrant having a wheelie bin.  For the past two years we have only produced 180kg of waste per year. It's hard to know what the average amount is per person in Ireland as official reports give wildly varying figures,  ranging from 331 kg per person to 586kg per person, however what is not disputed is the fact that Ireland is the third highest producer of waste within the EU.
The cats had to have a full inspection.
Some of the things that we see dumped should have been taken to charity shops,
Misty decided this one was hers.
such as three perfectly good baskets which we rescued. One has become our Xmas decoration basket, far better than a cardboard box.
The festive period passed far too quickly, time just goes when you have good company.
All the food was declared a hit, our friends are big foodies,
100% home produced.
Christmas dinner was 100% home produced,  one of our own eight lb chickens, sprouts, parsnips and carrots straight from the garden,
The pudding was rich and black, just as a Xmas pudding should be.
followed by our homemade flaming Christmas pudding.
St. Stephens day ( Boxing day)we started with home made duck liver pate which went down very well,
Hubert Flanagan did us proud with this beautiful lump of beef.
followed by  a fantastic rib of  beef, 28 days aged, from one of our local Organic farms ( just six miles away, we try to keep our food local) this beef was from an Angus and was just about the best beef we have tasted. All this was finished off with (a very tipsy) Sherry Trifle, very much a grown up desert. The time with our friends went far too quickly, we look forward to their next visit, promised to us for this summer. Tomorrow we have friends coming for lunch. These are people who I met in blogging world, they come from New England in the US and are hoping to spend their retirement in Ireland. As one of them is vegetarian I have had to give some thought to a festive no meat menu, however we often have vegetarian food ourselves, in fact Simon was a vegetarian for many years before we met so it's not too much hardship for either of us.
We then have a few days to recuperate before heading over to friends for a New Years day lunch.
hoping you all had a Very Good Christmas, and wishing everyone a Happy New Year.

Monday, December 19, 2016

If we haven't got it we will go without.

Another wonderful sunset.
The cake is  marzipaned, but still  needs some decoration,
Last batch of mince pies made.
three dozen mince pies have been made and frozen, we always make Fleur pastry for our mince pies, it takes longer to make than shortcrust pastry but is worth the effort for mince pies. Starter for Christmas day is just smoked salmon with tiger prawns so no preparation needed for that, St. Stevens day will be home made duck liver pate, still to be made, apart from that everything is organised.
First form the round out of willow wands.
Two hours later, one wreath, cost, less than two euros.
I've made the wreath for the door, just some greenery for the candelabra and the fireplace and that will be the decorations done. As I'm more or less up to date with the festive preparations I can start sewing another cushion cover.
First cushion cover done as a tapestry.
Second cushion cover done in bargella stitch.
We have also made twelve pots of lime and lemon marmalade,
A real treat, lime marmalade.
The limes were on offer as were the organic lemons, total cost for twelve pots, six euros and thirteen cents, I have no idea how much a pot of lime marmalade is nowadays or indeed if you can even buy it here, but I know it would be a lot more than fifty one cents a pot.
We have plenty of real ale in the house, we would both rather drink that nowadays, we can get British beer cheaper than Irish ale which is a shame as there are now some excellent Irish craft beers on the market including one brewed just a couple of miles away from us. Doing a check on our drinks cupboard, (sounds like we drink a lot, we don't) we find we have plenty of red wine and even a bottle of Cava, there's even a couple of bottles of white wine which is a real mystery to us as we are red wine drinkers and five bottles of home made pea pod wine, now three years old, why did we make that I ask myself. Christmas wont cost us very much at all. The one thing that I might have gone a bit mad on is the cheese, we both love cheese and find it hard to resist especially if it's one we have not come across before, fortunately our friends who are coming also like good cheese so it wont go to waste. I wonder what other people go over the top with.
Freddy loves a box.

Decembers sunsets

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christmas Ad nauseum.

Our local radio station is mainly a music station, little in the way of discussions, fine for late night listening or in the car. This year they decided that there would be no Christmas records played until the 8th of Dec. Wow, what a relief, however since the 8th of Dec it has been Xmas music ad nauseum, if I hear Chris Rea groaning  'Driving home for Christmas' once more I think I will be throwing the radio out. OK, I get it, it will be Christmas in a couple of weeks time, but the TV Christmas advertising has now gone on for nearly two months. Spotted on Facebook the other day,    Christmas is in December, not November, get over it.  No wonder people get so stressed about Christmas, if you don't have your table groaning under the weight of enough food to feed an small army you are not doing it right, if your tree is not decorated in the colours which someone has decided is this years fashion you are failing, and if you haven't bought this years top toy for the children you are defiantly a bad parent. I don't understand the haste to put up Christmas decorations at the beginning of December, Christmas Eve to Twelfth Night is certainly enough for me. This year however the decorations will have to go up a day or so early as we have friends coming for Christmas, arriving Christmas Eve. Our decorations will comprise of Holly and Ivy, collected from our hedges with a few cheerful candles, pine cones which we have collected and spray painted to add a touch of cheer. If it was left to my O.H there would be no decorations at all!  Extra mince meat has been made, the cake and puddings have been made, the cake still has to be marzipaned, we don't do icing, neither of us likes it. Gifts for friends in the UK are wrapped and packaged, ready for picking up by a courier on Tuesday, the cost of a courier is less than half of 'An Post'. Veg is in the garden and the bird is in the freezer, one of our own, I like keeping things simple, no tearing around shops buying what is not needed.
Mugs for two of our friends.
I have made pottery gifts for three of our friends,
A vase for another.
I hope they will be pleased with them.
And a fruit bowl for us.
I also made a fruit bowl for ourselves, I am now working on a set of matching soup/ fruit bowls but they wont be finished until after Christmas. So that's it, I'm ready for Christmas, now I can relax and do things I want to do.
So near and yet so far, just the black edges to do.
I had hoped to have finished the second  tapestry cushion before Christmas but unfortunately I ran out of black wool, 'The Crafters Basket' where I buy my supplies from will not have any in until the middle of this week which may or may not be enough time for me to finish the sewing. Never mind, if it's not finished it will wait, I'm not going to get stressed about it.
First of the purple sprouts.
At last the purple Brussel sprouts have decided to grow, we have our first picking today, why they should have taken so much longer to grow than the green ones is a mystery, they were planted out at the same time.
We have lots of wild birds visiting our feeders, they are eating us out of house and home. We have
Blue Tit.
blue tits, coal tits
Great Tit.
and great tits, plus goldfinch, a couple of friendly robins  wrens,  a couple of blackbirds
House Sparrow sharing space with a Blue Tit
and a whole army of house sparrows. These are birds which seem to stay around the back of the cottage, in the front we have thrushes, wagtails , hedge sparrows and several robins, but they never venture to the back and the bird feeders.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Quality Shopping

Dry Autumn days but very cold nights is the best way to describe the weather at the moment. October was exceptionally dry and it looks as though November will also be a very dry month.
We aren't complaining about the cold spell, it might kill of some of the nasties, namely slugs which ruined our potato crop this year.
We have had some exceptional sunsets which seem to coincide with frosty weather. Unfortunately the cold snap does not suit the hens, we are struggling to keep up our supply of eggs for our customers, still only a month to go to the shortest day, then spring will be on it's way.
Little work is being done in the garden, short days and hospital appointments seem to eat away time. We  even managed to miss 'Stir up Sunday', the day when Christmas puddings should be made, it was only listening to the 'Archers' that I realised that it was in fact last Sunday. If we had planned things better or paid more attention to the approaching festival we could have got all the dried fruit on our last trip to Sligo, just ten days previously, however that trip was to the Craft village at Rathcormac and then onto the Crafters Basket for more tapestry wool.

All it needs is a door and we could move in.
On that trip we did manage to see the recreated bronze age round houses which have been built at the craft village.
 It is very hard to find quality dried fruit in a small town so again we had  to go to Sligo to our favourite delicatessen.
Cosgroves is a small delicatessen which has been running for over a hundred years, if you like good food this is the place to go, it sells the most delicious olives amongst other things, most of  the olives got eaten on our way back home, (we can eat olives like some people eat sweets,)
  Cosgroves is also one of the very few places left where you can buy both seeded and seedless raisins and also currants,
Naturally dried apricots.
they also sell non- sulphured apricots. The colour of apricots that supermarkets sell is orange, due to the sulphur that is used to preserve them, we would prefer to not have added sulphur in our Xmas pudding. It's not a cheap place to shop, however good food should not be cheap, it should reflect the true cost of production. Tomorrow is set to be our stir up day, if we have time the cake will also get made.
Last week was the week for the duck harvest, we had five male ducklings hatched from a brood of eleven, we sold one of the females to a friend so we have an additional five females which we will keep for egg laying. Simon used the plucking machine again, it did a reasonable job but nowhere as good as it is for the broilers. The ducks all weighed in at five pounds give or take an ounce they all weighed the same. The freezers are now full again, and we have enough poultry to last us through until the next lot of birds are done, sometime around next May.
The winter vegetables are all doing well, our leeks are the best we have grown here
and the parsnips are also very good this year,
even the Brussels sprouts have done what they should do, nice firm heads and just the right size, possibly the veg all appreciated a cooler and damper summer than usual.
Freddy doing what cats do best.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A good investment.

We have been producing our own broiler birds since we returned here from Spain, this is mainly because it's hard to find a genuine free range Organic bird. We bought the odd bird from the Famers Market, however the people who were doing organic meat stopped supplying our local market due to ill health. We had done table birds before so decided as we had the land we would do them again. Processing the birds is always a labour so we were very pleased when we found a small processer an hour and a half drive from us. He always did a great job, at a reasonable price. Then came the bad news, he was no longer processing other peoples birds as he had enough work on his own farm and the family were missing out on quality time with dad. We didn't relish the idea of all that plucking, although Simon can pluck a bird in half an hour, it's hard on his hands due to arthritis. So I did a bit of research (Google is your friend). and came to the conclusion that a small Italian plucking machine might be the answer. There were various companies who stock this machine, at wildly varying prices., I was amazed to find that the cheapest price was in fact a smallholders supplier in Ireland, normally prices are far higher here than UK prices. I gave the company a ring and had a chat, I was assured that this machine would do what we wanted it to do with the number of birds that we produce yearly.
After dipping in 55c hot water the bird s feathers will come out easily.
This week it was put to the test, it does exactly what it's supposed to do, pluck a fully feathered bird in under a minute.

Less than one minute on all that remains are a couple of wing feathers.
Needless to say we are very pleased that it has lived up to our expectations. We have yet to test it out on ducks, which should be done this coming weekend as they will be fourteen weeks old. With ducks you have to catch them at the right time due to moults and pin feathers, either ten weeks or fourteen weeks should make for better plucking.
There is a wide range of weights with these latest birds which are supposed to be Hubbards, a slow growing strain.
Two whole birds and two as half birds.
They have ranged in weight from six and a half pounds to nine pounds three ounces.
We really  do have our doubts as to whether they were in fact Hubbards, none of our previous batches have weighed so much yet they were reared and fed exactly the same as previous batches. One of our customers wanted her birds done as half birds, probally just as well  even as half a bird it weighed over four pounds. We have put one of the larger birds aside for our Christmas bird, we will also have rib of beef , it will be a nice change from Turkey. Once again we ended up with only five birds for ourselves and then only because I have learnt to say no. Next year we are planning on doing three batches, that way we might get a decent amount for ourselves.
The dough needs to be much thinner.
We are still looking for a good cream cracker recipe,
They look the part but are not quite as we want them.
we have tried one that we found on the internet, it's OK but not what we would like, so we will continue testing recipes until we do find a good one.