Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wednesday morning

Yesterday I went into school with every intention of being home again by four. Ha ha: at quarter to six I rolled in through the front door, quite tired but feeling good. That may sound odd if you could see the state I left my bay in but I actually got a lot of work done. I made and laminated new labels for the trays and pegs and got them blu-tacked on. I made and copied loads of assessment sheets. I got the reading folder ready with all the sheets in, including the daily register and the ongoing record of stages. I moved furniture around and generally got a lot of things sorted out. As a result, I now know exactly what I have to do and have a very useful list for today and tomorrow, after which I should be just about there and ready.

Apart from that I didn't do much at all - even the tomatoes didn't need any care - it was so dull and dreary, the soil was still damp, no watering needed! I do hope we get a bit of warmth and sunshine today, although I'm almost prepared to bet that the weather will turn for the better the moment the children are back in school! That's life.

Photo: I was given a gift last week. My mum has a wonderful paperback book called 'Let's Preserve It'. It really is the best book of its kind I have come across. It's not glossy, no shiny colourful photos, only basic instructions (but complete and understandable), no index because everything is in alphabetical order . . .it's truly excellent. However, being a paperback that was used much, it was falling apart and needed handling with great care. Mum contacted David's Bookshop and they scoured the country for another copy for her, second hand as it's no longer being printed, but had no luck anywhere - I guess people are holding on to their copies. And then, to her great delight, the Times (or maybe it's the Sunday Times) started a reprint of certain classics and this book was one of them. She ordered one for herself and, very kindly, one for me too. So kind, thanks, Mum.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Tuesday morning

I was sort of right about yesterday. It wasn't wet and it wasn't really windy but, my goodness, it was chilly. The sun made an appearance in the morning and must have decided it was far to cold to hang around! Still, we can get along without sunshine so that's just what I did. After doing a weekly shop, I set to and started the preserving session off by sorting out the apples - not that they needed much sorting, they were quite obviously not windfalls as they were in beautiful condition. This takes the pressure off a bit as very few need dealing with straight away.

I then set to, to make the first lot of chutney, spiced apple chutney, which I have made before and which is very good once it has matured. I finely chopped some onion (I used red onion but you don' have to) and scoured my cupboards for 'Christmas fruit' - that is things like dates, prunes, etc. I found some rather hard prunes which I chopped, plus some chopped dates and made up the weight with some raisins. I mixed them with the onion, granulated sugar and the spices (ground coriander, paprika and mixed spice) and left them for a time while I cored and chopped the apples.

Just a word of warning - never chop apples with a new knife! While I was shopping I decided that, as my short knives are getting kind of old and lose their edge quickly now, I would buy a new one. It's lovely, my new knife, very sharp, but my technique is geared to less sharp knives and several times I nicked my fingers, nothing worse, just because I wasn't prepared for such easy cutting. I reckon it's not a blunter knife that is dangerous, it is when you change from an old to a new knife! Anyway, no harm done!
Once the apples were ready I added them and some malt vinegar to the mixture, heated it slowly, stirring until the sugar had dissolved and then just left it to simmer gently for ages and ages.

Chutney is so easy. There's none of the rolling boil, testing for set, watching carefully, etc, that you get with jam making. You just let the whole lot simmer gently on the lowest heat possible, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until it is all gooey and thick and when you stir it, the stirring space doesn't immediately fill in with liquid. It's a very kind process. And when it is ready you simply ladle it into the jars that you will have remembered to wash and heat in the oven beforehand (cough, cough) and screw on the lids. And there you are - seven pots of what will become a wonderfully flavoursome mixture to have with cheese, cold meats, hot meats . . . . . . and that's the only downside of chutney. The best chutneys need time to mature. Some of these are intended as Christmas presents and it will be ready by than, but the longer you leave it, the better it gets. I have some 'Christmas chutney' (a Delia recipe) which is several years old now and it is just wonderful!

I also made seven pots of cranberry and apple chutney which turned out a lovely rich, deep red, and will also be Christmas presents. At this rate I won't need to buy much at all! I'm so glad I stocked up with little jars earlier in the holiday.

Monday 29 August 2011

Monday morning: bank holiday

. . . so, of course, it's going to be wet, windy and cold. It has to be, it's the law. Bank holidays are always so!

Being a teacher, most of the bank holidays fall in times when we are not at school (no complaints there), but there is one that creates a four day week and that's the Mayday bank holiday. Four day weeks are fun - it makes such a difference to the feel of the working week. All the more so when it falls in a half term like the first half of last summer term. Back on Tuesday (Easter bank holiday on the Monday), three days in and a royal wedding, then the following Monday as Mayday off. After that a few full weeks until the end of the half term when it was report writing day. Such a short half term it was. We're not likely to get another one like that for quite a while, thank goodness.

Anyway, it's August bank holiday today. Blocked roads, M25 gridlocked, everyone heading for the coast? Such fun! Well, maybe, but not me. I will be dealing with apples, hundreds of apples! Well, OK, about twenty or thirty of them. Some will make seedless blackberry and apple jam (for gifts as well as for me), some I will stew and freeze, some will be chopped briefly stewed and frozen ready for spiced apple chutney and some will be frozen in wedges for whatever.

As described in my last blog, the potatoes were open freezing all night and I popped out earlier on to bag them up. There's now three bags of them, ready for basting in hot oil and roasting. It makes such a difference not having to deal with endless potatoes when the family is all here for the Big Dinner. We'll be doing the same with DD's parsnips when they are pulled (which won't be yet) and maybe with the carrots too, if I can get around to it.

Right, must get going. I want to get a loaf on, dig out my recipes, make a shopping list and start the leek and potato soup. And there's a pile of washing that needs seeing to as well, so heigh ho, heigh, it's off to work I go!

Sunday 28 August 2011

Sunday evening

. . . and it's been quite a busy day one way and another. This afternoon I drove over to Billericay to pick up a couple of bags of cooking apples from a friend's garden (many thanks, J, they look wonderful). When I got home, DD and DG had arrived with rather a lot of King Edwards spuds that they had just dug up. These are going to be our Christmas potatoes (sorry) so we spent the next hour or so peeling, par boiling, laying out on trays and dredging with flour before allowing to cool. They've just gone into the freezer to open freeze before being bagged up tomorrow. I have, of course, a pot of potato-ey water now, so tomorrow I shall get some leeks and make some leek and potato soup (I have a few potatoes in the veg box) - the water smells wonderful, so the soup should be jolly good.

The feedback on the fried green tomatoes is - OK, but nothing to rave about and very calorific with all the egg and cornflour-ing and then frying. I have to think again on this one. However, perhaps the green picking has motivated the plants because there were enough red tomatoes to pick to have some for tea and very flavoursome they were too.

Tomorrow I will have to deal with a lot of apples! It's all go, isn't it?


Where's the week gone? I seem to be asking myself that an awful lot at the moment. Where's the day gone, the week, the holiday - the year? Time is flashing past at a rate that seems alarming at times. It's nothing to do with being busy: after all, for the last five weeks I've been seriously un-busy and it doesn't seem to have slowed down in the slightest. I could, of course, put it down to increasing old age but I'm really not ready to admit to that yet, so it's got to be happiness and contentment that is the culprit. Days slipping smoothly by like pearls on a silken string with no knots or gnarls to slow their passage. Yes, as I've said before, I'm very fortunate.

Yesterday was a pleasant day. George came in the morning and focused on the front. There's something about getting rid of an old plant that is somewhat sad, even when it it old, past its best and dying off anyway. When I bought this house it had a rather straggly honeysuckle trained around the kitchen window. It was rather battered and the trellis supports were coming off so I cut it back to below the window and it flourished for many-a-year. Recently, it's been showing signs of a health struggle and over the summer it seems to have mostly died off. Some of the leaves turned brown and crisp and it was sending out no new growth. Time's up. So yesterday George cut it right back to bare stump and in the next few days I shall tackle getting up some of the roots. I think I have found the place for the three Japanese anemones that are going to the front. If I can work up the soil I think it will be the perfect spot and they should grow flowers that can be seen from inside, which would be nice.

I also made a first decision about a 'portable' raised bed. From Greenfingers,I have ordered a woven willow 'framework' that has a lining box inside. Not too big, so it will give me the opportunity to test the waters, see if I can keep it going with easy grow veg such as lettuce, carrots and radishes. It can't be long before these 'home assembly' beds are available in garden centres. There's loads online but I've not seen any in the shops which seem to go for the 'buy your wood and work it out yourself' type of thing, basically as a means of raising existing soil areas a little and dealing with difficult soil. I have the time, I'm not inclined to rush, so we will see!

I do seem to be going on an awful lot about garden stuff, as a friend pointed out yesterday. Sorry, gentle readers, it will all change once the term starts, I am, sure!

And finally, I was whinging about the green tomatoes (whinge - moi?) and someone said that they're rather nice fried with bacon for brekkie. I read somewhere else that if the tomatoes are tightly clustered, they should be thinned to give more growing space. I've put the two together and we will see. I don't have bacon (unless there's a bit in the freezer, I can't remember) but I do have a few sausages and some ham. Watch this space . . .

Saturday 27 August 2011


Rows and rows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feathered canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way . . .

I've looked at clouds from both sides now.
From up and down and still, somehow,
It's clouds illusions I recall.
I really don't know clouds
At all.

Joni Mitchell


I managed to spend some money yesterday. After looking up about raised planter bed thingies, I had a little ponder about the gap left by the severe pruning of the bush that thought it was a tree (Black Beauty) and the space next to it that had the sunflowers earlier. It does look very bleak and bare there right now.

I gather Japanese anemones like shady places (which that bed certainly is) and they are beautiful and have some height, not to mention autumn flowering. I looked online and found an offer of six plants for not very much money, not baby plants either, two white, two pale pink and two deep pink, so I ordered them and, hopefully, they will come at some point next week when I can get them into the bed. I'm preparing the soil by digging in some 'well rotted manure', as it says on the bag! Three will go where the sunflowers were, so I can see them from the window and the other three will go out at the front where they will provide some much needed height at points along the narrow strip in front of the house. Around the temporary (I hope) stump, I wanted temporary stuff so off I pootled to B&Q and Wyvale and got a couple of chrysanthemums and a box of six pansies which have filled the gap nicely. I'm hoping that Black Beauty will have sent out shoots to cover that area by next spring/summer, fingers crossed. I managed to destroy one pansy while trying to get it out of the polystyrene container, three went in the space in the bed and the remaining two ended up under the apple tree.

While I was there I also bought a few packs of bulbs. Every year I mean to plant out some bulbs in a systematic way and every year I don't. Ridiculous. So perhaps this will be the year I do. I have random snowdrops and hyacinths that were pot gifts planted out afterwards, but not a lot else.

While in B&Q I noticed some plastic paint - that is paint that will go on plastic surfaces. I have a couple of manky low plastic tables that have been outside so long that they are grey and really yucky. If I could paint them, it would give them a new lease of life and be nice to stand containers on. So I got some paint! Maybe I will, maybe I won't . . . :0)

I also looked all over for some 'vertical blind slat hanger replacements' - those little plastic things that go in the top of vertical blinds and fix the strip to the bracket. Do you think I could find anywhere locally that sold them? So I came home, Googled, and within ten minutes had located and bought a pack of them. I reckon I spent more on the petrol looking around locally than I had to spend on the postage and certainly would have spent more on public transport, which is why so many people now don't even try to use local shops - they just don't have the necessary, it's a lot more hassle and it actually costs more by the time you've taken travelling into account. A lot of people have vertical blinds, they must get damaged from time to time, so it's not good that a local specialist curtain and blind shop doesn't stock replacement bits or be able to get order some in when needed.

My readers may remember that earlier on in the year I took some rosemary cuttings. The reason was that my rosemary bush is getting a bit on the large side for where it is and will need to be cut back or replaced in the next few years. Knowing my luck with cutting rosemary back (I killed one several years ago doing just that) I decided to take some cuttings so I have a replacement. I ended up with twelve cutting which I duly potted with a hope and a prayer. Amazingly, all survived, Mum and Dad took two and the others have been growing healthily all summer. Well, I don't need ten, do I, so I posted a message on a local free re-cycling group on Facebook and within a couple of hours all six on offer had been snapped up. Three were picked up yesterday and three are due to be picked up today. That leaves four - one for my friend S, whenever she manages to come, one for the front, I think, and two to go in containers.

I think I must have very late developing green fingers!

Friday 26 August 2011

Friday morning

When you're right under those towering blocks of flats looking up at them, they seem to be toppling over onto you - a most disconcerting and unsettling feeling! Taken with the mobile phone.

It looks as if we've had quite a lot of rain overnight. It's only spitting right now but the skies look full of it and I have no doubt there's more to come. Of course, I should have known. I gave the far bed (where the big bush had been) a good soaking yesterday as it was bone dry. That's just guaranteed to bring on the rain, isn't it? On the plus side, everything looks so beautifully green and lush rather than dusty, dry and starting to wilt. That has to be good and is very restful on the eye.

Yesterday morning I managed to wake later than usual - just before seven - so I count that as a lie in. It was a relief after the very late night on Wednesday (or rather, Thursday morning), but I was still extremely weary and managed to fall asleep at a few points during the day. Back to normal today but nowadays it's also back to waking in the dark as the nights set in earlier and dawn is increasing later.

Those tomatoes had better get a move on. At this rate we will have the first frost before I get much joy out of them and, much as I love green tomato chutney, I don't want that much. I think what they need is a spell of warm sunshine and that's just what they're not getting at the moment. Quite a lot of them seem to be starting to turn, but it's all so slow . . . I suppose I will have a huge glut all at once the moment the new term starts when I won't have the time to deal with them properly! Most frustrating. Today's little gardening task, apart from talking to the tomatoes, is to dead head some of the cosmos flowers. Oh, and to read up about the codling moth.

I did a bit more hunting for commercially produced raised beds yesterday and, my goodness, there's such a choice. Basically they split into three - a 'manger' type affair, a box on legs or a box without legs. - all in different sizes, mostly pre-treated, all needing to be assembled at home. I think I will start small-ish with one of the first two, to see how I get on with the whole concept and go from there, but whether I want a manger style (which does look attractive and has some depth in the middle) or a box on legs (bigger but perhaps lacking in depth), I have no idea. I think I'm going to trawl a few garden centres today, to see what they have in and whether there are any made up so I can see what they're like in reality as opposed to a photoshopped image, planted up to look good. If any of my gentle readers have any advice to offer, please do.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Thursday evening

The Barbican centre was lovely - well, parts of it anyway. Especially attractive was the area called Riverside - fountains and flats with beflowered and leaved balconies and tables and chairs so you could drink your tea, coffee, wine, etc beside the water or looking down onto it. On a lovely, sunny, fresh, uncrowded day like yesterday it was delightful and we spent some considerable time there. Hence the photos, taken, unfortunately, with my cheapo mobile so the quality is pretty poor. I just didn't have room in my bag for my camera, not wanting to overload it. Must get a more up to date, lighter weight camera. Really, really MUST!

Thursday morning

After waving farewell to my visitors yesterday morning, I waited for Lesley to turn up and the two of us drove over to Jackie's in Billericay. After a coffee, we made our way down to Billericay station and ended up in the Barbican area of London where we had a late, leisurely lunch before wandering around, chatting, reminiscing, catching up on each other's news . . . it was lovely. Jackie, Lesley and I are old friends, once school colleagues (they have both retired now) and we all get on really well.

At seven we made our way to the Barbical theatre for South Pacific. The reviews are mixed for this show which premiered on Monday. They talk of wonderful singing (This Nearly Was Mine brought tears to my eyes, it was so beautiful), a fantastic orchestra, economical but excellent scenery and a good drawing out of the racial tensions within the storyline with particular mention of the outstandingly spooky and manipulative interpretation of Bloody Mary as well as the liveliness and comedy brought to the part of Billis by Alex Fearns. However, and I agree with them, the acting was wooden in places and there was no frisson between Nellie and Emile - they were very competent but there was no chemistry there. And they really do need to reprise a big song right at the end while taking their bows - that was definitely an anticlimax.

However, having said all of that, it was a whale of an evening, thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, I wouldn't have missed it for worlds.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The beds


Right - and a bit of a mess at the moment


Up early (so what's new) to get yesterday's chicken sorted. Two more meals for me, frozen in single portions, my guests are taking some home with them and the remaining carcass is boiling up as I type. I probably won't have time to deal with it today so it can stay in the pot and when it's cooled it can go into the fridge. Tomorrow, all I will have to do is slightly reheat to unjellify the stock and then get all the lovely meat off. Unlike Diane, as I have no dogs, it's all for me!! Organic free range whatever chicken may seem on the dear side in the shop, but, all used up it is a lot better value than chops, etc, where there's no leftovers so nothing to prepare and freeze for another day. What with the lamb, the ham and the chicken, I won't have to buy any meat now until well into next week.

Can't do better than that!

Photo: Another Streele Farm view - we have booked again for next year! :0)

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Tuesday later on

Despite the rain we have had a lovely time at Hyde Hall. My friends, who have been a few times before, said it's developing rapidly and there's a lot more to see than previously. I'm glad we went: we didn't see half what there was to see and I will definitely be going again very soon. We left early-ish because it was raining quite persistently by then and I wanted to be past the Army and Navy roundabout before the rush hour started.

But I'm afraid there will be no photos of lovely plants, views, etc because - disaster - I left my camera at home. What a wally!!! So you'll have to be satisfied with a view of my French lavender, taken in the gloom early this morning. It's on its second flowering and prettier this time than it was earlier.


Well, my guests duly arrived and settled in. After a salad lunch we all headed off to DD's allotment to see the wonders she has wrought. It is seriously impressive. When she took it over it was a barren wilderness with waist high weeds and no beds dug. It's still weedy now and will be for some time to come, but she's dealing with that. It now has good sized beds, surrounded with grass walkways and filled with vegetables and fruit: baby corn, potatoes, courgettes, butternut squash, pumpkin (she hopes), parsnips, borlotti beans, runner beans, broad beans, red cabbage (these are seriously impressive!), sprouts (some of these latter two are destined for the Christmas dinner table, as are some of the parsnips and potatoes), mange tout, herbs, raspberry canes, rhubarb . . . and I am sure I have forgotten some things. She's worked her socks off and should be very proud of what she has achieved. We certainly were, looking around!

And so back to sit in the garden and then to cook and eat dinner. Slow roast lamb, roast potatoes, runner beans and courgettes and the trimmings. Well, it was meant to be slow roast lamb but I didn't leave enough time. It should have gone in a fair bit earlier really so it was semi-slow roast but it was delicious anyway. Morrison's meat is generally very good and this was no exception. Diane will be pleased to read that there are some good leftovers which will be carved and the rest boiled off the bone and frozen for another day, some sliced and in gravy for another roast dinner and some minced for a shepherd's pie.

I have no idea about lunch, but dinner will be roast chicken with stuffing and pigs in blankets, roast potatoes, broad beans and more runner beans - I do love runner beans and these are fresh picked. I didn't get round to making that fudge sauce yesterday so I think what I will do is make it this morning while I have time and hope that it will heat up OK later. I don't see why it shouldn't, anyway I will try and see. If it is something that has to be done at the last minute, then it's no good to me!

Weather permitting, we are hoping to get to Hyde Hall today. I've never been which is very bad of me seeing as it is very local and just the sort of place I love to visit. It's an R H S place and supposed to be well worth a visit, so how come I have lived here for 26 years now and never been? Shame on me! Being gardens and an outdoor place, it does very much depend on the weather, so fingers crossed. The forecast is, unfortunately, not promising.

And finally (what a long, waffly entry this has turned out to be), the bush that thinks it's a tree has had its come-uppance. Thanks to some heavy duty loppers and semi-professional advice and help, it's been lopped right back in the hope that it takes note and doesn't try to take over that part of the garden next year if, indeed, it survives. Of course, where it was looks very bleak and empty now, so I might see what (if anything) they have at Hyde Hall to fill the gap temporarily. And if all else fails, I found the label that came with the bush - it's a sambucus nigra Black Beauty - so can dig it out and get another to replace it.The label also says it can be 'cut right back each year for bold new growth' which is what I haven't been doing until the last couple of years. We will see! And looking it up on Google for the link above, I discover that the berries are edible! What a wasted opportunity. Doh!!!

Monday 22 August 2011

Garden update

One of the strawberry plants has decided to have another go.
The cosmos are coming into their own now.

This one is particularly lovely - it's prettier in real life than on this photo.

The geraniums are providing splashes of bright colour.

Getting the idea - slowly. I'm leaving these on for a few days - just to show the others what's expected of them now!

Monday morning

Another view of the lilies from Streele Barn. They really were so pretty by the end of the week, it was a shame to leave them behind.

The holiday is running too fast for me to catch up. Two weeks to go now. Ho hum.

Yesterday was another sleepy day, punctuated by time spent in the kitchen and time spent with DD and DG when they came over for tea. In the afternoon I watched an adaptation of Pollyanna which was a darn sight better than the famed Hayley Mills version. Apart from being quite obviously set in England rather than the USA, it stuck pretty closely to the book and - well, I enjoyed it anyway, Pollyanna being a favourite book when I was a mere youth. I get pretty annoyed when films take on the title of the book and that's about all the similarity there is to the original. The First Wives Club is a case in point - the book was enjoyable, the film - well, say no more!

Quickly jumping off my soap box, lets move on. Today I am expecting some visitors, arriving before lunch. I've invited DD and DG over and we're having some of the ham I boiled yesterday with a salad. I'll make cheg for DD. Dinner will be a slow cooked leg of lamb (half leg, anyway), some roasties and runner beans and courgettes from the garden. If I have time, I'll make some hot fudge sauce with the condensed milk left over from yesterday and we can have it over ice cream. Yum.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Still Sunday morning

Cornflake crunchies on the upper left and gingernuts on the lower right.

I've had a biscuit baking session! First of all I made the biscuits I mentioned earlier. Cornflake crunchies, I call them, although this time I used bran flakes not cornflakes, because that's what I hadin the cupboard. That went OK although the cooking time was a bit out and after about five minutes on the cooling rack I put them all back in the oven on a lower heat for about another ten minutes to crisp up. That worked a treat and they are really tasty.
Then I fancied making some gingernuts. Now I do have a recipe, a good old trusted and tried recipe, originally from a Delia book, I seem to remember. But I did a Google hunt and came up with one that sounded a bit different and which had cinnamon and clove as well as ginger. I should have known better, I really should! They were horrible, really disgusting, and ended up in the bin. So I dug up the proper recipe and had another go and, of course, as with all Delia recipes, they worked a treat and taste wonderful.

I still haven't learnt my lesson though. I've just found a recipe for 'custard powder biscuits': not a nice name and if it's any good I will have to rename it, I am sure. To make it worse, it's all in cups so I've had to do a conversion thing. Looks dead easy - we will see. And then I must stop because I'm going to have to freeze half of this stuff anyway!

I do love baking!

Sunday morning

They always put a bunch of flowers in the properties on Streele Farm - this time they were lilies and were beautiful.

I really am back on the pleasant, every day road of little happenings again now. I had a rather lazy day yesterday after the very early start but it seems to have re-awakened my early waking pattern as I was awake again very early this morning. Never mind, I'll be glad of it in a fortnight's time.

I managed to get my shopping done and it was rather more expensive than usual. Because I have visitors for a few days I splached out on an organic chicken to roast, a half leg of lamb (hope that will be enough) and a ham which I will boil today after a soaking. I also got the ingredients to make some nice looking biscuits, the recipe for which I found in Good Food magazine. When I tell you that the ingredients include golden syrup, consensed milk, a ridiculous amount of butter and custard powder, you will realise that they are far from healthy, but they will be delicious and crunchy and, after all, I have guests!

So today is soaking and then boiling the ham, cooking the biscuits and getting the guest room ready. Oh, and talking to the tomatoes . . . :0)

Saturday 20 August 2011


A rather pretty Streele Farm rose.

And here I am, very early, having woken about half an hour or so ago to say goodbye to S and M, who have just set off to take tenant possession of their new home. I know I've said it before, but I am just so grateful to them both for house sitting this week, caring for my garden and, hopefully, having a bit of a rest too after some frantic weeks getting things sorted up north before their move. Have a safe journey, both of you, and thank you very, very much.
It's still dark! Amazing how quickly the days shorten, isn't it. It's supposed to be summer and, indeed, yesterday certainly was, but with these dark mornings and increasingly short evenings, autumn is definitely snapping at her heels, ready to overtake at any moment. And I must get back in the habit of drawing my downstairs curtains in the evening!!

And so it's back to the usual routines again. I had a lovely time last week (did I say?) and part of me would love to be there still, but, as the saying goes. 'East, West, home is best' and I'm sitting here in my comfy computer chair, typing on my nicely spaced keyboard (which, nonetheless, doesn't prevent many a typo), French window open to enjoy the early morning fresh air, a hot mug of coffee to hand, just soaking in the homey, familiar atmosphere. S said that my house has a welcoming, cosy, comfortable feel - I though that was a lovely thing to say (thanks, S) and maybe that's why I'm so glad to be home again.

OK, I didn't send this earlier and now it's light. The tomatoes (blessing be upon them) have had their weekly feed and I've checked the leaves for nasties. The garden needs a bit of a de-weed and tidy up and the sunflowers are over and done and should be pulled. George should be over this morning, weather permitting, so I think I will make a little list for him. I need to go food shopping too so that's another list - not-so-little this time as I have friends coming to stay for a few days next week. Menu planning ahoy! Like the Greeks, they will come bearing gifts from their garden so that will have to be taken into account. Runner beans, corn on the cob, maybe tomatoes plus a few other goodies! Excellent!

Well, better get started. The case won't unpack itself and the washing won't clamber into the machine without some help from your truly. It's definitely back to reality now!

Friday 19 August 2011

Home, sweet home

A lovely, sunny early morning - shame it was going home day.

But look what I've got!

Of course, typically, after yesterday's cold, windy and damp day, today was gloriously warm and sunny, just right for swimming in the pool - sadly we were on the road heading home instead.
A good journey, very trouble free all along the M25, through the tunnel and up until the outskirts of Chelmsford when I made a very bad decision.

It's the V Festival this weekend. As a result the inside lane of the A12 was chokka with V traffic so I whizzed past and decided to go in on the next turning, into Galleywood. BIG mistake. Let's just say it took an hour and a half to get from Streele Farm to the A12 exit and another hour to get through Chelmsford, a journey that should have taken 15 mins max. If I'd waited until the next exit, it would have been fine. Doh!!

But, on arrival back at home, I was greeted by S and M, my house sitters for the week, with the joyous news that I had a red tomato with several other nearly ready - see the photo at the top for proof. A titchy baby plum tomato, all of 2cms long. So I picked it, solemnly divided it into three and we all had a taste. And my word, what a superb flavour. I can't wait for the next picking.

It's good to be home.

Thursday 18 August 2011

Thursday evening.

A cottage with a Beatle haircut - which dates me good and proper!

The week has come and gone. It started with rain and it has finished with rain, but in-between it has been warm and sunny. We've stayed in a lovely cottage - grade 2 listed, according to Google, all mod cons, a reasonable internet connection, a bathroom each, an inglenook fireplace, wonderful views - and a swimming pool just for us.

We've cleared away, tidied up, mopped down and generally made sure there isn't too much for the housekeeper to do tomorrow. We've loaded the car with all but the last minute essentials. We've lit our last log fire and enjoyed the flames. We've eaten our last dinner here, drunk our last glasses of plonk this holiday, set the table for breakfast one more time.

It's been an absolutely wonderful week but Real Life is knocking on the door. Quite right too!

Wednesday 17 August 2011

The Forbidden Forest

Wednesday morning

You do get some beautifully misty early morning views here. I'm hoping the sun will burn off the morning mist soon and give us a warm, bright day.

Yesterday was a bit dull and dismal with a few spells of sunshine as the clouds parted to let the sun smile for a short time. None of us felt like swimming, so we didn't. Instead, we all strolled down to the Forbidden Forest (formerly known as Crocodile Wood, but DG has re-named it), us to read, chat and pick blackberries and him to look for a special kind of mud. Well, he found it, and couldn't you tell! A shower was in order as soon as we got home!

The afternoon was spent very lazily reading, snoozing and chatting after which we went out to the Marks Cross Inn for dinner. This has become something of a tradition for us now. DD hopes that one day they will stop proclaiming, as a vegetarian option, a dish that has parmesan cheese. Every year she has told them - every year, there it is! OK, so yes, it has a very static menu, but it's jolly well cooked and very tasty and we always enjoy our meals there, even if it is short on vegetarian options for DD.

We've planned out our meals for the last two days now, in order to have minimal food left over at the end of the week. In previous years I have been staying another week so any leftovers just carry on, but this year it's the week and then all over (sad), so we've been a lot more careful with our shopping.
So this is what we've planned:

Breakfasts will be toast and/or cereal.
Lunch: A selection of cheeses bought at the deli at Tesco so we can have bit of this and a bit of that! Crackers and crusty bread. Fresh fruit and yogurt.
Dinner: Bangers and mash and DG is choosing some veg when we get there. The mash will be 'real' and DD will add the fennel that she bought from her allotment but which we haven't got round to making yet. Maybe we can make some onion gravy too - that's always scrummy.
Lunch: Boiled eggs and toasty soldiers, fresh fruit and yogurt.
Dinner: Ratatouille on fresh pasta (bought, not made) with grated cheese of some kind. Fruit if there's any left over.

If we stick to that and only buy what's needed we should have very little food to take home with us apart from the frozen blackberries, which is just as well as far as DD is concerned because she will go home to an allotment full of food! M (one of my house minders) says that one of my tomatoes might possibly be starting to think about turning a gentle orange so I think the chances of me coming back to any is minimal!

And at this point I need to say a huge thank you to S and M who have been looking after my home this week for me, watering the garden and generally relieving me of any worry regarding an empty house for a week. Much appreciated, many, many thanks. You are wonderful!

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Tuesday morning

Yesterday evening it was a bit chilly so we decided to spoil ourselves and light the fire. There's something about fire, isn't there? It is, at the same time, comforting, warming with promise of food, safety and protection but also powerful, painful and hard to control. Watching a fire flickering and flaming in the grate can be as hypnotic as waves crashing on the rocks, the same and yet not the same, creating pictures that are as old as the world itself. No wonder our ancestors deified fire. I can understand why.

I hope it's chilly again tonight.

The chicken risotto I cooked last night was very tasty. I'm not so sure about the vegetable one I cooked for DD. You need a jolly good stock for a risotto and, much as I swear by Marigold (low sodium) for everyday culinary efforts, I'm not so sure about using it in a risotto. Last year I made a mushroom one which had, as its stock, the water that the dried mushrooms had steeped in and it was really delicious. I guess you live and learn! Having said all of that, I made plenty of both kinds and there was none left by the end, so no complaints really.

Apart from that we had a lovely swim and then just pootled about for the rest of the day. After a very warm morning, it gradually became more and more cloudy and by the evening it was trying to rain (although it didn't get very far). This morning seems overcast at present, so we will see. We're thinking of going to Ashdown Forest, original Pooh country, if the weather is anything like decent today, so fingers crossed.

Monday 15 August 2011

Monday morning

Early one morning just as the sun was rising . . .
(one of my favourite folk songs)

After a wonderful night's sleep, I have woken to the promise of a very fine day. The sun is rising, it's a little bit chilly out, but warming up rapidly and there's a mixed aroma of chicken and coffee pervading the kitchen.

It's my day for cooking. Breakfast is always my job because I am way the first person up in this little family holiday. To add to the usual cereal and toast, I have prepared a melon and strawberry platter. When we went shopping on Saturday there was a very likely looking pile of cantaloupe melons, so we got one. The strawberries were very much on special so . . . yes, we got some of them too! The rich red of the strawberries goes so well with the colour of the melon flesh and both taste delicious - I've tasted!

After yesterday's very yummy Christmas dinner, the chicken has been roughly de-meated (I know, no such word really) and the remains of the carcass is now gently simmering away to loosen the rest of the meaty bits and create a good chicken stock.

Lunch will be a selection of savoury sarnies (chicken, ham and cheese) with a mug of soup, followed by fruit. Dinner will be a sort of chicken risotto (or a vegetable risotto for DD made with what's left over so far plus a few extra veg to be bought this morning (must make my list!) followed by strawberries and yogurt.

Apart from meals, today is shopping, swimming, reading and generally chilling out, walking, berry picking . . . with the weather being just about the best we've ever had at Streele Farm, we're having a great time.

Sunday 14 August 2011

A stroll around.

The pool

Flowers by the pool

Through the hedge to the farmhouse.

The back of the barn


And more

On the field

Over to the neighbouring farm.

Over the bridge

The barn