Thursday, April 27, 2017

Busy Day

First of all, I baked this loaf. It had been rising all through the sleepy-time hours so I gave it a quick knockback, turned the oven on to high, took my coffee back to bed then baked it for thirty minutes exactly.

Sorted out my chickens, showered and went to Belfast.

Then straight to the Ulster Museum to look at the exhibition that wasn't child-friendly, the Francisco Goya 'The Disasters of War'. It was harsh. I also took another look at recent Irish history section, the part that depicts what some call 'The Troubles'. I have a friend, a Republican and Sinn Fein activist, who finds this part of the museum anodyne but I am always affected by it and often tearful. The so-called Troubles were my entire adult life from around fifteen years old until they ended, if they even have ended. Maybe my friend is right. I'm sad and sniffly at the Ulster Museum but in our other city at the Museum of Free Derry  I was in pieces.

As always it was impossible to resist the Palm House which is so close to the museum and the delights of the exotic and wonderful plants within. Just one niggle - why aren't they named. I always feel I don't know a plant unless I have its Latin name. I knew the Dizygotheca elegantissima, Passiflora caerulea, Crassula ovata and Monstera deliciosa because I have or have had those plants at some time but what's this?

Or this?

No doubt I'll find out some day.

It was a good day. I needed to get out on my own and when I got home the people I live in where in very good form (they had enjoyed a Nelly-free day) and the sourdough bread was very delicious indeed. 

Since posting this I had the following message on Facebook from a South African friend.

The yellow flower is a Hibiscus that is a genus of flowering plants in the mallow family Malvaceae. They grow prolifically in SA.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

April Sleet Showers

It was bitterly cold today and not boding well for my Wednesday trip to Belfast. Will just have to wrap up good and warm. Despite the snow and the sleet I managed a little outside gardening and rather more inside. I'm behind with seed sowing this year but they'll catch up.

I did manage to take a couple of garden pictures between the showers. Close up as the flowerbeds still need a bit of work.  And I started another sourdough loaf. If Bert doesn't get to it before my camera does I'll have a nice picture of it tomorrow. Now, time to sleep.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Look What He's Done To My Bread Ma

I persevered with the sourdough bread, kept the mother going and worked out a recipe and method that works for me. My last two loaves have been excellent. The trouble is, they are so yummy that it is hard to get a photo before the bread is scoffed.

I was going to take a photograph earlier today but it would have meant decluttering the kitchen and today was a gardening day - so no time for housework. If there was to be a picture of my delicious bread then everything had to be just right, perhaps an artfully placed linen tea towel, or a posy of spring flowers, maybe I could even arrange one of the cats to sit on the dresser to add interest to the background. What I wouldn't want is dirty dishes, piles of unsorted laundry and a massive heap of newspapers on my catless dresser. I consoled myself with how very pretty my loaf looked, good texture, unburnt crust, decent shape. With a few slices cut from it would make a very decent picture.

Now imagine how I felt when Bert hacked my lovely loaf to pieces before I had the chance to Instagram it. It couldn't have been less photogenic if a rabid donkey had got to it. Why? He couldn't find the right knife, sure it was only going to be eaten anyway. What did it matter what it looked like?

It's a pet hate of mine when people leave loaves, pies, and cakes looking unpresentable. And, of course, when I say people I mean Bert. Do you know what he'd do if he thought he could get away with it? I'd be taking some delicious baked thing out of the oven and before it even had a chance to cool he'd have pulled a lump out of it to taste it. Sharp rap over the knuckles with a wooden spoon soon put that nonsense out of him.

Anyway, here is a picture of one of my first loaves. The one that got mauled looked better, was bigger and tastier and was going to have a better tea towel. Here's to the next one.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Visitors

Well, who knew? It seems that fun is definitely much more tiring than work. Katy and James arrived on Monday afternoon and we had an action-packed few days during which James did far, far more than anyone.

On Tuesday we all went to the Ulster Museum. That was a busy day. It was a child-centred visit which meant that there was building, painting and drawing to be carried out. James discovered that the art galleries were marvellous echo chambers and he made an awful lot of noise. I only noticed one person who minded. Surely anyone who visits the Museum in the Easter holidays should expect it to be brimming with children and, if they are decent coves, they should be jolly pleased about it. Martha and Evie are frequent visitors to the Museum and they had a wonderful time showing James their favourite places,

On Wednesday James went on a playdate to Martha and Evie’s house where I am told, he tore around the house like a whirlwind and then ate an enormous lunch. It seems he got on very well without his Mama as all well-adjusted boys should – for an hour or so at least. Meanwhile, Katy and I lunched and perused charity shops. I bought a straw hat for Bert, some wool for Zoe and a chiffon cloak for the girls’ dressing up box.

Yesterday, we went to Ballycastle, amused ourselves at the amusements, went to the beach, went duck-watching and all that before lunch. Lunch was outdoor fish and chips at Mortons where I made two new friends. One was a single-legged seagull and the other a very cheeky jackdaw who perched on my shoulder, sauntered down my arm and tried to eat my fingers. My grandchildren took all this in their stride as if it was the most usual thing for grannies to have tame jackdaws strolling about their upper bodies.

It's likely that the highlight of James' trip to the seaside occurred on the downward journey when we passed several miles of major roadworks. I don't believe the child had ever seen as much heavy plant in one place, ever. He looked left there were dozens of diggers and heavy tractors, he looked right - more of the same. He was entranced.

Tame stuff but at least he's in control

Today I got up at half-five and drove Hannah to work then went back to bed and slept until nine o’clock which was wonderful. James and I spent some quality time jumping in puddles, watching chickens, feeding cows, examining tractors and other assorted plant. We watched Sammy the Digger Man clean out a drain, then Clint spreading manure with his Davy Brown. For James there was no contest. Diggers are OK but tractors are his particular passion. It was a good morning. James and Katy lunched on Ulster Fries and then it was time to drive to the airport where I felt very sad to kiss them both goodbye. The plan is that I will visit Norfolk in October and, while I don’t expect Katy will have changed much (maybe just another few strands of silver curls), James will an inch or two taller and will have a much bigger vocabulary. Looking forward to it already.

Mary, James, Evie, Zoe, Hannah, Martha, Katy 2017

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rooster Attack

When a rooster flies at you and puts his spurs into your leg, you notice it. This fellow was a big heavy lad and he ruled the roost. I'm going to miss hearing him crow tomorrow morning. Blogged on 02/06/2015

This is Duke, our senior rooster. He was reared as a battery hen and turned out to be a male so, as our previous rooster had been taken by the fox (see above), we gave him a home.

He was a timorous fellow to start with but, as his confidence has grown, he has turned out to be one of the most vicious roosters we've ever had. I have to keep a tight eye on him when I go into the run. Tonight I forgot. The seven youngest chickens take ages to go into the house at bedtime and I was giving them a bit of encouragement or, to be honest, chasing them, when he came flying out of the house and launched himself at my right leg, at knee height.  I limped into the house to clean the wounds, both bleeding, where his spurs had punched right through my heavy jeans. My knee had already started to swell. Of course, I was raging and considered having Bert kill him, or leave him out in the woods for Foxy to find. It's not as if he hasn't three fine sons to take up rooster duty in the hen run. But,  then I relented for he was only doing his job, protecting his flock.

Hopefully, my knee will feel better tomorrow and I won't lose the leg owing to some filthy chicken disease. Then he gets to cock-a-doodle-doo for another while and we won't be eating cock-a-leekie soup for our Sunday dinner.

That was the bad news. The good news is that my latest sourdough loaf was a big success and my grandson James thought it was delicious. Sadly, no pictures of the loaf for it got scoffed far too quickly. All I can offer is this picture of James after spag bol and a bowl of yogurt. I wonder if he would like some chicken soup?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Sourdough Wars

The husband is in my bad books. First, he suggests that I can keep my egg money. I reply that I’d rather not as he buys the chicken feed, so he should keep it. He says it would be handy for you, give you a bit of independence. I say, what is the egg order again? Two and a half dozen. That's £2.50 a week. A generous allowance indeed. Go on Bert, you can keep it.

Did I ever mention that I am one of the multitude of women caught out by the rise in the pension age? There are women I know, only a few months older than I am who have been receiving their pension for over four years now which is very galling.

Yet, it was very unfair that women reached their pension age five years before men but it doesn’t stop me wishing that they’d waited until I got mine before the rules were changed. Still, I’ll probably get a pension some day and with me being the frugal sort, it will seem like a fortune when it comes. Unlike my poor children who will be quite old before their pension day arrives.

Now, back to my devilish husband – for there were two things… now, what was the other? Oh yes, sourdough bread and the imaginary competition between Les and Nelly. It was Les originally piqued my interest and was quick to offer recipes, advice, and encouragement. Les has created a great many loaves and is close to perfecting his method. I know, because he has shared those loaves with us. I, on the other hand, have been successfully feeding the ‘mother’ but have actually made just three loaves. For life gets in the way. Then Bert goes to Les for music practice on Tuesday and comes home raving, raving about the awesomeness of Les’ latest loaf. And there is half of it sent home with him and it’s true, the bread is sublime. Bert goes to check my ‘mother’. His verdict? Not as good as Les’ ‘mother’, too watery, needs more flour. Then there is the way Mrs Les served the bread, oil and balsamic vinegar, sea salt on the side, bet you’ve never even heard of that? Heh, Nelly?

Nelly raging, says,

Of course I’ve heard of it. Why, I was reading an article in the Guardian about that just weeks ago! I’m glad you enjoyed it because that’s what you’ll be getting for your supper all week! Bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt! We’ll see how you like that!

He says,

Well I won’t if it’s Mother’s Pride bread!

I bet you all never knew how hateful he can be.

Anyway, I started another loaf on Wednesday. Assembled it yesterday, left it to prove overnight. It looked very promising this morning and I baked it at lunch time. Slow bread. Put the oven on high, placed a bowl of water on the bottom shelf, put the bread in, forgot about it, burned it slightly.

Had some with my homemade chicken broth made with own leeks. Tough crust but good flavour. Had some with Bert’s omelette at supper time. Made with own eggs, own broccoli, and own chives.

Later on we had some broken up and dipped in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and sea salt. Accompanied with glass of own rhubarb wine. Very nice but wouldn’t want to eat it every evening. (Unless it was Les’ sourdough loaf.) Did I mention I am turning into fat, bloated, sourdoughy lump? And it’s not even Easter yet.

Les and Bert

Monday, April 10, 2017

Field Dressing

So, just as the oul' sore shoulder starts to ease I get a tension backache that starts every evening after supper but I will not complain as my sister is laid up with a very sore face after taking a nasty fall at the weekend. I was on the phone today speaking with her when Martha came in and I knew by the child's face that she wanted to tell me a big story so stalled her by telling her that I was talking to Aunt Gan who wasn't feeling very well and, bless Martha, she sat patiently and waited, even had a little chat to Gan herself.

As soon as our call had ended Martha announced,

Aunt Gan's not the only one of the family who's had an accident. Bert has cut himself on barbed wire and he won't come in from the fields to get it washed so I'll have to bring him a plaster.

I said we were out of plasters so she'd have to bring him a bandage and I put together an emergency pack of bandages, tape, scissors and wipes.

Off she ran, heading for the field where Bert was fencing.

I said,

Don't run. You must never run with scissors. Hasn't there been enough accidents in this family?

About half an hour later Bert and the girls returned. His wrist and hand were heavily bandaged. He told me later that she'd ordered him out of the muck hole he was standing in as it was far too dirty a place for him to have his wrist cleaned and dressed. Not bad going for a seven-year-old.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Relatively Speaking

Last year, when my cousin Peggy was visiting from New Zealand she mentioned that she was putting together a family tree for the benefit of her grandchildren. I offered to share some of the information that I had gathered over the years, then promptly forgot about it. As I do. So today I get a message from Peggy reminding me and immediately sent her all the details I had on our maternal grandfather's siblings. And that reminded me that I'd never got around to recording that particular branch of the family tree onto my very complicated Family Echo app. So I made a start on it, and discovered about a zillion more relatives, loads of whom don't even look like McAnespies!

So there you go. A lorry load of cousins that I have absolutely no use for. They didn't give me one tiny percentage of the pleasure that I had when Miss Martha found the wee white hillbilly hen had laid me an egg.  At long last! It was immediately packed up with five others to be delivered to Martha's house.

Proper McAnespies, dapper and a wee bit nebby.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Birds of a Feather

We have sixteen chickens now. Sadly, four of them are roosters which is three too many. The seven young ones (a gift from the ever generous Les) were kept apart from the others for about six weeks as the four roosters would have murdered them. When we reunited the flocks I kept two of the cockerels in the old run but their sister would not be parted from them and kept flying over the fence and lingering outside their gate. I gave in, let her join them. That group are known as the Hillbillies because of their incestuous lifestyle. And the female hasn't laid one single egg since she got there. I have to say that last year's egg hatching experiment, whilst exciting, ended in disappointment. Five chicks brought forth, three males and two females, then one female dispatched to Dr. Leitrim Sister's rushy fields whilst masquerading as a male. Our Dede didn't even want a rooster and, as it turned out, she didn't get one for Miss Rocky is laying well.

There are seven or eight eggs a day coming from the other lot, most of them from the young hens. They stick together and have adopted the young white rooster as their harem-master. They knock around together and roost in a row at night. Duke, the old rooster, makes do with the two old browns and the two old blacks. The two brown hens chum about and they hate the young girls. The black hens are pals too. Duke perches on another part of the roost with the black hens on one side and the brown ones on the other. Thankfully the run is big and they all have plenty of room but there is definitely a distinct pecking order at scoff time. The old browns are the boss hens and everyone except Duke gets chased off. When my lovely bantams were here they stuck together as well and did not get on with the others.

I'd love more Silkies and Pekins but I'm not sure I could cope with their inherent broodiness and too many boys hatching. Unless I can toughen up and turn the cockerels into a nice nourishing soup. Peter told me this evening that he dispatched his rooster for raping the ducks but hadn't the heart to eat him. I don't think I could eat mine either.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Bindweed and Beetroots

It was around ten days ago that I decided to manhandle a single bed mattress up the attic stairs. I could have waited for Bert to return from whatever errand he was on but I didn't. And even as I was hauling it up there I knew there would be a price to pay. The right shoulder was sore for a week. In the end, I had to resort to co-codamol and brave the wee lecture about addiction that the pharmacy assistant recites on each occasion (maybe once or twice a year) that I buy pain medication. I have this theory that painkillers, by alleviating the soreness, helps me to relax and it's the relief of tension that truly mends the hurt. Two days and eight co-codamol later I could feel myself beginning to feel better.

So out I went to clean the greenhouse which was overrun with bindweed and couch grass. Bad gardener! The grass was tough, not at all easy to pull but I yanked away with all my might. Guess I'll be dosing myself with tablets yet another night. Don't tell the wee lass in the pharmacy!

In other news, we missed Homeland* on Sunday night as Dr. Leitrim Sister was visiting. As was Prof. Swisser. Two doctors coming for supper! Bert wondered if he should mention his dodgy elbow but I told him not to be so puerile. What do Irish Academics eat, you may wonder. Well... they eat cheese and onion pie made with butter and newly laid eggs.  Professors also eat boiled beetroot, fresh from the garden, which Dr. Leitrim Sister wouldn't even lip. She doesn't know what she missed.**

* Watched it tonight.
** Pink pee.