Category Archives: Out and About

Charles Dowding Open Day at Home Acres

Open Day

Open Day

First a confession : in the age of sat nav all sorts of odd things happen. Yesterday Charles Dowding had an Open Day at his home, we had last visited in 2012 at Lower Farm .

Flourishing beds

Flourishing beds

We went with a couple of friends from Blaise Community Garden who were interested in learning more about the no-dig method and it was only after about half an hour, that Brian remarked this isn’t the same garden we went to last time. I was slightly baffled and Brian continued   –  it’s a different house and the garden was on a slope and it was bigger – I looked around and thought, yes, when we arrived it looked a bit different and I remembered there had been a yard and apricot trees up against the house, so we asked Charles who said with a huge beam and trying to keep a straight face that he had moved and he was very glad we hadn’t gone to the old house!

Vegetables to be envious of

Vegetables to be envious of

So how do these things happen?  I am used to gardens changing, to old overgrown places being restored from woodland and decay to open healthy spaces, I have seen a few of those in my lifetime and I have a poor visual memory also; I would make a bad historian and I ignored the name change and the landscape and the house and focussed as always on the plants and the beds and ignored the bits that didn’t fit with my memory. In a way they weren’t important. But it was yet another lesson in how fallible memory can be.

Anyway, Charles has worked his magic and his skill in three years to make a new garden and productive growing space and it is as wonderful and enviable as the photos show here. Lots of information on his methods can be found on his website No dig Gardening – Charles Dowding and in his books.

These are some of Brian’s photos from our visit yesterday which I hope convey a sense and taste of the place.

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Apple Trees in a strip bed

We were particularly interested in his notes about growing fruit trees in strip beds and keeping them carefully pruned so they didn’t get too tall and the fruit remained pickable by hand.

apple trees

apple trees

Polytunnel tomatoes

Polytunnel tomatoes

The tomatoes grow beautifully up strings in the polytunnels, there was a very interesting experiment with a tumbling tomato growing in a mushroom box on a shelf that seemed to be going well.

tumbling tomatoes

tumbling tomatoes

I was very envious of the celeriac and the cabbages were remarkably hole free and quite glorious. Brian wanted his beetroots, I wanted everything!

polytunnel envy

polytunnel envy

There were flat yellow beans that we had for supper; a variety called Golden Gate.  There were borlotti drying on their stems, masses of basil and herbs, oca, salsola, tree spinach, a huge feathery asparagus bed, all sorts of wonderful vegetables in amongst the carrots, parsnips and more.

lettuces being harvested on a regular basis by picking the outside leaves for salad bags

lettuces being harvested on a regular basis by picking the outside leaves for salad bags (and the lower half of Sara Venn)

onions drying

onions drying

Could I do it? maybe not, but I can always dream !

Scaling a Bread Recipe to suit your Needs – BreadStorm comes to the rescue!

WithSesameCrust

Friday 29th August 2014

Hello my friends, hope you are all well and busy. This is one of my quick and slightly amateurish posts to point you to the BreadStorm site where you can play with a couple of dough formulae if you have a spare moment and explore what it can do.

I had hoped that WordPress would let me embed this interactive version of the kefir levain on the blog direct but it looks as if I have to upload it to BreadStorm’s site, which I have done and if you use the links below they will take you to their site and you can see how the magic of their BreadStorm scaling works. 

So no longer is one stuck with pen and pencil or calculator and rusty maths trying to figure out how to make a recipe smaller to make only one loaf, or bigger to feed a house full of guests, or even deal with the sometimes baffling mysteries of bakers percentages, this is an easy way round it.

Now I dare say if you are a wizard with spreadsheets and formulae you can do this all for yourself and I have tried a few spreadsheets over the years that other people have made, but for people like me, with mid-range maths and a habit of making errors who are baffled for the most part by spreadsheets, (ok I admit it, I loathe spreadsheets)  this is a gift.

Kefir Rimacinata Bread

You can do it on the site the links take you to and print it off or write the numbers down once you have used the nifty scaling boxes to suit yourself. I have the  BreadStorm reader app which is free on my iPhone and on my Ipad. You can find these on the App Store. You can download the free readers and download the formula and other formulae that have been published on the web. There are details on the BreadStorm site.  I have the fully fledged paid for version on my desktop and that means I can write and edit my own formulae and read and scale them. The free BreadStorm reader versions don’t give you the ability to write and edit formula but they are perfect for scaling up and down. Here is the Date Kefir Rimacinata formula  in a bun file for you to play with :-

I used it yesterday as I was baking to scale up my formula to make 2.5kgs of dough. It’s a versatile and useful addition to my small baking life, and now I have got the hang of it I suspect I will use it more and more.

everydaysourdough

… and if all that is just too much and a bit too geeky, here is one of Brian’s photos of tamarisk planted along the seafront at Burnham. You can see the wooden lighthouse on stilts in the distance. We walked out and the rain sailed behind us and inland and it warmed up nicely and we had a lovely ball chasing time with the dogs. As you can see it is in full crazy pink bloom right now!

Apparently it is used as a windbreak plant. It was crawling with bees of all shapes and sizes and scented the air with honey.  I recommend a walk on the beach to clear your head and put life in perspective, but to each their own. Have a lovely weekend all!

TamariskatBurnham

Disclosure -( I believe this is what one should write yes?)

(I am not paid by BreadStorm in any shape or form. I beta-tested their iPad app for a couple of months this summer for fun, and I have the paid for version on my desktop, paid for by me and they have not asked me to write anything about their software or promote it. I do this for love of bread and because I like their apps.)

 

NB … Just thought I would add a bit, (told you this was an amateurish post!). …. To see the scaling working on other people’s sites, which are either self-hosted or allow embedding of .bun files unlike this one :  Try visiting MC Farine or Karin’s Brot & Bread for lots of good information and examples of how it works for them.  MC has written extensively about how she uses BreadStorm software and a delightful post about the bakers behind the project  Dado and Jacqueline Colussi in her Meet the Bakers series.

Castell Henlys, Pembrokeshire

Last weekend we were once more in Pembrokeshire and one day we had a change from our usual activities and joined the tourist trail and visited this reconstructed Iron Age Fort at Castell Henlys.

Round House Reconstruction

Round House Reconstruction

We walked up from the carpark past a stream where Brian saw a goldcrest flashing through the trees with a group of other small birds; the verges along the path were aglow with cowslips, dandelions, emerging violets and early campion.

On the hilltop plateau swirls a curve of thatched Iron Age roundhouses; from small Zeb-sized ones, to massive ones where you can imagine how to cook, spin and dye, weave, snooze, mill grain, tend the stew pot and, work with iron age tools, share meals, talk and dream. The learned guide on site was utterly charming, she wears clothes she had made from her own weavings on her warp-weighted looms. However when I asked her about Iron Age underwear she laughed and went off to talk to some children.

When you are tired you could climb onto one of the beds and fall asleep. Outside you can turn your eyes skywards and watch red kites patrolling and swallows diving, there are little hairy piglets (a cross between ancient wild boar and a Tamworth) to talk to and woolly sheep ( a small old breed).

While we were there there was a falconry display with a collection of birds from a small merlin to a Russian Steppe Eagle. I had the dogs with me so we didn’t stay for the display as an eagle swooping low over your curly ears might not have been Zeb’s idea of fun. While this has been envisaged primarily as an educational open air museum and interactive site for children, there is  something for everyone to enjoy here and there is a new turfrooved visitor centre in the last stages of being completed which will I am sure enhance the experience for visitors later this year.

If you are visiting with children in the summer, it sounds as if there is a wealth of activities to participate in and enjoy. You can find out more about Castell Henlys from their website. dogs welcome on leads, and if you are curious how an Iron Age Roundhouse was constructed there is a fun animation to watch on the BBC website and a short piece you can read about Iron Age living here which lasted in Britain for about 800 years (from c.750 BC to AD 43). As you may know the Romans moved in shortly after that and stayed for a while.

Here is a gallery of some of our photos, a mix of Brian’s camera and my iphone to give a flavour of the place. Not the easiest of places to take photos in so I hope you get something from having a peek at them!

 

 

 

JauntinSomerset.9

A Somerset Jaunt

One day last week the sky turned to blue and the birds tweeted and the household was very restless so it got into the car and headed off in the direction of Somerset which isn’t really very far away. We have walked the beach at Burnham a lot recently so thought we would go somewhere else.

We decided to have lunch at the Swan in Wedmore, who had tweeted us that they were dog-friendly ‘downstairs’ and go for a short walk at Ham Wall, which allows dogs on leads in parts, though not in the hides.

As we were driving down, admiring the spring lambs, we changed our minds and thought we had better walk the dogs before going for lunch as that way they would be more likely to be calm and well behaved.

JauntinSomerset.7We went across to Cheddar Reservoir, a huge high reservoir near where Brian lived as a boy and where we have been in the past to do bird watching. People walk around the huge circular reservoir, and admire the sky mostly. It is a big place and the birds are nearly always on the other side to where you are. Big rafts of bald-headed coot, groups of seagulls, overwintering tufted ducks, mallards, pairs of courting grebes, little grebes,  the occasional Northern Diver, all sorts of waterfowl can be seen here, though it is advisable to take binoculars if you are serious. There is also a sailing club that use the Reservoir but on the morning we went no one was out on the water.

JauntinSomerset.3There were two students doing a project, one of whom was dressed in a sheet, no idea why but I thought they were very sweet.

And the sky was blue and the clouds were glorious! I have spent a little time trying to figure out why the clouds looked like this, because although not that unusual, it wasn’t typical and I am not very good at clouds. I think, and do correct me if I am wrong, that the exuberant many -fingered whispy cloud reaching out in a loving embrace to the world (and I must admit that I threw my arms wide and high and tried to hug it back) is a cirrus formation. Cirrus are high clouds that form around minerals, so I guess in this case this was sand. That week the UK had been visited by Saharan sand bearing winds, which had been combining with our local pollution to create noticeable smog in the south-east of the country; we in the West had fog two days later and fine sand deposited by night rain on our car windows.

JauntinSomerset.11The cirrus clouds were moving in one direction and the lower clouds, which I can’t figure out what they should be classified as, were moving in another direction. The whole experience of being there was joyful, expansive and light. I am addicted to big skies and watching the movement of clouds and light, they lift my soul from the gloom that I find myself in all too often.

JauntinSomerset.9

If you can find a place to look at the sky and the clouds and have a walk, well it doesn’t make your unconstructive thoughts go away, but it allows some simpler thoughts to find a place in your mind and maybe balance out some of the others. As they say in all the mindfulness books, pay attention to the here and now, and allow your thoughts to come and go, like clouds they are real but they don’t have to last forever.

Lunch at the Swan in Wedmore was lovely, we had a fine Ploughman’s lunch and two desserts, a rhubarb fool, which the chef customized for Brian so it didn’t have cream in it, and I had their malt chocolate cake with salted caramel icecream. The dogs behaved fairly well, though Mme L decided to bark at a pushchair on its way through the bar. We took dog biscuits with us so we rewarded them for being ‘good’.

Puddings.1

Puddings.2

We then headed off to Ham Wall , down the bumpy road between the drains, the green pastures full of grazing swans, and wandered down the lane to the big viewing platform. We heard various bittern booming away to each other, but didn’t see any flying. From the platform we could see swans and cormorants hanging out their wings to dry, the hedgerows were jumping with great tits and dunnock. Wild plants beginning to flower..

JauntinSomerset.15

A glimpse of Glastonbury Tor from Ham Wall

JauntinSomerset.13

 

It has become quite a busy place and I miss the way it used to be, when I first went there with Brian all those years ago and it felt like we had it to ourselves but I guess that is the way of the world. Everything changes. It was a lovely outing!

 

Lunch at Matina – St Nicholas Market, Bristol

Fresh Mint Tea at Matina in St Nicholas's Market, Bristol

Fresh Mint Tea at Matina in St Nicholas’s Market, Bristol

I don’t really do eating out reviews as there are so many people who do them in blogworld but just this once…

I always have a good time visiting the covered market, which runs adjacent to Corn Street in the old part of Bristol City centre.  It is a small intimate space, which hums and buzzes with small independent food stalls, where you can either pick something up to take away, or sit down in one of their improvised seating areas and tuck in to a Caribbean curry, a Moroccan tagine, or a Portuguese fish lunch. There is a juice bar, a sausage shop, a pie shop, pulled port, pita and salad bar and loads more to choose from all crammed into this glass-roofed arcade of delights.

Matina is found at the far end of the market opposite the linen stall.  There is a constant queue outside and the reason is obvious. It is staffed by three busy cooks,  one making fresh breads, one on the grill and one organizing the salads. The baker sets the pace, as each order is made as it is taken. Kurdish bread is big, soft and fluffy, something like a naan.  We loved watching the baker stretching the dough over what my friend described as looking like an oversized darning cushion before positioning it inside the tandoor oven. He did the forearm slap as well!

Fresh Fresh Fresh!

Our shared mezze

The front of Matina’s is full of huge bowls of brightly coloured fresh salads, gleaming red cabbage and yellow pickles. The combination of the smell of sizzling koftas and chicken on the grill and the magical smell of freshly baking bread was enough to stay in my memory the first time I noticed it and I have now been back twice.  They offer fresh mint tea, or rose or apple tea and you can sit in an area adjacent to the kitchen where there is a communal table and benches and watch the queue move along and chat to other hungry folk seduced by the wonderful smell of freshly cooked food.

Today Brian had another enormous wrap filled with chillis and chicken and lamb and I shared a plate of mezze with a friend. We had the grilled halloumi on courgettes and aubergines, fresh lemony humus, and tzatsiki  and pickled vegetables and sauces together with a fresh bread.

We said no to the rice or couscous that was offered with it and we ate very well both of us sharing the plate.  It is incredibly good value and well worth queuing up for if you have a spare half an hour one lunch time.

There is something about eating outside in winter that appeals to people who spend so much time indoors and in the market you are both outside and inside, sheltered from any bad weather that happens to be lurking about.  It rained again this afternoon but we are promised better weather this weekend and Spring is happening regardless. Bristol’s public green spaces are full of croci at the moment. I don’t know whether there have been mass plantings last year or whether they particularly like the damp but they are so pretty, purple and yellow and white jewels brightening the roadsides and parks. I love them!

croci in Bristol

The Goddess of Small Lost Things

Dawn in Pembrokeshire Cottage

 6th November 2013

Tales from Pembrokeshire

Dawn gushed into the dark spaces of the holiday house through the old tree window, shocking in its intensity and unbearably golden.

Cows walked up the field behind the mill stream, a robin sang sweetly, the corvids took off for their day jobs, the farmer hurtled down the lane and splashed through the stream, rattled over the grid and over the hill. Out to the west the shoreline beckoned as the tide dropped.

We ate toast and chatted about a little packing up to go out for the day. I struggled with Brian’s two slimline flasks but twisted them open, filled up with hot water, measured out instant coffee into tiny container and tucked it in next to Brian’s teabag collection,  all squeezed into an old fashioned toffee tin, remembered teaspoon, remembered biscuits for us and biscuits for dogs, apples, put a towel in bag to protect the flasks, in short tried hard to get my fraying act together.

We had a leisurely stroll up and down one beach,  admired a curious Atlantic grey seal fishing ten foot out in the surf, and then headed off to a point on the map that looked like it could be fun. We are very bad at reading tourist guides, so have the joy surprisingly often of stumbling on views which are (we realise with hindsight) famous and we think we have discovered them for ourselves.

We tried one way, Road Ahead Closed, so we went back and round the other way where there was also a Road Ahead Closed, but we carried on figuring out that it was one break in the road signed from two directions, either that or an MI5 safe house being camouflaged by signage in which case they would come out and shoot us.

Finally we got to Bae Ceibwr, walked down to the cove, played around and then up again to the car. It was long gone lunch time, but we would make do with a drink.

I had forgotten the cups.

I hovered on the brink of throwing myself over the cliff – how could I forget the cups? –  but decided that was a little hysterical even for me and so it came to pass that Brian performed the outdoor tea ceremony. First he found some ancient teabag, one which I hadn’t included, so he must have had it somewhere in a pocket, along with some green fluff, stale dog biscuits and a dog bag or two. He unscrewed the lids of our new slimline flasks. The  water was piping hot!

pouring tea

“We can drink out of these.”

I gave him a look.

He delicately poured two spoonfuls of water over the teabag, waved and dibbled it in each lid and passed me a lid with its miniature curl of steam.

We sipped it decorously, stared at each other and then grimaced: it was tasteless, nothing quite as dispiriting as a teabag which has given up the ghost.

We chucked it away, extravagant gesture of two people with tiny tiny cups maybe, but a necessary one.

Gingerbiscuit

Moving on, we went for the decaff instant coffee option.  Brian slipped open the tiny tin I had put it in, tapped a few granules into each flask-top and delicately poured the hot water over it. We repeated this exercise three times and ate our ginger biscuits, which as you can see, just about fit into the lid for a quick dunk. We discussed biscuits and agreed that ginger biscuits are the saving grace of the British Empire, without the ginger nut, civilisation would cease to exist.

Happy again!

We walked a little way on and stood on the cliffs admiring a group of young people diving off the rocks and swimming off round the coast, like water sprites.  My vertigo has got worse over the years and though I would have loved to have walked along the cliff path and stared into the Witches Cauldron we didn’t go, but by all accounts it is fantastic and a wonderful place to explore in a sea kayak.

I had a moment of memory loss compensating genius later that evening. Brian was looking for the dogs’ hair clips. Yes the dogs wear those hair clip grip things on their dangly ear fur to try and stop it getting full of bits of dinner. They look silly but a poodle is used to looking silly, they have a hard life, anyone with a pompom does. Back to Brian, man on a mission.   He couldn’t find them anywhere. I was busy trying to make a sort of soup thing. The dogs were crying because they could smell their food but they weren’t going to be allowed to gulp it down till the hair clips had been found.

Eventually his voice became more desperate, we get very hung up on small things like this,  and I said,

‘If you had them in your hand now, where would you put them to keep them safe?’

There was a slight pause, and I swear I could feel little sparkles of electricity as a neural pathway lit up a memory circuit Day-Glo yellow in the brain of Brian.

‘Of course, my special dog box!’  he said.

Apparently he had made one for this trip. We would fail miserably on that Mr and Mrs show I think. Anyway my Goddess mode was working well, and what was lost was found  and the prospect of dangly ears full of cooked cabbage and boiled fish receded happily into the distance.  Everyone was happy once more.

It reminded me of a long ago time when I had been out with family somewhere in central London. On returning to the car Dad couldn’t find the keys, we retraced our steps, returned to Tower Records, looked here and there, forlorn, suddenly tired and desperately wanting to be anywhere but the middle of the city at midnight.  As we debated going to the police station I contemplated Dad’s smart country walking and hiking jacket, bristling with useful pockets and toggles.

“You didn’t put them in your extra-extra-secret secret pocket, did you?”  I said. (I had no idea how many or what pockets he had on the damn jacket, he said he had already looked everywhere…)

I saw an embarassed grin and picked up some small nonverbal sounds – the gasp of the person who finds that there is in fact one more layer of chocolates in the box thought empty, the catch in the throat of the person who thinks she has missed the last train but it has been delayed so she hasn’t, those moments when the universe smiles sweetly and Lady Luck gives you a small tender kiss and sends you on your way –  and joyfully he rummaged in the dark recesses of his jacket and yes he did indeed have an extra secret pocket which offered up the car keys, which trilled triumphantly on being rediscovered.

All of which brings me to the title of this post, I think I have a raison d’être: I am going to be the Goddess of Small Lost Things.

Don’t ask me for reasons or hows and whys, don’t ask me what motivated the object to lose itself in the first place, nor why life is sometimes so hard and so random and capricious or why people go hungry, why people are cruel, why, why why, so many questions, a person can go mad looking for answers…. but finding small lost items that have a way of holding up your life till you find them – that sounds perfectly possible and like being an Automobile Association rescue person, you turn up, step one and then, step two, with luck you fix the car, everyone is happy, and even if you didn’t fix the car, hell at least you tried!

So tell me what you have lost and I will help you find it if my Goddess mode is operating on full power and if we don’t find it, hey it passes the time, looking for stuff you find all sorts of other things you have mislaid, which is pretty exciting too.

Just remember you always find what you are looking for in the last place you look. And..

..in a world full of crazy beliefs and unwarranted assumptions that is as good a thing to believe as anything else…

…and even if the Lost Thing stays lost a little longer, eventually the dawn will come again and life will go on.

dawn interior

UK National Fungus Day

Bread in Morning Light

Sunday 13th October 2013

Some bread out of the oven cooling in the early morning sunshine.  The one in the front is in reality very small but because of the way the camera works it looks quite big. Thanks to the kefir and whatever yeast (fungus) we use we have bread and can make our own as human beings have been doing for a very long time now.

Fungi and bacteria work with the building blocks of the living world to create and destroy. The more we learn about how they work the more amazing they turn out to be. Maybe we should have a National Bacteria Day too?

Here are some of this autumn’s crop of fungi photographs, taken at Westonbirt, Glos and in the Forest of Dean, which is on the other side of the Severn Bridge, but on this side of the border with Wales. It is a good year for fungi in the UK, so have a go at seeing what you can see, or go to an organized walk or a talk, lots around ! This is the first UK Fungus Day and I think it is a great idea!

I have had a stab at identifying some of them but as ever warn people not to go by my identification as I am not a mycologist. I used to be quite reasonable at identifying about a dozen or so of the edible fungi, but as the years pass I have got out of practice. If you go on a fungi foray with a group or a self-styled forager be sure to ask them how they learnt their trade and ask lots of questions. In these straitened economic times, people turn to all sorts of ways to earn a living and foraging and ‘teaching’ foraging is one of them.

For most of us, wild fungi are not an essential part of our diet, but rather a treat, a flavour, an aroma, something maybe that one wouldn’t desire if not driven by media hype and an urge for different experiences.

I am not saying don’t or that it is wrong to want to taste and touch new things, just be extremely careful. There are cases of poisoning each year, usually well-documented in the press, of people who eat the wrong fungi, or the wrong berries or plants.

What is fun and completely safe however, is to go out and take photographs and look for them. We are sticking to that this year unless we see the ones that I know I can id positively.

And not to create any confusion, we didn’t bring any of the fungi depicted here home with us, only took their photos. Please do not ask me to identify your fungi finds!

larch Boletus Brian Kent

I am pretty sure this is the larch boletus, with its spongy underside.

Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa

and I think this is Yellow Stagshorn( Calocera viscosa) – because it was growing on wood but it’s not one we see very often, it is very small and delicate but has this outstanding glowing colour.

autumn fungi

Haven’t looked this one up yet…

…and finally the most glamorous one we have seen this autumn which I think is a magpie inkcap but I haven’t found an image exactly like it so who knows?

magpie inkcap?

One of the hardest things is keeping the dogs out of the field of shot, as anything that interests us, interests them and we don’t want them to eat the fungi either!

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

So for those of you who miss him, here is your small friend Zeb, following an exciting jump into a mud bath on the edge of a small pool which contained a stick of desire that he had to have, (just had to).  We are taking him and his sister to the beach this coming week. I forsee many early evening baths.