Category Archives: Skies

Bits and pieces : kitchen and garden

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This is the noonday sun on the last day in August.  Today is the first of September, the beginning of the new year in my head.

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In my kitchen there is a box of meringue fingers studded with toasted hazelnuts from Normandy – a gift to Brian from my sister, Brian likes them crumbled up on top of fresh fruit with yoghurt as a dessert.

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And there were also some very useful indeed sachets of yoghurt starter enzymes (another thoughtful gift from my sister)  for when your old home made yoghurt has gone a bit beyond being used to seed a new batch. Still wondering why no one in the UK stocks these. Lakeland stock EasiYo, all the way from the Antipodes but not these made in Europe. Funny old world….

asier gurk pickle

Pickled Danish cucumber, the asie gurk, from seed sent me by the lovely Misky,  grown by me outdoors here at home in pots with local manure to help them along, peeled and brined and made according to this recipe  and then lovingly waterbath processed by Brian. I don’t think I would make them without his help as I don’t like handling hot jars, damp with boiling steam from the oven.

I use the pickle juice to thin down our current salad dressing, which is a tsp of dijon mustard mixed in a little home made yoghurt and does a very good impression of a mayonnaise with no oil worked into it. The cucumbers are a joy and a delight and much nicer (variety name : the Langelands Giant) than many of the other varieties I have sampled this year. So many cucumbers are full of seeds and surprisingly bitter, these ones have always been sweet and crisp.

I left a tray of my own home saved angelica seed at the Community Garden at Blaise, where I do a bit of volunteering,  hoping it would germinate and the magic of the place has made it happen already. It is supposed to need a period of cold before coming up and this has taught me that books are not always right.

IMG_6992 I was delighted! I suspect not many people have the patience to grow it, it can take up to three years to get stems large enough to candy, or even that much interest in candying and eating it I got there this year having waited patiently for several years and felt great personal satisfaction and one of these days will make some buns or some icecream and use the angelica I candied at home.

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Angelica archangelica coming into flower earlier this year.

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Candied stems drying, they will keep for ages now.

If you want to know how to do it, you could pop over to my acquaintance Dan at the Apothecary’s Garden as I learnt the basics from him.

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Here is my little old mushrooming basket, given to me by my dear friend Hazel, who passed away many years ago now, I remember her when I pick it up and carry it with me, as I carry her in my heart always. Here it is filled with tomatoes and herbs and some wild blackberries, calendula flowers and cucumbers, and a fairy lights chilli plant coming home from Blaise Community Garden.

 

Apples are falling off the tree before ripening for some reason and the pear tree has long spindly branches and too many pears so I took a whole lot off the other day and bottled them and hope the pear tree won’t break too many more of its branches. I need to get a lesson from someone in pruning.

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A squirrel has had most of the nuts off the red hazel but has left me a symbolic handful

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and here is the eternal game being played out by my hairy friends and companions, another good prompt to get out of the house and breathe fresh air.

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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.

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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’.

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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..

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A glimpse of Glastonbury Tor from Ham Wall

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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!

 

Ham Wall, Somerset Levels

Ham Wall

Here is a post that has sat in my drafts folder for several years. I am not quite sure why it has sat there, maybe I couldn’t decide on the photos, maybe it felt too personal, I really can’t remember. At a time when the Levels are experiencing their worst floods in years I thought it might be a good moment to share one part of them that I know and love as they have been and hopefully will be again one day.  All these photos date from May 2011.

Walkway

Before I baked there were birds to take me out of myself and make my heart leap with joy and long after my last loaf has crumbled to dust there will be birds.  And before I baked and before I had dogs, we used to go out all the time to see them.  Now our visits are rarer but we still go down to the Levels when we can.

Clouds on the Levels Continue reading

Suburban Solstice

Suburban English Solstice

Suburban English Solstice

Through a window spattered with raindrops the sun rises over the backs of neighbouring houses and lights up the day.  Sending you my best wishes for health and happiness in the last days of the old year and my very best wishes for the years to come.

Joanna

Hills, Cheese, Snow, Cake

Grasmor from Harris Park, Cockermouth

19th March 2013

As you can see it is pretty wintry still in England this week. This view of the fells from Harris Park in Cockermouth gives you a feel for the raw and unsettled weather we have at the moment.

Windfarm on Cumbrian fieldsToday we drove in search of Dad’s opthamology appointment to two different hospitals as he wasn’t sure which one it was in, which added a certain frisson to the proceedings, but all went well and we had a lovely drive over the fells, waved at the sea at Whitehaven, and passed the windfarms on the fells as the snow and sleet gusted around us.

We returned via Thornby Moor Dairy Cheese Farm (as recommended by our friend Andrew Auld of the Loaf in Crich) where we sampled and bought some wonderful cheeses.

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Cumberland Farmhouse Cheese from Thornby Moor Dairy, Carlisle

Cheeses made with unpasteurized milk from shorthorns, delicious goat cheeses and artisan farmhouse cheeses.

Before being unwrapped and cut

We admired the timeline of cheese on the shelves and then returned to Cockermouth for lunch. Edit: In view of some of your comments I will try and add a bit more here – I may not have understood this in its entirety but the cheese maker who came out to help us expalined that the rows of cheeses on the shelves were all the same cheese, the small version of the farmhouse cheese at different points between 0 – 3 months. The mould gathers on the outside of the cloth the cheese is wrapped in, which is removed before being presented for sale. The dairy produces a blue cheese but this wasn’t it. I apologise if I haven’t got this quite right.

Maturing cheese at Thornby Moor Dairy Cheese Farm

This afternoon we popped out to the New Bookshop for coffee and cake.

Coffee and Gingerbread

The New Bookshop alone has sold more than 200 copies of The Cockermouth Poets, which I think is pretty impressive for a poetry anthology!

The Cockermouth Poets

Zeb has been not very well but we hope he is finally on the mend. He loves it up here usually and he has been very miserable. We love the out of hours vets who gave him pain relief on Sunday night at 10 30 pm when he couldn’t stand up without twisting and turning. Yesterday he managed to produce part of the bag that he ate 12 days ago which has somehow managed to travel through his digestive tract and re-appear as a gigantic Cuban cigar of rolled leather. So lets hope that he recovers fully. He slept in the middle of the bed last night.

Now it’s time to cook supper again: roast vegetables and chicken pieces I think, and maybe sharpen the kitchen knives before I start.