Monday, 24 October 2011

Take Teacher a Apple Today

I awoke at 2am this morning, because I was anxious about 'going back to school', in the form of Adult Education, on a Food Hygiene Level 2 Course that I'd personally chosen to explore for my own satisfaction.
I'm a sucker for learning new stuff that 'Blows My Frock Up' and I'm a sucker for BBC Radio 2 at ALL hours of morning, noon and night, and thankfully, hitting that dial Kids, soon began to bang out The Zs again, snoring into my pillow, and dribbling all over The Cat by 4am.
Anyone unsure of my inflection here, should realise that I'm not suggesting BBC Radio 2 'Sends You To Sleep', only that it beautifully lights both ends of my musical candle.

At 7am, with a perfectly-timed rude-awakening from Mr. Evans, my hissy-fit Teas-Made made A Mug of Tea Just For Me...  If you're older than me, and haven't got a Teas-Made, you're clearly Completely And Utterly Bonkers.... If you're younger than me: take my advice and get one.
 You may think of me as an Abfab 'Eddie' or 'Patsy' but if you yourself had to get out of a nice warm bed approximately three-floors up from Your Kettle, with no evidence of oil central heating yet this Autumn, spiral stone staircases on an outside wall with no carpets and can't find your slippers because you're having 'A Senior Moment', you'd know exactly where I'm coming from....

I'd asked Trousers to set the 'Nat Sav' up for me in my MoneyPenny Truck (4x4xBond) even though I knew roughly where I was going, because I didn't want to be late.  So with ample time on my hands before I left, I was able to put together a beautiful and healthy picnic lunch for myself, which made me feel incredibly special, and gave me the added confidence that I felt I needed today.
I know it isn't remotely similar, but it's a bit like having matching Bra and Knickers on, with the only person knowing that being You...?

After two minutes in her company, I got to wondering why not all of us have been blessed with the same ease of personality and confidence as The Fantastic Tutor we were blessed with today, or indeed, that brilliant ability to connect so well with your audience, but felt safe in the knowledge that I would be taught well, and now fed well.

Throughout the day, I found myself surprised on a number of levels:
Surprised at what I actually knew.
Surprised at what I didn't know.
Surprised at what I thought I knew, but was wrong about.

Us 'Students' were a complete mix of genders, generations, race and creed, and we all found an affinity there today, and that itself was so beautifully refreshing.

Come 'Crunch Time'....With 40 minutes on the clock, we had 30 'multiple choice' questions to answer at the end of our tuition.
I'm as intelligent as the next person, but when you're faced with A, B, C or D at the end of six hours or so, you begin to 'not undersand the question' on the piece of paper in front of you.
A bit like University Challenge of a Monday.

I took a methodic approach to it though, answering the questions I knew the answers to immediately, and going back over the questions I was unsure answers to at the end when I was 'calmer' and better able to identify the correct answer.

Be safe in the knowledge that I restricted my t-shirt over the head, running round the place like a bloke having scored a goal on a football pitch till I got back to the safety of my own Living Room.
And thankfully, with Trousers not having arrived home yet, and the cat still asleep in her greenhouse, I was able to do that with as little, or as much decorum and dignity as I felt suited the occasion.

However.... Only I will know....

Shall I let you know if I 'passed'?
Bless You For Watching.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The Biggest Poppy You've Never Seen?

It'll be a bit like 'Three-Two-One, You're Back In The Room' actually, because Trousers is, right-nowly, on a British Legion , MISSION IMPOSSIBLE....building A Giant Poppy, on a hillside somewhere in The British Countryside...... with The Army, A Televisual Crew, and a teeny-weeny bit of Inclement Weather.

But what makes this more elusive, is that once they've built it, painted it, and televised it....
The Army come in and dismantle it, so there's no trace of it to be seen again.
Forgive me, but in my very Pooh Bear Brain, that's hugely poignant, and I just love that I can now ponder on that in a very special moment or three.
My heart is with all of you in this Nippy Weather Boys?

On the other hand, Wellie is nicely tucked up at home with A Tonne Of Things To Do.... and her beautiful, beautiful Gardening Cat, harvesting everything that moves this evening in her Pretty Productive Garden, on account of our first frost of the year supposed to be happening this very night. That's ME harvesting.... not The Cat?

In His Lordships' absence yesterday, I took custody of a few litres of Oil in our Rusty Old Oil Tank, until the Noo Plastic One comes into service, in order to get the trusty ol' Rayburn Cooker fired up....
Personally, I couldn't even begin to write you a short story on just how much I've missed this Old Girl whilst we've been parted since The Spring, because Wellie and her Rayburn, joined at the hip, are only parted when it's Bedtime.  We have a love affair that isn't possible to translate into words....?

Forgive me, I've still not pulled my finger out and rectified the problems with my camera...
But I've made beautiful Pear & Apple Chutney, and am about to embark on a shed-load of Basil Oil, Port-Poached Pears, and every imaginable Soup for the freezer.

The reason I am so excited, is that I have a cauldron of Tomato & Celery Chutney on the floor of the top oven of the Rayburn, that's been there for hours and hours, and might be ready in an hour or two

Sunday, 16 October 2011

A Humane Mouse Trap & An Old Fashioned Cheese Press

It just goes to show, how when you spend far too much time on your Ownesome, that your brain tells you that you should 'Get Out More Luv?'.  And this particular weekend, having bought a humane mousetrap to capture my Gardening Cat's Play Thing that's elusively driving me NUTS in The Conservatory, it took a grown man, with Man Flu, to work out how to work the sodding thing! Even though I've used one before....

I was distracted with a Cauldron of Autumn Orchard Chutney bubbling away on the stove, and thinking about the possibility of frost next weekend to bring anything brilliant into the kitchen now finally this week, or lose it.  And I'm not going to miss a chance to harvest those fresh herbs every morning now for the next five days, I absolutely PROMISE you.....
 The remaining Nasturtium Flower Seeds  for 'pretend capers' are looking promising to harvest, and with no damage from Caterpillies on the Nasturtium Leaves at all, I'm prolly going to be able to gather all of those to my hearts content, along with the new young Nettle-Tops for a bit of a Soup or Pesto kind of thing, because I love these days 'Food For Free', when it's so beautifully good for you too.
But me just saying something like that frightens the Pants off me that I'm turning into my own mother nine days from my next birthday.

A Bloke with Man Flu in bed, surrounded by 'stepped out of clothes' all over the carpet, and computer screens and keyboards lovingly hugged up to the bedside so that he needlessly doesn't have to move a muscle if he doesn't want to, is never a pretty sight Girls?  So I took him a mug of coffee this morning...
A while later, I blitzed up a Banana, a couple of tablespoons of homemade Rosehip Syrup, Seedless Raspberry puree from the freezer, and some OJ.  For which he reluctantly thanked me, but said he didn't like the coffee, so could he have tea instead?  He never DRINKS tea?!

Our next door neighbour came out in sympathy, because he got a cold, having run out of Whisky last week, and had to resort to drinking Lemonade..... And when I saw him to sympathise and empathise, I said he should've knocked on the door and tapped me for some Homemade Sloe Whisky?!
He was 'Gutted' that he hadn't known earlier, and wanted to buy some 'immediately'.

Last week, I managed to buy an old-fashioned Cheese Press from a lovely shop in Cheppie, and I'd ordered an American book on how to make cheese, and other dairies, so picked that up at the same time, and then this Saturday, with the same next door neighbour, over a cup of coffee and a slice of Elaine's Gorgeous Coffee Cake, with Christine, Medina and Ian, talked of how Cheese was made by their relatives.  The Long And The Short of Which, as I was hugely aware of before we all started the conversation, was that one cannot BUY unpasteurised milk.....
And given that I only want to make cheese with my new cheese press for Trousers and myself...
Can YOU spell 'Symbiotic Relationship' Children?!

I know that I'm Just Jesting, but you know me well enough now to know that I'm incredibly serious in my jesting also..
. I'm incredibly serious about learning the processes that bring any of it together, and just learning new things that I want to know 'Blows My Frock Up'.
When I show signs of not wanting to learn about growing stuff and what to do with it next, you have my full permission to shoot me.

In the meantime, take care of yourselves, and you'll hear from me next week.

Friday, 14 October 2011


I've never been prouder in my life to live, and be a part of such a fabulously welcoming community, and you Boys have just 'Iced My Cake'.
Go Get It You Welsh!
Good Luck Boys.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Trust Me, I'm A Gardener

Believe me.......My friend Emma has one hell of a beautiful greenhouse 'to play in' here, and next year, if she'll let me, even though I have three of my own that I enjoy 'playing in', I'm confident that I can grow some truly amazing things for her kitchen.  My adorable friend Gloria only introduced me to Emma and her lovely husband just this year, but I'm forever grateful to the both of you for making my life a lot more focussed and special.

We all aspire to wanting to keep a photographic record, as the Seasons evolve, but often, with very many other pressing things happening at once in our lives, it's truly extraordinary how time runs away with you.  Ultimately then, you forget how weedy it was back in The Spring, you forget the changes that have taken place, but you remember the beautiful fruit and vegetables that you've harvested over the months, and the stories that you could tell in between - even to exhaustion with The Sodding Runner Beans or Raspberries that Mother Nature has bombarded you with that need picking on a daily basis!

And I know Emma won't mind me applauding their dedication in getting to grips with what to do with the produce of such an enormous Orchard, because there's only so much Jam a person can make without losing the will to live? isn't that true you two?! 
At which point in my blog I am going to completely 'Big Up' a place called Ragmans Lane Farm, just off the Wye Valley Road near here, which is where Emma's Husband and I took about eight sacks of Apples that we picked last week for them to Juice'n'Bottle for them, and tomorrow, hopefully, Emma and I will be picking a shed-load of Pears and Apples, for Ragmans to juice into 'Papple' Juice for them. Why buy Organic Bottled Fresh Juice at a hugely inflated price for a whole year when you don't have to?  Cool!

On a slightly different 'tack', hard work that you put into reclaiming redundant land this year, for next, allures and charms you, dangling a proverbial Carrot ahead of next years' excitement, with crops that you've dreamed of growing in abundance:  Borlotti Beans, Globe and Jerusalem Artichokes, Sweet Potatoes, an abundance of Salad Leaves, anything is perfectly possible to grow in our climate, and those that are either expensive in the shops, or lose their flavour between Harvest and Plate, are particularly 'valuable'.   Emma is as adventurous as I am, both in 'the growing department', and latterly, where Kitchen Alchemy amalgamate the two.  And when those two things fuse together, well, I just can't help myself - Kid in A Sweetshop?!

 It's one thing to sow seed, and in a straight line is not only admirable, but eminently preferable (!), but what many peoples forget, is 'the aftercare', and it's not then wise to let all the weeds dominate the inbetweenie bits between the rows of stuff you've lovingling sown, because you're potentially 'shooting yourself in the foot' and it's then a complete and utter waste of effort up till now to let it continue as such.

 Don't get me wrong.... I'm more of your 'Sinner' than your 'Saint' Kids?! - but my personal motto is to Mulch, Mulch, and Mulch.  When the soil is free of weeds, every time you mow the grass, put the clippings onto the bare earth.  This deprives the newly unearthed weed seedlings of light, and lessens the chance of any of them germinating - then you don't have to waste precious time spent doing weeding rather than other more important gardening duties, and as the grass clippings rot down into the earth, they encourage earthworm activity, and what's called the 'Humus' content of the soil increases, which ultimately feeds your soil for free.

And when you've added a layer of rotted manure , it's far better to cover the ground than leave it open to the elements over the winter, because the earthworms tend to be way more active with a covering, than not.

Plenty more to say, but insufficient time, and time for bed.

Take care of yourselves.


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

I See Fields Of Green.....Red Roses Too.....

Not that we were paying too much attention to the beautiful view whilst concentrating on harvesting the Sloes, early of a Sunday evening, but it's not to say that we were ignoring it either.  And that's exactly why we took A Bottle of Red, two glasses, and a travelling rug with us on our foraging frenzy...kind of: 'Pick One, sit down and Sip One'?!, which sounds like it's got the potential of a rather amusing Party Game to me...

The last time we came up here, the young Heffers were more than inquisitive of us, and so, once we'd harvested our Wild Garlic leaves, identified the potential Autumnal harvest site, we left the aminals well alone.  Probably a wise move, since I recall those very same beasts having 'interfered' with the water-tanks up here this Summer at least three times, subsequently cutting off the natural spring water supply to The Funny Farm in the process....  Still - who can complain at no Water Rates, and having to drink natural Spring Water for free all year round, apart from thrice, eh?

I've rather disappointed myself on my ability to propagate Basil lately for an abundant supply, and so took to the cheat's method of buying 3 pots of from Lidl (99p each), sticking them in a marginally bigger pot, and taking very good care of them for a while.    Once they're growing profusely, I keep harvesting 'from the top', and use as needed throughout the Summer.  I've got two of what you can see in the photo below, so huge amounts to play with for Basil Oil, Pesto, and just plain Freezing, to add to Risottos, Tarts and spurious specials that magically get invented from the depths of My Little Grey Cells.

I know?  It's a kitchen table of tomatoes.... and it's largely because the tomatoes covering the entire surface of the dining table in The Hall are beginning to ripen beautifully, and Wellie needs to pull her finger out and do something with them.

So...The tomatoes on wire racks are about to go into the oven to be 'dried' on the lowest oven setting (can't wait for The Rayburn to be back on again when we finally get the noo oil tank in situ that's sitting in the front garden still, because I wouldn't need to waste Electricity preserving this way, I'd bung 'em in the bottom of the Rayburn overnight with the door ajar)

Then the larger tomatoes in the roasting trays have been scattered with sliced garlic, shallots, olive oil, fresh Oregano in one, and freshly torn Basil in the other, waiting to be roasted for Passatta.

The cherry tomatoes on the left, remind me of a well-known Blackcurrant Cordial tv ad, as these scrummy little sweeties are proverbially jumping up and down with joy, knowing that any minute now, they'll be roasted and ultimately dive headlong into homemade vegetable bouillon, with garlic, chillies and a culinary artist's palette of spices, painting yet another Denis Cotter materpiece, that's known as Tomato rassam (from his Paradiso Seasons ISBN 0-9535353-4-7), and I must just 'big up' Chepstow Bookshop at the bottom of the cobbledy bit in the High Street, because otherwise I'd never have found this brilliant book.  They even get Authors in for special evenings along the way? 
A Fabulous Bookshop Indeed, and well worth a visit if you're in the locale.

We're blessed with two Open Air Markets locally.... The Cheppie Racecourse one of a Sunday, which is brilliant for meat and cheese, and The Caldicot one of a Tuesday.  And it's the Tuesday one I've been impressed with just now, because I managed to pick up 5 kg of pickling onions for £2.50, a huge bag of green chillies for a quid, a bag of Scotch Bonnet chillies for a quid, and 6 Bulbs of Garlic for a quid.

It defeated the object of me driving to Caldicot in the first instance, because I was in search of some Florence Fennel bulbs, to put a Sarah Raven Pasta Sauce 'to die for' into the freezer whilst I've still got loads of fresh Sage, but there's always the likes of Over Farm Market up near Gloucester to tap into, so I'm not overly worried.  And double-bubble, I could call into The Smokery at Minsterworth on my way back home for a few Tilapia or something?

Funnily enough, I brought the subject up with Trousers only the other day about building our own Smoke Box.  But I must just 'hold my horses', because I've still got a veritable mountain of things to 'put to bed' yet before the really bad weather descends.

Thank you for listening again, and I hope you're having as much fun as me squirreling away your harvests.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sorry I'm Late Kids....

Sorry I'm late Kids... Ordinarily, I like to update The Funny Farm blog weekly of a Sunday evening, but I've pressed a few buttons, whistles and knobs on my Grown-Up Camera that I shouldn't have, and, not knowing exactly how I've messed the settings up yet, my photographs look like I've smeared Vasalene on the lense and then dipped them in Pinot Grigio.

Actually, if I'd thought about it sooner, I could have shot Trousers yesterday asleep in the sunshine on my SunLounger in his Speedo's, but thankfully, Children, I don't have a gun license .....?!

Trousers got home earlier than normal the other evening and yelled down the stairs: "Fox in The Orchard".  Hard of Hearing at very nearly 51 years of age, I was more than disappointed to learn that he did mean that Freddie The Fox was, once again, feeding from the windfalls on the Orchard Floor.

To be that close to the house that early in the evening, he/she must be one hell of a hungry fox, and that's been true of the last 5-7 days so far.

With only Sheep for company, Trousers and I took a short journey yester-eve up to the furthest field on The Funny Farm, as earlier in the year, whilst picking Wild Garlic, we identified Sloe Trees that don't come within a whisper of being included in the annual Hedge Cutting about this time of year, so we bagged ourselves an 800g harvest for the freezer, a tender kiss, and a leisurely glass of red wine each, enjoying the view on a beautiful and warm October evening, with both Severn Bridges in our sights on the horizon.  That, my friends, is called Quality Time, and no money could ever buy that.

Alternatively, I'd pay good money, if I had any, to learn more about the things that I feel I want to know now, because the older I get, the more insatiable I appear to be these days.  I'm sure that, as a child, I must have infuriated my preoccupied parents to distraction, but I find, not having children of my own, that I'm annoying myself with questions of Why? Why? Why?!
I'm sure that I would have made an Extraordinary Mother, but my Gardening Cat has been blessed with 100% of my affections instead, and she's rewarded me way beyond my expectations with her half-eaten mice, headless birds, dead 10" rats, the odd baby squirrel on the rug in front of the woodburning stove..... and, when I watch her cuddling up to Trousers on the sofa every evening, her love for him is more gorgeous than words could ever string together in a sentence, as is my own.

With the weather closing in a little here on The Welsh Borders, I've harvested the remainder of the Courgettes, Globe Artichokes, Beetroots, Runner Beans, Raspberries and Fresh Herbs for today..... 
Let's face it, if I don't bring those beauties in right now, I'd be Mad.
And I've got loads of recipes in mind to put these little beauties down snug away now for later in my freezer tomorrow, but just every now and again, in your wildest dreams, wouldn't it be lovely to be able to have your hand held, and be able to ask A Chef A Question when you most wanted to?

Frankly, I'm positive that most of you don't go to sleep wondering how many fresh or dried Lemon Verbena Leaves you could infuse in Olive Oil, and for how long, to make something scrumptious.....but I've got 'a gut feeling' that Lemon Verbena would make THE most amazingly flavoured oil.
Trousers and I once bought a very delicious Carluccio Lemon Oil in Windsor, and, adoring the taste of Lemon, I'd love to create my own 'take' on this for The Pantry.

Ever the optimist, I'm going to retire to bed now, knowing that my favourite chefs, short of turning up on my doorstep to tell me to Get A Life, will share my thoughts, and send me some inspiration.

Until I borrow Himself's Camera in the next few days,
Love You and Leave You,