Category Archives: January

Big Garden Birdwatch 2017.

birdIt’s that time of year again and although we’ve already covered the letter G we thought’d we’d reprise it.  Last year we must have been visited by a sparrow hawk or all the birds in the neighbourhood had taken umbrage with us because we didn’t see a solitary bird for the entire weekend which was rather disappointing, not least because it turns out that the local WI has a serious game of bird table one-upwomanship going on – as in, “I have a pied wagtail who comes to my garden regularly.”

“My robin takes crumbs from my hands.”

“Robins are so common don’t you think? There’s a wren that visits me every day.”

“Oh, how fascinating.  I don’t suppose you’ve seen a waxwing.  There’s a pair in my garden.  I think they’re quite rare.  I expect our environment is just right.It pays to look after your garden don’t you think?”  It turned out that the woman the waxwing enthusiast was speaking to was her next door neighbour and come to think of it I’m not entirely sure that waxwings actually visit this neck of the woods.

Now whilst it was tempting to announce that I have a chorus line of fieldfares who cancan their way up the garden path and half a dozen firecrests performing acrobatic stunts for peanuts I couldn’t even claim a visit from Clarence our neighbourhood pheasant last year as we had been the birdy equivalent of Billy No-mates on the key weekend.

This year I had my coffee, notepad and pen at the ready having spent most of the 2016 providing assorted birdseed, sunflower hearts and remembering to melt the ice in the bird bath every time it freezes.  All I could hope was that my tweet rating had gone up and that the sparrow hawk would keep his distance.

I am pleased to announce that my bird table was well attended by goldfinches, bluetits, sparrows, dunnocks, a great tit, two nuthatches, a robin, four blackbirds, a startled looking fieldfare (of the non cancanning variety) and a chaffinch. The jackdaws even turned up to demonstrate their helicoptering skills on the peanuts and their emptying technique on the mixed seed feeder which is to swing on it like teenagers in the park until all the seed has been decanted onto the ground.  A collared dove flew into the window when it tried to taxi in to land but was unharmed (it does it on a weekly basis leaving me wondering where it got it’s pilot’s licence from). There was even a coal tit bouncing around like a pingpong ball with a mohican.  What more could a girl wish for?

Having sent off the online survey honestly and accurately, I’m now wondering if I should adopt the prevailing post-truth approach to information with the ladies of the WI in order to improve my standing as a domestic goddess in our local community. Apparently in these rural parts having a reputation for being on the same wavelength as St Francis of Assisi is inherently helpful if one can’t create a spongecake of appropriate lightness.  Do you think they’d believe me if I informed them that my garden is now home to a colony of dodos?   Perhaps a party of penguins?  An ascension of skylarks?  An asylum of cuckoos? A flock of albatross or even a scattering of herons? A parliament of owls carrying letters and scrolls?  I thought not –

In the meantime the RSPB’s Great British Birdwatch is running all this weekend – why not download a pack and start watching.  Double click on the image to open the RSPB page in a new window….happy birdwatching

robin

Orange Marmalade

dscf2665Its that time of year again – marmalade time.

1 kg Seville oranges – guaranteed to have more pips than flesh and even when you think you’ve got all the little blighters they keep popping to the surface during the interminable boiling time.

1 lemon – this one came wrapped in tissue paper.  It was the only one wrapped in the crate with its little logo covered square of protection – so obviously it was the one I needed despite the fact it was virtually at the bottom of the box.

2kg of warmed granulated sugar…you know that adage about the watched pot – what it should actually say is that the warmed sugar is either stone cold or welded to the bottom of the pan.  There are no in-between stages.

A small muslin bag for all those pips. The chances of you having one of these unless you’re like me and saw them in a sale several years ago and thought they might come in useful are remote – and it turns out little muslin bags with drawer strings are very useful indeed.  They will also be exceedingly useful next time you’re shopping and see something else in the kitchen paraphernalia range that your loved one feels is excess to requirements.  Now you will be able to remind him or her of those handy little muslin bags whilst looking virtuous and highly organised.

I cup of cointreau or spirits of your choice – to add to the marmalade not to while away the time whilst the marmalade cooks.

8 X 375g sterilised jam jars.

 

First chop your oranges and deseed them.  Its the pith that makes the marmalade bitter but I very swiftly discovered that my marmalade wasn’t going to be delicate and ladylike – for starters the oranges had lives of their own and for seconds it turns out that I have many cuts on my fingers.  The mandolin did not work particularly well as the little device for stopping you chop your fingers off didn’t like the orange peel very much.  Any way ultimately I chopped a kilo of oranges into roughly equal strips and collected most of the pips.  The pips go in a muslin bag which as luck would have it I had (as I may already have mentioned).  The oranges and the lemon chunks go in a very large bowl and then you add 2.25 litres of water followed by the bag of orange pips and a plate to cover it all.  Go away and do something else for twenty-four hours.

Transfer the pleasantly citrus concoction to a large stainless steel pan along with the pips in their bag.  If you use copper you’ll end up with very clean copper and very dirty marmalade – take it from one who knows.  Gently heat.  You need to halve the amount of liquid.  The longer it takes the softer the peel will be.  When the kitchen is steamy because you’ve forgotten to put the extractor fan on open the window so the neighbours can share your orangy sauna and turn on the extractor fan.  Thank your lucky stars you don’t have wallpaper in the kitchen and if you do tell yourself that you needed to redecorate in any event.

Deposit 2kgs of sugar in a pan – heat gently watching it nervously for any signs of sticking.  This means you need to stir it regularly but gently because otherwise hob cleaning is going to take on a whole new meaning.

When the sugar is warm and the liquid in the other pan has halved, add the sugar to the liquid.  I took the bag of pips out before adding the sugar not he grounds that I wanted to use the bag again and knew how difficult it would be to get clean otherwise.  Put your thermometer in the pan and prepare for a long couple of hours inhaling orange steam. The setting point for marmalade is 104 degrees centigrade or 219 degrees farenheit.  One very helpful book informed me that if I went over the setting point that the marmalade would never set – a dispiriting thought.  Remove the odd rogue pip, stir to stop sticking, admire the peel shrinkage and when the temperature is close to setting point add the cup of spirit.  There will be alarming bubbling of the kind that you’d expect to see in a cauldron and the temperature will drop unexpectedly despite all the bubbles.

Don’t forget to sterilise your jam jars.

Eventually after a very long time the optimum temperature will arrive.  By that time you should have planned the next month, be able to breath through your nose and gone off making marmalade until next year.   Remove pips and any scum. Pot the marmalade up without pouring it over your hands. Seal and leave to cool.  Apparently you can enjoy it for breakfast the following morning.  Is now the time to mention that I don’t like marmalade very much? However, the Pottermeister’s jar has already got her name on it!

Now all you need to do is clean the kitchen or find a willing victim – er, sorry- helper, to do the washing up and clean the hob.

A SMART new year

pile-of-booksThe madams have gone leaving a strange silence in their wake.  The Christmas decorations are coming down.  I can never work out the date for the saying about decorations and twelfth night.  Is it January 5th or January 6th that the decorations need to come down in order to avoid a year of bad luck? If Christmas starts on Christmas Eve its the 5th; otherwise it’s the 6th. I should also add that it would be very unlucky indeed for a length of tinsel to be sucked inside the vacuum cleaner and that I want to get the house back into a state of order before normal service resumes.

Its also time for the resolutions and plans for 2017 – best done without three small persons in tow.  HWIOO informed me that being more organised is far too vague and that whilst becoming a best selling novelist (which has featured on my list since I was eight years old) is okay it perhaps needs to be broken down into several smaller steps – like sending the manuscript to agents listed in the Writers and Artists Yearbook.  He added that my targets, as I should already know, need to be smart; as in specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound.  My concern is that I will be audited in March to see what progress I’ve made!

However, I have already achieved three of my SMART targets – registering at a dentist, finally changing the address for my library card and finding out about the local swimming pool.  You’ll note I’ve not actually been swimming.  Think of it as a build up to plunging in the deep end.  I’ve also identified that there are regular aqua-aerobics classes in the pool but I don’t think it would be a terribly good idea at the moment any more than going on a cycle ride with HWIOO in his current state of unbalance would be a good idea – so the doctor’s surgery information video about doing 120 minutes exercise this week is probably not going to happen – though HWIOO has looked for our various books of walks.  I have a feeling that discussing our favourite walks from the comfort of the living room doesn’t count.

My next resolution is to sort out our books.  HWIOO has dragged me kicking and screaming into the 21st century with a kindle for Christmas which is very exciting as I can download books at the click of a button assuming the Internet is actually working. There is also the rather practical caveat that we are not going to buy any more book cases and there’s only so much space under the bed.  The Pottermeister suggested that I could photocopy recipes and craft ideas from books that I’m keeping for one or two things and then hand the book into a local charity shop – which if I’m honest is my main source of crafting books in the first place- it should reduce the collection somewhat.  We don’t keep fiction on the grounds we’d have to move every eighteen months if we did.  Culling reference books is always tricky and I’m still recovering from the fact that I accidentally took a box of books I wanted to keep to the charity shop when we moved.  I suspect the thinning is going to be a bit of an uphill struggle although now that I’ve gone electronic I can have as many virtual books as I want and no one will ever notice (cue manic laughter punctuated by coughing).

The next thing is to organise the book cases.  HWIOO is concerned that some of the shelves are buckling under the weight of their load so I’m under instructions that double stacked shelves should be filled with only one layer of books (perhaps he’ll not notice when our bed turns into the book equivalent of the mattresses described in the Princess and the Pea.  I’m currently working on ordering books according to topic and size.  Hattie has her books in alphabetical order which is very sensible but faintly scary on account of the fact that my memory is a visual one so I can remember the size and colour of a book but very rarely its title or who wrote it which isn’t terribly helpful in a bookshop or the library- you try asking for a big book with a green cover on the Tudors and see where it gets you.