Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Flying the Flag(s)

Deefer at 11
Happy Birthday, then Deefer, this blog's eponymous dog. She made it to 11 along with her sister, Ellie-Bezz back home in Kent. Sadly, her brother (Archie) did not make it and had to be put down back in February (bone cancer) but we send our condolences as well as our good wishes to Deef's Mother, Mollie who is still with us. Another year, perhaps, everybody?

The very last of the 2016 pork bits get cleared out of the freezer for
use as raw ribs (Doggie Birthday Cake) and then a Medieval meat
feast for us coated in peanut sauce. Finger licking good.
That was Sunday 17th but ask anyone here what that date was all about and they will swoop on by Deef's celebration without so much as a sideways glance, and land firmly on one answer, "The All Ireland". This the GAA Irish-rules football final played at 'National' stadium Croke Park (you Brits think 'Wembley'), this year between Mayo and Dublin again for, I think, the 3rd year running.

This 'Dub' always puts out a good display, all be it the "wrong"
One of the first cultural things a Brit notices on moving here is the huge keenness for flying flags; be it the National tri-colour, or more commonly your sports team colours or county colours. Perhaps a quick 'Heath Warning' here for those who don't know me and need telling that I was born without the 'sport' genes in my DNA - I was always rubbish at football and had no interest in it despite working all by life with hundreds of soccer-mad warehouse-men forever teasing each other over the triumphs and crashes of Chelsea, The 'Ammers, Man-U, Liverpool and Spurs. I have brought this appalling ignorance with me and am only very slowly learning how to chat 'knowledgeably' about "The Rossies", Mayo and the Dubs. If I have gone wrong here, please do feel free to comment.

If you don't have a flag pole then a wheel
barrow be-decked with red and green shirts
and watering cans will do. This guy even
managed a turf-stack topped with a Rossies
So a month or so back we were driving through a sea of 'primrose' and blue as our team, Roscommon (Go the Rossies!) battled their way through the Provincial stages of the competition to end up Champions of Connaught. I think this is a league type competition where everyone plays everyone else within Connaught (Rossies, Mayo, Galway, Sligo etc), so 'we' may have beaten Mayo back then, but maybe not; it might have been a 'play off' thing.

Someone hung a Mayo shirt on the new
Memorial stone. One of the Guards named
here was a former Mayo GAA star.
Either way, I felt quite cheated when I learned that winning Connaught did not automatically get us a place in the All Ireland semis. Each Province enters 2 teams, with a 'back door' route for one of the teams so suddenly Mayo were back in it and, because the final 8 is a random draw, we were picked against them and they knocked us out. I know. Unreasonable!

Bobtail brings her 4 new babies off the nest.
Ah well, all the yellow and blue Rossie flags came down and most of the local support switched to Mayo being the nearest county to us still 'in it' (green and red). The die-hard 'Dubs' of course would not be seen dead with green and red flags outside their houses and created some impressive showings of the dark and pale blue colours of the Capital. Pubs tend to try to stay neutral, so will often fly both flags AND an Irish Tri-Colour just for the look of it. Many people also fly those little side-roof-gutter flags on their cars. It all makes for a lovely, happy, party atmosphere and very pretty countryside.

Onion harvest. Small bulbs but very pretty.
Ah well. The day came and went and history will record that Dublin won again, this time by just one point in the last seconds of a very tense exciting match, breaking all the local hearts again. Maybe next year, lads. Liz (a Dub, obviously) just sent me a very restrained, jokey text saying "Tanks Be". A few days on I see most of the flags are down now, though that Dub with all the flags at the far end of Lough Glynn village still has his out in celebration. The trophy they are all chasing is called the Sam Maguire Cup, or "Sam" for short. I am always amused by the Dub's adopted slogan, "Dubs for Sam, Mayo for sandwiches!" But enough of the All Ireland. Enough, I say!

Bullace plums and sloes
So, what have we been up to when not glued to the telly watching sport (Yeah, right!). One nice task was to tour the local hedgerows picking nature's bounty - black berries, sloes and just down the lane from here a couple of trees of the small wild blue-black plums we are fairly sure are known as 'bullace'. They are ripe, soft and sweet like greengages. They are not, as someone suggested, 'damsons'. We KNOW damsons and we have a tree in or orchard and these are not they.

She made a very dark sticky puddle! Bullace 'cheese'. 
The sloes have not yet had the necessary first frost but we have picked them anyway and they will get a night or two in our freezer before being converted into sloe gin. The bullace plums got a whole new treatment - being used for 'cheese' and also for 'leather'. I'd heard of the former but not the latter. 'Cheese' in this sense is a clear, very firm, super-concentrated jelly. It is intensely flavoured and you cut the set slab into small rectangles which then get sliced at the table to have with your cheese-board. Nom nometty nom!

Our James Grieves apples and blackberries from local hedges
The 'leather' is a fun confection mainly for the kids. You smear smaller amounts of the hot (cheese) jelly onto grease-proof paper as thin as (you guessed it) leather. When the smear is set you peel the paper off the back and cut the thin jelly into strips so that the kids (or adults of course) can eat them like liquorice shoe-laces. The blackberries and apples became a rather lovely tart. It's all very 'mellow fruitfulness' round here at the moment.

A very sleepy bumble bee on Sedum spectabile
I think that'll do us for this one. Good Luck now.
Mum looks a bit weary about the eyes. 4 kids under a week old.

Friday, 15 September 2017

The Best Cheese Ever?

Nicest cheese so far, by a long way. 
Here pictured is, we are sure, 'our' nicest cheese ever. All Liz's work, this one and a first try at a new recipe. Both of us had been plugging away last season at the soft cheeses and Feta style semi-soft ones using the very generous gifts of 9 litre batches of goat's milk coming from Sue and Rob. These are all a case of gentle warmth, waiting for curds, slicing curds into dice, lifting with a slotted spoon and straining in a colander with or without gentle pressing to help drive out the whey. This followed by a short wait, and no real 'maturing' time.

More 'Gubbeen' style cheese at the salt-cure stage. 
This year Liz went with a recipe from the Gubbeen book (Gubbeen (The story of a working farm and its foods) by Giana Ferguson, pub Kyle 2014, ISBN 978 0 85783 240 5 page 98+) which added an extra stage. This was "scalding" - reheating the separated cheese/whey to 39ÂșC and then breaking up the curds into tiny pieces (the size of unburst pop-corn) with your hands, followed by quickly scooping them out and into the final mould, where they will quickly set into one lump; your embryonic round of cheese.

An impressive hail storm turned us white
on Wednesday.
This 'lump' is drained some more, then cured with sprinkled salt all round (including turning to get at top and bottom) and washed now and then with saline while it matures for 10 days and develops a rind. To be honest, we could hardly wait. It looked so promising but today was the day. Patience was key. Well, dear reader, we are delighted. It is, as I said, the best ever - I'm saying "our best ever" though I wasn't involved at all, because it way 'out-cheeses' anything I have done.

It is a firm cheese with a definite rind. The flavour has the lovely delicate level of acidity and salty savouriness that it needs without overpowering the gentle goat-milk tang. It is dry-crumbly without a hint of the 'sweat' or greasiness you'd get in plastic-wrapped, shop Cheddar. We are delighted and Liz is re-living those Greek Island lunches where cheese just like this (She and Diane called them "Not-Feta") came with tomatoes, basil, olive oil and other sun-soaked accompaniments.

Roll up! Roll up! Git yer iggs frum 'appy
'ens 'ere. Fresh laid!
Meanwhile, while we are on 'produce' we are having our first venture into selling eggs at the farm gate via an 'honesty box'. We have no idea how this will go. Various friends and contacts have had some good success with the method.

The 'Manus', hatched when we had the Help-X lads here are
5 weeks old and will soon be leaving Mum. 
Our main contact (no names etc) reports only one problem when a neighbouring farm had some Herberts camping in one of the fields who took to roaming around on mopeds and stopped one day for an egg fight up and down the road. Our friends were out that day and came home to an empty box, no money, obviously, and eggs smashed all over the tarmac. Ah well. We put ours out yesterday and we know it has been spotted and the word will have gone round. Maybe the weekend will see a few first customers

The wine gets racked off and 'stabilized' (= killed)
The batch of 5 gallons of red wine completed its first ferment and comes due for racking off, 'killing' with stabilizer and fining. These are all words which would have tripped off the tongue back in the 70s. My brothers and I had 30 gallons of different wines on the go back then and all that terminology was 2nd nature. Now, I must confess, this is a bit of a rusty re-visit and  the 'fining' etc is just a case of following the instruction sheet from the kit-box and adding, at the right time, the contents of sachet D, E and F. Ah well. It'll surely taste OK.

At least 2 babies for Bobtail. Bottom left. 
Our current 'first' broody hen comes up to the crucial day, #21. This is 'Bobtail', a Buff Orpington with all her tail and bum feathers long since pulled out. "No better than she should be" (as they say here) she used to have a perfectly good tail, but she seems to love the attentions of the Rooster rather too much (!) Never mind, she went broody and thus gets a few weeks break from Gandalf's amorous attentions.

Bits of Cider Press in the paint shop.
We love that you can play a trick on a broody hen on due-day to see whether she has hatched. If you drop some food under her chin inside the nest she will either quietly peck away and eat it, or she will start that low-pitched bass-y clucking hens use to tell babies they have found food for them. If the latter, then if you stand a while and watch, any hatched, dried off and mobile chicks will surely start to appear from under her 'skirts' to see what Mum is talking about. I did this at lunchtime today with Bobtail and was pleased to see at least 3 youngsters emerge. Her colleague, 'Stumpy' 3 boxes along is not due for another 2 weeks. She is sitting on 7 eggs at the moment. More on this when we have progress. I'm off to see if I can blag some more of that cheese.....

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

A Cider Press

My sign looking nice and settled already
with ivy growing up it.
A very subdued and wet, rain soaked post. We are pinned down for most of the recent daylight hours by the rain, or going about wearing big coats, waterproof hats and wellies. Gardening has ceased. Laundry is done indoors with everything getting dried on our heated airer. The pigs have a broad swathe of their pen (up by the fence) churned into a morass with their trotters sinking in as far as the hocks.

Liz takes the crochet back up. 
One poor friend on Twitter was pleading for help and advice - her pigs have churned up the entire field and the only  dry bit left was their ark (house). It is still 2 weeks till they go to the butcher, she says, but if she moves the pigs into the lamb-paddock, will they destroy that too and stop her from having lambs next year? We are relieved that our pig-bit only cuts up in small places, being up on a mound and surrounded on 2 sides by free draining 4 foot outward-facing cliff-banks. ...and populated by 60 foot spruce trees with an impressive thirst, I guess.

Cat (top left) trying to look innocent. It's not working, Kato.
When there has been some dry time, I have got back involved in the builder-ing over in Sligo. That was fun. K-Dub has created on his front boundary, a small-ish building which is split longways. The 'front' (south facing) is a turf shed and the 'back' (north - facing onto the grass) is a chicken house but this is no ordinary, simple coop.

My bow-string is too frayed and gets condemned on the
safety checks. Are you a 'proper' archer when you have worn
out your first string?
The whole building is done to match the house, being made with an inner wall of concrete blocks, the outer wall done in his skillful Sligo stone-work and the roof done in the same hand-cut Brazilian slates that are on the house, with the beautifully scrolled lead ridge-piece. It even has a fake, stone chimney with a red-oxide painted metal cylinder to look like a chimney pot. The chicken house side is getting fake windows. The whole looks like a mini-cottage sitting out there and is attracting a lot of (favourable) comment from passers-by.

The neighbouring herd of cattle are always very interested in
our comings and goings and especially their food potential. We
worry that the flimsy old strand of barbed wire would not hold
all 35 of them back if they decided to lean on it!
When we stopped for a coffee break, I had an idea which I was not sure would work, but was worth a try. I have, on my trees, a good few cider apples and dessert apples and we have fermenting buckets and barrels, but we have no way of pulping the apples or pressing the juice out of the pulp. I knew it would be a nice challenge for K-Dub to design and build me something; I have visions of some kind of square frame into which I might slot the 10-tonne bottle-jack I use for the car and trailer.

The dogs on station to defend us against
encroaching beef.
K-Dub immediately accepted the challenge but his thoughts quickly dropped my wood-frame idea in favour of a cunning and creative plan. He is the sort of guy who just sees these things in his head and knows how to translate them into physical reality.

Spindle bush in the making in our woods.
This cider press would be based on a Guinness keg with the top cut out (using his fancy new plasma-cutter / welder). He would create a frame which hooked through the keg's hand-holes and a screw-thread winding handle would drive a plate down onto the apple pulp with some method of allowing the juice to drain out of the bottom, down a gulley and into our bucket.

We went all Medieval and carnivorous for
these chunks of pig cleared out of the freezer.
They were bits of pelvis and spine left when
I butchered up some hams. Peanut sauce.
No photo's yet as the thing is still only half-made but we are both very excited to see and try out this proto-type. I have some parts with me now that need wire-brushing and painting so that the whole thing can at least look 'food-grade' even if the scrumpy we make has the appropriate amount of dead dogs and rats floating in it. Watch this space.

Newest ewe lamb, 'Oveja' is thriving despite the wet.
That's about it for this dripping, soggy post. I hope the weather is better where you are.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Season of Mists

Autumn fruiting raspberries. 'Autumn Bliss' variety here
Well into Autumn in these parts now, with plenty of wet, gusty days, mellowing fruit on trees and bushes and the lighting of ranges in the evening. As I sit typing this in my 'under the stairs' cozy nook, I can feel the warmth of the fire on my back. All the livestock is sorted (except for final lock-up, obviously), supper is in the oven and the day has been very much in the harvesting, safely gathered in, winter stores and gathering winter fu-u-el mode. Even the supper has this tint as we are now doing a close audit on the freezer(s) to use up long-term stores to make room for the imminent arrival of pork.

This morning I was over to Sue and Rob's where Friends of the Blog will be pleased to know the lady has recovered well (physically anyway) from the mauling by that billy-goat. She may take a while before she is comfortable mentally near billies but that'd be quite understandable and also manage-able. The mission was to cut down and cut up a dead old tree that had been worrying them with the possibility of it demolishing the poly-tunnel.

Buff Orpington hen 'Bobtail' ignores that the month is September
and goes broody, due 15th. 
Connoisseurs of all things 'chain saw' might be interested to know that this was a bit of a tricky one. The tree, dead at least 2 years had dried out and seasoned to hard-as-iron where it stood and the trunk had split in half with the grain roughly in the same plane as I needed to cut my wedge-cut. Rob's chain saw was failing to make much impression on this tree so he'd asked me to see would my saw do better.

In box 4, Stumpy goes for a 2nd bite at the motherhood cherry.
She is due to hatch the 5 eggs I slid under her on 29th. She has
already successfully reared 5 babies to independence. 
Long story short, we got on OK. It was hard going but my saw managed the cuts needed - I cut my wedge out of the downhill half of the split trunk and then my back cut into the uphill side hoping that 'my' half would work like the normal "hinge". We were both quite relieved when the tree started to fall in the intended direction with no sign of the split opening up and un-springing dangerously. With the tree down it was normal every-day stuff logging up the smaller stuff and Rob decided we did not need to slice up that hard gnarly trunk today; I just cut it into 5 foot lengths for stacking and use later.

Caught red handed. Well yellow tongued, anyway. Kato
is 'washing up' the egg wash from some Lizzie baking.
Next, well, this is Sue and Rob's, so tea and CAKE. Better even than normal, this logging job had been postponed a day because the pair were busy cooking cakes to enter in Strokestown Show on Sunday. I had been promised tasters of the spare baking - Sue's 'normal' fruit cake, Rob's "boiled" fruit cake and some nice chocolate cake too. How we suffer.

Red wine kit bubbling away.
We have finally got around to making the wine from a kit we were given as a gift months ago, just when we stopped drinking wine regularly and evolved into gin and craft beer drinkers. So long ago, in fact, that the box of the kit featured as a prop in the Village Play at Easter, which required the lead actor to delve in his bag of purchases and pull out "wine making equipment". To make the wine we simply had to get motivated and then re-unite the box with its former contents, including all those little sachets (A through E) and the instruction sheet which were, obviously, "just on the surface somewhere". (Family in-joke)

A disc of soon-to-be-rinded goat's cheese curds
In the cheese making Liz has branched out from the quick and easy recipes in the Strawbridge book (Feta style, 'fresh' or 'soft goat's), to a harder, pressed and rinded type described in the 'Gubbeen' book (maybe I need to start doing a proper bibliography for these posts?) .

Those yellow fungi I posted a pic of recently have now opened
fully and split in the rain to make almost daisy-like shapes
This one we made in the muslin-lined-colander technique but we have now ordered on line some proper plastic cheese moulds (with 'followers' - the slightly smaller cylinders that push down into the moulds under pressure). We are promised another 8 litres of milk from the goat-milkers (Thanks, Sue and Rob again!) when these moulds arrive, to try them out. Meanwhile the first one is being salt-sprinkled and then saline-washed and is developing a very convincing rind. It takes 10 days at least, apparently to develop the acidity and savoury salty tastes to taste like a real cheese. We are all excited.

Poppea (left) and Deefer (nearly 11 now) sound off at the
neighbour's cattle from a handy tree stump. 
Not much else to tell but I will add a few more pics just because I have them. Till next time, then. Good Luck now


Home made suet - clearing the freezer. 

Mathematicians need to decide whether the Fibonacci series
is followed by the birds REMOVING seeds from a sunflower.
There's a project!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The 'Ros Go Rummage' easy stroll.

If Ros Go Run is not for you
Then we have something else to do
A gentle walk with clues to find
An easy test for eyes and mind
Give it a lash, you’re on a roll
The Ros Go Rummage easy stroll.

With the hugely clever and artistic ode above (cough), we introduced our newest project to the world. Well, our latest little bit of it, anyway. Friends of the Blog will know that we get involved each year, in the village's annual Half Marathon and 10 km runs, under the banner "Ros go Run". We join the roadside support, cheering the lonely runners on, man a watering-station and have painted a big bed-sheet sized encouraging sign which says "Downhill from here". Liz gets heavily involved in the admin, planning, publicity, links to sponsors and organising on the day. All good so far.

Buggy-rider Archie Naughten and his support team snatch a
quick "selfie" outside our gate. 
This year the committee liked the idea of doing something for the kids and non-running family who, having delivered their runners to the start at the local sports ground are left with little to do for the 2 hours+ it takes most of them to get round the half Marathon. They came up with an easy, child-friendly Treasure hunt or "rummage race" where they "runners" would have to progress round an easy loop of roads armed with a sheet of 10 clues in rhyming couplets, spotting signs or toys and things we had tied to the hedge or gateposts. 

Cousin Cathy gets cookery tips. 
The purple 'angry monster' pictured, for example, we tied to a tree which the farmer (presumably as part of his 'GLAS' (subsidies for greening / ecological stuff) efforts) had mounted three bat-boxes. Our clue was...

"An ash tree here has boxes three,
for bats to roost (and have some tea),
A scary monster guards the nest,
How would you describe him best?"

Not that hard then.... all the kids had versions of "angry purple monster" on their answer sheets. They all got lollipops as a prize. We were amused to find that some competitive parents entered with their kids and took over, wanting to run round and dragging the kids, who could barely keep up, round in their wake. 

Cathy experiments with flavourings in soft
goat's cheese, mustard, garlic and chives,
honey etc
Another good feature of this day was an entry by a team who are fund raising for a local family all of whose three boys have a genetic disorder, 'Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy'. DMD is incurable and, tragically, leaves the sufferer pretty much unable to walk by age 8 and not looking forward to a long life. The oldest boy, Archie Naughten is currently being 'prepared' for an attempt on the Dublin Marathon which he will do riding in a special buggy, pulled/pushed by a team of three athletic, fit support runners (Four in the full-length Dublin event. They are a lovely crew and the Ros go Run Team have very much taken them to heart. They got a massive welcome. They had the Archie team runners set off half an hour before the un-assisted runs started and there were gangs of supporters from, for example, the Under 11 GAA clubs with signs and cheering children etc. They were very grateful and posted numerous pics on the Facebook page. They all, and especially Archie, enjoyed their day.

Roast pork rack-of-chops and a nifty savoury flan
I just missed them here, coming out of the front door just in time to see them finish taking a 'selfie' with my sign as backdrop but then running on before I could get down the drive to hail them. Never mind. I spotted the selfie pic on Facebook and commented upon it, which got me into a nice conversation with one of the ladies who was still bubbling over at the welcome and the support they had received. She also gave me permission to use that pic on the blog. Good luck with the Dublin Marathon you guys. Ours was just a warm-up, I know.

Latest book by my
grew-up-living-on-a-sailing-barge friend
Nick Ardley. 
Because Cousin Cathy was around and visiting, she was inevitably press-ganged in to help and enjoyed going round setting out the clues and helping down at the GAA sports centre on the day. She came round again with me later to tidy up the rummage course. That was her final day with us (this time round!). Liz had to drop her to the airport on the Monday for a bit of a tearful 'goodbye', apparently. She had thoroughly enjoyed her little stay, which was a Birthday present from the family and promises to return soon. You're most welcome, Cathy.

Happy 6 month Birthday, Empress and
Pride! Enjoy your Guinness. 
On Tuesday, the piggies hit a landmark birthday, 6 months. Because we do not go with these pigs much past 7-8 months (and never the full year), we make a big fuss of them today and they get a can of Guinness poured over their meal.

No, I didn't steal any of their Guinness! 
These two have been brilliant. No trouble at all. They are, you may recall, variety "Oxford Sandy'n'Blacks" (OSBs) and were named Empress of Blandings and Pride of Matchingham after the PG Wodehouse fictional 'Heaviest Pig' Show entrants.

Pigs at 6 months. Empress on left, Pride on right.
Readers who are uncomfortable with the idea of eating named (or indeed any) animals, may like to skip this paragraph. We have estimated their weights by the standard "Length x Bust squared" method and think they are live weights of around 70 kg today, so they are nearly 'finished' A couple more weeks and we will be booking them in for their final car-ride to Webb's in town and training them to run up into the trailer to get fed in there. That way, on their final morning, they are no trouble to load. I will miss them, but I am sure we will enjoy the pork, bacon, sausage meat, brawn, Christmas ham and 'Parma' style dry-cured legs and the dogs will enjoy the ear-flavoured dog treats.

Breaking up the curds from the latest batch of goat cheese.
I think that is about it for this one. Just a couple more pictures because I have them, so I might as well post them.
Confused Muscari. Why are these grape hyacinths leppin' into
action in September?

The two male turkeys explore the spud-patch in the tunnel.
Interesting yellow fungi growing in a dead hawthorn.