Over the border!

I have been quiet for a while, not because I have had nothing to write about but because I have been too busy to sit down and type about it all!

Now that restrictions are easing and I have had both my Covid vaccinations I went to visit my daughter for a few days. Some of you may remember that she works as Learning Support Assistant in a primary school and it is easiest for her if I visit during the holidays so I went for part of half term.

As you can imagine it was wonderful to see her especially as the last time was August! We packed a lot into a few days. The lease on her rented house was coming to an end and although she could have renewed it she was considering moving. She has made the house into a lovely home and has some fantastic neighbours but the landlady is very reluctant to spend money on maintenance and repairs. Last winter the badly fitting, single glazed windows and lack of loft insulation meant the heating was not up to the job and the house was very cold. Then 2 neighbours (both in rented homes) announced they were moving – who would come in their place? It seemed sensible to look at other houses to rent. So once again I found myself viewing properties with one of my children! Front runner was a very similar house to the one she was in, on a quiet estate within walking distance of the town center, but with a slightly different layout of rooms and much better maintained. As in many towns and cities, especially those built in the 60’s and 70’s the suburbs are arranged around roads which radiate out from the center of town and the buses run along those radial roads, So to visit friends a couple of miles away in the next ‘village’ means a bus into town and another out, or using the car. So paradoxically living near the center should help her kids’ social lives! After a lot of weighing up the pros and cons including the hassle of changing her address on everything, dealing with the benefits system and packing everything up, she decided to move and we set the wheels in motion.

Two viewings of the place on different days meant we were in town so I hit the charity shops to replenish my wardrobe after being unable to do so through the Covid restrictions. I had noticed that another aspect of my rut was that every morning I pulled on jeans and a t-shirt type top, the only decision required being short or long sleeves, then a fleece hoodie. Sometimes they were clean and tidy clothes suitable for being seen out in and other days they were gardening wear with stains and holes but that was the only difference. It was so long since I had worn earrings that the holes had almost healed over and I abandoned my watch when the battery ran out. By going into ALL the charity shops we found a skirt, a dress, a pair of smarter trousers and several tops in my size.

A selection of my finds – some are in the wash!

And as we were out and spending money (It hardly hurts at all to wave a plastic card over a machine which beeps its thanks!) we had a pub lunch one day and ate out at Wagamama another evening. If any of you know of a good cookbook or website that would introduce me to cooking Japanese cuisine (bearing in mind that my local supermarkets have limited ranges of ‘world foods’!) please tell me. What we had was delicious but very new for me. The pub lunch included a particularly nice relish which I managed to re-create at home – recipe below.

Red Onion and Red Pepper Relish

Sweat half a kilo of thinly sliced red onions slowly until beginning to soften, add one and a half red peppers cut into short thin strips and continue cooking until everything is soft and starting to melt. Add salt, pepper, a generous slug of balsamic vinegar, a desertspoon or so of dark muscovado sugar, a heaped teaspoon of grain mustard and a splash of blackcurrant vinegar (or pontack sauce or red wine vinegar). Continue to simmer for another ten minutes or so stirring frequently for the flavours to mingle. Check the taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Either pour into a jar and store in the fridge OR pour into a bottom lined cake tin, top with a circle of ready rolled puff pastry and bake at 200 deg for 20 mins then invert onto a plate as a tart for a delicious lunch. I made it when friends came and they asked for seconds so it must have been OK!

There are at least 2 more posts about my activities in my head and I will try to get them onto the screen soon!

Little thing # 2

I have been making an effort to continue noticing the little things which make me smile and to share them with you all.

Some of you may remember that whilst I have been unable to go out so much I have been knitting chilldren’s jumpers for the collection at Studio 3 in Cardigan. Their original goal had been to send 2020 to an organisation working with refugees who had reached Greece and were now unable to move on to other parts of Europe. Last Friday I delivered the latest one and by chance Eileen, who’s brainchild it was, was in the shop. She told me that they passed the 2020 target some time ago and sent them off. After that they decided any more would be sent to charities in Wales working with families in poverty and particularly those using the many food banks. They have now collected over a thousand for Wales and more are still being donated. The charities will add them to the parcels of gifts put together for families who otherwise would have none. I only played a small part – 5 jumpers in all – but I felt proud to have helped and proud of my community for rising to the challenge and some. A real win-win. AND I met my friend Rachel to have lunch in the cafe there – delicious food and a chance to catch up with a lovely friend. A very smiley day!

My latest gift jumper

In the garden I can see crocuses and miniature daffodils beginning to emerge in pots near the house.

On the wall of the cabin a winter flowering jasmine is in full bloom. Last year it was still fairly new and only had a few flowers but it has obviously settled in.

Piling manure onto one of the raised beds I spotted a potato. I haven’t grown any for a couple of years but the ones I missed when I harvested the last lot keep coming up. I scrabbled around and by the time I had been through all the bed I had a basket full of International Kidney spuds (Jersey Royals but they can only be called that if grown on the island of Jersey!) They are a waxy salad potato so not good for mash or roast but lovely in potato salad or stews because they keep their shape.

My cooking has had a boost recently. My last lot of books from the library included 2 by Jack Monroe, a woman who found herself living in extreme poverty and blogged about how she was managing to feed herself and her small son on very little money and the generosity of the food bank. The upshot was a book deal which lifted her our of poverty but she still campaigns tirelessly for the organisations she once relied upon. I am comfortably off and an experienced cook but her simple, cheap recipes have jolted me out of a rut.

I have been making crafty things and will blog about them later but for now they are secret in case the recipients see them here first! However I can tell you that I get a lot of help from my feline friends who never fail to make me smile – how’s this for a cuddle of cats? At least they were next to me rather than on my lap which makes sewing or knitting difficult! The bony elbow top left is Orchid who also occupies the sofa.

Lastly I read a post by Cathy which I particularly enjoyed and set me thinking about how I could include more cheery-uppy things in my life. You can read it at https://nanacathydotcom.wordpress.com/2020/11/26/touchstones/

A lot of lemons

My neighbour Beccy sent a message ‘Can you use up some lemons?’ Expecting 3 or 4 I said yes – and got half a carrier bag of them! It seems another neighbour had bought a whole box intending to do something creative with the children whilst the schools are shut. But she was widowed earlier this year and wasn’t able to summon up the energy to actually do it. Beccy was chatting to her in the garden, heard this tale and rescued the fruit some of which was beginning to go mouldy. She ditched the worst ones but still had more than she could use up so gave me half.

Luckily another neighbour had just given me some duck eggs and I missed the seville oranges in January so was low on marmalade. I made a batch of hummus and a lemon drizzle cake (of which not much remains for some reason) then used a kilo to make some marmalade. The last 4 made lemon cheese. It is a recipe of my mother’s which I suspect was a wartme one. It has less butter than proper lemon curd but tastes just as nice.

Lemon drizzle cake

6oz softened butter
6oz castor sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 oz ground almonds
4 1/2 oz self raising flour
grated zest and juice 1 lemon
2 – 3 tablespoons milk

Juice of 2 lemons

Cream the butter and sugar with the lemon zest, add the beaten eggs a little at a time then the lemon juice, fold in the flour, add the milk to give a dropping consistency. Bake in a lined 2lb loaf tin for 40 – 50 mins at 170 deg.

About 10 minutes before the cake is done put the drizzle ingredients in a small pan and heat gently to dissolve the sugar.

When the cake comes out of the oven prick it all over with a skewer and pour the hot drizzle over it. Leave to cool in the tine.

LEMON CHEESE

Grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
8oz sugar
2 eggs beaten
good knob of butter

Put the rind, juice and sugar in a pan and heat slowly stirring frequently until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture hot. Beat the eggs in a bowl or jug. Pour the hot liquid SLOWLY onto the eggs whisking all the time (think mayonnaise but not quite as slow!) Return the mixture to the pan and heat slowly still stirring all the time until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Pot into sterilised jars and seal at once.

A Little Bit of Magic

Regular readers will know that I belong to both the Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire Permaculture groups and am a regular at their meetings. (You can read about previous visits here here,here,and here

Last Sunday I was the host. The sun shone so we were all able to sit out on the new deck (more about that here). With 16 adults and two small children it felt comfortably full but not a squash. After cups of tea and coffee plus cake (my nickname is Sue cake!) and a chance to meet up and chat we spent a few moments remembering one of our group who had just died suddenly and sending loving thoughts to his wife. Linda from The Woodland Farm (the woodland farm)had brought a beautiful bunch of her flowers and I lit a candle for him.

Then I explained my how I was going about the designs for my Diploma in Permaculture Design which focuses around planning how I can continue to thrive into advanced old age despite living in such a rural place. We toured the garden so they could see how I had begun to implement those plans and the changes since their previous visit.

Everybody brings something to share for lunch and it was laid out on my kitchen table. What a spread! Almost all the dishes had been grown or made at home – beautiful salads, home made breads, fermented veg from Phil and his partner Lauren at Parc y Dderwenfind them on facebook here. Most people also remembered to bring their own plate, mug and cutlery so there was hardly any washing up for me to do later.

Usually everyone helps the host with a job in the afternoon – a chance to have a lot of hands and, in my case, some younger muscle on one of those big jobs which are daunting for one person on their own. This time I decided that what the garden needed most was appreciating! I work on it but do not make enough time to just sit and enjoy it. So I invited everyone to wander, sit, enjoy and chat. I am so glad I did because watching them relax and find pleasure in what I have created was hugely rewarding – a little bit of magic indeed!

My grateful thanks to Brian for taking photos whilst I was too busy to manage a camera and to Phil for the picture of my mindmap.

Many Hands

Having volunteered at Dyfed Permaculture Farm Trust and with the Pembrokeshire Permies at Rhiw Las the previous weekend it was my turn on the 11th to host some of the Carmarthenshire group. So 10 adults and a toddler came to see my place and help me with some jobs where extra hands and muscle power would be useful.

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We gathered in the wooden cabin in the garden which I am in the process of upgrading to make it more useful. It is some way from finished but with the small woodburner lit and an improvised kitchen it was a good place to gather to talk and share lunch.

In the morning I explained the theme for my Diploma in Permaculture design (planning for 2050 – more posts on that to follow) which I am just starting then took them on a brief tour of the garden. Some had been before and were interested to see progress, particularly how things they had worked on in the past had worked out. Others were new to the group so there were lots of questions and picking up of tips and ideas. I rarely go to someone else’s patch without learning something new and am very happy to share my experiences (and mistakes) with others. Grape vines seemed to be of particular interest this time.

It was a chilly day with occasional wintry showers so we were all very pleased that Peter and Alison had brought soup to share for lunch! With Chris’s bread rolls, some quiches, salads and tasty nibbles followed by 3 – yes 3! – types of cake and more tea and coffee, we were well set up for the afternoon. My daughter Carrie and grand-daughter Georgia were here for the weekend and Georgia had made 2 of the cakes on Saturday afternoon whilst I got the cabin ready and found the tools we would need for the jobs in the afternoon. They also took charge of making drinks and washing up which was a great help to me as it left me free to talk and organise the activities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust after lunch there was a shower so we spent a short time thinking about a problem area in the garden, the muddy and shady ‘Cinderella’ patch behind the house. The advice to concentrate on drainage plus ideas of how I might achieve that so it is less wet were very useful. There may even be another visit to make it happen! They also encouraged me to stop worrying about it and just let it be a rough grass area for now.

Then when the sun came out again we divided into 2 groups to tackle the jobs I had chosen.

One group created an area of hard standing outside the French doors of the cabin as a sitting area. I had made a frame the right size from timber left over from building a new outbuilding. I had a roll of mulch material bought donkey’s years ago which was more than enough to line the base. Then all the off-cuts of blocks from the building work were barrowed down the path and put in, followed by stones which I had dug out of 2 ponds I am in the process of making on the veg patch. Left over sand made the surface level and slates broken when the flue for the woodburner in the cabin was installed were smashed as a top layer. Unfortunately there were not enough to finish the job. I had hoped to use only waste stuff but maybe I will have to buy a small amount of slate waste to finish it! It would have taken me a long time to do the same work especially as I could only carry about half as much stuff in the barrow on each journey as the younger ones.

The other team cleared the path from the veg patch to the boundary where my garden meets the woodland I rent from my neighbour. Then the cut away brambles and low branches to make a path through the woods that follows the top boundary for a spell before sloping down to the stream and returning to join the path past the woodstore and workshop to the house. To my surprise and delight they managed to get all the way round, arriving back just as the last of the slate was put down. Now I can take the dogs for a circular walk round the garden and wood which should mean I get to know both more intimately. Observation is key to Permaculture design as I explain here Permaculture Principles 1 – Observe

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Melting Moments

More tea, cake and biscuits and they even had enough energy to walk up the hill to the farm where they had parked (there is very little space here to park without being in the way) and they were still smiling!

MELTING MOMENTS (from a Bero flour booklet circa 1971 hence the imperial weights!))

Cream 8oz butter with 6oz caster sugar. Work in 10oz SR flour and about 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Form the mixture into walnut sized balls and dip these into first water then either rolled oats or dessicated coconut (I used oats). Place on a greased baking sheet well spaced (they spread), flatten slightly and put a small piece of glace cherry in the middle of each. \bake at 325 – 350 deg F (about 175deg C) for 15 – 20 mins. Allow to cool slightly and firm up before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.