Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Deep purple

After the triumph of my "how to give a guinea pig antibiotics" tutorial I thought it was high time I shared a little more wisdom with you all.  Come along as I walk you through how I make blackcurrant cordial.

I had loads of blackcurrants from the allotment, but not much time or patience, so I thought I'd give cordial a go, as you don't need to get rid of all the stalks.  Really, that was my only reason for making it - we never have cordial in the house, just fruit juice.  But I was feeling lazy, I didn't have much time, it seemed the perfect solution.

You start by heating up the blackcurrants with water and sugar.  Boil it for five minutes, then mash the fruit with a potato masher.  You can do this while the children get into the bath, as I did.

Then you just need to add some citric acid and simmer it for a couple more minutes.  That's it!

Now the straining bit.  Pay close attention.  You need to rig up some kind of thing whereby your blackcurrants are suspended in muslin above a big bowl.  A bar stool turned upside down with the seat on the kitchen counter is the kind of thing that might work.  Then you can peg the muslin onto the bar stool.  If you're in a hurry you might not bother with too many pegs.  If you don't bother with too many pegs, you'll get this kind of effect.

It's not what we're aiming for.  Blackcurrants in liquid, dropped from a height of around five feet, splash outwards in a radius of approximately twelve feet.  It was far worse than it looks from this picture.  The hall carpet, which is fairly pale, has splashes.  It was over every vertical surface, inside the cupboards, all over me, everywhere.  It dries surprisingly quickly.  Shortly after the disaster, the Tesco delivery lady arrived with the week's shopping.  I'd forgotten that I'd ordered it; I did it as I thought it would be easier in the holidays to have it delivered.

It took me about an hour to clear up.  The children were left in the bath throughout and are now quite wrinked.  The blackcurrant juice soaked into the wood of the kitchen cabinets a bit.  They're slightly pink.  My knees and the bottoms of my feet are deep purple.

For those of you who would like the recipe for blackcurrant cordial, what are you thinking???  Elderflower, yes, lemonade, yes, blackcurrant, no, no, no.  No.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The summer starts here

The end of term madness is over.  Let the holidays begin.  I'm sighing a very deep happy sigh.

I paid a last solo visit to the allotment today and weeded, watered and planted some French beans and a butternut squash.

At home I made a box full of cookies and packed a picnic.  Then I took the boys to the park straight from school to let off a little steam.

The biggest boy wants to do absolutely everything tomorrow.  I'm trying to convince him that as we have six or seven weeks ahead of us we should save one or two things for Monday.  As of right now, I don't really have any plans or lists or objectives.  I'm just going to see how it all unfolds.

How about you, do you have any happy adventures planned?  Or will you be winging it?  Whichever way you're swinging, enjoy.  CJ xx

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

July at the allotment

It's not looking particularly pretty at the allotment at the moment.  A week away and not enough hours down there mean there are weeds, and for some reason I don't seem to have enough produce growing.  But let's have a look round anyway.

These are radish seed pods.  If your radishes bolt and flower, fear not, the pods are just as delicious.  Some of them were really peppery.  Perfect in salads and stir fries.

Tigerella tomatoes.  I've never managed to grow these successfully before, so I'm quite excited.  They should be nice and stripy when they're ripe.

The beautifully neat plot in the background isn't mine.  I've no idea how people stay on top of the weeds, it's impressive.  The other plot next to me has been taken in hand as well.  The new plotholder cleared it in about three days, and that's immaculate too now.  Which makes mine look even scruffier.  But hey, I have flowers!

And the beginnings of some courgettes.  This one is tromboncino, which is oddly shaped - bent and bulbous at the end.  It's a climbing one and I've grown it in amongst runner beans before now.

The sweetcorn is doing well.  The middle boy has grown ordinary corn (Sundance I think) and the littlest boy has popping corn (Fiesta) from the James Wong range.  I've heard that the badgers wait until the cobs are perfectly ripe, then they demolish every last plant and leave not so much as a niblet.  I have a cunning plan though.  I'll pick the corn the very day before the badgers eat them, thus thwarting their evil plans.  Imagine how sad the little people would be if the badgers win.  The pressure is on to get it right.

There's a squash or two rambling about the place.  Ukichi Kuri and Queensland Blue I think.  Does anyone else have trouble with disappearing labels?  I think I need some bigger ones, the tiny ones I use just seem to get lost.  Sometimes I find labels from the plotholder who used to have the land.  It's intriguing to see what things and what varieties he grew.  He had the plot for 45 years, so he must have picked up a trick or two.

Shall we venture up to the wild(est) end of the plot?  It's where the fruit lives.  And probably the wild things too.

I'm wondering if this Japanese wineberry is ever going to do anything.  It's had these fuzzy buds on it for ages, without anything happening.

Gooseberries and blackcurrants ripe for the picking.  I took some gooseberries home, the blackcurrants will have to wait for another day.  There aren't as many this year, maybe last year was exceptional.  In fact I still have some of last year's blackcurrants in the freezer.  We had far more than we needed really.  I'm thinking about cordial.

This is the plot as viewed from the shed.  Under the enviromesh there are six sprout plants that I got from the "Free Stuff" area at the top of the site.  I've not grown sprouts before, and I'm hoping for a little crop for Christmas lunch.

The little lavender is flowering and attracting bees.  A nice touch on a fairly rampant plot.  The weeds are growing like mad.  I relied on the forecast of a possible heavy shower and didn't do any watering today, so of course it has stayed dry.  So everything is in dire need of a drink as well.

I'd like to put in some French beans and maybe one or two other things as well.  There's some space now where potatoes and onions have been harvested.  The plot needs to be a bit more productive if possible.  The carrots and beetroots I sowed failed, which is disappointing.  I don't seem to be able to grow things directly in the ground.  If I put in small plants I stand a much better chance.  I'm not sure why.  It all works for Monty Don, it's very frustrating.

As from the end of the week I'll have three little helpers with me on plot visits.  I'm considering offering cash for weeds.  Is this a viable plan do you think?  They are still a bit obsessed with World Cup stickers.  If I offer 1p per weed, then for every fifty weeds they can buy a pack of stickers.  Or is this kind of bribery considered to be psychologically damaging these days?  I never know what I'm supposed to be doing.

Thank you for all of your sweet comments about the feathery thing.  It was back to wellies today.  I'll get the biggest boy to take a welly photo of me in the holidays, to balance things out.  I never intended to have a blog with no photos of me on it, but I so rarely have pictures of myself to share that it's somehow turned out that way.  Must try harder.  Again.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Could try harder

The children brought their reports home the other day.  They were much as expected, and couched in the kind of language that requires a bit of decoding.  It got me to thinking about my old reports, several of which I seem to recall said things like "Could try harder" and "Could do better".

I see some of my various different attributes in the boys, especially the younger two.  And it occurred to me that some things haven't changed.  I still don't have huge confidence in my abilities and I prevaricate quite a bit and wait for a sign, or encouragement, or everything to align itself before I steam ahead with things.  I do so admire people who achieve things, who inspire me with all that they do.  And I'd like to be like that too.  But somehow I never quite manage it.  I'd like to come up with a goal and work hard to achieve it.  But somehow I never get round to it.  I could do it, I'm sure I could.  I just need to try harder, to do better.  It occurs to me that one day I might be telling the boys to try their best.  It would come across a lot better if I'm doing my best too.

So I'm trying to channel a little more energy in a positive direction.  To achieve a little more, even if it's only on the domestic front.  I've decided to do the writing course, probably starting in September, although maybe earlier.  In the meantime I shall try and force the house, garden and allotment into some semblance of order.  Today was a good day.  I repotted lemons and tidied some plants in the garden.  I swept and snipped and dead-headed sweet peas.  Tomorrow I'll attack the allotment.  Little by little I'll accomplish what I want.  I hope!

You may recall that on Saturday we had a wedding to go to.  It was a hot day, made a little hotter by our frantic journey to get there.  I suggested leaving quite early, being as it involved the M5 on a July Saturday, and the posh schools have already broken up for the summer.  OH felt that it was not necessary.  I said we ought to leave earlier than 1pm.  OH said he definitely would not be leaving any earlier at all than 1pm.  At 12.59 the bride sent a text advising that the motorway was completely blocked.  Because of various rivers, it's a very difficult place to get to without going down the motorway.  Google was consulted, which wasted another five minutes or so.  The alternative route was also really busy, so a fair amount of sweating was done before we'd even got close to the venue.  It was particularly tricky as OH was to give the bride away.  We did get there, later than requested, but in time for the ceremony.  Thank goodness for deep breathing.

The wedding was fab.  Really, really fab.  I wasn't expecting it to be as good as it was.  I think it was so good because the children were so well catered for.  There was a basket full of drinks, crisps and sweets for them to help themselves to, which was a huge novelty in itself.  There was a bouncy castle and lots of space for running around.  They ate in an orangery adjoining the room the adults were in.  The staff looked after them beautifully.  They had sausage and mash and then a huge chocolate ice-cream concoction.  They had colouring books and games.  And after they'd eaten, while we were still on our main courses, they got to play football on the lawn, yes they did.  (We asked nicely, it was allowed).  They popped in and out, scavenging the little cakes we ended the meal with, and they were thrilled to get a token to spend at the bar. There was a video thing where you could leave a message for the bride and groom, so they dressed up in the silly wigs and glasses and left a few (dozen).  The day ended with a disco, and me and the littlest boy danced to "Sweet Child of Mine".  The bigger boys got to go behind the starry curtain with the DJ and look at all the exciting computers.  It was a very good day.

Some of you expressed an interest in seeing the feathery thing...  When he first saw it, the biggest boy said, "No offence mum but it looks a bit ridiculous".  The littlest boy said, "It looks awesome".  The middle boy said, "You look really terrible".  Me, I quite enjoyed swanning round with feathers in my hair.  I think I may take to wearing hair things more often.

It's blended into the sky a bit here.  Here's a blurry selfie.  I only used my little camera, I didn't want to lug the other one around all day, plus it's a bit noisy and obvious.  The small camera is silent and really good for taking unobtrusive snaps.

I found OH's buttonhole in the littlest boy's room earlier on this evening.  He does like little treasures and mementoes.  Well, actually, he just likes to have stuff.  Not sure where he gets that attribute...

A final garden shot.  Somehow a small boy and a football got in the picture.  Story of my life.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

It's not just me is it?

I'm detecting more than a hint of busy-ness around the blogosphere at the moment.  Those last couple of weeks of the school year, with the assemblies, productions, outings, collections and odd last minute requests for parental input are frantic as ever.  Gardens and allotments are romping away, with weeds and harvests and lawns and a need for water.  There are holidays, with the organising, the packing, the unpacking.  It's not just me, I'm sure of it.  The post-holiday week has bumped along in a slightly panicky way.  Just one more until they are home from school and it becomes a bit impossible to get anything done.

I went to the allotment just once last week, and not for very long.  It needed weeding and watering, but there wasn't much time so I did the most important thing, I collected the food.  A handful of broad beans, a trugful of onions, two gherkins and some surprisingly blemish-free potatoes.  At home the runner beans have reached the tops of their canes and there have been enough for a meal.

I haven't eaten any yet, (a very short and very tedious diet), but everyone else enjoyed them.  The raspberries are dripping with ripe fruit, it's most unusual for me not to pick them the second they're ripe, but this year I am behind with everything.  It might be a job for the children.

I tried very hard yesterday to get useful things done.  In the end I tidied a kitchen drawer.  It wasn't on The List, but strangely it made me feel calmer.  Something constructive had been done.  And now every time I need to get a charger out (it was that drawer) I feel much chirpier.  

The garden is full of flowers; lots of sweet peas and some cornflowers and marigolds.  I had some sweet peas in the house until yesterday, now I just seem to have lots of greenfly in the places where they were.  Is it just my imagination or are there lots of flies around this year?  Not just greenfly, but blackfly, midges, bluebottles, fruit flies and horse flies.  I have a HUGE bite on the back of my leg.  Oh and mentioning fruit flies reminds me, I think all of my worms have died.  One day they were fine, three or four days later it looked as if they'd all disappeared from the wormery.  I need to investigate more fully.  But the bin is definitely breeding fruit flies, it's quite horrid when you lift the lid.  

Could you bear some flower photos?  Despite the neglect, it's been nice to see some prettiness in the garden.  Any day now I'll get round to cutting all of the sweet pea blooms off.  In the meantime, I'm enjoying the tangle.

The guinea pig is trundling along quite well, after her abscess problem.  She's still on antibiotics, which requires a syringe of medicine once a day.  I thought I'd show you how it works.  In fact I was going to call this post "How to give a guinea pig antibiotics: A Tutorial", but I was worried that people trawling the internet might come here expecting some sensible advice.  I know that you regular readers know perfectly well there won't be anything useful here.

First catch your pig.  You'll need a small towel handy and it helps to get the medicine in the syringe first before you grab the piggie (ask me how I know).  

Then turn her upside down.  They don't like this much.

Then all you have to do is pop the syringe in her mouth and squeeze in half the medicine, let her swallow it and repeat with the other half.  Simples.

Well, actually, as you can imagine there's a fair bit of wriggling and cussing.  Any time she feels anything near her mouth she struggles away.  It's almost impossible to put the syringe in so I've taken to squirting it into her mouth from directly above.  If I score a direct hit she does this cute thing where she smacks her lips and makes munching noises.  If I miss it runs down her chin and I swear a bit.  You'd think they'd make it in some delicious impossible-to-resist guinea pig flavour like they do with Calpol and small children.  Anyway, once the torture is complete she gets to go on the grass.  She seems really well and the wound is healing nicely so the bit I do get down her neck is doing the trick.  

Last night I went with the Beavers (small-sized Cubs, mostly 6 and 7 year olds) on a canal boat.  It does sound like madness, but it was actually most enjoyable.  We strapped them very securely into life jackets and chugged up and down a little stretch of the Gloucester to Sharpness canal.  It was so nice to get away from dry land and all of the madness.  

We're off to a wedding later on today, then tomorrow there's the final football tournament of the season.  Training starts again on 2 August, but I'm not thinking about that right now.

I've been on a diet this week to fit into the dress I have.  In truth it was too little, too late.  Of course.  That could be my motto I think.  I didn't start until Tuesday.  The dress goes on fine, but I'll need to hold my stomach in all day.  Or maybe just for the photos.  The boys are under strict instructions to be calm and quiet and sensible.  They are all tired, irritable and very silly, so it's not looking promising.  The feathery thing I have for my hair is larger and more, well, striking, than I imagined it would be.  I'm wearing it anyway.  At least you'll be able to spot me in a crowd.  Do people wear feathery things in their hair to weddings any more?  I have no idea.  I'm never in step with everyone else anyway, so I'm quite used to it.  Will we be able to play football on the lawn?  What we will do all day if we can't?  Oh it could be a long day.

Next week I shall be focussing on getting things slightly in control but also taking a little time to enjoy the summer.  It should involve quite so much rushing about should it?  Once the children have broken up from school things should be more relaxed, albeit in a noisy, shouty, fighty, chaotic sort of a way, if that makes sense.  I really can't wait, we need a break.  Or maybe it's just me.

Sunday, 6 July 2014


It's that tricky post-holiday time.  Everyone is tired, no-one wants to get back to normal life, expectations have been raised, ice-cream is expected on an almost daily basis and I am missing having a bedroom with a balcony looking out over beautiful Cornish gardens with the tiniest glimpse of sea behind the trees.

Almost every time I walked into the room I was drawn outside.  I'd stand there just absorbing it all.  The wood was warm beneath my bare feet and there were birds singing in the big tree in the next garden.  It was good.  Very good.

I have photos and notes.  Could you stand it?  Too many photos, but, you know, it was that week.  The one  I look forward to all year.  The one by the sea with the people I love the most.  Together, all day every day.  So I can't stop myself, but do feel free to scroll through really fast all the way to the bottom.  Take a deep breath...

This one's for all of your yarn lovers out there.  Knitted cakes!  Clever, clever, clever.  

We found some really beautiful beaches.  The Lizard peninsula is a really lovely place, unspoilt for the most part, quiet and wild.

Just us and the jellies.  There were lots on this beach (Coverack), pink ones and purple ones.  Such striking creatures.

There were some very pretty villages and cottages.  Hard not to dream about what it would be like to live here.

On Wednesday I met up with Leanne.  She was an absolute delight, and it was such a pleasure to sit and chat with her.  She brought a crab line and bucket for the boys, as well as some artisan chocolate made in her home town.  Oh how well she knows what boys like.  They were thrilled and a little obsessed with crab catching.  I'd never tried it before (what with being a girl and everything).  The first one was HUGE and there was another one as well that we didn't manage to catch because it got away, scuttling sideways back to the sea.  The other one was so big and strong it climbed out of the net.  I ran up the harbour steps shrieking.  Somehow it was transferred to the bucket and I ventured a little closer.

I think I found my best ever beach.  How beautiful is this?

It's called Kynance Cove, and it is honestly paradise.  Owned and maintained by the National Trust, who have done it all beautifully and sustainably.  Everything blending in and eco-friendly.  That one beach alone made me want to join and support them, their work is so very worthwhile.

The eldest and OH went for a cliff top walk to look for Cornish choughs, rare birds that have been making a comeback here lately.  They're quite hard to spot.  The eldest thought he might possibly have seen one, but they look a bit like crows, so maybe he didn't.  He was very happy to have had the opportunity to spend some time looking for them though, and he did see some other birds that made it all worthwhile.

I stayed on the beach with the littles and we balanced piles of stones and ran away from waves and things.

I went for a swim and decided it was the best day of the holiday.  There's always a best day, right?

It occurred to me that it was nearing the end of the week and there wasn't a single photo of me.  Does that ever happen to you?  It's like I was never there.  The eldest pointed his camera in my face.  I haven't seen his shots, but he got quite close, I don't imagine it's a pretty sight.  But I found this one that the littlest boy took while scrambling over rocks with my little camera.  Look, I was there!

The last day was grey and a bit damp, so we went to Falmouth for a wander.

We tried to catch more crabs.  I couldn't look, there was such a drop to the water.  I honestly can't stand it when they stand near the edge.  I lie awake at night worrying about it.

It started raining after a while, but the biggest boy was desperate to catch one.  We had to drag him away.  The seagull's keeping a close eye on him, just in case.

So now we're home, with some happy memories and a bit of a suntan.  Re-entry is hard, it always takes me a couple of days to regain my equilibrium.  I'm happy to have found such a beautiful place.  One day I'll go there again.