“Its life Jim, but not as we know it, not as we know it..”

(okay the title is from star trekkin’ from star trek not star wars)

Having coffee with my folks at Stoneleigh Park Country Festival today when my father spied this person in the crowd..

Clone troupers coming towards us.. hide, hide.. (look at the womens faces,,, a picture does paint a thousand words!)

Clone troupers march forward and shout…

“Your Under Arrest” – that was quite scary actually….

Arrested – send yarn, needles and chocolate…

Artistry and Tenacity.

Remember the Lizard Ridge I started oh so long ago. Well there has been progress over the last couple of weeks. I’ve so loved learning how to do all those short wrap rows, the colours, well, in aged hippy speak, “its just the colours man!” My boys call me a hippy, which to be honest is not quite right, because I’m a bit young to be a proper hippy, but I do understand there are parts of my personality that fit the bill completely. (allotment, chickens, making items for the home) I can also understand and appreciate just how wonderful it must have been when industry started to use the vibrant use of colour in posters, television, (we had a black and white for most of my childhood), fabric, wallpaper (lets not talk about mum’s wallpaper in the kitchen – big bold orange flowers!), paints and yarn.

The one ‘thing’ I would love to have been very good at, would have been to draw and paint. My eldest brother is a wonderful artist and I have always been deeply envious of his abilities.. But me, well, if you asked me to draw a chicken for example, it would probably look more like Donald Duck, but I have always loved the use of colour, which is why I have a bright red bookcase in a rather plain room. It was quite a relevation to me that I could put my artistic bent into practise with knitting.

I have never wished to wear gaudy clothes, although there was a prevelance towards purple in my younger days, so when I first spied this blanket, my synapses in my brain fired off like fireworks on Guy Fawkes night and I knew I just had to make one.

It has been slow progress, I am quite fickle. I love new adventures and learning new techniques, and to that end, this has stood me in good stead.

I cleared the top of the buffet two weeks ago and carefully placed all of my Lizard Ridge materials,

and then realised just how many ‘scraps’ I had as can be witnessed by the overflowing bowl. So I decided that I would just knit from scraps which would then give me the joy of knitting from lovely complete balls when they were finished up. The scraps have come from various directions, all of which have been most gratefully received, normally along with an exclamation of “oh Wow, its the colours man!” – even if posted to me, you can rest assured it is the colours that get to me everytime.

I’ve knitted five squares out of those scraps.. I couldn’t belive it myself.. It has been a wonderful adventure.

And to date, 15 squares have been knitted, would you like to see, you would..

I’ve also been side tracked although it was more like being hit by a bus rather than a gentle shunt.

During my visit to the Royal Show, I came across Toft Alpaca, I’d bumped into Kerry earlier in the year where she had told me just how happy she was with the colourways that had just come back from the mill. Toft are working hard to produce rich deep browns that are also very soft from their Alpacas and are working hard to that end. So, when I saw them in the flesh, I was completely mesmorised they were stunning, just stunning. I eventually made my choice this is DK in Blend Batch 208. I love it, its so rich and dark and soft, but also has just a tiny little bit of texture of other browns, its not totally one colour, it looks like it came from a living thing, not commecially made, which of course it is.

What to knit with this lovely yarn, it took me a while to consider the options and just when I thought I had made my choice, this came into view. I was blown away and knew it was the perfect choice for such lovely yarn.

Well we have the Artistry, now for the Tenacity…

Since we had the allotment I’ve been able to grow all of the brassicas reasonably well apart from one… which is renowned for not doing so well without specialised knowledge, lots of muck and deeply fertile ground. The humble Cauliflower..

The first year we had an allotment was very much a learning curve in all directions so when I failed at producing a cauliflower, well, I grumbled but thought I would do better next year. The second year, I put more effort in and just as our cauliflowers had hit the size of tennis balls, it rained for nearly a solid three weeks and by the time we were able to get back onto our plot, they had bolted.. Even deeper grumbles… – seriously starting to feel grumpy!

I’ve noticed in my life that feeling grumpy about things can give way to a very steep learning curve, at this point I waited and watched for any plot holder that came into my view that even looked like a person that might be holding a cauliflower..

My patience (and grumpiness) was rewarded, when Ed, one of the old boys was cropping a huge cauliflower.. I stopped him in his tracks and to all ends interrigated him as to what he had done to grow such a magnificient vegetable. I think he was quite bemused by me, but then couldn’t remember exactly what he had done, he just told me it was Australian cauliflower seed that he had used that were drought resistant..

That snippet of information proved very useful.

I spent part of the winter reading up on cauliflowers, and trying to find a seed that came from Australia that was drought resistent and then I found one called – Wallaby!

So, soon after my hysterectomy I was planting seeds and to be absolutely honest, I wasn’t able to remember exactly what I sowed into pots and what I didn’t. But I knew that I had sown Wallaby, because it was on my things most important to do list.

Hubby planted my seedlings, and as is the way, once you’ve hoed once or twice the plastic labels are broken or dislodged and you forget exactly what is where. I can normally recognise everything but having never grown cauliflowers sucessfully, I wasn’t able to recognise what may be a cabbage or maybe a cauli..

More frustrations…

For the last few weeks, everytime I’ve been onto the plot I have exclaimed in most painful tones, ‘where are my cauli’s?” and we just didn’t know, we thought they were all cabbages,,
Maybe the cauliflowers sprout quickly when they are ready because all of a sudden there was these pointy leaved vegetables that didn’t look like a cabbage and I said to hubby, “what’s that?” “Dunno” he replied..

and we found out much to our joy

it was this… huge in the raw aren’ they?!!

My very first home grown cauliflower..

I love late summer – but it is hectic!

I love this time of year as we gently drift almost imperceptibly into Autumn. Before we became allotmenteers we used to spend time walking, talking, admiring the view. At this time of year there are always bargains to be had in the shops and markets and I’ve always bought vegetable to be made into pickles, jams, lovely fresh ratatouille’s or whatever has sang to my soul in the green grocers that morning. Even though I made these lovely things, we still seemed to have time to raise a family, we both worked (okay I worked part time) and have time for late summer/autumn walks.

Now, my ironing pile is sky high – again! because every morning I wake up with my to do list rattling through my brain as to which is the most urgent job required to preserve my lovely crops, pick them, thin them, weed them, hoe them, curse at the caterpillars and slugs, plant them. (I’m still planting lettuces – you’d be surprised how hardy they are)) I then lug my produce that was ready for picking home, often stopping for a chat with other allotmenteers who lament their failures and proudly show me their successes – I like this bit the best.

I then spend several hours in my kitchen, with the kitchen door shut because of the influx of wasps, making potions often in a haze of vinegary fumes to delight the palette come the dreary part of winter when it doesn’t shine and the simple act of opening a jar of something tangy can put a spring back into ones step.

Sunday was spent at the plot, such a glorious day, we both worked hard and came home to a bottle of wine and a cold chicken sandwich.. Sometimes you grow all of these lovely vegetables and you just don’t have time or the energy to cook and eat them!

Monday, I was back up to the plot, picking and weeding and hoeing before coming home then I made a huge batch of sweet piccalilli, (remember that cauliflower,, I still have a third of it left in my fridge) and ran out of steam again. I had a choice, do I, cook the leg of lamb that was meant to be Sunday’s meal, and spend another two hours preparing vegetables, nursing potatoes to perfection and then we would have eaten really quite late.. Or do we have another sandwich and make use of the figs??? The figs won.

I’ve noticed that Waitrose’s coco powder is really quite good, which then lead me into the delightful debate of figs and chocolate, chocolate and figs.. Hubby came home, hungry as a horse, looking for his supper. I tentatively asked, “How do you fancy a fig upside down chocolate cake?” there were positive murmurings, quickly followed by “we could just have a sandwich OR, I could start on the roast but that will be hours off”.. He’s a good boy my bloke and he also has a very sweet tooth and within this, I rarely make puddings..

Game set and match. *wink*

By the time the oven had heated up, I’d warmed a little butter and sugar together to make a base on the bottom of the cake tin, cut my fresh figs (from my own tree!) in half having cut the tough stem away at their top, placed them on the top of the buttery sugary mixture and made a mix of 2 by 4 by 4 by 4..

Remember this ladies, it will stand you in good stead.. to make a basic cake mix, nothing too fancy its not going to win you prizes at the local WI, but it will feed a family without having to refer to a recipe book. 1 egg equals, 2 oz of sugar, 2oz of butter, 2 oz of self raising flour. Multiply as necessary. A Victoria sponge, made in 2 layers in eight inch sandwich tins is a 3 by, 6,6,6, If you want to add coco powder, take a couple of table spoons of flour out and add the same amount of cocoa, if its a little stiff, add a drop of milk. Cook on 180 degrees C. Always underestimate, I checked mine after 25 minutes and it was perfectly cooked, it will depend on how hot your oven runs.

My fresh fig upside down chocolate cake.. the coco is so good it smelt devine,

and a quick shot of my supper… there was custard, I have to admit (because of the lack of eggs at the moment) it was shop bought. The mix of the toffee like topping, fully ripened figs which were gently cooked through but still retained their freshness and the strength of the coco powder with a goodly dollop of cold custard with vanilla was sensational.

Today the courgettes were calling. I have a pile of them in the fridge, I’ve been waiting for tomatoes to ripen and yesterday evening I was able to pick enough to make this recipe.

I’ve made this one before, if you look for ‘spicy courgette chutney’ on my blog that’s the one, .. I changed a couple of items, I used fresh chilli’s from the greenhouse, malt vinegar and also added ground dried chili instead of flaked chilli’s and a little more cumin and more fresh ginger. I loved last years recipe but thought it could do with a little more zip. It has to settle for a couple of months, but I am absolutely sure that this recipe – in whatever guise – the essential route of this recipe is a winner.

And of course, whilst stirring, it does take nearly six hours to make this recipe, I made some shallots in sherry vinegar.

This is just a snapshot of all that I have produced, 10 jars of piccalilli, 9 jars of spicy courgette chutney, 2 of pickled shallots.

Remember the lamb, Oh that lamb, Sundays lamb, well that is gently casseroling with haricot beans, home grown carrots, onions, tomatoes, garlic, chicken stock and red wine and we should eat before the sun goes down.

This weeks Harvest..

We have been living off the plot for a couple of months. We are eating (are you ready for this!),

Lettuce, (I’ve managed to supply the kitchen with fresh lettuces all summer so far, which I think is a fine accomplishment)
Cucumber, three varieties,,
Sweet peppers,
Runner Beans,
French Beans,
Borlotti Beans,
Black Kale,
Turks head Pumpkin,
herbs, mint, sage, oregano, basil, coriander, french parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme and bay.

We have eaten lots of lovely soft fruits which have finished, the Morello cherries from the tree hubby bought me were particularly delicious, I gently warmed them with a generous splash of cointreau and a little sugar and we had them with some vanilla (high end!) ice-cream.

And I am desperately waiting for my tomatoes. I was very late this year with getting them started, so I may be finding new recipes for green tomatoes if they don’t all ripen.

Here are a few piccies.

Half a sack of spuds, don’t ask me what, I’ve completely forgotten! I do know that we have four rows of main crop potatoes still in the ground which will be taken up shortly and stored. That should keep us going nicely until the spring.

Runner beans, which have been blanched and are safely stored in the freezer. The plants are doing really nicely, they are still flowering, so we should be getting beans for a few weeks. We have had a few delicious meals of tender french beans, I’m allowing them to run to seed to become haricot beans which I will store for winter casseroles/minestrone soup etc.

Quite a small crop of onions, we have eaten the red variety and this batch suffered from a fungus caused by the very dry June we had. These are the best ones, ready for storage, I have a bag full of slightly damaged onions which will be used first.

Quite pleased with the shallots, a little damage but generally sound.

The Pumpkin patch is spreading..

and you can just see the treasures which will be stored for autumn and winter use.

Our sweetcorn is delicious…. Honestly! Three of those, lots of butter and the use of a napkin make a very fine supper.

Do you remember the dustbin carrots…
They are doing nicely, not a blemish from carrot fly. I need to find a way to make a high rise permanent bed for my carrots. Carrot fly only flies low to the ground so if you can raise the bed you should fool it as they can’t find the carrots. That is the theory!

Leeks are doing nicely, I’m already thinking about all of those lovely soups I’ll be making.

Green tomatoes! I am really not happy about this, its one of my favourite crops. And waiting for them to ripen is proving very painful.

A friendly allotmenteer presented me with this!

I think this is the biggest cauliflower I’ve ever seen.. I was quite proud of my red cabbages, (which I forgot to photograph) until I saw his, his are the size of a small six year old child!

This will be made into a sweet piccalilli tomorrow.

Kenilworth Knit and Natter.

As some of you may have come to realise from reading my blog, I love knitting. I just don’t like it, I love it and can live and breath it for hours on end. Finding like minded people is always such a pleasure. My face will light up when discussing different yarns, (especially independently dyed sock yarns) various designers, patterns, techniques, the list does go on and on.

And there was only one thing missing in my life, a knitting circle in Kenilworth. I am lucky enough to go to a lovely knitting group in Coventry – Coventry Knit Wits – several times a month, but as I don’t drive, sometimes hubby who is my resident chauffeur is a little busy and at those times I don’t wish to put extra pressure on him.

I’d been hoping that somebody else would start a knitting group in Kenilworth and I could just drift along to that. Well I waited long enough, so three weeks ago, I made a phone call and gained permission for a knitting group to start in Kenilworth in a lovely location right next to the Thursday market. What could be more perfect. I took it as a sign.

I made posters, then hawked them around the local tradespeople who I thought might be interested, everyone I approached was positive and agreed to put them in their shop window. I also put a couple of posts up in Ravelry.

And then I waited for a response, with a tightly knotted tummy.

Within hours there was interest, (have I mentioned just how much I love Ravelry) and then my excitement grew, this idea of mine might actually work!

The first week, well, I barely slept, in the morning I couldn’t eat, drinking coffee was a struggle, my tummy was a tightly knotted mass. Pacing around the house I veered from collecting items of interest to checking on Ravelry and my emails where I found a lovely “Good Luck” message from a very kind knitting pal of mine. She made me laugh out loud and all my negativity (is anyone going to come, will I be sitting there for two hours on my own, do I need an exit strategy after an hour and a half, or should I stick it out) ebbed away. And was replaced by lovely wonderful thoughts about starting a new group, what excitements and treasures I would find along this journey, a journey where I could share my love of all things yarny.

Well that was three weeks ago, Thursday mornings are never going to be the same.

Today for instance, we all had such a wonderful time we completely lost track of it. I’m meeting new friends and old (of the most treasured variety) and we are certainly doing more nattering than knitting.

So if you fancy a little knit and natter yourself, we meet at The Almanack between 10 and 12.

Don’t forget to bring your needles, (or crochet hook!)

Thursday 13th August..

Is my memory playing tricks, does Autumn normally start in the first half of August?

This morning, I drew my bedroom curtains to be greeted by a blustery wind blowing golden leaves off the tree opposite. I was shocked. Autumn is approaching us this year at a speed I have never known.

Its weird, very weird.

As I left my home I noticed more and more autumn leaves on the ground and yet more being caught off guard to be seen swirling in the wind before reaching the earth.

Its been a very odd year weather wise. Perhaps with all the rain and dark clouds we have had for what seems weeks and weeks, the trees have become as confused as I.

It must be time to search for blackberries and sloes.

Circular Sock Machine.

Just over a month ago I fulfilled my dream of owning an antique circular sock machine. I’d been looking at these wonderful machines for nearly as long as I have been knitting socks. But first I had to try and learn something about them, find one at a reasonable price and then hit it lucky that when I had paid for it, it would indeed work.

I found this lovely machine on ebay, sent a few questions to the seller who replied promptly and I felt genuinely and then waited for the auction to end. The last five minutes was terrifying! and then I’d won a Griswold, 84/42.

When I contacted the seller we arranged to meet at one of the oldest lace factories in Nottingham, there were machines there that were two hundred years old that were still producing lace.

I was very generously given two hours free tuition and I seem to remember that quite a few items were given to me that I hadn’t actually bid for!

I took this piece of machinery home full of trepidation mixed in with excitement and set to work the next day. To say there is a steep learning curve to master this machine is an understatement. There were times that I wondered if I would ever produce a heel, let alone a sock.

But finally, I had a sock. Well almost a sock.

I’ve finally got around to kitchenering it today.

I think its a bit scruffy, but it is my very first csm sock.

Courgette Chocolate Cake!!

When I suggested to son no.2 that he might like to help me prepare a chocolate courgette cake his reaction was one of disbelief and said ‘quite vocally’ that I must be mad! Well, I would probably agree with that most days to be honest.

Then son no.1 arrived in the kitchen and made rude comments about wanting to put courgettes in a chocolate cake. I sighed deeply, and replied ”you like carrot cake don’t you”, “well that’s different they both replied”

We have a glut of courgettes at the moment which is no bad thing as I love them and will even eat courgettes sauted gently and made into a fritata for a weekend brunch. I found this recipe for Chocolate and Courgette Cake on Riverfords Organic Veg web site which I thought might be worth a try.

Fast forward an hour or so,,

Ta da…

Cake anyone?

The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that the cake was still warm when I filled it, I was being badgered by the hungry hoards to finish making the cake so that they could get there greedy mitts on it!!! (strange how their opinions changed)

Its lovely and moist and quite chocolaty. I have to admit to cheating and using a tub of Betty Crocker’s icing, which is very naughty. I think this cake would be lovely served plain with custard, cream or ice-cream.

Hubby’s been quite successful this year at growing cucumbers.. he came home with this today, it weighs 2.5 lbs.

And the first of the figs.

Tartan Scarf – Finished!

Many, many moons ago, my friend Knitted Bear made this beautiful scarf which was designed by Anna Tillman of Web of Wool and published by Rowan, (book 42 if you would like the pattern). I longed for such a beautiful scarf, it sang to my soul at the deepest of levels. When I see something so beautiful that it touches a part of me that is not normally reached in the drudgery of everyday life, I remember it for a very long time.

But at that time my knitting had not reached a level where I felt I could master such a complicated pattern along with the absolute fact that my knitting of socks addiction had reached heady heights along with I’d also side tracked my self by starting to knit my first adult sized garment, a Cobblestone for hubby.

Some months passed and the call of this beautiful scarf was still nudging me in my memory, in the way that a dog will nudge you to remind you its dinner time, gently but persistently, I only had one choice, but to cast on. Rachel and I chose these beautiful colours together, I think if my memory proves correct that Rachel squealed in delight at this particular colour combination! Rowan Kidsilk Haze – trance – 1 skein, Rowan TapestryLakeland 180 – 1 skein, and Rowan Tapestry- Moorland 175- 2 skeins.

I started to knit in August 2008 and immediately became tangled in yarn. I carried on, made errors, tried to rip it back – have you ever tried to rip back kid silk haze, its a no, go, cut the scratty piece of material I had knitted off and started again… and knit just a few inches, photographed it, posted on to my blog and have occasionally been knitting this scarf ever since.

It became a love/hate relationship, I so loved and admired the scarf, so pretty, so delicate, I loved the colours and thought how beautiful they would look against my black dress coat but I found it so tedious. I can only think when looking back that these problems stemmed from my first attempt at controlling more than one ball of yarn at a time.

Since then I have learnt many, many things about knitting – some good and some not so good.. knitting Is stress relieving, knitting causes stress! Swatching is good, But also misleading! Knitting produces wonderful, beautiful garments, the mountain of ironing continues to grow! And… I do have to still cook meals, regardless of just how complicated my current piece is – my family will not understand!

But along with some of these lessons that I have learnt, I have also mastered how to use more than one ball of yarn at a time, Jane of Knit Wits a lovely knitting group in Coventry, gave a tutorial on Fair-isle. Lets say the tiny (and aren’t they always, it is after all just knit and purl) points that I picked up made absolute sense and I often wonder why I hadn’t worked those points out for myself. Jane very carefully listened to me when I didn’t understand, took me from the point where I understood and gently taught me the techniques I hadn’t mastered. By the end of the session, I had stopped tangling my yarn… That was an eye opening moment, I thank her for that.

Along this journey and it was a wonderful journey, I also have to thank Knitted Bear who taught me how to weave in the start of the horizontal stripe as it was knit, I have never mastered how to weave in (as you knit) the end of the horizontal stripe, (I don’t even know whether it is possible!) but it certainly saved me from weaving in half of the ends and I am very grateful. (I always love to master a new technique and Knitted Bear was very generous with her time to teach me, bearing in mind that she was probably knitting something quite furiously that had to be knitted up to a time scale, birthdays, Christmas, mothers day etc)

So, may I present…

I rather think it suits my male model with the grey whiskers, he was a very good sport.

and although it is photographed on a white shirt, I think it will look stunning on black.

Finished, August 2009 – a whole year on the needles…

There is something that I must tell you all, this means, that I only have one project on my needles (I am starting to swatch for one, but that doesn’t count) my Lizard Ridge, I shall knit a few more squares before becoming side tracked by something ‘oh so beautiful, I would love that’


The Girls.

Its a fact of life that chickens will only lay for a few years. They may live until they are ten but there productive life according to farmers is only 18 months – maximum, it may even be shorter than that. This even includes the free range hens eggs that some people truly believe are free range and that they roam in open fields and have enough room to allow the grass to grow and the hens have enough room that hen pecking is not a problem.

I am sure there are hens like that in small holdings, but I fear the commercially raised free range hen does not have this type of freedom.

I am no activist, I eat meat, I will if eating chicken away from home generally be eating battery farmed hens. But I can raise my own eggs, so I do.

Our hens had reached the age of six, which meant that they had almost stopped laying. One to two eggs a week is simply not enough for a family of four. The time had come, the deed was done humanely, quickly and sensitively. We kept the Auracana for two reasons, firstly she is younger than the rest, so may still lay some eggs for us next year. And secondly, she can show the young hens the ropes such as how to use the feeder, (you have to peck it and then it releases a few grains of food – it keeps them busy and active) and also how to roost, as I very much doubt these hens have learnt to do this yet.

We set off to The Domestic Fowl Trust having phoned first to check that they had the birds we were interested in. These are Rhode Rocks, which is a hybrid of a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Plymouth. They lay extremely well in excess of 300+ eggs per bird per year, they also lay well for four years.

I have enjoyed having rare and old breeds in the back garden and although generally much prettier to look at the time had come to purchase the ultimate egg laying machine. And this is as good as it gets. Four of these birds won’t be too much work, will lay through the winter which the old breeds won’t and we should generally be getting two dozen eggs a week. At the moment they are 18 weeks old, point of lay is 20 weeks, so by the end of August we should start to be in production.

Having been raised in a barn its unlikely that these hens have seen daylight.

There first adventure, seconds after leaving the safety of there cardboard box they were carried home in.

Whats this?

Dunno, its quite tasty?

Yes it is rather nice.

Sunbathing, relaxed enough to do this even with a Golden Retriever in the garden.

And the Auracana showing them the ropes. She was also a bit of a bully, its the first time – ever that she has been bigger than the other hens, so took full advantage of it and made sure they knew their place. I have tried to whisper to her that the Rhode Rocks will grow, but she wasn’t listening, simply enjoying her new found status!