Not much of a blog huh?

I can’t believe that it’s been almost a year since I noted something down on this blog – I suppose it’s because life has become mundane now I’m back working.  I have however, kept myself occupied in my spare time.  The one thing I missed when we moved from our larger home and garden was – our sauna.

I don’t quite recall how and when we fell in love with the art of sauna, could have been when we visited Swedish Lapland oh so many years ago (yeah, typical of me, I can’t remember the year).  We went on a tour that included snuggling in a Sami teepee, eating fried reindeer meat, all so tired from our travels that the stories from the Sami lady lulled us into a stupor.  We rode around on a reindeer pulled sleigh first, before his friend became our dinner.  We went dog sledging with the one and only instruction “don’t let go of the reins”.  Who let go of the reins – me of course.  We travelled across a frozen lake by skidoo (and at one point, partially broke through the unseasonably, thawing ice). And we stayed in a long log cabin in the snow, with an adjacent sauna.  That must have been it, we were smitten.

Back in the UK, deciding that a log cabin was the best idea for the end of the garden, we purchased one in kit form and whilst husband went off to work in the day, I became Master Builder and slotted the giant stack of planks together to create a two room cabin complete with spider housing loft space up top.  The sauna was part of the “kit” and was easily installed – it worked – I was amazed!  The chimney leaked – pah, who cared.  The crowning glory was the year it snowed and we went the whole authentic way, running out into the snow to make steaming snow angels.  Ahhh, sweet memories.

Leaving that all behind was easy except for the sauna.  I still had a hankered after that one. So last year, finally, after all the “I’m going to build a shed” conversations, I got down to planning my masterpiece – and a shed with en suite sauna was raised from the ground.

I’m not going to say the whole thing was easy, it took some time!  The pieces of colour glass was an afterthought as I realised the sauna area was going to be a little gloomy without any light, but also, didn’t really want the neighbour’s peering in.  The logs took an age to seal in and don’t admire my carpentry skills – the sauna benches were purchased ready made, I just had to install them.  But pretty pleased with the whole thing.  Especially with the plunge bath outside, filled with cold water!

So now I’m awaiting this summer, to see what else needs sorting in the garden.

Raw Milk – yum yum yum

A few years ago, I decided I wanted to make mozzarella cheese – who doesn’t.  So I got books (my ideas always start with a book, …..or a few books) and then I realised I needed “raw milk”.  That’s milk straight from a cow’s bum – well, technically you got me there, it does in fact come from the udder, but when we were kids it was “yuk, has that milk come out of the cow’s bum?” followed by “I’m not drinking that”.  Followed years later by niece and nephew asking the same question as Sis and I gratefully drank their portion. Which goes to prove what goes around comes around.

I digress.  I needed Raw Milk, unpasteurised, non-homogenised, unadulterated, whole creamy milk – and I couldn’t find any in the UK.  I did visit a local herd, but was advised it was illegal for him to sell me milk, I could find the stuff if I lived in the US, but my locale seemed deplete of the stuff – and then I found a supplier who used to visit Egerton Farmers Market.  Joy.  Shortlived Joy.  I made cricket balls and burnt my hands.

Recently I’ve that hankering for the pure white stuff again and am more than delighted to have discovered Hook and Son (http://www.hookandsonfarmshop.co.uk/). Not quite on my doorstep, but they deliver (by courier) direct to my door.  I order a week’s worth and store a few bottles in the freezer just in case.  I’m recycling too.  The bottom of the plastic bottles are an ideal size to start my sweetcorn seedlings in and the polystyrene is going to be (eventually) used as insulation in the new potting shed!

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I am trying to make rice pudding, but this has so far not been successful because …. well, we drink it all before I get around to it.

Delving deeper into the Hook and Son website, I discovered Steve Hook also made a movie, released in 2013, telling the story of how “….he and his father Phil (who) together decided to turn their back on the cost cutting supermarkets and dairies to sell direct.”  I can’t believe that our local indie cinema didn’t show this, but then again, I might have missed it.  What a beautiful film and what a star Ida was!  I’m going to see Rams tomorrow (A hard-drinking Icelandic farmer (Theodór Júlíusson) and his estranged brother (Sigurður Sigurjónsson) band together to save their flocks of sheep from authorities who want the animals destroyed) and I rather think these would have made good back-to-back viewing!

I could kick myself for not being aware of Hook and Son before now.  Milk is a precious commodity, it is a super food in it’s natural state yet most of the time it is sold as a loss-leader by supermarkets. This cannot be right. This is not right.  I would rather pay the correct price for my milk and support the person who works bloody hard to produce it. There are far too many “bargains” to be had out there, a lot of stuff to waste our money on, but when it comes to thinking about what we ingest and paying for quality I do wonder why we squeal about price so much.

 

I went shopping and I bought….

I just wanted to restock with more plain white tee shirts, but sadly M&S didn’t have any on display, so I had to leave empty handed.  I’m a bugger when it comes to clothes shopping, I either buy something that I think looks fantastic, only to discover at home I look like a dog’s dinner, mutton dressed up as lamb or a frumpmeister, or what looks good on a hanger doesn’t come in my size.  I get quickly disheartened and move on.  However, I’ve now discovered a pattern that actually suits me AND has the added benefit of being quite flattering.  IMG_1106The first Megan Dress I made from Love at First Stitch by Tilly and the Buttons was slightly too large.  I’d grabbed a lovely roaring red piece of ex-display, knitted fabric from C&H without an idea what to do with it, but I knew I’d have some kind of suitable pattern at home.  I knocked out my first Megan Dress and was really pleased with it.  Because it is made with knitted, stretchy stuff, I didn’t have to pop a zip in (bonus) and it is really easy to wear, comfy but very flattering.  So again dropping in to C&H I rootled around the offcuts and found more knitted – a bit garish this time, but heck, I’m not fussy.  So now I have another one, this time made to the correct size (but still without a zip)!  Just 1m of nice wide stuff is enough to knock a frock out in my size.  IMG_1105However, whilst there, I also, probably to the total annoyance of my niece, picked up these lovely fabrics ready for summer dress making for my great-niece’s trip to New Zealand.  One is made already, but I need to do the hem!  I’m sure Sophie will love them – her mother….. I can but hope!

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The cream experiment 

I recently saw a tweet from Joanna Blythman reporting the upsurge of homemade butter and I realised it was one of the food items I’d not “had a go at”!  Unbelievable considering that as a child, my sisters and I were wont to decant the cream off the top (we’re talking about a million years ago, when non-homogenized milk was delivered in glass bottles, by the milkman, on an electric float) put it in some tiny plastic Tupperware pots, that mum had obviously allocated for curry powder or celery salt and shake the buggers like mad.  This would eventually, by magic, result in butter.  We’d throw away the liquid and the remaining yellow blob, warmed by excited hands, would be spread onto a bit of white sliced (also delivered by the breadman in a lorry) and consumed.  Snack enjoyed, we’d move off to find some other messy/destructive activity that would no doubt result in being chased up the stairs by mum wielding a slipper.  Was this really just 45 years ago……. oh, happy days!

So determined to go the whole hog with home produced sour dough loaf, plus homemade butter, I got hold of 2 litres of double cream (and, I should probably add, with apologies to my husband, a further cook book “Forgotten Skills of Cooking” by Darina Allen – second hand mind you) and proceeded, an hour before we were due to go out, to make butter.  It couldn’t have been easier, or more exciting.  I poured the whole lot of cream into the big bowl on my stand mixer and set it to a steady, sedate speed and watched as first it thickened, then suddenly, in an instant, separated into the required scrambled egg appearance.  It dutifully sloshed around the bowl in what I’ve now discovered is creamy buttermilk until I scraped the massive lump of newly made butter off the balloon whisk.  The bit i’d never practiced with my rudimentary, cream-off-the-top experiment, was expelling the excess buttermilk after draining.  Not having access, to a set of fridge chilled butter pats, I stuck my hands under the cold tap (they were warming up caused in part by husband reminding me that I was supposed to be getting ready to go out), broke off wodges (technical term for cold, slimy, lumps of yellow stuff) and began to squeeze.

 Little spurts of liquid decorated the tiling around the kitchen sink, but it was working.  I could imagine that the butter pats, as a novice, would have hindered me, but I definitely will invest in a set before the next batch is made.  In my rush, my hands were heating up, so I had to do a quick squish and squash and then chuck the lot in the fridge.

before it went into the freezer
before it went into the freezer

Ultimately I have produced one heck of a lot of lovely butter – mine was unsalted, due to lack of “dairy salt”, again another purchase will be made before the next batch.  But the stuff is freezable so I reckon I’ll not need to purchase any butter for the next couple of months.  Is it more tastier….. hmmmm.  The provenance of my cream was not particularly special, just a 2 litre plastic jug of the stuff, but the fact that I got it for a fiver and have produced about one and a half kilos of butter, I’m pretty pleased with the result. I will have another go, with salt this time and maybe a different quality of cream – but what fun.  Oh and the buttermilk was used in scones and a chocolate cake, so I should add that to the thriftiness equation!

Noooo….. I need sugar

I was given, yesterday, a tray of apricots in various stages of decomposition, meaning they could not be sold.

What could be called a
What could be called a “before” picture
Rather than compost them, I picked through and managed to glean 3.5k of usable fruits with which to make apricot conserve – then had a teeth gnashing moment as I realised I didn’t have the corresponding 3.5k of sugar!   Is this going to cost me?  I will have to take a lunch break today to source this and have already investigated prices:

Sainsbury’s Granulated Sugar 1kg bag @ £0.50p

Sainsbury’s Granulated Sugar 5kg bag @ £2.40

Sainsbury’s Fairtrade Sugar 1kg bag @ £1.60

Billington’s Golden Granulated Sugar 1kg bag @ £1.90

What could be called a "during" picture.....
What could be called a “during” picture…..
Plus the fuel  to go …… hang on, I’ve just checked on Google and it’s 7.3 miles to Macknade!!!!  That’s a fourteen and a half mile round trip just for sugar……..   not cost effective plus bad for the environment, so I’ll have to hope the apricots last until the weekend for sugar purchasing.

My challenge to steer clear of supermarkets…. for a month

OK, I might be setting myself up here, given I work from 9-6pm, don’t get to go out at lunchtime and even if I did, work in the countryside, nowhere near a shop, but I’ve just taken the rash decision to steer clear of supermarkets – for a month.  If successful, I’ll continue to steer clear of supermarkets!

This should not be as difficult as it sounds because:

  • I don’t have kids 🙂
  • I already make my own bread
  • I work for a wholesale local fruit and vegetable supplier
  • I have a freezer stuffed with recently made butter (oops)
  • I live near the fantastic food hall “Macknade Fine Foods” …. whom I’m more than happy to plug
  • There are frequent farmer’s markets in Faversham town

So easy……  hmmm, famous last words.  Why am I doing this?  I’ve long been a follower of both Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (even attended one of his “nose to tail” pork weekends when I was flushed with cash) and Joanna Blythman (read “Shopped” on holiday one year and now keenly follow her work) and both have shaken me out of my apathy – or line of least resistance – and made me want to stop shopping in supermarkets.  I knew I should have done this years ago when a Manager in Sainsbury advised they didn’t stock gorgeously sweet, plump muscat grapes because “there’s no call for them”.  I was dumbfounded, if you’ve ever tasted a muscat, you’d shun the tasteless green pimples pushed by supermarkets.  The only reason for them not being stocked is probably down to price (I suspect they are costlier than the loss-leaders currently being stocked) and ripeness – ripe ones are rather delicate meaning supermarkets would encounter a high degree of damaged fruit.

I know i’m going to struggle with washing items – clothes and dishwashing – but I do know that Ecover refill empties at other farmer’s markets.  Also, think of the packaging i’ll cut down on.  It has to be a good idea.

So here goes……….