Indigestion

You know that feeling… there was so much delicious food, and you just couldn’t help yourself… well, you are not alone.

In the limery, sunshine entices the flies in and then they can’t get out. This mass influx gets seduced by the pitcher plants and doesn’t last long. However, I noticed yesterday that the three largest pitchers of the Sarracenia leucophylla (which I’ve only had a couple of months) were looking rather sickly:

On further investigation I discovered that they may have over-indulged as the slender pitchers are full nearly to the top:

Fortunately, new young pitchers are growing to replace these, but I think the moral of the story is ‘over-eating can be fatal’!

IMGP0356

new growth

Floral felting

This weekend the weather here was dreadful – high winds and driving rain, a typical British summer. But was I downhearted? No I was not, because I spent two days felting. I went to Aberystwyth Arts Centre to attend  course by the fabulous Ruth Packham, learning to combine wet and dry felting. It was a lovely informal course, with everyone choosing a plant or flower to make and Ruth helping us to work out how to achieve our goal. All the wool we used was British and some came from the Cambrian Mountains, making it very local.

Arranged, to coincide with an art exhibition entitled Flora, the course focused on making plants and flowers in felt. In fact, we didn’t exactly stick to the remit, so as well plants, between us we also made a caterpillar, a dragonfly and some coral. I really didn’t want to make a flower, so I chose to focus on something smaller, taking my inspiration from the capsules produced by mosses:

and look at all this that the other participants did…

We also each took home a porcelain flower from the Flora exhibition. For one of the exhibits, visitors are asked to record their first flower memory on a small card, and then to exchange the memory for a ceramic flower. The idea is that this particular exhibit changes over time from a collection of flowers to to a collection of memories… isn’t that lovely? The artist responsible is Clare Twomey:

 

From underwear to underarms

This week, whilst we are addressing delicate issues, let’s talk about deodorant. As regular readers will know, I’m trying to move away from items that come packaged in plastic and to use products that don’t include petrochemicals as ingredients. I do think that there is a place for plastic, but its indiscriminate use does annoy me. Over the past few years I’ve managed to reduce the amount of stuff in the bathroom that comes wrapped in plastic and to make some of my own toiletries so I know what’s in them:

  • my manual toothbrush is made of bamboo (although I also use an electric toothbrush that is plastic)
  • my shampoo is bought in bulk to minimise the packaging, and when the current lot is used up I plan to start using a solid shampoo bar (less water transported around the country and, hopefully, no plastic in the packaging and all-natural ingredients with no palm oil)
  • I make my own moisturiser and although some of the ingredients come in plastic, there’s a lot less packaging overall than when buying jars of fancy lotions and creams
  • I stopped using shower gel/liquid hand wash and now only use soap, from  either It’s Baaath Time or The All Natural Soap Company. The latter use no plastic at all in their packaging, whilst the former is under new ownership (by a friend of mine) and I’m not sure what the packaging will be like from now on, but I know it won’t be excessive. Neither company use artificial additives or palm oil.
IMGP0241

a lot less plastic than before

Thus, most of my basic needs are now being covered in a plastic-reduced, ethical ingredients way apart from toothpaste and deodorant. I can’t bear to give up toothpaste and I’m not even going to try to make my own… it’s just one step too far for me. I do, however, buy an ‘ethical’ brand. Deodorant, though, seemed easily doable after reading this blog post by Jen Gale. Best of all, I had all the ingredients – coconut oil, bicarbonate of soda, cornflour and essential oils – already in the house. Basically, you mash everything up together (6-8 tbsps coconut oil, ¼-½ cup bicarb, ¼ cup cornflour, a few drops of essential oils), put it in a pot and then rub it in as required (the coconut oil melts with the heat from your skin and is absorbed very quickly). I made the whole job easy by using my Kenwood mixer to do the combining of ingredients, but you can just use a fork. The choice of essential oils is personal, but I used six drops each of orange, tea tree and mint.

I made mine a couple of weeks ago, so I have had chance to test it out before writing, and I can report that it seems to work. I guess that, like all deodorants, if you were  exercising vigorously, it wouldn’t stand a chance, but for everyday wear it seems good. Of course, if you are looking for an antiperspirant, this will not do the job, but I’m not convinced that it’s healthy to block your sweat glands – there are good reasons to sweat! The choice of essential oils is up to you, which means that you can use a mix of perfumes to suit your nose and that these can be as strong or subtle as you like. I especially like peppermint, as it makes the skin tingle a little.

This seems to be a relatively easy win for me – the mixture is quick to make, I didn’t have to buy any special ingredients and I just use it as normal as part of my regular morning routine. And so far no one has complained about the way I smell… but if I start spending more time with my on-line friends than my face-to-face ones, you’ll know why!

Three Things Thursday: 18 August 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, I’m smiling at rainbows. There’s a saying that you can’t have rainbows without rain, but it’s completely untrue. If you have one of Pauline’s fantastic light-catchers, you just need a little sunshine.

Second, seeing the limery as I envisaged it… with loads of plants, crops to pick and space for us too:

IMGP0225

this is how we see it from the kitchen

Third, happy dogs. A close friend of mine has just lost one of her dogs and has another seriously ill (possibly because of salmonella or poison) and so I’m taking time to feel grateful for Sam and Max. I also want to say thank you to everyone who has a shelter/rescue dog – there are so many unwanted dogs, let’s give them all homes before we start deliberately making more.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

…and a little extra one that has happened today (I knew it was going to, but not exactly when)… I’m day 231 here and you can watch the video tutorial here

 

I want to show you my knickers

Let’s face it, sooner or later it becomes necessary to buy new underwear. After all, there are only so many years that a pair of knickers will last. And thus, it came the time for me to seek out new undies. My initial thought was that I would shop with Pants to Poverty . Sadly, when I tried to go to their website I found it was no more, and a quick internet search revealed that they have gone to the wall – very sad news, both for ethical shoppers and for the people they were supporting. So what to do? I know of several other companies that sell ‘ethical underwear’, but I had also read quite a lot about making your own… in particular I have read good things about the Scrundlewear pattern from Stitch Upon A Time. Yo may recall that many years ago I wrote a post about the political symbolism of making your own knickers, entitled Civil disobedience is homemade pants! and finally I felt it might be time to take action.

IMGP0231

One very elderly t-shirt

I thought about it some more and then decided to buy the Scrundlewear pattern and have a go. One of the clinchers was that there’s a version that requires no elastic and that can be made (at least in part) from old t-shirts. Since I have a big pile of such t-shirts that I plan to use only the fronts of (to make a memory quilt), it seemed like a good opportunity to use up some of the ‘waste’ fabric. As well as cotton jersey, some more stretchy fabric is required, and so I used a black viscose/lycra jersey top that I have expanded out of. I really didn’t want to invest in any new fabric or notions at this stage, this being very much a test run.

IMGP0230

the pattern is downloaded as a pdf

So, I set-to with my scissors – I cut out the pattern and the fabric pieces and tried to get my head round the sewing. I’m not a very enthusiastic sewer, but I will do it if I need to. I had a few trial tuns with the fabric and my sewing machine and decided to start by using the stretchy stitch that my machine does… It’s a bit easier to control than a zig-zag stitch and it’s easier to see what you are doing. Although the pattern says you can make a pair of knickers in an hour, I took me considerably longer than this… I suspect that next time will be much quicker.

The Verdict: I chose to start with a pair of what are described as ‘boy shorts’ because these are what I had enough of the stretchy fabric for. I can confirm that they were relatively easy to make. The sewing machine stitch I chose was a mistake – it’s a bit too firm for this use and in future I will use a zig-zag stitch even though that’s not quite so easy to control and I’ll probably need more practice. In addition, I need some ballpoint needles for my sewing machine, as I broke four sharp needles in the process of making one pair of pants. I’ve tried them on and the seem quite comfy, apart from the lack of give in the stitching, but I haven’t worn them for any length of time, so I can’t comment more than superficially. Perhaps the fact that I’ve just ordered some stretchy fabric for the bands is a good indication that I happy with this pattern.

So, probably for the only time ever on this blog, let me show you my knickers…

IMGP0240

these are my pants!

They may not be the colours I would have chosen in a shop, but I’m quite pleased with them, especially since the only new component was the sewing thread.

Snug birds

I didn’t mention yesterday the other finished objects from the past few weeks. I have been sorting out my crochet pattern for bird roosts, and during the testing phase I made lots of the things. The final pattern will include versions in wool to felt and in various sorts of twine… every version I had to make at least once, and so there’s rather a collection…

I’m planning to publish the pattern in the autumn, before running a workshop on making them at Denmark Farm, here in Ceredigion on 27 November. I’m also running a beginners crochet course at the same venue on 30 October.

Some finished objects for Friday

As it’s Friday I thought I’d show off a few recently finished objects… I’ve been relatively quiet about crafting over the past few weeks, mainly because there’s been so much to share about food and gardening, but that does not that I’ve not been busy with my hooks and needles. I’ve made two pairs of snails – one of which has its own carry bag made out of an old pyjama leg (!) – a hedgehog (a commission which has gone to Belgium I think), a hat for my mum for her birthday, and some socks.

The hat and the colourful snail wool are both yarn that I bought from Colinette in January before they closed. The brown snail yarn is from West Yorkshire Spinners. The cream yarn used in all the snails is from The Inkpot. And the socks are knitted from Regia yarn for my swap with Kathryn.

So have you any finished objects to share… knitted, sewn, written, painted, drawn… anything creative?

Three Things Thursday: 11 August 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, meeting blogging friends in person. This week has been an especially good week for this since I spent Monday afternoon with Katy the Night Owl, drinking vast quantities of tea and setting the world to rights. And then today we had lunch with Sue, a blog reader who lives in the next county to us, but whom we’ve never met before. It won’t be the last time – again there was lots of tea, plus pies and cakes.

Second, pollinators. Our garden has been full of bees this year – especially little bumblebees. We see hardly any honeybees, although I noticed loads of these on my recent visit to London – clearly city bee-keeping is thriving. The limery, however, seems to be a magnet for hoverflies, which avoid the insectivorous plants and head straight for the flowers:

IMGP0172

hoverfly on a melon flower

Third, a trio of eggs. For the first time in many months, today I have collected three eggs. This means that the lovely young Mags (Light Sussex) has started laying – yay! Now if Anna could just get back to it, we’d be swamped!

IMGP0221

today’s eggs from (l-r) Mags, Tiffany and Aliss

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

Preserving our Heritage

For many years now I have been a member of the Heritage Seed Library, part of the organisation Garden Organic, which…

… aims to conserve vegetable varieties that are not widely available… The collection consists of mainly European varieties, including:

  • rare landrace varieties, which are adapted to specific growing conditions.
  • heirloom varieties that have been saved over many generations. These are unique to the Heritage Seed Library catalogue.
  • varieties that have been dropped from popular seed catalogues over the past decade. This occurs for a number of reasons; their lack of popularity with customers, their unsuitability for commercial scale production or simply the prohibitive cost of trialling and National Listing.

Each year, as a member, you get to chose six packets of seeds. This year I have had success with several of their varieties:

Sheep’s Nose Pepper – once it has ripened up, this is the sweetest pepper I have ever grown. The fruit aren’t huge, but the flesh is thick and, when ripe the taste is excellent. In their green state, I don’t think they are particularly special, although they are fine for cooking; once red, however, they are ideal for using raw and are truly delicious. Some of the fruit are quite dull-skinned and these seem to have the best flavour!

Theyer’s Kale – I’ve grown this successfully several times, but this year it seems to be especially exuberant. When I think of kale in my childhood, it was the curly stuff, which required very thorough washing to get all the grit out. This variety is completely different: with large divided leaves, it does not collect debris and is easy to harvest, process and cook. Plus, it’s very hardy and it has attractive purple stems.

Green Nutmeg Melon – I first grew these a few years ago, but they didn’t do well in my old greenhouse, so I passed the plants on to a friend. He harvested lovely sweet melons, but was unable to share them with me, so I’ve never tasted them. This year, with the wonderful conditions in the limery, I have three fruits growing well and the possibility of several more. I’ve supported them with mesh so they don’t pull the vine down. Fingers crossed that they will taste as good as reports suggest. As a bonus, the flowers have been lovely too.

Blue Coco Climbing French Bean – I usually only grow runner beans, but the lovely purple flowers and dark pods of these beans really appealed to me. Sadly, like all purple beans I have encountered, they turn green when you cook them, but they do look great on the plant and they taste good. I also like the fact that you can let them grow on to produce beans for drying… so it really doesn’t matter if you get a glut as you can just ignore them until the seeds have developed.

Czar Tomato – a bush variety that produces plum tomatoes highly recommended for cooking. I’ve already turned some of these into passata and they were very good – lots of flesh and hardly any seeds. I’ve also used them to make  salsa, which worked well, but I find them a bit dry just for eating raw on their own.

So, that’s this year’s excursion into HSL varieties. There should have been a Caribbean squash to report on, but sadly a compost disaster earlier in the year meant that none of the seeds germinated… well, maybe I’ll manage some of those in 2017.

Heritage seeds are really great for gardeners – often the flavours are better than commercial varieties, or they are specifically suited to local conditions. In addition, by helping to maintain heritage varieties, we are helping to maintain maximum genetic diversity and thus to provide a more secure future for our crops in terms of adaptation to a changing climate and resistance to pests and diseases.

So, if you are in the UK, I encourage you to support HSL, and if you are in another country there are almost certainly similar organisations doing an equally great job… if you know of one, please share the information in the comments below.

Tools of the trade

Having written about my food preservation activities quite a bit, I thought that it might be useful for any of you considering doing this yourself to know a bit about what’s required. I have collected my equipment over a number of years and when I started, I managed with the most basic items: a preserving pan, a funnel and a ladle. Since those days, I have gathered more equipment, but this is mostly because I now feel confident enough to try different techniques and preserve more challenging foods.

In the UK we have a very dull approach to preserving. Pick up a British book on the subject and you will find recipes for jams, pickles and chutneys, with perhaps lemon curd and fruit leathers. More recently, dehydrating food has become fashionable, but I’m not keen. To get really inspired, you need to cross the Atlantic (metaphorically, at least) and see what the Americans are doing. In fact it was Willowscottling who pointed me in the direction of the most useful book that I own on the subject: Putting Food By. Apparently this is an American classic, but hardly anyone in the UK seems to have even heard of it. It was because of this book and a discussion with Kate Chiconi that I finally bit the bullet and invested in a pressure canner (again not something people in the UK are familiar with, where most people think it’s the same as a pressure cooker).

So, what do I have in my collection? First there are a few books. As well as Putting Food By, I also like The Ball Blue Book of Preserving. And the I also have two books by Marisa McClellan, which are full of excellent ideas for more small-scale preserving:

Then I have two preserving pans – a stainless steel one and a brass one – as well as a pressure canner.

IMGP0187

pots and pans

If you are making jams and pickles, then the pans are probably sufficient, but if you are embarking on bottled (canned) vegetables and low-acidity fruits, then the pressure canner is an important piece of equipment. I’ve been told by several Brits that I could just have bought a pressure cooker for this purpose, but I disagree. The difference between a pressure cooker and a pressure canner is this:

IMGP0188

getting the pressure right

This is a pressure gauge and without it you cannot be sure that the food you are processing has reached the correct pressure for the right length of time. If you don’t know this, you cannot be sure that you have destroyed all possible sources of contamination – botulism being a particular hazard. I want my food to be safe, so I would not be happy bottling without this piece of equipment.

As well as pressure, you need to check that you’ve achieved the right temperature, so a thermometer is essential, Plus you need tongs to remove hot jars from hot water, and I also have little silicone mitt (the purple thing in the picture below) that is useful for handling items that are both hot and wet.

IMGP0185

some of the essentials

The photo above also shows some of the preserving jars that I use – various sizes, but all have lids and separate screw bands. I do actually use jars with spring clips too sometimes. And to get hot food into hot jars without spilling, a funnel is essential.

There are some other items that I have which, whilst not essential, are very useful: a stainless steel bucket (easy to sterilise and ideal for washing fruit or holding prepared fruit or vegetables prior to cooking), my passata mill (which saves me hours of work with a sieve and ensures that there is minimal waste) and a pH meter (very useful for peace of mind – allowing me to check whether the threshold pH of 4.6 has been crossed).

IMGP0186

not essential but oh-so-useful

And finally, although I haven’t been using them recently, I have a jelly bay and supporting frame, for making clean jellies and juices.

IMGP0196

jelly bag and frame

So, those are all my bits and pieces. Do you have useful equipment you can recommend? Or a particularly good book?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 982 other followers