Friday, 30 January 2015

A Good Recipe for a cold day!

It is lovely here today, providing you are in a warm room with all the doors and windows tight-shut, and have plenty of warm clothes on.   It is wall-to-wall sunshine and a very brisk North wind blowing.  The lane is icy and the snow lies on the fields.
It was our morning when we meet for coffee in town and when the farmer goes to the Auction Mart just to see what sort of prices the livestock is fetching.

In other words, we arrive home at more or less lunchtime and need something warming.   Often I do a stir fry or have made a batch of soup.    Today there was shepherds' pie left from yesterday and with it we had my absolute favourite vegetable dish at this time of year.  All the old winter vegetables - carrots, parsnips, savoy cabbage, sprouts - begin to look rather tired and I think we all begin to long for the first of the new season's greens.  (are you looking forward to asparagus like I am).

I made a red cabbage casserole.   Thought you might be interested in my recipe:

1 red cabbage quartered, cored and sliced fairly thinly.
2 Bramley apples quartered, cored (but peel left on) and chopped up.
A few onions peeled, halved and sliced into half moons.
A handful of frozen cranberries.
A handful of sultanas.
A desertspoonful of capers.
Two tablespoonsful of brown sugar.
A good splash of white wine vinegar.
A good sized knob of butter (this gives the dish a nice shine).

Throw the lot in together and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted and the veg have begun to give up their juices.   Then put into a low oven and cook for an hour - or longer if you are out and about.   The resultant shiny, gooey mess is delicious.   Trust me.



Thursday, 29 January 2015

Winter again.

Winter has really struck us again.   There are heavy snow showers and during these it is really 'blizzard conditions'.   There are no papers this morning as the local delivery man who brings them to our newsagent for us to collect, lives ' in the back of beyond' as we say up here.

The main roads are clear but there is a strong wind when it snows and the snow blows through the gateways and begins to block the roads.   Our lane is also very icy.
 
Yet, in spite of all this, our poetry group met yesterday as usual.   Fine for me, who lives just down the road.   But friend, S, who usually calls for me, lives in Coverdale  which is a really remote dale.   Almost all the group turned out, in spite of some of them living in places where conditions were worse than here in our village.

Friend W, who hosts the afternoon, has a lovely large conservatory with underfloor heating - so we can watch the weather in all its fury and yet be snug and warm at the same time.   And, as usual, we had some super poems - Robert Bridges, George McBeth, John Betjamen, John Clare, several modern poets, and always others which I can't remember but which were equally interesting.



 And while all this was going on, our fertiliser for the year arrived at the farm in the middle of a blizzard.   As the lorry was also pulling a trailer, the farmer had to unload the very heavy bags at the farm gate - but of course his tractor is heated - so it wasn't all that much of an effort.   It is always good when we have the fertiliser for Spring ready in the big barn for the right weather to put it on the fields.

Today is certainly a day for sitting by the wood burner.  But hairdresser's appointment at midday means I shall have to negotiate the lane at least once during the day (and possibly our neighbour's sheep, who have suddenly got a taste for roaming down the lane rather than staying in the field).   As I write the sun is shining - a good sign I hope.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

An M O T?

Well, I am certainly old enough to need one!   I needed to go to see my Doctor this morning - I keep a list and when there are three things on it I make a visit to see her.  That took up a good hour of this morning.

By lunch time it was clear that my hearing-aid was just not working properly.   I was hearing everything from a great distance and muffled at that.   So this afternoon it was drive over to Richmond (7 miles away) to visit the Hearing-aid Clinic.   Luckily the lady there was able to repair my aid - the trouble is that since I got home it seems to be whistling at every opportunity.  So it will no doubt be aother visit next week, weather permitting as snow is forecast from tomorrow onwards.

Keep your fingers crossed that the snow doesn't begin tomorrow as it is our monthly Poetry afternoon, and missing that is not good.   I need that monthly dose of culture to keep me going.  (John Clare's 'January', or rather bits of it as it is very long, is on the menu from me tomorrow.)

Just as the farmer and I were getting into a sweat ten minutes ago at the non-delivery of our oil supply (promised for today), the tanker backed into the farmyard and we now have a tank full of oil.   We are nearly empty and as such bad weather is forecast and both our heating and our Aga run on oil, the situation was getting dire.   Now the tank is full again.  The tanker-man - Eddie - an old faithful friend, delivered it.   It is pitch dark and well after half past seven in the evening - so he deserves a medal I think rather than the cup of tea I gave him.

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Seasons.

According to the weather forecast today, snow is set to hit this country in the form of very heavy showers, accompanied by winds straight down from the Arctic, by Thursday morning.   It will affect only the North of the UK and the South is set to be positively balmy I believe.

I am one of those folk who, once the first snow goes (last week here)  I expect that is the end of Winter and we won't get any more.   The farmer, on the other hand, reminds me that one of the very worst Winters we ever had in his life time didn't begin (in terms of snow) until the first week in February.

But all warnings of snow pale beside the warning today on the news for the East coast of America - three to four feet of snow forecast in New York.   If you are reading this Elizabeth - get in stocks of food and candles, a good supply of reading - and wrap up warm.



 On another page of The Times I read that it is going to be an early Spring this year!    Can't win can we?

Then

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Vigilance.

Farming entails constant vigilance.   First of all to any animals on the farm; in our case milk cows and Swaledale sheep.   The milking cows we have , which we Winter-house for our friend and neighbour, are all in calf, so the farmer needs to watch and make sure that all are going along nicely.  Any 'hiccup' and the farmer calls and takes them back home so that he can keep an eye on them.
Then there are the sheep.   There is a saying up here - with a lot of truth in it as as any sheep-keeper will tell you - 'sheep are either alive or dead, there is no in-between', so it is necessary to go round them twice a day to make sure they all appear to be well.That doesn't ensure that they remain that way until the next day, but it is a good start.
The hens need watching - are they all in at night, do any of them look a bit seedy (not that there is much you can do, because rather like sheep, once they begin to sicken they seem to give up and go into a decline.)   But as many of mine are almost ten years old, they haven't done badly have they?
But then there are other things.   Fences need vigilance, particularly if sheep are in the field because there is nothing sheep like more than a scamper along the top of the wall, or pushing through a fence to where the grass looks much greener on the other side (it isn't).
But it doesn;t end there.   The farmer has just passed the kitchen window with his trowel.   He has gone to look at his mole traps.   Every farmer has trouble with moles.   They are pretty little creatures but they do push up air holes from their underground tunnels, and this leaves a telltale mound of soil every few yards.   These mounds are very bad at silaging time or haymaking time as they can ruin a good field of grass when it comes to gathering it in.

And lastly there are the rodents.   The cats keep the mice down to some extent - because they do tend to spend the winter near to the bags of chicken feed and the cats know this. But rats - now that is a completely different matter.   The farmer said at breakfast this morning that cats usually catch rats only if they approach them from behind.   Well, I must say, our cats are good rabbiters and good mousers, but I have never seen either of them with a rat.   And where do the rats congregate?   Well, in the Winter, when they tend to come into the farmyard for shelter from the elements, they often live at the back of the big shed, among all kinds of equipment and bits and pieces which congregate on every farm.  So the farmer keeps a cage trap set there (no other kind of trap and no poison in case the cats go there).   But the other place they go is under the hen hut as there is a loose floorboard (yes I know - why doesn;t the farmer get in there with a hammer and nails?) and there he keeps a permanently set snap trap.   And he has caught two large grey rats on two consecutive days this week.

Whether he has caught a mole I don't know - he will tell me if he has when he comes in for his lunch.   In the meantime I must go and get on with preparing it.  Beef and ale pie - and I have bought some endive (never tried it before) which I am slow-cooking in the bottom oven of the Aga with olive oil and butter.   Watch this space for a report.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Marriage

Is it just me, or do you think that marriage is viewed differently these days?
When I was young there were few divorced or separated couples in our village.  In remember one divorced couple and one separated couple.   Of course this does not for one instant suggest that all the other folk were happily married.   What it is more likely to suggest is that conditions being what they were, it was impossible to separate and survive, especially if there were children.   So this would suggest to me that many children grew up in homes where the parents were not necessarily happy.

Now everything is so different (a friend's grandson was once the only child in his class who had two parents who had always been together).  I don't know whether this is better or worse.   I really have no experience to fall back on to give me an opinion.  (I am sure someone better qualified than me will give me an opinion via the comments ).

But I did think of it today when I read in The Times about an organisation called ' Explore', which, says its CEO 'is an attempt to give young people the opportunity to have a dialogue with married couples about that relationship, because they very often don;t have a chance due to home circumstances.'

Couples go into schools and for half an hour students can ask the couple any questions they like.  This is followed by a discussion on the trials and tribulations of being a couple.  (I don't think marriage necessarily comes into it these days - but being a couple certainly does).

My view, for what it is worth, is that times change, but relationships certainly don't.   Thank goodness that if a couple are unhappy together divorce or separation is much easier (if no less painful) and probably better in the long run for the children.  I have quite a few friends who talk of their own childhood in terms of the rows their parents had, and how they should never have stayed together.   Things were definitely not 'better' in terms of relationships in those days.   But I do often worry when I see so many of today's children who have dads, step-dads and step-step dads, and brothers and sisters to match.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Suddenly, today, the snow has started to go.   It is going slowly and has been doing since mid morning.   Most of our yard, drives and lawn are now clear, although the field opposite, which is sown with corn, is white over.   'A slow thaw' says the farmer - the very worst sort - it always means that more will be back.  'There's the whole of February to get through yet' he continues - always the cheerful one where the weather is concerned.

Not that it feels any warmer.   I seem to pile on the layers when I emerge from the farm - as I did this morning to meet my friends for coffee in town, as we do every Friday.   What would we all do without that get-together?   I think it is just such meetings which keep everyone going now.

I don't wish to sound defeatist but up here in the Dales this time of the year the Deaths columns in the newspapers get longer and longer as more and more elderly people seem to succumb to the cold, dark, damp weather.   How to avoid this (assuming reasonable health) in my book is by having a large circle of friends and keeping cheerful by having a good laugh and keeping the grim reaper at bay.  (if I suddenly fall off my perch then he will after all have had the last laugh, but at least I shall go down fighting.)

One cheerful note is that there are a tiny few aconites out just under our bay window - maybe a dozen.   I thought we might have lost them all after the farmer dug the whole of the front garden over to get rid of a lot of rubbish prior to lawning it later in the year.  There is nothing like a few of these perky little fellows to liven up Winter.   And, speaking of perky little fellows, a dozen long tailed tits descended on the fat balls at our bird table just after lunch.   When they settle on the fat balls their striped backs and tails make the most beautiful pattern.   They never stay long, they just include our bird table in their forage up the holly hedge, making a small detour.

So that's three things today - the aconites and snowdrops under the front window, the long tailed tits and the friends for coffee.   Now there is a cosy wood burner to sit in front of and two magazines through the post this morning to read - that'll do me for the day.   Keep warm bloggers all.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Hunters

This morning, as we drove back down the lane from a short visit into town, we saw a man on the side of the road and he had a fairly large box in his hand.   We usually know everyone coming down the lane, so I asked the farmer who he was.   "The ferret man after the rabbits" was the reply.  It made me shudder.

Every so often one of our neighbouring farmers gets the man with the ferrets to come round and clear a few of the rabbits off his land.  I find this killing of rabbits hard to take, but I do realise that in Summer, when the cows are out to pasture, ten rabbits are said to eat as much grass as one cow.   And of course we all know that rabbits breed like....well, rabbits.

I'm sure that ferrets kill cleanly so it is probably a quick death, maybe quicker than the gun - after all some rabbits will probably only be maimed by a gun shot and will die in agony.   That other killer, myxymatosis (which we didn't see round here last year thank goodness) is a most cruel death.

But we, here on the farm, have our own hunters.   Our two farm cats, Blackie and Creamy, are great hunters of rabbits and in the Spring they rarely eat any of the food put down for them - and the floor of the hay barn can be littered with the tiny rabbit skins of baby rabbits - they seem to eat every morsel but the skin itself.   But at least they eat their kill.

That other hunter around the farm is the sparrow hawk.   The female comes round most days (she is considerably larger than the male, so it is easy to recognise her).   She will come swiftly, swooping over the holly hedge by the bird table.    Mostly she will get nothing, but now and again there will be the tell- tale feathers of a blue-tit or even a collared dove.   But, again, the death will be swift.

John's blog today shows him with a sick egret in his arms yesterday and this morning the bird is dead.  I can't help thinking that a death by any means other than a slow death in a strange place would have been better.   So sad that John couldn't save it though.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

This is the view outside my front door.   I didn't even go on to the step but just stood on the mat and 'clicked' - sorry it is going uphill slightly, but you get the general idea.   Since I took the shot five minutes ago it has started snowing - fine grains floating down.

The birds are ravenous and I am raiding the cupboards to find extra food for the bird table.   Yesterday I bought a coconut and the farmer has chopped it in half and hung it in the rowan tree for the tits.  I have added a bowl of suet, sultanas, currants and oats on to the table and all the feeders are full.   But by lunch time they will all be empty again.   Pheasants are arriving for the poultry wheat the farmer puts down.  I wish I could get a photograph (ten there at the moment, but as soon as they hear the back door they retreat under the bushes.  It is bleak.

One of my Buff Orpington hens just didn't arrive back at the hen hut last evening.   The Orpingtons are usually the first to go in and the rest did, but there is one missing.   She has therefore been out all night, which is a bit worrying, although the farmer thinks that 'something' got here during the day to prevent her coming home.

The sheep have been moved to the low pastures because all our top pasture is being slurried by a giant machine.   I haven't seen it and I am definitely not going up to the top fields just to view it, but apparently they just 'thread' a giant pipe across the fields and then send the slurry through it.   Whatever they do, the top pastures are now brown whereas the lower pastures are a mixture of white (snow) and green (grass).   Now that there is grass to be had by a bit of scraping with the foot, the sheep are totally ignoring the silage and the sheep nuts.   The grass is bright green, frozen and lacking in a lot of goodness, but the Swaledales are a hardy breed and prefer grass in whatever form it takes.

I have just looked at the photograph and I see that there are two cock pheasants in the front garden.   One is clearly visible and the other is behind a bush to the left of him (in the middle of the picture).

The ground is hard frozen which the farmer is pleased about as he says we haven't had really hard ground for several years and it really does kill off a lot of slugs and other 'bugs'.  So, it is an ill wind as they say.

So far, so good today on the Broadband front.  Am keeping my fingers crossed.   A BT Open Reach Van has just gone past - maybe that is relevant.   All I know is that I wouldn't be a worker out in the Open Reach today (or open anything else) - the woodburning stove for me.   Incidentally, I love the way that Cro calls his two stoves Gilbert and George (two of my favourite artists) - I am now trying to think of a name for mine.  I wonder if there is a name which means reliable, loving, dependable or something like that.

**A friend has just e mailed me to suggest David (the farmer's name) as she says he is all the things above (and she knows him well.)
***My Buff Orpington hen was in the big shed.   She had roosted
in there overnight and strolled out large as life when the farmer opened the doors this morning.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Fun and Games.

Another day when I have been unable to get on to my blog or on to my e mails.   All sorts of strange messages have kept popping up on the screen telling me to press this or that or to reconnect this or that.  I understood very little of it - all I knew for sure was that I could not read or send an e mail, neither could I write a blog or read any of yours.   Frustration set in mid-afternoon when I resorted to sitting by the woodburner with the Times crossword.

I rang my tame computer engineer and asked him to ring me back.  Now, at 7pm, I switch on for one last time and find that everything is working totally normally.

The farmer is convinced (because he peered down a hole where two BT men were about to start working) that the problem is water which has now frozen and become ice.   It is certainly very cold here.   But, mine not to reason why.   For the time being I am up and running again.   Oh, and by the way, thanks for all those words of encouragement.