Coronavirus: Weeks Eight, Nine, Ten AND Eleven

So I clearly got bored of logging our weekly activity…or inactivity, due to the restrictions. I am still super busy but our house routines are now very set and it does seem to suit the boys (or one of them, anyway).

What we are eating:

I had to stop baking sweet things as it seems we have no willpower. One of the last bakes was blueberry crumble muffins by (again) Ottolenghi. I made wild garlic and cheese muffins the same day and we hoovered those too.

We had another birthday and that has been the only other bake (except bread) over the past few weeks – Delia’s Ultimate Carrot Cake. Scrumtious.

I bake bread twice a week using a sourdough starter that I keep in the fridge. I’m lazy so I keep it simple. Recipe to follow.

I now get a delivery a week from Ocado. We often get substitutions and a few missing items but nothing we haven’t been able to manage and I make a point of using up everything, including making stock from the bones, which is something I always done anyway.

Jamie Oliver ran a few campaigns to save British farms and I was happy to support those. We bought a fish box from Chalk Stream trout farms and I was VERY happy with the fish that arrived. I’ve also started getting a monthly meat box via Field and Flower as I wanted to buy the duck box they were selling to support another farm. The meat box has been a real hit for us, it’s not cheap but high quality meat, fish and cheese shouldn’t be and I’m happily to supplement our regular food shopping with a monthly delivery of such delicious food, knowing I’m supporting small British producers. Field and Flower sell Chalk Stream too so in future I can support them this way too.

Food has been our main expense over the past few weeks. Having the boys home all of the time means they eat constantly, but then I’m saving on their school meals and we don’t eat out (not that we did much anyway). I am normally quite good at budgeting our food with careful planning but it’s gone a bit ad hoc since lockdown and I am too afraid to see how much it all adds up to.

My sister dropped off birthday gifts for the boys as she passes our house on the way to work and she left me a posy of herbs on the doorstep too. My kind of gift – she knows me well.

During the day we have been:

Well, the boys have been at virtual school using Microsoft Teams and some video. I have still been running Foster Restaurant (seriously, they NEVER stop eating) and trying to catch up in needed DIY and sewing. So far I have mended the dripping kitchen tap, the lawnmower and the powerhose. They all needed spare parts ordering and fitting. I’ve tanked out our brick outhouse, fitted a window in it and levelled the floor with a concrete screed. I am half way through replacing all the blown double glazing units in the house and lots of painting jobs. Sounds productive but all of these things desperately needed doing anyway and I feel more justified finding the time when my online shop is temporarily closed (as I can’t make daily trips to the Post Office to send parcels).

I’ve also been doing jigsaws in the evening and drinking wine.

We left the house for:

Picking up prescriptions and that has been it. Actually that’s a lie, I walked up to the Spa at the top of the road for potatoes and ricotta cheese!

TV and film watching:

Oh there has been loads but I can’t remember most of it right now. ‘Homecoming’ on Netfix was good as was ‘Little Fires’ and ‘Upload’ on Amazon Prime. ‘Devs’ on BBC was Ok and I enjoyed ‘Killing Eve’ (series 3). My favourite recent watch has been ‘White Lines’ on Netflix which was awesome. I’m now watching ‘Dead to Me’ and ‘Snowpiercer’ (both on Netflix) having mostly given up on the BBC and ITV.

Reading:

I finally finished ‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ and moved on to some old books that have been waiting to be read including ‘Clock Dance’ by Ann Tyler which was Ok-ish. I’ve just started ‘The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper’ by Hallie Rubenhold which is meant to be very good.

That’s it really. Just as everyone else is starting to go out more we are about to enter into 4 weeks of isolation as my youngest needs spinal surgery. I plan to make use of the ‘bubble’ opportunity in coming days by (likely) linking us with my Sister’s household and hopefully we will get out on some walks now that local places are opening back up before we get given a surgery date and have to stay at home again.

New hens in the next post (if I get around to photographing them!!).

Coronavirus: Weeks Six and Seven

I’m already dropping the ball on weekly posts as we seem very busy, considering we are in lockdown.

What we have been eating:

We’re still lucking out on food deliveries and with careful planning, I haven’t needed to go to the shops. I get an Ocado delivery about every 10 days and most things do arrive, with some missing items and a good few substitutions.IMG_20200507_071036I timed the deliveries really badly with Charlie’s Birthday at the end of the 10-day run meaning we didn’t have much fresh, but we managed and he got his requested Chocolate Mousse Cake (doesn’t look very impressive but tasted lovely) and blueberry pancake breakfast,IMG_20200507_132053followed by sushi and Vietnamese roll lunch complete with Ramune then ‘posh’ burgers for tea. It was lucky we had everything in for the sushi and I found a Vietnamese Roll kit (by Nem Viet) in the cupboard.IMG_20200507_072659 (1)Amazon helpfully filled the gap of any weird foods we needed including lots of things C requested as gifts (only one of my kids can ask for food for his Birthday!!).IMG_20200504_142448For some reason we can’t buy frozen sweetcorn but we can get fresh so there has been lots of salsa Delia style and we had our first BBQ over the weekend.IMG_20200504_142554For bread, I bought a Lekue silicone thing for baking in as I am sick of trying to get sticky dough into a hot Le Creuset pan (which is how I normally do it), the jury is out on this one at the moment, it does work in that you mix and bake your dough in the same container but it isn’t quite big enough for my normal bread recipes. I need to try it a few more times to see how it really works out.IMG_20200422_160459I forgot to mention we made pine tip syrup to go with C’s birthday pancakes. You basically put the tips with a thin slice of lemon layered into a jar with equal sugar and let it sit in a sunny position for a couple of weeks, giving it a shake every day and it turns into syrup.

During the day we have been:

I’ve been working in the garden and organising the chicken coops ready for the delivery of new chickens. The boys have been at ‘school’ and in the late afternoons we’re still playing board games, Bears vs Babies is our new favourite. I have to get back to sewing as there is a pile of work waiting but it’s been difficult when I need to supervise the boys quite a bit during the day and they seem to eat loads so I feel like I’m running a restaurant business on the side (makes a change from running Foster Taxi services!!).

We left the house for:

We haven’t. Not once.

TV and film watching:

Normal People in the BBC which I then raved about on Facebook as it is the best thing I’ve seen for ages. Such a beautiful piece of drama, brilliantly directed and acted. I binged it then watched it again at a slower pace.

Also watched Westworld 3 – I had no idea what the crap was going on most of the time. I loved the first series and liked the second but I’ve struggled with this third season. I’ve enjoyed Outlander, After Life, Modern Family and I’m now watching the Norweigan drama ‘State of Happiness’ (BBC Four).

Reading:

Still ploughing through ‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’. Not sure why it’s taking me so long, I think I’m just generally struggling to focus on reading, the exception being Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ was just brilliant, I speed read it in 2 days (in the evenings) before watching the TV series.

I have almost entirely stopped reading the news. I do dip into BBC homepage every day so I know anything important but I find it easier not to keep seeing fatality figures and all of the (often) sad news. I also feel a bit gutted about the 75th anniversary of VE day passing by without it’s deserved celebrations. Obviously, it has to be this way but I still feel very strongly about the importance of remembering both the First and Second World Wars and the sacrifices made in each.

 

 

Bread: Scandinavian Oat Bread

This is one of my favourite loaves of bread, definitely not for everyone as it is dense and seedy and the kids won’t touch it. I like it sliced thinly and toasted with homemade blackcurrant jam or spread with some cream cheese and smoked salmon. It’s a mixture of a recipe by Nigella Lawson and another from Gill Meller with other bits thrown in so that it works for me. It’s so easy, no kneading or proving and very quick to make but there are a lot of ingredients.

IMG_20200430_095535SCANDINAVIAN OAT BREAD

350g wholemeal flour

50 rye flour (if I don’t have any in I just add extra wholemeal flour)

7g dried fast action yeast

10g fine salt

75g porridge oats (rolled oats)

3 tablespoons of sunflower seeds (or a mix of sunflower and pumpkin)

3 tablespoons of linseeds

2-3 teaspoons of coriander seeds

2-3 teaspoons of caraway seeds

250ml semi-skimmed milk

250ml water

1 tablespoon molasses or treacle

METHOD

  • Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and stir.
  • Put the wet ingredients into a jug and stir (I warm the milk slightly in the microwave then add the molasses and let it melt and mix before topping up with the water to make 500 ml).
  • Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix.
  • Squish into a 1lb loaf tin either very well oiled or lined (I have a Delia tin that has a washable non-stick liner that fits inside it) and sprinkle some more oats and seeds on top if you want to, so it looks pretty!
  • Put into a COLD oven and turn it on to 110º C. Bake for 30mins.
  • Turn the oven up to 180º C and bake for another 45 mins.
  • Remove from tin and bake for another 15mins directly on the oven shelf.
  • Knock on the bottom of the loaf and if it sounds hollow it’s done, if not give it a little longer.

Incidentally, the vintage glass jam jars in the photo are some of my favourite things. I don’t eat breakfast during the week but on Sundays, I sit at the table with the boys and we have a nice leisurely brunch often with boiled eggs from our chickens and toast. I really like having nice things to put on the table and these preserve pots fit that brief. You can buy similar from Ebay for very little cost.IMG_20200430_111222On the subject of jam, there is obviously a massive new interest in homemade going on at the moment and I realised that it’s already quite difficult to get hold of jam sugar (sugar with added pectin), which seems crazy. I just bought a batch from Amazon along with some new jar lids so we are set to go. I don’t make jam every year as it takes us a long while to get through it (except strawberry which is C’s favourite) but we are finally running out and the cupboard needs a replenish.

Coronavirus: Week Five

Is it week five? To be honest, I haven’t a clue any more, it’s all merging together.

IMG_20200423_163347

What we have been eating:

All of our usual stuff (again) so for the boys; pitta pockets, burgers, tacos, fish and potatoes and (new to their routine and I do go for routine with the boys as I have to be able to cook a vegetarian version and a meat version so it’s easier to plan that way) Laksa, courtesy of the Malay Taste kits. These have been brilliant as I just add chicken to F’s and flavoured tofu to C’s then dump a load of thinly cut batons of cucumber, pepper and some coriander on top when the soup is ready. I shoved spinach in the broth last time too. Sadly, I only have 2 kits left (I buy them in boxes from Amazon, for myself normally, as I can just add prawns from the freezer and it’s a back-up meal if I have nothing else in), shame 😦

IMG_20200426_113744I don’t tend to eat a big dinner during the week (which is why I often eat separately to the boys in the evening, plus I like to eat later) but we do eat together over the weekends and ‘Saturday Night Tea’ in our house is a big thing, along with Sunday lunch. We had homemade pizza on Saturday as it’s one of the boys’ favourites. I always have the ingredients in. We cheat a lot, I always make homemade dough but we often use a Dolmio stir in pasta sauce as the pizza sauce.

IMG_20200426_152343For Sunday lunch we turned to some of my favourite cookbooks, the Ottolenghi series. The ones we use the most are the original one (at the bottom of the photo) and the new one, ‘Simple’. Let’s face it, I will win no prizes for food blog photos, it’s just not my bag, we are always too busy waiting to eat for me to start prancing about posing everything and I definitely need to work on my food presentation but gosh it was good! I had the chicken in the freezer already marinated. I  bought a whole chicken, cut it in half so we have 2 Sunday meals for me and F – C had stuffed peppers – then marinated both chicken halves with the ingredients from the recipe ‘Roast chicken with sumac, za’atar and lemon’ which you can find here.

We had it with ‘Cauliflower and cumin fritters’ (from the same book), lime yoghurt, a simple grated carrot and coriander salad, garlic courgettes, homemade houmous and garlic flatbreads. We had plenty leftover for lunch the next day and we still have the other half of the marinated chicken in the freezer ready to eat another time. Hurrah!

IMG_20200424_114115

Bread baking, we made the amazing ‘Cornbread with cheddar, feta, and jalapeno’ also from Ottolenghi, recipe found here. This was truly fabulous but it does need loads of ingredients. We improvised a bit (yoghurt instead of sour cream and red chillies as we didn’t have anything else) but it was still great and C and I ate it for days for breakfast and lunch, sometimes with avocado, sometimes with eggs, or just on its own.

Other bread I made this week was the no-knead bread recipe I’ve written about before. I made it half and half as all the white flour eating is not great. You do need something to bake this in as it’s a very sloppy dough.

Speedy No-Knead Bread UK Style:

500g Flour (ideally white strong bread flour)

7g Fast Action Yeast

1.5 Tsp Salt

350-400ml Tepid Water

A ‘Glug’ of Olive Oil

Mix your dry ingredients in a very large bowl.

Add the water (start with 350ml) and stir to get a shaggy mess but add more if needed to make it really very soft and shaggy.

Cover with cling film and leave for 4 hours.

After 4 hours is up, put a big cast-iron casserole dish into a 220 degree oven, with the lid on.

Pour some olive oil over (a big dribble) the now risen bread mixture and use a spatula (also coated in oil) to flatten and fold the dough a few times.  Make sure the bowl and dough are coated in oil, cover with cling film again and leave for 30 mins.

Remove the now very hot casserole dish from the oven.  Carefully tip the dough into it, ideally without knocking all the air out.  Cook in the oven, with the lid on for 30mins, then for another 15mins with the lid removed.

Take out, and cool bread on a rack.

We’ve been lucky to have had another Ocado delivery but there will be none now for a while.

IMG_20200426_134752

During the day we have been:

It’s back to school for the boys but afterwards and at weekends we are trying to play card games or similar to stop any ‘twitch’ as that can lead to a meltdown. We bought new games from the makers of Exploding Kittens, all ordered via Amazon and all delivered the next day! Well done Amazon (and all of the other couriers who are doing a fantastic job – we have 6 deliveries yesterday!!!).

We left the house for:

I left the house once to pick up prescriptions from Boots in the village. It was all change this time, hardly any cars about and lots of parking in the free bays on the High Street (which hardly ever happens). Only 3 people at a time allowed in the chemist. It felt like everyone had stepped up their social distancing. Tesco had someone on the door organising the line outside.

TV and film watching:

Still watching Outlander, Killing Eve (BBC) and I’ve started Devs on the BBC too.

IMG_20200423_164904

Reading:

‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’. It’s taking me a while, I normally read quickly but I’m struggling to focus, I’ve been doing jigsaws instead!! I have also started ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney as I want to read it ahead of watching the new BBC series.

That’s all. I feel like we are living in a little bubble, really. We don’t have reason to leave the house and we live slightly away from other people as we’re stepped back from the main road and outside the local villages. We do see our lovely neighbours sometimes and have a quick (distance) chat but that’s it. I have stopped obsessively reading the news and haven’t’ seen one of the government live briefings for ages. I feel very guiltily for how detached we have become from what I know is a horror for many people. We are in a very privileged position to be able to just tick along in our own little world.

Chickens: Evolution of the Eglu

Again, this is really another post for me, a little round-up of our Eglus so sorry if it’s boring.DSC_0194Our first Eglu Go was a simple basic one with a 2-meter run and it was delivered complete with a bloke who put it together and 2 ‘Ginger Ranger’ chickens (brown hybrids, basically). I remember the delivery fella as nice but wildly patronising, he was having none of my ‘I was brought up on a farm’ banter, he clearly thought I fit perfectly into the middle-class Mum dabbling into keeping chickens category. The Eglu was a very generous Birthday gift.DSC_0019We got bitten quickly by the chicken bug and a year later I got a second Eglu Go (again partly as a gift) and our 4 ‘little’ girls (Pure Breed Bantam hens) – this photo was taken before the run extension I ordered had arrived.DSC_0147By now Mr Fox had taken Doris, and Mabel got new companions with the original Eglu being converted to a Go UP – no wheels, I notice. I remember doing each little bit in stages, when I could afford it. Eglus are eye wateringly expensive.DSC_0002Then there were chicks and a purple Eglu (at this point, both the original green Eglus were converted to Go UPs). This was actually bought for the guinea pigs but somehow ended up with chickens in it. DSC_0003Madness. I clearly had money to burn (I definitely didn’t!!!). It doesn’t feel so bad if you do it in stages. Look how shiny and clean they are. I used to buy shoes….now it’s Eglus! How things have changed.Eglu low run 2We then sucked it up and bought a low walk-in-run (again, Eglu)Eglu Walk in 1so we could sit in with the chicks. The boys were constantly trying to crawl into the Go UP runs to say ‘hello’ and it got painful watching them. It was a good move and meant we ensured the new chickens were all quite tame.DSC_0023Avian flu here and the run entirely covered for some weeks living inside. I let my chickens free-range normally, so when they have to be kept in the run I am totally soft and feel it’s important to give them as much space as possible. As I had the panels from the previous photos I just extended as much as I could giving them a comedy long run (the other chickens were in the walk-in). I was just reading River Cottage Handbook No11 ‘Chickens & Eggs’ as I found it on my shelf (didn’t know I had it) and it talks about 0.5 sq meters of run per chicken which I struggle with – I know the minimum is usually considered 1 sq meter but I prefer to give more, if possible.DSC_0052Most of the chickens are in the ‘big’ run by now, which has again been converted to full-height. This is what I love the most about Eglu, you can add and change bits as you go along. They often also have spares such as extra roosting bars as well as fancy bits like treat feeders and chicken swings. All at a price, that can’t be ignored.IMG_20180402_122156In winter it looks like a shantytown. I always keep the tops covered but come colder weather the sides get plastic too. It may not look very nice (it starts off good, but gets dusty very quickly) but with smaller chickens with feathered feet and silkies it’s really important they are kept wind-free and dry.

The run behind is the next evolution, a totally bodged job where I bought sale end panels belonging to the original Eglu Cube (MK 1) and then used my existing Go UP panels to make the run part.Eglu run3Here is the big run is in its Summer position. Eglu stormThe final thing was saying sod it to the multiple Eglu GOs and buying a Cube (last Winter). Here the run didn’t fare so well after one of the gales, having not been pinned down as it should be.

Why do I like Eglus? They are expensive but they are very versatile and they hold their value; I have just sold both Eglu GOs on Ebay and it has covered the cost of the Cube (one is still in auction, as I type). I like the fact that you can add bits a stage at time which for us and our ever-changing chickens has been great. I really like that you can search for your inner Heath Robinson and cobble different bits together to make it all work for you. They are really easy to clean and it keeps the problem of pests at a minimum. We have never had red mite (touch wood) but I can imagine it’s much easier to get rid off on the smooth plastic panels that easily come apart than by trying to get into the nooks and crannies of a traditional wooden coop. Incidentally, I take the panels off my Eglus regularly and power hose the lot down then I flea spray in between the panels before putting it all back together, I think this is a good deterrent for any little nasties.MiteOn that subject, the photo above is a garden Red Velvet Mite (Trombidiidae), not to be mistaken with a chicken mite. I write this as soooooo many well-respected websites show photos and videos of these little garden critters when talking about chicken red mite and they are not the same thing at all. Red chicken mite are teeny tiny and would not be pottering about on their own in daylight miles away from your chicken coop. Red chicken mite are shiny and a very dark red almost brown/black looking and hide during the day so you’re more likely to know you have them when your chickens start to look ill, rather than seeing an actual mite. This website has some great photos. Red velvet mite are bigger and bright red and…velvety…and quite cute really, for a bug. I write all of this because I freaked out when I spotted these in the garden and for some reason, they do love sunbathing all over my chicken coops and runs!

I can’t lie, much as I love Eglu coops, for the run, if money were no option, I’d have something like this35f7f0846018e1fd49589a6750f286a7(I’ve tried really hard to find the owner of this photos on Pinterest but can’t. Sorry)

f16d06f1cf62571c69b6d4fbd7cbab02Or even this lovely run by Framebow.

I’d love something wooden with a shingle roof and beautiful planting around it.new runA couple of weeks ago a fox dug under the run and took all of my little chickens. The run wasn’t pinned down and he found a bit that lifted slightly, giving him the idea of digging under. I’d seen is was lifting and had meant to pin it down so it’s entirely my own fault. I also wasn’t closing the coop door, even though I knew foxes were about (as I’ve never had a fox get into the run before). I was gutted as the very next day we were due to move the run back to it’s ‘Winter’ spot in the garden where I had a space set-up which is framed and fully wired underneath. 

I created this after lots of research into the best bedding for permanent runs. The idea is the rubber clippings can be washed and disinfected twice a year and I liked that I was helping use up old car tires. It was a mistake. The little hens hated it and ‘washing’ it is easier said than done as quite a lot of chicken muck builds up amongst the chips. The hens also managed to kick quite a lot out of the run, despite the edging, so I’ve now spent ages raking rubber off the lawn that obviously won’t naturally biodegrade.IMG_20200422_102144Which brings us back to where my chickens live today. I currently have 3 new bantam Pekins (but I have more chickens coming in May – exciting!). My plan is to dig out all of the rubber and replace it with bark chips which will be on top of the dirt, which will be fully wired underneath so no animals can dig into the floor of the coop. I will then regularly rake the bark chippings out and replace them. I’d also like to plant around the run to make it more of a feature and maybe add a brick path along the front (if I can dig down enough, but I think tree roots will be a problem).

IMG_20200422_102549My big girls (2 hybrids) and Sargent Bilko live in a separate run, the one cobbled together from random run bits to make it wider. I can still wheel it about the garden on my own, it’s clumsy but it works!

Right, back to baking bread and sewing. It’s very busy around here considering we are all stuck at home!

 

Coronavirus: Week Four

Roast BeefWhat we have been eating:

Mostly our usual routine food, relying heavily on the freezer, with the highlights of bibimbap for tea on Saturday (using this recipe as a base by Judy Joo, as always) and a roast beef lunch on Sunday followed by homemade apple and blackberry pie and ice cream. C is worried we might run out of gochujang sauce so I’ve ordered more from Amazon. He is very particular about which variety after doing his research. Only one of my kids!81iMITF351L._SL1500_

Bread making this week has been one Challah loaf, one sourdough, the rest has come out of the freezer.BrownieBaking was Rye brownies with bay and almonds from a recipe in ‘gather‘ by Gill Meller. We make this quite a lot as it’s lush (I say a lot but I don’t normally bake every week, just as occasional treats but this recipe features more than most).

No food deliveries this week but we’re still eating well off the Watts Farm delivery and I have a Brie the size of my head to get through.

During the day we have been:

On Easter school break so working in the garden (the weather has been glorious), cleaning out the chicken coops and washing the old Eglus ready for sale on Ebay. Planting up the greenhouse. Playing board games, especially Exploding Kittens and banning Throw Throw Borrito due to C’s spine and possible injury when F hurls him about the house.

We left the house for:

Once to go to Boots and collect prescriptions, once to get petrol (I was nervous the car might not start and wanted to have a full tank of petrol ready for our hospital visit due to a very early start), then for C’s big appointment at the RNOH for an MRI and Biopsy on his spinal tumours.

The local garage and Spa was all business as usual, surprisingly so. The floor is marked out but people didn’t seem all that bothered about staying in their boxes and I did that comedy breath holding thing every time I passed someone whilst heading to pay and then Purelling my hands like a lunatic after putting my card numbers into the keypad. Boots were very strict on staying in boxes but then asked me to sign for my prescription with the pen on the counter everyone else had used (again, lots of paranoid Purelling!).

The RNOH was a long day as we set off at 5am and got back after 6pm. The hospital itself was interesting, pretty much no social distancing whilst on the wards and no protective gear, all very normal. Lots of time waiting around due to extra cleaning of theatre between patients, all to be expected. Staff were fabulous and we felt very well looked after. I had to speed eat chocolate biscuits whilst C was in the loo due to his need to fast (for the general anaesthetic) so I didn’t want to eat anything in front of him but I needed the sugar hit. The drive was strange, just lorries, as you’d expect on the M25 and we made the journey in nearly half the normal time.

TV and film watching:

Just started RUN as recommended by Will Gompertz on the BBC. Also watching ‘ANZAC Girls, Westworld Series 3, Modern Family and I binged Unorthadox as it was great. Tried Twin on BBC but not sucked in yet. Also, The Beautiful Game on Netflix, Belgravia on the BBC and Outlander on Amazon Prime. Thank God for streaming, especially as we can’t watch TV live as the ariel doesn’t work.

Reading:

‘The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock’ by Imogen Hermes Gower. I’ve also just finished ‘Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson, ‘The Binding’ by Bridget Collins and ‘The Starless Sea’ by Erin Morgenstern.

 

 

Chickens: Evil Mr Fox I Hate You!!!

This post is really for me as a reminder of where we are at with the chickens so sorry, it’s rather boring.

I love my chickens. In terms of pet value, they rate highly for me and we get the added bonus of the eggs.DSC_0189We started back in 2015 with a couple of brown hybrid chickens (delivered with our first Eglu). I’m fairly certain we then had 3 brown hybrids so clearly we ‘lost’ one (fox attack, I think) and bought 2 more.

We then got a second Eglu Go in 2016 and more chickens, but mixed bantams this time (2 x Pekins, 1 x Light Sussex, 1x Polish Frizzle and our fabulous little black Silkie).DSC_0004DSC_0002DSC_0028I then hatched out 2 lots of chickens in 2016 and 2017, initially with bought eggs (Pekins and Bantam Orpingtons)

which resulted in 3 Bantam Orpington Cockerels and

dsc_00362 Pekins (Millefleur coloured) of which one died quite early on 😦 From the second lot we got a crossbreed hen and the most fabulous cockerel, Ziggy, son of Bowie neither of which I have a photo of! Ziggy had eyebrows like Denis Healey – they were amazing.

DSC_0008We also bought two new chickens in 2017, a Crested Legbar (that laid beautiful blue eggs) and another Polish called Prescilla.DSC_0008IMG_20160317_115805Our favourite chickens by far have been Elvis (actually a girl) my oldest son’s Polish Frizzle because she was such character as well as being a shoulder riding crazy chicken.IMG_20170607_104033IMG_20160829_163206Bowie, one of the cockerels I hatched who I adored as he was big and fluffy and from being a chick would hop up on your lap for a cuddle.

AudreyAudrey my porcelain Pekin bantam and finally, my youngest son’s chicken, DSC_0008Puffles, the silkie, as she was also very friendly and just too cute.

From reading up, pretty much all of these chickens were our favourite because of common character traits of their breeds but in some cases, it is also why I wouldn’t have them again.DSC_0007The Polish chickens were great – shoulder riding is quite common for Polish hens, as it goes, but bloody hell they are noisy! They squawk and squawk all day long and I understand don’t like free-ranging in large areas as they can’t see very well. We did clip their feathers around their eyes and that helped. Polish hens can also get picked on as the other hens like to ‘helpfully’ try and peck the feathers off their heads, mistaking them for something that needs pecking off (this wasn’t really a problem for us). They like to be high up and will often roost in trees – Prescilla this did every night and I often had to lift her out of a tree to put her back in the run at the end of the day if I had not remembered to get the chickens back in early. We won’t get more, no matter how fun they are.

IMG_20170721_085653Silkies are really adorable and fluffy and generally very friendly but as they are a flightless bird they shouldn’t really be in a run and coop set up with ladders as they can find it difficult to climb up at night. They also like to be kept undercover and out of the wind which wasn’t a problem for us as I keep my coop well covered. We have ladders so no more silkies unless I put on of the Eglu’s back on the ground. (The photo is of Greta our Pekin bantam not Puffles as I can’t find one of her).

DSC_0056Pretty much all of our other chickens I’d have again, including our Legbar, which is supposedly a flighty bird; Cleo was fine, we had no problems with her but she wasn’t the friendliest of chickens.

Over the years we’ve lost a number of chickens for many reasons. Elvis and both the Millfleur Bantams died some months/years apart (I suspect respiratory illness). Doris, our hybrid, Greta my grey birchen Bantam, Ziggy (son of Bowie) and my beloved white bantam Audrey were all taken by foxes whilst they were free-ranging during the day (Bowie died last year, I was a little heartbroken, I’m not sure why but he was ill for a while). So come a few weeks ago, we had 2 ‘new’ hybrids (that are about 2 years old) living with Sargeant Bilko, my remaining cockerel, and then 8 mixed bantams in my large walk-in run, compete with new posh Eglu Cube.

New Chicken8 because I bought 3 new bantams for myself as a birthday gift, including this pretty girl, was because a bloody fox came and ate them all one night. I was truly gutted. He managed to dig under the skirt of the Eglu run and patiently took his time to take all the hens one by one (I have video cameras on the garden so replayed the horror as punishment for not locking the door of the coop).

Needless to say, the coop doors on both the Eglus are firmly shut every night and I’ve moved my big walk-in run back into it’s ‘Winter’ spot which is fully wired underneath, but more on that later. We also got 3 new bantams delivered last week which I am utterly grateful for as chickens are incredibly difficult to get hold of at the moment and the boys were so upset to lose the little chickens; photos to follow when I finally get around to taking them.

That’s it. As I said this post is really for me so apologies it’s long and boring but I wanted a quite documented round-up of where we are for the future.

 

Life in a time of Coronavirus – Bread

So, how are we all doing? Thank God I’m already divorced (said in full knowledge my ex-husband would say the same thing about me so it’s a fair comment).

Ironically, having 2 neurodiverse kids means as a family we normally have limited social interaction so we’re in quite a good position for Lockdown, it’s pretty much our standard school holiday but with less pressure to find days out that suit everyone and avoid any meltdowns. I should add, I’m not trying to make light of the horrific times we are living in, there is plenty I am worried and stressed about and there is also a certain amount of ‘fizz’ going on here in the house that needs to be carefully managed in order to avoid any explosions, but I’m a bit of a pro at staying at home with the boys and at making do with the food cupboards. My life rocks.DSC_0056So, on the food front, this is how we are doing it. We are lucky to have quite well stocked freezers and I had already written lists of what was in there in an attempt to eat up all the oddities that have been lurking in the depths for months/years. As soon as it was clear the direction we were heading in I updated these lists and meal planned for some weeks ahead so I could plug the gaps of things we needed and make the most of what we have. I’ve been lucky to get a couple of Ocado deliveries booked and a Watts Farm delivery (which I recommend to anyone living in Kent – the quality of the fresh food was amazing).New ChickenWe still keep chickens and I had bought 3 new bantams as a birthday gift (to myself!) at the beginning of March so we were looking good for eggs…until Mr Fox came calling in the night and took ALL of my little chickens *weep* but more on that later.

I know one of the main problems is bread but I’ve always baked bread at home so we’ve just got into a rhythm of baking regularly (pending being able to buy flour and yeast, that is!) and I have a sourdough starter on the go too.

One of the problems with having the kids at home all the time is they Hoover bread where I don’t normally eat much for fear of turning into a Blancmange.Beetroot Bread

Before the big C I had been baking this lovely Beetroot and Goats Cheese bread by Ottolenghi that needs no yeast. Clearly, it needs a lot of other things so may not the best recommendation right now, but if you can get the ingredients, it’s amazing and a little goes a long way, especially with some smoked salmon on top. Lush.

Another loaf and seed bread I make often is the Norweigan Mountain Bread that I’ve blogged about before. It’s an oaty, seedy heavy tin loaf that you put into a cold oven (with no kneading) and the kids won’t touch it…all the more for me then! I think the link to Nigella’s original recipe is dead but if you Google it you’ll find it in loads of other blogs.

For bread the little cherubs will eat, we are back to the no-knead recipe I blogged about here, sourdough (which I will try to write a post on, including how to make a starter) and our new favourite…IMG_20200414_160239

Jamie Oliver’s Challah Bread. You need a couple of eggs for this one, it’s basically a brioche-style recipe but with the added fun of trying to plait it nicely. Some swearing was involved here the first time I tried. I also converted this recipe quite a bit to suit us with or own method, as below:

Ingredients

  • 600 g strong bread flour (Jamie uses 750g and makes 2 loaves)
  • 10 g fast-action dried yeast
  • 30 g caster sugar (should be 50g but I don’t like my bread too sweet)
  • 12g fine salt (Jamie uses 1.5 tsp)
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • olive oil (a glug)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Method
  1. Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl, stir to combine.
  2. Fill a measuring jug up with 250ml of warm water. Crack the eggs into it then whisk with a fork. Pour in a glug of olive oil and whisk again.
  3. Make a well in the centre of the dry mix and pour in the wet mix. Stir with a fork to combine and start to bring together into a dough ball, adding more water as needed.
  4. Knead the dough for 10 minutes until smooth and springy either by hand of with the bread dough attachment of a mixer (I use my Artisan Mixer for 5 mins, then knead by hand for another 5). Add flour if you need to (if not using a mixer) but try not to add too much.
  5. Place in a large oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  6. Kock back (gently deflate the swollen dough by squishing it) then braid. To braid your challah, look up something sensible on YouTube and follow the instructions! Try not to swear too much.
  7. Place on a lined baking tray (I actually put mine on a thin reusable baking liner).
  8. Cover loosely with a damp tea towel or loose oiled clingfilm and leave to rise for a further 30 minutes or longer, so it’s doubled in size and stops springing back when prodded. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 230°C and put a large baking sheet in it near the bottom and below that a large deep baking tin.
  9. Glaze the challah with egg (if you have any spare eggs or you could save a bit from the two eggs you add to the dough mix) or milk. Sprinkle over the sesame seeds and boil a kettle.
  10. Quickly put the loaf onto the heated baking tray (as I use thin nonstick liner I just take the hot baking sheet out of the oven, lift this on then shove it back in….I guess you could try putting it on baking paper to prove and then lift this gently and put that onto the hot tray…maybe), pour some boiling water into the tray below the baking bread and shut the door. Do all of this quickly so you don’t lose the heat. Turn the heat immediately down to 180°C and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden and hollow-sounding when tapped.

I am not saying for a moment that there is any religious or historical accuracy in this recipe, I am not in a position to comment on either, this is simply a bread we really like because it is soft, delicious. I’ve reduced the sugar from the original version, reduced the flour and made one large loaf. I also only washed the top with egg white in the one above photo as the yolk in an egg wash turns the top very dark (in my experience) and I like a more medium sheen but his one didn’t have a sheen and still went dark!! Might need a re-think on that one.GinOn a definite plus point, I won’t be running out of gin soon…tonic maybe…but who needs tonic!!

 

 

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Marmalade Gin and Jam

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It’s that time of year again when Seville oranges appear in the shops; they are only here for a few weeks so you need to be quick (and sorry, due to my tardiness in posting you might have missed them!), but with their bitter flavour they do make the very best marmalade.

I’ve learnt my lesson not to go overboard (we’re still working our way through the last batch I made in 2012!), so I only bought 1kg and made the following:

Whisky Marmalade (about 3 jars)

500g Seville Oranges

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 litre water

1 Kg Preserving sugar

50 ml Whisky

Ream oranges and lemon into a double layer of muslin set over a sieve, scouring shells to get as much pith as possible (or a clean tea-towel, as I used).

Tie the contents of muslin into a loose bag and put into preserving pan with 1 litres of water and the strained juice.

Discard shell of lemon.  Slice orange shells into half again,  then slice finely. Add to pan, bring to boil then reduce and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours, until rind completely soft. It’s important the rind really is very soft as it will harden when you add the sugar and rapid boil later and hard peel in marmalade is nasty.

I had to add more water at the above stage as it was boiling away with so little in the pan originally and it took 3 hours for the peel to be really soft. I figured I needed about litre of peel liquid before rabid boiling.

Remove muslin bag and squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible, back into the pan (this contains lots of pectin).

Add the sugar and stir over low heat until completely dissolved.  Raise heat and rapid boil for a set (15 mins).  Test small amount on a chilled plate (pop these in the freezer before you start), it should form a skin that wrinkles when pushed with a finger.  If needed boil for another 5 mins and test again. Repeat until a set is achieved.

Leave marmalade for 10 mins to cool before potting in clean warm jars, with wax discs on top and lids.

Fine-Cut Jelly Marmalade (3 jars)

500g Seville Oranges

Juice of 1 lemon

1 Kg Preserving sugar

Peel fruit with a vegetable peeler, taking the zest only and no pith.  Cut into very fine threads.  Add zest to a pan with 1 litre of water and simmer until tender (approx 1 hour) and liquid has reduced by half.

Ream the fruit and strain juice through muslin into a jug, cover and refrigerate.

Coarsely chop and pith, pips etc and add to another pan with 1 litre water.  Simmer for 1 hour then strain through double muslin.

Combine the zest and it’s liquid with reserved juice and strained pith liquid (should be about 800ml in total).  Put into a preserving pan with sugar, stir over low heat until sugar completely dissolved.  Raise heat and rapid boil for a set – approx 15 mins.  Test for a set and if needed boil for another 5 mins then test again.

Remove from heat and cool for 10mins before potting in warm, clean jars with wax discs and lids.

I almost wished I’d made my normal 2kg quantity but I know how slowly we work our way through jam.

If you have excess oranges I can recommend making some Seville gin (lots of recipes online). My last batch has been ‘brewing’ since 2012 so I sieved out the peel and decanted it into fancy bottles. For marmalade recipe suggestions I highly can recommend

Nigel Slater’s Marmalade and Chocolate Chip Ice Cream,

Bitter Orange Cardamom Martinis

Delia’s Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding

I know there are other recipes but I can’t find the links at the moment (I’ll update later).

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Just a little note about the labels, they are original vintage ones via a museum website that I photoshopped. I was rather pleased with the results 🙂

 

Christmas is coming!

I think it’s clear I’m a Christmas fan. I don’t need most of the excitement to start until into December (music and decorations), that’s early enough, but I do really enjoy every little detail about the festive season, including planning the foodIMG_20171125_102925It always starts with my Gran’s Christmas Pudding and the Christmas cake, in November (I like to feed my cake and the pudding lasts forever so I make it whilst I have all the dried fruit out). IMG_20171126_110626I have put charms into the larger of the two puddings (the bold text links take you to posts about the recipe), I bought two sets some years ago but never used the second, until now. I read loads online about how best to do this and in the end wrapped the charms in baking parchment to make tiny bundles before tucking them into the pudding mix. I did sterilize the charms in boiling water but this seems a bit pointless if you’re then going to wrap them in the unsterilized paper.IMG_20171206_122059I was a bit smug about a removable lid I made for the cake, so that it could be easily fed (with brandy). The boys don’t eat fruitcake so I was quite liberal with the booze and I opted for the Creole recipe by Delia, againwhich already starts with a mixture of alcohol.CakeI then did something a bit odd and cut a small circular cake out of the middle. The small cake is going somewhere else and the big one (missing its centre) will stay here for me to eat. I was explaining this to a friend and she suggested it would be a good way to split a cake where you want to feed half (for adults) and leave some for children. DoveApron6DoveApron15I did all of this whilst prancing about in one of the new aprons I’ve made for the shop, a different version of the vintage pattern I’ve used for some years, only this time with gold and white doves.DSC_0040Christmas MugsI enjoy changing things for Christmas. The shelf in the kitchen has had its Summer crockery removed and the vintage Stockholm china (by Crown Devon) has replaced it. I even just got the boys winter mugs out for a hot chocolate (we have a teeny, tiny bit of snow this morning and they got overexcited and demanded hot chocolate!)Christmas Cook BooksThe Christmas cookbooks are also out again. I predominantly use the same ones (Delia and Jamie Oliver) but I’ve fallen in love with Nigel Slater’s new book, The Christmas Chronicles. It’s a kind of diary of the festive season with recipes interspersed between and I’m really enjoying reading it a bit at a time, following the same days as those in the book.Christmas TreeI feel very organised this year. I made brandy butter, rum sauce, bread sauce and 18th Century stuffing this week, all now in the freezer (see this post for details). I make some of these regularly for our Sunday lunches anyway but they freeze so well and it saves a lot of effort on Christmas Day if you’re cooking a traditional bird roast. Let’s face it, bread sauce is easy enough to make fresh, but for regular Sundays only I eat it so I make a big batch and portion it into little bags as a roast chicken or pheasant just isn’t right, in my opinion, without some bread sauce!IMG_20171202_173346Our big tree is up in the living room, complete with its usual tat andIMG_20171209_121433 the mini tree in the hallway has the older vintage decorations on it as a memory to my Gran, who always had a similar tree in her living room. I’m amazed this tree is still alive, it’s in its third year now and desperately needs re-potting and more regular watering!

I need to go and treat the chickens so something nice, they are sulking about the cold, snowy weather and then I’ll start our Sunday roast – who said weekends were relaxing!