Clucky Day Care

I have been learning a new skill this week whilst helping out a friend.

Looking after hens is new to me – (although I have helped pluck them ready for market when I was young).

Visiting daily to ensure food and water are in good supply and the coop kept in reasonable order was more interesting than I thought it would be.

 

The 4 ‘ladies’ are named after members of the Spice Girls and very apt that turned out to be. Posh Hen just ignored me, Ginger Hen was very ‘chatty’ and likes company – she would be the one I could hear as I walked down the garden and was happy following me when I went inside. Baby Hen is obviously the smallest although did lay an egg every day, so I guess she is also the most productive. Her eggs are blue so it’s easy to identify.

Scary Hen was just that – moody and had a certain look that said ‘don’t mess with me’, so it was difficult every day trying to explain to her that she could sit on the eggs for a month of Sundays but not one of them would hatch. I felt my dialogue with her was more that of a counsellor than a Coop maid.

I undertook a ‘clean out’ session at the end of the week so obtained the assistance of my son, a little apprehensive at first he quickly warmed to them and happily kept them occupied whilst I replaced the bedding and straw. Although he was surprised at the amount of ‘droppings’ they produced!

 

My reward was the daily eggs (average 3 per day) and very nice they taste too. 

Village and Town County Shows

As the day draws nearer I imagine our village kitchens are a buzz with cake baking as folk prepare/test/finalise their cakes and scones. Jam is no doubt already in jars, all that’s needed is a polish of the glass and a gentle press to confirm the cellophane is taut.

Children are planning which vegetables can be twisted and turned into dinosaurs. This was a popular one with my children. Susan and George at the farmshop where we buy our greengroceries would identify possibilities as the day drew nearer. A constant favourite with the youngsters is, of course, the Edible necklace – I often thought it was more about ensuring a collection of sweets to be eaten later rather than the strive to produce an item of great beauty.

Although we are a small old market town (that no longer has a market) the annual show draws interest from across the north east. This, I guess, is due to the broad variety of activity on the day.

There are a number of classes for cattle and the sight of a huge Bull walking proudly in the ring still makes me stop and stare.

 

 

Horse lovers are truly spoilt as the 3 rings – Show Jumping, Pony Club and Individual Horse classes – are busy from the off. In previous years the local Hunt would attend for a short gallop around the rings and offer an opportunity to meet the Hounds. Whatever your thoughts of hunting as a sport the partnership between man and dog and the sight of the pack in the field is one of awe.

 

Alongside the sheep and goats the small animal tent is always busy. Why is it children, no matter how often they are told not to, still love poking their fingers into the cages of rabbits and guinea pigs totally ignoring the threat of been bitten? The number of poultry entrants did not look as high as normal this year, which surprised me as the number of people now having hens in their back gardens is growing (for the first time I will be in charge of a friend’s hens shortly, makes a change from going into neighbours’ gardens to water during holiday breaks – and I am promised eggs everyday)

The weather is always the decider as to how successful such shows are – and the forecast is the topic of conversation in the week leading up to the event. This year was good – cloudy, so not too hot, and dry (that is the most important element as wet weather keeps the crowds away and increases the risk of injuries to horse riders, they slip and slide as the ground turns to mud) Luckily this year the Medics in attendance had a peaceful day with only minor concerns.

If animals are not your thing and standing over boiling pans of fruit with a thermometer waiting for the ‘setting point’ would be your equivalent of ‘watching grass grow’ then do not despair as there are many other sections of interest at county shows.

Alongside the Funfair there are stalls operated by small businesses and charities where bespoke items can be purchased, many of which make unusual gifts. Food carts offer the usual hotdogs, burgers and my treat of the Year – Hog Roast Bun with apple sauce.

Although I have no great interest in motor vehicles even I enjoy the wander around the Vintage Tractors and Cars. 

 

The owners must spend hours with the polishing cloth – and are always keen to talk about the merits of their particular model.

 

The Dog Show, always busy and so popular it also needs more than one ring to meet the high number of entrants. This year I was surprised by all the extras the owners brought with them. I remember when dog and owner arrived with blanket, lead and comb. Then it progressed to small cages for the dogs to rest in. This year there was tents, special umbrellas for the cages, individual grooming tables etc. I think I spent more time looking at the equipment then looking at the dogs.

 

There is a sense of apprehension and hope as the Home Craft Tent is opened to the public once judging is complete. Well I knew my jam would not be listed – I knocked it over as I placed it on the table and messed up the seal. Husband had a much more successful day and showed once again that he knows what to do with a preserving pan.

 

Above all, such days are what makes a community. Although many of the entrants do come from outside the area the organising and preparation is all local and the required communications helps underpin our sense of belonging, of being part of what makes our ‘village’ what it is. And – most important – it is a great opportunity just to wander with family and friends and catch up with the gossip.

Roll on next year.

Edinburgh Food Festival 2018

The city was awash with vans and scaffolding and everywhere you walked there were posters advertising comedy, drama, dance and music – of course ‘the Fringe’ and Festival start in a few days but there was another festival up and running. Although, I arrived at the Assembly George Square before seeing the first poster advertising the Edinburgh Food Festival. Thank you, Google maps, for the directions.

A small but active festival, the weekend is the busiest of the 5 days. I was there on the Thursday and noticed two things – there were some stalls not open and, disappointingly, the workshops and presentations are held on Saturday and Sunday. I had expected more evidence of local producers but I either just did not notice them or they had not turned up. I could not find a map of the site nor anyone to ask.

There were small business producers – Cocktails, Gin, Craft Beers and Prosecco alongside Street Food stalls offering BBQ Ribs, Pork Belly buns, Pies as well as Gelato.

 

 

A beekeeper from Poland was happy to talk about the bees and the many uses for honey and wax.

 

 

An enthusiastic cook was keen for us to partake of her baking – would have been rude not too.  The Courgette and Lime cake was light and moist, as were the others we tried.

Whilst there was not the cheeses and meats I expected, as somewhere to eat lunch whilst sitting in the sunshine it can be highly recommended.

 

I was drawn to the novelty of the ‘Tattie Scone Wrap’ and decided to try the ‘Black Pudding and Berry Gravy’ wrap, it was very tasty. Followed by two scoops of Gelato – Seasalt Caramel and Pistachio. A ‘Berry Juice Mocktail’ from the Beetle Juice van finished off my lunch nicely.

 

Although very quiet when it opened at midday the people did arrive to eat in increasing numbers.

I stopped by the ‘Slow Food’ stall intrigued to know what slow food they were cooking, expecting casseroles and soups. Turns out it was not about slow cookers at all – it is an organisation highlighting the benefits of traditional agriculture and cooking methods (www.slowfoodedinburgh.com). The Edinburgh branch are currently partnering the Rosyth Community Hub to showcase the produce of their nursery garden – using vegetables and herbs grown by volunteers which are then cooked for community meals.

From my experience I would not recommend travelling to Edinburgh solely for the food festival although if you are in the city anyway then I would encourage you to call in, entrance is free. Go on a weekend as I think you will have a more interesting experience.

Never Too Old to Rock’n’Roll

We enjoy attending concerts, from the Battle Proms at Blenheim Palace to the Rolling Stones at Murrayfield.

A few years ago we were sitting in the Barbican at York waiting for John Mayer to start (Husband is a fan) when I noticed a text from the youngest daughter ‘Are you watching the Barefoot Contessa on Food Network? She is doing some good stuff’ ‘No’ I replied ‘I am at a rock concert’ ‘Oh, haha’ she retorted. Why do your children think they invented youth?

Don McLean is still going strong. Although in 2015 when at the Sage, Gateshead, the supporting act was the one I remember most. A young Irish girl called Chelsey Chambers – listen on YouTube or Spotify if you have the chance. She appeared later that year at Glastonbury.

Amongst others such as Cliff Richard, Rod Stewart, Kylie, Seasick Steve, J-Lo, Queen and Adam Lambert, there have been a few stand out acts.

For me these have been Robbie Williams, Claire Teal and Mick Hucknall.

Robbie Williams came on stage in Singapore as the closing act following the F1 qualifying rounds in 2014. A monsoon suddenly started and he was soaked in seconds. Not missing a beat he removed his jacket and put on a show – even though his audience were mostly hiding from the storm in doorways, roof overhangs and in nearby staircases.

Clare Teal, with her Jazz and Big Band sound, has long been a favourite of mine. In 2017 I was fortunate to see her live at the Sage and it was a very entertaining evening – I even bought the CD as we left. Called ‘Twelve O’Clock Tales’ she is accompanied by the Halle Orchestra. Listen to her Radio 2 Sunday evening show if it’s your type of music – also on iPlayer (must admit that is usually how I catch up – same time as Poldark, what can you do?)

Mick Hucknall has still got a great voice – which, in all honesty cannot be said of many ‘old rockers’. He also speaks very entertainingly  between songs. Beside being good at his art he is also surrounded by great musicians. This he acknowledges during the concert – when each had a solo piece he would quietly leave the stage and the focus was on the musician. I have been at concerts where ‘the star’ would stay and dance about, distracting the audience from the soloist – no such bad manners from Mr Hucknall. A great evening back in 2016.

Yes, mostly these are older bands from ‘Back in the Day’ – it’s good to know the words but having taken children along to see bands of their generation, all glitz and dancers, very little content and often late on stage I recall the many changes of outfits rather than the entertainment.

Which brings me to our latest concert – The Rolling Stones at Murrayfield.

Well, the arena was packed, they can still draw a crowd (approx. 50,000). I stood in a queue for 1.5 hours, so my daughter could buy a T-Shirt, not that service was slow – just so many people, so many queues. We had seats at the front on the first tier so had a great view of the crowds on the ‘pitch’ dancingand singing along.

 

A message was illuminated before the show started it read:

THERE WILL BE 

PYROTECHNICS USED IN THIS

EVENINGS PERFORMANCE

DO NOT BE ALARMED

‘Oh, that’s a message for the band’ was the humorous comment from one in our party.

Mick Jagger left the stage after singing a few numbers ‘Has he gone for a lie down?’ I was asked. All joking aside the energy of the band transmitted to the audience and before long it was just a big party.

There is very little difference in appearance between 2018 and 1968, and the voice is little changed. Wasn’t a fan in my youth but now I can see the appeal.

Not great photos, too far away.

Photo Acknowledgements:

Featured Image – Photo by Ardian Lumi on Unsplash

A Cheesy Day out

A Cheesy Day Out

Like many we find present giving often becomes difficult the longer you know someone – there are only so many purple jumpers you can give a person. Over the years Christine (my husband’s sister) and I have had several Activity days instead. Learning/improving a skill whilst spending a day away from the children does have its attractions (we love them really)

We have learnt the basic intricacies of both Thai and Indian cookery, improved our bread-making ability and made a good team creating a flavoured sausage you will never find in a butcher’s cabinet.

Our latest ‘day out’ was to the Northumberland Cheese Company. https://www.northumberlandcheese.co.uk/

The day started gently with a coffee and a chat with Martin (Manager), previously a Naval Chef he discovered a passion for cheese after leaving the service.

Once acquainted we were instructed to ‘don the appropriate gear’ – white coats, wellies and a hairnet – and had a very instructive guide through the various ‘cheese rooms’ so we could gather a sense of the process from when the milk arrives to the point of distribution of cheese to the customers.

Then it was down to the business of producing cheese – the visitors (us) have the option to observe or to join in. Well, we are both ‘hands on’ folk so having rolled up our sleeves and thoroughly washed our hands we joined in the days work. I think that doing something improves the learning of a skill – plus it provided a greater opportunity to ask questions. We had so many queries Craig must have ended the day with a headache.

Both batches were made using Jersey milk – although the morning’s cheese will differ from the afternoon’s due to the various techniques used during the maturing process.  One will sit in brine for 24 hours, the other will spend time in the Mould Room (enough science, I learnt a lot in 6 hours but not enough to give a lecture)

We added starters and Rennet when instructed. I learnt why my one previous attempt to use Rennet was a disaster – always read and abide by the instructions is now my advice.

There was great fun in cutting the curds (often performed by a rotating set of cutters – but we just had to try).

We then impersonated ‘artisans’ when we netted and transferred the curds to the moulds – overseen by Craig and Johnny, who also made sure each mould had the correct weight as it was surprising how quickly the whey separates even more and what was once a full mould becomes shallow.

We attempted to assist with the ‘turning’ of the moulds but quickly decided that really was best left to the experts, although we did help to remove the nets.

We think, in total, we assisted with making 180KG of cheese. We were not involved with the making of the Wedding Cake you will be pleased to note, although we did have the opportunity to make a small round for ourselves. Christine made sure those moulds were well filled ?

I was really surprised at the volume of whey that is left over once the curds are removed so it was good to hear how it is re-cycled back on the farm (well, excluding what we spilt on the floor – it really is a messy business)

In-between batches we were treated to lunch in the café. It is very popular so call in if you are passing and enjoy a drink and light meal. Follow the link for directions. https://www.northumberlandcheese.co.uk/cheese-loft-cafe

I tried the Cheese Soup, new to me, and very good it was too. Each day the soup is made fresh using any available cheese so each day it is different. Very recommended.

A cheese tasting session encouraged me to try cheeses I would not normally taste – the Nettle was surprisingly mild whilst my favourite was the Original, a mild cheese yet full of flavour.

Now, we must wait 12 weeks for the 500g sample of ‘our’ cheese to arrive in the post.

(note – except for photo of Cheese Company building, taken by myself, all other photos are from Google Images. We were too busy to have even thought of taking in a camera and I doubt it would have been permitted)

Photo Acknowledgement:

Featured Image – Photo by Alexander Maasch on Unsplash