Sunday, 4 December 2016

Advent 2016

Although last Sunday was the start of Advent, we traditionally decorate for Christmas over the first weekend of December, which is also when we usually celebrate Liz's birthday.

It went faster than it sometimes has, as we'd managed to do a thorough clean and tidy during the week, which meant we could get straight on with actual decorating.

The recently-enclosed front porch, where we've temporarily placed my plant stand (© Ian)

An extremely tasteful Santa painting adorns the hall (© Ian)

Dining room fireplace (© Ian 2016)

No, I've still not finished the wall hanging. But the grandfather clock is a good distraction. (© Ian 2016)

Giles the moose, who is going to need some sort of seasonal adornment (© Ian 2016)

Sitting room (© Ian 2016)

Fireplace with leylandii swag (much easier than holly) (© Ian 2016)

Kitchen (the tidy end) (© Ian 2016)

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cambridge & Scarborough

It's been a driving weekend: a trip down to Cambridge yesterday to meet Rachel and Philip's second child, a beautiful girl who arrived rather dramatically (and early), three months ago, but who we've not been able to travel to see. We had a lovely day with the four of them; and today we made a flying visit to Liz's grandparents in Scarborough, because her grandmother's in hospital. Necessarily, the two days out have rather filled the weekend!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Harrogate and Baking

We went to the Harrogate Christmas Market yesterday, which was a lot of fun. Harrogate's a lovely town, and the market enabled us to get very close to finishing our Christmas shopping.

Today was a pleasant day of baking. Baking many things, many involving pumpkin (we have a pumpkin feast planned for Thursday evening).

Spiced Pumpkin Scones (© Ian 2016)

These we accompanied by spiced apple and pumpkin muffins, pumpkin and sultana cake, apple and Cheddar bread, and a pumpkin pie.

We also made several bottles of apple purée to store for later (hot bottled and heat treated), and a 4lb batch of apple butter (NT Preserves recipe).

The latter was delicious with crumpets, which were the other thing we baked.

Pumpkin and Sultana Cake
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 300g light muscavado sugar (we used soft light brown)
  • 3tsp mixed spice
  • 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g sultanas
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 200g butter, melted
  • zest 1 orange
  • 1tbsp orange juice
  • 500g pumpkin purée
Heat oven to 180°C. Butter a 30x20cm baking tin.
Combine the dry ingredients.
Add everything else other than the pumpkin.
Fold in the pumpkin
Pour into the tin.
Bake for 30 minutes.

Pumpkin Apple Streusel Muffins
  • 2.5 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½tsp mixed spice
  • ½tsp cinnamon
  • ½tsp nutmeg
  • ½tsp ginger
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½tsp salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 2 cups grated apple
For the topping:
  • 2tbsp plain flour
  • 2tbps white sugar
  • ½tsp cinnamon
  • 1tbsp butter

Heat oven to 175°C. Oil a 12-hole muffin tin.
Mix dry ingredients; combine wet ingredients separately. Fold together. Pour into tin.
Rub the butter into the other streusel topping. Sprinkle onto the muffins.
Bake for 35–40 minutes.

Spiced Pumpkin Scones

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • ¾tsp ground cloves
  • ½tsp ground ginger
  • ½tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½tsp baking soda
  • ¼tsp salt
  • 225g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • ½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 3tbsp milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 200°C.
Combine dry ingredients. Rub butter into them. Mix the wet ingredients, then stir into the dry to form a soft dough.
Shape into 12 scones (either roll out and cut/punch, or just form them freestyle).
Place on baking sheet and cook for 10–12 minutes.

Sunday, 13 November 2016


We had a fun trip to the Ideal Homes Christmas Show yesterday, picking up a few presents for people—and a moose for us. For no better reason than we liked him.

Giles the Moose (© Ian 2016)

From the ridiculous to the sublime: we managed to get our new grandfather clock working this afternoon. As we thought, the chains for two of the weights had got jammed too high: my theory is that it was wound with a little too much enthusiasm, and the chains pulled too far, which sprang the hooks off the weights' rods. With a little care and persuasion, and aided considerably by the fact that the case has the removable side panels I hoped it would, we were able to work the chains down fair enough to rehang the weights. There's a bit of damage to the brass shells of the weights, but it's pretty cosmetic, and I've been able to resecure the weights (luckily, the threads don't appear damaged by being yanked free).

It's now up and running, and we'll next check whether it keeps time.

This afternoon's project was processing our first batch of honey from the bees. This has been sat, still in the honeycomb, for a few weeks since coming off the hive. First step is to slice the top off the comb (the cappings) using a large serrated knife. The frames then go into the centrifugal extractor, and are spun round to drag the honey out of one side of the comb. We flip them over, and do the other side, before draining the honey from the tank. From fourteen sides (two frames were only filled on one side), we've got about 14lb, which is a good rate. The cappings are now in a sieve, draining the last of the honey, and then we can clean the cappings and melt them: this wax is, typically, the 'best', as it's only been in the hive briefly (so less time for bees to traipse muddy feet over it), and only for honey (the comb that's used to raise baby bees gets dirtied from the process). It will probably be very light in colour.

A comb of honey ready for uncapping and extracting (© Ian 2016)

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


It's only been a week since the first frost of the winter, and now it's snowing.

The Herb Garden (&copy Ian 2016)

The Orchard (© Ian 2016)

The house in the snow (© Ian 2016)

When I commented on the colour being ephemeral, I didn't think we'd only have ten days more of it—but you'll see the Virginia Creeper is bare, and the acers have lost most of their leaves, too.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Clocks and Coffee

We spent yesterday in the Marches, visiting Jenny for her birthday. Unfortunately, we had to do the trip in a single day, as Chess is currently on medication which means we have to be at home every morning to dose him up. So, even though it's 3+ hours each way, we did the return trip. It was, essentially, a journey fuelled as much by coffee as diesel, as we stopped for coffees on the way down, drank a couple with Philip, and had more on the way back. It appears that ten shots of espresso is approximately what it takes. That's 3900 miles per gallon, which is better fuel efficiency than the car.

Last week, we went to one of the antique places near where I work, looking for a book case. We didn't find one, precisely, but did find something that will work in the same way. It fitted in the back of the car, so we got it home that day, and it's now at the foot of the stairs, looking much better than the bowed melamine bookcase that was there previously.

Unexpectedly, we also spotted a grandfather clock while we were there. We've both wanted one for a long while, but never found one that we liked and was a price we wanted to pay. This, however, fitted the bill.

Its wood tone fits the dining room really well, and we really like the look of it. Unfortunately, there are some issues with the weights, which means it's not currently running, but the case is attractive enough to not worry about sorting that out urgently.

Grandfather clock (© Ian 2016)

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Alexandra Park

Before the weather worsens too far, and while the trees are colourful, we wanted to spend a lunch break at one of the parks near our workplaces.

All Alexandra Park, Oldham (© Ian 2016)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

First Frost

We had our first frost of the year last night. Later than I'd normally expect, but it's been lovely mild autumn.

Monday, 31 October 2016


One of the last 'urgent/important' jobs for us this autumn has been getting some tulips planted. We ordered 256 mixed 'perennial' tulips, to go into the herb garden. Technically, all tulips are perennials, as bulbs, but in the UK then many of them only flower for one or two years, before fading, flowering less well and then reducing to just foliage before vanishing. These are meant to be longer-lived, and (combined with planting them as deeply as I could) I hope they'll brighten the herb garden for some time.

I planted a hundred of these last autumn, but forgot to make a note of it: however, they're similar to some we've had a few years, and which I wrote about in 2013&emdash; when they're pictured with the nascent herb garden in the background.

They looked good, earlier this year, but a hundred wasn't enough, hence rather increasing numbers. They're now all over the herb garden, in and amongst other things.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Orchard Mown

It's been a rather long and tiring day, but the grass of the orchard is now all cut. It always looks a little sorry for itself at this point (yellow patches, brown patches...patches I missed with Sigrid), but it will soon look reasonable—and will continue to look tidy over the winter, which it wouldn't otherwise. Cutting it back at least once a year also means that the brambles and thistles don't slowly dominate, and the grass stays tidy, rather than gradually forming tussocks, which are a pain underfoot.

Conversely, only cutting it annually means that the non-grass plants have a chance to complete their lifecycle, growing, flowering, and setting seed, which makes for a much more wildlife friendly landscape, and a much prettier one, as we get the succession of flowers and seeds—including the grass, a lot of the varieties of which have pretty flowers, and then good autumn colouring.

The hillside strimmed, and ready for winter (© Ian 2016)

It's been a good autumn for colours: I think the combination of reasonable rainfall, but no high winds, coupled with warm (well, not cold) days and cool (but not freezing) nights has meant that leaves have developed good colours, and not been shed. This is the beautiful moment where the Virginia Creeper (I love the Latin name, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, which tells you everything) has completely turned colour, to bright scarlet, but hasn't lost too many leaves. At the same time, the two acers in front of it, which spend the summer clothed in light green, have turned yellow, and are just getting the red-orange highlights they'll sport until the leaves drop.

It's ephemeral, but for a few days, we get both.

The house in autumn colours (© Ian 2016)

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Autumn Cut

After cutting the paths in the orchard, the verges, and the copse ten days ago, we spent a few hours this morning starting to tackle the longer grass of the orchard. This needs the solid blade on Sigrid, rather than the strimmer head, because the grass, thistles, brambles, ragwort and blackthorn is rather too tough for a nylon string. We managed to do just less than a third of the job (equating to most of the left-hand area delineated by hedge and path), and get the cut material raked up and heaped at the compost bins. That was limited by my only having half a day at home (I'm effectively working a late shift), and also by our stamina: Sigrid isn't light, or quiet, or sweet-smelling!

However, even though it's going to take another couple of stints of work, hopefully over the coming weekend, the bit that we've done does look a lot better. It's nice to have it neat going into the winter, and cutting the grass back regularly does reduce the formation of tussocks, which makes it very much less even underfoot.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Bees and Yarn

We've had a truly lovely weekend with David and Ann, who came up on Friday night, and leave in the morning. There has been a lot of baked goodness, including my cinnamon rolls, which I promised to note here.

  • 250g strong white flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 75g butter
  • 2½tsp yeast
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 250ml warm milk
Make that into a dough, and knead it well (it's a rich dough, so it needs a good knead). When it's doubled, roll it out into about a 16" square. Pour 75g of melted butter over it, then pour 140g light brown sugar mixed with 3tbsp cinnamon onto it. Roll it up, and cut it into eight. I like using a length of cotton to radially guillotine the roll: it is immeasurably neater than trying to slice.

Arrange into a baking dish, and allow to rise again. Bake at 180°C for about 20 minutes. They can either be served warm, or they store fine for a couple of days.

If you make up a cream cheese icing (85g butter/soft margarine, 120g icing sugar, 45g cream cheese, ½tsp vanilla extract and a pinch of salt), and spread it on the top before microwaving for a minute per roll...then that works really, really well.

We managed a walk, and a few games, and a film. As well as a lot of coffee, gin, wine, and knitting. I managed to start building a beehive, too (a stand, floor, and roof), which will go in the garden in time.

WBC-style stand and roof, with an open mesh floor and 70mm eke, all in BS National pattern (© Ian 2016)

Wednesday, 19 October 2016


That, I think, is likely to be last lawn-mow of the year. I might be wrong—have often been—but I doubt I'll get to it again, unless we wind up with surprising weather.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Beehive Parts

Yesterday was a long but lovely day, spent driving over to Lincolnshire to collect a large order of beehive parts, ready to expand our stock next year. It was an end-of-season sale, so we made the most of it (see also: Tatton Park).

A finely calibrated van-full (© Ian 2016)

There are enough parts there to expand to a dozen colonies, and we got some very good prices on some equipment while we were there, too. The metal cylinder is a centrifugal honey extractor (duly named the Honey Monster), for example, which was about a third of the normal price. We also stocked up on thirds-quality wooden flatpacked parts, which were about an eighth of the normal (firsts-) price...and less again than the assembled prices. Fortunately, I do love making things, including from flatpacks, which is just as well, as I calculate there are in excess of five thousand components in that van...

Today was quieter: making sure Honey Monster works as expected (not with honey, yet), and starting to strim the hillside. That's far from complete (technical issues), but the verges and copse are all done, and the hillside's started.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Beer, Bees, Lawn, and Painting

This weekend rounds off a week off for us, and there've been a few bits to get done. Firstly the beehives needed preparing for winter, which meant taking off the (modest) honey crop, wrapping them up with bubble-wrap for warmth, and preparing some space in the top of the hive for winter feed.

We also needed to paint the new front door, and touch up the paint on the apple walk, which is looking really good.

Apple Arch (© Ian 2016)

Having got about two-thirds of the way through the current barrel, it's necessary to start a new batch of beer, which is now glugging cheerfully to itself in the corner of the sitting room. Less excitingly, we mowed and edged the lawn...not many more times for that job left this year.

Thursday, 6 October 2016


We've spent today in Scarborough, visiting Liz's grandparents (with her parents, who have come up to see us for a couple of days). It's been a nice day, with lunch at a place outside Scarborough, and a smooth journey both ways.

While we were out, our new front door has been fitted (started yesterday, but these things can't be rushed).

The front porch early in the year (© Ian 2016)

With the raised floor (© Ian 2016)

And now with the new door (© Ian 2016)

The whole house now hangs together better! (© Ian 2016)

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


For a long time, I've wanted to make cheese. There are two main reasons for this: I like making things, and I like cheese. I'm always fascinated by how things are made, constructed, created, or cooked. One of my birthday presents this year was a kit with recipes and some of the consumables needed to make several sorts of cheese: I just needed milk. We thought we'd start with mozzarella, which seemed straightforward enough, and which we like. The principles are quite straightforward: you warm the milk to 35°C with some calcium chloride and citric acid, then add rennet. After a pause, for the curds to form, you cut them up, warm the mix again (to 42°C), and let them rest briefly. The curds come out, and then you either dip them in hot water, or use the microwave to heat them to about 60°C, when they can be stretched and formed into a ball. I overstretched them, this time, so the mozzarella was a bit harder than 'normal'.

Mozzarella balls (© Ian 2016)

After that excitement, we had a wine tasting at home, with half a dozen whites, half a dozen reds, a rosé, a port, a sherry, and a creamy coconut liqueur. We may order a dozen of one of the reds; it was extremely good. 

Monday, 3 October 2016

Apples and Berries

The older apple trees in the orchard (the ones planted some twenty years ago) have started ripening, and some are falling on windier days. While these don't tend to be ripe, and aren't great for eating (you can cook them: we may use some for mincemeat), they make brilliant fruit juice. Our apple juice endeavours in the past have been hard work, because before you press the apples, you have to crush them.

The traditional method, it appears, is to put them in a large vessel, and whack them with&emdash;essentially&emdash;a beam of wood. In the past, we've grated them, but that is hard and slow work. In anticipation of ever-increasing apple crops, we bought a powered scratter, which turned last night's job into a real pleasure. It's essentially a spinning blade attached to a 1kW motor, and it turns a trug (40l volume)) of apples into pulp in, oh, two minutes.

The pulp gets loaded into the press, which we squeeze down: from a 40l trug of apples, we get about 10&endash;12l of juice, which we pasteurize to 70°C, and bottle with a Campden tablet per gallon. Hopefully it'll store reasonably.

We also made our apple & vanilla Danishes, and almond pastries, today. They're delicious.

Almond Pastries, and Apple & Vanilla Rolls (© Ian 2016)

We started a batch of ginger wine, too (ginger, sugar and water into the slow cooker); tomorrow, that'll go into a demijohn for a couple of weeks. This time, Liz helped: it's not a surprise for her birthday!

Yesterday, we also started some berry cordial. This year it's mostly blackberries, with a few elderberries. They get boiled up, and left overnight with pectolase. Today, we strained them, added sugar and spice (cinnamon, unsurprisingly), and boiled that before bottling it.

Sunday, 2 October 2016


More baking followed, today. We made a batch of Danish pastry dough, for apple and vanilla Danishes, and almond pastries. They'll only be made tomorrow, though: the dough is chilling over night.

We started the day with more cinnamon rolls, of course.

Breakfast (© Ian 2016)

This afternoon, we did a bit of work on the apple arch, pruning extraneous growth. It could do with a bit more paint. Most of the trees are doing well, though there are a few missing tiers we'll need to work on. We also weeded it: it needs a good mulching in the spring, though.

Apple Walk (© Ian 2016)

Apple Walk (© Ian 2016)

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Baking and Bottling

We've taken this week off work, and have nothing 'serious' planned for at least the first five days: we're just taking them as they come, and doing what we fancy. So far, that's involved mainly food and drink.

I started a batch of blackberry brandy. I don't appear to have noted the last batch (or two, actually), which was a blackberry and cinnamon. On trying it, I'm not convinced by the cinnamon, sadly, so I'm probably going to leave the bottle to Liz to finish (who loves cinnamon), and I'll go back to making plain blackberry, which this new bottle is. I shall have to limit myself to other liqueurs until about Christmas.

This was not the extent of our cinnamon adventure, though, as we also made a batch of cinnamon rolls, using a different recipe to our last attempt. These are better, but need a little work. It's hard work, this product testing.

Cinnamon roll with vanilla icing (© Ian 2016)

Friday, 30 September 2016

RHS Harlow Carr

To mark the start of a week off, we managed to get away early from work (well, I did—Liz has been off all day, cleaning and tidying!), and drove over to Harlow Carr. We picked up a couple of cakes from Betty's, and then had a wander. It was, as you'd expect for 1600 on a term-time weekday at the end of September, pretty quiet. But tranquil and lovely for that.

Acer near the streamside (© Ian 2016)

Gunnera manicata in the streamside (© Ian 2016)

A variegated brunnera ("Hadspen Cream") (© Ian 2016)

The herbaceous borders (© Ian 2016)

Molinia 'Poul Petersen' (© Ian 2016)

Another grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) we liked (© Ian 2016)

The herbaceous borders (© Ian 2016)

Espalier trained apples in the kitchen garden: the spacing is similar to that in our apple walk (© Ian 2016)

Fruitful espalier trained apple (© Ian 2016)

Espalier apple (© Ian 2016)