Sunday, 31 August 2014

Plum Rush

The sky started to darken as ominous black clouds rolled in. Rain was imminent so the laundry was quickly unpegged and brought indoors. Dinner was made and eaten but still the rain didn’t come. The sky was so gloomy. Then the wind whipped up. The branches of the trees were flailed about like flimsy stalks. My intention for the evening was to pick whatever tomatoes were ripe, pick sweet pea (which thinks high summer has returned and is flowering profusely) and pick some more of the plums. Sweet pea were picked first and put in vases. Then tomatoes. Still the rain stayed away though the wind was still whipping the branches about. Next I started on the plums. Every so often there were a few drops of rain that didn’t come to anything much. I filled a colander but the tree looked just as laden with plums as when I had started. So I got out my trug and starting filling it too. The branches of the plum tree were being tossed about as I tried to pick the fruit; brushing against my face and tangling my hair. If these plums weren’t all picked now they would be destroyed! Container after container was filled until, finally, all the plums had been plucked. As the last plum went in my basket so the rain started.

Here are my plums, excepting those we ate or hoarded in the fridge. Looks like I’m going to be spending a lot of time with plums!

Have a good weekend everyone.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Beeswax and Not Quite a Recipe for Dinner

A by-product of the honey harvest we've recently had is beeswax. Now beeswax can be put to many good uses, one of which is making beeswax candles. We have planned to make beeswax candles after each of our honey harvests (we've been keeping bees for about four years) but so far have never got round to it. In fact, we still had the beeswax from last year still waiting to be used. This year we were determined to make the candles.

As it turned out, the husband was off on Bank Holiday Monday (25th August) but I had to work. So the husband made the beeswax candles all on his own. They turned out really well. The colour is natural and when they burn they have a beautiful honey scent.

As well as the candles, some of the beeswax was used to make a few beeswax polish bars. Look, it even says BEESWAX on the bar! Isn't that rather nifty?

Here they are together - candles and polish. He did a good job.

Not to be outdone, I also made something nice for dinner. This isn't really a recipe but more a method for making a tasty meal.

First I cut up a selection of vegetables, mostly from the garden. On this occasion I used two onions, five cloves of garlic (we love garlic but you don't have to use any if you don't want to), three small courgettes, a red pepper, an orange pepper and 250g of chestnut mushrooms. A small pineapple was also cut into chunks and added to the mix. Not everyone likes fruit with meat but it isn't necessary to add any if you don't like it. Sometimes I use a mango instead of pineapple.

The whole lot was fried gently in olive oil until well softened but not completely cooked. Then I added five chicken breast fillets that had been cubed. That was cooked until the outside of the chicken cubes were done and had turned white instead of pink. For vegetarians you can leave out the chicken and it is still really yummy; I've tried it this way too.

Now two tubs of soft cheese were added. Mine were 250g tubs but you don't have to be too exact. Mine were also Extra Light but you can use Full Fat just as well. Sometimes I use crรจme fraiche, soured cream or even quark. At this stage I also added a jar of mango chutney. Any sort of chutney will do; just use your favourite. I should have used pineapple chutney, I suppose, but I only had mango. Anyway, a really good stir and the juices from the vegetables and chicken combine with the soft cheese and chutney to make a lovely, creamy sauce. Simmer the whole lot until the vegetables and chicken are completely cooked through. To hurry things along I did mine for about 20 minutes in the Aga roasting oven but it could be done for a bit longer at a lower temperature, say in the simmering oven. If you don't have an Aga then just simmer it in your usual way.

Serve with rice, pasta, quinoa or whatever you fancy. Simple but tasty. This amount would serve at least ten people, by the way!

Welcome to my new followers and commenters. It's lovely to have you join in.

Best wishes to you all until the next time.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Plums and Pasta Sauce

The plums are ready for picking so I made a start with them. It's hard to believe how many there are after there being none last year. I picked these....

... and these ... and then some more and there's still more left to pick. That's a seriously big spider!

The plums are delicious just eaten the way they are. Some have been cut up and added to fruit salad. Some have been stewed and then stored in the freezer. The Aga is fantastic for stewing fruit. Just leave the pot on top of the Aga (not on the hot plates), no need even to add water, and after a couple of hours it is perfectly stewed. Like this ...

The stewed fruit was divided into containers for the freezer. Do you wonder at the amount of things I tell you that I've frozen? There's been a lot recently. We have a small freezer in the kitchen, two other under counter freezers and a small chest freezer. They are now almost full so I need to use things like the frozen blackcurrants to make cordial.

Some of the plums I just halved, poached in a little water and some of our own honey. Then I stored the honeyed plum halves in sterilised jars.

With a label added so I don't forget what's in there.

A lot of the plums made their way into three plum crumbles that are now residing in the freezer to be enjoyed some other time.

As well as dealing with the plums I decided to make pasta sauce using some of our tomatoes. Rather than putting them in the freezer! The tomato sauce recipe I use is Sue's of the lovely Quince Tree blog. It is very easy to make but also very delicious.

I made enough for five jars and our dinner.

There's a crocheted baby blanket almost finished too. I'm working on the border and have reached the stage where I'm not sure if there will be enough of the Rowan Milk Cotton to finish. If there isn't then I'm not sure what I'll do - apart from having a good old weep! I got the yarn years ago so I'm not sure if it is still available. Even if it is, the dye number will be different. Ah well, we'll cross that bridge if we ever come to it.

Best wishes to you all.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Big Weave in the Mournes

On Friday the Big Weave in the Mournes came to Rathfriland. The exhibition and demonstration was held in what used to be the Bank of Ireland building in the Town Square. This lovely old building has recently been refurbished and renamed Chandler's House. This isn't just a random name for the building; before being used as a bank there was a candle-making business located here.

Anyway, back to the Big Weave. Basically there is a group of weavers making their round various small towns so that local people can see how the Mourne Tapestry is being constructed and also so local people can actually take part in the weaving.

Of course, I had to have a go at the weaving. There were pictures to show us what we were trying to achieve. By the way, that stunning crocheted table cloth was just draped there as something to set other bits and pieces on!

Here is the picture of the section that I worked on.

I worked on the sea part to the bottom left hand side. It was great fun weaving the mix of blue and green wool around the warp threads. Two people can work together on each section of the tapestry, one from the front and one from the back. I only had time to do this little bit.

There were some small hand looms to try out your weaving skills if you didn't want to do any on the main tapestry.

What really got me excited were these little peg looms. They are so incredibly easy to use and also incredibly fast. It would be possible to make a bag or table mat in a very short time compared to crocheting the same thing.

There were some examples of items made on the peg looms. Aren't the colours gorgeous? You can weave with strips of fabric as well, as I learnt when I was trying it out. The looms come in different widths so it is possible to make something much wider than these examples.

This is something I think I will have to take up. So many ideas just rushed into my head all at once! A rag rug is something I'd really love to make. I was so excited by it that I went home and brought the husband to see too! The looms are available to buy online but they would also be very easy to make. So that's a wee job for the husband now that the gardening chores will be taking up a lot less time.

There were also some landscape applique type wall hangings in progress. Have a look at what I mean.

Those are lazy beds running in rows in front of the cottages. This is another craft I'd love to get involved in but the class is held on a weekday afternoon which, unfortunately, doesn't suit me.

So, will you be reading about my finished weaving projects soon? I think you just might!

Bye for now.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Bird Boxes

Swallows swoop and reel over our roof. They chatter and cheep constantly. They land on the roof and slide skittering down. They fly so close to the skylights that their wings sweep across the glass. I opened the skylights and they sat on them because it gave them somewhere horizontal to land. Then one flew in and I knew it was time to shut the windows! Although these photos were taken about 11:30 a.m. you can see how dark it was. Big black lowering clouds that brought rain and more rain.

This year we more than doubled the number of bird boxes we have in the garden and have been rewarded with lots of birds nesting, laying and rearing their chicks. One of the bird boxes is right beside the kitchen window.

There are baby sparrows in this box. They cheep really loudly for such tiny little creatures. The mother feeds them all day long. Sometimes I can see a baby bird with its head at the entrance to the bird box, mouth wide open, waiting for mummy bird to come back. Then, after checking that all is safe, mummy comes to the entrance and feeds her chick.

All the birds seem to love sitting in the hop that's growing over the pergola.

No matter how many times I try, no matter how long I wait, I just can't get a picture of the feeding in progress!

Late on yesterday evening I went out into the garden to pick sweet pea. Look at the size of the bumble bee I spotted on one of the flowers. It seemed to be sleeping as it didn't move at all no matter what I did.

There were gladioli in this vase which were past their best. As I was cleaning it I wondered what it would be like to put sweet pea in the vase; below the top so they would only be visible through the glass. This is the result. What do you think? It would probably be better if the vase didn't have a waist.

Mmmm - sweet pea probably look best displayed the usual way in a small vase.
Lots of vegetables are now ready to use from the garden.

I roasted some of the courgettes and put them in the freezer so they can be added to other dishes later on.

These beetroots looked at lot better once they'd been peeled!

And this is the first of the plums. There are so many more to pick!

Well that's it for now. Still trying to re-organise things to make my craft room a reality. There's only time to do a wee bit each day. Of course it doesn't help that I move things and then decide they need to move again to some other location. It'll get done eventually!
Thanks for all your comments. I'm not replying to every comment now but just when there's something more to say than just 'thanks'. Rest assured that I read them all avidly and just love getting them. So please keep leaving your comments.
All the best for now!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Hexagon Blanket Finito

The hexagon blanket was started last year and left to one side for a long time. In the spring this year I got it out again and was determined to get it finished. It came on holiday with me in May and a lot of hexagons were crocheted on the long car journeys. Then came the hexagon joining! This continuous flat join is really useful and I'll definitely use it again whenever possible. You can go back and read more details about the start of the hexagon blanket if you want to find out more.

All the hexagons are joined, the ends sewed in and the finished article given a bit of a blocking. The blanket is now well and truly finito. Here are some photos to let you see how it turned out. Don't tell the husband that I stood on the table to take the first picture!

This is it spread out on a double bed.

The very dark hexagons are deep purple, not black.

So let's get the vital statistics. The blanket is made up of:
  • 167 turquoise hexagons
  • 18 turquoise half hexagons
  • 21 flowers made up of 6 petal hexagons and 1 centre hexagon
  • a total of 314 hexagons plus the 18 half hexagons
The hexagons were joined as follows:
  • 9 rows of 18 hexagons with a half hexagon at the top and bottom of the row
  • alternating with 8 rows of 19 hexagons
A border of just two rows was added to even off the edges.

Yarn used is all 100% acrylic DK; mostly Robin; and I used a 4mm hook.

I hope you like my new blanket! I need to get back to crocheting the cotton blanket I started while on holiday in May (when I wasn't doing lots of these hexagons). You can read about the start of the cotton blanket here with some updates here, here and here.

As well as extracting honey this past weekend, the husband and I also did a bit of furniture re-arranging so that I can use a bedroom as my craft room. There's still a lot of stuff to be moved but the main thing was to get the furniture in the right place and then everything else will work round that. I'll probably need to buy some storage baskets or whatever though I'm taking some time to research what will suit me best. Hopefully, some time soon, the room will be ready for a viewing. Until then the door is closed!

Best wishes till my next post.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Honey Harvest

Last Wednesday evening the husband put the clearing boards in all the hives. These boards allow the bees to move away from the honey frames into other parts of the hive but they can't get back again to the honey. So it clears the honey-filled supers of bees who will inevitably be less than pleased whenever their honey is taken away!

On Friday evening the husband donned his bee suit again and went out to take all the frames of honey from the hives.

Here he is carrying one of the supers filled with frames of honey.


This is what the frames look like when they come out of the hive. You can see the honeycomb sections which have been filled with honey and then capped with wax. When the bees have capped the honey you know it is ready to extract.

That's the frames with a pound honey jar to let you see the size.

In order to get the honey out of the frames we first remove the wax cappings. This is done using the heated blade of a knife.

The white containers in the background are used to feed the bees their sugar solution that replaces the honey we extract.

One determined bee remained in one of the frames of honey and stung the husband on the end of his thumb. That was the end of the bee; they die after stinging.

Now, two at a time, the frames go into the honey spinner. The lid is put on and a lot of effort is employed to spin the honey out of the frames. It basically works like a centrifuge. We only have a very basic machine that is operated by turning a handle on the outside. It takes a lot of man/woman power to get it going! When one side is done, the frames are turned and the honey spun out of the other side.

We both ended up with using-the-honey-spinner blisters. Here's mine! It was very sore and stingy; still is, in fact. It had me yelping every time I touched it over the weekend.

At this stage the honey is building up in the spinner. It gets harder and harder to spin out any more honey so what's in the spinner is drained out into a food grade bucket with two special sieves on top. Everything has to be scrupulously clean and dry. Honey plus water equals fermentation; the method for producing mead.

The honey has to be left overnight to drain through the sieves. This has to be done somewhere warm. In fact, the whole honey extraction process needs to be done in a warm place.

The next day the honey can be poured into the clean jars; there's a tap at the bottom of the bucket for doing this. Each jar is inspected to make sure it has no cracks or chips.

And here is the finished product!

There was a good harvest this year and we managed to extract nearly ninety pounds (weight) of honey.

Sometimes there are honey frames that are particularly suited to being used for section honey. This year we had a couple. You can really see the defined honeycomb pattern.

The honey is cut from the frame with the honeycomb and stored in jars. We didn't have anything else suitable though I think section honey is usually kept in a box.

It's so rewarding to have our own home produced honey. We know how and where it has been produced and it tastes really delicious.

Washed and dried wax cappings are also very useful. They can be chewed to help relieve arthritis. Or melted down to make bees wax polish and candles. We intend to make bees wax candles this year. We have intended to make them for several years but so far haven't actually made any. But this year we will make bees wax candles. The candle making equipment has been brought out so it will happen.

So that's this year's honey harvest finished. Now the bees will be 'put to bed' as the husband says. They get the honey frames back into the hives to keep what bit of honey is still left on them and they are fed a sugar and water solution. They use this to build up their stores of food for the winter.

Here are some interesting bee facts:
  • During the summer months each hive will hold approximately 60,000 bees and 1,000 drones
  • All the bees are females
  • The drones are males
  • During the summer the queen lays about 2,000 eggs a day
  • The life span of a honey bee is about six weeks during the summer but six months for the 15,000 or so who make their way into the winter months
  • There is normally only one queen in a hive. There can be more than one when the bees sense that something is wrong with the old queen and they produce a new one by feeding a larva with royal jelly. Also, when there are too many bees in a hive they will produce another queen and the hive will split or swarm. One queen flies away with half the bees who have filled themselves with honey to keep them going until they can set up a new hive. Bee keepers do everything they can to stop a hive swarming
  • Honey bees don't hibernate over the winter
  • When the drones are no longer required they are thrown out of the hive and left to die. New drones are bred the following year
  • The queen has a sting but she won't sting a human. The queen's sting is used to kill another queen
  • The drones don't have a sting
  • When a honey bee stings a human it dies
I'll finish with a picture of me holding some drones. They'd been dumped out of the hive and were crawling about on the ground hence the bits of grit on my hand.