Friday, 29 April 2011

So much to write ... so little time ...

Our stone balancing art

 There are quite a few things I want to write about here to update on life, gardening, allotment goings on, spinning ... just finding the time to collate my thoughts and some pictures to reflect on it has been non-existent. Too busy just enjoying doing these things and the wonderful weather!

Well the Easter holidays are over and having been back to school for 3 days, there is now the break for the Royal Wedding and May Day.

Quiet beach and Sea Kale

So let's start with a catch up of what was going on at Easter. After our day at the farm, my parents returned home and Alex had a surprise day off so we spent it at the beach. We went to a wonderfully secluded spot nearby, only accessible on foot from a lovely walk through some woodland and along a hedgerow bordering fields of wheat and rhubarb, the field of rhubarb was spectacular to see - so many plants (oops I didn't photograph it).
 Splashing fun

We had a great time relaxing, having a picnic lunch and some toe dipping and splashing for Imogen. She enjoyed picking things up with her net, including a fish that she was very proud of catching, although I should point out that it was a dead fish!

Fishing on the bridge

With the gorgeous weather we ventured to the beach again a few days later, having been to the library and spent time in the garden and at parks in between, this time to another spot on the edge of the new Forest.

 Watching the waves
 Spot Imogen far out at Sea

Here we spent a long time on the beach again, this beach has sand so we were able to build some sandcastles. Imogen did a little "rockpool" dipping - although it's not really the right beach, but hey she had fun netting seaweed, stones and shells.
Building Sandcastles with seaweed flags

I had a little paddle with her at this beach and the water was lovely and wam in the sunshine. We went on to the woodland and the park after some lunch, and when the tide came in closer and then enjoyed an icecream before returning home. Another lovely day.
 Splashing and "rockpooling"

This brings us up to the Easter weekend ... next post for that one I think. Back soon.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Elderflower Champagne recipe ... soon time to brew

Botanical image of elder and it's flowers 
to help in identification

I've been asked about when we make our elderflower champagne and what we use to make it in, so I thought it might be useful to create a blog post about it in case others are interested too - I know some people were previously.

We make the elderflower champagne usually in May when they are full in flower, some areas it will be June though - often they are considered to be ready around the Summer solstice but the season is early here.

 Elderflowers ready for picking
(these are from 2010)
Pick the flowers when in full flower and in full sun after a few dry days when the scent is heady.  Trim off any excess stems. I then just leave them to one side to let any bugs crawl out - if you wash them you risk losing the natural yeasts in the flowers which help make the fizz.We picked up a fermenting tub at a reasonable price so it can hold decent amounts and it's easy to measure with the measurements on the side, but any tub will do - one with measurements helps though.

 So the recipe, which I think I promised to update last year but forgot ... sorry! There are other recipes available on the internet and in books, but this is ours after trying a couple of different balances.

Recipe for Elderflower Champagne 
(makes 10 litres - adjust to what you want to make)

30-40 elderflower heads - pick the most heavily scented ones
2kg sugar
5 litres of boiling water and then cold water to make up
2 tblsp white wine vinegar (helps the brewing)
4 unwaxed lemons - Juice and zest

In a large container dissolve the sugar into the boiling water. Add cold water to increase the volume and cool the liquid (to about 9 litres-ish). Add the white wine vinegar, lemon juice and zest and the flower heads, then check the amount and add more cold water to make the level 10 litres and gently stir. Cover with a muslin cloth and leave for two days in a cool part of the house to ferment. After a couple of days fermenting usually starts - a sort of foamy scum on the surface, if it hasn't you can add a pinch of dried yeast but we've never found the need as the natural yeasts in the flowers are usually enough.

 Our fermenting container

Cover for a further 3-4 days, then sieve and strain it into sterilised bottles and seal well. It is ready after a couple of weeks but gets much better with age! We have kept some until Christmas and actually until about April (in fact we still have some from last year) and the flavour is lovely. So refreshing.

Bottled Champagne

You may need to keep an eye on screw top bottles if you choose to use them and let off a little fizz from time to time. You can also recycle plastic bottles and release some fizz when they start to bulge. But be warned that weaker bottles may explode!

We bought champagne corks and cages from a brewing shop, they weren't very expensive. We used recycled champagne bottles last year (just asked around friends who may have had some!) as other bottles aren't really strong enough - they explode spectacularly and it is very messy to clean up. We had some blow their corks last year but no bottle explosions, whereas the year before some bottles exploded ~ recycled cordial or water bottles. We store ours in the shed for safety!

Have fun and enjoy making it if you try it, but be safe!

Friday, 22 April 2011

An alternative Royal Wedding ...

So cool, if the real Royal Wedding next week was like this I may be more likely to watch it  ...

Shame it's for a mobile phone company, but cool nonetheless.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Lovely days and new life ...

Loving the wonderful weather ... is it Summer? I hope we still get some good weather in the Summer months. Making the most of the days now though, temperatures hit 25°C and then 26°C. It felt really hot and a bit humid yesterday in the garden, not much of a breeze either.

So we've had many days out walking in woodlands, trips to the park with Imogens friends and bumping into other friends whilst there too so some lovely photos of them all together. Nanny and Grandad were here for a few days but have returned home now. There last day here was Monday and they asked Imogen what she wanted to do and she said she wanted to go to the farm ... so the farm we went to and what a glorious day.

Young calf - the children were given names to vote 
for a favourite name (will have to find out what name he is given)

Plenty of hands on experience for Imogen, she had a go at milking a cow, then bottle feeding some calves.
 Imogen milking the cow
Bottle feeding the calf

We fed the pigs and saw the 2 day old piglets to Snowflake, and Blossom was due anytime now with her litter of piglets.
 Blossom (due any day!)
Snowflakes piglets

We fed the ewes and saw some lambs in the barn. This was an exciting bit for Imogen, and for me too - we had been in the barn a little while earlier before the feeding tour started and saw a tiny baby lamb with the Ewe licking her clean and helping her onto her feet for the first time and saw her take her first milk from mama, we had only just missed it being born. Imogen thought this was wonderful.

Newborn baby lamb - first milk

We went on to feed the chickens (many breeds) and turkeys and had a great time walking around the farm. Imogen played hopscotch and skipping and hoops inthe Victoran school playground and dressed up in the house.
Playing Hopscotch
What a lovely Victorian girl!

These are one of my favourite chickens - the Brahma, so much character!

Brahma Cockerel

Have to share this Expectant Mama who was loudly calling for the farmers to bring the food over, they must know the routine! Imogen thought it was funny that her tongue was out.

Dorset Horn talking!

My beautiful girl chilling in the caravan by the woodburner/cooker.
Overlooking the pigs, in the caravan

And I can't do a farm visit post without some additional sheep in the fields pictures can I?

Dorset Horn Mama and twin lambs
 Hampshire Down Mama
Lovely Hampshire Down Lambs

Enjoying more sunny days, parks and beaches so will catch up with some more soon, off to meet up with friends at their house and garden today.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bluebells at the weekend ... and more

 Beautiful, beautiful bluebells

At the venue I was spinning at last weekend there is a large garden and arboretum, and the woodland is carpeted in bluebells which have flowered quite early this year around here. We are hoping to go to another place over the Easter weekend with a bluebell walk - it has been brought forward a few weeks as the flowers are so early. Here are a few pictures from the gardens including the lovely orchard which I would love to have ~ wonderful, and a picture of the venue.

 Bluebells, one of my favourite flowers
The private school - venue for the fayre
Part of the orchard

And here I am busy spinning away with my friend from the Guild, who has taught me so much in the past, it was lovely to spend the day together. She was spinning flax into linen thread and here is doing a little weaving on an inkle loom, while I am spinning the wool. We were in the great hall by the fireplace, a lovely spot.

Proof of me spinning at the event

I also must share this picture of an old Sweet Chestnut tree on the drive towards the school - it is huge and some branches are being supported now. Check out the size against the vintage bus to the right! There were some of the taller trees in the grounds blown down in the 1987 storm in the South, they are still lying in the grounds and were very tall.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Easily excited ...

Lots more to catch up on with what we've been up to but not today, later in the week for all the happy days we're having. Great day Saturday, will share some photos from the venue later in the week too, including the lovely gardens and forests of bluebells which are already on the turn - so early again this year.

Just wanted to share how excited I am that I have such a wonderful spinning wheel that happily spun lots and lots of wool at the weekend, see last post,  - I had 3 full Louet (so think big!) bobbins of Zwartble grey. Two bobbins plied, started Saturday evening and finished this evening (have been to bed and out in between ... honest!).
 Two of the bobbins already started the plying

Full bobbin of plied wool

I plied as much as possible to see what the bobbin could hold and filled it to the maximum, wound onto the niddy noddy to make a skein to give it a final wash. Then I weighed it and it is a whopping 200g exactly!
On the niddy noddy 
and a whole spare bobbin so more to spin
 Close up on the niddy noddy
My 200g skein of wool

Whoa, how exciting is that and all in one too, no joins.Pretty exciting for this spinner. Just needs a final wash and wound into a ball to use. Now to look at those patterns.