Archive for March, 2012

Fox Attack!

March 18, 2012

I got a panicky phone call up at the shop on Friday lunchtime, “Mum! Mum! Come home! A fox has got Spice!”

Spice is an 8 year old Pekin bantam, eldest surviving bird & the brood mother of most of the rest. A couple of years ago she went menopausal, developed cockerel feathering & stopped laying, but we reckoned she doesn’t owe us a thing after 5 years of laying & brooding & she doesn’t crow, so she bimbles happily round the garden with the other 3 bantams during the day. The big girls are in the run at the back for most of the day as they’re too destructive to be out all the time in a small urban garden, but feather-footed bantams don’t/can’t dig so they can stay out. I’d be heartbroken to lose Spice; she’s a calm & friendly little bird & has done the rounds of all the local schools & playgroups over the years, with various broods of chicks.

Luckily one of my daughters was out in the garden when the fox struck, and although he had Spice in his mouth he dropped her & ran off. I shut the shop up quick, ran home & took her straight up to the vets, fearing the worst as she couldn’t seem to walk, there were feathers all over the lawn & a fair bit of blood. But the vet checked her over, announced that the wounds were quite shallow, and on hearing that she’d been “caught” before, twice, by spaniels (who of course just wanted to play with her, as spaniels do, and put her straight down to wait for the next move) he said, “She’s clearly a survivor, and I reckon she has a pretty good chance of making it…” He gave her an antibiotic shot & a steroid, and I took her home again.

To cut a long story short, today she started to show some interest in food again, and this afternoon she plodded cautiously out of the cat basket and then across the garden to sit in the sunshine beside the chicken run. Relief! We were all cheering her on. We’ve lost birds before now who have just plain died of shock after a relatively trivial injury, and one rabbit who died of fright when a buzzard flew too low over the garden; it’s amazing how some creatures are just born survivors & others aren’t. I think temperament has as much to do with it as luck; the first time we saw Spice, she was a tiny, determined & unflappable 6 week old grower plodding calmly around in a huge pen of wildly overexcited, much bigger birds who were squawking & flapping madly, falling over each other & piling into corners. Unnoticed in all the mayhem, knee-high to all the others, she was calmly hoovering up all the spilt grains whilst the others rushed around chaotically – a bird after my own heart!

Anyway, we aren’t going to take anything for granted; she goes back to the vet for a checkup tomorrow. And Mr Fox is still around; he was outside by the compost heap just after dark this evening & must be very hungry (or feeding early cubs) to come so close to people so often, so constant vigilance is the order of the day for now…

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At last…

March 9, 2012

I’ve finally thought of a way of using cuffs! On my rare days off, I haunt the charity shops of Dorset, raiding the “Reduced” rails for cotton shirts & pyjamas to turn into patchwork fabric. You can get some very decent fabric, in reasonable quantities, for £1 that way. I’ve worked out a way of slicing them up so that you get the maximum quantity of usable fabric, plus a quantity of “seam yarn” for rag rugs etc., from each garment, depending on how it’s constructed. But I’ve always struggled with how to use the collar & cuffs & generally ended up popping them into my scraps-I-really-can’t-do-anything-with bag. This goes off to a charity shop, where they get paid for rags by weight; every little counts!

But today I cracked it; I found a nice “Next” pink striped needlecord shirt for £1 on Monday, that you’d have to have an incredibly slender & well-sculpted figure to wear. I could see straight away that it’d make several stunning fabric hearts, or possibly needlecases; maybe some of each. As I was cutting it up today, the cuffs fell together onto the tabletop in such a way as to remind me I’d lost my glasses case recently, and suddenly I could see how I could make them into one, very quickly & easily. And 20 minutes later, my glasses had a new home! It even has a useful little pocket on the back, too, that I’m going to make a tiny matching mending kit for. Will post a “how-to” sometime after weekend!

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Well, I feel quite let down…

March 4, 2012

…by Google!

I do enjoy a bit of foraging, and the WWW has been my constant companion & advisor, both in identifying plants and in working out how (not to mention whether) to use them. I love walking in our beautiful countryside or along the riverbank, seeing what I can find to supplement & broaden our diet, and cooking & preserving the assorted goodies that Nature gives us. But not all my foraging takes place in the wild; our local market is often an excellent hunting ground for astonishing bargains, like the £1 sack of organic parsnips I bore home triumphantly a few weeks back. I shared that with a couple of neighbouring households, and Googled parsnip recipes (NOT Woolton pie) and we’ve had some lovely cream of parsnip soup, rösti, and roasted mixed vegetables over the last few weeks.

On Friday I found one of the fruit & veg stalls selling entire boxes of blueberries for £1; that’s 12 of the little supermarket punnets, which sell for about £1.75 each. Admittedly they were not in the first flush of freshness & one or two were suspiciously stuck together; I knew there’d be some sorting out to do. But I also knew that if they were too far gone to use any of them, I could use them for dyeing some of the tonnes of fleece & wool that’s hanging around the place. In the event, when I sorted them out this afternoon, less than one punnet’s worth had to be thrown into the compost & the rest were fine, so, having just been given some nice clean jam jars, I decided to make some blueberry & lemon jam.

The sort of thing I need Google for is to find out whether any given berry or fruit will gel left to itself, i.e. how much pectin it contains. I do have plenty of old recipe books, but were blueberries available to Isabella Beeton? It might take me hours to find out; it’s far quicker to use the computer. But could I find a definitive answer to how much pectin there is in blueberries? Not in a hurry… Some sites claimed they were high in pectin, and some that they were low in it. The rather-useful Pickle&Preserve was hedging its bets with a “medium” rating. I do have some pectin in the cupboard, but I always prefer not to use additives, however natural, if I don’t have to, so I decided to get on with it & see for myself. If it didn’t gel, I could always call it a coulis.

Well, I’m firmly on the “high” side. I would swear that the masher I used to smash the berries up as they were heating & the sugar was dissolving had trainee jam on it. And it had only been boiling for a very few minutes before the drops on the cold plate – I do own a sugar thermometer, but a cold plate is far less bother & much easier to clean – wrinkled straight away. Time will tell; it hasn’t cooled yet, but it looks like we have nearly 4½lbs of blueberry & lemon jam, for the grand sum of about £2. I feel a scone-baking session coming on…

And just an update on the mincer front; the little blue one found a new home without any trouble yesterday at Boscombe Vintage Market but in the meantime another one has landed in my kitchen. This one is a slightly rusty old “Potter” about the same size as the Spongs; it doesn’t have the slicer/grater attachment, but it does have a grain grinder and it screws onto the tabletop, rather than sticking down as the Spongs do – or rather, don’t, as our wooden tabletop isn’t smooth like the Formica surfaces they were designed for. Once I’ve cleaned the Potter up, I will have to choose which one stays & which one goes. Lovely, and effective, though the beige Spong is, it’s not that practical to use for slicing/grating in my particular kitchen, as I need three hands; one to push the food down, one to turn the crank, and one to hold the machine itself down! So that one too may end up on my stall next month.

Come to think of it, I have a whole porch full of “kitchenalia” – maybe I need two stalls…