Endings and beginnings

As it turned out, the end of 2013 also coincided with the end for a couple of spare cockerels from the clutch of eggs that hatched during the summer. Perhaps not the most celebratory of starts to New Years Eve but the job needed to be done.

While still not a pleasant task, the steps are more clear now and once I work up the nerve the actual killing is done with minimal stress for both the birds and me!

Plucking is another story and for some strange reason I find myself unable to take that on. I can deal with the killing and the butchering later on so perhaps I just need that intervening time to deal with the change from live animal to carcass.

Dip, pluck, repeat...
Dip, pluck, repeat…

There are 2 or 3 more unwanted “gentlemen” still with the flock so it’s only a matter of time before they get dealt with too. For the moment, they don’t realise their lucky escape by not perching close to the door of the coop but the clock is ticking for them as well

New year, New start

The start of a new year is always a good time to think ahead to the growing season but as usual I’m way ahead of myself and thinking about the raised vegetable beds already!

The first task for New Years Day was to set up some sort of cover for the raised bed where the soft fruit bushes were planted a couple of weeks ago. I hadn’t expected to lose a raised bed for these but given the state of the ground when I planted the fruit trees it seemed a wise idea to sacrifice it.

Soft fruit, raised bed
Soft fruit, raised bed

A handy coil of old water piping behind a barn was soon put to good use and I’m quite impressed with the results. There is even enough piping left over to deal with a couple more raised beds and even better, a little less rubbish left behind the barn!

I’m not sure where to get the plastic (or netting) to put over this but I’m sure that Google will be able to point me in the right direction. Once that is in place I can see whether there are any noticeable benefits and that might help me decide about getting a greenhouse and/or a polytunnel in future.

Rain stopped play

After the rain set on for the afternoon, the obvious plan was to head for the kitchen and get on with some other jobs.

There was a quick round of sausage making – pork and leek if you’re interested – as we had just about run out over the Christmas period. Due to a miscalculation with the length of sausage casings, I’m left with a supply of sausage meat which will probably be used to make Scotch Eggs or maybe try a “Scotch Egg Pie” recipe I’ve come across.

The moment of glory for this afternoons efforts was the loaf of bread though. In my humble opinion a quite spectacular loaf and proof enough for me that I have mastered my basic loaf recipe based on one I found on the New Zealand Kitchen Aid website.

Getting the hand of bread making
Getting the hand of bread making

All in all, an excellent, productive day and a good start to the new year!

I blame Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

I probably wouldn’t have thought of trying to bake soda bread if I hadn’t seen it mentioned during a an old River Cottage program I happened to watch recently.

If I’m honest I would have guessed that soda bread must be something like sour dough which I believe takes some time and effort to make and that is not my sort of thing. It’s possible that I have this wrong as I’ve not made sour dough (yet) but I can’t usually be bothered with recipes that need leaving overnight or bursts of activity every so often – it must be an attention span problem on my part!

Soda bread on the other hand seemed to be just my sort of recipe – easy to make, no particularly special ingredients, very little preparation time and most importantly almost impossible to mess up! What could possibly go wrong…

I found this handy soda bread recipe on the web which also describe what to do when there is no buttermilk. This  is essential for me as we never normally have that and certainly didn’t have it when I decided to try making this! It all seemed fairly straightforward so away I went and a short time later a nice looking loaf of soda bread was cooling on a rack.

The only minor catastrophe was (I think) a misreading of the quantities when not using buttermilk but I managed by just adding more and more flour until the consistency looked about right!

Completed loaf of soda bread
My first loaf of soda bread

As can be seen, the final result was pretty impressive to my untrained eye and by the morning there was only enough left for a couple of slices of toast!

When the whole loaf goes that quickly it can’t be all bad, just imagine what would have happened if I’d made a “proper” soda bread rather than this first test run.

Sliced soda bread
Sliced soda bread

Next on my list of breads to try is maybe adapting this focaccia recipe on the BBC website which I might attempt to make into a garlic/cheese “tear and share” to go with some pasta.


Baking better bread

Last night I had another go a bread baking with a few minor tweaks to the basic recipe and I managed to turn out a couple of truly majestic tasting but diminutive white loaves. Each of my attempts at bread making yield slightly different results, some of which are better than others  but this most recent effort was generally considered an excellent batch.

Each time I like to vary the approach slightly to get a better understanding of how that affects the results so this time I decided to split the resulting dough between two loaf tins not using a single tin as normal.

Another variation was the use of Allinson Premium White Very Strong Bread Flour which I hadn’t tried before. Maybe this explains the good results but I’m not giving up all the credit just yet.

Also while leaving the dough to prove for an hour or so in the tins before baking, I decided to put them in the oven which had  retained a little heat from use earlier in the evening.

The oven wasn’t by any means hot but just warmer than the kitchen and I believe this also influenced the results. I can’t let Allinson’s get all the glory!

If there is a downside to this batch of bread I would have to say it was the loaf size. I know we should value quality rather  than quantity but I would have prefered both in equal amounts!

Next time I think I will increase the quantities used by about 50% so that each loaf is visually just that little more impressive.

Another planned future variation will be to experiment with adding seeds (e.g. pumpkin, poppy etc) or other flavourings before baking.

I’m always on the look out for  good  bread recipes though so please pass them on to me!


Further bread making adventures

After my first 2 attempts at bread making (white bread rolls and after that a loaf) had proved fairly successful if slightly stodgy, it was clearly time to up my game and try making brown bread.

We had a great time up at the Rothbury Food and Craft Festival yesterday which had lots of interesting local produce on offer including a tasty goat burger made with meat from Lakewood goats and some excellent Brinkburn goats cheese from Northumberland Cheese.

Stoneground wholemeal flour from Heatherslaw Corn MillApparently the goat burger was made by the clever butchers at  Blagdon Farm Shop so as we had never been there before we headed over afterwards for a flying visit.

I spotted this (probably over-priced) bag of stone ground brown flour which led to the idea of making some wholemeal bread.

The fact that it was produced relatively locally by Heatherslaw Corn Mill at Cornhill-on-Tweed was also an influence I suppose but I didn’t need too much encouragement for a new bread experiment really.

After going through the process which is now fairly familiar to me, the dough was left to rise in the loaf tin on top of the oven as it warmed.

dough risen in the loaf tin before going in the ovenThis time I decided to learn from the stodgy past experience and give the dough more time to rise – a total of 1.5 hours rather than 1 hour during my previous attempts.

Immediately before it went into the oven the whole thing looked very impressive and remarkably professional for me!

There followed a tense wait with much peering through the glass door on the oven while enjoying the fresh baking smells that filled the kitchen. Eventually it was time to take it out of the oven and assess the results of my efforts.

A truly majestic wholemeal loaf and even when sliced it looked good… I think that this lunchtime will be wholemeal bread and goats cheese!

The finished loaf

sliced home-baked wholemeal bread

A weekend of successes

Now that the dust has settled a little from the weekend exertions I can start to take stock of the progress made and the relative success of my efforts so far. I know it’s still early in the year and spring is squelching more than usual but I like to focus on the positive aspects where possible.


The most obvious positive is that the carrots I planted out about 2 weeks haven’t died yet and in fact are looking pretty strong. They have been under a cloche all this time so I suspect that extra cover has helped them survive the wet conditions lately. From now on though they are on their own as the cover has been put away.

The carrots have been joined by the first batch of leeks although time well show that these were planted out too soon I suspect. The planting was simple though as the leeks were sown in the toilet roll tubes and so I just had to drop the entire thing in the hole each time. Once they had been watered in that veg bed was looking pretty full for the moment – at least until the carrots get harvested in July.

The onion sets are already starting to show signs of life with most having strong green shoots. I somehow hadn’t registered how many onion sets were coming in my order so I’ve filled all the planned space for them and established some overflow into various pots around the garden as well. It seems a waste but the remaining onion sets will just go to waste I think as I can only do so much with the space allowed.


It was decided to give the chicken coop a good clean out with the disinfectant to keep on top of any possible problems. This decision seemed to be fully justified when I thought I saw some red mite but on reflection I realised that I wouldn’t know red mite if it bite me and it was just as likely to be my imagination. Either way the whole coop was dusted with mite powder as a precaution too.

In the meantime the chickens had their best day ever because they were given free run of the garden while the work went on. This went as well as could be expected apart from the regular hold ups while we herded them back to the furthest end of the garden in a vain attempt to keep some part of the garden in a presentable state.


The new water-butt is now installed and filling up nicely as a result of the rain on Saturday evening. The best I could get from our local B&Q was 200+ litres and maybe I paid a little over the odds at £30 but that should do fine for our purposes. I couldn’t see the point in forking out for a plastic stand at £12 as well so I just bought half a dozen breeze blocks and saved some cash as a result. Small and petty victories are the best!

Other stuff

Many of the non-vegetable gardening jobs didn’t get a look in again but at least I managed to get around to moving a small conifer which had got much bigger since we planted it. As a result the garden view has opened up a bit and an unsightly part of the garden has inherited an impressively looking shrub. Fingers crossed that it likes the new position and settles in well.

If only my first attempt at bread making had turned out so well but never mind, at least it was edible and tasted pretty good even if the rolls did look a bit like an accessory for the 2012 Olympic shot putt. I’ve learned some useful tips for the future and the next attempt should be a lot better.