Gardening take over

I seem to have neglected the blogging lark for a month.
I have been sidetracked into gardening.

And more gardening.

Warm weather and the promise I will open my garden in June to raise finds for the village church, plus a fair number of shifts at work have together meant there has been little spare time…. that plus a fair bit of poetry writing, using the prompts here

??????????So apologies.

I’ll be back. Sometime.

Posted in Gardening, Nature, Photography, poetry | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Reflections on a dull day

A walk around the park today in drizzle… so the light was poor and the photo opportunities reduced -

but the trees looked magnificent, even in the dull light

????????????????????and the snail seemed quite happy, sliding slowly

??????????We walked quickly, pausing occasionally for photos. It was too chilly and damp to stand still.

Reflections for the photo challenge

Posted in photo challenges, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Crocus: Weekly Photo challenge, Perspective

??????????From whatever perspective, crocus bulbs light up a spring day….

??????????

??????????

??????????

??????????I came home yesterday afternoon to see the garden responding to the wonderful warmth, and ended up, after taking a few snaps, responding to it myself, by putting on my gardening clothes. I started the outside spring clean.

By the time I had pressure hosed the garden furniture there wasn’t any light left…. and therefore, no time for any proper gardening….

??????????

Posted in cat, Gardening, Nature, photo challenges, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

A three picture story….. plus one…

????????????????????????????????????????

Photo challenge:
In a nutshell, a three-picture story is a way to help you think about storytelling with images. To create a three-picture story, gather:

  1. An establishing shot: a broad photo of your subject. (The whole flower)
  2. A relationship: two elements interacting with one another. (The flower, showing the shoots yet to develop)
  3. A detail: a close-up of one part of your subject. (It had been raining)

Oh – and a fourth, just because.

Posted in Gardening, Nature, photo challenges, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

Sunset

Today’s busyness was to do with catching up with myself, getting a few mundane jobs done and attending work for a meeting: it was brought to a gentle close at dusk, by a walk in the park with a friend.

??????????A walk and talk is good for the soul. A walk and talk with this backdrop was rather magical! This is Blenheim Lake, in the grounds of Blenheim Palace, in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

My ‘Guinea Pig Writers’ Group‘ completed their five weeks with me yesterday. I had received some positive feedback over the course, and this was re-iterated at the end of the last meeting, which finished with a reading.
It all left me feeling rather positive about trying to take the ideas forward.

My next venture will be to try to get a group together of non-writers: that is people who have never done any creative writing before, or at least not since they left school, and after that I’d like to try an adult education class, if anyone will  employ me. I sent off a proposal and CV today. I just hope I’m not getting ahead of myself.

 

 

Posted in creative writing, Nature, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Selfie shelfie

??????????For the WordPress Photo Challenge

Posted in photo challenges, Photography | Tagged , , , | 23 Comments

6 of 52 – Sky Writing

I have been pulled into the vortex created by 52, and find I am spending so much time thinking about Jo Bell’s poetry prompts (and her guest’s prompts of course on the last Thursday of each month) – which is good in many ways, but other aspects of life also have to be fitted in. This week, as it happens I haven’t been booked to work at the hospice until Sunday…

The prompts come out on a Thursday morning. Today. And today’s prompt is about the weather. Looking at the forecast it seemed that my only chance for a walk, without getting wet or blown away would be before 11 am, but today’s light is flat, flat, flat… and I had hoped for some sunshine so I could take some decent photographs!

We are lucky in comparison with so many other places in the UK, in that we don’t have flooding just where I live. But the fields and woods are saturated and squelchy underfoot. Without much enthusiasm I pulled on my walking boots and wrapped a scarf around my neck.

I didn’t have to go far before I stuffed my gloves into the pockets of my jacket, and pulled out the camera

??????????The old man’s beard is so noticeable at this time of the year catching whatever light there is, and shining against the drab hedgerows even on a dull day.

As I walked I realised I am moving more easily. I treated myself to a massage yesterday which felt like a complete indulgence – but my back has been tighter and tighter over the last few weeks, and today that felt better. Now to remember to do all the stretches I should do to keep things loose!

In the quarry an old tree was taken down – maybe last Spring, which was  a great sadness. It was an old willow and the early flowers were a huge attraction for hundreds and hundreds of bees… the sound of them all contentedly buzzing around the branches was incredible. I don’t know why it was taken down. It hadn’t appeared to unsafe…..

This is what is left of it – it has been moved and scorched, soaked by rain and left to stand in the middle of the grass.

??????????The tree had been a great shelter, and a place to meet, with an established fireplace and a bench

??????????… instead the stump is providing somewhere for fungi to grow

??????????

??????????

????????????????????Nature’s way of wasting not.

On my way back up the lane I wondered what I had gained from my walk which maybe could be fed back into my poetry – because even muddy puddles give a clear reflection of the sky.

??????????

Posted in creative writing, Nature, Photography, poetry, Thinking aloud | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

More Marmalade: made in the slow cooker

After talking to my aunt, who makes marmalade by softening the peel overnight in the bottom of her Aga, I thought I’d adapt her recipe and use my slow cooker. There are several other differences in her recipe: the way the pips are used for example and the fact that the juice from the fruit isn’t added until the sugar is added, as she feels that this gives a fresher flavour.

The last time I made marmalade I made a reduced sugar one, and didn’t include the pith in the final product. For those two reasons that marmalade gave a slightly lower yield than this one.

??????????All night in the slow cooker….

??????????… while the pips released their pectin soaked in water, in a tiny jug. (That’s a tea-spoon handle)

Her measurements:

2 lb Seville Oranges  to 2 pints water 2 lemons, and 4 lbs of sugar.

My measurements:

I bought my oranges in a 1.5 kg bag,
1.5 kg Seville Oranges, 3 litres water, 3 lemons and 3 kg sugar

but better to do half a quantity at a time as this bigger amount takes a long time to come up to setting point – so….

0.75kg Seville Oranges, 1.5 litres water, 1 and a half lemons, and 1.5 kg sugar

Method:

  • Halve and squeeze the fruit and keep the pips and juice aside.
  • Cover the pips in water and leave overnight for pectin to be released.
  • Don’t bother removing the pith from the skins…. just shred them with pith in situ and then submerge the shredded peel and pith in the Slow Cooker (a large capacity one), with 3 litres of water boiling water. (Can put a piece of greaseproof paper over the top to keep peel submerged.)
  • Set on high for a couple of hours, then turn down and leave on overnight. (Can do this rind softening stage quickly in a few minutes in the pressure cooker. My old ‘Good Housekeeping’ book advises 20 minutes at 10lb pressure as a higher pressure would destroy the pectin)
  • Next day put all the pith, peel and cooking liquid into the preserving pan along with the soaking liquid from the pips which will have jellied with the pectin that naturally comes out of them.  Put the pips in a muslin bag and suspend it in the cooking liquid. Add the juice from the lemons and oranges.
  • Add the sugar and bring to the boil slowly, then once sugar has dissolved boil rapidly (Some recipes advocate warming the sugar first, and I have found about 2.5 – 3 mins in the microwave, in a Pyrex bowl works, and it reduces the time you have to stir and dissolve the sugar in before turning up the heat)
  • Boil rapidly until setting point has been reached – the time for this varies. Anywhere between 8 – 20 minutes probably.  (Test by putting a small amount onto a cold saucer and pulling a spoon through it. It should wrinkle if it has reached setting point)
  • Remove the muslin bag of pips.

??????????

Potting up

  • While the marmalade is cooking warm the washed jars in the oven to 140c along with the jam funnel, and metal soup ladle, if you have one, so all super clean – put them on a baking tray to make removal from the oven easier.
  • Boil lids in a pan of water few a few minutes. Just before you need them turn them out onto a freshly washed and ironed tea towel and do not touch the inner bits of the lids which will come into touch with the jars to make sure they remain clean and uncontaminated.
  • Remove the marmalade pan from the heat once you have reached setting point, and skim to get rid of any scum.
  • Cool for 5-8 mins then stir to make sure peel is distributed evenly, then fill pots to top, remembering ‘no touch technique’ to reduce risk of bacterial or mould contamination.
  • Seal and when cool label.
  • Wipe off sticky residue from the outside of the jars before storing.

The worst part of making marmalade is the preparing of the pots…. I recycle jam jars and frequently the sticky labels from the commercial products are really difficult to remove. Here are a few tips I found here:

“Mayo – Not Just For Salads Any More
You can remove sticky labels and glue marks using mayonnaise or regular vegetable oil. Coat the label liberally with the mayo or oil, then give it a few minutes to work through the glue. Carefully scrape off the label, sticky stuff and the mayo or oil using a clean rag and a little window cleaner or alcohol. Should cut the grease and leave the glass underneath sparkling clean.

Vinegar, A Wonder Product
You’ve probably read a lot about the many uses for common household vinegar. Yet another great use for inexpensive white vinegar is for removing labels and sticky residue. Soak a washcloth or rag in a mixture of vinegar and water (a bit more vinegar than water), then use the cloth to apply the mixture to your label or sticky area. Let the mixture sit on the label for a few minutes so it has time to dissolve the glue. The sticker should rub off easily, taking the sticky stuff with it.”

Follow the link to find more ideas.

Posted in Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday Snowdrops

For the first time  this year I went out into the back garden to do some tidying up – I went around, pulling up the old rotting stems and leaves of plants that should have been tidied away in Autumn, and removing old seed heads that had been left there on purpose for the wild life. As the bulbs push through I like to have a tidier garden, it makes them look better! And as the days get longer, I become more inspired.

??????????Of course the compost bin is now much fuller!
And now I have been out there I can see, with all the usual clarity of this time of year, just how much there is to do in the next few weeks.

??????????Usually by now I have a few early crocus alongside the snowdrops, but this year I see no crocus. I read recently that the snowdrops and crocus respond differently in different years to the balance between light (as in day length) and warmth. And this winter has been much warmer than last, so maybe that’s why? Sadly I can’t find the article.
??????????Listening as I worked to Poetry Please, with the theme of Dreams and Sleep. Maybe it should have been ‘Awakenings’?

I did my preparations for the Guinea Pigs Group yesterday and earlier today, so now for a lovely quiet Sunday evening and a meal of slow cooked brisket which is gently cooking, sending out comforting aromas.

Posted in Gardening | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

This year’s marmalade

The house has been smelling wonderfully of oranges over the last couple of days. Yesterday I started the marmalade, ??????????and today I finished it.

??????????This is the recipe I used for this batch.

Reduced sugar marmalade 2014

1.5kg Seville oranges, 3.5 litres water, 2 lemons, 2 kg sugar ( Demerara)
(My original recipe has a ratio of ‘fruit to sugar’ of 1:2: meaning that 2 kg of oranges would require 4 kg sugar –  so the reduction in this recipe is significant. note it will reduce yield also, as bigger quantities of sugar obviously make more marmalade )

Half the oranges and squeeze, pull out pulp and pith, put all this into a muslin cloth / bag over a bowl. Halve the lemons and squeeze and add the juice and husks to the muslin / muslin bag. Solids will be retained by the bag and the juices will run out.

Suspend the muslin bag from the handle of the preserving pan, so that it will sit in the rest of the mix as it is cooked. Add the juice to the pan.

Slice skins into fine pieces and add to pan with the water –
(You can do the chopping up bit in the blender if you don’t mind the pieces looking ‘chopped up’)

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 2 hours, until peel is soft.
(You can do this stage in the slow cooker or bottom of an Aga overnight, or even quickly in a few minutes the pressure cooker. My Good Housekeeping book advises 20 minutes at 10 lb pressure as a higher pressure would destroy the pectin!)

Lift out the bag containing the pips etc. and squeeze as much as possible back into the pan. Then discard the bag contents.
(I usually lift out the bag over a small colander and put a bowl under the colander, then weight a saucer on the bag to get out all the juices, which are v important to add back to the mix, as they contain the pectin
)

Add the sugar to the preserving pan. Stir until sugar has dissolved.
(Some recipes advocate warming the sugar first, and I have found about 2.5 – 3 mins in the microwave, in a Pyrex bowl works, and it reduces the time you have to stir and dissolve the sugar in before turning up the heat)

Bring to the boil and then boil rapidly until setting point has been reached – the time for this varies. Anywhere between 8 – 20 mins probably.
(Test by putting a small amount onto a cold saucer and pulling a spoon through it. It should wrinkle if it has reached setting point)

Warm the washed jars in the oven to 140 c for 10 minutes or more, along with the jam funnel, and metal soup ladle, if you have one, so all super clean!

Boil lids in a pan of water few a few mins. Just before you need them turn them out onto a freshly washed and ironed tea towel and do not touch the inner bits of the lids which will come into touch with the jars to make sure they remain clean and uncontaminated.

Remove the marmalade pan from the heat and skim to get rid of any scum.

Cool for 5-8 mins then stir to make sure peel is distributed evenly, then fill pots to top, remembering ‘no touch technique’ to reduce risk of bacterial or mould contamination.

Seal and when cool label. Wipe of sticky residue from the outside of the jars before storing.

Posted in Cooking | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments