Sunday, 29 August 2010

The dream bread oven

SO exciting. After years of wishing and thinking and reading, it was determined that this week would be the week to build a clay bread oven. No fancy schmancy purchased stuff, but all built from stone and clay from the farm. It's not finished quite yet - the door needs to be carved, the sand former scooped out and the lime render clarted on, but the majority of the work has been done. It's a huge clay tit. It's monstrous. It's wonderful. And I must be patient and let it dry out before we fire it up and stick in some pizza and bread and cake and lamb and.....
I had absolutely nothing to do with this, by the way, other than offering my gleeful mud-pie lovin' husband many positive comments and cups of tea. I've been busy preserving stuff from the veg patch to take us through the winter, not that you'd notice any diminution of the produce in the garden.
I will try to get rid of that irritating advert across the slideshow - bear with me - bear, not bare...

Sunday, 22 August 2010


It's started. That madness that eventually follows the scouring of seed catalogues and the planning of the hedging rotation. The fruits and veg, both wild and domestic are indefatigably, exhaustingly, here.
Today I have pulled and laid out to dry all the onions and shallots - enough for a great wodge of the year if drying advances more quickly than rotting. I have beheaded the globe artichokes and produced jars of artichoke bums in olive oil. I've picked cultivated raspberries and tripwire hazard blackberries and the first crumble of the season is in the oven right now. The runner bean chutney glints at me, the colour of tawny cat's eyes. Yellow courgette soup is in the fridge. Field mushrooms sit fatly in a pudding basin in the scullery for tomorrow's breakfast.
It's the start of the wild-eyed frenzy of grey rabbit activity. The hording and stockpiling, the harvesting and salting, the preserving and sweetening. Puddings are back on the menu. Vinegars are to be made. The orchard has to be checked regularly to make sure the damsons, gages and plums are caught before wasps, squirrels and birds ravage the lot. The apple crop is going to be huge, but the bottles and the crushing and pressing gear are all waiting.
We turn from bemoaning the empty shelves to wondering how we can find room for just one more jar. I don't wander anywhere without trug, colander or plastic bag. And the ducks I've been rearing for meat have started to reach the age of freezerhood.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Aga paranoia

I have delved the depths of irrelevant middle class angst. I rant against The Big Society (doublespeak for amateurs doing the work of professionals, mostly badly, in the spare minute between the job, the volunteering, the living, the sleeping and the kid's ballet classes), but in my more selfish moments I am in a rant with self.
It's to do with comfort zones, laziness, habits dying hard, practicalities and complete disinterest in shiny and pristine if it means work that I find unnecessary. I've talked about my sluttish ways before. But now, there is a new daily challenge. We have had the top and lids of the Aga re-enamelled.
It looks shiny and new and virtuous and strokeable. But before it was hammered and friendly and easy to live with. Now I can't drop a splotch of tomato sauce or dribble of chicken juices without heading for a j-cloth. Now, I can't balance casseroles, pots or pans on the lids without fishing out a tea towel (is it clean?) to soften the blow. Before I was quick and efficient, sliding heavy pans full of roasted summat out of the oven and onto the top. No jiggery pokery required to lift the joint onto a plate keeping nice and hot before shoving the pan straight onto the hot plate to conjure up gravy. Now I am in a ferment of confusion and fear. I MUST NOT SCRATCH THE NEW TOP. I must keep cork mats and tea towels close at hand. I must learn how to hold heavy pans full of hot things in one hand whilst the other fannies about finding the equivalent of a coaster for big things. And I know I'm going to fail this test of competence.
My mind is on the cooking, not the cleaning, on the ingredients and the process, not the niceties of housekeeping. I HATE housekeeping. I will never fret on my deathbed, no sudden conversion to cleanliness and godliness, wishing I'd been a religious scrubber rather than an atheist slut.
But that altar of the kitchen that was so welcoming and full of promise has turned on me. It has expectations. It has needs. It has had money spent on it. And now I'm not as in love as once I was.
It took seventy years to get to the state where we thought it deserved a facelift. And now the bloody thing will see me out and will shinily reflect my ageing face as it beams back, younger than ever.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Tumble weed, bindweed

I can't keep up with myself. My desk has 8 heaps all requiring attention, which they are getting, it's true, but other things are falling by the wayside.
I know this, but I'm not sure I like having it rubbed in my face. So when I went into the polytunnel this evening to pick shallots, courgettes, french beans and corn cobs to go with the supper of salmon fishcakes, I did a comedy doubletake when the rakes and hoes caught my eye.
Spiralling round them in a romp of green is a bindweed that should be nicknamed Prefect or Jobsworth, perhaps Tattletale or Longbacon. So I've been told, proper. Nature is turning against me; I've had a yellow card wagged under my nose.
I stuffed my colander with the vegetable goodies and ran into the house. If the triffids invade, I'll only have myself to blame.