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Wales, United Kingdom
Documenting one couple's attempts to live a more self-sufficient life.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Fermented veg: Not just sauerkraut

After my early enthusiasm for fermenting all of the vegetables, I settled down to just sauerkraut. However, seeing that carrots were going cheap in the supermarket recently, I bought a second bag and had a go at fermenting those.

Roughly following a recipe that someone shared in a facebook group, I added small quantities of onion and celery as well as a couple of pieces of crystallized stem ginger (the recipe had root ginger, but I had a jar of the sweet kind in the cupboard). There was something else in the recipe, too - I forget what it was, but I didn't have any.

I wanted to be sure that the ginger (grated, and rather sticky) was evenly mixed with the carrot so, instead of my usual method of adding ingredients in turn to a jar and pressing down as I go, I sprinkled salt over the grated carrots in a bowl first, then mixed the ginger through, and added the other vegetables last, and mixed it all up with my hands. Finally, I packed the mixture into a jar and pressed down. It released enough liquid to submerge everything when it was well squashed.

Fermented carrot salad. The stones are used to keep it under the liquid.

After about a week I tried some and really liked it. I'd wondered whether fermenting the sugar out would lose an essential feature of carrotiness and leave it dull and possibly bitter, but not at all. It just tastes like a tangy grated carrot salad, as if I'd added a good vinegar dressing. It's nice on its own, with cheese or cold meat in a sandwich or, less obviously, as a substitute for chopped tomatoes in cheesy pasta. In fact, I'd say this makes a pretty good alternative to tomatoes in salad, which is great, since I've had no success in growing tomatoes. Unfortunately, I haven't done very well growing carrots, either, but at least they're cheap to buy.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

A sunshine and bara brith sort of a day

There are bad days and there are good days. Today is a day of sunshine without the icy north wind that came with it at the weekend.Today is a day for seeing the first crocus buds in the garden.

Today is a day of the steam train going past, and the driver waving while I'm hanging the washing out on the line. Today is a day of a firewood delivery in weather that's quite pleasant to be out it (but only because Ian deferred it from yesterday, when it was chucking it down).

Today is the kind of day when some firewood is just too pretty to burn.

Today is a day of home made bara brith (literally 'speckled bread', this is half way between bread and fruit cake).

Today is a day when I might feel able to face the greenhouse, which is in dire need of a clear-out.

I'm not promising anything, though. I have a cup of tea and a slice of bara brith, and a cat who's just started kneading my arm.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Signs of spring

This week, I have been mostly studying Welsh and proofreading, which don't make for the most interesting blog posts. Outdoors, however, it has finally stopped raining and looks almost like spring, which is very exciting. It's also cold enough that I don't mind too much not being able to get out in it. Of course, this year the weather has been so mixed up that early signs of spring are more a cause for concern than celebration, but these are not daffodils flowering in January...

I might have had snowdrop flowers if the slugs hadn't chewed them off.

The willow I planted last year has pussy willows! When I was five, I put one of these up my nose. A bigger kid told me to.

Pebble's elder tree has leaves coming out.

What really tells us that winter is over, though, is the first train of the year!

George came to watch the second one.

Not a sign of spring, but the moon was rather beautiful this evening.

Monday, 8 February 2016

End of the post a day challenge

Well, that fizzled out a bit, didn't it? I was doing fine for a couple of weeks, but even before we went away, I was getting a bit fed up with this challenge. I found myself posting things just for the sake of getting something posted before the end of the day, and not taking time to write more thoughtful posts. Blogging started to feel like a bit of a bind, so when we got home, I hadn't really got the heart to get back into the challenge.

On the plus side, it did get me back into the habit of blogging, which was the point of it. I also posted a few things that had been lurking in drafts, or in the photo file having not even got to drafts, for far too long. Now I don't have so many unwritten posts hanging over me, I feel a little less guilty about neglecting the blog. This doesn't mean I'll neglect it more - guilt has the opposite effect on me; when I feel guilty about something I tend to avoid it. How counterproductive is that? I feel guilty about not doing enough of something, so I run away and do even less of it! Is this just me?

Anyway, I'm going to stop pretending I'm writing a post a day, but I will try to write about things as and when I have something vaguely interesting to say, or a nice photo to show you. In the meantime, here are some pictures of George:

Outdoors, last summer. I'm looking forward to some outdoors weather again.

On the sofa, where he spends most of his time at the moment.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Seed audit and planning

The first step in planning what seeds to buy was to find my seed pot. It was on the floor just there for ages, but then I tidied up... I found it eventually, and there are quite a lot of seeds in it.

Seeds, various. Very various.

A lot of these are old, but I think I'll take a chance on them and only buy what I haven't already got. I have:-

  • Field beans, some old, some saved, possibly mouldy
  • Dutch brown beans, saved
  • Borlotto beans, old
  • Peas, old-ish, Exzellenz, not enough
  • Brocolli, some old, some masses of saved
  • Red cabbage, old but masses of them
  • Spring onions, two varieties, at least one of which is fresh
  • Hokkaido squash, just four seeds
  • Carrots, old
  • Root parsley
  • Parsnips, saved
  • Leeks, saved (hopefully)
  • Chard, two varieties
  • Fennel, old but lots
  • Purslane
  • Basil
  • Beetroot
  • Borage
  • Nasturtiums
  • Sweet peas
To add to these, I now have anise hyssop and primroses - thank you Sara! This is a pretty good selection, before I've even bought anything. I've decided against growing tomatoes this year, as they need a lot of attention and I've yet to get a decent crop. Carrots would be off the list if I didn't already have seeds - I'm not sure whether to bother sowing them or not. Peas do well, so I'll get more of those. Similarly potatoes - I tried one of the blight resistant Sarpo varieties last year, and I'd like to grow those again. I'll also add courgettes and sweetcorn to the list.

The only other veg I'm wondering about is asparagus. My seed-grown plants have mostly failed, and I do like asparagus a lot. I wonder whether plants grown from crowns might be strong enough to withstand some slug-chewing? Or if not, whether I might be able to defend a few plants successfully? Given the otherwise short shopping list, it might be worth a go.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Getting into a rut

A common theme in self-development advice is breaking free from routine. Routines stifle us, say the lifestyle gurus say*. Break out of the rut and set yourself free! While it can be true that blindly following a routine can be limiting, what about the flip side? What if you don't have a routine at all?

Without the demands of children or a job to structure my days, I'm left to decide how to fill the hours. Particularly when mental resources are low, decisions can be taxing, and there's a danger of sliding into the easy, tempting option of browsing the internet. So many interesting things!

I have a problem with hours disappearing as I follow links from facebook, read blogs, and look up the answers to various questions - either prompted by claims on facebook or things I was just wondering about (Can we really live on potatoes alone? What acids are produced in kombucha? No, and acetic and gluconic acids, respectively).

The thing about routines is that they make things easy. This is why it takes effort to break out of them. That's not to say that they're easy to establish; it takes a while before you get the thought popping into your head, Now it's time to do X. Of course, you don't have to make a decision every day while you establish the routine, just find a bit of motivation.

I didn't think it was realistic to construction a whole day's worth of routine all at once and in any case, I wasn't sure I even needed all of that. My main goal was to stop losing entire days on the computer. I've been piecing it together over the last year, and I think it could do with quite a lot more tweaking (as I still spend far too much time on the computer), but this is what I've got so far:-

  1. Get out of bed and go to the bathroom
  2. Fuss cat
  3. Get dressed into underclothes and soft trousers
  4. 10 min worth of exercise
  5. Change soft trousers for jeans
  6. Breakfast WITHOUT switching on computer. Read something in Welsh instead.
  7. Wash the dishes. Listen to the radio (also in Welsh) if I feel like it
  8. Tea break. If I listened to the radio, the computer is switched on by now, so I'll probably look at it.
  9. .....
  10. Lunch
  11. .....
  12. More tea
  13. .....
  14. Prepare, then eat, dinner

You'll noticed that George has added one item to this list. He gets plenty of attention at other times of day, too, but it's first thing in the morning that he's most interested. There are also little jobs that get done at this time, like kneading bread dough or putting laundry in the machine.

The ten minutes of exercise was inspired by my sister and her husband, who've taken to doing a brief workout every evening after the kids have gone to bed and before dinner. My sister said that if she had my lifestyle, she'd do it first thing in the morning, and I agree. Whereas they're focusing on strength and fitness, I have problems with tense muscles in my back, so I'm doing a bit of half-remembered chi gong and some stretches.

I was going to write do something in the gaps between meals and tea breaks, but if I'm honest, that doesn't always happen. That's the idea, anyway. Stuff I need to get done is so varied that I can't include it very specifically in a schedule, but if I have chunks of time when I'm expecting to get on with whatever project is on the go, then hopefully I'll make some progress. Even if I don't, at least the kitchen is less of a bombsite these days, which makes me feel a lot better when I need to use it.

With this blogging challenge, I was hoping to find a time of day for regular blogging, and maybe manage to shoehorn other computer stuff into that time slot, too. As you'll have noticed, the challenge has suffered a bit of a setback lately. We went away for a few days and it was more difficult to get into a writing frame of mind. I could have done it if I'd had some posts lined up before we went, but I'm not that organised. Before that, though, I was starting to find that the afternoon tea break felt like time to start writing a blog post, so hopefully I'll get back to that. Maybe I'll even resist looking at the computer earlier in the day, but that takes will power, and the whole point of a routine is to avoid needing to rely on will power too much. Hmm, needs more work, I think.


* At least, they used to. Judging by how difficult it was to find an article to illustrate this point, I guess this advice may have gone out of fashion.