Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Something cheering

I know this looks as if it's at the wrong angle, but it's not. The horizontal leaves are last year's crocosmia leaves that haven't been cut back. What's cheering is the hellebore buds. I have several hellebores that flourish in the bed the kitchen sink looks out at and they're the first thing to flower in my garden each year.

M has a saying:
He who says Spring starts on the first warm day has a longer summer than he who says Winter finishes on the last cold one. I daresay we'll have more cold days and who knows, maybe even more snow, but this morning was mild, dry and at times sunny.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Batts R us


I'm sorry about the title, but I couldn't resist.

As I mentioned recently, I've been making my own batts. You can buy them ready-made, of course, but large ones cost about six pounds each. I made nine large ones, ten small ones and four pot boards from one eight by four sheet of marine ply which cost me less than thirty-five pounds. Do the math, as they say in the US. It's not only the money, though. I really enjoyed working with wood again.

Since M came to live here I've hardly so much as sawn one cut of wood because he has skills in traditional blokish things like building and working with metal and wood so I have mostly handed things over to him that he can do. What he doesn't have, though, is finesse of measurement so when we finally decided that we would have to make a new towel rail, a sensible sized replacement for the broken one being quite impossible to buy, I became a little more involved. First, M suggested I provide him with a template for the rounded ends of the pole supports. I asked if he would like me to cut them with the jigsaw as well and, slightly to my surprise, he agreed. He has a jigsaw, of course, but I've had my own for about twenty years so I fetched it out of the cupboard from exactly where I knew it was kept (disorganised, him? surely not!) and set to. It took a little while to remember the best way to use it, but I really enjoyed working with wood again.

Once upon a time, when I was a full-time teacher, in the days when school holidays were holidays for teachers as well as children, I did all my own DIY. I didn't do any plumbing or electric work but there wasn't much else I didn't have a go at. Not just DIY, either. In my twenties I learned to make a lot of different things from different materials. I must have earned a reputation for it, too, because I remember buying a rather nice little rush-seated footstool and being asked whether I had made it myself. I think people expected that if you could make something, I had. It wasn't far off the mark. Gradually, though, work took a larger part of my time and in recent years I've hardly had time for anything else. So it was a great joy to be making the towel rail components. Having cut all the pieces, I used my electric sander to round the edges further. The project now awaits the next stage.

Having got out the jigsaw, this led naturally to the decision to make my own batts. Throwing batts have to fit tightly onto the wheel and the usual way is to have two metal pins in the wheel and two matching holes through the batts so that they just sit in place. I had never had a wheelhead with the holes in before so my last lot of batts were cobbled together with a home-grown system of four blocks screwed to the back of the batt in such a way that it gripped over the top. It worked fairly well but over the years the batts have warped and slightly shrunk so that the fit is not so tight and some of the batts go up and down as they go round. So - new wheel, new batts.

Cutting the rounds was fairly easy. They're not perfect, of course, but they don't have to be. Drilling the holes was more difficult. There were not many that were exactly right first time and I still don't really know why! It wasn't difficult to enlarge one of the holes in the right direction, though, and all the batts fit just right on the wheel. I shall be using them next week.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making yoghurt

About twenty-five years ago V bought me a yoghurt maker. I took to it straight away and used to make my own yoghurt all the time. I think I stopped when I got married and had to share my under-the-counter fridge with one and a half others (husband and ten-year-old stepson) and there just wasn't room in the fridge for the yoghurt tub. That was over twenty years ago.

I noticed the kit in its box in a cupboard recently and decided that either I had to start making yoghurt again or it had to go. I now have a larger fridge, so why not? I've googled and found that you can't get these Deva Bridge yoghurt makers any more, which is a great pity. Apparently you now have to have electric kits with individual pots. This way is so much better.

The kit consists of an insulated pot, a milk saver and a thermometer. You start with a little live yoghurt as a starter. The instructions say as little as 1 teaspoon will do. The fresher this starter the better. You then put your milk in a pan with the milk saver, bring to the boil, turn heat down and simmer for three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and leave the milk to cool until the temperature drops below the top line on the thermometer. (If it drops below the bottom line, reheat the milk.)

Gradually blend the milk into the yoghurt starter, stirring all the time. Put the two lids on the pot. Apparently the curve of the inner lid, together with the channel in the rim, collects some of the condensation, but I'm not sure this would be completely necessary.) Leave for five hours.


It's a little difficult to photograph yoghurt but I think you can see the two curves on the spoon I stuck into the pot, which you wouldn't get with milk.

Fresh yoghurt is deliciously sweet. The instructions say that the acid taste will start after about three days. I remember only the first day as being actually sweet, though. You can flavour and sweeten your home-made yoghurt, of course, though I plan to have it just as it is, on muesli as I usually do.


There's good news and bad news. The bad news is that after 25 years of being careful, this morning I managed to catch the edge of the yoghurt thermometer with the dishcloth, sweep it to the ground where, of course, it broke. The situation is rescued, however.

Looking at the instructions that came with the yoghurt maker, I found the temperatures that were indicated by the thermometer. The top line, below which the milk must cool, is 49 deg C and the bottom line, below which it must not cool, is 43 deg C. Good news follows, though. By very happy chance, I was given a digital food thermometer from Lakeland Limited for Christmas, so it will do the job perfectly. (I do have, as I have mentioned here before, a jam thermometer but one of the ways in which I find them useless is that the line above which the liquid must come for accurate measurement of temperature is higher than I will ever have a pan of milk for yoghurt.)

More good news is that the yoghurt is still just as sweet this morning. And finally, although the directions say to leave the yoghurt making for five hours, by this morning it was considerably thicker than yesterday.

I'm still very sad at breaking the original thermometer, though.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

If Winter Comes .....

Not so long ago people used to say that we didn't have real winters any more. Then last year we had some serious snow for a week or so and people said it was a proper winter. Now we have winter. I don't remember hearing so many people in so many ways complaining of the winter for a long time. I really hate the cold. I don't cope well with it. This week I have been working in the unheated end of my reinforced concrete pottery doing woodwork (which I will write about some other time.) We insulated most of it a couple of years ago but the cold naturally comes up through the floor and the wooden doors and, of course, through the walls too eventually and it is perishing in there. I've been working up to an hour at a time until my feet (mostly) and hands and back can't stand it any more, by which time I end up feeling angry. M understands I am just raging because I am cold but I don't expect it makes it any nicer for him!

At the other end of the cold spectrum, if it is only just colder than I need, I tend not to notice for a long time but get progressively chilled through until I am just not functioning properly. At this point I usually think "I'm not functioning properly. What's the matter?" and after a couple of minutes work out that I have got cold. I then need heat, rather than warmth, to get warm again and then I can feel my brain perking up and starting to interract with the outside world again.

It's for this reason that I keep my house warmer than a lot of people. Nothing excessive. 21degC in any room where I am sitting still, because that's when the chill starts. I suspect that other people on low budgets don't pay for such high temperatures, though, and I can end up chilled after a visit to friends' houses. We're all different in our reactions to hot and cold. One degree lower is enough for me to chill through but I think I'm probably in a minority. As I wrote a few weeks ago, we are experimenting with having most of the house slightly cooler and being disciplined about shutting the doors on the rooms where we sit and I think it's working. I seem to have saved £10 per week on gas and electricity in January compared with December by doing this. I may turn the thermostat down a little more. So long as the radiators in the sitting room and study are turned up and the doors kept shut, I should be able to avoid the slow chill process.

So anyway, we've all noticed it's winter and the forecast doesn't promise anything different happening any time soon. What is different, though, is the light and this really does help how we all feel. We've had little bits of sunshine here and there last week, though they don't last long. Yesterday afternoon we had one such spell and set out to take some photos, but by the time we got to Cherington Lake the sun had gone.

In spite of the returning dullness, though, the sight of massed snowdrops was immensely cheering. I've been thinking of making a snowdrop picture and yesterday's photos may just be enough to get me started on one.

...can Spring be far behind?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don't blink or you'll miss it



The last time my ovens were this sparkling was when they were new. Oven cleaning is a domestic chore I've never managed to get into a routine, sadly. We had a scheme when this cooker was new that M would clean it every Monday, but somehow that was never convenient and it just got left! We did have one big blitz a year or so ago, but to be honest it still wasn't that good, especially on the upper and back sides. So when Alex Foster tweeted that he had had his oven cleaned and showed a photo on Twitpic, I got quite excited. More excited than I was about picking up the silk dupion to finish my new textiles pieces or the arrival of a new pair of shoes.

I think I should digress here. I rarely buy shoes. On the whole, I hate the things because I find them uncomfortable. I have been living in blissful unawareness that I am wearing shoes since I discovered Crocs but the Cayman is unsuitable for rainy or very cold weather and the styles designed to cope with these conditions just don't fit the bill for comfort in the same way. So I've been looking for a pair of shoes that can be work when it rains that have that same quality of not reminding me every thirty seconds that I am wearing shoes. It's been a difficult search. My feet seem an odd shape. So when I eventually tracked a pair down, although they were expensive, I decided to splash (oops, sorry!) out. I mean, I'll have them for years and years, and the difference between comfort and discomfort sometimes just has to be paid for. In case you're wondering what they're like, my new red shoes can be seen here. Well, at least until they go out of the catalogue, I guess.

So I was quite pleased with my new shoes. And really a bit excited about the silk dupion. But much, much more excited about the idea that I could pay someone to do a really thorough job of cleaning my oven. How sad is that!

I hope very much not to need their services again, but in case anyone in my area has the same problem, Cotswold Oven Valeting was who I used. They're not the cheapest, but they do work in my area. You may well be able to find someone a little cheaper if they are a member of The Association of Approved Oven Cleaners but sadly, the company that said it covered Gloucestershire didn't cover my bit of Gloucestershire. I'm so pleased that such an organisation exists, though.

I have a brand new magic oven cleaning cloth from Lakeland Limited and I hope this will help me keep my oven sparkly clean if only I can be disciplined enough to use it regularly. Time will tell.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The greenhouse project - well, I'm impressed ....

... but I accept that you may not be. I mean, it's not a very exciting photo, really, and unless you're actually on the ground, perhaps you can't get a proper feel of the site, but for me, today's work (not mine, I hasten to add) has definitely turned the spot into a Site. Two trailer loads of subsoil were duly hoiked up to the tip, the last trip in snow, and the site is now somewhere near to being levelled. You can see the whole area which will be receiving new concrete. A little more excavation and a lot of working out of levels is now needed, but I understand that it may not be necessary to actually remove any more stuff from the site. The next job (when it is not snowing) will be for M to work out the exact levels all round where concrete will be deposited. At the same time we are ready to get our builder in to take a water pipe from the pottery (that's a garage to you) underneath where the greenhouse will be and for M to do the same with some electric cable.

The weather will need to improve even for these preliminary tasks, let alone any concreting, but rather like the first hellebore buds that I've spotted in the garden, this is a sign that growing things are on their way.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


Everyone needs the arrival of the cavalry once in a while.

The forecast promised a dry weekend so M hired a pneumatic drill to break up the old concrete on various levels that's going to be replaced by new and on part of which my new greenhouse will one day reside. He knew he would need a bit of help shifting the stuff up to the tip but then someone responded to my offer of hardcore on Freegle and said he would load the rubble onto the trailer as it was created.

So on Saturday morning M went to work. To begin with it was not promising. The first bit of concrete he tried seemed very sandy and the drill just went downwards rather than breaking anything up. Fortunately, as he moved back the concrete took on a more expected texture so his drilling work was breaking the stuff up into chunks. Just as his spirits were lifting again, the Freegle chap said he had hurt his back and couldn't collect the stuff. We had started loading the trailer so M took the rubble over for him, but he then said he didn't want any more.

M had expected to do the breaking up over the weekend and ask for help with the taking away but it became apparent that the two jobs needed doing in tandem. The person we had hoped to get helping seemed out of contact so it looked like M would be working alone. I tried some loading into the trailer but it wasn't doing my back or ribs any good, so I wasn't going to be able to help any more.

We were going out in the afternoon so it wasn't a long day's work, but even so M made great progress:


So, we bathed, changed and went and had tea and cake to celebrate J's birthday. Very pleasant company, delicious cake and progress had been made on the concrete work so we felt pleased with the day. However, shortly after returning home we had yet more icing on cake in the form of a phone call from the cavalry, who had been out of mobile signal range all day but had now got our call for help and would arrive on Sunday at 9.30 a.m. Hurray!

The cavalry has never been so welcome nor done such a wonderful job. M has discovered that he is even less fit than the last time he did this sort of stuff three years ago but when D got to work, M realised just how much difference 35 years makes! Not only that, but the bit M had removed on Saturday turned out to be of rather lesser quality and thickness and the next bits were really hard going, even for a fit 32-year-old.

Fortified by scrambled egg and beans, they worked on in the afternoon and by the time they stopped work had got much more done than M had expected. As well as the main area, old concrete has now been dug up behind the pottery and in front, where it had been rising up over the last six or seven years so that opening the big doors was sometimes a bit of a struggle.  Instead of having to make endless 40-minute round trips to the tip, a new home was found for the hardcore where some hardstanding is being created, so it really was an excellent day's progress.




Next: removing the excess soil and rubble at the back of the site, but that is for another day.