Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Playing Chicken

I went to my first ever village planning meeting the other week.  Well, I say planning.  It wasn't really.

It was a consultation exercise, chaired (I use the term very guardedly) by the Parish Council, to discuss the planning impact of a proposed new agricultural development a mile or two down the road.  There's a disused chicken  farm, which has been disused for at least four or five years, maybe more; the owners now want to redevelop the land to put a new all-singing, all-dancing chicken farm there.

When I say "all-singing, all-dancing" I don't think that'll be the chickens themselves.  I may be wrong, of course.

Anyway.  The plans said that there would be a large number of lorries travelling through the village (narrow roads, few pavements, already awkward to get through when there are large vehicles coming the other way) which was hotly contested by the increasingly furious village people at the meeting.  There were also concerns around the removal/disposal of "foul waste" - chicken shit, I guess - and presumably dead chickens that failed the assault course and swimwear sections of the final rounds of their training.

The meeting was loud, poorly-managed and grumpy.  Things were not improved by the arrival of the local pretend police at the start of the meeting, sauntering in casually in their stab vests.  Nice touch.  Nothing like some not-really-police-officers arriving in uniform to reassure the disgruntled attendees that things will all be lovely.

So. The upshot of all the ill-tempered arguing was that the people who own the current chicken farm are pretty much adamant that they will be developing their property, and it will be a huge battery "broiler chicken" farm before much longer.

At one point the chap representing the developer said "Well, it's all very well to protest about it, but you all like this sort of chicken!" to which there was a loud, sustained roar of "No we don't!" from the audience.  It was like the world's most middle-class pantomime ever.

I'm not vegetarian, or anything like a vegetarian, but I do buy eggs and meat that are British, free range and locally-reared, preferably from one of the independent butchers we have in town.  I am aware that I am fortunate in being able to make choices based on my personal ethical preferences, rather than price.  It was, however, very amusing to see the look of dismay on the chicken farm owner bloke's face when he realised that most of the people glaring at him were not his target market for two-for-a-fiver chickens.

In other news, I went to the market this morning.  No lemons this time, sadly, but there were bargain tomatoes.  A huge boxful for a fiver, which have been transformed into nine large bags of chopped tomatoes (stashed in the freezer) and four jars of extremely spicy chutney.  I followed a recipe which was called "Spicy Tomato Chutney", but would more accurately be called "Suicidally Hot Tomato Sauce, Eat In Very Small Doses, It Would Help If You Like Mexican Food."

They were lovely, and not one was blemished.  This is about a third of the box.

I also bought a large lump of fresh root ginger and four huge aubergines (for another fiver) which I plan to turn into (respectively) apple and ginger jelly, and a moussaka.

Maybe two moussaka.



The weather continues to be shit, with torrential rain and hail at regular intervals.  Today it's windy as well, just for some exciting variety.

Last week, while Mr WithaY was away, I went through a bit of a miserable episode, mostly my own fault for not going out and doing stuff.  I was busy with some sewing work - proper for-someone-else sewing - and thus ended up not leaving the house (or garden) for about three days, and by the time I realised why I was miserable, I was really miserable.  I self-medicated with chocolate and Futurama, and made a full recovery, you'll be glad to hear.

I also made a determined effort to get on with some of the boring housekeeping jobs which I have been putting off for ages.  I have a voice in my head which says "You might as well do the ironing, you're already grumpy," and I tend to listen to it.

So, with a zesty spring in my step, and my sleeves rolled up purposefully, I took the arm caps off the big sofa and handwashed them.  This was by way of a test, as they have labels saying "Dry Clean Only", but I wanted to find out if they would fall apart, bleed colour or shrink to buggery if they were immersed in water.

You'll be relieved to know that they didn't collapse into threads, lose all their colour or turn into jaunty egg cosies, so I stepped things up and put the actual sofa covers into the washing machine, with a devil-may-care attitude.

That's how I roll.  Like a 1930s housewife, with a bad-ass attitude and a Dyson.

Wrestling the covers back onto the cushions took longer than it should have, and would probably have been a prizewinning video clip on You've Been Framed, had I had the foresight to film myself doing it.

Which reminds me.  The other week, before the weather went all shitty, I was out in the back garden, pegging out some washing.  In a bizarre Norman-Wisdom-esque sequence of events, I managed to get my glasses caught on the rotary washing line as I was turning it round, half dragging me along, before flicking my specs into the currant bushes.

You couldn't make it up.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Well preserved

There's been a ridiculous influx of lemons into the WithaY house.  I take full responsibility.  It was all my own doing, and I accept that.  I went to the farmers market the other week, where they have varied and marvellous bargains.

I bought a giant box of red peppers at Christmas, which was fantastic.  I could have also bought an enormous jar of pickled eggs, a whole cartwheel sized Brie, the fixtures and fittings of a defunct pub restaurant, and a herd of calves.

It's an excellent market.

But honestly, a whole box of lemons for a fiver?  Who could say no to that sort of bargain?  And they were really nice big juicy ones* too.

Unfortunately, when smitten with Bargain Blindness, I fail to maintain my usual sense of proportion and perspective, and even some common sense.  So, I handed over my fiver, carried my box o' lemons to the car and drove home in high spirits, completely not thinking about what I was actually going to do with them all.

I counted them when I got home.  There were 50 lemons in the box.  Some of them were wrapped in paper, like little surprises.

"Ooh, what can this be?  It's another lemon!  Well, I wasn't expecting that."

This shook me, rather, and I got out the recipe books to see what recipes I have for 50 lemons.  Turns out that most recipes only need "the zest and juice of one (or maybe two) lemons."  Nowhere is there a recipe calling for "35 lemons, washed and zested," unfortunately.

Several hours of slicing, chopping, squeezing and weighing yielded me:

  • A dozen bags of lemon wedges and slices which are in the freezer;  
  • A lemon drizzle cake;
  • A large jar of lemon curd;
  • A delicious lemon souffle pudding which I would recommend to anyone
But most of all, MARMALADE.

A shedload.  Here's the makings for the second batch I did, using (I think) 10 lemons a time.  It took bloody ages.

I got bored by the last few jars and added dried chilli flakes to them.  It will be interesting to see what that tastes like. It sounds like it should be nice.  If you were in a posh restaurant and the menu included something called "hand cut lemon chilli marmalade" you'd think "ooh, that sounds interesting."

Well, I would.

 As you may see from that picture, I was running low on jars, and had to scour the cupboard for old Chinese food containers to put cooked marmalade in.    It was a useful learning experience though.  For example:  it seems that the very-similar-to-Chinese-food containers that deli olives come in do not stand up well to being filled with a boiling sugar product, and buckle dramatically after a very short time.

Yeah, that was a fun five minutes.

Anyhoo, the lemons are all used up with no waste, hurrah for me and my frugal ways, and I have a box full of jars of marmalade.  And, though I say so myself, it's delicious.  We've been having it for breakfast this week, on home-made** bread.  Om nom nom.

Also this week, I have been making a Medieval jacket for Mr WithaY.  He was supposed to be taking part in a re-enactment event this weekend but due to circumstances beyond his control, the plan fell through this morning.  However, the jacket was made on a bit of a deadline, as we assumed he would need it today.

I drafted the pattern, cut it out, and got most of the machine sewing done on Wednesday,  then hand finished it yesterday.  I think it took me about 5 hours to do the drafting, fitting, cutting, machining and pressing, then another 5 or 6 for all the hand sewing.  There are a lot of laceholes which had to be hand stitched, and you can't do it fast.

Well, I can't anyway.

So.  Here's the pattern I made, finally fitted properly, with the outer fabric cut out.  It's made of a madder (reddish) wool, lined with a slightly darker red linen.

This is the front view, laces have since been added to the eyelets all down the front edges.  20 of them,  hand sewn.  Did I mention that already?  My fingers are still bloody sore.

This is the back view, please note the V-shaped collar insert which was an absolute bastard to get right.

It didn't help that I haven't made Medieval clothing before, so the shape of it seemed all wrong.  I spent years making Seventeenth Century re-enactment kit, so I have a good feel for how it should look when it's complete, but this was all new.

I kept thinking "It's too wide...the sleeves are too full...that collar is all wrong" until Mr WithaY put it on.  Then he looked like an extra from Cadfael, and I was relieved.

In other news: I went to the shopping village at Street, Somerset this week.  I'd never been there before and a friend*** suggested we take a look, so we had a Big Day Out shopping.

Mmmmm shopping.  I'd like to point out that not all of those bags are mine.

My advanced age and general lack of cool can be summed up by the fact that I bought myself (among other things) two new aprons, a butter dish and some soap, and was utterly delighted with the day.

The shopping village is on the site of the Clark's shoe factory, and there are some interesting bits and pieces relating to the history there.

The old factory chimney is impressive, and there are some fab London Plane trees in one of the courtyards.

It's not somewhere I'd visit regularly, but once or twice a year I think is fine.  You can always stockpile aprons, after all.

Oh - almost forgot - I made some peanut butter fudge with my bastard home-made peanut butter.  I found a Sophie Dahl recipe online and tried it.  I ate one piece of fudge when it had cooled down and thought I was about to die, my heart was racing so hard.  It's all  boxed up in the freezer now.  I'm too scared to eat it.

*Apologies, smut seekers
**In a bread machine we were given.  It's not Little House on the Prairie.
***Hello Jo!