Year ending 2013

Time for a clear view of the New Year.  Out with the old decorations, this year boughs of fir and holly gathered from the hedges and fields after a particularly violent December storm, and now the last few thrown on the wood burner making an especially ferocious roar.  So here we are looking forward to a new year with all the excitements and struggles it might bring - but we will deal with them all, somehow. 
And this year's resolution, I'm done with all the too challenging ones  which I fail at, like "hoover more",  this time, in 2014 my aim is Don't Burn the Toast!


Shortest Day

How I love to reach this day.  Its 9pm and I am sitting in front of our log burner, hearing the wind and rain battering the windows but I don't mind because the days are now getting longer. 


Home again

Just back from the most wonderful trip to South Korea.  We were guests of Zen company who are producing our brand for the Korean market, and doing it so very beautifully and very thoroughly that it completely took my breath away.  They were extremely kind hosts and gave us the chance to spend sometime travelling around the country.  Here are a few images from our visit. You can click on them to see larger versions.



When you go down to the woods today...

Deluges through the day and warm nights all add up to the perfect conditions for the beloved cep.  A magical woodland walk glimpsing these little chaps nestled in the moss in sunlit bosky glades, a little bird song and wind gently soughing in the trees, then home for tea with this very satisfying 2kg of porcini!   


Squally rain

Its nearly 5pm and the rain is now easing a little.  Rivulets were coursing down the window panes, and my rain gauge notching up to a hefty 17mm since this morning, so I spent the day tucked up in my workshop throwing on the wheel.  Then as I stopped for lunch a momentary glimmer outside reflected in the puddles and shone on the zinnias on the window ledge.  With their vivid colours they are a wonderful memento of summer.


for world poetry day...

I have to admit that I'm not a great one for poetry , but this one, ironically as a confirmed insomniac I find wonderfully evocative.  A.S. Tessimond's Sleep.


A little late summer warmth

I am adamant that it is still late summer and not yet autumn!  Trees are still very green, apples not yet sweetened, and butterflies are still having a feeding frenzy on our Verbena bonariensis.  Oodles of small tortoiseshells, and a single Painted Lady, who was a a bit camera shy. 


Squally Sunday

The forecasters predicted wild and windy weather today, but after breakfast the storm hadn't yet arrived so we struck out for a walk on our favourite hillside, kept moving at a clip as we could see the blanket of rain closing in on us, and the wind ruffled the trees.  Arrived home for a coffee as the first fat drops of rain came.
I'd planned a cook day with the threat of bad weather so got to work making lots of lovely tomato sauce for the freezer, and pear chutney.  We have 2 ancient pear trees, variety unknown, but both wonderful prolific, the pears aren't lookers - a bit lumpy, but their flavour is sweetly almondy, and their flesh is lusciously juicy.  Even though I can eat the most prodigious quantity of fruit, they defeat even me, so chutney is a good option.  I researched various recipes, then amended to make a version to our taste with toasted cumin and coriander seeds.  Here it is below;

Pear chutney - September 2013
2kg pears, when peeled and chopped
3 cooking apples
3 onions
400g raisins
Goodly amount of following spices toasted; cumin, coriander, mustard seed. Bashed.
Chilli flakes 1 tsp.
2 tsp salt
400g sugar (granulated)  (could be a bit less?)
300ml malt vinegar .

Put in pan, boil, stir intermittently, when soft, bottle in warm sterilised jars.
Store for 3 months – if possible to wait!


Raspberry Mivvy

Favourite dahlia which I grew from seed many years ago has been flowering for over a month.  I am giving away seeds to anyone who would like to grow them next year.  I sow dahlias early inside and don't plant them out till danger if frost is over - or if before I have to be ready on a daily basis to protect with fleece in case it gets chilly. 
If anyone is interested in growing some; send a self addressed envelope with stamp on to the address below and I will send some seeds.  It really is a very pretty plant reaching about 3-4' in height, its leaves are rich green and its flowers crimson, on dark reddish stalks which it puts out very freely.
F.A.O.  R. Barker
30 Lydbury North


Back in the saddle

All excitement here for our forthcoming trip to South Korea in autumn.  We are launching a collection of ceramics in Seoul.  Here is a quick peek at one of the ranges, its very quirky and English and very much about life in our village here in Shropshire.


Preparing for home

Last bits and bobs to tie up before we leave on Wednesday, whitewashing house is nearly complete, kitchen more sorted with shelving for our favourite pots and utensils, bedroom windows painted (a bother of a job when its hot as the paint is particularly oily and runs). Fiendishly hot at 39 degrees, but there is a delicious quietness that goes with it.  A warm wind soughing in the pine trees, desultory bird song, and an occasional cicada rasps.  Then as the sun goes down a shimmering vision appears, one’s beloved approaches, carrying a drinks tray – near perfection! 


Supermarkets please note...

Why do we tolerate paying 70p and up for a single pepper in England, when instead of importing wildly over priced and inferior peppers from Holland we could be buying amazingly intensely sweet ones from Hungary.  These are about 73p - but that is for a whole kilo.  Food lovers, read this and weep.

Necessities of life

No week is complete without a trip to the market.  The produce comes from and is sold by farmers who grow on a very small scale.  This lady's stall I visit each week for a kilo of the very best cucs.  I love her scales, which are hand held from the chain you can just see.

mother of invention

 Just trying to wrap up a few last jobs.  I'm lime washing the inside of the house, the traditional mud construction means our house is wonderfully well insulated, so when it's in the upper 30s the house remains refreshingly cool.  But it needs a little tlc to keep it ship shape.  The lime wash settles in the bucket quickly so needs whisking to keep in well dispersed so first I had to invent a whisk for the job.  I found that mulberry twigs were the best, firm but flexible.

Disaster averted - twice over

Lilo is now mended.  Gave up on the super glue method and instead heated a nail head on the gas and welded a teeny patch of lilo stuff over hole.  All very promising, and given that its 37 degrees and clear blue sky the lake is beckoning. 
Yesterday, I confess we were both feeling a bit lacking in joie de vivre department.  Now all is well, we are back on mid season form, and the problem was we had to survive a day without watermelon.  I can now grasp how it is to be deprived of one’s favourite addiction, and the pure bliss of indulging anew.  Phew, thank goodness for the pink stuff.
Went to Gabi and Vince’s neck of the woods, Siógárd on the edge of the Hungarian plain.  We visited their Táj Ház – or village house.  This is a preserved, traditional house, it reminds everyone how life once was.  Ours is not disimilar, mud walls, but it does have the benefit of running water and electric.


My lilo's got a puncture!  37 degrees yesterday so we headed off to the lake, the water was 29 degrees.  I haven't had a lilo since I was about 7, but when it is very hot on holiday bobbing about on the lake is so delicious I am happy to admit to this childish indulgence. 
Earlier we took a trip to Kakasd to see Imre Makovecz's rather spectacular church.  I think it actually refelects his Transylvanian background.


Pancake day

Palacsinta (Hungarian pancakes) for supper, but couldn’t remember the recipe.  So popped over to next door but one neighbour to ask her for the correct proportions.  Hungarian pancakes are wonderfully light thin affairs which they sometimes with a savoury stuffing (here I did paprika chicken in sour cream), rolled up and backed.  Here is a little montage of the note taking, making, then the eating.

Just going dark now and the crickets are starting their nightly seranade.


Getting hotter

Blog 2; warming up

My main concern has been our young fruit orchard which fell foul of the deer in spring, both the big “szarvas” who leave enormous foot prints and bite off the new leaves and the little “őz” (similar to roe deer) who take off damaging strips of bark.  Still in this climate trees grow up fast and strong and I think there is no terminal harm done. 

We have planted nectarines and almonds, peaches, apricots, and cherries.  Closer to the house we have plums and more peaches, which ripen at different times over the summer so you can generally have an on-going supply of sweet yet fresh favoured white peaches ready for the picking.  Then when you fancy something different there’s always watermelons.  There is even someone who comes round the villages with a van selling them.  How civilized is that!

Temperatures are good, upper 20s to mid 30s with clear blue skies.  Soon they say we are due for a heat wave, which generally coincides with jam making as the plums ripen.  Nothing quite like stirring boiling fruit and sugar when its nearly 40 in the shade outside!  Although the little old houses like ours and so well insulated that they always feel deliciously cool in the summer.

Settling in and winding down

I had great plans before we left that I would post regular, even weekly updates of progress on our little Hungarian house.  So far that has totally fallen by the wayside!  As a general rule we come out here and pitch into renovating jobs, but this year, probably because the large tasks are now getting done, it has been a case of nibbling at the little jobs,  interspersed with swimming at the lake in the village, shopping at the local market and chilling out.

No journey here is complete for me unless it means we camp en route in France, Germany, and Austria generally with a car full of saplings to plant out.  And we drive over in a little honda hatchback.  I love the challenge of packing it; tent, chairs, picnics, clothes, a goodly quantity of plant life which I fret over all the way when it gets hot.  This year we wanted to establish an espalier as a screen in the courtyard opposite the house, so I also packed the auger and grub axe for putting in the posts.  Here is it just finished.


Last minute projects

Just finished a little contribution to our village cook book.  All a bit last minute before we depart for our summer place in Hungary.  It was great fun to do these drawings, far less pressure than normal and much more thanks than you get from big store buyers!  But my ampersands gave me so much trouble.


Mid summer's day

Out for a swift hike this afternoon to clear the cobwebs and fried brain feeling at the end of a full on week.  Had to trail blaze a route along our normal path as the undergrowth had shot up and stood well over my head in places.  Not recommended for hay fever suffers as clouds of pollen released around us as we pushed through the rich mix of herbage.  Here and there hog weed's purple stems punctuated the softer grasses.

The Hunter-gather returns...


OK, so maybe I hadn't just bagged a woolly mammoth, but even more delectable, wild garlic or Medve Hagyma, bear onions in Hungarian.  In desperation, having forgotten to buy spinach I went out foraging for the last of this season's crop growing wild in the corner of a field in my village, fed by the brook.  
  The stems are both crunchy and sweet with a heat which becomes mild when wilted in a little butter.  Definitely worth the odd nettle sting.


Nearly June ?

Biting wind and hail storms as June approaches, just the odd sunny day.  Still, the cow parsley and campion are finally putting in an appearance in our hedgerows.  


Pining for blue

Please can we have some more like this.  I knew I'd regret my plea for rain. 


Culinary promises

Long ago, when I must have been feeling particularly indulgent I promised to make a proper pork pie, you know, the hand raised type, not made in a tin (that's cheating) - I don't even eat the things.  Anyway, when the hope of a fine bank holiday arrived and I got sick of finding the pig's trotter in the freezer I realised I had to keep my word.  I made a selection, the classic, with sage and thyme, one with prune added, one spiced with a very little cumin and coriander and one with fennel, garlic and a little chilli.
We found a lovely sunny hillside to spread the picnic and it was a great success.