Friday, 31 October 2008

The Wheel of the Year - Hallowe'en or Samhain

As the wheel of the Year turns and the days of Autumn are upon us, the greatest feast of the Pagan Calander, Samhain or New Year’s draws ever closer. Once the apex of social events - the great feast that would warm in memory throughout the bitter winter, the last chance to see the family, including one’s ancestors, before the dark days fell upon the land – this solemn and spiritual event has become perhaps the trashiest modern festival around. The pollution and corruption of this feast by both Christianity and Commercialism is breathtaking in its scope. Whereas other pagan feasts were adopted and adapted, Oestara becoming Easter, Yule evolving into Christmas, “Halloween” not only hi-jacks the deepest held beliefs and practices of our Pagan ancestors, but manages to insult the very culture it has purloined. Not content with parodying elements of ancient ritual such as the Dead Feast, or divination, (monkey nuts and throwing an apple-peel over one’s shoulder in modern parlance), mainstream churches have ensured many people think the origins of Halloween lie in a form of devil worship. Rather annoying for a culture that didn’t believe in a Devil, but certainly telling us more about Christianity and other orthodoxies than about our pagan past!

Its true name is Samhain: it is the feast of the Dead in the Celtic Calendar. On this night the veils between the worlds are lowered and not only can a dedicated person seek advice from the Other-worlds but the dead ancestors can reach out to the living.

Samhain marks several things. As with all Celtic pagan feasts it marks a point on the wheel of the year, in this case the end of the year, and beginning of the New Year. This date, obviously, was a great occasion in Celtic society. In this sense alone, one would the progress of the year; the death of the world which will (they all devoutly hoped) be reborn in Spring. This view of the world was enshrined in sagas and in folktales, in stories about the mother god giving birth to the son, who dies and then is reborn (concept carried on in many cultures and for many generations! ) or in the two lovers who are separated by foul means, by death or magic.

Samhain was the period of the year when the livestock which would not make it through the winter was marked out and slaughtered, to be feasted on and to be dried out as provision for the long dark months ahead. This, coupled with the sense of the world going underground for the winter, led to this feast being a feast uniquely concerned with death and the spirit world. At this time, the veils between the world of living and dead were felt to be very flimsy and our ancestors instinctively realized that the spirits, and ancestors, were close at hand.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Limoncello - Part 2

As 40 days have passed (well, just over 40!), it's time for part two of the recipe!  I have boiled up 625ml water and 500g caster sugar and am leaving it to cool to room temperature.  Once the sugar syrup has cooled I will add it to the jar of vodka and lemon zest and put back in a cool, dark place for another 40 days ... 

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Kitchen Project - Cabinet Transformation! Part 1

We have been busy in the kitchen today - making a start on finishing the little bits of decorating we have left to do ... the little bits we started back in January ... oh yes, 10 months ago!!

Mr Plum was busy putting edging on the work top, finishing laying the floor, putting a nifty piece of wood on the step into the bathroom (a bit difficult to describe on here - but looks great!) and putting a new light in.  I made a start on transforming the "cube", and painting shelves and window sills. 

We are nearly there - our aim is to get it completely finished by Christmas! 

My main project today was "cube" - Mr Plum's pride and joy - but far too '80's for my liking - and it no longer fits into our lovely kitchen.  

Here is the cube - before it got the Plum treatment!  

I have painted the cube with a nice white gloss to match the other bits of furniture in the kitchen.  I had planned to use a "grainer" tool on it - but that didn't work!

My next job will be to make little curtains for the open shelves on the cube.  I have been looking on the Cath Kidston website for inspiration and have found some nice pieces of oil cloth with pretty vintage patterns.  I have sent off for samples - here is my favourite:
but it really depends on how much I will need as typically it is quite pricey

The Good Reads Website

While sitting in bed, gearing myself up to paint the cabinet in the kitchen...I came across a website called "Good Reads".  I have added a link to my blog with recently read books, and the book I am currently reading (a bit trashy ... more of a beach holiday read - but I am trying not to rush through my Maisie D books!).  I think I am turning into an internet geek, so I had better get on with the painting! 

"Pardonable Lies" by Jacqueline Winspear

This is the third book in the Maisie Dobbs series, and again, is an absolute page turner!  Maisie is asked to investigate two cases which take her back to the battle fields of France, threats to her life and unscrupulous mystics.  I wish they would make these books into a tv series or film - I think that we are in need of a sassy 1930's female detective on our screens!!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

To heat or not to heat? That is the question....

As it starts to get cooler (definitely time for hat and scarf!) I am having to think about heating my greenhouse.  Having had a look at the Grow Fruit and Veg forum - I'm not sure whether it will be cost effective for me to heat the greenhouse (I'm also worried about it melting or catching fire overnight...) over the winter.  I have got a few seedlings in there at the moment, but am not planning to fill it up with lots of plants until the Spring ... when (hopefully!) that big yellow disc in the sky that the old folk talk about makes a reappearance! 

Fellow greenhouse owners are spending on average £12 a week on paraffin to heat their greenhouse - which (much as I hate to admit it) is more than I would spend each week on fruit and veg from the supermarket .....

I think that my pennies would be better spent on decent staging for the greenhouse, ready for the invasion of the seed propagators next year!

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Green Tomato Chutney

Regular readers will know that I had quite a few green tomatoes this year.  I have used up the remaining tomatoes (about 1lb) and made a lovely (I hope!) green tomato chutney.  I used a recipe of my mum's and adapted it a little bit....looking forward to having a dollop with some nice cheese!  I didn't make a lot - only two jars, but that's enough to keep us going til Christmas!

1lb tomatoes, chopped
Half a red onion, sliced very thinly
1 apple, peeled, cored & chopped
1/4 pint of balsamic vinegar
4 oz chopped dates
tsp salt
4oz brown sugar

1.  Put the tomatoes, onion and apple in a large, heavy-based pan with the vinegar.  Bring to the boil and then simmer until tender.

2.  Add the dates and cook until the mixture has thickened.

3.  Add the salt and sugar and stir well until the sugar has dissolved.

4.  Pot and seal.

Monday, 6 October 2008

"Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day" by Winifred Watson

Another brilliant book.  I had never heard of "Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day" - but was intrigued by a poster which appeared at my local train station.  The film was released in August ... and it's looking quite likely that I have missed the film at the cinema - oh well, I have read the book which is absolutely amazing!

First published in 1930 by Winifred Watson, this novel has recently been re-published by Persephone Books along with the original illustrations.  Miss Pettigrew is a fairy tale ... the dowdy, spinster governess turns up on the doorstep of a nightclub singer and ends up being made over, taken to a nightclub and travelling home in a taxi ... with a man! It reads like a Fred Astaire film and in my head the singer is played by Ginger Rogers! 

Reading this has inspired me to look at other titles in the Persephone range.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Gardening Jobs Done Today....

This is a little aide memoir to remind me of what I have done today (and when to hopefully expect growth!).

Planted in pots (to be transplanted when larger) - 

Spinach (Perpetual)
Carrot (Nantes Frubound) 
Broad Bean (Aquadulce Claudia)

All were on a special "vegetables to be sown in Autumn" stand at the garden centre yesterday).  I also have lettuce, more beetroot and cabbages to do .... but it's dark now and I can't see what I am doing!!

I have also planted blackcurrant and raspberry bushes in pots - not sure whether these will work, but they were cheapo plants from Poundland ... so we'll just have to wait and see!

I have also cleared out the old tomato plants, pulled up a rather sad courgette plant and pumpkin - I have weeded around the other two pumpkins ... fruits are still tiny and sprout sized .... not sure whether we will have a pumpkin big enough to carve for Hallowe'en!!

Must go and make dinner ... we are having some of my potatoes!!! Yum!

Blackberry Jam - the results!

I have just made my jam! Not sure how it will turn out - but smells lovely and fruity!

Spicy Sloe Gin

I have used a different recipe for this year's sloe gin ... it is from the brilliant book "A Slice of Organic Life" - this will be my first 'project' from the book!

2lbs sloes
zest of one orange and one lemon
teaspoon of honey
cinnamon stick
2cm ginger, sliced
6 cloves
bottle of gin

Crush the sloes with a rolling pin, or spoon and put into a large bottle/jar.  Add the other ingredients and cover with the gin. Store the jar somewhere dark and cool for 6-12 months ....

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Blackberry Jam

Last weekend, me and Mr Plum scoured the hedgerows of Plumton-on-Stour for blackberries and sloes .... there was an abundance of fruit and we came away with 3kgs of berries and 2 kgs of sloes! The sloes are in the freezer (traditionally, you shouldn't pick the sloes until after the 'first frost' - freezing them is a bit of a cheat!) - I will probably defrost them tomorrow and get the sloe gin on the go.  Anyway, back to jam!

I have never made jam before - so am quite excited! I am using a recipe in my trusted Betty's cookbook - usual equal amounts of fruit and sugar.  I have also stocked up with jars from Ikea - not sure how much jam I will make!  In my head it will be enough to stock a farm shop and I will be able to give up work and live off the proceeds ... 

Next on the list of things to do is making green tomato chutney .... 

"Birds of a Feather" by Jaqueline Winspear

This is the second novel in the Maisie Dobbs series - and is as compelling as the first!  It is now 1930, about 6 months after the first book.  Maisie's detective agency has been asked to find the missing daughter of a local business man.  In searching for the girl, both Billy and Maisie have to confront demons still lingering from the First World War.  It's very good - go and read it!


Today was the day that I decided to check what was growing in my potato barrel!  I am very please to report that I have harvested nearly a kilo of lovely little potatoes (I can't remember what variety they are though!) ... looking forward to sampling some tomorrow!