Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sparassis crispa - Cauliflower Mushroom

Found another one of these this morning while walking through the woods near home - from F's parents down into the K---graben and up the hill again into the fields at the back of our house.
Again - we found it near the foot of a Scots Pine tree. It wasn't as big as the one H. found before, but still a decent size. The weather has been wet and windy for the last few days, with sunny intervals; perfect for mushroom gathering. I need to clean it first before we eat it - not sure what to do with it this time - whether to dry it out and jar it - or eat it up quickly. I might wait until H and B are home - B loves mushrooms ;)) ...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Have received a commission from a UK publisher to write a book about Queen Jezebel for 9-14 year olds. It has to be done by 13th November and God willing will be published next year. Very exciting. Thrilled to bits and have to get on with it. :-D

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Harvest Time

I've got a glut of cherry tomatoes at the moment, and the cucumber is doing well. We've had about four so far and there are a lot more to come. Both the cucumber and the Butternut Squash are growing all over the place - I'm glad I had them grow up a trellis, but it isn't nearly tall enough. Next time, I'll make one of steel rods rather than plastic-coated metal poles. The netting works well, but two poles aren't strong enough to bear the weight of two heavy vine plants. I would never have thought that the squash would be so prolific.

The deer have been getting at the chard and beetroot. We thought we had beaten them with the entrance to the wood blocked off, but it seems that they jump over the fence. I kept finding chard and beetroot plants rooted up and the tops nibbled off right down to the base of the plants. So I've covered them up with the chicken wire cages again and they're growing back again, thank goodness. I think they liked the artichoke too, for some reason, but I think it will survive.

The bush beans are coming on well, as are the purple runner beans. We had some today with the last of my sad little leeks, some freshly dug potatoes, diced salami and summer savoury. Scrumptious.

We picked the first courgette - the last of the lettuce (planted some more young plants, as well as Chinese Leaves and Zuckerhut - can't remember what that is in English) - lots of blackberries and some more strawberries. I made a couple of pots of bramble and strawberry jam. Yummy.

We've got some pumpkins coming - our neighbour kindly gave me a plant a few months ago, but frankly, apart from pumpkin pie and soup, I can't think what to do with them. There'll probably be about twenty at least, as well as the butternut squashes. Not being American or German, I don't have many uses for pumpkin and we don't do Halloween, so I've no idea. Suggestions welcome.

Next year I'd love to make another raised SF bed, this time for potatoes. Those that I've grown this year have been brilliant - we still have two rows-full to dig up, but I've read that you shouldn't grow potatoes in the same place two years following. So I'm thinking of putting carrots, leeks, onions and spring onions in the old potato bed, which is sandy and not as nitrogen-rich as the SF beds (I can always add some compost), and in the new bed, which I hope to be able to put in front of the apple tree, I'll put a mixture of our sandy soil, as well as Mel's Mix, for the pototoes.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Quote from one of the Elite

"One must act 'as if' in Europe: as if one wanted only very few things, in order to obtain a great deal. As if nations were to remain sovereign, in order to convince them to surrender their sovereignty. The Commission in Brussels, for example, must act as if it were a technical organism, in order to operate like a government ... and so on, camouflaging and toning down. The sovereignty lost at national level does not pass to any new subject. It is entrusted to a faceless entity: NATO, the UN and eventually the EU. The Union is the vanguard of this changing world:it indicates a future of Princes without sovereignty. The new entity is faceless and those who are in command can neither be pinned down nor elected ... That is the way Europe was made too: by creating communitarian organisms without giving the organisms presided over by national governments the impression that they were being subjected to a higher power. That is how the Court of Justice as a supra-national organ was born. It was a sort of unseen atom bomb, which Schuman and Monnet slipped into the negotiations on the Coal and Steel Community. That was what the 'CSC' itself was: a random mixture of national egotisms which became communitarian. I don't think it is a good idea to replace this slow and effective method - which keeps national States free from anxiety while they are being stripped of power - with great institutional leaps - Therefore I prefer to go slowly, to crumble pieces of sovereignty up litle by little, avoiding brusque transitions from national to federal power. That is the way I think we will have to build Europe's common policies..." - Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, later Vice-President of the EU Constitutional Convention, interview with Barbara Spinelli, La Stampa, 13 July 2000. Posted in a great list of quotes compiled by Free
Went to see the film 'David Against Monsanto' (in German) this evening, and hear an excellent talk about the fight against Gene Modified Crops. Apparently it's now over 200,000 Indian farmers who have committed suicide because they've been ruined by Monsanto. Pray that the Lord would bring this evil corporation down.
Such corporations, and similar companies are the elitist 'Illuminati' Bayer, BASF, Dupont, Dow and (Swiss) Syngenta - actually, with Monsanto, the only six such agri-corporations left - because they've consolidated over the years.

Consume less, buy regional, buy bio, be careful what clothes you buy; if they're cheap cotton, then they're likely to have been made from GM cotton, probably in a developing world sweat shop, where Monsanto has cornered the market and has control. They're doing it in Iraq. (Another reason why the US and the UK invaded the country. So that they could get oil, natural deposits, cheap labour, and carry out more population reduction than Saddam ever did.)

Support your local beekeeper and buy his honey. (If you've got bees in your garden, then you'll have a local beekeeper somewhere.)

Get informed; internet, books, public lectures, films etc. Join up with others who feel strongly about the issues, write to the newspapers and politicians, blog, go on demonstrations. Let the politicians know that the public DON'T WANT their corrupt corporations running our countries.


The great day has arrived!
I wanted to wait until H and B had got home from school before 'broaching' these cheeses. I had also promised Daniel, who comes for an English lesson once a week, that he could taste them once they were ready, and since today is Wednesday, the day when he comes, I thought it would be a good opportunity to cut them.
The cheddar, the larger one, (made 21st April) tastes full and mature - is slightly crumbly - possibly I've matured it for too long, but it's still definitely delicious. The smaller one (made 4th May) is a cheddar with sage from the garden and is really good. The sage taste is perfect. In future, while I'll continue making these cheeses the same way - and the cheese wax works beautifully - I won't mature them for quite as long. They're probably too small for that and don't need as long as a much larger wheel.
Altogether a great success. I am encouraged and will make another batch soon. I wish I had a cheese cellar - I could keep up production indefinitely and we could be self-sufficient in cheese - but I just don't have the room.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

I have finally given up the ghost on my onion-related veggies. According to the SFG book, the nitrogen from the horse manure which I added to the soil mix last autumn was just too much for them. The growth went into the leaves instead of into the bulbs. So I ended up with strong, healthy green parts, but pathetic looking bulbs. So I pulled them all up and stuck them in a salad. The garlic are mildly better, although they too are rather small. I've pulled them up too and they're drying on the terrace. We live and learn.

So I have a few empty squares. Have got some new compost ready, so I'll add that and then we'll start some new veg for late summer and autumn. The mangetout are scrumptious and the aubergine seems to be recovering in its new position, especially as it's been under cellophane and getting extra warmth. June here is being very cool, rather like last year. But I already have small green tomatoes on both bush and beefsteak plants and the cucumber plant is taking off like nobody's business, as is the butternut squash and another pumpkin variety which our next-door neighbour kindly gave me. The potatoes are flowering and beginning to look a little tired - maybe in a week or so I might be able to get our first new potatoes out? They'll have been in since the beginning of April. We'll see. The strawberry plants have been fruiting a bit - but perhaps not as much as I hoped. It maybe though, that they're young and need a couple of years to establish themselves. I'm going to buy some strawberries this week and make some more jam. We've run out.

I'm really glad that I left so much room between the beds; the plants are growing so big, one really needs the space. I'll do another video soon.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

I have to say that I'm thrilled to bits about these kohlrabis which I picked today. They are huge and very heavy. I just hope that they're not tough. I'm going to make a kohlrabi and potato soup with them.
I have replanted the aubergine in their place, as it just wasn't getting enough sun back next to the beef steak tomato. Where the aubergine was, I have sown some more bush beans.

Have discovered that I probably put down too much horse manure (excess nitrogen) last autumn than was good for onions. None of my onions look too good - in fact, all they've done is to grow upwards, rather than outwards in the bulb. So I've used them for salads as in spring onions and have sown radishes there instead.
Kohlrabi obviously likes horse manure, but onions don't. Not too much anyway.

The other disappointing thing is the carrots. I only have one square of them , but it's possible that the soil isn't clayey enough for the rather short, rounded carrots which I sowed. They are taking forever. Apparently only the long ones like loose, friable soil. I thought that the SF bed wouldn't be deep enough for long ones. So we live and learn. Never mind - I can buy both carrots and onions from the local farm.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Have put up some supports and netting for sweet peas and runner beans.
The sweet peas are because my grandmother used to have a long trellis of them every year in her enormous garden in Storrington in Sussex - (the house was demolished after Grandpa's death - I remember the asparagus and the cucumber frame too )- and she'd bring huge bunches of them into the house.
Their scent filled every room where they were. I loved them... Sweet peas and the smell of Grandpas's pipe tobacco; the damp, wonderful, faintly alarming smell of the garden room with its enormous rubber plant whose leaves we were allowed to clean with milk; the constant ticking of the huge, spired grandfather clock in the corner of the drawing room; the dark green, musty smelling carpet on which we would lie for hours, making card houses and playing Beggar my Neighbour, while the thrushes sang in the apple trees in the orchard outside and the azure periwinkles crept into every crevice in the stone-flagged terrace under the kitchen window.

The beans go in tomorrow because today is a public holiday in Germany (Ascension day/Father's Day and the shops are shut. So it's a-bean-buying I'll go tomorrow, plus I need two new kohlrabi plants - the first ones are so fat and perfect-looking and they'll soon be ready for picking.

Monday, 18 May 2009

SFG May Update

Have also made my first goats' cheese. Same method as with the cheddar - worked beautifully. The curds are a lot softer though, and break up into very fine pieces. It sat under a press for three days and I took it out this morning to begin maturing. It's whiter than the cows' milk cheese, and tastes quite creamy. We'll see how it turns out.

I'm finding that cheese-making is a question of experimenting. So far, each cheese has tasted somewhat different. Maybe I'm too much of a creative chaotic to be rigidly disciplined every time, and follow exactly the same rules. I find experimenting a lot more fun. Two weeks ago I made a cheddar with sage and mediterranean herbs in it. It smells gorgeous. Both this and the previous cheddar are now maturing in the cellar (which isn't ideal as far as its temperature is concerned, but it's the best I can do. Both are covered with a yellow cheese wax to prevent drying out and bacterial attack.

I've also reorganised the cellar and made room for food storage. Our larder in the kitchen is merely a small cupboard into which relatively little food will fit, so it makes sense to have enough room somewhere else. I would LOVE to have a walk-in larder one day.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Today I bought an aubergine plant, a Stevia, and a beefsteak tomato plant. I moved some chard seedlings together - no idea how big they'll get, but it was taking them so long and I decided to use one square for radishes, which I soaked and sprouted beforehand. The spinach is coming on well, and so are the red cabbages. My cocktail tomatoes look very happy, as do the cucumber, pepper and pepperoni plants. The sugar peas are dong well too. And every day I can already harvest a bit of lettuce. I use a few beetroot leaves in salads as well. I read somewhere that they're good to eat, and they are, at least I've only tried the baby leaves. I only have two kohlrabis but they're very boisterous and taking up more and more room in their square. I now also have four celariac on the go. I can't wait to get harvesting.

Started another cheddar three days ago. The last one was made in a hurry and I didn't put enough salt in the curds, plus the milk had gone off just a bit, so it was rather sour tasting. I used it grated on pizzas though, and it was fine. 4.5l of raw milk from the farm around the corner costs 2,80 Euro. That makes 720g of cheese, which would probably cost three times the amount in a shop. Even grated cheese costs quite a bit, even though one is also paying for the air in the packet, so I reckon that even if the cheese is a bit of an experiment, and doesn't necessarily always taste brilliant the first few tries, you can always cook with it, so nothing's wasted and one's probably saved money. I don't HAVE to use mozzarella. She's too fat anyway. ;)

I've been experimenting with different forms. This time I decided not to use the old biscuit tin. The cheese turned out rather flat, and took up too much room in the fridge. So this time I used a large yoghurt pot (the ones which contain firm Greek yoghurt and have a handle - bought expressly for the purpose of cheese-making and not for the yoghurt, of course) - and stuck holes in the bottom to let the whey run out. It works perfectly, the shape is fatter and more compact and will look better once it's cut, I trust. Better for putting on bread too.

I've ordered some cheese wax (yellow) which will prevent the cheese from drying out and growing unwanted mold. It'll ripen longer that way, I hope. Also ordered a berry picker which will be jolly useful for blueberries, bilberries in the woods, and hopefully our own jostaberries, this summer.

Drove my better half down to G. this afternoon for a meeting (so he could work in the back of the car to meet an important deadline) and while I was waiting for him I picked a trug full of dandelion heads.
I've got some preserving sugar left over from last year, and H. inspired me to make dandelion jelly again. We haven't had any for a long time and have run out. So they've been boiling in water in a large saucepan and tomorrow I'll get jelly-making.
I would really love to try making dandelion wine, which my mother used to make (turned out like a rich sweet sherry - yummy), but I haven't plucked up the courage yet. A very kind friend (he's quite experienced at it already) gave me a booklet on wine making, so I'm going to have to try it out.

Actually we're not eating jelly or cows' milk cheese at the moment. We're doing the 'Maker's Diet' again - started 5 days ago. So, no carbs for 2 weeks, loads of berry fruits, veggies, clean meat, seeds, sprouts, goats and sheep cheese - (my next experiment is to try goats cheese). Feeling better already.
Oh yes, and our potatoes are sprouting! Very exciting.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Introducing Square Foot Gardening

Nettle Soup

These are stinging nettle tops and garlic mustard (in the trug) from the woods next to the garden, dandelions, (obviously) and lime tree leaves.

I made the garlic mustard pesto in the above-linked recipe, this afternoon. Tastes delicious.

The nettles made a great soup, (mixed with left-over peelings of white asparagus, celery and chicken stock. ) What I couldn't whizz up with the liquidiser, I strained, mixed with a beaten egg and made nettle burgers in an omelette pan. They really tasted good.
The dandelions are from the fields above our home and are primarily for Tessie, who has woken up after hibernation and has a ferocious appetite. She loves dandelions. I wash them and keep them in the fridge in a plastic bag ready for when she needs more.

The lime tree leaves are for a salad Nicoise tonight. I'll mix them with rocket and lettuce.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

This afternoon I put up a trellis for cucumbers and squash. It went up far more easily than I thought it would and looks pretty neat. (I am so thrilled with the SFG method - it's so comprehensive, simple and effective. God bless Mel Bartholemew.) I used green plastic covered metal stakes ( 2,79 Euro each) and green plastic netting for beans (4,75 Euro) also at the local DIY. The stakes went into the ground without any trouble. They are pointed at one end and at the other there are grooves to hold the netting in place.They're also ridged so that the netting can be attached to the pole with cable ties without slipping up and down.
I've planted a cucmber plant already - I hope it's not too early - but if there's any danger of frost I can cover the wire cage with plastic. The cucumber plant is not yet taller than the top of the cage. When it becomes too tall I'll cover it with a tomato plant sheet.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Latest on the Garden

Thank God for spring! I really do. The SFG beds are beginning to sprout with the seeds I planted two weeks ago. I finished constructing wire cages for the beds in March to keep off the deer, which came into the garden a lot last year, and to provide a structure to cover the beds with plastic, should the weather be too cold. We often get heavy hail-storms in April but I think the cages plus plastic will protect the plants underneath. They also don't look too bad.

I've planted small seedlings from the garden centre, just to get a head start on the seeds. We now have spinach, chard (normal, rhubarb and Bright Lights), beetroot, (red cabbage and broccoli - thanks, Angelika!), leeks, spring onions, red and white onion sets, lettuce (four varieties) garlic, nasturtians, carrots, mangetout, and two small bush tomato plants which are hardy enough to be planted before the last spring frost in the middle of May. When the 'Eis Heiligen' (Icy Saints) come around 12-15th May I'll cover the wire cages up at night. I also have chives, sage, lavender, and have sown marigold seeds in the hope of getting a few flowers to keep off the snails. I have a few beer snail traps, to be on the safe side.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

New Title Picture - the wood at the back of the garden. The old one was lovely but as it was a picture of the Lake District in NW England, I thought it wasn't exactly true to where we live.

Have finally laid down bark chippings and finished the edge all round the SFG area. It looks really tidy and I'm pleased.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

New SFG Bed.

I have finally finished the latest SFG bed. (See right.) managed it very quickly, thanks to Frank and good preparation. Just need to buy some more bark chippings and we're done.

The next thing to think about is wire cages to keep the deer off the new plants, and trellises for tomatoes and other climbing things like squash or cucumber. The SFG website and books are geared towards the US market and I haven't yet worked out the equivalent for steel rods etc here in Germany. That sort of material is expensive, from what I've seen in our local DIY shops, but the trellises do need to last and be robust. Copper piping? Would it be strong enough? Keine Ahnung.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Four inches deep and counting...

All the snow has finally melted and for about a week, the temperatures have been consistently above freezing. A pair of robins visits our terrace several times a day. I love watching them. One of them was trying to reach a fat ball which I had hung up for the bluetits, but its feet just weren't designed to hold on to the metal spring-coiled container which holds the ball. It was so funny watching the robin craning its nack and vainly trying to reach the birdfood.

This afternoon I had a look at the soil in my SFG beds and turned it over a bit. The ground is still frozen at four inches below. So I covered the beds with black plastic (actually meant as sand pit covers, but they fit the SFG beds - at least the 4x4 ones quite well. They're too big for the 2x4s but it doesn't matter) to speed up the thaw. In one 4x4 I had sown a lettuce seed and some lambs' lettuce last November. The first seeds are coming up in it, so I covered it with transparent plastic over a couple of bendable cable tubes. The air can still get to the soil, but at least the seedlings are protected against the worst of the cold.

The ice is slowly melting in the pond. It'll be another week or so before the toads and frogs arrive. The snowdrops are out at last in full force and Frau B's aconites (Winterlinge) next door are smiling up at the grey sky in gleeful anticipation of warmer days ahead.
In spite of the grim political and economic situation, I am so grateful to God. We can still see His hand in Creation and know that He loves and cares for each one that He has made. All will be well.

And here is how the cheddar looks after a week. Left with a flash, right, without.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

First Sign of Winter's End

The first flower of the year. Four snowdrops by the pond. Not out yet, but struggling through.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Whey to Go

This is the first attempt at making cheddar, which I miss. It's expensive to buy here in Germany and I haven't found any native equivalents. I started at about 6.30 on Saturday evening, which was far too late, because you actually need a lot longer for this kind of cheese. I knew this, but circumstances prevailed against me. I had a lot of other things to do as well, so things got a bit drawn out.
So this is 5l of raw cows' milk heating up slowly in a sterile saucepan to 32°c.

I then added a teaspoon of animal rennet (bought online because although I was told I could buy it from an Apotheke, no-one wherever I inquired even knew what rennet was. Incredible how ignorant we all are these days) in a small cup of cold water. Stirred the milk. It was nearly midnight by this time.

I sat the saucepan on the night storage heater for 30 minutes, after which time the milk had coagulated and turned to a thick junket, providing a clean break when I stuck a finger in to test it. Getting really excited now, I then cut the curds with a palette knife -to 1cm wide, and stirred with a whisk to separate curds and whey. I'm not quite sure what the point is of cutting the curds in the first place, if one has to separate them even more with a whisk afterwards. Perhaps it's supposed to make it easier to cut them really finely if one does it with a knife first. If anyone knows, please tell me..

You can see the cut curds here. It works!! All the info and videos

on the net couldn't quite take away my anxiety that I maybe hadn't done everything correctly.

Then I heated the curds and whey up to 38°c and stirred slowly.
It is fascinating how different the
curds are this time, compared with how they look when I coagulate the milk with lemon juice or vinegar. They are so creamy, as opposed to clumpy. Then I poured off the curds slowly into a cloth over a bowl, keeping some of the whey for cooking. Making a cheese this big, there's so much whey left over, that there's no way (pun unintended) we could use it all, so I am ashamed to say that I pour a lot of it down the sink. I know this is awful, but I don't know what to do with the rest. While the children are not at home, no-one eats cereal in the mornings... We haven't a dog or cat or livestock. Ideas welcome.
I then added three teaspoons of salt to the curds and mixed it in thoroughly.

Here I placed a bowl under this strange looking metal stand - I can't remember what it's for, originally, but it has some very useful holes in the top, which the whey can drip through while the cheese is being pressed. The curds are in a cloth, in the old biscuit tin, with my husband's weights on the top. They stayed like this in a cold bedroom (thanks Ben) overnight. Went to bed and dreampt of cheese.
(The cake in the background is a carrot cake for Sunday.)

This was the next morning after the first pressing. I then turned the cheese over and pressed it again in the same way for another 24 hours. When I took it out this morning it was much firmer and uniformly smooth all the way round. I turned it once again to press for a further day. Tomorrow morning I'll take it out to put it in the fridge to mature. I don't know if I have to cover it with cheese wax - I don't have any and I don't have the necessary equipment to melt enough with which to cover the cheese. So I'll see what happens. All very exciting.
This is the results of the third effort at making cheese using lemon juice /vinegar as a coagulating agent. You need more of either for a cheese of this size, which was made from 4,5l of raw cows' milk. I formed the curds in a cloth in a bottomless biscuit tin, which works perfectly. My husband's 5kg weights fit neatly over the cloth and tin bottom which cover the cheese and press the whey out through the cloth, (and a metal stand with holes in it - which has been sitting in the cellar for years, and whose proper purpose I can't for the life of me remember) - into the bowl underneath.
The last cheese I made using this method, (see last cheese entry) I soaked in a salt bath over night. It was tasty, (creamy yellow rind on the outside and a firm white soft cheese on the inside) but perhaps a little too salty. So this time I only salted the curds slightly and salted the outside. I made this three weeks ago and since then it's been sitting in the fridge, gradually giving off moisture and developing a firmer yellower crust. Can't wait to try it.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Next Cheese-making Adventure

This time I used 3.5 litres of fresh milk straight from the farm. Heated it up slowly and at just before simmering point, added lime juice (didn't have any lemon left) and finally a bit of white wine vinegar. The moment everything suddenly curdles never ceases to astonish and delight me. Huge great lumps of white curds. Poured everything into a linen tea-towel and hung it up on a hook on the ceiling to drip all night into a bowl. This morning I pressed the resulting lump (a good 750g, at least) in the cheese pot, (under my husband's lifting weights) for a few hours. A short while ago I took it out again and put it into a salt water bath. It's sitting in the fridge. Not sure how long I'll keep it in there, but perhaps for a few days, after which I'll take it out and have it sit in the fridge to mature a bit. I'm not sure what kind of cheese it'll be; will have to look it up.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Am starting to think about this year's seed planting; what, when and how much to sow ... Swiss Chard, (Ger. Mangold, 'Lucullus') Lamb's Lettuce ('Feldsalat, 'Rapunzel') and Curly Kale (Grünkohl).
It's a start. Have brought in some 'Mel's Mix' in a plastic tub to start some seeds off early for transplanting out later. Have to warm up the soil first. I'll wait until tomorrow before sowing.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Draught Excluder, Cheating and Funghi

Am very pleased to say that I have managed to sew ourselves a draught excluder for the front door - and thereby save anything from 7,99 to 48,00 Euros, as well as the diesel and time used for otherwise looking around town for one. I used a long piece of left-over dark red corduroy and sewed a long sausage. I then sewed another long sausage using a piece of old, white sheet, cut up an old garden chair cushion for the foam bits inside, which I stuffed into the white sausage, including any odd scraps of material left over. Sewed up the white sausage, stuffed it into the dark red one, (which can now be washed on its own) sewed velcro at the end, and hey presto!
What is particularly pleasing though, is that I didn't have to buy one of those revolting long fluorescent dachshund/frog/snake/reindeer draught excluders which are as cheap and less effective than they look.

I was so inspired by our friends' rows of canned vegetables, that I bought a couple of big jars of pickled gerkins (1,25 each for two huge jars) (I'll use the jars once the gerkins are gone, of course) and soaked off the lables. ...a. they look nicer that way and b., I can pretend I canned them myself. Couldn't wait for next summer. ;)))
Now they're sitting in the cellar next to the jars of Sauerkraut, which I cut up this morning.

I've had so many ceps that we can't eat them as quickly as they grow, so I'm drying a row of them on a thread stretched between a couple of beams on the kitchen ceiling. I'll put them in a glass jar once they're dry and they'll reconstitute beautifully in water when I need them.

Hannah found an absolutely massive Cauliflower Funghi a couple of years ago at the foot of a pine tree in the woods behind the garden. After we'd cut it up, washed all the bits out of it - pine needles etc, we dried it on threads in the same way. We then packed it into glass jars. I made a goulash a while back and after soaking the remaining funghi in water, used it up (as well as the water) in the stew. It was really good.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Last night we were visiting friends about three quarters of an hour away from here... they're scout leaders and had invited Frank to talk to their youth in the evening. Great time together, but what really encouraged me was that when we were at their place in the afternoon, his wife told me about a talk she had been to where a woman was sharing from a book which she had read by someone in government.
It said that the German government is warning people of hard times to come, and that they should start preparing for them by storing rations, food, grow their own vegetables, even have a bag prepared with emergency items in case one has to leave home suddenly ... (one wonders why...)
Anyway, since I've been hearing similar things on the US alternative news grapeline, this only confirmed my own mind in wanting to become self-sufficient.
My friend is going to find out about the book and tell me so I can read it myself. She told me about her parents' upbringing in Romania and how they produced everything themselves. It was brilliant. She then took me over to her sister-in-law's house, where they had made Sauerkraut last year, (they do it every year) and showed me the cellar there.
There was this enormous green plastic barrel with a little tap at the bottom, (not so sure about the plastic - but there you go) which they'd bought from the local DIY store, over-half-filled with liquid with herbs and bits of horseradish root, floating around on top. A huge stone was keeping some untreated planks of wood held down under the surface of the liquid, and under the planks were the cabbages. Whole, with their cores cut out, into which they'd then poured the salt, packed the cabbages into the barrel, filled it up with water, herbs and spices, and then once the liquid had begun to ferment, it was tapped out and poured on top over again a number of times.

On the shelves of the cellar were lots of large glass jars filled with pickled gerkins, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, preserves of all sorts. Tomato sauce, aubergine, pepper and tomato spread, honey from their own bees, jams.
I've made our own jams, jellies and chutneys (see above) for a long time and we rarely buy our own. (The picture on the right is of our own Elderflower syrup, which Hannah helped me make last year.) I've never thought much of it - have done it for fun, rather than as a necessity, probably because my mother did it, but apart from making piccallili once, I've never been a great one for preserving vegetables. But this has really inspired me. I'm even thinking of preserving meat. Chickens, from the local farm. The confit method sounds scrummy. I like the idea of potted meat too, as well as salting - it's called 'Pökelfleisch' here - I love the sound of that.
I think I'll ask for books on preserving veg, meat, and making my own cheese, for future birthdays.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Raclette, mark 2

No, this is not about my second attempt to make cheese ... I just thought I'd post something about how I'm getting on with the sequel to 'Raclette and the Siege of Mont 'Or' which is awaiting the attention of the 12th publisher (I hope to hear back from them in 3 months).

Raclette and Chester are married and living uncomfortably at Innperlenburg Palace in close proximity to Raclette's parents, King Géramont and Queen Emmental. The latter is as silly, controlling and manipulative as ever. They'd like to get a place of their own, but snooping out the murderer of Raclette's Aunt, the Dowager Duchess Mozzarella di Buffala is a lot easier in the palace, as any suspects must live or work there too.

Edam and Petrella are also married but owing to the reconstruction of the country after Morbier's invasion, times are hard. Edam is working on his father's thyme farm and Petrella has a job on 'The Daily Grind', the main Innperlenburg newspaper.

Pecorino, Petrella's younger brother, is champing at the bit, hoping to win the National Wheeling Championships, which are due to take place shortly. Petrella has to do a write-up on the contest.

It has been decided that the Palace Trap Gang will do some hunting for the elusive iron box, thought lost when Großkäsingen (Cheesing Magna) House burnt down, which contains proof of Morbier's crimes and which, it is hoped, will finally put Raclette's wicked Uncle behind bars. However, in the meanwhile, Morbier, undaunted by the death of his 'Baby', Gorgonzola, is up to no good, continuing his genetic experiments on rats, and has succeeded in breeding a succession of mutations for which he has found a ready market; more about that another time.

New characters so far; Norbury, another journalist on The Daily Grind, currently out in the East investigating some fishy business involving the Sultan of Ghazi and a depopulation programme. Grinding Manchego, the Chief Editor of The Daily Grind, greedy, unsympathetic and down on his employees like a tonne of bricks.
The 9th Baron de Roquefort and his wife the Baroness Delice (who happen to be Queen Emmental's parents) and their son, Albray, the 10th Baron-in-waiting, commonly known as Baroque. Later to appear in the story, Mortadella, King Géramont's banished sister.

I have to get on with some writing. Excuse me.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Have also been thinking about collecting all the water from the tumbledryer, which only goes down the drain and adds to the sewage water bill (we have to pay for water run-off - including rainwater run-off, for the upkeep of the drainage/sewage system). Since I use soap nuts to wash our clothes, with a tiny bit of lavender oil for a nice smell, there wouldn't be any harmful chemicals in the water, and I can use it for watering plants in the house, and those on the terrace in the summer.
For composters, how about collecting human urine and diluting it with water - 1:10 - and then using it as a fertiliser? If horse manure works the same way (Nitrogen) why shouldn't urine? I mean, it's easier to collect if you haven't got a horse, and costs nothing. ;)
Alternatively, if the boys are in the garden and need to come in 'for a particular reason', why not just get them to fertilise the compost heap? Easier and quicker and more fun for them, AND no dirty boots all over the house, unless you're in Germany like me, and people have to take their outside shoes off before coming in.

Going No-Poo?

This is something I've been thinking of trying for a long time, but was too vain or was never convinced that it could work. But the writers over on Simple Green frugal Co-op have inspired me.
When I was a child, there was a popular science television programme on the BBC, which name I forget. One of the episodes has always stuck in my mind. A lady was experimenting with not washing her hair with shampoo any more. She was going to tie her hair up in a turban for a number of weeks, until her body was able to regulate the natural oils in her hair again. She had long, dark brown hair which reached beyond her waist. The TV audience were obviously not convinced that it could work and sounded revolted by the idea. After a number of weeks, the lady was back on the programme, with the turban on, and the moment came to remove it. Off it came, and down flowed this gorgeous wave of beautiful, healthy, shining hair. She hadn't shampooed it once, (apparently) and everyone was amazed.

I've also been concerned about the chemicals which are leaching into the water system, also about the fact that all those chemicals can't really be good for our skin; after all, how did our forebears cope? My mother-in-law says that they used to use something called 'Kernseife' (a pure, natural, unadulterated soap, which you can still buy here in Germany, for all their washing needs - hair, clothes, everything. We always take this soap when we're on a hike or when camping because it's environmentally friendly. It also lasts longer than the usual perfumed bars.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

First Try at Cheesemaking

After following the instructions in this handy little video
How to Make Cheese -

with our usual raw milk from the farm around the corner, which had gone off and needed to be used up (although I did add 500ml of organic yoghurt and what was left over of the clotted cream and whipping cream we had in the fridge from the holiday season) I ended up (after a night in an unheated, decidedly chilly bedroom, in a pot under a 10kg weight - by which I do not mean that I spent the night in said bedroom, in said pot) with a very edible soft cheese - actually it was more like an immature, unripened Wensleydale, not as spreadable as the one in the video because it had probably drained for longer, but really tasty, nonetheless.

One of these days I'm going to get hold of a Dutch cheese press, and make my own hard cheeses. I'm sick of buying plastic wrapped cheese - even organic cheese comes wrapped in some kind of plastic - quite apart from the unwanted packaging, homemade always tastes nicer, it's fun and more satisfying to make oneself, and one doesn't have to worry about the gender-bending endocrines getting into the system any more than they absolutely have to. Back to basics.


I started a mushroom farm in our cellar just before Christmas. It's a box of spore-saturated
earth with a thin layer of soil on top and a lid with a couple of holes for air regulation sits on top of that.

So far I have had about four or five good harvests of (Ceps or Porcini (Boletus Edulis) which are delicious. After picking the last lot, the farm has had a bit of a rest, but after watering, the next crop is growing rapidly.

Once the mushroom culture is exhausted I intend to put it on the compost heap and get a refill. Frank loves chanterelles, so I think we'll have those next time.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Looked out of the kitchen window this morning and saw that the snowy garden was covered with tracks. Went out to investigate and found that deer had jumped over the fence from the wood and had left their marks all over the garden. They also ate the broccoli leaves on my broccoli plants. I should have covered them up. :(

Monday, 5 January 2009

The garden is covered with snow at the moment, but where I planted lettuce and covered the squares with plastic cloches, there are tiny little seedlings coming up. I was afraid that I'd put too much horse manure in the mix and that the nitrogen content would be too high, but obviously it's OK. A relief.

Have also bought a bit more wood and intend to make one more 2x4 bed. Prepared the ground for it before the first hard frosts hit in November, and it will be a nice project to finish before spring and the children come home. I have just enough soil mix for one more 2x4 left over from the beds I made before.